Susan Jeffers wrote these words in 1988.  I read her book in 2008.  I lived those words in 2013.

Rewind to September 2012 when my inspirational and inspiring friend Tanya threw down the gauntlet after running her first Spartan race in Virginia.  She did incredibly well and was so stoked when she got home.  Her unbridled enthusiasm and convincing words “don’t think about it, just do it” were fuel for 30-ish of her closest friends to sign up for the Ottawa race 9 months later.

When sobriety settled in, I started to feel the fear.  I was not, nor had I ever been, the least bit athletic. I was a month shy of 51 years of age.  Why was I doing this?  I realized it was precisely because of those realities that I was even contemplating doing  it.  Lately, as my beleaguered family can attest to, I’m all about trying new and different things be it activities, experiences, books,  food, whatever.  I crave novelty!

And novel I got.  I started going to cardio kick boxing classes, high interval training and weekly boot camp.  I learned about hooks and  uppercuts ,  planks and burpees (ok, I remembered those not so fondly from grade 8 gym class) and how to fit in 6-8 hours a week into my already pretty busy schedule.  I made myself get up on Saturday and Sunday mornings and hit the gym before I did anything else.  As the months went on, I felt good about keeping my commitment to myself and I certainly knew what I was working towards.   And the initial fear subsided.

When I started to measure the countdown in weeks and then in sleeps, the fear and self doubts resurfaced.  WHAAAAAAAAT was I doing?????  I wasn’t ready, I hadn’t trained enough, I still couldn’t run 5K without stopping and as for upper body strength, I felt like the guy who always gets sand kicked in his face.  I was afraid.  Afraid of not meeting my personal goal (albeit a generous one as all I wanted to do was finish and survive!) afraid of  failing in front of my cheering section comprised of family and friends and after talking to everyone I know for months about my upcoming feat , afraid of looking like a loser.

And then it was June 15. Race day.  When we arrived at the ski hill, I could definitely feel the excitement in the air.   And as much as it made me feel like quite the athlete to have my bib  number written on my leg and forehead, I couldn’t help but think it would make it easier to identify my body!

My three ‘immediate’ team mates and  I met up with our ‘extended’ team of 30 people all somehow linked to our lynch pin, Tanya.  We got our team shirts identifying us to each other and others as the ‘Will B Warriors’.  I looked up the ski hills (hills? more like mountains!) and I was feeling the fear. In the last few minutes leading up to our 10 a.m. heat, we heard an announcement: the elite heat had left at 9 a.m. and the first person was crossing the finish line in 44 minutes!

We lined up and my foursome was toward the back of the pack with about 246 people in front of us.  The buzzer sounded and we were off!  It didn’t feel much like a race as we were walking up the hill until the front runners broke away from the pack.  One foot in front of the other until we got to the first obstacle, the much anticipated barbed wire.  We had heard that the course was designed to get you literally down and dirty from the get go and it was and we did.   Although one of my fears was having my shirt and my back ripped by barbed wire (was my tetanus shot up to date?) as it turned out, I need not have worried…about that at least.  From about that point on, everything is a bit of a blur.  I know I pulled pieces of rock with a chain, carried jerry cans full of water uphill and munition boxes downhill, scaled walls, walked through chest high freezing cold water and encountered more mud.

View photo.JPG in slide show

A few of the challenges are etched in my mind and I suspect always will be.  Once we had climbed the hill a.k.a mountain once, I assumed that would be it.  Wrong!  We went up another hill AND then we went up a third hill.  As difficult as the first two were, the third was a killer.  I have no idea what the gradient was but the word steep just doesn’t even begin do it justice.  And as tough as going up was, in many ways, coming down was even harder.

