Electronic Overload: How to Spot It, How to Overcome It

Do you suffer from electronic overload? Lately, wherever I have been – coffee shops, restaurants, in cars, at the park, and even the library, I have made it a practice to see what people are doing. Here’s what I observed: nonstop electronic overload.

People were speaking, messaging, plugged into music or fiddling with apps on their smartphones, iPads, laptops, iPods, you name it. Ranging from teens to adults, people seemed occupied with if not totally consumed by their electronic gadgets. Even children were more likely to be playing games on their latest electronic toys than doing anything else.

With the constant barrage of media coming at us these days, which also includes television, radio, social media, and that endless flow of emails, more of us are finding it hard to pull away from our gadgets and step back into what used to be the real world.

Today, there doesn’t seem to be any downtime from the endless electronic onslaught. Even when people stopping “doing” this message or that app, they feel they should be doing something. This frantic mode of operation doesn’t give us a chance to wind down and truly relax. In today’s society, I imagine we should emphasize “relax” as a verb.

One wonders: what does all this nonstop messaging, chatting, emailing, texting actually accomplish in the end? Are we getting more done today with all these devices at home or at work than we were, say, ten years ago when such equipment options were less ubiquitous?

How do you relax and unwind during a busy week? What do you do to take care of yourself? Here are a few suggestions for improving that situation:

  1. Set boundaries and limits to ensure you take time for yourself. Chances are if you don’t establish a “me” time, it won’t happen.
  2. Schedule some of that “me” time to sit quietly and do not do anything.
  3. Focus in instead of out on everyone else. It’s okay to be a little selfish. Focusing on yourself and recharging your battery will allow you the energy, patience, and enjoyment of being there for others.
  4. Establish a policy in your household that there will be no electronic gadgets at mealtime so you are present and in the moment, and not distracted and disconnected. One of the greatest values of sitting down to a meal together is to connect and catch up with each other. While often neglected in modern families, this is incredibly valuable time. Don’t miss out on the opportunity.
  5. Schedule a massage. It is healthy for us mentally and physically. Electronic items are not allowed!
  6. Go out and enter into nature. A park or someplace similar is a great place to clear your head. If you have to take a phone with you, always turn it off unless you’re involved in an ongoing emergency situation.
  7. Get the sleep your body requires. This is crucial. Sleep deprivation has us feel foggy and grouchy. The appropriate amount of sleep for each person helps maintain clarity and focus. We need enough sleep to stay healthy.
  8. Do breathing exercises. Feel free to contact me and I will send you an exercise or walk you through one. Deep breathing allows you to get some toxins out of your body.

For more information or to get your complimentary breathing exercise, contact Susan by phone or email. susan@selftalkcoach.com 
301-706-7226  & 703-574-0039

Stressing Out: Making Better Choices

With a growing number of people complaining about the stress in their lives, how many are actually doing something about it? I say don’t wear stress like a ‘badge of courage.’ Being busy is fine, but if it is too much it can be stress producing, and that is not desirable.

The impact stress has on your immune system over time can negatively affect your health.  Stress can manifest in many ways and sometimes you can feel it in your body. Other times it can shift your personality. Are you abrupt or impatient with people? Do you feel the tension? In what part of your body does stress show up? The good news is you can do something about it. Your family and colleagues will appreciate it and you.

I found the following in the December 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review. The article referenced a 2017 Stress in America survey. It said that the American Psychological Association (APA) found that “constant checkers” – people who check their emails, texts, and social media on a constant basis – experience more stress than those who don’t. More than 42% of respondents attribute their stress to political and cultural discussions on social media, compared with 33% of non-constant checkers. While it may feel impossible to take a cold turkey break from technology, the APA says that periodically unplugging or limiting your digital access can be great for your mental health.

As a coach I hear some common themes from people in the C suite to the head of the household. No one is immune. Stress is a part of our world. How you deal with it and react to it will make the difference in your life. Giving serious thought and focus to how you want to lead and live your life is vital. You need to take a time-out, without technology distractions, where you can think about how you want to live your life.

There’s a reason there is a wellness revolution taking place today. I believe people want to take breaks and don’t believe they can. There’s the feeling that there’s not enough time; that we are on the hamster wheel. But as they are beginning to see, businesses are shifting their perspectives on subjects like getting enough sleep and eating healthy as serious subjects because we are seeing the toll stress is taking on the health of their employees, and therefore, their ROI.  

