10 Ways to Stop Being ‘Insanely Busy’

Today’s episode is all about taking a break from the grind, whether that’s a much needed lunch break of the 10-month sabbatical my guest managed to take. Rest has been proven again and again to increase our well-being dramatically … and yet, we don’t do it.
Here’s a reprint of my post popular article on this subject. I’m running it while I’m on a vacation in France getting my own rest. I hope you find it valuable!

If you’re like many of us, you work 50-60 hours in an office. Or you take work home, work on weekends — and try to juggle the rest of life as well. It gets overwhelming, doesn’t it?
That plus the ever present demands of children, ageing parents, and community sends us over the edge. No wonder we get mired in self-talk about the impossibility of work-life balance. But here’s the thing …
 Would you unplug if you could?

Often we get lulled into thinking we have no choice. We believe we have to overwork in order to succeed, in order to be viable. We believe we have to suffer to be whole.
For one week why not try some of these unplugging ideas as an experiment in self-care? You’ll find out exactly how willing you are to stop being so busy. And you may just find your way back to greater peace.
1. Begin to breathe. Take five minutes at the start of each day – before you even reach for your phone. Sit up, get comfortable, and simply breathe with your eyes closed. Follow your breath in and out. Just observe it. Let your mind go crazy but keep coming back to your breath. Do this every day for one week, and then notice. Are you starting to feel calmer?

2. Forgive those who anger you. Easier said than done, perhaps. Take at least thirty minutes of quiet time on a lunch hour to write out all of your resentments towards a particular person. Write it all down. Eventually, you will get to the end. And there you will naturally find forgiveness – which feels so much better. (If you think you don’t have 30 minutes, what can you change so you actually do that have that time? Reminder: We all deserve an hour off at lunch.)

3. Acknowledge yourself. When is the last time you tuned into your inner conversation about yourself? It’s there – trust me. Consider adding some kind words or a little pep talk each day when you’re taking a shower or brushing your teeth. Picking a regular time seems to help.

4. Take back lunch. If you work through lunch, stop immediately. You need this break. Really! Allow yourself to shut your door and relax. Bring your lunch to work and find something fun to do with this precious hour. Read a juicy novel. Knit. Take a walk. Bring an instrument and consider starting an office jam session. (I once witnessed this in an award winning Swedish ad agency!) This step, alone, could start a small revolution … and such truly alternative ‘brain breaks’ have been proven to increase overall effectiveness in work.

5. Turn off the ringer and all notifications on your phone. Let your phone fade into the background. Check it sporadically … you can do it! You’ll find you become more present, more relaxed. And far more inspired. If your boss demands you keep it on, simply smile and keep setting that firm, polite boundary. This is restorative time that allows you to work more efficiently in the afternoon.

6. Turn off your phone at lunch. Just try this for one week, even if it feels incredibly uncomfortable. You will find that what once seemed incredibly important isn’t so crucial now. And so balance returns.

7. Start to walk places – or ride a bike. This is a good one if you can’t make time to exercise. If your daily commute is filled with traffic, get around it hopping on a bike. If that’s not practical, outfit your bike with a basket or panniers and do your errands this way. Or carry a small backpack and walk. The natural endorphins you’ll experience may make this irresistible.

8. Take a nap. Insane right? Au contraire. According to The National Sleep Foundation, a 20-30 minute nap will leave you far more alert and better able to perform, without grogginess. Try to find a place at work to curl up – read a great book called Take a Nap; Change Your Life  for inspiration.

9. Find a buddy. Making changes in old habits and mindsets requires support. Find at least one good pal you can call as you travel new roads. Check in each day by phone or email on how this slowing, calming process is working for you.

10. Ask yourself what you need … then provide it. So often we put ourselves last in the rush to please others and get ahead. But our needs never stop. Get in the habit of asking yourself several times per day what you need. Take the first answer you get, even if you don’t like it. It’s okay … you really can trust yourself to know the truth.

Remember, you were designed to be whole and complete — without overwork or stress of any kind. And you can get back to that sweet place by simply allowing yourself to unfold a little.

Please feel free to listen to my podcast, Before the Afterlife, where I interviewed Linda Claire Puig about How to Go On a Magical Sabbatical, See the World and Change Your Life.

Also, please share with me your own ideas about how you avoid being ‘insanely busy’.

I’d love to hear from you,

 

 

 

 

 

Are You a Wounded Decision Maker?

Throughout most of my life, I made decisions based on one thing: how I felt in the moment.

Turned out to be a bad idea.

Back in my early twenties, when I was starting out as an advertising copywriter, I chose to work for an abusive jerk in one of the most notorious hack agencies in New York. It was the place that invented that American icon, Madge the Manicurist. And working there was hell.

At the same time, I ignored an invitation to interview with Ed McCabe, the grand circus master of creative boutique agencies. He was the guy every young writer wanted to work for. He was fun, engaging and swept every awards show. But I blew off his entreaty.

Why?
Because I had no idea what I was doing. Blithely, I assumed I should just go on instincts, so I made a very bad choice.

