Tag Archives: overwhelm

Have you tried to ‘chew’ life? Another perspectives on mindfulness

Young Woman Standing with Arms Stretched OutWisdom can come from unexpected places

Stopping for lunch at Blarney Woollen Mills[1], I could not help but notice a rather large, elderly American man. In a very loud, penetrating mid-western voice he kept talking at his fellow tour members repeating the same words over and over again until I assume they finally listened to him. While this occurred all sorts of judgements went through my head especially the silent plea for him to quieten down his voice so I could eat in peace, and that was by far the most polite thought I had. You can image what went through my head (and I will leave the exact words to your imagination).

And then I started to pay attention to his words. Oh boy, was I surprised and humbled by this man’s insight.

He said: “We breathe in our food, we do not really chew it. That is why people put on weight”.

What wisdom! This man, having had this massive insight, actually had already lost 95 pounds by really chewing his food, and was well on the way of losing the remaining 120 pounds to reach his ideal weight.

Missing out . . .

Breathing is something so every day, that most of us do not actually notice that we are breathing or how we are breathing. And that is how we treat a lot of experiences in life, we just breathe them in without paying particular attention of what is happening, just as this man used to do with his food:

  • When do we actually ‘chew’ and ‘taste’ life to its fullest?
  • When do we truly have a present, second by second multisensory experience of life?
  • Where have we missed miracles just because we just breathed through them?

Sadly, for most of us, not even for the duration of one inbreath.

Ingesting too much . . .

As this American gentleman used to do, a lot of us are just breathing in food, information, life experiences; you name it, we breathe it in unconsciously, and then forget to breathe it out again. We rush through life, swallowing part of it whole without truly appreciating what is going on.

The result of this is overwhelm, overload or to continue using the food metaphor: mental obesity, emotional obesity, energetic obesity, and who knows, even spiritual obesity.

And we often don’t even notice.

What we may notice is that our stress levels rise, that we seem more irritable and easily distractable, that we cannot focus and require quicker and more distractions, that we feel the need to self-medicate with substances such as alcohol or drugs, or that we are more discontent than ever.

What if . . .  we were to spend  5-10 minutes a day, chewing life?

  • Really tasting, savouring, relishing each and every second of these 5-10 minutes, each second to their fullest?
  • Noticing what occurs around us, through us, in us for each second of the 5- 10 minutes?
  • Observing thoughts, emotions, energies, physical sensations
  • Allowing a multisensory experience consciously experiencing and breathing in these 5-10 minutes through all of the 5 senses and our intuitive sense to their fullest?

10 minutes of life chewing makes a difference

Notice what is different after the 5-10 minutes:

  • How you feel differently
  • What miracles happened
  • What opportunities you can now see
  • How life changed

I recommend using a journal to record, amplify and deepen your experience of life chewing.

Enjoy your conscious 10-minute meal of life!


[1] Co Cork, Ireland. They have a very healthy self-service restaurant and a terrace to enjoy your meal outside. It is a favourite spots for bus tours to stop.

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Super busy? No time to relax? Give yourself the gift of symbolic mindfulness today

Had a busy week? Are you feeling a little overwhelmed with all the things that you need to do before going back to work on Monday? Or even planning to work this week-end to catch up? When you stop and take a deep belly breath, do you feel tension or constriction? Maybe even anxiety, hypervigilance or nervousness?

Slowing down and doing less does not seem a viable option

Most of us find it a really challenge, if not impossible, to deeply enjoy our week-ends after a busy and potentially stressful week at work. Slowing down is something that a lot of women especially are finding not an easy thing to achieve….there is always too much to do, too many expectations and not enough time.

Yet, to be healthy and to be successful at home and at work, we need to allow our body, mind and spirit to rest and replenish.  Instead of doing more, we ideally need to do less. Given the amount of tasks that most women have to on their daily to do list this seems like a joke or an impossible thing to ask.

