How to Let Go of the Stress and Pressure That Weigh You Down

“Stress is not what happens to us. It’s our response to what happens, and response is something we can choose.” ~Maureen Killoran

 

I don’t know about you, but I often find advice to release stress and pressure to be great on paper but incredibly difficult to apply.

Just say no more often! Sounds good, but my twenty-month-old son still needs constant care and I need to earn money, so there’s a lot I can’t just not do.

Get out in nature! I do try, but it’s been cold and grey, and often I don’t get time to myself until night—when it’s even more frigid.

Exercise more! I have the best of intentions, but I’m pregnant, frequently exhausted, and there’s that whole time thing again. I just can’t seem to create more of it, try as I may.

I suppose this is true of most good advice: It’s far easier to make a list of great ideas than it is to actually apply them. And it’s hard not to resist all those well-intentioned suggestions as overly simplified and maybe even unrealistic.

That, I’ve realized, is my biggest problem—one that you can perhaps relate to as well: While my circumstances can be challenging and limiting, most of the stress and pressure I feel originates with some form of internal resistance. Resistance to what was, what is, what might be, what I’m doing, what I could be doing, who I am… the list goes on.

And it might look like this:

  • Rehashing the past (and pressuring myself to somehow fix my mistakes)
  • Dwelling on worst-case scenarios (and pressuring myself to find ways to avoid them)
  • Fighting my current reality (and pressuring myself to change it)
  • Worrying about what I have to do (and pressuring myself to do it perfectly)
  • Obsessing about what I should be doing (and pressuring myself to figure it out)
  • Fixating on what I can’t do right now (and pressuring myself to get around my limitations)
  • Wishing I had more time for myself (and pressuring myself to somehow create it)
  • Judging myself in comparison to others (and pressuring myself to be better than I am)
  • Agonizing about what people think of me (and pressuring myself to meet their expectations)

If you’ve done any of these things yourself, I’m sure you know they’re exhausting.

That’s not say we are the sole cause of our stress. Sometimes life demands that we do more and deal with external challenges beyond our control—job loss, health issues, financial troubles, divorce…

And it’s true that there are lots of little things we can do to relieve some of the tension. But the first thing we need to do is relieve the pressure where it’s generally the most intense: within our own minds.

How to Relieve the Mental Pressure

There are two things I’ve found to be highly effective in quieting my inner voice of resistance.

1. Allow yourself to feel the feelings under your thoughts so that you can calm and release them.

All too often we get caught in a thought loop as a way to avoid feeling our feelings, because stressful as it may be, thinking about our circumstances allows us to avoid facing our deepest wounds. But we have to face them to heal them. As they say, the only way out is through.

I’ve found that underneath my varying forms of internal resistance, there’s usually:

Shame/guilt:

About things I think I’ve done wrong, about who I am (when I mistakenly assume my poor choices define me), about expectations I failed to meet or might fail to meet (my own and other people’s). And this triggers my core childhood wounds that led me to believe I’m fundamentally bad.

When I feel it:

When I’m rehashing the past, judging myself in comparison to others, and agonizing about what people think of me.

Fear:

Of the unknown, failing, succeeding then somehow ruining it, losing control, not doing enough with my life/making the most of my time, not living up to my potential, hurting or disappointing other people. Once again, this triggers my childhood wounds that led me to believe I’m not good enough, and never will be.

When I feel it:

When I’m dwelling on worst-case scenarios, worrying about what I have to do, and obsessing about what I should be doing.

Anger:

Toward myself for what I think I did wrong, toward other people for how I think they did me wrong, toward for myself for maybe causing them to do me wrong (because I often find a way to blame myself), toward life for being unfair. This triggers my core belief that life should be fair, formed, you guessed it, in childhood, when life felt very unfair.

When I feel it:

When I’m rehashing the past and fighting my current reality.

Emptiness:

Because I’m not connecting with myself, others, my passions, the world at large, or anything that would fulfill me.

When I feel it:

When I’m fixating on what I can’t do right now and wishing I had more time for myself.

When I can get below the thoughts and identify one of these feelings, I can sit with it. I can cry it out—the ultimate release!

I can empathize with myself and tell myself what I need to hear—that I’m a good person who’s always done her best, that I will do my best in the future and can handle what’s coming, that everyone else is doing their best, and we all deserve understanding and forgiveness.

And I can also do what I really need to do to feel better:

Maybe take a warm bath if I’m feeling ashamed to remind myself that I deserve comfort even when I think I’ve messed up.

Maybe do something fun and childlike if I’m feeling afraid of the future to help me find joy in the present moment.

Maybe write a forgiveness letter if I’m feeling angry to help me empathize, accept, and let go.

Maybe call someone I love, journal, or do something creative if I’m feeling empty, to meet my need for connection.

The point is, after we feel our feelings, we can do something to address the specific root cause of our stress in a moment instead of arbitrarily choosing an activity from a one-size-fits-all list of stress-relievers.

So ask yourself: What am I thinking that’s stressing me out? What’s the feeling underneath it? What does that feeling have to teach me? What does it need to hear? And what can I do to help ease that pain?

2. Get out of your head (and perhaps into your body or a state of flow).

It’s ironic but true that two pieces of seemingly contradictory advice can be equally helpful and powerful, and such is the case when it comes to relieving stress. Or at least it has been for me.

On the one hand, it can benefit us to look closely at what’s going in our minds so we can understand it, challenge it if necessary, and calm the feelings underneath our thoughts.

On the other hand, sometimes we simply need to disengage from our mind’s stories—about our unfulfilling work, our mounting bills, our insensitive relatives, and so on. To recognize we’re getting caught up in a mental maze from which we may never escape unless we consciously choose to get out—and then make that choice.

Our brain’s default mode network (DMN), which is designed to protect us, tends toward negativity, often focused on the past, the future, and the intentions behind others’ behavior. Research has shown a link between a disproportionately active DMN and depression and anxiety—and has also shown that meditation can help influence the default network.

That’s why it’s so important that we learn to get out of our heads, either through traditional meditation or by getting into our bodies or a state of flow (when you’re so consumed in a task that you forget about everything else and lose track of time).

It’s not just about temporarily quieting our thoughts. Mindfulness can actually change patterns of brain activity over time, enabling us to more frequently get out of the default mode network—where we inevitably feel stressed!

How do we get out of our heads and into our bodies or a state of flow?

Here are a few ways to practice mindfulness through movement:

Yoga

As you sync your breathing with your movements and focus your attention on the subtle muscle shifts required to get into and hold each pose, you’ll find your mind naturally quieting. There are lots of different styles of yoga. My favorites are vinyasa and Bikram, since I find the heat particularly soothing.

You can find all kinds of yoga videos on YouTube, and odds are, when life gets closer to normal again, you can find a free or donation-based class near you. I personally find it easier to practice in a class than on my own, since the presence of other people holds me accountable, and there are fewer cookies and TVs nearby to distract me!

Tai Chi

I have less experience with Tai Chi, but I did practice for a while in college, as part of an acting class. Acting requires you to get out of your judging mind, and Tai Chi is a perfect practice to facilitate that, since it’s all about integrating mind and body through slow, low-impact, controlled movements and breathing.