The bottom line was that I didn’t know how to ask for help. Nor did I even know I needed help.

At age 20, I thought I knew all the answers. “All ad agencies are alike,” I told myself, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. So I chose rashly, with no preparation.

Thirty-two years later, I discovered I was still making the same mistake. Fresh out of a 25-year marriage and newly out as a lesbian, I was in no mood for circumspection.  I dove headfirst into a love affair with an unstable person.

A month later I came to my senses and walked away – only to return to her a month later on an impulse. A friend at the time advised me against it.

“You’re scaring me,” he said. But I ignored him.

After all, I always knew the correct answer … right?

Wrong.

Only in the last several years have I learned to make decisions slowly and with a great deal of thought. The bigger the decision, the more thought goes into it. It feels like an act of Grace.

Conscious decision-making has taught me that I am not alone. That it’s best to get feedback from trusted friends. So I’ve come to think of these wonderful advisers as my personal ‘board of directors.’

Friends talked me off the cliff of compulsive overwork when it was time grieve my daughter’s death. Others advised me to walk away from a potential abusive relationship, and run towards the woman I was really suited to.

Still others kept me from snuffing out my pain with an impulse to buy a painting I couldn’t afford.

In the end, each choice I’ve made has always been mine. But I’ve learned to make them with eyes open and all the options on the table.

In this way, conscious decision-making has saved my bacon many times in recent years.

Here’s the part I really love: this Zen-like approach to decision making is fun. The pressure is off!

Especially when I regard each decision as an experiment – one that may work beautifully, or, instead, become a ‘learning experience.’

No longer must I be the swashbuckling hero of the moment, swooping in to make a big decision with no forethought or research. No longer must I save the day the way I used to as a child in an alcoholic family.

Instead, now I can take my own sweet time. I can decide when I’m damn good and ready, and not a moment sooner.

Not surprisingly, the woman I am now married to is a beautiful decision maker. She vets every choice thoroughly, turning it over from all angles. She’s not interested in seizing every opportunity, but instead, in exploring the potential downsides as well.

She takes her time, and she is teaching me to do so, too’.

At times, it’s still uncomfortable to peel myself away from a rash decision. The old buzz of pheromones and the thrill of the adrenal rush sometimes beckon.

But I stop to reflect before I choose. Because I know that on the other side is excellent self care, which is far more sustainable than the sugar rush of a fast choice.

Do I still honor my instincts? Absolutely. It’s just that now I know how to sit with them.

The world will not end tomorrow if we don’t act today. We can act in good time, slowly and consciously, and so enjoy the warm glow of satisfaction from a decision well made.

May you choose well and slowly.

If you like this conversation about how to avoid making knee-jerk reactions, you might love my latest podcast with Chel Hamilton. She has a lot to say about overcoming ‘knee-jerkery’.

Eight Important Lessons I Learned When I Lost Everything

Was there ever a time in your life when you lost something very precious to you … and became better for it?

This has been very much on my mind as I prepare for a media campaign around my book, Surrendering to Joy. I wrote it as I was healing from a year of losing everything – relationship, marriage, home, career, my child and then my mother.

What I am now realizing is that this total meltdown was an extremely powerful and necessary experience. I would even say my soul demanded it, for that is how it is with crisis and loss.

Breakdowns happen because something in our system demands it.

The status quo cannot go on; we are being called upon – even forced – to grow.

When all of this came down in my own life, I was lost. I was living in a sketchy apartment building in which the super was a prowler. The flu I’d had for 6 months made no sign of stopping. I was struggling to keep my head above water in a toxic relationship. And I had blindly gone into a brand new business partnership I didn’t need or even want.

None of it felt right. And yet all of it, magically, was very right.

Everything began to unravel and that is when things started to feel better — even though the circumstances were heinous. Into that void of nothingness I walked willingly, mainly because I had no choice. Immediately, even in my grief, I could see the integrity of what was happening.

Here are some of the realizations that landed then … and still resound every day in my life.

