Stress. Stress. Go Away!
I am going to battle in 2017.
Wish me luck.
Maybe you would like to join me?
My enemy is powerful.
My enemy is evil.
My enemy seems to take no prisoners.
It is becoming more pervasive in our society.
It is becoming the norm.
It is taking over people and making them miserable.
My enemy is stress.
For some reason, stress has not been high on my radar as I close out 2016.
I know that it was quite high when I started 2016.
I know that because I ended up re-branding 2016, year 1 of my transition from employee to entrepreneur, as my “sabbatical” year.
I decided that I would take a sabbatical year.
I have worked hard over the years so I felt like I deserved one 🙂
But instead of backpacking the world I would use the sabbatical year to launch my business.
It would be a working sabbatical.
In this way, I figured, there would be less pressure to generate revenue, create clients, build infrastructure and tools etc..
The focus would be on exploring potential business models, service offerings, clients etc..
And all of that, at my own pace.
And I like to take things slow.
I am going to be one of the last of my peers to obtain my coaching diploma this year.
I decided to take what I call the “slow boat to China” approach.
I learn by doing so it was important for me to allow for time to apply the learning.
I only came up with idea of the “sabbatical” naming convention about 3 months into the year.
As I started taking my coaching courses, and attending “starting your business” seminars and watching “branding your business” webinars, and connecting with colleagues and peers, one thing started to dawn on me.
Everyone had an opinion on what you should and should not do.
If you did not follow their tried and trued ways you were doomed to failure.
And time was the essence, get going, NOW! Or you guessed it, you will fail.
Yikes. I could hear the stress and sense the fear among the other coaches who were also starting out.
I remember on one marketing your business call when some poor woman volunteered to ask a question of the panel.
She wanted to know if she could focus on both business and life coaching.
The response was a resounding NO.
You pick one, not both!
I think the context was from a marketing perspective but that seemed to have been lost in the moment.
She really took a beating from the panel, and in front of all of her global peers.
Yikes. I actually had the same question in my mind.
Good thing I was not as courageous as her to ask that question 🙂 which is ironic since courage is one of my top values.
And this was a coaching call where the modus operandi is NOT to tell people what to do.
You can just imagine what some of my other experiences have been like.
“Do this or you wont make it”.
“Do that or you wont make it”.
“Do this and that or you wont make it”.
Oh, and your 40-hour work week, good luck with that one.
You are starting a business you have to put in the hours.
Reminds me of a scene in the movie Platoon .. shut up and “take the pain”. 🙁
Hence the need to reduce the stress and how I came up with the idea of the sabbatical year.
A little late in the year, 3 months in, but better late than never.
It seems to have worked because my stress level seems to have reduced itself to the point where it seems to have fallen off the radar.
The management accountant in me recently came up with some KPI (Key Performance Indicators) to help me in building my business.
Among the traditional ones, # of clients, # of Blogs posted, # of networking events attended, I have some that are meant to measure my “emotional state” for lack of a better word.
I have a Confidence Score. The range is 0-10. Nirvana is a 10. Above 10 is trending toward overconfidence, which is something that I need to be especially wary of as an entrepreneur (FYI I am ENTP.A Myers Briggs, the “Entrepreneur”).
I have a Faith Factor Score. A 10 means I am fully on board in believing that I have found my calling, that I am living my dreams (or very shortly about to live my dreams)
I have a Fear Factor Score. The target is 0.
And my favourite and one of my most important measures, I have a Fun Factor Score. Target, a 10. Having fun in all I do and who I do it with.
So here I was chugging along, month to month, updating and sharing my KPI results with my Coach and some of my peer coaches and only recently realized I might be missing one.
I was not measuring my stress level.
Perhaps I need to add a metric to MY scorecard?
It only dawned on me this past week how top of mind stress has been for people this year as I was sending out my Holiday greetings to the folks in my network.
Based on some of the response that I received, it seemed as if stress was rearing its ugly head more often than not in 2016, very often in fact.
The dual careers, the kids, the family, the chores, the expectations on both the personal and professional fronts just seem to be increasing exponentially yet the allotment of hours in a week in which we have available to get them done has not.
Add to the mix all the emails, texts, linked-in messages, facebook shares, dating-site winks (for some) and all the other messages vying for our attention and you can see how, as more than one person put it, things are “crazy” these days.
Crazy. What better way to get stressed out.
The craziness just seemed to be constant for the people who were sharing.
In my own interactions with people this year, I too was amazed at how crazy people’s lives had become.
Not Absolutely fabulous, the TV series.
I also came face to face with the ravages of stress as I hit the holiday party circuit.
I came across many of my former colleagues and friends, some of whom I had not seen for years.
The effect of stress was hard to miss.
They had gained weight, lots of it in many cases.
You could see the stress in their faces, you could hear it in their voices.
Some actually came right out with and mentioned that they were miserable from the amount of stress in their lives but felt helpless to do anything about it.
Others seemed to have come to the conclusion that it was un-escapable.
Just a normal part of life today.
Suck it up! Take the pain.