My greatest fear in the world is confined spaces.  I came upon a tunnel that was barely wider than shoulder width.  I looked at it for several minutes, debating whether I would just take the penalty and do the requisite 30 burpees.  But I had told myself earlier in the day that if I had the chance to face this fear, I would do it.  I got down on my knees and started in but backed out.  One of my team mates, Trudy, was at the other end and she yelled at me in a way that would have done any Drill Sergeant proud.  “Go! Do it! Do it now!”  She may have said other things but that too is a blur.  I got in and kept my eyes glued to the light at the end of the tunnel.  I do remember shouting at her to keep talking to me.  I made it through but didn’t have time to revel in my accomplishment, at least not then.

My moment of crowning glory was conquering the last obstacle, the rope wall.  With Connie right beside me as she had been since the beginning, I started up.  It was going well until I slipped just as I reached the top.  I didn’t think I would make it over the ledge but after some struggling, I did.  Then the real problem.  I had to wrap my legs around a rope and slide down.  Oh, right-damn fear of heights!  The volunteer at the top was amazing.  While I whined that I couldn’t do it, he told me calmly and encouragingly that I could do it and that he would help me.  With Connie holding the rope at the bottom, I closed my eyes and just did it.   I was done!!!  My new PB (personal best to the uninitiated) 🙂  is 3:02:53

The Spartan tag line is “You’ll know at the finish line”.  I’m sure that means something different to each participant and here is what I know.  I know I felt and faced my (myriad of!) fears, both real and imagined.  I know I accomplished the singularly most demanding mental and physical challenge I have ever faced.  (As a bonus, we found out the next day that because of a calculation error, the 5K route was in reality, 6.7 K!)   I know I wouldn’t have made it through the tunnel without Trudy screaming at me and I know Connie could have shaved 30 minutes at least off her time if her mantra hadn’t been ‘we start together, we finish together’.  And I know for sure I never would have done this without Tanya insisting that I could.   And if I had never done it I would never know this great feeling of being  absolutely amazingly proud of me!

I am Spartan Warrior, hear me roar!!!  🙂

pearls o

 

How often do we hear ourselves say: “If only I knew then what I know now”?  Impossible of course because with age comes wisdom, or as a former boss used to say, “you can’t put an old head on young shoulders”.

Although I firmly believe that regret is a wasted emotion there are probably a couple of things I would have done differently with the benefit of more or other information.  What do I know now that would have been helpful to me then?  Well…

  • Never say never.  There have been lots of things that I have done, said or thought that I swore I never would.  Sometimes it’s been a good thing and sometimes not but in either case, it has caused me to reflect and I have learned something from each of those experiences.
  • Should is not a word that belongs in the English language whether it is directed at others or our self.  Who am I to tell anyone else what they should or shouldn’t do and as for me, there is always a better reason than should to do everything.
  • Start saving even the littlest bit every payday no matter how little you think you have.   I don’t think we can live long enough or work hard enough to earn enough money so make your money work for you.  
  • On that note either get smart about investments or find someone knowledgeable and trustworthy to advise you.
  • Get thee to the gym! Fitness is a life skill and starting young will ensure that it becomes a way of  life.  Of course it’s never too late to start but, trust me, it will be easier the earlier you start.
  • Be brave(r).  Speak your mind more (we are all always entitled to our opinion after all), do at least one thing a day that scares you and adopt the mantra of face your fear and do it anyway.  It is confidence building and competence establishing.
  • Be gentle with yourself.  We are often our own worst judge and jury so be aware and extend the same compassion to yourself as you do to others.
  • Unlike Oprah, there is very little I feel I know for sure.  Oh, I thought I knew a lot for sure but the certainty of youth is replaced with more questions than answers as we get older.  Stay open to the possibilities afforded by a curious spirit.
  • Be a good friend and you will be blessed with good friends.  The best of friends are there for weddings, births, divorces, deaths and all the joys and sorrows in between.  Treat your friends like the precious gems they are.
  • Don’t just carpe diem, seize the moment.  At 20 it seems like time is on your side-and it is.  Take advantage of every opportunity to travel, meet new people and experience new things.  As implausible as it may seem now,  time is fleeting.
  • When pondering a career, find what you love and what is worthy of your time.   It is an old adage but it has survived the test of time for a reason : “Do what you love and you’ll never work at day in your life”.
  • Listen to the way you speak and the messages that go unspoken in your head.  Banish, or at least minimize, the gremlins that say you can’t, you’re not good enough, you shouldn’t hope to.  Replace them with energy inducing words.  Language is powerful-choose your words carefully.

