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.

 

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 habits that are ruining your chances of getting a promotion

Hungry for a more senior role? Eager to sink your teeth into a new challenge? Whether there are promotion opportunities on your radar or not, your habits can put the odds of getting promoted on your side — or stop your career development in its tracks.

And if you think hard work and experience alone are enough, think again. “Hard work and experience are great things to possess but it’s not the only thing that’s going to get you where you want to go,” says Joyel Crawford, CEO of Crawford Leadership Strategies and host of Career View Mirror, a career development show. “It’s up to you to put the career address into the GPS and press go.”

Wondering what kind of habits to keep in mind in order to avoid a career crash? It’s all about being visible and putting yourself in front of the right people — even in the age of remote work. And you’ll also wanna focus on cultivating a solutions-oriented, resourceful mindset.

“Having an intrapreneurial mindset can really help catapult you into visibility projects that will drive results for the business and for your professional goals as well. What solutions can you bring to the table? How can you help the organization save, make or donate more revenue?” says Crawford.

Beyond cultivating your network and adopting the right mindset, there are also actions and approaches you should absolutely avoid if you want to get a promotion anytime soon. Start by unlearning the six habits below.

1. Passive decision-making

“You have to take an active part in navigating your career,” says Crawford, who recommends building a network of professionals who can not only act as a support system but also serve as possible mentors or sponsors that help you drive your career.

And if you’re interested in a particular role or career direction, shadowing or informally interviewing someone who holds a similar position is a great move.

“This type of background research is key — you may find that the position you want isn’t at all what you saw from the outside looking in. Shadowing and informational interviews will also give you some visibility. And don’t let working remotely get in your way, you can still do this via a web-based meeting platform.”

2. Being a sore loser

Being resentful at work is a surefire way to erode your reputation. Let’s say you just got passed up for a promotion. It’s normal to feel disappointed, but it’s really important to process your disappointment in a healthy way and avoid letting it show. “If you don’t get the role the first time, how you show up afterward counts even more,” says Crawford.

So resist the temptation to lose steam or disengage. Do lick your wounds if you need to, but then focus on using the missed opportunity as motivation to improve and find an even better opportunity for you.

3. Not knowing your why

Do you know why you even want a promotion to begin with? And are you making it all about yourself? When thinking about your next step, Crawford says it’s important to keep in mind the why behind the what — not only in terms of what you value but also what your organization values.

Aligning your own interests and desires with the needs and goals of the company will help you get clarity on what to bring to the table. Better yet, the alignment will naturally encourage you to tap into your passion. “That passion will come through in your interview and your day-to-day dealings with others.”

4. Lack of consistency

Getting promoted is not the finish line. It’s only the first step. “Every day is an interview even after you nailed that next step up the career ladder or across the career lattice. Everyone matters, from the assistant to the executive. Treat everyone with kindness, dignity and respect. Get to know all of the names of the people you interact with. No one is beneath you,” says Crawford.

The good news is that if you focus on cultivating the right habits, you’ll be equipped with lifelong best practices regardless of your role or industry.

5. Neglecting relationships

Life sometimes gets in the way. But neglecting to nurture your professional relationships might be costing you your chances of getting a promotion. From thanking people who’ve helped you to keep in touch with former coworkers and bosses, small gestures go a long way when it comes to keeping career bridges intact.

Crawford recommends reaching out to mentors on a quarterly basis, getting into the habit of sending thank-you notes and booking one-on-one meetings with key stakeholders: “I’ve also found that having a one-on-one with your new clients or a new manager that you’re supporting is paramount.”

Why? To discuss expectations and deliver on them, which will get you that much closer to a promotion. “This really helps set the tone of collaboration and support. It used to blow people’s minds when I came into their office and asked them how they wanted to be supported,” says Crawford.

6. Having zero boundaries

Even if you love working, burnout won’t get you where you want to go. “Take care of yourself and create boundaries. Putting in 20+ hours a day thinking that will help you get the promotion faster is only burning you out and making you less productive,” says Crawford.

“You need to take care of yourself. There’s only one you — and we need you to keep bringing your best light and talents to the world. You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

Manage your energy in a sustainable way so you can keep crushing it once you get the job.