Meditation is a proven stress reliever, yet not the answer for everyone

Doing  a short 5-10 minute meditation or any kind of physical exercise with deep belly breathing every morning really helps to focus the day, and reenergise our hyperactive minds and emotions. Also meditating in the evenings increases the stress relief.

However, I am finding with a number of my clients, especially when they are not regular meditators, that it takes a long time, time they do not feel they have, to achieve any measure of calmness, relaxation and clarity.

If you fall into this group of people, you might like to give the following approach a go. I found this mindfulness practice works really well whilst it does not require taking blocks of time out of your day. It can also be used as a precursor to easing into a more regular meditation practice.

Using an element theme for the day (or the week-end)

I tend to work with the five elements (Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal) in my Movement and Meditation practice. These elements are around almost anywhere and it is easy and effortless to notice their qualities, their properties and their presence in your life all throughout the day.

Pick an element or a symbol that has qualities that you wish to have more of in yourself and your life. Just by making sure you notice this element all throughout the day when you can, will help to boost the element’s qualities in you.

The power of symbols

Focussing on one element for a day or several days, is a beautiful practice that will help ground and focus your mind, both the conscious and unconscious mind.

Research, and my experience, have shown that the unconscious mind which operates our body, our habits and our emotions, responds better to symbols¹ and simple/short instructions than literal and complex language.

Given that most people who are stressed and overwhelmed, and who find it a challenge to switch off are also often dehydrated, my suggestion is to pick Water as your theme for the day. Water is a wonderful element with many facets and qualities, and we are made up of more than 80% of water ourselves.

Working with the element of WATER 

Water1

1. Take a notepad the evening before and write down the key qualities of your symbol e.g. for water they might be  flow, detox, clarity, stillness and force at the same time, flexibility, life, and a whole host of other qualities I will leave to your own creativity.

2. Read what you have written as soon as you get up in the morning

3. Then throughout the day … starting with your shower, your first cup of tea or even when you look out of the window and see the rain or the snow or dew on surfaces/plants ….notice WATER and its many qualities….

Here are some questions you can quickly run through your mind when you notice WATER

  • drinkingHow does this WATER feel? On your skin, on your tongue when you are drinking it, when you touch it?
  • What is its texture?
  • What does it look like? What is its colour?
  • What does it sound like?
  • What is its taste and smell?
  • Which  qualities  does this WATER have? What do these qualities feel like in you?

No need to put your observations into words, just notice and let that flow through you.

water 24.When you spot WATER in one of  its many forms … rain drops, tap or shower flow, snow or frozen, puddles, beverages, food, moisture in the air, in colours e.g. blue… take at least 3 deep belly breaths notice the qualities of this WATER.

You might want to put a hand on your naval area to feel the breath going into your belly.

5. At the end of the day, notice how you feel, what you have accomplished, and what has changed for you ….

Feel free to comment how this practice has worked for you.

Wishing you a joyful week-end, and relaxed next week!

¹ can be pictures, physical objects, simple words that stand for something, sounds, physical sensations (touch or feelings), tastes or smells

To-do lists work, except when they don’t!

We have all been there. Every day we look at our to-do list and it is not getting smaller. Although we busy our to-do list gets longer and we feel more like a failure and overwhelmed by all the things that still need to done.

I have been there myself. I don’t know about you, but deleting things or crossing lines off a to-do list does not fill me with the same sense of satisfaction as e.g. acquiring a new pair of shoes. It might fill me with a sense of short-lived relief that an action is finally complete but no satisfaction. Looking at the list with still a humongous number of things to do filled me with dread and brought any motivation I had down to super low.

And a lot of my female friends and clients have had similar experiences. Maybe it is a women’s thing and it has to do with our gatherer ancestry?

Switching from crossing off to adding on

When I was in this situation recently and felt really demotivated looking at my overflowing list of things to do, I decided to turn the to-do list on its head.