Tai chi is less physically taxing than most yoga practices (aside from restorative yoga, which is incredibly relaxing), which makes it perfect for anyone who’s more physically limited. It’s particularly popular among the senior crowd, since it’s easy on the joints, but it’s a powerful and effective mindfulness practice for anyone, of any age!

Mindful hiking or walking

Any form of movement can be meditative if you focus your attention on the sensations in your body, and hiking and walking outside bring the added benefit of immersing you in nature—a natural stress-reliever!

Studies have shown that just twenty minutes in nature can significantly lower your stress hormones. And it can also stimulate all the body’s senses, as we tune in to the sound of running water trickling nearby, the scent of pine (known to lower depression and anxiety), the colors in a picturesque sunrise, the feeling of leaves crunching beneath our feet, and the taste of a freshly picked piece of fruit.

Here are a few ways to get into a mindful state of flow (suggested by flow researcher Steven Kolter):

Through social triggers

We often think of flow as something we achieve individually, but group activities bring the added benefit of facilitating deep connection as we move in sync or work toward team goals. This might mean getting into a collective state of flow as part of a sports team, dance troupe, or through synchronized swimming.

I remember one particular piece of choreography from a community theater show I did as a kid. There were at least twenty of us, seated, doing clapping motions with each other’s hands, tapping our own and each other’s legs. We all needed to move perfectly in sync to get it just right, which required intense focus, and I have to say it was deeply gratifying to move as part of a whole—to lose myself in the group and become immersed in something bigger than myself.

Through creative triggers

Any creative activity can get us into a state of flow if we enjoy it and lose ourselves in the task. Painting, playing an instrument, dancing, jewelry making, even doodling—pick whatever calls to you so deeply you can’t help but concentrate on the present, losing your sense of self-consciousness because the act itself is so fun and rewarding.

Through environmental triggers

Rock climbing is a perfect example, since you need to be fully absorbed in the moment to safely navigate the rock formation. As you push yourself to your physical limit, balancing and adapting to the changing terrain, you’ll find yourself going deeper and deeper into a state of flow.

Though I’ve never done outdoor rock climbing—which I imagine is all the more thrilling, since it’s riskier and you’re totally immersed in nature—I participated in a climbing course as an experiential therapy treatment for bulimia in my early twenties. I remember all my worries falling away as I focused on not falling off the beam, and I recall appreciating my body for what it could do instead of judging myself for everything I thought I was doing wrong.

The beauty of most of these practices is that we can adapt them to our needs and available time. You can take an hour class or just practice for ten minutes. You can work on a painting for two hours or sketch for a brief window before bed.

Easier said than done? Of course! It’s far easier to watch Netflix in our one free hour of time or mindlessly scroll in that brief window before bed. (Guilty as charged.) When I do that, all my heavy unfelt feelings fester, settling deep into my brain and my bones and suffocating me like an invisible straitjacket.

But I know when I do something that’s good for me, I feel it—and I want more of it. And my resistance to doing it naturally fades away, along with my stress.

So really, we just need to show up once—really show up. Be so present that we allow ourselves to fully live that moment so we can love that moment, and that love will bring us back. Back to the practice, back to our bodies, back to ourselves. Our deepest selves, underneath the stress and pressure. The true self who knows we don’t need to be more, we don’t have to do more, we just have to let ourselves enjoy more. Because within that enjoyment there’s peace and healing. And no matter what our negatively biased brains tell us, we absolutely deserve it.

 

4 Tips for Setting Powerful Goals

Goal setting is a fantastic skill to develop, and how you design your own future. A life best lived is a life by design. Not by accident, and not by just walking through the day careening from wall to wall and managing to survive. If you can start giving your life dimensions and design and color and objectives and purpose, the results can be absolutely staggering.

Goal setting gives you the chance to experience the power of your imagination. Think about it. Imagination builds cities. Imagination conquers disease. Imagination develops careers. Imagination sets up relationships. Imagination is where all tangible values and intangible values begin. So what you’ve got to learn to do is use this powerful resource.

Tapping this resource of imagination for goal setting involves thinking about your future, thinking about tomorrow or the rest of the day, thinking about the rest of the year or five years or 10. You can use your imagination to start prospecting for the future, for what could be possible for you.

5 Things That Affect You, Your Life and Your Goals

But before you can do that, you need to know the five primary things that affect all of us:

1. The Environment

It doesn’t hurt to make a simple contribution to the environment; a little contribution costs nothing. Pick up a piece of trash and throw it in the receptacle. If everybody did that, what a better world it would be. If everybody contributed, what a difference it would make!

2. Events

Think of any big event of local, national or global significance. There are small events and daily events and family events and community events, too. Events affect all of us—some small, some big, some personal, some national, some global.

3. Knowledge

Here’s a good phrase to jot down: Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is tragedy. Ignorance is devastation. Ignorance creates lack. Ignorance creates disease. Ignorance will shorten your life. Ignorance will empty your life and leave you with the husks, nothing to account for. No, ignorance is not bliss.

Here’s another note to make: What you don’t know will hurt you. What you don’t know will tragically affect your life. What you don’t know will leave your life empty. What you don’t know will leave you without a relationship.

We’re affected by whatever we know or don’t know.

4. Results

Whether it’s business or personal, we’re all affected by results. Disciplines undone in the future give us poor results. Disciplines managed well give us good results.

5. Our Dreams

We’re affected by our dreams—our vision of the future.

The Pull of the Future

Some people live in the past. They let their life be continually pulled and influenced by it. Although we must remember and review the past to make it useful to invest in the future, here’s the key: Make sure that the greatest pull on your life is the pull of the future.

If you’re skimpy on your dreams, or your objectives and your purposes aren’t very well planned, then that doesn’t pull very hard. You might have more of a tendency to be pulled apart by events or circumstances. So in order to save yourself from being pulled apart by distractions or pulled back to the past, you need to start designing the future.

Goals are like a magnet—they pull. And the stronger they are, the more purposeful they are, the bigger they are, the more unique they are, the stronger they pull.

High dreams pull you through all kinds of down days and down seasons. They pull you through a winter of discontent. They pull you through distraction on every side. A bad day can almost overwhelm you if you don’t have something really purposeful to go for on the other side of that day.

If you’ve got excellent goals, though, they’ll pull you through all these things and very little of it will attach itself to you. You’ll be able to get through some of the most difficult times if you have this spectacular vision ahead of you of where you’re going and what you’re going to accomplish.

Learning to Set Goals

Learning to set goals can transform your life forever. There is power in reaching out into the future, designing something to the best of your ability, refining it as you go, tearing it up periodically if you want to, setting a whole new list. It’s your life. It’s your future.

3 Components of Powerful Goals

The major reason for setting a goal is for what it makes you do to accomplish it. This will always be a far greater value than what you get. That is why goals are so powerful. They are part of the fabric that makes up our lives.

Goal setting is powerful because it provides focus, shapes our dreams, and gives us the ability to home in on the exact actions we need to take in order to get everything in life we desire. Goals cause us to stretch and grow in ways we never have before. In order to reach our goals, we must become better—we must change and grow.

Powerful goals have three components:

  • They must be inspiring.
  • They must be believable.
  • They must be goals you can act on.

