How I focus

16 June, 2015

A professional organizer friend of mine recently confessed that she’s feeling overwhelmed and struggling to stay focused. On top of busily working in her successful business, she’s added ‘wedding planner’ to her already full plate as she excitedly prepares for the big day this September. Almost everyone I talk to these days struggles with staying focused. I will admit, I have my scattered moments too. There are tons of articles and books that teach us how to get and stay focused, but that requires us to consume even more information, and processing all of it can be fatiguing in and of itself. With that in mind, my goal for this article is to keep it as simple, and straightforward as possible so you can easily and quickly put these ideas into practice.

Here’s some of my tried and true practices for staying focused:

  • Before I begin a project, I clear my desk. A clear desk equals a focused mind. Even if you have to put piles on your floor, it’s better than having clutter in your line of vision to distract you.
  • I aim to create systems for as many things as possible. The more I can commit something to a system of habits, the less I have to think about it.
  • I do less, and say no. My default answer to new requests is often ‘no’. Or, at the very least I tell the requestor I have to think about it and get back to them. This sets up an important boundary for me, and it lets others know that I’m not an ‘automatic yes’ kind of person. It’s easier to go back on a no, than what’s often a people pleasing ‘yes’ in disguise. I can then give myself time to reflect and think about what I might be saying yes to, and why. I actually get fewer requests because of it!
  • I think less. In the book Confidence Code, authors, Shipman, and , explain that women are prone to over thinking everything. This erodes our confidence, and puts us in a constant state of worry, anxiety, and self doubt which hampers our ability to focus.
  • I watch short, funny youtube videos. Here’s one that’s only 3 minutes long and will take your mind off of everything – promise! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAibh3SqRUo
  • I stop what I’m doing for 5 minutes, and just listen to the sounds around me. This is especially stress relieving if I do it outside. The sounds of nature are thought to significantly reduce our cortisol level (a stress hormone).
  • I have a meditation practice. All I do is sit quietly for 5 minutes each morning. I go through my body and ‘notice’ what’s going on. First my breath, then the ‘weight’ of my body in the chair, the sensation of where my body is touching the chair, the temperature of my body, and even the sensation of the air on my skin. My brain loves to wander and when it does, I gently refocus by again noticing my breathing. It’s that easy. I started this practice by telling myself I’ll meditate for just 2 minutes. Come on folks, anyone can do 2 minutes! The science behind this is undeniable, and you WILL feel more focused and productive as a result.
  • I’ve given up on multitasking. A host of studies from the University of Michigan to Vanderbilt show that you can’t do two cognitive tasks at one time, particularly anything involving language. There’s only one channel for language to flow through. Each time you multitask you self-interrupt. That causes it to take longer, some 50% longer, to complete tasks, and the interruptions make your brain feel that tasks are harder than they really are, which fuels overwhelm. Anything we do that allows our thinking brain to rest will relieve our sense of overwhelm, and allow us to focus better.

I hope you’ll try some of these. I only recommend things that I’ve done myself and found to be effective.

Feel free to get in touch with me with comments, questions, or some of your favorite ways to focus.

Until next time, Breathe deeply, and BE calm.

Shirley

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Go it Alone – Ask for Help!

6 February, 2015

Woman with a pile of workOne of the things I notice is how hesitant women are to ask for help. Clients share that they’re overwhelmed, yet when I ask if they’ve requested help from anyone, the answer is often ‘no.’ They say things like:  ‘I can’t ask my husband, because he won’t do it right or he’s too busy.’  or  ‘Getting an assistant means I’d have to spend a lot of time training them, and it’s quicker if I do it myself.’  In short, they’re stuck in what I call: ‘go it alone syndrome’. Sound familiar?

