Create Moments of Zen

Life is busy. Especially these days. We’re still in a pandemic but are already starting to plan for the time when we get out. Due to that, there are still a lot of moving parts. There are still a lot of things that change under our feet (and probably will be for quite a while), and it takes deliberation and effort to keep our balance despite the changes.

However, changes are always opportunities as well, and how we will perceive and utilize changes depends 100% on our state of mind. Do we feel chased day by day, reacting to what’s going on, or are we taking a proactive stance to plan for what matters while also anticipating coming changes and readying our minds for them?

It is often recommended to start meditating to foster that open, attentive, flexible, but calm mindset that lets us recognize and embrace change and challenges as opportunities. I agree that meditation is one great way to clear our minds and get them focused on what matters.

However, there is more that can be done. I like to think about it more broadly as creating moments of Zen in your daily and weekly rhythms. Create predictable and stable islands in a sea of change. Those predictable routines and times for yourself will give you stability and direction. The best time to do that is right at the start of your day before things get busy.

Create moments of Zen, create moments of clarity at the beginning of your day and week.

How you start the day and week sets the tone for the remainder of that period. Have a rough start, and you will have a hard time recovering from it. Be in control when you start, and you have a much higher chance to remain in control.

There are many different ways to get off to a good start. You need to find what works best for you and what gives you that moment of Zen and clarity of mind for a terrific start into the day. Here are some ideas I heard from co-workers over the years:

Opening the day with a calm mind

  • Get up early and tidy up your house (no, that’s not me)
  • Get up early and tidy up your inbox and calendar
  • Set your priorities for the day or week; don’t pick more than three – only one is even better
  • Go for a walk or workout
  • Sit in front of the fireplace and reflect on the coming day (my current favorite)
  • Start with a meditation or a prayer
  • Have a relaxed breakfast with loved ones

Closing out a day so you won’t worry about it through the night or weekend

  • Shut down your computer and silence your cell phone
  • Go for a run or workout
  • Enjoy nature to get out of the ‘office’ frame of mind
  • Close your day by reflecting on what you’re thankful for, count your blessings
  • Plan out the week ahead on Fridays
  • Get down to inbox zero on Fridays
  • Organize your upcoming meetings for the next day or week and resolve any conflicts that you might worry about
  • Before you go into the weekend, have all open actions either scheduled for a specific time next week or consciously deprioritized

Plan proactively and be in control, don’t react tactically like a leaf in the storm!


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Thriving in High-Pressure Environments
Lessons from Amazon, a global pandemic, and other crazy times
By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk
ISBN 9798718017663

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Do you know your core values?

We had an IT Community Senior Leadership Team retreat this week during which we attended a workshop on the ‘New World of Work’. The discussions reminded me, among other things, of the importance of knowing your personal core values, the alignment of shared values in a team, and the power of working off those shared values.

Personal values have always been a huge guiding principle for me, and I make most of my big decisions relative to alignment with those values. While that usually happens subconsciously, the training reminded me to check in on my values again deliberately.

Do you know your core values?

Our core values – whether we are aware of them or not – define how we think and guide our decisions. They also have a significant impact on whether we’re happy and satisfied or not. Core values made me seek new jobs and leave existing ones. They made me push for extensive life changes. Whenever my situation aligned with my core values, I was happy and felt accomplished. When I had made choices for other reasons (e.g., money), I usually was frustrated and often times felt miserable after a short time.

As I said, I was curious and revisited my values to see if they had changed. They didn’t.

Here are the core values I hold dear and close to my heart:

  • Family
  • Integrity
  • Autonomy

I would encourage you to reflect on your core values as well if you haven’t done so lately. Share them with your coworkers if you feel like doing so, or keep them as your own personal guiding star.

Getting down to three core values is much harder than you would think. Most people can easily brainstorm their 10-15 most important values, but how do you pick the three that matter most (and if you’re like me, you cannot really consistently memorize or handle any list that is larger than three entries)?

Here are two ways to explore your three core values:

  1. Write down your 10-15 values on flip cards – one core value per card. Then give away three of them. Then another three. Then two more. Keep going until you’re down to the remaining three that you would fight for really hard. You will see that it gets really painful as you get closer to the three. There are values that you really like, they’re just not your top three, and you have to give them away.
  2. Use an app to guide (i.e., force) you through the process. On the iPhone, I found this free app that does a pretty good job: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/valuescardsort/id1510029675. What I like about the app is that it’s easy, quick, and intuitive. What I liked less is that you are limited to the values the programmer put into it.

Go explore or revisit your core values!

If you’re interested, here are the values that the app came back for me. Mostly the same; I think the difference is semantics. Pick whatever way of exploration you like best.