10 Crucial Benefits of Goal Setting

The benefits of goal setting are tangible and significant.   If you can successfully set and achieve your personal and business goals you will experience many benefits and improvements.  Setting goals gives you greater clarity on your future, increases focus, triggers new behaviours, guides your actions and gives you a clear purpose in life.  Goals provide direction and a clear focus on what is most important in your life.

Setting goals transforms how you invest your time, energy and focus and provides motivation to take action on achieving your goals.  Having goals provides clarity on your vision and ensures that vision is aligned with your daily goal achievement activities.  The benefit of goal setting means you have a greater focus on where to invest your time and energy each day.

Setting goals that are specific and measurable is beneficial as it gives you a clear path and plan to make progress on your goals every day.  This intentionality ensures you achieve a sense of personal satisfaction, momentum and motivation every day.

In this article I’m going to share the importance of goal setting and 10 benefits of goal setting.

The Importance of Goal Setting

Setting goals gives you a long-term vision to work towards and short-term targets to focus on each day.  Goals create the framework to organise your time, energy and focus each day.  Setting goals helps you stay motivated and excited and guides your daily action plan so it always aligns with achieving your goals.

The process of setting goals is important because it helps to clarify what’s truly important to you, and gives you a clear path and plan to pursue those goals.  In addition to improving your daily performance, people who set goals are more productive, more creative, have more confidence and are less stressed.

Effective goal setting gives you clarity on what you want to achieve in life and gives you a proven framework for taking action to achieve those goals in a focused, effective and decisive way.  Understanding the benefits of goal setting improves your ability to achieve your goals.

Goal setting success starts with having specific, measurable goals with a deadline.  These goals are more effective in improving performance than goals that don’t have a number attached or a deadline to achieve the goal in.  Choosing an effective goal that is specific and measurable means you’re committed to actually achieving the goal.  Read more with my complete guide to goal setting.

Benefits of goal setting

Here are 10 benefits of goal setting.

1. Direction

Goals give you a direction, purpose and destination to reach.  Having a clear, exciting goal inspires you to take action.  Goals provide a direction and purpose and a clear destination to reach.  Having clear direction gives you a sense of purpose in life and a specific focus each day to organise your time, energy and actions.

Goals gives you a clearer focus to help you plan better, make better decisions and help you manage your time effectively.

2. Greater productivity 

Goals provide specific measurements and achievements to work towards each day, which increases productivity.  With goals you get to see the measurable progress you’re actually making.

Having monthly, quarterly and annual goals gives you a target to shoot for and a measuring stick to track your progress daily, weekly and monthly.  Read more about setting measurable goals.

3. Improved prioritisation   

Goals give you emotional and intellectual engagement on the outcome of your goals, ensuring you are committed to take daily action.  Having specific, measurable goals guides your action steps every day.  Goals help you clarify where you are now and where you want to be in the future.  Goals help you visualise the future you want, and provide the framework for achieving your goals.  Read more about how to achieve your goals.

4. Increased focus

Goals give you a daily focus which helps you achieve better and faster results.  Without clarity on your goals it’s difficult to stay focused.  Goals provide daily motivation to ensure you stay focused and take action every day to achieve the things that matter most to you.

Having goals gives you a clear plan and path to follow every day, which eliminates distraction, overwhelm and procrastination.  Read more about how to stay focused.

5. Greater clarity 

Goals give you clarity on what’s most important to you on life.  Without goals you will waste time on countless activities that don’t move you forward in life.  Having goals triggers an increased level of clarity and motivation to help you make progress in your life every day.  Effective goal setting gives you control of your future and makes it easier to capture bigger opportunities.  Goals enable you to prioritise your time and energy.  Read more about how to prioritise.

6. Improved accountability

Goals give you greater accountability.  Having goals ensures you are crystal clear on what you want to achieve and how important achieving that goal is.  Goals help you visualise yourself in the future having achieved your goals, and give you the inspiration to take action every day.

This emotional engagement with achieving your goals helps you stay accountable through daily actions.  Read more about the benefits of working with an accountability coach.

7. Better decision making  

Goals help create better boundaries around your time, energy and focus, which improves decision making.  Having goals gives you a clear framework to manage your time and energy.

When opportunities come up, having clear goals, allows you to make decisions about whether to take action or not.  Goals get you clear on your purpose and ensure your daily actions align with your goals.