Life is designed in such a way that we look long term and live short term. We dream for the future and live in the present. Unfortunately, the present can produce many hard obstacles. Fortunately, the more powerful our goals (because they are inspiring and believable), the more we will be able to act on them in the short term and guarantee that they will actually come to pass.

4 Tips for Setting Powerful Goals

So, what are the key aspects to learn and remember when studying and writing our goals? Here’s a closer look at goal setting and how you can make it forceful and practical:

1. Evaluation and Reflection

The only way we can reasonably decide what we want in the future and how we will get there is to first know where we are right now and what our current level of satisfaction is. With our focus on goal setting, the first order of business is for each of us to set aside some serious time for evaluation and reflection.

2. Dreams and Goals

What are your dreams and goals? Not related to the past or what you think you can get, but what you want. Have you ever really sat down, thought through your life values and decided what you really want? This isn’t what someone else says you should have or what culture tells us successful people do or have. These are the dreams and goals born out of your own heart and mind, goals unique to you and that come from who you were created to be and gifted to become.

3. SMART Goals

SMART means Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-sensitive.

  • Specific: Don’t be vague. Exactly what do you want?
  • Measurable: Quantify your goal. How will you know if you’ve achieved it or not?
  • Attainable: Be honest with yourself about what you can reasonably accomplish at this point in your life while taking into consideration your current responsibilities.
  • Realistic: It’s got to be doable, real and practical.
  • Time: Associate a time frame with each goal. When should you complete the goal?

4. Accountability

The word accountable means to give an account. When someone knows what your goals are, they help hold you accountable. Whether it is someone else trying to reach the same goal with you or just someone you can give the basic idea to, having an accountability partner will give you another added boost to accomplishing your goals.

So, evaluate and reflect. Decide what you want. Be SMART. Have accountability. When you put these four key pieces together, you put yourself in a position of power to catapult toward achieving your goals and the kind of life you desire.

Evaluation and Reflection

The basis for knowing where we want to go is knowing where we came from and where we are. It is also knowing how well we have done achieving things we have previously set our eyes on. This is the essence of evaluation and reflection. We need to understand how to look at what we have done and then use that as a platform for what we want to do next.

The process of evaluation is relatively simple but can be varied a bit. The important point is having a process. Here is the basic process for evaluation and reflection:

1. Find a quiet place.

Reflection is best done away from distraction. It gives your mind space to think.

2. Take regular time.

Whether it is once a week, every other week, once a month or quarter, be sure to set aside a regular time at regular intervals to evaluate and reflect.

3. Look back.

Look at what you have accomplished and where you are. Be specific. Be truthful. Be ruthlessly honest.

4. Write it down.

Keep a record. This gives you the chance at the next stage of evaluation to see exactly where you were last time and keeps it as objective as possible.

5. Look forward.

Set your next goal. Stretch yourself according to what works for you.

Why evaluate?

The purpose of evaluation is twofold. First, it gives you an objective way to look at your accomplishments and your pursuit of the vision you have for your life. Second, it shows you where you are so you can determine where you need to go. Evaluation gives you a baseline from which to work.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” To evaluate and reflect brings us face to face with who we are. More important, it allows us the time to dream and create a vision for what we want to become. Only when we take time out of our busy schedules can we get into the state of mind and quietness of heart we need in order to find that inner place.

Those who never take time to evaluate and reflect will blow to and fro through this life, living by the forces of culture, circumstances, societal pressures and, unfortunately, personal weaknesses.

In contrast, those who take the time to evaluate will find they are like an oak tree in a storm: They have a firm foundation, they know where they are going, they know how to get there, and, ultimately, they will get there no matter what comes their way.

Take a couple of hours this week to evaluate and reflect. See where you are and note it in your journal so that as the months progress and you continue a regular time of evaluation and reflection, you will see just how much ground you’re gaining—and that will be exciting!

 

Dreams and Goals

One of the amazing things we have been given as humans is the unquenchable desire to have dreams of a better life and the ability to establish and set goals to live out those dreams.

We can look deep within our hearts and dream of a better situation for ourselves and our families. We can dream of better financial, emotional, spiritual or physical lives. We have also been given the ability to not only dream, but pursue those dreams—and not just pursue them, but the cognitive ability to lay out a plan and strategies to achieve those dreams. Powerful!

What are your dreams and goals? This isn’t what you already have or what you have done, but what you want. Have you ever really sat down and thought through your life values and decided what you really want? Have you ever taken the time to truly reflect, to listen quietly to your heart, to see what dreams live within you? Your dreams are there. Everyone has them. They may live right on the surface, or they may be buried deep from years of others telling you they were foolish, but they are there.

You have to ask the hard questions to get excited about your dreams, and then you have to translate that excitement into strategic action to pursue all that you want. These are the disciplines that will help unleash the power of the dreams inside of you:

Listen to yourself.

How do we know what our dreams are? This is an interesting process and relates primarily to the art of listening. This is not listening to others; it is listening to yourself. If we listen to others, we hear their plans and dreams, and, at times, others will try to put their plans and dreams on us. If we listen to others, we can never be fulfilled. We will only chase elusive dreams that are not rooted deep within us.

Instead, we must listen to our own hearts to hear the dreams born out of the passions and desires we each uniquely possess. Just like when you are quiet enough to hear your own heart beating within your chest, your dreams have their own rhythm. All you have to do is get quiet enough to hear the beat.

Take time to be quiet.

Taking the time to be quiet is something we don’t do enough in this busy world. We rush, rush, rush and are constantly listening to noise all around us. We must not get faked out by just being busy. Instead, we must constantly ask ourselves the question, “Busy doing what?” In other words, are the activities you are participating in moving you toward your goals? If not, then work to eliminate those things and replace some of that time with quiet.

The human heart was meant to have times of quiet reflection, allowing us to peer deep within ourselves. It is when we do this that our hearts are set free to soar and take flight on the wings of our own dreams. Schedule some quiet “dream time” this week. No other people. No cellphone. No computer. Just you, a pad, a pen and your thoughts.

Think about what really thrills you. When you are quiet, think about those things that really get your blood moving. What would you love to do, either for fun or for a living? What would you love to accomplish? What would you try if you were guaranteed to succeed? What big thoughts move your heart into a state of excitement and joy? When you answer these questions, you’ll feel terrific because you’re in the “dream zone.” It is only when we get to this point that we can truly realize and begin to experience what our dreams are.

Make a list and prioritize.

Write down all of your dreams as you have them. Don’t think of any as too outlandish or foolish— remember, you’re dreaming! Let your thoughts and pen fly as you take careful record.

Now look at your list and prioritize those dreams. Which are most important? Which are most feasible? Which would you love to do the most? Put them in the order you will actually try to attain them. Remember, we are always moving toward action, not just dreaming.

Why am I asking you to take part in this exercise? It’s because life is too short not to pursue your dreams. At the end of your life, all you will be able to do is look backward. You can reflect with joy or regret. And we all know that joy from discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.

Those who dream, who set goals and act on them, are those who live lives of joy and have a sense of peace when they near the end of their lives. They will have finished well and possess a sense of pride and accomplishment, not only for themselves but also for their families. That feeling is priceless!

Remember: These are the dreams and goals born out of your heart and mind, goals unique to you, and they come from who you were created to be and gifted to become. Your specific goals are what you want to achieve because they will make your life joyful and bring fulfillment for both you and your family.