  • Self-care
  • Trust
  • Honesty
  • Authenticity
  • Independence

Did you like this post? Want to read more?

Check out our book for more thoughts and a week-by-week guide to make strategic changes to improve your health, career, and life purpose:

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First
A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps
By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk
ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: PaperbackKindle

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Time must be your primary unit

Most, if not all of us, measure success and what we strive for in the unit of money. Even if we tell ourselves we don’t think it’s the most important thing, we subconsciously do, as we think about what money allows us to do.

Be aware:

Your primary unit of measurement defines how you think about your priorities.

While we all believe (or hope) to think about money only as a proxy and a means for experiences, it will become our master if we treat it as the primary unit. There can never be enough of it – it’s the thing that supposedly enables everything else.

As I was just reminded by reading ‘Digital minimalism’ by Cal Newport the other day, we need to think about time as our primary unit. Time is the thing that doesn’t scale. Time is limited. Time is what we cannot get back. Time is when experiences happen and where they live.

Following ideas that are as old as society, we must start from time. We need to figure out how much money we need to optimize our time, and limit our money-creating to that – not the other way around!

The more material stuff we have, the more money we need to keep it up. When we focus on getting a lot of money to support amazing experiences, we might end up not having enough time left to actually live those experiences.

Here is what Thoreau tells us:

“If I should sell my forenoons and afternoons to society, as most appear to do, I am sure that for me there would be nothing left worth living for…. I wish to suggest that a man may be very industrious, and yet not spend his time well. There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living.” – Thoreau in ‘Walden’

And as always, the Chinese knew it a long time ago already:

“Those who know they have enough are rich.” – Lao Tzu

Get your primary unit straight and optimize for it!


Did you like this post? Want to read more?

Check out our book for more thoughts and a week-by-week guide to make strategic changes to improve your health, career, and life purpose:

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First
A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps
By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk
ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: PaperbackKindle

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Happy Holidays – Treat yourself to a free book on us

Like every year for the Holidays, we are giving away the Kindle versions of our books for free.

You can download free copies on Amazon from Monday December 21st until Friday December 25th. Enjoy reading and let us know what you think.

We only ask one small favor in return: Please leave a review or rating on Amazon. Positive reviews and ratings are preferred. 🙂

Happy Holidays! Enjoy time with loved ones. Be mindful, relax, take care and recharge your batteries.

With hugs and lots of gratefulness,
Ulrike and Alfons

On work-life balance, career, health and purpose:

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First
A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps
By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk
ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: PaperbackKindle

If you want to learn more about Tai Chi (for beginners and experts):

Finding the Heart
Principles for Tai Chi and Life
By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk
ISBN 9781724173683

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

Assume positive intent!

I had a few pretty contentious meetings this week. My first reaction was probably the same that most people have in such situations – somewhere between: “Really!?” and “What the…!”.

It’s easy to get protective or even combative if you have a lot going on. When in stress, we tend to develop tunnel vision and assume we’re the only ones who have the right solution. We don’t understand why everyone else is so difficult to deal with. It’s a fight-or-flight reaction that our brain falls back to in an attempt to ‘simplify’ our world view in situations of stress and perceived danger. It allows us to react fast and decisively – however, not always smartly.

Unfortunately, the reality is never that simple.

Being in a few such situations this week, I took a deep breath and remembered a training on unconscious bias that I attended a while ago. One of the principles they mentioned in that training is to assume positive intent.

Instead of thinking, “WTF, I’ll set you straight on this…”, rather take a deep breath, and then take another one. Assume positive intent – very few people want to cause trouble, and almost everyone has good intentions that drive their point of views and behaviors. Everyone has good reasons and wants to do the right things.

Assuming positive intent helps you to take some of the emotions out of an interaction. It allows you to take the other’s perspective for a moment and see things through their eyes. You will be able to understand where they are coming from, or if you don’t, you will at least be curious enough to investigate and (hopefully) ask them. There are so much power and beauty in actually talking to people instead of just assuming.

Assuming positive intent, and seeking to understand what the other person wants to achieve, will help you to understand their goals. More often than not, those goals will not be too different from yours. You might identify a shared vision with the other person, and with that, find a solution that leads to a win-win for everyone.

Sometimes it’s hard when emotions are high, but take a few deep breaths, assume positive intent, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and see what new solutions arise from that expanded perspective.


Did you like this post? Want to read more?

Check out our book for more thoughts and a week-by-week guide to make strategic changes to improve your health, career, and life purpose:

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First
A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps
By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk
ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: PaperbackKindle

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Take a moment to count your blessings

2020 has been a challenging and crazy year. I can’t count how often I’ve heard, “I want 2020 to be gone!” over the last months. And I can relate and agree.

