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If you're like me, there are times when you watch the clocks second hand tick forward. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. And with each jerking movement you feel your stress level snap upwards. Tick. "Another second gone." Tick. "Still have so much to do." Tick. "Will I ever get it done?"
Thoughts run through your head like a wet and muddy dog runs through a clean room. "Another day that I haven't been able to get to that paperwork. When am I going to find time to cook dinner? And there's laundry to do and that report to write."
You feel like pulling your hair but you know that will only make you look even more like Albert Einstein on a bad hair day.
Fortunately, there are five fast fixes that I promise will chart your day's roadmap straight and fast. And, if your highway suddenly turns into a mud-strewn curving lane, they'll help you de-stress so that you're better able to quickly climb those boulders in your path and face the challenges ahead.
Focus Your Day
High achievers all over the world swear that this activity helps them keep on track and meet their goals. One of the top reasons many people don't achieve their results is that they've never thought through what really matters to them. And then they don't make achieving that goal a priority.
Right now, think of what you really want in life. Is it a promotion or a C-suite? Is it a long-lasting satisfied marriage? Is it the ability to make a difference in the world by doing one specific thing? Write down what you want to do. And then set SMART goals to help you achieve that. For example, a person who wants to make a difference in the world by writing a self-help book and selling it online might say, "I'll write one hour each day and plan my marketing campaign for another hour each day. 17, 2009 I will have completed my book and will be selling it online. "
Each morning, before you start working, look at your goal. And read it aloud. After lunch, read it aloud again.
To help you focus and remember your goal throughout your work day, find an appropriate motivational image at Profound Backgrounds ( http://www.profoundbackgrounds.com ) and set this image as your computer background. Each time you see it, you'll remember what your goal is and it will help you prioritize your tasks.
Change Your Attitude
Sometimes we think the problem is with everyone and everything else when the problem is really with us. Life is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. We find what we're looking for. So if we don't like what we're finding, perhaps we need to change what we're searching for.
For example, let's look at my friend, Melanie. She was unhappy with her marriage. Her husband spent all his time either at work or on his computer. He resented every penny Melanie spent on the kids – but had no problem spending lots of money on his own coin collection or not-quite-yet-vintage car.
Eighteen months ago Melanie was complaining, as usual, about her husband to me. She complained about him not getting her a Valentine's Day present.
I interrupted her and said, "Let me tell you a little story about my mom and dad. They had been married a year and dad wanted to get mom a present that would symbolize his feelings for her. Each day instead of eating lunch, he walked downtown to the shops and looked for something special that would indicate just how much he loved his new wife. One day he found it – a fine porcelain demitasse coffee set. It was expensive and certainly not practical, but it was as beautiful as his bride and he wanted her to have it. Dad hoped that every time mom looked at it, she would understand how he felt about her. "
"Melanie, can you imagine how he felt as he gave it to her, and watched her face as she unwrapped it? He waited for that flash of delight. But instead, once the paper was off, he saw only frustration and irritation on her face. She complained, 'Take this back and get me something useful!' "
Melanie cried out, "That's awful. How could she say that? He'd never want to buy her anything again!"
"Melanie," I said, "I'm not sure you'll want to hear this. But I need to say it. You do the same thing to Sydney. He bought you that robotic vacuum for Christmas because he wanted you to have more free time. Sure it wasn't a romantic gift. But he was thinking about you. After all, you're always complaining about all the work you have to do. And he probably thought if you did not have vacuum, you could have more time for fun. But all you did was complain and say, 'Now I've got to learn how to work this thing! Can't you ever get me something I like?' No wonder Sydney never wants to buy you something. You're always looking for the negatives in everything he does. "
Melanie must have taken that conversation to heart. Because yesterday on the phone she confided to me about how great her love life was recently. And when she mentioned it, there was something in her voice that convinced me that desire was strong and hot. Eighteen months before, she couldn't stand her husband touching her. Now, she's not getting enough of him. What happened?
Melanie's response: she changed her attitude. She started realizing that Sydney was the bad guy – he was just a guy trying to do the best he could. And that she was going to recognize this by looking for the good things instead of always finding the bad. She would thank Sydney for all his hard work, instead of complaining that he was always working. She would let him know that she liked being with him, instead of nagging about him spending time on the computer. She would show him how she was budgeting wisely instead of complaining about him tightly holding the purse strings.
For Valentines Day this year Sydney got Melanie a Platinum credit card. Before she would have made it clear that she thought it a stupid gift. This year Melanie laughed and said, "Are you sure you want to give ME a credit card?" He replied, "I'm sure. I want you to USE it." And Melanie realized that Sydney was not giving her money or gifts – he was giving her something better than romance. What he was giving her was trust. Now that she saw the good in him, he was now seeing the good in her.