8. Control over your future

Goals help you take control over your future.  Without goals you lack direction and give the power to other people to choose how you should spend your time and what you should focus on.  Having goals gives you direction and motivation to take action to achieve your goals.

Goals help you take control over the future you want for yourself, which ensures you make better decisions in the present.

9. Increased motivation

Goals increase excitement and inspiration.  Having goals gives you that added bit of motivation you may need when you don’t feel motivated or experience some setbacks.

When your goals are exciting you’ll be motivated to take action, even when you don’t feel like it, because you know the outcome of reaching your goal will be so transformational.  Read more about how to get motivated.

10. Greater inspiration

Goals which are exciting and motivating inspire you to take action every day.  Measurable goals give you a framework to see the progress you’re making every day towards achieving your goals.  Without clear measurements you won’t have a clear destination or know when you’ve reached it.

Making progress on your goals builds momentum, motivation and excitement.  When you see how far you’ve come towards your goal achievement, you’re even more motivated to carry on.

Summing Up

Setting goals can transform your life.  The simple act of setting goals that are specific and measurable can transform your habits, your mindset, your confidence and your daily actions.  The benefits of goal setting are endless.

Goals provide direction and purpose.  Having goals trigger higher performance, greater productivity, greater creativity and greater focus.  Set a goal today and see how far you can go.

 

What your communication habits reveal about you

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they communicate. If you pay close attention, you might notice things like a coworker struggling with confidence or a potential boss with impressive levels of emotional intelligence. Those insights allow you to make better decisions — say, lifting your coworker up in meetings so you can produce more impactful team work together or sizing up whether you want to accept an offer based on your impression of your future boss.

“Through a person’s communication style, you can tell their level of emotional intelligence. You can tell how authentic and sincere someone is by their willingness to speak from a vulnerable place,” says Rina Rovinelli, speaking coach and co-founder of global speaking competition Speaker Slam.

But what about what your own communication habits reveal about you? Knowing how others might potentially perceive you and gaining more self-awareness can only help you navigate professional waters more smoothly and improve the way you carry yourself at work. We’ve asked Rovinelli, who’s coached and judged hundreds of professional speakers, to share her insights on what different communication habits say about a person. Whether you’re an awesome listener or tend to learn information by heart before meeting a prospective client, take notes and elevate your speaking skills.

If you are a good listener

“If they are a good listener, I see them as being introspective and considerate. I see their emotional intelligence in their willingness to hear me without thinking about what they’ll say next. I see their desire to understand me fully. In a business sense, I want to work with people who understand me and who are willing to meet me where I’m at,” says Rovinelli.

So if you are an introvert who prefers to pay attention rather than talk for the sake of talking, you’re doing something right. Tap into your natural sense of empathy by using your understanding of other people to be more effective, whether you’re delegating work to reach team goals or personalizing a business proposal.

If you communicate vulnerably

Think vulnerability at work is a recipe for disaster yet you just can’t stop sharing your true feelings? You might want to rethink your stance — times are changing and showing your human side without worrying about appearing perfect can actually help you connect with others and build trust, according to Rovinelli.

“If they communicate vulnerably, I see their authenticity and realness. I trust this person more. I resonate and connect with their honesty. I see them as a person beyond an employee and it allows me to trust them,” she says.

If you are well-spoken and articulate

 

If you are a seasoned public speaker who loves to command attention in a room full of people, you project confidence and make those who work with you feel secure in your abilities. “If they are well-spoken, and articulate I feel a level of confidence in their abilities. I feel secure with people who I view as intelligent and well-versed. I assume that someone who is so profound and well-spoken must represent a business that has integrity,” says Rovinelli.

If you are rehearsed and repetitive

Do you tend to get so prepared before important professional interactions that you rehearse at home over and over again? Are you overly concerned about staying on message around your company’s mission and values? You might have good intentions, but it could be hurting your chances at building rapport. “If they are rehearsed and repetitive, I lose trust. I feel that they are sharing the company propaganda and I tune out. So often in business, professionals are taught the company lingo and it ends up feeling contrived and insincere.”

In this case, less is more. Try prepping by understanding the information you want to convey rather than learning what you want to say by heart. And trust your ability to internalize the information well enough to speak about it in a more organic, spontaneous way when needed.