This is a common phenomenon, and I believe there are several reasons why women (and men too) don’t ask for help in spite of their overflowing workload.
Here are 5:

  1. We are taught to be independent. In our western culture it’s a built in message throughout our entire education. Of course we hear a lot more about teamwork and collaboration nowadays, especially in the workplace, but the underlying message remains – we should be able to handle it alone.
  2. The all too familiar Saboteur. I believe we’re influenced by what one of my mentors calls a societal ‘saboteur.’  (You know, that voice of judgment you often hear inside your head?)  Well, they’ve teamed up to remind us that it’s ‘weak’ to reach out. After all, it’s vulnerable to admit that we can’t do everything.
  3. We’re not completely clear what women’s liberation means in this decade. Yes, we’ve come a long way since the protests for women’s rights, but are we holding on so tight for fear we’ll lose what we’ve gained? I don’t believe we’ll lose anything by admitting we can’t do it all.  None of us can, at least not without serious consequences to our health and well being.
  4. Women by nature are prone to perfectionism. This according to Daniel G. Amen, M.D., author of Unleash the Power of the Female Brain. While our pre-frontal cortex (the higher, thinking brain) is larger than our male counterparts, we tend to worry more and focus too much on problems. Imagine the relief we could feel if we’d just let go a little?
  5. Leisure time is a four letter word. Recent studies show that men have more leisure time than women, and women still do more household chores as well as spending a longer time doing them. Ladies, we can take a ‘victim’ stance with this, or, we can take an honest look at what motivates us. What does ‘leisure’ time mean to you? Perhaps it feels more honorable to say you are busy all the time. Here’s my challenge question: What part of you clings so hard to the ‘I’m really busy’ mantra in order to feel worthy? 

When you are truly ready to honor yourself with more free time, here are some tips for how to ask for help:

  • Adjust your perspective. Be brutally honest here. Set aside all of your excuses for not asking, and look at what else might be going on for you. Ponder on the following: What’s really important here? What values would be honored if you asked for help?
  • Imagine relief. Think of something that if you were able to let it go would give you tremendous relief. What could you do with the extra time? Imagine it’s already happened. How would that feel? Ponder on this for at least a day. When we allow positive feelings like this, we’re engaging the creative side of our brain, and then the actions we need to take will flow naturally from there.
  • Start small. Ask your husband to do something you find easy, but he normally doesn’t do. Hint: Give him explicit instructions, and then be sure to acknowledge and praise him. Men love to know they can help as long as they understand what you want them to do, and feel appreciated in the process. The important thing is to build confidence – both by your asking, and his completion of a new task. Be willing to settle for a less than perfect outcome. When I first asked my husband to shop for groceries it was a little bumpy, but we’ve worked out the kinks. Since food shopping is not my favorite thing to do, it frees me up to get other things done!
  • Design an alliance. For more involved situations it can be helpful to do what many of us coaches do with our clients. Design an alliance with your spouse, friend or family member. Rather than giving a list of directives, you can ask for what you want, and the other person can talk about what works for them too. Discuss ways you will support each other.
  • BONUS CHALLENGE – ask for help with NO offer to help in return. The real test of your ability to ‘receive’ is asking without experiencing that twinge of guilt to give back right away. People usually love to help, and there will likely be opportunities for you to reciprocate later on. Asking in this way gives others permission to do the same. Remember, it is courageous, not weak; to ask for assistance, and practicing will make it easier.

The key is to be clear about what it is you are asking for and then stay unattached to the outcome. Resist any temptation to assume how people will respond to you or what they’ve got going on. Our brains are wired to do this, but we’re rarely accurate about what we ‘make up’. First get clear about what you want, and then you’ll be able to communicate that effectively to others. Even if at first the results are different than you expected, think about what you learned. What does asking for help free you up to do? Finally, whatever support you receive, stay in a grateful mind sight. Even if your spouse picked out squishy tomatoes, acknowledge him for his effort. Practice asking, again, and again. Then go make some spectacular spaghetti sauce.

Asking for help is a form of leadership, and I believe we are all leaders in some form or another. That’s why I’ve created a new workshop titled “Everyone’s a Leader” for managers, aspiring leaders, and parents. Get in touch with me if you are interested in having me speak to your group or company. shirley@shirleyoya.com.

 

 

 

What Will Your Future Self be Grateful For?

28 November, 2014

As my 54th birthday approaches, I find myself pondering on the meaning of life, and what I’ve yet to accomplish in the decades to come.  Looking back, it can be tempting for me to say things like: if only I knew this/did this when I was 34, or 24.  