SMART Goals

The acronym SMART is one of the key aspects of goal setting because we want to be smart when we set our goals. We want to intelligently decide what our goals will be so that we can actually accomplish them. We want to set the goals that our heart conceives, that our mind believes and that our bodies will carry out. Let’s take an even closer look at each of the components of SMART goals:

Specific

Goals are no place to waffle. They are no place to be vague. Ambiguous goals produce ambiguous results. Incomplete goals produce incomplete futures. When we are specific, we harness the power of our dreams and set forces into action that empower us to achieve our goals. We then know exactly what it is we are shooting for—there is no question.

As we establish our priorities and manage our time, we do it for a specific goal, to achieve the results we expect. There is no wondering or guessing. The future is locked into our minds, and we see it—specifically—and that is powerful! Never underestimate just how important it is to have very specific, concrete goals. They act as magnets that draw you toward them. A SMART goal is specific.

Measurable

Always set goals that are measurable—“specifically measurable” to take into account the principle of being specific, as well. Our goals should be such that we know when we are advancing and by how much. Whether it is by hours, pounds, dollars or some other scale, we should be able to see exactly how we are measuring up as we journey through life using our goals. Imagine if you didn’t measure your goals. You would never know which way you were going, or even if you were going anywhere. A SMART goal is measurable.

Attainable

One of the detrimental things many people do—and they do it with good intentions—is to set goals that are unattainable. While it’s very important to set big goals that cause your heart to soar with excitement, it is also imperative to make sure they are attainable.

An attainable goal is one that is both realistic and doable in a shorter period of time than what you have to work with. “Attainable” doesn’t mean easy. Our goals should be set so that they are just out of our reach, so that they challenge us to grow as we reach forward to achieve them. A SMART goal is attainable.

Realistic

The root word of realistic is real. A goal has to be something that we can reasonably make “real” or a “reality” in our lives. There are some goals that are simply not realistic. You have to be able to say, even if it is a tremendously stretched goal, that it is entirely realistic—that you could make it. You may have to say that it will take X, Y and Z to do it, but if those happen, then it can be done.

This is in no way to say it shouldn’t be a big goal, but that goal must be realistic. This is, to a great degree, up to the individual. For one person, a goal may be realistic, but for another, unrealistic. Be very honest with yourself as you do your planning and evaluation. It might be good to get a friend to help you, as long as that friend is by nature an optimist and not a pessimist. This can go a long way toward helping you know what is realistic.

Knowing that perhaps you could use a bit of help differentiating between attainable and realistic, here is an example: Let’s say you are overweight and need to lose 150 pounds to get to your ideal weight. Is that goal attainable? Yes, if you also make it realistic. For example, it isn’t realistic to think you can do it in five months. Eighteen to 24 months would be more realistic (with hard work). Thus, losing 150 pounds in two years is both attainable and realistic, while losing 150 pounds in five months is neither attainable nor realistic. A SMART goal is realistic.

Time-sensitive

One of the powerful aspects of a great goal is that it has an end, a time in which you are shooting to accomplish it. You start working because you know there is an end, and as time goes by, you work because you don’t want to get behind. As the deadline approaches, you work diligently because you want to meet that deadline. It’s a good idea to break a big goal down into different parts of measurement and time frames. Set smaller goals and work them out in their own time. A SMART goal has a timeline.

Accountability

Now let’s look at how to apply the SMART test to your goals and ensure they are powerful.

As a contract with yourself or someone else, accountability is a vital key in the goal-setting process. Accountability puts some teeth into the process. If a goal is set and only one person knows it, does it really have any power? Many times it doesn’t. At the very least, it isn’t as powerful.

When someone knows what your goals are, they follow up and hold you accountable by asking you to “give an account” of where you are in the process. Human nature is such that when we know someone else is going to ask us about it, we are much more motivated to get it done—if for no other reason than we don’t want to look lazy and uncommitted. This is why having an accountability partner is so important.

 

In the basic sense, there are two kinds of accountability: internal and external.

Internal Accountability

Internal accountability is essentially the level of integrity you maintain not only throughout the evaluation process but also in life. It means that when you look at yourself, you judge yourself with honesty. This is where you hold yourself accountable to doing what you said you would do. If you’ve messed up, say, “I’ve messed up,” but if you’ve done well, then you can celebrate your progress. Let the internal accountability prod you and spur you on to greater action in pursuit of your achievements.

So, first and foremost, it is our responsibility to hold ourselves accountable. We answer to ourselves. We take charge of ourselves. How do we do that? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Write down your goals so they become “objective.” You can’t go back and say, “That wasn’t really my goal.”
  2. Be ruthlessly honest with yourself when you assess whether or not you have met the goal. Of course, if you were specific in setting your SMART goals, you won’t have much wiggle room here, anyway.
  3. If you fall short of your goal, or if you are falling short while on the way, knuckle down and hold yourself accountable to do what it takes to make up the ground so that you can hit that goal!
  4. Set a time frame in which you will evaluate your progress and hold yourself accountable.

External Accountability

Find someone else or a group of others to hold you accountable. When we commit to giving an account to someone else for our actions and goals, we take it to the next level.

The external part of accountability will not work without the internal aspect. If you are not honest with yourself, then you will probably not be honest with others. Asking someone to hold you accountable and then knowing you won’t be completely honest with them will never work.

Having an outside source of accountability is a powerful force if done right. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you set up an accountability partner:

  1. Choose someone who cares about you but can be tough and honest with you. They need to care about you—and you have to know and feel that care—because you become vulnerable by making yourself accountable to them. They need to be tough and honest, though, because you don’t want to have them shy away from telling you to get on the ball when you’re slacking, getting behind or not doing the job. The expression “tough love” would fit appropriately here. In essence, they love us enough to be honest with us about our progress.
  2. Tell them specifically what your goals are.
  3. Commit to being honest with them.
  4. Give them permission to speak words of encouragement, as well as words of challenge when the situation calls for it.
  5. Agree on a reasonable time frame in which you will allow them to evaluate your progress and hold you accountable.
  6. Follow up on their words when they challenge you or call you to action.

Accountability can be a tremendous thing. There is an old proverb that says one can put a thousand to flight, but two can put 10,000 to flight. When we have someone holding us accountable, we bring others onto our team who will make us stronger, who will make us soar higher and who will cause our lives to be much richer because of their involvement.

Take a moment and really consider who you will make yourself accountable to in the pursuit of your goals. Now, go back through the words above and begin to work this process out in your own life. You will be extraordinarily glad you did.

Goal Setting Challenges You

Let your goals challenge you to become a unique person of incredible dimensions, not necessarily in anyone else’s eyes, but in your own eyes.

It doesn’t matter whether someone thinks I’m short or tall, but it matters if I stand tall in my own eyes—because I know my disciplines, I know what I’m doing, I know whether I’m doing it or not doing it. I know that I’m paying the price and that I deserve the applause and I deserve the prize. That’s what’s exciting. That’s why this goal setting is so important. It challenges you to grow. It challenges you to become more than you are, to move up to the next level. And that’s key.