If you struggle and use a lot of filler words

If you struggle to speak and tend to use filler words such as“like” or “um” every two seconds, you might be unknowingly hurting your credibility as well — especially in a customer-facing role, according to Rovinelli. “If they struggle to speak and use a lot of filler words I lose confidence and feel a lack of security. If a company’s best salesperson or representative can’t speak powerfully, it says a lot to me about the lack of credibility of the organization,” she says.

Don’t fret just yet, the habit of speaking confidently can be cultivated. It’s all about practice.

 

7 Reasons You Shouldn’t Settle For Someone Who Doesn’t Make An Effort

7 Reasons You Shouldn’t Settle For Someone Who Doesn’t Make An Effort

Isn’t it the best feeling to hear “It wasn’t the same without you” or “I missed you so much”?

We all want to feel desired, wanted, and needed. We all want to feel loved and cared for. We all want to be missed. When it comes to significant others, we need to feel desired. That desire drives the passion, intimacy, and love that we feel between each other.

Sometimes we feel the passion but not the desire. We receive the response to our text a day or two later without any acknowledgement that it was late. Sure, people can be busy. Of course, we’re always busy. But how busy do you have to be to not respond with a “So sorry, busy day, will respond later”? It’s the respectful thing to do.

In our society, texting is many times our primary form of communication. We get to know each other by what emojis we send, whether or not we use periods or commas, and of course, our response time. We’re never asking for much, but we do expect a response within a respectable amount of time.

It might be that you’re trying to plan a date with the person from your English class that you’ve been crushing on for the entire year. It might be an old fling that you’re trying to reconnect with. It might be someone you’ve gone on a few dates with and you’re really feeling the potential.

Whether you’re in a potential, new, current, or nonexistent relationship, there’s never a reason to settle for someone who doesn’t make it known they want you. Here are seven reasons why.

1. You deserve better.
First comes first: You deserve better. If your best friend was complaining that the guy she likes was only texting her back every three or four days, what advice would you give her? You deserve better. It doesn’t matter whether this person is the sweetest person ever when you’re together. Making plans is a crucial step to continue getting to know each other. If they’re wishy-washy, it’s not worth it to you.

2. Your time is valuable.
When this person is off “being too busy,” you’re waiting around for their text and either coming up with excuses for them or feeling sorry for yourself. Stop that! Your time is valuable and you could be doing much better things than thinking about the “what ifs.” Stop “what if-ing” and spend your time investing in someone who will also invest time in you.

3. The Golden Rule.
Treat others how you want to be treated. You know that you wouldn’t be this flaky with someone, so why let yourself be treated this way? Indirectly, it’s insulting to you. You don’t need to be insulted or played with.

4. You won’t know what other opportunities are out there.
When you’re distracted by what this person could be doing instead of texting you back, you’re wasting your own time. You could be missing out on bumping into that cute person at the coffee shop who is completely willing to spend the 30-seconds it takes to reply to a text and make plans. Who knows what else you’re missing? You don’t! Not until you start looking.

5. You’ll become dependent on someone who isn’t dependable.
Let’s say you end up waiting 3 days for the reply. Even though you’re frustrated that this person made you wait, you make plans for Saturday and you’re looking forward to it. Saturday is a blast and your optimism is restored that this person is the one for you. They end up taking another 3 days to reply when you try to make plans again. This becomes a cycle of feeling so down when you’re waiting for the reply, but so happy when you finally make plans. You don’t need this madness! There are already so many stressors in life; waiting the whole week to confirm your weekend plans shouldn’t be another one.

6. There are better things to do than wait around.
Cook a new recipe. Bake cookies. Sing. Dance. Go to the beach, for a drive, for a run. There are endless possibilities for you to do that will stimulate your mind, body, and spirit much more than waiting around for a text back.

7. You are strong!
You might be feeling like it actually is worth it to you to wait around or that there actually aren’t better opportunities for you out there. But trust me, there are. Be a little more patient—the best has yet to come.

The bottom line is that if someone wants you in their life, they’ll make an effort to keep you in it. You’ve done nothing wrong. Don’t wait for someone to “come around” and show you they want you. If they do, you’ll know.