Why not forget about what I needed to do and focus on what I had already achieved? Why not make an achievement list and add to it every time I achieved something, instead of crossing off things of the to-do list? And, I was going to look at my to-do list maximum once a week. I decided to give this approach a weeks’ trial.

Whenever I had achieved something, even if it was ‘small’ I noted it on my achievement list. By the end of the day, the list had grown amazingly and I felt amazing and very satisfied. Before the week was up I’d even started tasks that had been on my to-do list for more than 6 months – I am sure you can guess what those included – cleaning out the garage, de-cluttering my wardrobe were the two with the longest tenure.

All of a sudden I had more of spring in my step and I got more done than the weeks before. I felt great about myself and what I had achieved. This new achievement list also reminded me every day that

  • I was making progress towards my vision and big goals, even though it seemed slow
  • I was doing more than I was giving myself credit for, and
  • I am essentially a gatherer who enjoying accumulating successes and not deleting tasks

This new list also allowed me to check what achievements I might be able to ask other people to do for me in future and not forgetting about them till next time.

How did this affect my to-do list?

When I reviewed my to-do list at the end of the week, a good amount of activities could be ticked off as completed. Although I had been slightly worried that I might forget important tasks, that was not the case. And, I had completed tasks like the de-cluttering and the garage clean out that I had neglected for a long time because I had perceived those tasks as a burden to be reduced rather than an achievement to be added.

Would I throw out my to-do list?

No. I find it useful as an overall list that helps me plan what I need and want to do. However, I am adding my achievement list to my daily routine as it gives that extra boost of motivation and energy, and it allows me to take breaks without feeling guilty. For example, taking walk in the sunshine at lunchtime and getting fresh air, went on my achievement list!

So, if you have never tried an achievement list, consider trying it. You can make it really fun and interesting. You do a mind map, a drawing with different colours or even use the wheel of life or your goal categories to record your achievements.

I used a 2×2 matrix with the categories Business, Home, Friends & Family, Myself in my first week to make it easy. Since then I have also used the ‘wheel of ‘ giving me more categories. Both worked really well.

Make it your own 🙂

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Dealing with Overwhelm

Most women I know have experienced overwhelm at some point in their lives. For some of us it was the never-ending overload of information, an impossible number of tasks being added to our already overflowing to-do lists or those continuous and often conflicting demands for our time by work colleagues, family and friends.

No matter what the causes, the results are the same – that unpleasant stressful feeling of not being able to cope as well as we are used to.

Our brains can only take in limited amounts of information

Overwhelm seems to be an increasingly common phenomenon these days. We simply have too much to do or take in, for the amount of time and energy we have available. George Miller [1] discovered that human beings tend to be able to only hold between 5 and 9 chunks (pieces) of information in their heads at any given time. And for those of you who are interested, that is 126 bits of data. I am sure there are people who have trained themselves to cope with more, however for most of us it is safe to say that there is a limit of how much we can realistically take in at any given time.

Multi-tasking does not work

Another interesting fact is that research has shown that multi-tasking does not work [2]. We can, in fact, only productively focus on one thing at a time. Switching between different tasks is not only not productive, it also makes us feel stressed in the long run.

Why do I mention these two pieces of research? The reason is that a lot of women who experience overwhelm do the exact opposite of what these pieces of research suggest: they try to do even more in a shorter timeframe or at the same time, hoping in vain to be able to push through the overwhelm. Unfortunately those strategies don’t work, they just make an already bad situation worse and can lead to stress induced illnesses.

Overwhelm busting strategies that work!

There are a number of simple and powerful strategies that can help you effectively beat that vicious cycle of overwhelm.  At first these strategies, might seem counter intuitive and overly simple, however I invite you to give them a go as I know they work.

1.       Take a big step back

Figuratively speaking. And some of my clients took that literally, either went into another room, for a walk or just stepped back from their desk and had great results.