 

11 Proven Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress

While the holidays can create some of the happiest moments in your life, they can also cause a great deal of stress. On top of your typical schedule of work and managing your home and kids, there is shopping to do, menus to plan, and food to prepare. Moreover, there is the possibility of having to deal with family disagreements, schedule conflicts, and financial issues. While this all may seem overwhelming, there is good news. You can still reduce holiday stress, even with all the extra activities and preparations.

Following are proven strategies to help you decrease stress and tension. Some of these methods may be so effective that you’ll choose to use them all year, and not just during the holidays!

1. Acknowledge That Everything Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect. The holiday commercials and movies on television really do miss the mark when it comes to realistic portrayals of family gatherings.

• Accept that you can enjoy some wonderful holiday get-togethers regardless of whether the kids accidentally spill a bit of the Christmas punch or you’re having trouble locating your festive napkin rings.

• Believe me, most people will hardly notice if the pies baked a little too long or you forgot the cranberry sauce.

2. Purchase Your Gifts Early. When you get holiday shopping out of the way early on, you can prevent added last-minute pressure. You won’t be dealing with other shoppers during peak shopping times, and you won’t have to worry about making split-second decisions on gifts.

• Another way to avoid this stress altogether is to do all of your holiday shopping online so you can beat the crowds!

3. Scale Down Your Holiday Plans. Because adults can sometimes have an overly idealistic view of the holidays that springs from their childhood experiences, this strategy can be a challenge. Scaling down your plans involves being more flexible in your thinking about the holidays.

• Let go of feeling the need to plan and carry out elaborate, lavish celebrations. Maybe you’d rather have smaller, more intimate gatherings with friends spread out over a month or two, rather than a big event that makes it difficult to connect with others.

• Essentially, know that you don’t have to reproduce the special holiday memory you have in your mind to have an amazing time. You also don’t have to find the perfect gift, spend the most money, or have a room piled with presents to show your love to others.

• Try to remember—“It’s the thought that counts.” Most people will never remember the cool gift you got for them that one year. But they will have fond memories of the quality time you spent together as a family.

4. Take Shortcuts to Save Time. Figure out simpler ways to do things that will provide more time for other holiday tasks and activities.

• One good example: Rather than baking pies, order them from a nearby restaurant that’s known for its delicious baked goods.

• When shopping, it’s okay to purchase gift cards as presents. Many people actually prefer to receive a gift card so they can then choose what they want. Gift cards are easy to find at most stores, satisfy nearly everyone, and will cost you less in wrapping paper.

5. Take Some Time to Yourself. While we often take the time to think of others during the holiday season, we can also forget our own needs. Remember to schedule some time for yourself and concentrate on winding down. To care for others, you first have to take care of your own health and well being.

• One way to take some time for yourself for relaxation is by scheduling a massage.

6. Stay Calm. While it may not be an issue for every family, sometimes the togetherness causes conflicts and clashing. Before you join a family event, tell yourself that you’ll take the high road if need be. You don’t want a disagreement or any tension to ruin the opportunity to have fun during the holidays.

• If necessary, take a time out and walk around the block or go to another room to take some deep breaths to center yourself. When you’re ready, you can rejoin the festivities.

8. Watch your Nutrition. It’s not fair to yourself nor even practical to completely avoid indulging around the holidays, but at the same time, you can remain in control. Watch what you’re putting into your body, as large amounts of certain foods can affect how you feel. The two big ones to be mindful of are caffeine and sweets.

9. Buy Yourself a Present. While you’ve been spending money on everyone else, there’s no reason why you can’t buy yourself a little something. This way, you can ensure that you’ll get something you want. • Remember the massage suggestion earlier in this article? Maybe it’s something else you’d prefer. Either way, you deserve it!

10. Get Enough Rest. The holiday season is generally an exciting time. You may lose sleep due to stress or even because of the excitement. Either way, be kind to yourself by getting to bed at a reasonable hour. Getting less than eight hours of sleep per night may set you up for stress without realizing it.

• If you need a reminder, use the settings on your phone to alert you when it’s time to start settling down and getting ready for bed.

11. Learn to Delegate. If you realize that you’re in charge of too many things, don’t pile on the stress—instead, delegate the tasks. Be wise enough to recognize when you need some help and ask for it. You can even involve your children with certain holiday preparations which they may very much enjoy! This year, decide to reduce your holiday stress. By shedding the urge to be perfect, beginning holiday shopping earlier, scaling down expectations, and using shortcuts to save time, you’ll bring your tension level way down.

Think about what you truly want the holidays to mean to you and your family. Then, you can let go of expectations based on the past and enjoy your time together. Ultimately that’s what the holidays are for—creating meaningful moments and connections with those who matter most.

11 Gratitude Books To Remind You To Be Thankful Daily

In my continuous pursuit of happiness, one thing that people emphasize time and again is a feeling of gratitude. These days, the science behind gratitude and the general public are starting to get the idea that gratitude for things in life is actually a good thing. With life going by so fast, taking some time to slow down and express some gratitude is always nice.

In light of all this, I’ve gone out to look for some of the best books revolving around gratitude. These books do more than show us the benefits of gratitude. In fact, these books are able to help us bring a sense of fulfillment, purpose, and wellbeing to ourselves too.

Before diving into the list, here is the sort of criteria I looked for in books about gratitude. Considering how sizable the self-improvement industry is, you can use these criteria to determine other books beyond this list:

  • Easy to apply lifestyle – Expressing gratitude is not a difficult process, however, the benefits and day to day transformations can be hard to spot for those looking to get into it. The books we are suggesting today go to great lengths to outline the benefits and what you may experience when practicing gratitude on a regular basis.
  • Science-based – With the extensive amount of research done around gratitude at this point, many authors should be taking the time to do research.
  • Insightful – Gratitude is more than a feeling. It’s also a mindset shift. Not only will this make you a more thankful individual, but it should also give you more insight on yourself as you make changes to yourself every day.

 

1. Words of Gratitude

Written by Robert Emmons, he is one of the most influential professionals in gratitude research with several books and articles published on this topic. This book is written in sweet spots of many people, between academic areas and intimate ones as well.

If you’re looking for a book that has ample research but also explains itself in simple language, give this book a read.

Written by Robert Emmons, he is one of the most influential professionals in gratitude research with several books and articles published on this topic. This book is written in sweet spots of many people, between academic areas and intimate ones as well.

If you’re looking for a book that has ample research but also explains itself in simple language, give this book a read.

 

2. The Psychology of Gratitude

Another book that Robert Emmons worked on is The Psychology of Gratitude. He and Michael McCullough assembled this book for those looking to delve further into the theories, philosophies, and evidence surrounding gratitude overall.

This book pulls various perspectives and fields. It provides such an in-depth look into gratitude that many describe this as a necessary book if you’re ever planning to get into positive psychology. That said, you don’t need to have a background in it to understand this book.

Another book that Robert Emmons worked on is The Psychology of Gratitude. He and Michael McCullough assembled this book for those looking to delve further into the theories, philosophies, and evidence surrounding gratitude overall.

This book pulls various perspectives and fields. It provides such an in-depth look into gratitude that many describe this as a necessary book if you’re ever planning to get into positive psychology. That said, you don’t need to have a background in it to understand this book.