Be more gentle with yourself Little strategies in 8 steps

1. Consider the mistakes as part of the learning process
No one likes to make mistakes, but we need to learn that only when we make mistakes we realize what is not working and what can be changed or be done better. We should always keep in mind that we are not what we do, we are much more than that. Our actions, what we do, is the self-efficacy which can be increased with the practice; our essence, who we are, our self-esteem, is separated from everything and do not depend on our performance.

2. Do not compare yourself to others

Comparing yourself to others is never constructive. Focusing on what others do better than us is a trap that no one is immune and is very insidious because it leads to focus on what we do or do not possess losing sight of the many gifts that are already present in our lives. Continuing to bring our attention to others makes us take everything for granted. The comparison leads us to measure ourselves using inappropriate parameters, risking to live someone’s life and desiring things we don’t really want. When it happens to envy someone ask yourself: “I really want that thing, that result, that goal?” And if you do not want it, then why are envious? Are we convinced that this person will appear in the eyes of others better? But in the eyes of whom? And that’s really so important?

3. Be loyal to your values even if it means being unpopular

Key values are those that belong to our soul, do not change over time and lead us in our lives. Be true to your values, even if it means going against and be unpopular. It is not easy, you will lose people along the way, but you won’t lose yourself and this is the only thing that matters. Being faithful to your values means loving yourself.

4. See the past as an adventure

Life is an adventure: every day we have the opportunity to discover something new and wonderful to experience. The past is what allowed you to get to this moment, including errors. Do not condemn your past, even if you suffer, it made you the person you are today.

5. Do not underestimate your talents

All of us have unique talents that make us special, but very often we underestimate them or we are not even aware of them. What makes you feel most alive? What gives you more excitement, what you dream to be, do, have, give? What were your dreams, your passions as a child? What makes your heart beat? What are
your favorite topics? What are your interests? What would you do even if your are not paid for? What makes you feel so absorbed that you lose track of the time passing? What are your features, your peculiarity? It’s just by looking within yourself that you can discover your talents and make them available to the world.

6. Surround yourself with people that inspire you

We are social animals and we need to interact and share experiences with others. Surround yourself with people who want the best for you and inspire you to be the best version of yourself.

7. Express your anger creatively

Anger is an important emotion, but many times we try to repress or deny it, hurting ourselves. It’s important to express anger and there are many different ways to do that. Playing sports, spending time in nature, writing, screaming (in the car or with a cushion for example): find ways to express anger, not hold it in!

8. Celebrate every success

Celebrate every success, even when it seems insignificant, it is important to keep motivation high. Celebrate the wonderful person you are, whatever you do or whatever result you get. Just because you’ve decided to do something new and try to be happy, you deserve all the possible respect.

There’s an Epidemic That’s a Bigger Threat Than the Coronavirus

ou are, probably, worrying about coronavirus. For most of us, the anxious questions are: Am I going to get the coronavirus? Is someone I love going to get it? If we do, is it going to kill us?

For starters, let’s be clear that no one ever gets a health guarantee. You might still have a heart attack even if you do everything advisable to avoid one. If you eat optimally, exercise, don’t smoke, and so on- you make heart disease or cancer vastly less probable, but you don’t get a guarantee. Human health simply does not come with those. And, of course, you can do everything right to be fit and healthy and keep your coronaries pristine, reliably avoid heart disease, and still get hit by a bus, or a falling tree, or lightning. Or get a brain tumor, for reasons we don’t know.

One thing you learn in medicine is that we control ship and sail, but never wind and wave. We don’t control everything, ever. Bad things happen to good people doing everything right all the time. But they do happen much less often to those doing everything right than to everyone else, so what we do matters enormously. It shifts probability.

So, the questions about coronavirus revert to questions about probability. And those we can answer, or at least establish the basis for answers.

The ultimate questions — will I get this disease, and will it kill me if I do? — can be broken into component parts.

What is my risk of exposure?

Right now, unless you are in one of the rarefied populations around the world where the disease is concentrated, the answer is: probably very, very, very low. There are, as I write this (2/28/20) just under 84,000 global cases out of a population of nearly 8 billion humans. That is one case per 100,000. For comparison, the lifetime risk of being struck by lightning in the United States is roughly one in 3,000. The coronavirus numbers could change, of course, and likely will, but for now- total cases are of a “one in many, many thousands” magnitude, making exposure for any one of us highly improbable.