I can’t tell you how much people seemed to be looking forward to a break during the holidays.
Too bad there are not more holiday breaks if that is the only time that people can stop and recharge,
And how many of them will be surrounded by their phones and computers, and accompanying stress, during that holiday break.
I have given up trying to keep track of how many people have told me that they have suffered from a burnout or know of someone who has.
Just think of the cost to people’s lives.
The impact on their health, their wellbeing, their relationships with family and loved ones.
Just think of the cost to the organizations where these people work. Not just from the days off from burnout but from the days off when people show up but are not really there.
Just last week my coach, Shawna Corden, shared an article with her linked-in network which I then shared with mine (so hopefully you all had a chance to look at it)
According to the article, it turns out that the #1 thing that people have wanted less of in 2016 is, you guessed it, stress.
Apparently, a lot of that stress emanates from the work place.
No wonder I used to dread Mondays like the plague.
I guess I was not alone on the stress front this year.
I wonder if anyone else decided to make this year a sabbatical year 🙂
In addition to launching my business during my sabbatical year I also wanted to complete the work that I have been doing on strengthening my own personal foundation that I had started a few years ago.
Having a strong personal foundation was and is one of my top strategies and key enablers of allowing me to lead a fulfilling life and in helping others do likewise.
Very important to me given the tie-in to my personal and business vision and mission.
In relation to reducing stress, I feel that I have had some success in 2016.
I have made some good strides.
I would like to share them with you in this long blog (a.k.a. short story) in case anyone else can benefit from any of the ideas and insights.
Food for thought.
Take it or leave it.
Reminder. The delete button is at the top right of your computer 🙂
I have to remember that even if and when I do reduce my stress level to 0, I will always have to stay vigilant that it does not crop up and rear its ugly head again.
I like to refer to this phase as maintenance mode. It requires high levels of awareness in order to detect this nasty critter before it can get back to doing nasty things to me.
So here you go, the top 5 ways that I have used to reduce my stress levels in 2016 and plan on using moving forward in keeping them that way (i.e. low to non-existent) in 2017
#1 A SYSTEM
I have the type of personality that likes to explore as many ideas and engage with as many people as possible. The concept of time and effort somehow seem to get lost in the mix. I was trying to squeeze 300 hours into a 168-hour week, and that was juts work related tasks, and wondering why I was triple booking time in my calendar. And worse, wondering why I was waking up stressed at night.
It was time for a change. Some form of discipline was required. I did not want to put the kybosh on my creative side. I did not want to end up in a task related straight jacket. I wanted to continue to have fun.
The form of discipline that I decided on was what I call a system. Technically speaking, it is really a time management system. Time is a scarce resource that managed well (i.e. aligned with my most impactful and fulfilling tasks) can provide great pleasure, the opposite results in stress and other nasty things.
In designing and building my system, a system tailored to me, one that works for me (and not the other way around) I leveraged lots of ideas from others (a.k.a. My beg, borrow and steal approach).
All of those great ideas were tested, then tweaked and then incorporated into my framework and accompanying tool kit. It took me close to a year to get the system up and running but the payoff has been huge. I call my system BFcubed (BFFF for Balance, Focus, Flexibility and Fun). I shared it with some of my coaching peers recently and they think that I should copyright it 🙂 I was flattered. I will share the highlights in a future blog in the hopes that others can beg, borrow and steal ideas from it to help them design and build their own system to help them wage their own war on stress.
One lesson learned that I will share is that I found out, the hard way, that for maximum stress reducing effect the system should (yikes I hate the word should. Stop “shoulding” on people Dave) cover all the relevant life quadrants (i.e. work, family, friends, me, other?). I had everything up and running in my business quadrant (40 of the 168 hours in my week) and was all set to get going one Monday morning but quickly realized that I was completely stressed out. Turns out that weekend that I had not picked up the groceries and the kids were with me for that week. There was a whole list of things that I was supposed to have done that weekend, including taking some time off to relax, that I had not done. The result was that the stress invaded my working day and week from the get go and ended up reducing my productivity and my all important fun factor 🙁
I now realize how interconnected our various life quadrants are. Let one suffer and it impacts the others. That same principle is one of the reasons that my coaching covers, career, life and business and everything in between (but that is our secret, ssshhhhhh, don’t tell anyone, I don’t want to get yelled at like my coaching peer who even mentioned combining career and life coaching :)). The coaching process is the same and it is hard to separate the pieces. Sometimes it is important to make changes in multiple quadrants in order to make change in one, and more importantly, and often more challenging, to maintain them.
#2 Learning to say NO
Yes. In 2016, the Yes man learned how to day NO. Finally! It was killing me. It is still new to me and not yet a habit but I am working on it. My son and ex-wife have spent years trying to make me aware that I was a YES man. Finally, I decided to do a google search on “Yes Man” to better understand what it meant and my picture came up. 🙁
I also finally figured out what a friend of mine has been telling me about saying no. She told me that “to say no, you need to be able to say yes”. I now get it. I now realize that unless I have some sort of criteria for where I want to spend my time and a good understanding of what my priorities are, it is difficult to say no because everything could potentially be an opportunity not to be missed (my excuse #1 for not saying no) or I might be letting a loved down (my excuse #2) and I am Mr. Nice guy. As someone recently pointed out to me, maybe too nice to succeed as a business owner and sole practitioner. Yikes!