Like Melanie, you can change your attitude. If all you're seeing is the problems in life, it's probably because that's what you're looking for.
One way to help you change your attitude is to Think Forward. When you start feeling the steam surging from your ears and nose because your blood's boiling in your veins, ask yourself, "Will this matter in five years?" If not, let it go. Concentrate on things that will mean something in the future. And let go of the stuff that seems important at the moment – but is forgotten ten years (or ten days) down the road.
We women are socialized to be the helpers, to put our families ahead of ourselves. But we harm ourselves when we do this. By trying to do too much, we don't accomplish much of anything.
My friend, Kathryn Hanson, has a great story to illustrate this point. Two years ago, she planted carrots in the fresh turned dirt of her garden. Now carrot seeds are tiny. So it's virtually impossible to place one seed every half inch or so. Kathryn wasn't at all surprised when three weeks later, there were massed clumps of green in the rows. Kathryn looked at them. She knew the seed package said to thin the sprouts. But she couldn't do that. They were her "babies" and it seemed so cruel to pull them out.
At the end of the summer, Kathryn could hardly wait to taste her carrots. Thinking about biting a crisp carrot, she tugged one out. "What! It looks like a string of orange wool tied to a bevy of asparagus fern fronds. Why is it so thin? There's nothing here." Kathryn pulled another. Then another. And another. "They're all too thin! What's the matter?" That's when she realized why you thin carrots – so that they have room to grow.
The next year, Kathryn thinned the carrots at three weeks. Four weeks later the carrots were beautifully thick when pulled from the dirt. "Ah," said Kathryn, "thinning worked." And then she had an AHA moment. "That's like being too busy. When you plant too many tasks and activities in your week, you don't have time to let any grow. I try to do it all – but I can't. By saying no and thinning those activities , I'm giving myself the time needed to focus on the important tasks and make them successful. And, when I don't say no, nothing turns out right – every task is stunted and fails. "
Learn from Kathryn. Say YES to only the important goals. Say NO to everything else.
Add Some Fun
You've probably heard already about that wonderful female hormone, oxytocin. It's the hormone that helps us women relax and bond. Unfortunately, we women have a harder time creating our de-stress hormones than men do. So it's even more important that we give ourselves time each day to de-stress and re-energize.
You've probably noticed how guys often have no problem watching the game on television instead of doing the dishes or mopping the floor. They need that time to relax and create de-stressing hormones. And they don't mind taking it. We need to do the same thing. We need to find ways to increase our oxytocin levels. So that we can gain oxytocin's rewards: increasing our feelings of love and trust, better reading emotions and facial clues, and reducing fear. Sounds good to me. I know I want that! So … what can we do to get more oxytocin?
Barb McEwen and John Agno, two top coaches to executive women ( http://www.executiveteleclasses.com ), have put together this list of suggested activities for raising oxytocin:
- getting a massage,
- getting hair done,
- obtaining a manicure / pedicure or a facial,
- having a night out with girlfriends,
- participating in a friendly telephone conversation,
- scheduling time to be with a special friend,
- working out with a personal trainer,
- taking a personal interest class,
- listening to music,
- singing in the shower,
- planting or buying fresh-cut flowers,
- going to a farmer's market,
- holding a baby,
- reading a good book,
- hiring a handyman to get those pesky jobs done,
- going for a walk with your partner (and making sure you hold hands),
- Having a cup of tea with a friend (make sure you use a fine china teacup),
- planning special occasions to look forward to, and
- pursuing a hobby.
They sound good. But are you going to do them? Probably not. You'll make excuses and forget – unless you mark them into your schedule.
Right now, open your calendar and schedule in 30 minutes to one hour each day for "Joy Time." Train the kids to not disturb you doing this time. Lock the door if you have to.
Another thing that adds fun into your week is to schedule a regular weekly date night with your partner. Make arrangements with friends and family, "You take our kids on Thursday and we'll take yours on Friday." Several of my married friends have told me that this weekly date night has saved their marriages. It's given them time to re-connect and put that spark back into their marriage.
Now, how to remember the five fast fixes?
It's easy when you remember, Five Fast FIXES.
F – F ocus your day
I – I dentify what you want to find and then start looking for it (change your attitude)
X – X marks the spot on life's time chart (think forward)
E – E ager-beaver-itis got no one anywhere (say no)
S – S chedule in joy (add some fun)
These are five fast fixes. But I guarantee that if you consistently incorporate them into your life, your life will change from frazzled and frustrating to invigorating and exciting.
And isn't that something you could live with?