3. Thanks!

The last Emmons book I’ll talk about in this post is Thanks!. This calls back to the Words of Gratitude book he wrote where there is a bit of gratitude research while also giving different perspectives.

This book pulls from psychology, religion and anthropology before offering a call to action to cultivate gratitude in your life. The angle this book is taking is more along the lines of understanding how gratitude can create a life-changing addition to your life as well as tactics to use it in your life.

4. A Simple Act of Gratitude

 

Written by John Kralik, this memoir provides a personal look into gratitude and how it can change someone’s life. In this memoir, John Kralik talks about an all-time low point in his life to make it into a happy and flourishing life.

How he went about it was through the simple act of writing down thank-you notes to himself. After doing enough of those he had an epiphany:

“My life would become more manageable if I spent all my energy and focus on what I do have in my life rather than what I don’t have.”

That epiphany sent him on a journey where he devoted an entire year to writing 365 thank-you notes, once per day. Every time he did that he noticed profound changes in himself and wrote all about them in this book.

If you’re looking for a simple book to see gratitude in action, this is a great pick.

 

5. The Gratitude Diaries

A New York Times bestselling book has a mixture of the books discussed so far. The core focus of this book is revolving around one woman’s efforts to stick to her New Year’s resolution of being more grateful and optimistic – similar to John Kralik.

At the same time, the book delves into plenty of academic research and backs up findings with evidence-based findings like the Robert Emmons books.

This approach Janice Kaplan takes is nice as you’re getting the best of both worlds. All wrapped up in a book that you can casually read thanks to the informal and accessible tonne.

6. One Thousand Gifts

Many great gratitude books stem from personal exploration as these help us to better understand gratitude. Ann Voskamp’s book – One Thousand Gifts – is no different as she shares her personal transformation around her new habit of writing down specifics of what she is thankful for. In the book, she refers to these as “gifts”.

She argues that jotting these down on a regular basis will allow us to notice the smaller details in our lives. Based on her own transformation, it’s hard to argue with that logic.

7. Living Life As A Thank You

Written by authors Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons, this book drives home that whatever you’re given in life, even if it’s bad, saying thank you for these can change your life. This book provides a gratitude plan for those looking to delve into gratitude and also to help them understand how gratitude can improve the daily feelings of compassion, hope, and love.

8. The Little Book of Hygge

Pronounced as Hoo-ga, the idea of Hygge has Danish origins. It loosely translates to a feeling of community, well-being and coziness. The author – Meik Wiking – writes about Hygge as a way to introduce this concept and how people can incorporate this into your life.

And it’s not like these are very difficult to achieve. According to Hygge, things like taking breaks, and being present are easy to do. They also aren’t that much of a stretch to the ideas and benefits that we get when expressing gratitude.

9. The Gifts of Imperfection

Brené Brown has written all kinds of books over the years on a variety of topics. One in her wheelhouse focuses on gratitude. To Brown, she outlines ten guideposts that are designed to inspire people to live a wholehearted and authentic life. She argues that by living your life in this way, it’s easier to accept, show compassion, and cultivate gratitude in your life.

10. Everyday Gratitude

For those looking for quick bursts of information or something very easy to read, picking up a copy of Everyday Gratitude could be an option. The focus of this book is revolving around quotes from influential figures plus reflections and practices for viewing life as a gift. This is great for those who aren’t too keen on knowing the inner workings and want to experience gratitude first hand in a faster way.

11. Gratitude

The final book we’ll share is one written by Oliver Sacks titled Gratitude. Even though he didn’t do any research in the gratitude field, his essays and the multiple books he’s published since the early 1980s made their marks on many people.

Based on his essays and books it’s clear that Sacks was a man filled with gratitude. Even when he announced to people that he had terminal cancer in January 2015, he had this to say:

“I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude.”

This book consists of four essays that were published in The New York Times – one of them being the essay where he announced his illness. This is complemented by his partner’s words and photographs of the last few years of his life.

If you’re looking for a thought-provoking and heart-wrenching book that looks at the entire cycle of life, this is your best option.

Final Thoughts

In our fast-paced lives, it’s easy to lose ourselves or forget about feeling grateful in our lives. These books teach us and remind us to slow down and take notice of the small things in life.

Many of these books also stress why that is so important to do in the first place. For those looking to hope into the world of gratitude, you can’t go wrong with picking up any of these books.

 

6 ways to promote professional growth during the pandemic

In times like these, it can be easy to feel as though you’ve run out of options for furthering your career. The economic fallout from COVID-19 has forced many young entrepreneurs to feel as though they need to slam the breaks on their journeys, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Today, many business people are simply looking for ways to make ends meet, but those that have managed to gain their footing should be looking one step further. Developing the right professional skills now can help you fend off against potential downturns later on — an invaluable opportunity for many.

Kickstarting professional growth, however, is always easier said than done. If you’re looking for a way to take your career to the next level, try starting with these tips:

1. Find a mentor or a group

Even in the calmest of times, it takes a village to raise an executive — nowadays, you’ll want as much support as you can get. Your drive and skills play a major role in determining whether you succeed, but so does the support of the people around you. Cultivate relationships with mentors and join professional groups to find like-minded people who can help you get through the bad times and celebrate the good. Deliberately growing your network puts you in contact with a variety of smart people who can provide you with advice and recommendations at different stages of your career.

“Support from a network is one of the most critical aspects of professional success,” says Ritch Wood, CEO of Nu Skin. “You might make it on your own, but your chances of success increase dramatically with a network of support at your back.” People are more active online than ever, so simply reaching out on LinkedIn or shooting someone an email is a great place to start.

2. Read stories of successful people

“When I was in my early 20s, leadership development was not a blip on my radar,” says Marcel Schwantes, founder of Leadership from the Core. “It wasn’t until much later that I realized how much transformation could come from reading.”

People are always saying they’d read more if they had the time, and now more people have the time than ever. Get yourself in the right mindset by reading books written by people who have achieved the same goals you have set for yourself. Don’t be fooled into thinking business books only feature enterprise CEOs — you can find books written by and for all kinds of people, from retail frontline workers to executives and everyone in between. Set a reading goal for yourself, grab a few works by people who inspire you, and start with chapter one.

3. Talk to your boss about your vision

“Your boss may know you do a great job, but her plate is probably completely full with her own obligations,” says Job Success Lab founder Lea McLeod. “If you’re interested in a new promotion or assignment, ask!”

As many businesses find their very foundations in flux, consider this an opportunity to carve out a new opportunity for yourself. Take some time to prepare materials that back up your case for a promotion, then schedule a conversation with your boss to make it happen. If you haven’t quite earned a shot at the next level, have a talk with your boss about what you need to do in the upcoming months to make your case. Check-in regularly to ensure your progress does not go unnoticed.

4. Start an active hobby

Endless commuting from the couch may sound good on paper, but your brain needs more activity in order to function properly. Give it the fuel it requires by staying active, outdoors if possible. If you aren’t naturally inclined toward athletics, try something less competitive, such as hiking or yoga. Whether you want to join a digital fitness group or go at it solo, it’s the activity that matters. Remember, your goal is to become a more well-rounded person.

Brian Wong, CEO of Kiip, found scuba diving to be the perfect escape from his everyday grind. “Learning something entirely new, without the pressure of it being directly correlated to my career, refreshed my mind and helped me think of things differently,” says Wong.

