which way?

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

This year, I have been learning more about the Enneagram. It is a personality categorization system which has roots in ancient wisdom. What I like about the Enneagram is that it not only defines a person. The system also provides insight into what faults to watch out for, what things to strive for, and how to be our best self in relation to others.

It is no surprise that I am a One in the Enneagram. The perfectionist. We Ones believe our worth is derived by doing things “right” and being “good.” The good news is that means we are often “conscientious, responsible, improvement-oriented, and self-controlled.”  All things I am happy to own. However, as a One I am also judgmental and critical of myself and others, and often resentful.

Living life as a One is teaching me to live by the Serenity Prayer. A mainstay in 12 Step programs, the Serenity Prayer asks for the serenity to accept the things that can not be changed, the courage to change the things that can change, and the wisdom to know the difference. I have seen this prayer play out strongly for myself throughout this year.

Serenity is truly what I strive for; that feeling of being calm, peaceful and untroubled. Yet, my natural tendency is to look for the judgment and resentment which makes me feel anything but serene. What a beautiful dichotomy from which to learn. Here are a couple of points I have noticed:

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

It is rarely either/or

When I first started to use this prayer, I thought the goal was to choose either acceptance or action. As my go-to response is to fight for justice, I thought the correct new response should be to accept everything. What I am finding is that it is not to either accept or change, but both. In every challenge there is something to accept and there is something to change. Usually it comes down to accepting the circumstances or actions of others. Acceptance means that something is currently happening, and I accept that it is the current truth. Then I look at what I can change – usually my viewpoint, expectations, actions, or reactions.

It is not you, it’s me

My gut reaction is to want to change you. If the government, my neighbor, the world was only different, then everything would be ok. Wrong. Change begins with oneself. I first need to change how I see and approach situations before I can make any positive changes for myself or others. It is easy to see what is wrong with someone else and what they should do (or at least we believe it is easy to change them). The truth is we need the courage to take a self-inventory and clean our own house before we presume to be able to change anyone or anything else.

Importance of action

The importance of action is another key lesson for me this year. The courage to change the things we can does not always mean attending a rally or fighting for the disenfranchised. Sometimes it may just mean doing something a little differently. If we normally turn right, the change may be to turn left. Action also means getting out of one’s head and doing something, not just ruminating on the issue. Real change happens in the physical world, not between our ears.

Using the Serenity Prayer

A recent example of the serenity prayer in action is in dealing with one of my husband’s vendors. I handle much of the ordering and billing for my husband’s business. One of the companies used frequently has issues with shipments and billing. At first, I was angry and resentful as if this company was purposefully making my life difficult. That line of thinking did not make me feel calm, peaceful, or untroubled. I began to accept that I could not change the way the company created their ordering and accounting systems. I accepted the employees that company chose to hire. These were things beyond my control and I needed to accept that reality. Then I looked at what I could change. If I could not count on the company to provide the information, tracking and clarity I needed, then I needed to change my expectations. I created my own spreadsheet to track orders, backorders, and charges. I took control of what I could control and released what I could not. Not only did I find more peace, but I improved efficiency.

As you go about your week, look at your challenges. What parts of the challenges are beyond your control to change? What do you need to do in order to accept this fact? Next, explore what is in your control to change and then actually take action. See if you can’t improve your relationships, your stress level, and your ability to make things go smoother.

Ideal Work Life

Overwhelmed By Your Life? Perhaps It Is Time to Simplify.

If you had millions of dollars, what would you do? Buy an expensive house and car? How about a used van and park it by the ocean? That is exactly what Major League pitcher Daniel Norris did. Instead of spending his multimillion dollar contract to live up to the appearance of a celebrity ball player, this 21-year-old pitcher chose a simpler life. In a segment on the Today Show Daniel Norris said, “When I can simplify outside of the fair and foul lines, that’s so much less to think about off the field and all my focus is put onto the baseball field.”

Ideal Work LifeAs you go through your day, what is causing your stress, worry, and distraction? Is it a desire for a new car? Is it ensuring your dinner party is as good as your neighbor’s was? Are you concerned about people stealing what you own? Are you having difficulty paying your mortgage but worry you have failed if you downsize? Are you stressed because you can’t seem to achieve the American dream? Perhaps your unique dream life is different from the one society has dictated for us all.

Are the issues causing stress in your life providing you with any value? Start cataloging everything in your life. What brings you joy? What makes you feel whole? What helps to make you your best? Now, what is causing you to feel overwhelmed? What is a distraction? What is more hassle than it is worth? Next explore what is keeping you from removing things from your life that are affecting you negatively. Do you keep them around for your values or someone else’s? Are you living your unique Type Me life or are you unhappily living someone else’s life? Your ideal life might not to be living in a van, but is it the way you are living now?

Look around you. Did you create your life or are you living the life your parents, society, or your peers instilled in you? Are you trying to win at a game you don’t want to play? If you had the courage and the means, what life would you create? What would be included? What would you remove?