Would my 20 year old self have listened her 50 year old self?  I would like to believe she would have at least considered my musings.  Since we can’t go back in time, I take solace in the fact that everything I have learned and am learning much more mindfully every single day now will make me a better and wiser person for the next 30 years.

What would you tell your 20 year old self if you had the chance?

I have been feeling a little overwhelmed of late.  And I recognize that feeling because it has infiltrated my subconscious.

When I start to feel overwhelmed because I have a lot on my plate, I start to dream about it. Those dreams are actually nightmares because they all have to do with me having 100 things to do, running out of time, dropping balls, and waking up guilt-ridden not to mention exhausted. 😦

Of course logically I know what I need to do.  Step 1- take a (very) deep breath.  Step 2-make a list and prioritize it.  Step 3-look at what if anything can be deferred, delegated or simply’ bowed out of’.  Step 4-look at those actions/activities that are definitely quick hits and do them.  I know that sometimes low hanging fruit is seen to be the path of least resistance and somewhat unworthy but let’s face, when it comes to managing our time effectively, if we deem those activities to be important enough to do and we can get a feel good boost about striking it off our list then I say just do it/them!

Five minutes ago, I did something that took less than five minutes, has been on my list if not my mind for months and will in all likelihood be the single most important thing I will do today.

I went to http://www.beadonor.ca and registered to donate my organs upon my death.  A few interesting factoids:

  • There are currently 284, 942 registered donors.  Sounds like a lot, right?  Wrong.   This represents only 22%of Ontarians.
  • One organ donor can save up to 8 lives.
  • The annual target is 300,000.

The website is so easy to navigate that once you enter your date of birth and health card number, you answer 5 or 6 questions and that’s it…less than 5 minutes.

Having a signed donor card in your wallet doesn’t guarantee you will be a donor.  The only way to ensure your wishes are carried out is to register.

Admittedly, thinking of our own mortality isn’t easy.  In the last three weeks, I have lost a friend and a colleague to cancer and two friends are holding deathwatches for a parent.  It makes one stop and think.

Doctors, nurses, paramedics, firefighters, lifeguards and a few lucky others are most often those who will save lives.  Now, I along with my husband, will add our names to the list.

Will you?

 

I suspect that everyone has a few books on their shelf they would say are the best, most important and most influential books they have ever read.  And I would go a step further and say that those same books have been read and re-read several times,  perhaps even regularly every few years.  And by way of a further step, I would hazard to say that each read-through provides different insights, ideas and thoughts because after all, where we are in our life will influence the way in which we see and ‘re-interpret’ even that to which we have been exposed before.

There are two books that fulfill all of the above conditions for me.  The first is “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frank, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist.  Written in 1946, it chronicles his story as a Holocaust survivor.    Frankl’s academic training, but more importantly his very essence, led him to realize during his imprisonment  the importance and possibility of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most sordid of ones.   As a result, he was able to find a reason to continue living.

The second book that struck a chord with me is the tried and true “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie.  Carnegie started his career in sales and went on to teach and train adults in public speaking, self awareness, influencing and negotiating to name but a few areas of his expertise.   He focused on skills that would enable both professional and personal success.

The first time I read this book, perhaps a decade ago, I remember feeling compelled to turn to the inside cover to check out the copyright date.  1936!  How could a book written 70 years earlier possibly have any relevance?  Is it not widely accepted that the pace of change, the ‘sophistication’ of our contemporary tools and concepts and the knowledge gleaned over the decades would render such old material obsolete?