Being exposed is necessary, but not sufficient, to get infected.

If I am exposed, how probable is it I get the disease?

This is the infection rate. If we use the most concentrated outbreak in Wuhan, China, as our model, with the assumption (obviously not entirely true) that everyone there was “exposed,” then the answer at the moment is just under 79,000 cases in a population of 11 million. That is an infection rate of roughly 7 per thousand, or 0.7 percent.

If I get infected, how probable is it the disease will kill me?

UPDATE 3/09: Only South Korea is doing testing extensively enough to give us a realistic view of the fatality rate of COVID-19. It is much LOWER in South Korea than anywhere else, 0.6% — due to more extensive testing.

This is the fatality rate. Once again, the most dire numbers come from Wuhan, where there have been just under 2,800 deaths among the just under 79,000 infected. That ratio yields a fatality rate of less than 4 per hundred, or just under 4 percent.

I hasten to apologize for any semblance here that these numbers are adequate messengers. Every number in this mix is a real person just like you and me, with a family just like yours or mine. One of the great liabilities of public health is the capacity to lose the human reality of it in a sea of anonymizing statistics. As I use numbers to make my point, I point to the people behind the veil of those numbers, those families, and invite us both to direct the full measure of our condolence, our compassion, and the solidarity of our human kinship there. Among the messages of this, and any, pandemic is that however good we may be at accentuating our superficial differences, we are one, great, global human family- the same kind of animal, with just the same vulnerabilities. COVID-19 does not care at all who issued our passport.

OK, back to numbers. Here’s an important reality check: We are much, much more likely to overlook the mildest cases of any disease than death from that disease. Death is hard to miss.

What would it mean if this common scenario pertains to COVID-19? It means many more people than we know are getting the infection, but with mild symptoms passing for a cold, or maybe even no symptoms at all. The “bad news” here is that the infection rate might be much higher than we think. But does that increase your risk of getting the disease (yes!), and dying from it (no!)? I’ll illustrate.

Let’s say you are a member of a hypothetical population of 2,000 people. We believe this population was exposed to coronavirus, that 200 people got infected, and that 8 died.

The infection rate here is (200/2000) or 10 percent (much higher than the reality in Wuhan), and the fatality rate is (8/200), or 4 percent (about what has been seen to date in Wuhan). If you are a typical member of this population, your risk of both getting the infection and dying from it is {(200/2000) X (8/200)}, or 0.4 percent. We can see this directly from the total population numbers: 8 deaths out of 2000 is, just as our calculations showed, 4 deaths per thousand, or 0.4 percent. And to flip this around, it means your chances of dodging the coronavirus bullet are 99.6 percent. Those are good odds!

But what if we were wrong — not a little, but a lot — about the number of infections, because we had overlooked many that were too mild to attract anyone’s attention? Well, then, maybe 4 times as many actually got infected- 800, rather than 200. This does mean you are much more likely to get the virus yourself, but does that make it more likely you will die from it? Not at all. The simple math shows why.

We now have an infection rate of (800/2000), or a very alarming 40 percent. But we now also have a fatality rate of only (8/800), or 1 percent. If we repeat the prior calculation for your personal risk of getting the virus and dying from it, we have: {(800/2000) X (8/800)}, or…the exact same 0.4 percent as before.

This is true of coronavirus in the real world. If we are finding every case, then your risk of getting infected is, for now at least, very low, and your risk of dying if you do is also very low. If we are missing a lot of cases, your risk of infection may be much higher, but your risk of dying if infected is commensurately lower. It’s a zero-sum game, and each sum, for now, means a very low probability indeed that you or someone you love will die from this disease.

Before we wrap up, let’s examine our propensity for risk distortion whenever confronting the new, the seemingly exotic, and the uncertain — and let’s consider how epidemiologic familiarity clearly does breed contemptuous disregard.

Worries over the exotic coronavirus are roiling the world now in every way imaginable. Those not anxious about life, limb, and loved ones are fretting over their stock portfolios.

To date, there are a total of 60 cases in the United States — and zero deaths. In contrast, humble influenza thus far this year has infected as many as 40 million of us (about 1 in 9) and caused as many as 40,000 deaths (a fatality rate of 1 per thousand). We breathlessly await the rushed development of a vaccine for COVID-19, even as we balk ever more routinely at a flu vaccine which is in fact very safe, effective at reducing infection and transmission, and directed at a disease so far many orders of magnitude more dire than the coronavirus.