Not too long ago, I was visiting a friend who works at Bloomberg News in NYC. I noticed the company provided healthy snacks and lounging areas for employees to take a break. We know scientifically that we are more productive and creative when we’ve had enough sleep. I remember an interview with Arianna Huffington after she was diagnosed with exhaustion. She started making changes at the Huffington Post. She created areas where employees could nap. She said that well rested employees were more productive and creative. We all know how much better we feel with a good night’s sleep.

The APA article also said that chronic stress floods our nervous system with cortisol and adrenaline, which short-circuits important cognitive functions. Researchers have studied the negative effects of stress on focus, memory, and other cognitive functions for decades. The findings are consistent – short-term stress raises cortisol levels (the so-called stress hormone) for short periods and can jump-start our adrenalin and motivate us to perform more efficiently in response to impending deadlines. Long-term stress, however, can lead to prolonged increases in cortisol and can be toxic to the brain. We also have lower resilience level and a negative or non-productive self-talk.

Here’s something you can try:

Increase your self-awareness so that you can improve your focus. In other words, pay attention to what might lead to your losing your focus. You then have the ability to dismiss distractions and stick with what you were originally focused on. This is an area where you have the ability to change things.  

Why Procrastinate? Close Your Personal Productivity Gap

We know we all have a lot on our plates in both our business and our personal lives. Some of us can handle it all. But some, even the most organized and disciplined among us, can feel scattered and even lost at times. There are so many distractions! But what’s actually getting in the way of us focusing and being more productive?

Do you procrastinate? Procrastination is one habit that steers us off focus and off course. Besides delaying forward progress, an incidental result of occasional or habitual procrastination can be feeling badly about yourself, which in turn causes its own downside issues, impairing your personal productivity and achievement.

How does procrastination manifest in you? Why are you distracted from achieving what you say you want? Are you responding to emails or posting on Facebook instead of focusing on projects you should be working on? Do you visit the kitchen or make a telephone call to avoid doing or completing the task at hand?

Sometimes, we are not sure where we want to start, whether it’s a given day or a given task. Your internal dialogue can sound something like this:

I don’t know what I should begin with. What’s the most important thingWhat can I do right now?

To confront this problem, the first to do is set your Intention.

This means seeing the project that’s in front of you with more clarity; seeing it in its completeness; and seeing exactly what it is that you are going to do in this moment.

If this is a big project, that in itself can be overwhelming and can lead to procrastination or inefficiency in approaching it. Break the project down into smaller action steps. Otherwise, you risk transforming your focus away from the project and toward an obsession such as “Oh my gosh, I have somuch work to do”instead of focusing on the task at hand.

Ask yourself these questions:

What am I looking to accomplish?

Why am I doing this…what’s the purpose?

Then ask What is the “why” to this action?

When you find yourself looking at the whole project, you become clearer on your intention.

Then ask yourself “What’s next?”

For example, one project I am currently working on is writing my book. There is a lot that goes into a book – writing, illustrations, chapter topics and titles, finding a publisher, and so on. It can quickly get overwhelming, so I begin the times when I work on the book by first choosing one task at a time to confront.

I also give myself a time limit for each task. At the beginning I’ll give myself an hour to write down my creative thoughts. Next, maybe another hour to focus on a list of topics for my chapters.

If you cannot focus after setting your intention and answering the questions I’ve suggested above, you may have to get to work to clear out some internal resistance within yourself. Ask yourself, What might be causing me to move away from my effort. Perhaps there are other things pressing you beside the actual task or project itself.

Thus you must balance your focus and consider what the downside would be to getting the task or project done? This is where self-sabotage (getting in our own way) can come in, and if you discover this is what you’re doing, you’ll need to confront the issue.

Whatever the reason for a bout of self-sabotage, realize that it likely lies behind our habitual and sometimes destructive belief—founded or unfounded—in our own limitations.

For example, thinking I never get stuff done is a negative, limiting belief that, like a recorded message, may actually be running in background somewhere inside your head. In that case, put your focus on the positives that will result from accomplishing the task you’re finding troublesome by asking yourself, What will the experience will be like? Then contrast it with what it will be like if you do not accomplish that task. Most often, you’ll quickly find the consequences here are far worse in the short and the long run.

A long-term defense against procrastination and the negative limiting beliefs that often are the causes behind it is simple. Live your life fully. Don’t let limiting beliefs bog you down or stop you from improving your life or your career. Focus on the positive benefits of success. Lose your old negative story and create a new, positive one.

Step out of history and into destiny!

Can You Hear Me Now?