Apparently not, at least not in my ‘book’!

 

Book Groups

Although the term ‘self help’ has been vilified over the years, I admit, I am a self help book reading addict!  I personally prefer other descriptors such as  learning, self awareness, growth, personal or professional development but self help it is.

I say this because being an aficionado of this genre, I feel qualified to say that Dale Carnegie was a soothsayer.  He was leading edge in this field even before there was a field and before the term leading edge was even in use.

Although he doesn’t use terms like coaching, integrity based leadership, emotional intelligence,  truth to power, achieving a win-win or the power of listening,  he does address each of these with a very common sense approach.   He gives the reader their very own WIIFM (What’s in it for me?)  and goes on to explain how to learn and practice these basic life skills.  And by the way, when I say basic I mean in the foundational and not in the easy to do sense of the word.

Both books were written more than 50 years ago.  Both recount the story and the teachings of two individuals with incredible belief in self who found great meaning in their life.  For Carnegie, this belief contributed to great financial and philanthropic success.  For Frankl, it led to his very survival.

It was Frankl who coined the term proactive to mean taking responsibility for life rather than blaming outside circumstances.  Whether or not Carnegie was aware of this word or Frankl for that matter, I have no way of knowing.   But as I have sought out information on the lives of the authors of my favourite books,  it strikes me how they share many similar philosophies, beliefs and values.

Perhaps this is the reason their books are on my shelf and often in gift bags as I share the acumen of these two wise  men with those closest to me.

A couple of weeks ago my friend Lee asked me to send her some information about a tool dubbed the 10-10-10.  I had used it regularly to keep in touch with my team when I managed a virtual team a few years ago but have not had the need to use it in my current job.  I was reminded of how a very simple tool can provide a leadership edge.

One of the biggest challenges  for a leader managing a team at a distance is making sure that communications with the team is ongoing and regular.  While I was in Ottawa and my team was in Toronto, I was fortunate to be able to travel there every couple of months.  In between those trips,  I needed a systemic way to keep in touch with each individual member.

During a workshop I was facilitating, one of the manager participants shared a best practice he called a 10-10-10.   He described these as regularly scheduled conversations that, although informal, had a structure to them.  I liked its simplicity and adopted it immediately.

I let my team know about what I’d heard and explained how it worked.  The first 10 minutes of the conversation were spent on the what’s new with you and your family and other topics that are typically non-work related.  In the jargon, this would be  called  maintaining healthy relationships.  The second 10 minutes were spent on anything that the team member wanted me to know.  The last 10 minutes were spent discussing any topics I wanted to bring to their attention.

The frequency of these conversations were typically weekly but with some employees it was every couple of weeks.  With most they were in fact half hour conversations, but with one team member whose communication style was very direct , I jokingly used to say to him that he and I would have 5-5-5’s!

Just to be clear, the 10-10-10’s weren’t meant to replace other conversations or meetings throughout the week. They were meant to be a  dedicated time where each team member knew they had my undivided attention.  Occasionally one or the other of us might have to reschedule but most often, those time slots were cast in stone.  These conversations happened regularly during the two years I was the Team Leader.

Since these conversations worked so well over the phone, they would obviously work as well if not better in person.  In my experience, the biggest complaint in any organization from employees at all levels is a lack of communication.  This planned approach ensures that communication can happen up, down and across the team.  This tool is definitely not a panacea for all ills but it absolutely encourages and facilitates strong communications within a team.

 

Camino Trail-Denis Rey-2010

Denis Rey on the Camino-2010

Occasionally I see a photo or a painting that attracts my attention for longer than the typical minute or so.  Rarely, and I think it would actually be accurate to say never, have I seen a photo that has mesmerized me as much as this one has.

It was taken by Denis Rey who, at the age of 70, decided to walk the Camino Trail.  Denis is my friend Carmel’s dad and he passed away suddenly this past January.