Woman looking down roadI recently read that if we visualize ourselves several years into the future, we are apt to make healthier choices now.  Since Thanksgiving is upon us, I decided to visit the topic of gratitude through the eyes of my future self.  I’ve asked myself what do I want to be grateful for when I’m 74?  What are those choices I want to make now, that I will be grateful for in the future?

Here are some things I want my future self to be able to say:

  • I’m grateful that I curbed my spending enough to allow me an abundant and worry-free retirement.
  • I’m grateful I continued to eat healthy, and stuck to an exercise routine because my body is still strong and flexible.
  • I’m grateful to have spend many meaningful moments with loved ones, and look forward to many more!
  • I’m grateful I maintained a regular meditation practice because my mind remains creative and clear.
  • I’m grateful I stood strong on my values, and created healthy boundaries about what I was willing or not willing to do.
  • I’m grateful I took the necessary risks in order to become the world changer I wanted to be.
  • I’m grateful I remained steadfast in my faith in God.

As you go through your week, consider spending a few moments visualizing your future self.  What do you want her/him to say to you now about the current choices you are making?  What will they be most grateful for?  Remember, you always only have THIS moment.  You can choose what to do with it.

I wish you and your family a joyous, and abundant Thanksgiving, filled with special times with the people who are most important in your life.

Much Love!

Beautiful Words
“There must be always remaining in every life, some place for the singing of angels, some place for that which itself is breathless and beautiful.” ~Howard Thurman

Great Movie
The Theory of EverythingBeautifully acted, and in my opinion wonderfully cast, “The Theory of Everything” is a powerful story about love, determination, and living a life of meaning in spite of a tragic disease.  The story reveals the amazing resiliency of the human spirit when we are clear about what we’ve been put on this earth to do.  I highly recommend it!

A Rush of Joy

20 November, 2014

This past September was a particularly intense month for me. I had 3 speaking engagements in 3 weeks, 2 key meetings related to my Millennial Initiative, and an article deadline for Thirty Something Magazine (www.thirtysomethingmagazine.com). All this along with private client coaching calls, and of course writing my newsletters and this blog. In addition I attended a memorial service for the sudden passing of a fellow church member one week, and a 20-year celebration anniversary the next. While it’s generally my nature to see the blessings in the midst of life’s challenges and stresses, it definitely felt like I was spinning too many plates.

One day as I walked in Santa Monica (one of my favorite cities to stroll in) I was noticing the ‘weight’ of all that I had to do, along with the myriad of emotions that ranged from grief to elation, including a fair amount of anxiety about how I’d get it all done. As I walked I remembered the heartfelt compassion some of our church members displayed when they shared about ways they could support the grieving partner of our beloved church member.

Woman Open Arms

After pondering this for only a few minutes, I was suddenly struck by a ‘whoosh’ kind of feeling that passed through me. My steps became lighter, my pace picked up, and I felt energized as I pondered on the many different things we could do to come to this woman’s side. Although I hadn’t yet decided on what I would do to offer support, just the anticipation of reaching out filled me with a rush of joy.

We hear all the time how acts of kindness bring just as much joy (if not more) to the giver as they do the receiver.  While it doesn’t surprise me that I would feel joy while simply thinking about potential ways to offer support, what struck me is how instantaneously it took me out of my funk and transformed me – mind, body, and soul! I felt energized, inspired, and excited about tackling the rest of the day’s tasks. What resulted was a renewed sense of creativity and a feeling of peace.

While we don’t perform acts of kindness merely for us to feel better, a side benefit is that we increase some of our positive emotions, joy being one of them. (There are 10 positive emotions in all according to Barbara Fredrickson, author of Positivity). Who in your life could use a kind word or an act of kindness? If you’re feeling overloaded, exhausted, or simply frustrated by all that you have to do, think of someone you can reach out to and help them have a better day. They’ll be grateful for your kindness, and I bet you’ll experience a ‘rush of joy’ too!

What Gives You Hope?

20 November, 2014

The Mirriam Webster definition of hope:
“To want something to happen or to be true, and think that it could happen or be true.” 