  1. I am not alone and I don’t have to heal alone. I have many supportive circles of friends around me now, even though I had few when my breakdown began. Supportive friends make the ride so much easier. In fact, I’d say they are critical.
  2. It’s OK to be in the Void for a while … The Void, while scary at first, is an enormously creative place. If you can tolerate the stillness, eventually life returns. Ideas drop in. Joy descends. Feel free to stretch out and hang for a while. It’s a great place to heal.
  3. I don’t have to know the answers right now. Or ever, really. I just have to know what I know right now. And know that I’ll be fine. This has been a particularly important lesson for this ‘information storm trooper’, who has spent her life actively chasing information and knowledge.
  4. Grace happens when you least expect it. Again and again I have been surprised by the incredible generosity of others, which always magically arrives at just the right moment – in ways I couldn’t even plan or hope for. This grace seems to be linked to me being in the flow, the enjoyment of life. Reminder: God wants us to be happy!
  5. I won’t get ‘there’ by striving (wherever ‘there’ is.) Instead, what if life was like a great take out delivery? You decide you want Chinese, you make a call, then sit down to watch TV. Suddenly at just the perfect moment the doorbell rings and in comes steaming Moo Shu Pork. While having goals and ideas is commendable, pushing doesn’t work. Making the request and allowing it to be delivered does.
  6. I am whole and perfect just as I am. Yeah, there are rough edges and every day I say a prayer asking that my character defects be removed. Meanwhile, I’ll take ‘em. They are me, just like my various scars and wounds. As long as I do my best to do no harm, I will work with what I’ve got.
  7. I truly do have everything I need right now. My own breakdown and subsequent inquiry has meant two years of not earning much and living very simply. Which has been an unexpected delight! I find I’m attached to low cost pleasures like living with a dear friend, consignment clothing, my dumb phone and camping. And … it’s fun! More importantly, I feel liberated. I no longer do things ‘just for the money’. I don’t have to and I don’t want to.
  8. Freedom is the point. Janis Joplin wails, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” But personally, I feel richer than I ever could have imagined since my breakdown. While I may not have much by some standards, i.e. a house, a mortgage, or even a family nearby, I truly love my life and I wake up excited every day. And isn’t that the whole point?

So yeah, there’s an end to the rainbow if you follow it. And ironically it’s about seizing what is here and now.

That’s my invitation to you in this moment, this hour, this day, my dear friend.

 

The Value of an Excruciating Relationship

love_for_music__by_this_is_the_life2905-d3g1hwhOnce, for sixteen months, I marched straight into the desert but somehow couldn’t extricate myself.

I fell so deeply in love that I couldn’t see how bullied I was … or what a gelatinous ball of mush I had become.  I got to see graphically, up close and personal, exactly how far I could go for love and acceptance.

In this relationship, I chose the role of victim and spent night after night on the couch crying my eyes out … yet still I couldn’t leave.

Today I regard this woman as a profound teacher. Because after I walked away licking my wounds, I began the most intense personal growth of my life.

But then desperation can do that for you.

We choose the role of victim because we know it intimately.

Oddly, it’s comfortable. We choose our abusers because we know them somehow, too. Meeting this particular girlfriend was a landmark event for me. I was immediately captivated by her charm, her smile, her wit, her intelligence. In my eyes she had it all.

Yet in the months that followed I disappeared emotionally as she became more and more controlling. We had this deep soul connection, a shared humor that wouldn’t quit, and a true appreciation for each other. Yet at the same time, we also had endless drama, manipulation, and torment. We were in lock-step with each other, creating our suffering together through some silent, mutual pact.

By the end I was pretty much inert and would do anything she suggested. I had lost myself completely and began making crazy choices. When April came I even considered not paying my taxes for the first time in my life. I had chosen an unstable person to be with because I, myself, was unstable as well.

What I see now is that I was needy.

My marriage of 25 years had just ended and I was grieving. The trouble was I didn’t know how to grieve. Instead of holing up and giving myself time to go through the process, I decided to pretend it wasn’t happening. Little did I realize how vulnerable this would make me.

Exploitation is what often happens to needy people — or sensitive, creative, talented people who are trained from young childhood to perform for others, as I was. I was reminded of this by the new Brian Wilson biopic, Love & Mercy. In it, Wilson, a true sensitive genius, was prey to an abusive, vindictive father, and then an equally abusive, seriously crazy psychoanalyst, Dr. Eugene Landy.

Wilson was both terrified of Landy and yet unable to leave. I can relate to that. I convinced myself that leaving my girlfriend would prove my undoing. I believed there would never be another onr like her, and that I was supremely lucky to have her in my life at all. When it ended, I felt both anguished and relieved.

This is how growth happens, in painful splats and weary staggers forward.

Three years later, I have emerged whole. I no longer need people in my life who disrespect or use me. And I’ve found a love that is right, whole and complete. What is really remarkable about my current relationship is that there is no drama. It simply doesn’t exist. Instead, there is deep acceptance, deep listening and a truly profound joy.

Turns out that’s what real love is all about.

By simply listening to myself and allowing myself to let go and grieve, I became whole. I stopped dating for the better part of two years and progressively became more accepting of myself. I started to trust my own capability, and forgive my mistakes. I found satisfaction in a quiet life, and fulfillment in the process of grieving.

I stopped being the scooped out artist who waited for others to define her and give her value. I started speaking up for myself and became my own fierce advocate – which was incredibly uncomfortable at first but then, remarkably, became fun.

And I did not do this alone.

I found all kinds of groups to guide me through this process – grief groups, 12-Step groups, friends, family, mentors, coaches and a good therapist. It turned out there is no valor in forging a difficult path alone. And there is great wisdom to be gained from a group conscience.

Now I have dissolved back to joy, for that is how it feels. The brittle, artificial structure that propped me up for so many years is gone, no longer needed. I am clean, whole and strong once more.

This is the value of hitting an emotional rock bottom and enduring the pain of finally, sadly telling the truth. For then there’s only one way to go.

If you’re paying attention, that way will be up.