5. Learn when to unplug

As the lines between home and office become more blurred than ever before, unplugging has become an absolute must. “Time spent away from work should be time to unwind and recharge,” says psychologist Kurt Smith. “But if you’re constantly checking work emails on your cell phone, you never let your brain turn off and you risk getting burned out.”

To achieve your professional goals, you must be ready to give 100% when you’re on stage. That means you can’t maintain a slow burn of semi-work status when you’re off the clock. Be fully present when you’re on the job, but unplug completely when it’s time to punch out. Your performance will improve thanks to your more effective, more sustainable schedule.

6. Attend a digital conference

“Networking is only awkward and difficult when you approach it entirely cold without any shared context, values, or ways of entering a conversation,” says Zak Slayback, networking advisor and author. “Choose an event with a shared, value-driven context and you’ll find that networking and connecting with new people becomes considerably less awkward.”

As conferences the world over are canceled or postponed, some organizations are filling the gaps with exciting digital events. Those who take the time to attend these conferences will be those most dedicated to their paths in life, so they pose a great opportunity to connect with people who can help you along your journey.

Just because the world seems to have stopped turning doesn’t mean that your career has to as well. By honing in on the aspects of your life that could use the most attention, you’ll emerge from the pandemic a more well-rounded professional than ever before.

10 Signs You’re Being True to Yourself

“The most confused we ever get is when we try to convince our heads of something that we know in our hearts is a lie.” ~Karen Moning

It’s painful and stressful to feel like you’re living a lie. Like you’re hiding how you really feel, saying what you think other people want to hear, and doing things you don’t actually want to do—just because you think you’re supposed to.

But sometimes we don’t recognize we’re doing this. We just know we feel off, or something feels wrong, and we’re not sure how to change it.

It makes sense that a lot of us struggle with being true to ourselves.

From a young age, we’re taught to be good, fall in line, and avoid making any waves—to lower our voices, do as we’re told, and quit our crying (or they’ll give us something to cry about).

And most of us don’t get the opportunity to foster or follow our curiosity. Instead, we learn all the same things as our peers, at the exact same time; and we live a life consumed by the mastery of these things, our bodies restless from long hours of seated study and our minds overwhelmed with memorized facts that leave very little room for free thinking.

To make things even worse, we learn to compare our accomplishments and progress—often, at things we don’t even really care about—to those of everyone around us. So we learn it’s more important to appear successful in relation to others than to feel excited or fulfilled within ourselves.

This was my experience both growing up and in my twenties. A people-pleaser who was always looking to prove that I mattered, I was like a chameleon, and I constantly felt paralyzed about which choices to make because all I knew was that they needed to be impressive.

I never knew what I really thought or felt because I was too busy suffocating my mind with fears and numbing my emotions to develop even a modicum of self-awareness.

This meant I had no idea what I needed. I only knew I didn’t feel seen or heard. I felt like no one really knew me. But how could they when I didn’t even know myself?

I know I’ve made a lot of progress with this over the years, and I have a mile-long list of unconventional choices to back that up, as well as a number of authentic, fulfilling relationships. But I’ve recently recognized some areas where I’ve shape-shifted in an attempt to please others, and in some cases, without even realizing it.

I don’t want to be the kind of person who panders to popular opinion or lets other people dictate my choices. I don’t want to waste even one minute trying to be good enough for others instead of doing what feels good to me.

I want to make my own rules, live on my own terms, and be bold, wild, and free.

This means peeling away the layers of fear and conditioning and being true to what I believe is right. But it’s hard to do this, because sometimes those layers are pretty heavy, or so transparent we don’t even realize they’re there.

With this in mind, I decided to create this reminder of what it looks and feels like to be true to myself so I can refer back to it if ever I think I’ve lost my way.

If you also value authenticity and freedom over conformity and approval, perhaps this will be useful to you too.

You know you’re being true to yourself if….

1. You’re honest with yourself about what you think, feel, want, and need.

You understand that you have to be honest with yourself before you can be honest with anyone else. This means you make space in your life to connect with yourself, perhaps through meditation, journaling, or time in nature.

This also means you face the harsh realities you may be tempted to avoid. You’re self-aware when faced with hard choices—like whether or not to leave a relationship that doesn’t feel right—so you can get to the root of your fear.

You might not always do this right away, or easily, but you’re willing to ask yourself the tough questions most of us spend our lives avoiding: Why am I doing this? What am I getting from this? And what would serve me better?

2. You freely share your thoughts and feelings.

Even if you’re afraid of judgment or tempted to lie just to keep the peace, you push yourself to speak up when you have something that needs to be said.

And you refuse to stuff your feelings down just to make other people feel comfortable. You’re willing to risk feeling vulnerable and embarrassed because you know that your feelings are valid, and that sharing them is the key to healing what’s hurting or fixing what isn’t working.

3. You honor your needs and say no to requests that conflict with them.

You know what you need to feel physically, mentally, and emotionally balanced, and you prioritize those things, even if this means saying no to other people.

Sure, you might sometimes make sacrifices, but you understand it’s not selfish to honor your needs and make them a priority.

You also know your needs don’t have to look like anyone else’s. It’s irrelevant to you if someone else can function on four hours of sleep, work around the clock, or pack their schedule with social engagements. You do what’s right for you and take care good care of yourself because you recognize you’re the only one who can.

4. Some people like you, some people don’t, and you’re okay with that.

Though you may wish, at times, you could please everyone—because it feels a lot safer to receive validation than disapproval—you understand that being disliked by some is a natural byproduct of being genuine.

This doesn’t mean you justify being rude and disrespectful because hey, you’re just being yourself! It just means you know you’re not for everyone; you’d rather be disliked for who you are than liked for who you’re not; and you understand the only way to find “your tribe” is to weed out the ones who belong in someone else’s.

5. You surround yourself with people who respect and support you just as you are.

You understand that the people around you affect you, so you surround yourself with people who respect and support you, which motivates you to continue being true to yourself.

You may have people in your life who don’t do these things, but if you do, you understand their issues with you are just that—their issues. And you set boundaries with them so that they don’t get in your head and convince you there’s something wrong with you or your choices.

6. You focus more on your own values than what society deems acceptable.

You’ve read the script for a socially acceptable life—climb the corporate ladder, have a lavish wedding, buy a big house, and make some babies—but you’ve seriously questioned whether this is right for you. Maybe it is, but if you go this route, it’s because this plan aligns with your own values, not because it’s what you’re supposed to do.

You know your values are your compass in life, and that they change over time. So you check in with yourself regularly to be sure you’re living a life that doesn’t just look good on paper but also feels good in your heart.

7. You listen to your intuition and trust that you know what’s best for yourself.

You not only hear the voice inside that says, “Nope, not right for you,” you trust it. Because you’ve spent a lot of time learning to distinguish between the voice of truth and fear, you recognize the difference between holding yourself back and waiting for what feels right.

You might not always make this distinction immediately, and you might sometimes be swayed by well-meaning people who want to protect you from the risks of thinking outside the box. But eventually, you tune out the noise and hone in on the only voice that truly knows what’s best for you.