The word hope shows up a lot in personal growth work.  It’s one of the 24 character strengths defined in the Via Character Strength Assessment (click here to learn more about the science of strengths: www.viacharacter.org). It’s also one of my core values, as well as several of my client’s. Barbara Fredrickson, famed positivity researcher, identified it as one of the 10 positive emotions that when engaged helps us broaden and build our minds. This in turn increases our resilience (and well-being) so we are better able to deal with stress and adversity. Clearly, taking a deep dive into what hope means to us is well worth our time and effort.

Hope happens to be #3 on my top 5 character strengths list. I discovered this long after identifying it as a core value. Looking back, I can see where hope was very much at work during my troubled teen years. The blessing of hope being one of my signature strengths may have been the only thing that got me through that time. Without it, I might not have made some of the ‘better choices’ that ultimately led me down a healthier path. The good news is, even if hope is not an innate strength of yours, you can still flex this resilience-building muscle by engaging in practices that increase your degree of it.

In a recent workshop I conducted on the topic of resilience, we gathered into groups of 3 and discussed the following questions:

  1. What does hope mean to you?  (like any core value, it can mean different things to different people).
  2. What gives you hope?
  3. In what ways can a perspective of hopefulness support you in your life right now?

Several people came up to me at the end of the event, to tell me how impactful it was to share their thoughts about hope with others.

If you are willing to look at the circumstances of your life through a lens of hope it can be a tremendously liberating experience. Being hopeful does not mean you are denying your circumstances, or merely ‘thinking positive’. You don’t lose anything by adopting a hopeful perspective. In fact, it could be just what you need to expand your awareness so that new solutions and choices can appear.

I encourage you to spend some time this week pondering on what hope means to you.
I invite you to do the above exercise with someone in your life. You may be pleasantly surprised by your answers, and there’s.

3 Radical Self-Care Tips for the Holidays

7 November, 2014

I recently held a pair of workshops on the topic of resilience, (defined as: an individual’s ability to properly adapt to stress and adversity).

Frenzied woman postitsWe explored some of the ways we can strengthen our resilience in order to better deal with the tough times in life. A key component of resilience is positivity, which involves increasing positive emotions such as: joy, gratitude, serenity, hope, inspiration, and love to name just a few. Boosting positivity in any of these forms hugely impacts your physical, mental, and emotional well being, making it easier for you to manage your stress.  A time of year that can add to this stress is the holiday season in spite of all the joy it brings. Think endless shopping lists, and a bulging schedule with all the added festivities to attend.

During this hectic time you may be tempted to ignore some of your self-care rituals. Don’t do this! This is a time when you most need it, and self-care is a key component for building the positive emotions outlined above. What’s important is that you feel ‘worthy’ of a radical self-care practice, and, you ARE worthy!

My viewpoint on self-care is that it’s what we do internally that matters, versus taking yoga classes, getting our nails done, or visiting a spa. Those are all great too, but it’s how we think about self-care, and our internal transformation that count the most.

Here’s my recipe to help you reduce your stress and get you on the path to radical self-care for the holiday season and beyond. To keep it simple, I’ve included only 3, although there are many more.

1. Supreme Acts of Kindness

Acknowledge someone every day for one week. One of the most powerful emotions humans can experience is to feel appreciated.  Think of one special trait or quality that describes each person and let them know what you appreciate about them and why. You can do this via email, text, phone, or, even better, face-to-face.

When you acknowledge someone in this way they will feel valued and ‘seen’.  Notice the impact you’ve made as they (and you) experience a flood of positive emotions as a result.

2. Three Shades of Gratitude

At the end of your day, write down 3 things that went well and one reason why. Don’t think too hard about this; it can be as simple as, “My husband called and asked me if I needed anything at the store, because he enjoys helping me out.” Hint: the ‘why’ part is key. If this is the only new habit you develop this year, give yourself a huge pat on the back. Virtually every happiness study speaks to the value of a gratitude practice to improve your overall health and well being. This tip transformed my marriage!

3. Savor the Good

Another effective way to boost your positive feelings is to learn how to cherish. It’s automatic for many of us to notice only what’s wrong in the worldThanks to our ancestors, our brains are well versed in scanning for ‘threats’ and focusing on the negative, which creates a lot of stress! Additionally, the habit of constantly looking for what could go wrong limits your creative ability to find solutions to everyday problems.  A great antidote for this: Close your eyes and think of a special holiday memory. Recall everything you can about the experience. How you felt, the sights, the smells, who was there, and what was happening. Breathe in the experience for 10 seconds or more. Equally beneficial is to savor when a boss or co-worker praises you for a job you’ve done well. Studies show that reflecting on any positive experience for at least 10 seconds ensures the feelings associated with it get transferred into your long-term memory bank. This doesn’t just feel good; it strengthens your brain and helps you re-wire your thought processes so you’re less apt to think only of the negative side of things.

