- Do less. Overbooking yourself and cramming your schedule is a sure-fire way to become hurried and harried, someone who tap their foot when the checkout moves slowly and beeps their horn if the driver in front doesn’t zoom off the second the light goes green. Intentionally accept fewer activities than you think you can take on in one day; most of the time we over-estimate what we can realistically do in 24 hours. The aim of life is not to eliminate all the white space in your diary but to make the most of what you do include.
- Leave time. Whenever possible, leave a little more time than you think you need for activities (we usually under-estimate) and between appointments (particularly wise if you’re changing location). Leave the house five minutes earlier than necessary and accept that you might have a few “wasted” moments if you arrive early. Wouldn’t you rather twiddle your thumbs and even be bored while you wait than experience the stress of rushing through traffic or ploughing through the crowds on the underground because you’ve cut it too fine?
- Choose your gear. You control your speed. Remember the courtyard scene in Dead Poet’s Society? Just because everyone else is walking in a certain way doesn’t mean you have to. Don’t get “infected” with other people’s haste if it is not what you want or need. And if a part of your day absolutely requires rushing and bustling, take a moment when that activity finishes to breathe and consciously change gear so that you don’t carry the sense of urgency required for one task into everything else you do and for which it is not necessary.
- Lower your expectations
Too often we put so much pressure on ourselves to have (and ensure others have) the perfect Christmas or New Year’s Eve that we end up stressed, frazzled and disappointed. What would it be like actively to set a lower expectation for your family this year? What if you were define a “good Christmas” as simply sharing a meal with your family (whether it’s a Nigellaesque feast, an overcooked turkey, or emergency take-away); enjoying some time off work to play with your kids (even if they squabble a bit); and finding a few hours to read a book (even if you have to get up a bit early to get that quiet time).
- Know where your responsibility stops
You are not responsible for ensuring your family has a good time. Read that again. Sure, you might be in charge of food, or you might be the one who deals with the kids’ presents, and those are definitely responsibilities with a capital R but, in the end, whether or not people enjoy the effort you make is up to them. You can lead a horse to the eggnog but you cannot make it drink…
- Get a little grateful
It’s so easy to let the season go by in a rush of wrapping up work, getting things done, paying visits, shopping, and attending events without stopping to appreciate all the gifts it offers. Over the holidays, take a moment at the end of every day to feel gratitude for all you have, even if – in fact, especially if – you currently feel like moving to a desert island at the earliest opportunity. Take a moment to, if possible, step outside, look up at the stars and genuinely count your blessings. When you go back inside, you’ll be able to see the noisy kids, grumpy father-in-law, slightly wonky tree, and rather cramped sitting room through very different eyes.
As I type the title of my article this month, I cringe, waiting for the Personal Development and Wellbeing Overlords to strike me down. I have rebelled. I have taken sacred words in vain. I have dared to suggest that the much-coveted and ever elusive balance on which much ink has been spilt and much energy spent is perhaps… not in fact such a prize. In fact, I will go so far as to say that I believe the very concept of balance sometimes to be unhelpful, misleading and – ultimately – impossible to achieve.*
I hear you gasp. I know. It’s like coaching hari-kiri. But if you can bear to read on, I’d like to explain why letting go of the desire for constant balance, indeed binning the very term, can liberate you to lead a more fulfilling life full of sense and purpose.
The myth of balance
Finding balance seems to be the wellbeing Holy Grail. And on paper, it is an appealing concept. Having every part of your life flourishing and nurtured. Limiting excess in any one domain. Feeling whole and well-rounded and like life is under control. Nice work if you can get it. Let me know if you ever do. Because I take issue with the somewhat simplistic quest for balance that is often touted as the key to calm. In essence, not only do I believe balance cannot be achieved, I’m also not convinced it is something to which we should aspire! In fact, I think that often the pressure to achieve balance actually contributes to us feeling even more off kilter and like we’re just, well, getting it all wrong, not winning at life.