Henry David Thoreau wrote in the book Walden, “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” Simplifying your life is not just about downsizing your house or selling your possessions. At its heart, simplifying means living by your values. What do you personally value? When you choose to add something in your life, do you first gauge it against what you values? If you lived by your values, what would you experience? Make a list of all of the adjectives that would describe your life if you lived by your values. Perhaps it would be calm, peaceful, and content. Perhaps it would be exciting, adventurous, and joyful. What makes your heart sing? What truly makes you happy? Are you actively bringing into your life those things that make you happy?

Can you be as brave as Daniel Norris and remove yourself from the expectations of your role and status to remain true to your Type Me? Are you willing to stand up to ridicule and live the life that brings you joy? Are you ready to choose your version of living no matter what society expects? It is time to simplify your life by removing everything that is not you?

stress at work

How to Manage Workplace Stress

stress at workWorkers seem more and more stressed every day.

  • Technology has created expectation of an immediate response 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
  • Short-term thinking and planning based on the focus of quarterly stock reports has increased the sense of importance for every project. We feel everything is an urgent priority needing instant attention.
  • The “doing more with less” mentality has increased the amount of our responsibilities and what is expected of us. This has created a culture of inefficient multi-tasking.

Below are four ways you can reduce the amount of stress you feel at work.

Manage Your Electronics: Do not be a prisoner of your electronics. Control how you use them versus reacting to them in the moment. When the communication pops up, you stop what you are doing, you read the email, and you say oh it’s not urgent, and you go back to your project and then another email pops up and you do the same thing. This is an amazing waste of time and focus. Turn off notifications for your email, texts and social media. Instead carve out time slots during the day to check communications. To help others manage their expectations of your reaction time, you can add an automated response to your email such as “I will get to your email in 24 hours.”

Managing Communications: When you do open your email, open it only once and act upon it in that moment. Choose to either Do, Delegate, Delay, or Delete.

  • Do: Respond and complete the request in that moment.
  • Delegate: Is this the highest and best use of your time?  Is there someone else you can delegate this to?  Is there an automated system you can put in place to handle a specific type of email?
  • Delay: If the email does not need to be handled right now, but it does need to be done by you, add a reminder to come back to it. Don’t just leave it in your inbox as you may then open it again in the future only to delay it again. Color code the email as a “future” and set up a follow-up reminder.
  • Delete: Does this need to be done at all? Is there really anything you need to address with it? If you find you are constantly deleting emails from certain sources, you may want to unsubscribe from the list or remove yourself from the project.

Change Your Relationship with Time: When I was working my 9 to 5 job, I would wake up in the morning and immediately go through my to-do list and what I had planned for the day. The result was feeling behind the eight-ball before I even left bed. One of the ways to release time’s hold on you is before you get out of bed say, “I have more than enough time today to accomplish everything that I need to do.”  Just making that statement changes your outlook on the day. This reframe empowers you to deal with the day differently.

Simplify and Focus: Often our stress comes from creating unrealistic expectations. There are only a certain hours in the day. Manage what you expect to accomplish by having a list of absolute must-do’s for the day; not more than 3 per day. Make sure you have enough time to accomplish these tasks. I determine what I am going to focus on for the day by having a realistic list of projects I want to accomplish for the week. Remember to focus only on your daily to-do’s. If you focus on the week’s goals it can be overwhelming. Focus solely on the obtainable items for that particular day.

checklist

Safety Checklist

Recently a client admitted to falling back into an old undesirable habit. Ashley had once again become a tyrant at home. She was obsessed with the cleanliness of her house. She worried about getting things done on time. She stopped interacting with her family. The only time she spoke to them was when she was barking out an order or reprimanding when something was not done correctly or on time. Ashley was obsessed with her to-do list. She was frantic to complete each item. She was becoming very stressed by all she wanted to complete.

checklistThe first thing I told her was, “Congratulations.” The fact that she caught herself falling into this behavior was wonderful progress in her development. In the past, she would have acted this way and not consciously realized she was bringing the stress on herself and her family. Becoming aware of our behavior is the powerful first step to changing the undesirable behavior.

Then we dove into the “why.” Why did she take this behavior back on? Why did she think she had to act this way?

We talked about what was happening in her life. Unexpected expenses were affecting their finances. An accident made her question her ability as a mother, and therefore her self-worth. As we explored the stressors in her life, we discovered that focusing on her to-do list made her feel in control and safe. She wanted control over her life. She didn’t have control over the unexpected expenses or accident, so she sought control over tasks. Ashley wanted to protect herself from pain, uncertainty, and lack. She thought she could use “doing” to protect herself and gain control.

As we talked, Ashley realized that her attempts to control through “doing” did not make her feel safe. Instead, she felt more stressed through the overwhelming list of to-do’s.  With this realization, she was then able to let go of the pressure of her list. She was able to rejoin her family by focusing on the experience of life instead of tasks. As Ashley released her “doing,” she also bravely allowed herself to feel the fear, pain, and anxiety of her current issues. Instead of blocking these feelings through tasks, she faced them. And in facing them, she felt a sense of calm security.