Nor is our penchant for risk distortion limited to infectious diseases. As I write this, I am mere days away from the release of my new book, co-authored with Mark Bittman, “How to Eat.” We wrote the book together not because we weren’t already busy enough, but because infusing the conversation about diet and health in America with science filtered through a generally missing lens of sense is that important.

Poor overall diet quality is the single leading cause of premature death in the United States today, causing an estimated 500,000 or so deaths each year. That is more than ten times worse than a fairly bad strain of influenza, monumentally worse than coronavirus thus far, and happens every year.

Diet — what should be a source of nourishment, sustenance, and vitality — is the reason for one death in six here. And that is just the tip of the epidemiologic iceberg, since diet causes much more morbidity than premature death. To borrow directly from Dariush Mozaffarian and Dan Glickman in The New York Times:

More than 100 million adults — almost half the entire adult population — have pre-diabetes or diabetes. Cardiovascular disease afflicts about 122 million people and causes roughly 840,000 deaths each year, or about 2,300 deaths each day. Three in four adults are overweight or obese. More Americans are sick, in other words, than are healthy.

The exposure risk for diet is 100 percent; everyone eats. So for coronavirus to rival diet, every last one of us would need to be exposed.

Poor overall diet quality is the single leading cause of premature death in the United States today, causing an estimated 500,000 or so deaths each year. That is more than ten times worse than a fairly bad strain of influenza, monumentally worse than coronavirus thus far, and happens every year.

Let’s say that the ‘infection rate’ for diet is the probability of it harming you. Since less than 10 percent of Americans meet recommendations for fruits and vegetables, and since overall diet quality is poor on average, we can say that diet is harming — to one degree or another — at least 90 percent of us. So, for coronavirus to rival that, 90 out of 100 people exposed — almost everyone — would need to get infected.

What about mortality? The deaths attributed directly to diet don’t really tell the whole tale. Diet is the major contributor to diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and an important contributor to cancer, liver disease, dementia and more. At least 50 percent of all premature death can be traced to effects of diet in whole or part, so let’s call the fatality rate 50 percent. For coronavirus to match that, the virus would need to kill one out of every two of us infected.

Admittedly, coronavirus kills quickly when it kills, and diet tends to kill more slowly. This matters, but less than first meets the eye. Dying prematurely and abruptly is bad, but dying prematurely after a long chronic disease — losing life from years before losing years from life — is no bargain either. We have a native blind spot for any risk that plays out slowly rather than immediately — but climate change shows how calamitously costly that can prove to be. So, OK, coronavirus “wins” for speed, but really deserves far less preferential respect than it gets. Flu warrants far more. Diet, willfully engineered to put profit ahead of public health while evoking no apparent outrage, warrants far more still.

Back to COVID-19, sure it is scary, mostly because of the attendant uncertainties. The relatively unknown threat is always the scariest. But for the coronavirus to rival mundane but massively greater risks that hide in plain sight and go routinely neglected, it would need to be literal orders of magnitude worse than it has thus far shown itself to be. That might happen — but we might also be struck by a large asteroid while worrying about it.

I am not saying “don’t worry, be happy.” I am saying, if your worries relate to you or those you love getting sick and dying, that they could be far more productively directed than at COVID-19. I am saying get some perspective, get a grip, get a flu shot, drive a hybrid, go for a walk, and…eat a salad.

How Reading Books Helps Your Brain Recharge

It may seem counterintuitive, but absorbing information through old-fashioned books gives your brain a break.

 

Imagine being the founder of not one but two companies dedicated to books and not finding the time to read any. That’s the situation that Hugh McGuire, founder of LibriVox and Pressbooks, found himself in a few years ago. Like many of us, he was battling an onslaught of digital information, and his beloved paperbacks were collecting dust. After a while, though, he realized he sorely missed the quiet time he used to spend with a book in hand. He also realized that he was tired all the time, and struggling to focus in every area of life.

Writing for Harvard Business Review, he explained:

“I was distracted when at work, distracted when with family and friends, constantly tired, irritable, and always swimming against a wash of ambient stress induced by my constant itch for digital information. My stress had an electronic feel to it, as if it was made up of the very bits and bytes on my screens.”