We can and should improve our communication skills. In particular, we have to practice better listening. This is so because it fosters better overall communication. Listening is important for two basic reasons. First, for the listener: the better the listening, the fuller the understanding.  Second, for the speaker, appreciation of being heard, and acknowledged, is valuable on many levels. It is a human need to feel heard and acknowledged. Most of us don’t like it when we recognize that the listener isn’t really listening.

Do you find it upsetting when you’ve told someone the same things several times and they seem to be hearing it for the first time? Are they distracted? Self-focused? Not interested? Whatever the reason, not listening can lead to major miscommunications.  

One part of communication, talking, is taught early on by parents and then in school. As adults, we find there are many opportunities to improve our speaking – so we can become more effective, clearer, and perhaps persuasive.  Listening, however, the other part of communication, is mostly not taught anywhere.

Interestingly the communication skill we use most is listening. Yet, many of us have not really developed this crucial skill.

The average person spends about 80% of their awake-time communicating and more than half of that time is listening. Improving this skill benefits both parties to the conversation.  (Lee and Hatesohl, 2018)

A client once told me he was having communication issues and asked if could I help. We did some role-playing and I determined that his communication process was more a monologue than dialogue. It went like this:

He listened to the first couple of sentences I spoke, and then what was to be a conversation shifted to him mostly speaking.

We then practiced and it looked like this: he spoke and I listened. Then I spoke and he listened. There was more dialogue and interaction, and both more enjoyment and learning from the conversation. Did this take time to do? Yes, lots of practice. Most people ‘listen’ a certain way and have been listening that way for a while. I gave him the tools in order for him to create a healthy conversation style; one without interruption and monologue.

We should understand the difference between “hearing” and “listening.” Hearing is an awareness of a recognized sound. Listening is an ongoing process that involves perception, interpretation, assimilation, association, and reaction. Since listening is an on-going process, here are several steps you can follow:

  • First, you hear the information.
  • Second, select the information on which you want to focus.
  • Third, give the information meaning.
  • Fourth, determine how you feel about it.
  • Fifth, decide how you want to respond; and
  • Lastly, respond. (©Management Concepts)

 

It is also useful to ask questions that provide clarity and sharpen our listening skills. When you ask from a place of genuine curiosity, rather than making assumptions, you build trust.

Finally, listening has three different levels:

Level One: listening is a surface approach and is more self-focused. While the speaker is talking, at a certain point the listener stops listening and begins to think about their response or their thoughts focus so internally they feel they must interrupt because what they have to say is so important it can’t wait. This can leave the speaker feeling discounted. You should be aware of your self-talk (your inner dialogue) and shift your listening back to the speaker as soon as you realize it.

Level Two: listening is also known as laser focused listening. The listener is attentive and focused on the speaker’s content, but not truly “tuned in.” At this level the listener is still listening to respond. The listener isn’t tuned into the feelings and thoughts of the speaker.

Level Three: listening is where “presence” takes place. The listener pays attention to the speaker in order to hear the real content of what the speaker is saying. There is effort to understand the feelings and values behind the speaker’s words. This is a deeper level of listening.  While it is not possible to be at this level all the time, raising your awareness can help you focus in on being as present as possible.

In summary, remove as many distractions as your can; listen to what is being said and what is not being said; summarize what the speaker is communicating; verify and reflect, or restate what is being communicated; and pause and think before you respond to get the desired outcome.

If both parties did these things, all conversations would have sensational outcomes.

Transitions in Life Don’t Have to be Daunting

Here we go again. Just when we thought things wouldn’t change, they did. Change seemingly always happen, despite the many times you heard or said they would not. Like death and taxes, transition in life is a guarantee.

How are you with coping with change?  Do you face new beginning trepidation? How are you with endings?

Throughout the different stages of life – life’s transitions – we all have to face them, deal with them and get through them.

A transition can mean daunting change

Whether you are going through a job change, separation or divorce, a health change, the loss of a loved one, succession planning, change can be daunting. Our brains are wired to resist change, and the majority of us choose to resist even when the change is positive. We like to be in our comfort zones. Staying there is, shall we say, “comfortable!”

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that what you resist persists. While other societies prepare people for change and transitions, we need to do a better job preparing ourselves instead of it feeling like we face a daunting task. Life transitions do not have to be daunting. Know that every transition begins with an ending.

During life’s transitions, it is important that we let go of the old before we pick up the new. Dealing with things both outwardly and inwardly has to occur for a healthy transition period to follow.

Outward changes can be made, such as moving from one home to another, a new job, and new relationships. Inward changes are harder: in the example about moving, we must deal with what comes along with a move, such as our connections to people and familiarity with the new location.