When do you reach for your to-do list? What are you trying to hide from? What are you trying to protect yourself from? Is it really working? Are you ready to be brave enough to face your fears?

Katy Warner Stress Relief

Have Your Become a Type A Personality?

The concept of a Type A personality has not been around for long. It was actually identified in the 1950s by two cardiologists, Drs. Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman, who were studying coronary heart disease. They found a link between personality types and heart disease. According to their research, they identified three types of behaviors:

• Type A, which they labeled as competitive, ambitious, impatient, aggressive, and fast-talking;
• Type B, which is more relaxed and non-competitive, and
• Type C, which is hardworking, but becomes apathetic when faced with stress.

Katy Warner Stress ReliefThose considered Type A were more prone to having high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and stress-related illnesses.

According to the Friedman and Rosenman study, Type A’s are defined as:
• Involved in multiple stressful activities tied to deadlines.
• Showing a tendency to rush to finish activities.
• Practicing perfectionism.
• Taking everything too seriously.
• Having an intense sustained determination to achieve one’s personal goals.
• Competing constantly against others and themselves in all situations.
• Having a persistent desire for recognition and advancement.
• Exhibiting mental and physical alertness over a long period of time.
• Unable to easily and clearly express their feelings.

According to Dava Money of the Creative Healing Institute, 50 percent of the United States population is now considered a Type A personality. This is because the Type A personality is a learned, rather than an innate behavior. Our Western society rewards competition, success, a focus on work, and being constructive. Added to this, modern technology provides new ways and new reasons to multitask and always be connected. The result is the desire and belief one must be a superhuman handling everything thrown his or her way. Because of this, most of us, at one time or another, experience Type-A tendencies.

In this technologically fast-paced world, have you become a Type A personality?

Are you experiencing some of the negative tendencies and results of being a Type A person, like:
• Anxiety when you have to wait.
• Stress when your to-do list no longer calms you down, but becomes your tyrannical master.
• Being frantic, overwhelmed, and inexact due to a sense of heightened urgency.
• Being crazed due to clutter in the house or office.
• Feeling powerless to say no to responsibilities even when you become buried in them.
• Insomnia due to uncompleted to-do lists and unread email.
• Exhaustion from unrealistic multitasking.
• Devaluation as your focus on work means you are underpaid for the long hours you work and for what you deliver.
• Work-life imbalance keeps you away from the joy of family and friends, as well as our own needs and self-care.
• Martyrdom from an extreme desire to serve and give to others.
• Frustration by not being able to affect the emotions, actions, and results of others for which you feel responsible.

How many of these tendencies do you now experience? Were you always this way or have these tendencies increased over time?

A Stressed Out Baboon

We all complain about stress, but what is it really. National Geographic did a wonderful report on what stress is by not only looking at humans and our environment, but also through baboons and science. In watching specific tribes of baboons who ate the same food, lived in the same area, and experienced the same natural threats, scientists found it was not environment but social interaction and social rank that caused stress. The baboons that experienced stress and the physical symptoms of stress were those on the bottom of the food chain. They were the weak males being picked on by the alpha males. They were the female baboons treated like chattel. Stress was caused by the belief that they were less than. Stress was caused by the fear of being attacked by those stronger. Stress was caused by a bleak outlook for their future because of their status in the tribe.

No, not a baboon, but a cute little sloth.
No, not a baboon, but a cute little sloth.

The scientists noticed that the baboons lower on the food chain experienced much of the same physical issues that humans do. The physiological stress response can be more damaging than the stressor itself. Stress leads to higher blood pressure, heart rates, and therefore the potential of heart disease. A constant fight-or-flight response shuts down the immune system leading to issues like ulcers. The stress response actually kills off our brain cells, specifically those in the hippocampus, making learning more difficult and the memory fade. There is less dopamine in the system and therefore less experience of pleasure. There is an increase in weigh around the belly where fat has a more severe effect on overall health. Stress affects the cellular level making us age faster.

Something interesting happened.

The tribe of baboons came across a dumpster of meat. The alpha males ate it up, for they always ate first. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the meat was tainted. This led to the death of the alpha males. Those left in the tribe were then the female baboons and what the scientists called the “nice guy” baboons. What was interesting is that the tribe changed how they related to each other. The fighting, biting, and attacks which had been common place, were now gone. The tribe worked together, they groomed each other, and they were kind to each other. The resulting harmony led to lower stress and better health.

Look around your life. Who are the alpha baboons causing you stress? Your boss? Your landlord? A family member? Is there a way you can remove yourself from their attacks? Is there a way you can raise your self-esteem by no longer giving them your power? Is there a way you can focus on what you can control in your life instead of fearing an attack from another?

To receive help in reducing your stress, download a free chapter of From Type A to Type Me: How to Stop “Doing” Life and Start Living It