The key is to look at your situation from a neutral observer’s point of view, as if you are watching yourself on TV. What can help is if you think of yourself in the third person, asking yourself:

What is going on for {your name} right now? MAKE A LIST of all the things that going on, initially NOT judging if they are urgent, necessary or unimportant.

Once you have your list, and there is nothing else to add, start categorising on a new piece of paper. Divide the page into three columns, giving them the following headings

  • Urgent and important
  • Not urgent and important
  • Not urgent and unimportant

Be ruthless with your list. You may have to go through it a few times until you have a manageable number of items in the urgent/important category. That is the category to focus on as a priority.

2.       Offload what you can

As a next step, look at your categories and find groups of tasks that you can offload.

You might say, well, there is no one I can delegate to. Really? Have you challenged all that is on your plate, everything? Go through every point on your list and challenge yourself to find someone who could do this for you. Granted, you might not necessarily be able to delegate at work, however you might be able to delegate at home or the other way around.

Offloading goes further. Challenge yourself to find other ways to getting the results you need from the tasks on your list. I am always in awe, how creative women can be when they really put their mind to finding ways to permanently reducing their overwhelm.

Let me give you some examples from my clients, which might help you come up with your own strategies:

  • Check out Virtual Assistants – one of my clients hired one to categorise her e-mails for her, make appointments and deal with the easy yet time-consuming enquiries she received, freeing up a huge amount of her time and inbox
  • Another client discovered Recycling to avoid reinventing the wheel.  When she needed to write a document, she would first do an electronic search and ask colleagues for examples (the process taking 10 minutes in total) before starting to write. This approach reduced her writing time in half (and more importantly took most of the stress out of writing).

3.       Divide and conquer

Pick what you feel is the most important thing on your list, and set yourself a time in which you deal with just that one thing. Everything else is safely on your list, so you will not forget about it. Focus on that one thing for the allocated time. So called ‘time boxing’, setting a clear time frame, works well to focus the mind.

Let me give you an example how this could work: A lot of us are drowning in an overload of e-mails, some of which are important and some are not, and they tend to pile up. Set yourself, let’s say 30 minutes to deal with e-mails marked urgent and just do 30 minutes to work through as many as you can. Then look at your list again and pick the next urgent/important task, maybe writing a report, and set yourself  e.g. 1 hour to write the first chapter. And so on. Remember to take breaks in between.

Focussing on one thing at a time, helps to de-stress the brain, whilst time boxing the task, focusses our brain even more. You will be amazed how quickly you are getting things done.

Prevention is better than cure

Of course, we all know preventing a situation like overwhelm is a lot better than waiting for it to happen. Here are a couple of things you might like to consider putting place to prevent overwhelm from occurring or to deal with it faster should it catch you unawares:

  • Be clear on ‘what is important to you’  – take some time, and discover your priority list of ‘what is important to you’, or – in other words – values. When we are not aware of our values, we can find it difficult to make a meaningful decisions on what to prioritise.
  • Prime your team – identify who has your back when you need to off load activities or you need a helping hand. Team is not limited to direct reports, it could comprise family members, friends, colleagues, bosses, health or fitness professionals, coaches and many more. Make sure you know who could help with what, when the need arises, and be prepared to do the same for them.

The above are a small selection of overwhelm busting strategies, including engaging a coach or mentor to help you through a time of overwhelm.

I would love to hear from you what strategies have been and are successful for you.

                                          

[1] Wikipedia – The magical number 7

[2] Cognitive Science – Multitasking

                                        

Are you a “sponge” at work?

The idea for this article was given to me by friend when we met for lunch in New York two months ago. During our conversation we realised that lot of women we know are “sponges”, and that characteristic or quality is what is holding them back in their careers and wrecking their work-life balance.

So, what do I mean by “sponge”? A “sponge” is someone who is great at saying yes to almost every task or project that they are asked to do even if it means they have to sacrifice their own goals, plans or free time to be able to deliver on the yes. Not only are they great at saying yes, they find it almost impossible to say no. Because they are usually great delivering, other people (especially superiors) tend to continue asking them for more. Does this description resonate with you?