Although I have only heard of the Camino in recent years, it was one of the most popular pilgrimages for Christians during medieval times.  Today, tens of thousands undertake this walk and  there are as many reasons to walk the Camino as there are travellers who do.   For some, it is still a pilgrimage in the religious sense of the word, as it was for Denis.   Others do it for the adventure, the sport and the challenge.  From those I know who have journeyed it, it seems that regardless of the primary motivation, it does end up being spiritual in the sense of taking people away from the complexities of their life and  allowing them to reflect and reconnect with themselves.

In 2010, the same year Denis undertook his journey, Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez collaborated on a movie called ‘The Way’ which has undoubtedly made more people aware of its existence and history.

Although Carmel’s family had of course seen many photos from Denis’ journey, it turned out there were some they hadn’t seen until after his death.  Among them was a series of shots of his shadow.  It was clear he had experimented with light and various  positions to create the best picture.

I have attempted to put into words for myself and others what it is about this photo that has me spellbound.  There doesn’t seem to be one or even several words ‘good enough’ to express my feelings when I look at this.  I experience such a sense of peace and serenity as I gaze down the unobstructed roadway.  What are the odds of there not being a soul as far as the eye can see?  How can the vegetation on both sides of the road be so symmetrical?   And I really don’t know enough about photography to even be attempting to talk about composition but, as the saying goes, I know what I like.  And I like the straight simple lines and that there are only three colours-a simple background which serves to highlight the shadow.

Ah, the shadow.  That very old song (sung to me by my grandmother old) comes to mind…’Just me and my shadow, strolling down the avenue’.

What must it be like as a solo traveller to simply be with yourself day in and day out?  Would you start to think of your shadow as an entity separate from yourself?   What does one think about for those many hours and weeks as you put one foot in front of the other?  Would you get  lonely, wonders myself who is used to, and for the most part likes, being surrounded by people?

Over the past few weeks, I have found myself going into my email whether to look at the photo myself or to show it to others.  Inexplicably, it has become quite prominent for me.  It will become even more so as I have it blown up and framed and hung in my office where I will be able to look at it daily.

I wonder if, as I contemplate it further, I will understand how and why it has touched me as it has?  Or maybe I will never be able to adequately express it.  In either case, I won’t spend too much time trying to figure it out.  I intend to enjoy the simple beauty of this photo and be grateful that I have been able to see it.  Thanks Carm!

 

 

At first blush, does it seem oxymoronic to suggest that a a strength can be overplayed?   On what occasions could it be overplayed and how would we know?   Can a good habit or behaviour be too good too often?

The second part of that tenet is ‘becomes a weakness’.  A  strength overplayed becomes a weakness.  Ummm…too much strength equals a weakness?  As I have seen this unfold in my own life,  I happen to believe it’s true and last week I got to observe it in action when a friend of mine came face to face with her own strength overplayed.

‘ I am not a quitter’ are the words my friend lives by.  These words are her mantra, her life philosophy and the way she shows up to me and everyone who knows her even a little bit.  I don’t know where this belief stems from and I’m not sure she could tell you either.  What I do know is that this belief governs her thoughts, decisions and actions.  It isn’t even what she does as much as it is who she is and whether it has to do with her family, friends, job or commitments, once she has made up her mind about something, she won’t quit.

Last week out of the blue and for no apparent reason, her back started to hurt.  After a few days when the pain didn’t go away on its own, she went to her doctor who told her she had an inflamed disc. For anyone who has suffered through this it is incredibly painful and he recommended  two weeks rest.  He was prepared to write a  note for her employer on the spot.

My friend, the ‘never say uncle’  kind of  person that she is, didn’t take the note.  It was a busy time at work, she is a manager and  they were short staffed.  She wasn’t going to let this get in the way of going to the office and doing what needed to be done.  She doesn’t quit.