Turkey DinnerAll of these practices will boost your positive emotions and your feelings of well being in a big way. Your heart and mind will expand, and you’ll be less reactive when holiday traffic gets heavier, lines get longer, and, as you deal with others who haven’t been introduced to resilience practices like these. Actually, they’ll be fortunate to have encountered you!

I’d enjoy reading about any experiences you’ve had with your self-care rituals. Be sure to write them below. Happy Holidays!

 

 

How can I be more interesting?

20 September, 2014

I get this question a lot.  Many of us want to avoid small talk, yet we don’t always know what to say beyond talking about the weather.  The truth of the matter is, many people experience some amount of shyness in social situations which may have them worry about whether they’re interesting enough.

women talking

People are often surprised when I respond by asking the following question: How do you help the other person feel like they are interesting?  You may have heard the saying – ‘be more interested rather than interesting’.  It’s much easier to be curious about someone than to agonize over what brilliant thing you can say.  I used to be painfully shy, so when I first learned this, it was a huge relief!  Being curious and listening intently to the other person leads to a more positive experience for both of you.  Here’s 3 tips to help you with this process:

1. Listen more than you talk.
Ask open ended questions that get people to talk about themselves.  There is no right or wrong here.  What you ask depends on what you’re naturally curious about, whether it’s your first meeting or the 50th, and the particular circumstances surrounding the meeting.  Here’s a few examples: What’s the best movie you’ve seen this year and what made it special?  What’s something about you that I might not have guessed?  Where did you last go on vacation and what was the best part?  If you’re not sure how to get started, and you genuinely dislike small talk, say that!  You can say something like: ‘I really don’t enjoy small talk very much.  I’d rather learn things from or about the people I meet’.  Most of the time, people will be relieved to hear you say this.  You can lead the way towards a more interesting conversation!

2. Resist the temptation to ‘identify’ with what they tell you.
If they talk about their vacation to the Bahamas, resist chiming in with all the details of your recent trip.  Instead, give them the space to tell their story, and acknowledge them by nodding, and/or smiling.  Ask them questions to deepen the conversation.  Of course you can share about your vacation after they’ve finished.

3. Acknowledge them in some way.
Let them know what you appreciate about their story and why.  What really stood out?  If you’re not sure what to say, think about the values you ‘heard’.  The simplest definition for values:  they are what matters most to someone.  For example: If they repeatedly mention their family, you can say something like: “Wow, I can tell you really value spending time with your family!” Other values to listen for: integrity, compassion, connection, collaboration and adventure, just to name a few.  Have fun with this and say what feels resonant to you!

Why bother doing this?
When you ask people about themselves, they light up, and guess what?  Very soon your shyness disappears!  You get to find out things about this person you might not have learned otherwise, and they in turn feel ‘understood’ by you.

When people feel they’ve been ‘heard’ they experience a flood of positive emotions.  This in turn has them feeling good about the person who took the time to listen to them, you!  An enjoyable person is an interesting person, and you’ve achieved your goal!  Easy right?

Want to learn more?
If you want to learn more about how to engage in heartfelt, meaningful conversations to improve your relationships at home and at work, contact me for a 3-session Connect Like a Coach (TM) introductory package.
I’ll teach you many of the tools I’ve learned and developed over my decade-plus coaching, and will coach you toward mastery in this life skill.  Just $297.00 for 3 sessions.  Limited time only.

Just ListenP.S. This article doesn’t address those people whom you might describe as emotionally draining.  They will usually do all the talking without any regard or consideration for you, and they may not get the message that they too can reap the rewards of being a good listener.  You may need to be patient with this, because after awhile many people do come around.  For tips on dealing with people who never ‘get it’, I highly recommend Mark Goulston’s book: Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.  Inside is an excellent chapter on how to deal with various ‘toxic’ people.