Another example: I’ve been working with people going through life (separation, divorce) and career transitions. People feel they can adequately prepare by having their finances in order, choosing a place where they want to live (outward), and developing new interests (inward). There are challenges along the way that can be eased when we understand a three-phase process of transition.

Three areas of transition

According to William Bridges, author of Transition, Making Sense of Life’s Changes, all transitions involve the following three areas:

  1. An ending;
  2. A neutral zone (where we can go through periods of confusion); and
  3. A new beginning.

Recognizing these will help everyone with change.

Another important element in this area is learning to differentiate between change and transition. It seems these terms are often confused. Change is situational. It is external. For example starting a new job, moving to another city, getting a new boss, experiencing the birth of a baby or the passing of a loved one are all changes.

Transition requires change, but change does not mean transition

transition is an internal process, such as actually accepting or incorporating any of the above.

Transitions take time. Typically people are looking for new beginnings. But they haven’t let go of old situations. Be aware that beginnings and endings come with bumps in the road. Resist being thrown off by those bumps.

Even though you may be heading in a positive new direction, this doesn’t mean that your changing situation will happen without challenges. But remember that they can be managed. Just knowing that is helpful.

As Bridges puts it, “we are not comfortable in the confusing nowhere of in-between and of launching forth again with a new situation.” During transitions, many confusing or disorienting what ifs can and do arise.

Life equals growth

Throughout life we grow. This natural process involves periodic accelerations and transformations. Time goes by and nothing seems to happen. But then we begin to glimpse the signs of change. Change is the new norm. To be healthy today we will have to figure out ways of dealing with change productively.

The process of going through transitions is based on a theory of personal development and not just a manual on how to cope.

Going into a transition with a positive attitude will help with the associated processes of disorientation and reorientation.

Successful transitions can also help with unexpected losses.

According to Bridges,

“we come to identify ourselves with the circumstances of our lives. Who we think we are is partly defined by our roles and relationships, those we like as well as those we don’t…. transitional situations bring this paradox to the surface and force us to look at negative and positive aspects of our life situations.”

While changes and transitions all have their ups and downs, having rituals to work through them seems to help. We all have rituals. They are helpful no matter what change or transition we are going through. But when our lives are in a state of disruption by changes or transitions, there is a resulting feeling of disorientation.

The importance of meaningful rituals

Individuals feel comfortable with things that are familiar and actions that are practiced consistently, particularly when other things around them are changing. Our self-talk (our internal dialogue, the things we say to ourselves) is impacted by change, and reacts by getting louder and faster.

This happens because our ego is doing everything it can to keep us safe and because it doesn’t like change.

The ego likes the status quo. Therefore, another impact on our self-talk is that our status quo ego makes the process of change and transition more challenging.

Some rituals can help us to better cope with change and transition.

For example, I begin my day with meditation, setting my intentions and writing down three things I am grateful for. No matter where I am, I begin my day this way so that I feel centered and grounded. Because I know the impact of self-talk. Having my morning rituals helps make things go more smoothly. Performing my rituals is something I know I can count on, and it always makes me feel better, no matter what is going on in my life.

Since change and transition are a definite part of our lives, what can you do for yourself, what rituals can you perform to make it smoother sailing no matter which way the winds of change and transition may blow?

How to Solve the Heavy Burden of Endless Clutter

Take this simple quiz: What do piles of paper, too many unanswered emails in your inbox, clothes you don’t wear, prescriptions that have expired, random items like toys lying around the house and negative thoughts all have in common?

Answer, please: They are all clutter. Whether physical or mental, all these items take up space, have a heavy presence in your life and emanate a burdensome negative energy.

When you open the door and walk into your office, what do you see? Endless stacks of paper? When you turn on your computer and check your correspondence, are you dismayed to discover an endless stack of unanswered emails in your inbox? What about your home? What are you going to do with those accumulating stack of magazines? Newspapers? Old clothes? And for families with kids, are there lots of abandoned toys scattered throughout the house?

Did you know that a person wastes two years of his or her life searching for misplaced “stuff”? Think about that. What could you do with all that that time if you weren’t wasting it?

Looking up the definition of clutter, you find rough synonyms like “disorder,” “confused,” and “untidy.” Clutter has a visceral effect. You can actually feel it: ponderously heavy, swirling, negative thoughts chasing one another in your head; a lack of clarity of thought; a sense that you’re overwhelmed by something you cannot overcome. You know the feeling, because everyone today has experienced the draining effects of clutter in some form.