Being worried about her, I was willing to risk sounding like a nag as I summoned all of my powers of persuasion to get her to stay home.  But no matter what I  said, I couldn’t convince her that putting her needs first and taking care of herself wasn’t quitting, giving in or being weak.

We all have our blind spots when it comes to a strength overplayed.   Precisely because it is a strength we know  it’s a good thing.  We feel good about it and this feeling is reinforced by others who validate it-especially when our strength just happens to serve their needs!

People commend us, we feel good.  People commend us more, we feel better.  Until that moment or perhaps several moments over time when slowly it starts to dawn on us that what was once an attribute isn’t serving us as well as it once did.

There is a yin and a yang,  a cost and a benefit  to everything in life.   How often do we stop and ask our self  ‘what is this costing me’?  Throughout life we need to reassess jobs, relationships and decisions and ask ourselves if our default actions and strongly held beliefs are appropriate for each given situation.

What is your strength overplayed? Can you name it immediately?  If not, what can you do to identify it?  Reflection and taking stock is the best place to start.  By simply identifying those traits you are most proud of, ask yourself if and when they may have backfired on you.  If you are still at a loss, often those we call our allies are great at being able to help us see our self more objectively-and they do it with a pure intent which is what makes them our allies.

As for my wonderfully kind and generous to a fault friend, I found the following quote which I emailed to her.  I haven’t heard back from her yet but I’m assuming she knows I sent it with the purest of intent.  I am hoping Osayi has better luck with her than I did!  🙂

“Quitting is not giving up, it’s choosing to focus your attention on something more important.  Quitting is not losing confidence, it’s realizing that there are more valuable ways you can spend your time.  Quitting is not making excuses, it’s learning to be more productive, efficient and effective instead.  Quitting is letting go of things (or people) that are sucking the life out of you so you can do more things that will bring you strength.”
Osayi Osar-Emokpae, Impossible Is Stupid

clean-slate

 

I had a different topic in mind for today’s post . I’d even done my ‘research’.  But when I sat down, I realized that would have to keep for next week.

This is January 1.  How can a dyed in the wool goal-setter and resolution-maker from way back not address this auspicious day?  I love January 1 almost as much as September 1.  The start of  another academic year, whether for me or my kids, foreshadowed a new beginning.  New classes and teachers, fresh binders, more and different friends, lots of learning…in short, a plethora of possibilities!  🙂

And doesn’t a brand spanking new year offer us up a clean slate of endless opportunities?

I have been pretty typical in my resolution making over the years, most of them falling into the health, wellness or fitness themes.  In some cases I have been immediately successful (no sugar in my coffee for five years!) and in other cases where the outcome was not immediate (okay, so I bombed!!) I would like to think it laid the groundwork for future successes.  Some years,  I consciously set no goals for January 1 but planned them for later in the month.

Different strokes for different folks and over time we learn what works for us and how to set ourselves up for success.  A few tips I have learned include:

  • No more than two goals MAX!  Incremental change is far more sustainable and your energy will be diffused if you have too many areas of focus.  The experts say doing something consistently for 21 days is what is needed to create a new habit.  There are many 21 day blocks of time in 365 days to get to all your goals eventually.  As Oprah said: ” You can have everything you want-just not all at once”!’
  • Willpower, a.k.a. self discipline is certainly helpful but you can’t count on it exclusively.  It ebbs and  flows depending on the many circumstances in our life.  Instead of willpower, create a success plan where over time,  you make it easier for your new habits to become automatic.  If you want to eat more healthily, get all the leftover shortbreads and boxes of Turtles out of the house.  If your plan involves going to the gym, bring your gym clothes to the office and go straight from there.  There is no one size fits all  approach but there is an actionable plan that you can create for you to keep you on track when your willpower wanes.  And when it does by the way, be kind to yourself and start anew.  As the Mayans say, it’s not the end of the world!
  • Be SPECIFIC.  It isn’t enough to say ‘I want to be fit’.  Fitness is the overarching objective.  In and of itself, it can’t be measured.  Going to the gym four times a week, eating five portions of vegetables daily and walking 20 minutes at lunch are all observable and therefore measurable goals.
  • Begin with the end in sight.  Actually imagine what you will be doing or look like and focus on that.  You can even create a collage.  Go through old magazines and find pictures and/or words that  inspire you.   Get out the scissors and glue stick, put it in a frame and voila…a daily reminder of your goal!
  • When you feel like quitting, remember why you started.  Think of someone who inspires you toward the goal you are working on and ask yourself ‘what would…do right now’?
  • Celebrate each and every success along the way.   It is indeed true that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