To help me on this front, I found a tool in my tool kit that I had not really noticed before. My VALUES. I dusted them off and came up with, you guessed it, my top 10. It took me a while, most of the year but I was finally able to narrow them down from 502 to 10. Whew. Quite the exercise. I actually built a tool to help me, a couple in fact J. But they now serve me well. They help me narrow down and prioritize my choices. I have stuck them on my front door so that everyday when I leave the house they remind me of what is truly important.
Best of all, I feel as if I am not just using My “head” to make decisions these days, like I would do in the past (must have been all the accounting courses :)), but by also using MY “heart” because that is where many of my values lie 🙂
Speaking of personal values. As previously mentioned, courage is right up there. In the top 10, probably the top 5. Staying true to my calling and my priorities is going to require a lot of courage. Saying No is still not easy for me. Likely tough for others as well. To say no to the boss who is asking you to do something that at first does not seem to make sense, takes courage. For the boss to say no to the client that has asked for something that does not make sense, takes courage. We often hear that the client is always right (excuse #3), so instead of questioning that client for potential fit, we are more inclined to “suck it up and just do it”. BTW. When I have previously suggested to go ahead and just do it, this was not what I had in mind. 🙁
It has taken me many moons to develop the courage that I can now call upon. It has served me well so far. I recently shared with some of my coaching peers that I felt like I was the cowardly lion in the wizard of Oz for most of my life. Turns out there was no yellow brick road or wizard to help me out. For me it was the decision to move forward in shaping the life I truly wanted that helped me develop my courage. That and the support of my friends and loved ones as I at first stumbled and fell. That was my yellow brick road. More like my “Orange brick road” since Orange is My primary color. And like a good friend I am likely going to have to call upon my newfound courage a lot more as I continue my life Journey. Took me a while to find it but as I like to say (better late than never).
In coaching we like to say that AWARENESS is 9/10th of the battle. What better weapon then for My war on stress. In hindsight, I now realize that I am often, some will argue, always, the author of my own stress. More often than not, I am beginning to believe that to be the case. One of the other coaching principles that I am constantly reminded about from my peers is that we always have a choice. Ultimately all our choices are ours. Something for me to be mindful of. That self-imposed stress. For me that includes worrying about all the terrible things that might happen (yet ultimately don’t). I can’t tell the future so why bother. My New Years resolution is to stay in the moment. They say that there is no stress in the moment so what better place to hang out in 🙂
Moving forward, I will keep my eyes and ears and other receptors on the lookout for any signs of stress or oncoming stress (a.k.a. triggers), whether that be lack of sleep, lack of exercise, taking on too much, or juts plain hanging out with people who stress me out.
Last, but certainly not least, compassion. Compassion for others and for myself. Like the pleasant feeling that I get from giving a gift to someone (aside, my daughters love language, I believe :)). I receive an equally pleasant feeling when I am compassionate with others (note to self, be compassionate more often with others in order to help them in their war with stress).
What I discovered very early on in my new journey is that if I am not compassionate with myself, there is not enough in the tank to give to others. I have also discovered that it is important, more like essential, that I take a break from time to time in order to reflect and smell the roses. Not every once in a blue moon but often, and by myself.
And in the interim, day in and day out, I am now aware of the importance of taking care of myself. One of my favourite health and wellness books is Eat. Move. Sleep by Tom Rath. I used to get by on 3 hours of sleep, not even deep sleep. Today, If I don’t get enough sleep I can feel my loss of productivity and a corresponding increase in my loss of patience. I would add Drink (i.e. more water and less booz) and Connect (with people, preferably, the non-toxic kind) to the mix as well.
I experienced a terrible, miserable, stressful, unhappy time in my life a few years ago.
I have now spent the past few years moving in the opposite direction.
For those of you who want to see what a difference a few years can make, take a look at my before and after picture on my web site. Yikes for the past and Yay for the present (and future :))
I much prefer the new me and I am already looking forward to building on that foundation in 2017.
And stress is not a welcome part of that journey, hence my declaration of war on it. 🙂
For those of you who have also decided to focus on reducing stress in your lives in 2017, I wish you the very best.I wish you the strength and courage and persistence to replace the stress in your lives with something more fulfilling.Not only will you benefit, but so will your friends and loved ones, because like it or not, your stress often has an impact on them.
My New Years challenge to you all:
- Help others lead a less stressful 2017 (i.e. your colleagues, your peers, your team, your family, your children, your friends, your soul mate etc.)
- Help yourself to lead a less stressful 2017. See if you can reduce the stress that you put on yourself. Who else do you have more control or influence over then yourself.
Well, that’s all folks.
Happy Holidays and all the best in 2017 (a less stressful year I hope)
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What would that change be?
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