Clutter itself is manifested in three forms: physical, electronic and emotional.

Most people are familiar with the physical form clutter can take: stacks of paper and publications, clothes you haven’t worn, and so on.

Electronic clutter typically often arrives in the form of emails and voicemail. In this technological world, we are experiencing increasing amounts of electronic clutter. Mix these with the constant distractions coming from all quarters in our fast-paced society, and it’s no wonder that so many people are constantly being overwhelmed. There is so much going on in our lives already, and electronic clutter can create or add to real chaos.

Last, consider emotional clutter. In general, emotional clutter is an accumulation of human communications and unfinished business left open with no resolution, Emotional clutter is negative thinking or negative self-talk that moves us away from what we desire in life. It depletes our energy. It takes away our clarity and focus. One client said this kind of clutter felt as if it everything she was thinking was swirling around in her head. Another client said this clutter was like bricks piled on one’s shoulders. You get the picture.

Clutter literally takes up the physical and emotional space that blocks the things you do want in your life. So when you de-clutter, you are literally opening the space for something you want or desire to come into your life.

For example, if you have clothes hanging in your closet or piled in your dresser drawers that you don’t wear, they take up a lot of space. There is no more room available to put the clothes you do want to wear in a drawer or in your closet. Gather up and remove the cluttered clothes you’re not wearing (you can always donate them) and open that space to accommodate what you currently desire.

An example of emotional clutter is negative self-talk, our internal dialogue or chatter. Is your current train of thought going to take you closer to reaching your goals, or will it move you further away from what you truly desire? If it’s the latter, it’s depleting and it’s clutter—and you don’t want to fill your head with what you don’t want.

Once you begin physical or mental de-cluttering, notice how much better you are feeling, as you gain clarity and focus, and as you begin to feel lighter and have an improved attitude and mood. Try it. It works.

Here are some useful tips to get you started in the right direction:

Choose a physical or mental area of clutter to address.

Commit to yourself or to an accountability partner (a coach, a friend or a partner) a goal to de-clutter for 15 minutes a day.

Start with something small like a desk drawer, a night table or a medicine cabinet (physical); delete or respond to emails (electronic); or close a situation where you’ve left an open-ended or dangling communication (emotional).

Put on music or the TV and have fun with it while you work on your goal each day. This commitment is not punitive!

Summer Vacation: A Chance to Discover Your Real Life Purpose

 

Summertime has always been a popular time of the year for families to take a vacation because the kids are home from school. It’s a great time to kick back and relax.

I often encourage clients to make sure they take some “self” time while they are away from home. There will be plenty of time to be with your family and taking some self-time helps you to recharge. Remember, to be there for everyone else, we have to take great care of ourselves.

So whether you are going to the beach, the mountains or anywhere else, it is a perfect place to reflect on half the year that has gone by and think about what you would like to make happen for the second half of the year. Life is more than setting and accomplishing goals and doing, doing, doing! What about just “being?”

To get you started, here is a key question to ask:

What do you want? What do you really, really want?

Some people answer “to be happy” or to be “the best they can be,” but what does that really mean? How do you get there?

Others say they have no idea. To that response, I sometimes interject, well, if you had to guess what would it be?Some say they have never given that notion much if any thought, but they concluded they did not feel as fulfilled as they would like.

No matter where you fall on the continuum or what stage of life you are at exploring at the moment, discovering your life purpose can answer many of those unanswered questions you have about your life.

For example, when I am working with baby boomers, the process of helping them discover what they want and who they are is so exciting. Their faces light up with grins from ear to ear radiating child-like joy.

Many boomers went directly from school to work to mortgages, kids, car payments and other responsibilities and never really thought about what they wanted for themselves or what their true passion is. Being out in nature, away from all our electronic devices can give us the time and opportunity we need to reflect.

The first step on our journey to our calling in life is to listen to our internal voices, our self-talk. During the year we rarely have the luxury of a quiet moment to hear it…and to not push it away because we have to do this errand, or be on the go and “doing” something, or because some of our self-talk is saying, “Are you kidding? You have enough already, you don’t have to look deeper…stay the same, stay with the status quo…”

So many of us do this because that’s what our ego wants us to do.

Take that quiet time you’ve set aside and listen to your inner voice and to your gut, your intuition. The symptoms and anxieties that have haunted you will fade into the background and be replaced by opportunities and possibilities, both big and small.

You owe this to yourself. Everyone in your life will benefit, because they will have more of who you are. You will be opening the door to what you’re truly here to do and to what you truly want.