This year, planning for 2013 actually began a couple of months ago.  I have decided that my overarching objective is to be more fit in my 50’s than I ever have been.  (Given that I was not especially fit in my 20’s, 30’s or 40’s , no matter what I do, I will achieve this!)   🙂

My measurable goals are to quit smoking (day 16-yay me!), hire a trainer for two or three sessions, do one cardio kick boxing class and one body rev class per week, work out at the gym three times per week,  reduce my carb intake, sustain this for six months and complete the 5 K Spartan Sprint on June 15 at 10:00.

Oh, and did I mention writing down one’s goals-and telling others?- is a really good way to hold yourself accountable!!

I would love to hear about what you plan on doing this year and how you will make your big audacious goal a reality.  Let’s cheer each other on!

Ah, this wonderful time of the year. ..the first snowfall, Christmas music, brightly and beautifully lit up houses, parades, the excitement in the faces of those still innocent enough to believe in a bearded man who delivers presents and the anticipation of parents everywhere as we imagine the squeals of glee from our kids when they open the perfect gift we have put under the tree.

Indeed, a magical time of year.  Unless you are a student.  Before being able to enjoy the season, first they must surmount a major obstacle…exams.  And the corollary of exams for many, sadly, is stress.  Far too often we have heard of the most extreme response to exam induced stress when students commit suicide.

Over the past month or so, I have watched my daughter prepare for exams.  Her first University level exams, I hasten to add.  Because she is at home, I can say that I have been watching for physical and emotional signs of stress: complaints of stomach or head aches, fatigue or insomnia, irritability, to name but a few from a host of many possibilities.

Other than Kate saying she was more tired than usual,  there was nothing untoward that caused me any concern.  So much so that I was curious at her seeming sense of calm about the whole thing.  Not wanting to plant any seeds, I waited until she had written her first one last Saturday to ask her a question that had been on my mind: “How are you staying so calm and focused”?

Her response warmed the cockles of my mom and coach heart.  🙂  Planning, managing her time, using proven study skills, and making sure she got to the gym and ate well formed the basis of her strategy.

Specifically, here are Kate’s techniques that can be used by students and the rest of us too!

  • Begin with the end in sight. Know when each exam (deadline) is and plan the time required to prepare for it.
  • Find the way to prepare that works best for you and stick to it.  For Kate, she reviews her class notes and highlights key points on index cards.  She then studies from these “Q cards” as she calls them by reading out loud.  Long ago, I told both she and my son Conor that when we speak out loud during learning, we engage both sight and hearing in the process thus increasing our chances of understanding and retention.
  • Once she is at a point where she knows most of the material, she asks to be quizzed so she can identity what she isn’t remembering or understanding.
  • She prepares a daily schedule which includes study times, gym time and any other commitments.
  • She had previously booked time off from her part time job but she did keep a few shifts.  Her reasoning?   If she had too much time ‘off’ she would be more likely to waste it by telling herself she could study ‘later’.  She has learned at a young age that typically, the more we have to do, the more we get done!

It’s true that our internal response to the external conditions in our life will create stress…or not.  Our response will also dictate the action plan we establish and how well we follow through on it.  Self discipline, deep breathing, staying fit,  keeping perspective and getting the support needed will go along well in ensuring getting through exams successfully on all fronts.