He found that a slower form of information, books, was the antidote to his information overload. So he made them part of his routine again. According to McGuire, “Reading books again has given me more time to reflect, to think, and has increased both my focus and the creative mental space to solve work problems.”

As any entrepreneur will tell you, problem-solving is critical for launching or running a business. But so is giving our busy brains a rest, and books help with that too. According to neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, focused reading uses about 42 calories per hour, whereas absorbing new information (e.g., scanning Twitter or the news headlines) burns around 65 calories per hour.

Research has found that reading novels improves our brain functions on a variety of levels, including the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and flex your imagination. It also boosts our innovative thinking skills. Take it from Elon Musk, arguably one of the most innovative minds of our time. He’s said that growing up, he spent more than 10 hours a day pouring through science fiction novels. In today’s rapidly changing world, innovation is necessary for any business to stay competitive.

Reading is the best, not to mention the easiest, way to shore up our creative thinking and give our brains a break from digital overload — which, according to a 2019 Workplace Productivity Report, more than half of the workforce experiences. With that in mind, here are some strategies for making quality reading time a part of your daily routine.

1. Stash your devices

It seems simple, but detaching from our phones and tablets is often easier said than done. New information — like the ping of a new DM or refreshing our Twitter feed — triggers the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in our brains.

On top of that, our devices are designed to be addictive: Just ask a slew of former Silicon Valley big wigs, like Google’s former in-house ethicist, Tristan Harris, who have become whistleblowers for the addictive and unhealthy nature of our phones. Even the guy who literally wrote the book on getting people addicted — Nir Eyal, author of “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” — has done a 180°. More recently, he wrote a book with the opposite sentiment of his former title: “Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.” It’s a guide to freeing people from the pull of their devices.

Say what you will about Eyal’s flip-flopping, his book includes smart tips for maintaining your attention: like don’t hang out on Slack, limit meetings to just one laptop, and keep your phone on silent. I like to go one step further by putting my phone completely out of sight — in a drawer or even another room — when I need uninterrupted focus time.

It’s impossible to concentrate and fully immerse yourself in a book when you’re constantly checking your messages. So stick with the old adage: out of sight, out of mind.

Related: Low Productivity? You May Need a Digital Detox.

2. If you don’t have hours, read in short intervals

As CEO of my online form company, I don’t have uninterrupted hours each day to dedicate to reading. But as Wharton professor Adam Grant writes, “Leaders who don’t have time to read are leaders who don’t make time to learn.”

If the most successful entrepreneurs manage to find the time, I can, too. Sometimes, that means being a little thrifty: like reading in short bursts throughout the day — on the way to work or waiting in line at the coffee shop. Or, instead of zoning out with Netflix before bed, try squeezing in a few chapters.

What’s more, research has found that we retain more information when we learn in short, spaced-out intervals, rather than trying to cram it all in at once.

If you’re struggling to concentrate or just having an off-day, the Pomodoro Technique can be highly effective. It entails setting a timer for 25 minutes, committing to concentrating during that time period, then giving yourself five minutes to do anything — grab a snack, take a quick stroll or something else non-work-related. Once you’ve completed four “pomodoros,” you can give yourself a longer break.

Even if you only do one or two pomodoros, you’ll be surprised at how the time flies.

Related: Reading One Book a Week Won’t Make You Successful

3. Choose your material thoughtfully

It’s no surprise that if you choose something you genuinely enjoy, you’ll be more likely to follow through with it. Plus, fully immersing yourself in one captivating book will give you so much more than speeding through a dozen books while your mind wanders elsewhere. Only when we’re fully absorbed can we reach that priceless state of flow: the “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.”

Colleagues often tell me that it’s too difficult or time-consuming to find great books. True enough, there are thousands of titles to choose from. That’s why I recommend delegating the legwork. See who your favorite authors or experts are reading. You can puruse Adam Grant’s favorite leadership books or author Steven Pinker’s ten titles he’d take to a desert island. I also like using What Should I Read Next, a website that uses a huge database to offer recommendations based on books you’ve already enjoyed.

Simply put: For productive, intelligent leaders, reading books is literally the oldest trick in the book. It gives your brain a chance to recharge and absorb new information, and there’s no hacking your way out that.