Wow, Can this Really Make a Difference in Your Relationship?

16 September, 2014

Healthy Habits
My clients often talk about their relationship challenges in coaching.  One of the first things I assign is similar to habit #5, offered in this week’s article by Dr. Mark Goulston: The 10 Habits of Happy Couples As Told By A Psychiatrist

Attitude of Gratitude
couple walkingI’m always delighted to hear how impactful this one practice is on my client’s lives.  They quickly learn that no matter how ‘wrong’ things appear, the simple intention of seeing their partner through a lens of gratitude vs a critical eye can be a key ingredient for a healthier relationship.

To read all of Dr. Goulston’s helpful tips,
click here: Happy Couple Habits

3 Tips for Reducing Your Negative Thoughts!

7 August, 2014

Banishing Negative Thoughts
Here’s a great article about the power of thoughts.  It invites us to do 3 things:

  1. Forgive yourself – you are doing the best you can
  2. Focus on being the best version of YOU
  3. Notice what is going right in your life

Read Lindsay Holmes’ complete article, “3 Negative Thoughts We All Have (And How to Banish Them for Good),” here:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/11/negative-thoughts-stop_n_5574775.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000030

It always boils down to how we choose to ‘think’ about our lives.  To quote Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning:

stimulus and response

These are just a few of the many tools that strengthen your resilience so you can better manage the inevitable curve balls life will send your way.

Don’t miss this workshop!
Watch for details about my new upcoming workshop designed to address this very topic:

Cultivate Resiliency
Overcome the 3 common mistakes churchgoers (and others) make that keep them stuck, stressed, and struggling when bad things happen, and the 3 keys to thriving in spite of life’s challenges.

Did you know?
Work-Life Programs Cut Medical Costs and Absenteeism

According to a report by Joe Robinson, www.worktolive.info, “Highly stressed employees see their doctors 26% more than low-stress individuals, and specialists 27% more.”
Furthermore, U.C. Irvine researcher, Peter Schnall, calculates the cost of stress-related issues to businesses each year at $407 billion, from absenteeism to medical bills and recruiting and training.
This is just one of many reports that illustrate how urgent it is to get these programs inside organizations.
If your company is interested in reducing these costs and others, I am happy to do a ‘needs analysis’ to find out which program will work best for them.

3 Magic Words

5 August, 2014

What’s the ONE thing?
ID-100176105This could be the simplest, yet one of the most powerful questions I could ask you.
Or, maybe not.

Our lives are super busy, and many of us are probably working on numerous projects at any one time.

Do you frequently feel like you can’t decide what to do first in a particular project?  Is it hard to know what is most important?  What if you forget something, or you choose the wrong thing to start on?  It can feel like there is an endless loop in your mind!

Both my clients and I struggle with these questions all the time.  Here’s 3 magic words that can help: Break it Down.  Every time I speak these words to a client, there is usually an audible sigh of relief.

Here are the 7 quick and easy steps you can do to help you break down a project:ID-10022750

  1. Clear everything off your desk.  A clear desk equals a clear mind.
  2. Take out a sheet of paper, and write down all the tasks for a particular project.  Do this quickly, and write as many as you can think of.  Don’t worry about the order yet.  You can always edit later.
  3. Prioritize.  Assign a number to each task that prioritizes its order.
  4. Pick one task to start working on right now.  Yes!  It is okay to start a task that is out of order provided you’re not skipping an important step in between.  Pay attention to your level of energy at the time, and what you feel like doing.
  5. Clear your desk again if necessary.
  6. Now break this one task down into specific steps.  Keep it under 5.  If there’s too many steps, it means you need to further break the task into 2 separate ones.
  7. Do ONE step on your list right now.  Pick any one thing, depending on the amount of time you have.  Hint: If you choose something easy that doesn’t take very long, you’ll free great that you got things rolling!

This is Key:
You may think the time to break down a project is only at the beginning.

This is simply not the case.

It is often necessary in the middle, especially in long term projects, for you to take another look to effectively complete it.  Don’t let your inner judge convince you otherwise!

When I have multiple projects, I will often break them into manageable steps almost daily so I can stay on track and feel more productive.

Ready? GO!!!