And now…on to the turkey!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This week I was asked to deliver a workshop on change to a group of employees from a large federal government department.  Given what is going on in the world at large, and in this city of announced and impending workforce cuts, workshops on coping with change abound and it has become the topic I am most asked to speak to.

Typically, when asked what words come to mind when they hear the word ‘change’,  most participants list the following: stress, anxiety, fear, unknown, awkward, painful and others of this ilk.  Eventually, someone will say opportunity.  Then another will say learning.  These are often followed by growth, fun, possibility, and others of this ilk.

People’s reaction to change is typically bell ‘curve-able’: the 80%  in the middle experience the ‘normal’ concerns about change but eventually, and at a different pace for each, work their way through it.  The 10% to the right are those who actually love change.  They get bored with the status quo and either seek to make changes where they are or,  if they can’t,  leave to find them.  The 10% to the left are those who don’t cope well and seem to become mired in all of its negative aspects.

We often hear the word transition used synonymously with change.  In fact, these words have two entirely different meanings.  Change is the external event.  A layoff announcement, a death, a birth, a marriage, a divorce, a job, a house.  Transition is the internal reaction to the event.  Are we sad, mad, glad, anxious, excited or terrified? This emotional response and the actions we take  will determine how well and how quickly we navigate through the transition cycle.

I believe what will dictate our initial response and our subsequent behaviours starts with one fundamental life skill.  Resilience.

In the natural science world it is defined as the ability to return to the original form after being bent, stretched or compressed and social scientists define it  as the ability to recover readily from illness, adversity and the like.

As with all other personality traits, we are born with different degrees and combinations of each.  And although resilience as such cannot be taught, it can be learned!

Here are some practical ways to increase your resilience:

  • Become more optimistic: When faced with a challenging situation, many of us default to looking at the glass half full.   (It’s not our fault-it’s part of being human!)  Take a minute and mindfully re-frame it.  What if I turned this 180 degrees? What do I see now?  What is possible from this angle?  What opportunities are there?  What would (name of most optimistic person you know) think about this?  For more on this topic, Martin Seligman has written prolifically on learned optimism.
  • Take control over what you can:  The Alcoholics Anonymous mantra comes to mind.  “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change what I can and the wisdom to know the difference”.   Don’t waste time and energy being frustrated by chasing windmills.  In the midst of the chaos that accompanies change, especially the imposed kind, be realistic and clear about what is within your control.  And no matter what the situation, there are always things within our control.
  • Become more curious: Curiosity may have killed the cat in the olden days but today it is bound to save him!  Find out everything you can about what is going on around you.  ASK questions and don’t assume people know and aren’t telling you. (Sometimes people, even the ones who should know, don’t).  Once you have gathered the necessary intel and hard data, be curious about yourself .  Why I am responding this way?  What is within my control?  What do I like about this change?  What am I not prepared to live with?  How else can I look at this?  What will help me? Who can help me?
  • Become more of a learner:  To me you can’t have one without the other when it comes to curiosity and learning.  Doesn’t it stand to reason that once you start asking questions you want to learn the answers and then apply your new knowledge?  When it comes to the uncertainty of impending layoffs, learning  more about your industry will allow you to position yourself.   Learning about the skills that are in demand will allow you to acquire them and (link to bullet 2) take control over your career path.  Learning more about yourself will allow you to know what exactly you want and how you can brand yourself most effectively.

Al Siebert was a founding father in  the field of resilience.  You can assess your current level of resilience by taking an online quiz and learning more at  www.resiliencycenter.com

There is no question that change is coming at us from all sides.  We hear that the pace of change is increasing.  The only certainly-apart from death and taxes- is there will be more.  Unless you’re planning to go and live off the grid in a jungle, you will be part of it.  Enhancing your current resilience practices and applying some new ones will mean you have control over how you will show up when change hits you head on.