Have a go at the “sponge-test” below and find out where you fit on the “sponge-scale”:

For each question in the table below just write down the answer that most applies for you. Then add up all your answers to your total.

Now that you have your total, find out below how much of a “sponge” you are, and discover some key tips on how you can stop being a “sponge” and become more selective and focussed about saying yes to everything.

22-28 You are a super “sponge”
The word ‘no’ does not seem to exist in your vocabulary when it comes to doing things for other people. When someone asks you to do something for them or take on another task, you do not even take a step back to check whether you have time, it fits in with your goals and objectives or you know how to do the task. This has a major impact on your work and home life, as you are always running out of time, your task list gets longer and longer and you often sacrifice your free time to catch up. Your health and personal development suffers, and you are likely to feel stressed.

Three key tips for you to consider are to:

  • consolidate your to-do lists including all your own tasks and other people’s you said yes to. Decide for each of them, if you really, really need to do it, it’s still relevant or if someone else can do it (delegation), and then strike through whatever is not relevant and delegate whatever you do not absolutely have to do. Then plan in and schedule the remaining tasks into a diary, initially allowing at least double your estimated time for each task.
  • practice saying no until you feel comfortable doing it. Go back over the requests from the last month that you wished you had not so readily accepted. Play them through in your mind and say no instead of yes. Imagine future requests coming to you and practice saying no to those too.
  • be clear about your must do’s for your goals and your role at work. Write down your must do’s and put them somewhere you can see them during the day. When a request comes in, tell the requestor that you will consider it and get back to them with an answer within the hour (or next day, depending on the urgency of the request)! Then check against your objectives list, your schedule and your own motivation whether this task is right for you. When you say no to your requestor, offer suggestions on who else they could approach, so you are still helpful.

15-21 You are an aspiring super “sponge”
Although you have the ability to say no, more often than not you fall into the trap of saying yes, despite yourself. Often the things you say yes to are related to your job and might take you forward in your career, however you find yourself working long hours, sacrificing week-ends and free time and thus neglecting your health, friends and other personal development.

Key tips for you are to:

  • become totally clear about your current commitments and how much time you have or don’t have for anything extra coming in. The easiest way to do this, is to diarise every task and allocate a duration (do include contingency)
  • know what you want to achieve in your career and what you need to do to get there be it promotion/personal development etc. Make sure you diarise and schedule those activities!
  • learn to negotiate with the requestor, especially if the requestor is your boss. If you know what you want and you know your commitments, you can check against those when any request comes in. Like the super sponge, make sure to consider before you give a response to the requestor. Offer options, if you feel you have to say yes, e.g. I do not have time this week, however I have time for this next week. how would that work for you? or if this is urgent, I could move xx (also requested by them) to next week?

8-14 You are on your way
You are able to say no to things that do not fit in with what you want or what your job requires. however, sometimes you succumb and find that you are working longer than you wished, or have to sacrifice your gym session (or similar) to finish something at work you wished you had not said yes to.

The key tips for you is are to:

  • set clear boundaries with the task requestor, and be clear how much you can deliver in the time you actually have available.
  • negotiate delaying other tasks if this particular task is urgent, and
  • agree with your boss which of your non essential tasks you can delegate to other colleagues who would benefit from the experience.

0-7  Congratulations, you have it sussed!
You obviously know what you want and are able to say no to things that do not fit with your objectives and goals. The only danger you could run into is saying no too often. Remember, it is OK and good to help out others even if their request does not fit in with our goals, so don’t just say no for sake of it.

Today you have now taken the first vital step towards “de-sponging” your worklife, which is awareness! The tips above are not exhaustive and there are many more ways how you can reduce your “sponge” like qualities. So, do experiment and find out what works best for you!

Let me know how you get on!