Writing the book of your life
A friend of mine with a young baby recently shared her dismay that she spent all her time either looking after the baby or doing chores and had no time for herself – for personal projects or exercise. As a mother of two and her friend, I sympathised. Those early months (years!) can be brutal. But as a coach, I had more helpful insight for her. Life is a book, and a long one at that. It must be lived in chapters to make any sense at all. You can’t skip forward, nor can you page back and read again. Each chapter has its own function, tone and plotline. Some have action, some description. Others have dialogue and witty repartee.
My friend is currently living through the “home with small baby chapter”. I’ve read it myself – it contains lots of sleepless nights, stained clothes and endless laundry. It also features cuddles, personal growth and overwhelming love. It’s a real rollercoaster chapter with much to offer, but certainly not balance. What about the “young, single and first big job” chapter? That one’s all about late nights at the office, drinks with colleagues, and nights out. Not much balance there either. Or the “falling for the love of my life” chapter in which anyone who isn’t the beloved drops out of sight for a good few months? Or the “setting up my own company” chapter in which a person finds huge personal satisfaction from hours spent finding clients, securing deals, and getting a fledgling business off the ground. Every single one of these chapters is a fabulous read, but not a single one features anything like what I would call balance.
Read one chapter at a time
Over-emphasis on any single aspect of our lives for a prolonged period is, of course, unhealthy. But so is striving to keep every area of our life well-tended at all times. There will be periods when you party too much and do no exercise (the university years, anyone?), some when you hunker down to write a book or take a course and see no one for months, others when you soak in the joys and stresses of a new baby without a thought for your looks, keeping up with the news, or missing social functions. That’s fine. That’s normal.
All too often, the quest for balance mutates into a quest to have and do and be it all – and all at once. This creates pressure to keep all the plates spinning all the time, when really our wellbeing would often be better served if we just put a few plates down and concentrated on the ones that really matter to this particular chapter. Balance is a subjective term, and at different times of our lives it will be necessary and right to let a few things slide to spend sometimes inordinate amounts of time focusing on one thing – a political campaign, a new home, marathon training. So, enjoy the chapter you’re living, and tend to the areas of your life that are most important to its current narrative. Enjoy each chapter to the full and at the end you’ll find you have a bestseller of a book where the only thing missing is regret.
If you’d like help finding the right balance for you and your life today, grounding, holistic, 360° coaching can help you perfect the recipe of your life and achieve fulfilment, peace and joy. Contact me for your free introductory coaching session to find out how working together can help you build a life lived with purpose and on purpose.
I’m a stickler for good table manners. I can’t bear it when people don’t pick up their feet. And finger drumming really gets my goat. I have, I am aware, multiple bêtes noires; but by far the most unpleasant “bad habit” in my book is interrupting. As bad behaviour goes, it’s one of the most common and also the most damaging to interpersonal relationships, but luckily, it’s also one that’s relatively easy to correct.
Interrupting during a conversation takes two main forms: cutting someone off to make one’s own point and finishing someone’s sentence for them. Both drive me mad. The former simply shows a lack of respect for the other person, their right to express themselves, and what they have to communicate. It says, “What I want to say is more important and/or interesting than what you are already in the middle of saying, and frankly, I don’t much care about what you’re trying to tell me”. The latter annoys me because I want to be allowed to express my opinions in my own specifically chosen words. When someone cuts me off and finishes my sentence for me, they almost never say exactly what I was going to say, so I feel like my point is misrepresented and I’m not being fully “heard”. I regularly want to shout “I’m not running out of steam and I don’t need help to make my point; am I just not speaking quickly enough for your liking?” but of course, I’m British, so I just seethe silently instead…
Being regularly interrupted makes the “victim” feel unheard, frustrated, disrespected – none of which helps build a relationship with another person, which, ironically, is often the point of having a conversation in the first place. I don’t know anyone who enjoys being interrupted… which is odd since we are almost all both victims and perpetrators of this destructive conversational habit.
So, what happens when you’re the interrupter? In addition to the message you’re sending the person you’re talking to, you’re not doing yourself any favours either. How stressful is it to be responsible for both sides of a conversation – both your own and the end of every sentence your partner tries to get out? How tense do you get when, instead of listening and then responding, you’re formulating your reply to your friend as they’re talking so that you can start making it even before they’ve finished? How often do you finish someone’s sentence only for them to say, “Well, no, that’s not where I was going with that”?