8. You do what feels right for you, even if that means risking approval from the people around you.

Not only do you trust that you know what’s best for you, you do it. Even if it’s not a popular choice. Even if people question your judgment, vision, or sanity. You recognize that no one else is living your life, and no one else has to live with the consequences of your choices, so you make them for you and let the chips fall where they may when it comes to public perception.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have everything you want in life. It just means you hear the beat of your own drum, even if it’s silent like a dog whistle to everyone else, and you march to it—maybe slowly or awkwardly, but with your freak flag raised nice and high.

9. You allow yourself to change your mind if you recognize you made a choice that wasn’t right for you.

You may feel embarrassed to admit you’re changing directions, but you do it anyway because you’d rather risk being judged than accept a reality that just plain feels wrong for you.

Whether it’s a move that you realize you made for the wrong reasons, a job that isn’t what you expected, or a commitment you know you can’t honor in good conscience, you find the courage to say, “This isn’t right, so I’m going to make another change.”

10. You allow yourself to evolve and let go of what you’ve outgrown.

This is probably the hardest one of all because it’s not just about being true to yourself; it’s also about letting go. It’s about recognizing when something has run its course and being brave enough to end the chapter, even if you don’t know yet what’s coming next. Even if the void feels dark and scary.

But you, you recognize that the void can also feel light and thrilling. That empty space isn’t always a bad thing because it’s the breeding ground for new possibilities—for fulfillment, excitement, passion, and joy. And you’re more interested in seeing who else you can be and what else you can do than languishing forever in a comfortable life that now feels like someone else’s.

As with all things in life, we each exist on a spectrum. Every last one of us lives in the grey area, so odds are you do some of these things, some of the time, and probably never perfectly. And you may go through periods when you do few or none of these things, without even realizing you’ve slipped.

That’s how it’s been for me. I’ve gone through phases when I’ve felt completely in alignment and other times when I’ve gotten lost. I’ve had times when I’ve felt so overwhelmed by conflicting wants, needs, and beliefs—my own and other people’s—that I’ve shut down and lost touch with myself.

It happens to all of us. And that’s okay. The important thing is that we keep coming home to ourselves and we eventually ask ourselves the hard questions that decide the kind of lives we lead: What am I hiding? What am I lying about? And what truth would set me free?

 

6 Things You Should Never Do First Thing in the Morning. The perfect morning routine–for you–should also include a ‘not to do’ list.

The perfect morning routine–for you–should also include a ‘not to do’ list.

 

Morning routines. Everyone has them. Everyone wants a better one.

But instead of adding items to your morning in hopes of starting your day more productively, consider eliminating a few things from your routine. Consider it addition by subtraction.

What should go on your not to do list for first thing in the morning?

1. Don’t plan out your day.

Instead, make a to-do list the night before. That accomplishes a number of things.
One, you’ll sleep better. As David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, says, “Your head is for having ideas, not holding ideas, and it’s certainly not for filing things away. Without exception, you will feel better if you get stuff out of your head.” Deciding what you’ll do tomorrow — especially deciding what you’ll do first — instantly relieves a little stress and anxiety.

And ensures you don’t waste time deciding what to tackle first. Or mistaking the seemingly urgent for the truly important. Or wasting time gathering up whatever you need to actually work on what you want to tackle first.

Try it.

Before you end your workday, list what you need to get done tomorrow. Then determine the single most important thing you need to get done tomorrow.

Then, before you step away, set up your workspace (which, if like mine, is simply your computer’s desktop) so you can hit the ground running first thing in the morning. Have the reports you need open. Have the notes you need handy. Make sure you have answers to your questions.

Starting your day with a productive bang creates natural momentum — and provides the motivation you need to move on to whatever is next on your to-do list.

So, yeah: Don’t make a plan. Have a plan.

2. Don’t make unimportant decisions.

Malcolm Gladwell only drinks five kinds of liquids: water, tea, red wine, espresso, and milk. Why?

As Gladwell says, “There are so many other things I would rather do with my time than agonize endlessly about those kinds of trivial decisions.”

Plus, we all have a finite store of mental energy for exercising self-control. Some of us have less, some have more, but eventually we all run out of willpower steam.

That’s why the more choices you need to make during the day, the harder each one is on your brain — and the more you start to look for shortcuts. That’s when you get impulsive. That’s when you make decisions you know you shouldn’t make.

The fewer decisions you have to make, the better the decisions you will make when you do have to make a decision.

Maybe you’ll start having the same thing for breakfast. Or always working out before you start work. (More on that in a moment.) Or scanning the same key metrics.

Or, as President Obama once told Vanity Fair, “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Automate as many decisions you have to make in the morning as possible, especially when they don’t improve your efficiency and effectiveness.

3. Don’t forget to exercise.

Research shows that as little as 20 minutes of moderate exercise boosts your mood for the next 12 hours. (Keep in mind “moderate” means an average heart rate of between 110  and 120 beats a minute. So, no: You don’t have to go all HIIT on yourself.)

Not only will a short workout increase your energy level afterward, it will also put you in a better mood for up to 12 hours.

Which means exercising first thing lets you take full advantage of the “happier” 12 hours that science says follow.

4. Don’t forget to include protein in your first meal.

In The 4-Hour Body, Tim Ferriss recommends consuming 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up. At least one nutrition professor recommends consuming at least 30 grams of protein for breakfast.

Why? Protein tends to keep blood-sugar levels steadier. Protein tends to help prevent hunger spikes. Most important, research shows dopamine regulates motivation, helping you to “initiate and persevere.”

Which is exactly what you need to do first thing in the morning: get started and keep going.

Granted, knocking out 30 grams of protein might sound daunting, so try a protein bar or protein shake. That’s what I do: My first meal is always a protein bar and a glass of water.

Decision already made, protein consumed. Win-win.

5. Don’t forget to take the right breaks.

Generally speaking, we can only focus on any given task for 90 to 120 minutes. After that, we need a 15- to 20-minute break so we can recharge and be ready to perform at a high level on the next task.

So do this: Split your day into 90-minute windows. Instead of thinking an 6-, 8-, or 10-hour workday, split your day into four or five 90-minute windows. That way, you will have, say, four or five tasks — or chunks of tasks — you will get done a lot more efficiently.

Just make sure you take the right kind of break. Sitting and chilling is fine, but taking a break to knock out a few relatively mindless tasks could be just as useful (and leave you feeling a little more productive).

Think of it this way: Momentum is everything. Breaks should reinforce your sense of activity and accomplishment. So take a quick walk. Grab a drink or a snack.

Or, if you feel the urge to stay Type A, pick a few productive tasks you like to perform — and gain a sense of accomplishment from — and use those for your “breaks.”

6. Don’t stick blindly to the same morning routine.

Maybe you’ll need to wake up a little earlier to take advantage of “quiet time” to complete your first task. Maybe you’ll need to wake up a little later so you’ll feel more rested.

Maybe you’ll need to exercise later in the day after all, or adjust what you eat, or change a few of your other “automatic” decisions.

To be more productive, you can’t do what you’ve always done.

Nor should you slavishly stick to the new routine you create. Every once in a while, take a few minutes to evaluate what’s working and what’s not. And adjust as necessary.

Because the key is to do what makes you most successful.

Which, over time, is likely to change.

So make sure you change with it.