Curbing the urge to interrupt – to butt in with my idea or push people to make their point quicker – is something I’ve been working on for a while now, and I have to say the benefits are both powerful and immediate. When I’m not thinking ahead to my turn to speak, I can fully listen to friends, right to the end of their sentence or story – which lets me relax and makes them feel unrushed and heard – which makes them relax too. Since I’ve heard their full point in their own words, my replies are more pertinent and structured; which makes for a richer conversation.
It’s no fun being interrupted, but short of actually calling someone out on their bad habit, there’s not much you can do about it. But in a spirit of being the change you want to see in the world, you can work on your own tendency to interrupt, and it really is win-win. The less you do it, the better your conversations and, as everyone relaxes and gets used to being fully heard, the less likely it is that you yourself will be interrupted. So, next time you’re chatting to friends, mentally note how often you start talking before others have really finished. The first step in changing a habit is to acknowledge it – and when you do start noticing, I bet you’ll shock yourself. And when you start to stop yourself and force yourself to listen patiently, you’ll be amazed at the effect it has on both the people around you and on your own stress levels and enjoyment of the conversation!
Originally published on Running in Heels.
I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth. Well, not quite; I’m certainly nowhere near Hamlet’s level of sadness and introspection, but I have found myself somewhat on the grumpy side recently. You know, that state where everything seems like a big deal, nothing strikes you as terribly funny, and life just feels like hard work.
The makings of such a mood can come from any quarter – professional setbacks, disappointments in friendships, money problems. For me, it’s been due to feelings of bog-standard overwhelm. I am coming up to the sixth month of my first pregnancy, and my husband and I are currently looking to buy a house and move just outside of Paris. Not bad when it comes to life-changing decisions, huh? Add to that our full-time jobs, families, friends, my writing and coaching, and it all seems like a mountain from which even the fearless Bear Grylls would run screaming.
The inconvenient truth
And the thing is, there’s not really much to be done about overwhelm. You can roll your sleeves up, make a plan, start a list, make a plan B, and discuss options with your partner ad nauseam, and those actions are practical and wise. But they’re not always enough to quiet the nagging little voice that pipes up at 2am and whispers some variant on, “It won’t all be ok; you shan’t get through this; you cannot manage”.
It is my firm belief that the only thing to do in those situations is to GAG oneself. No, we’re not getting into 50 Shades territory here; GAG stands for “Get A Grip”. It’s an old expression that sounds rather shocking nowadays, doesn’t it? In an age that favours self-examination even to the point of self-torture over the old “buck up” attitude, exhorting someone to simply get a grip seems callous. But I maintain that sometimes it’s the only way.
It’s like a mental self-slap. A reminder that we really are dealing with first-world issues, here. My husband is fond of asking me to imagine how I would feel if the things overwhelming me weren’t happening – if I weren’t able to have children, if we couldn’t envisage getting a bigger home, if I didn’t have employment, friends that want my time, family who need me… The simple answer is: I’d feel pretty rubbish (he can be infuriatingly right at times)!
It doesn’t always work. Sometimes a problem really is a problem and needs talking through and solving, but it’s often just a proliferation of activity, obligations and, well, life that puts us in a tail spin. That’s when a self-shake and a firm “For God’s sake, Jo, Get. A. Grip.” works wonders for me.
Do try this at home
GAGging works best when performed using a specific accent. I occasionally hear a plummy-voiced Malory Towers- type Sports Mistress barking at me. You may prefer an American drill sergeant or even an exasperated version of yourself. Sometimes I like to hear my Scottish grandmother’s voice softly burring, “Now, now, dear, you know I love you, but do try to get a grip for goodness sake”. She never said anything of the kind to me, but somehow the vision of this strong, no-nonsense yet kind and loving woman works every time.
GAGging is also best achieved when used entirely on its own. No extra pep talk, no list of “examples of times when it has all been ok in the past as so will be this time too”, no reasoning or cajoling. Just a mental “No Entry” sign that brooks no argument.
It’s not easy at first, but if you GAG each time you head back down the road of ovewhelm, it eventually comes more quickly and more naturally. Give it a try. I’m interested to know how it works for you!
Originally published on Running in Heels.