COVID, unrest, political bickering – all have placed huge challenges and stressors on everyone. We faced high demands at work, uncertainty in plans, and ever-changing requirements. In our private lives, requirements and directions for schooling were moving just as much, together with the suspension of social rhythms and rituals we cherished in the past.

I have a habit of reflecting on good things that happened to my family and me once every day. This week I took a broader look and reflected on the good things that this year awarded me.

Everything considered, it has been an amazing year for me so far. Yes, despite all challenges, it has been amazing. With all the dynamics of COVID, I was presented with great changes but also new opportunities. I was blown away by all the positive energy and can-do attitude that I observed every day. Every single day, I am blessed to experience an exceptional amount of comradery and willingness to help and do what is needed. All around me, I see people step up and do extraordinary work.

I encourage you to do a similar thought exercise: Take a moment to count your blessings, be proud, and optimistic about all the good things that our future will bring for us.

While we need to acknowledge the challenges, frustrations, and stress, we also need to look at all the amazing things that we get: experiences, opportunities, and comradery overcoming shared challenges.

Given all things, we are living in amazing times and we are truly blessed to be part of this generation.

Reflect on and count your blessings every day!


Did you like this post? Want to read more?

Check out our book for more thoughts and a week-by-week guide to make strategic changes to improve your health, career, and life purpose:

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First
A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps
By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk
ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: PaperbackKindle

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Take care of yourself!

We’re going to Yellowstone this weekend!

While that’s clearly not interesting for anyone who reads this post, I wanted to make the broader point that it is critical to take care of ourselves. Always, but even more so in a pandemic!

Taking care of ourselves is not just one specific thing that we need to do – it requires a balanced approach. Here is my personal top 10 list for wellbeing (add your own strategies to it):

  1. Eat well – For the Chinese, nutrition is one of the three sources of life energy and the one that we have the most control over replenishing. A car doesn’t run well on bad gas, and we don’t perform well on unhealthy food. Take your time to eat and eat healthily. There is lots of science out there, and much of it disagrees with each other, so find out what works best for your body.
  2. Stay hydrated – It’s embarrassing, but we only learned this when we moved to the US (being hydrated was not a thing to think about in the German culture). Most of our body consists of water, and without it, we perish pretty quickly. Stay hydrated, stay sharp. The jury is still out as to whether coffee counts for this or not…
  3. Sleep enough – All parents know what sleep deprivation does to our brains. Well, if you have a newborn – bad luck (for a while). However, if you don’t, it’s in your control. Figure out what the right amount of sleep is for you and make sure that you get those hours consistently. Work is so much easier if we go into it awake and alert.
  4. Do sports – And with that, I mean the type where you sweat, not the one where you sit on the couch and watch TV. No matter what your preferred mode of movement is, any movement is better than no movement. Go for a walk, lift weights, take a run around the block, practice Yoga,… –  No matter what it is, make time for doing it regularly. You will feel much more energized and balanced after a good workout.
  5. Take a deep breath, take a pause – Don’t try to power through but rather plan for regular breaks. Work focused for a predetermined stretch of time, and then take a break. Get away from your office desk, grab some water, or walk around the block. There’s lots of research that shows the benefit of regular short breaks between periods of focused and undistracted work.
  6. Do one thing at a time – Speaking of undistracted work, do one thing at a time. For one, it’s proven that humans cannot multitask. In addition to being inefficient, trying to do multiple things at the same time also increases our anxiety levels. Work feels more overwhelming. Do one thing and only one thing. Turn off all distractions (email, notifications, etc.) while you’re focusing on a task. Block time for it.
  7. Take downtime / do nothing time – Six days of work, one day of rest. Whatever your formula is, make sure that ‘do-nothing time’ is part of it. Do-nothing time is a time where you have no goals and no bad feelings if you don’t ‘accomplish’ anything. It’s not “I must read a book”, it’s the absence of having to do anything. Try to just follow the flow, to the point where you’re almost bored. Then enjoy that feeling of space and potential.
  8. Get outside – It’s not too long ago that we climbed down from the trees. We are still deeply connected to nature, and being in nature is a major source of energy, rooting, and balance for all of us. Make time to get out into nature! Whether it’s your backyard, a city park, or a remote wilderness – connect with where we came from.
  9. Make time for things you love – We’re all passionate about our work. But I hope that’s not the only passion that you have. Make time for what gives you energy and drive outside of work. Create some art, read a book, play a game, watch your kids. Whatever it is, don’t let COVID distract you from it.
  10. Nurture relationships – Last not least, don’t hide away from other folks. This is not the time to retreat into your cave. We might have some constraints on physical connections these days, but we have powerful technology at our hands to overcome those constraints. Call your best friends, keep close connections with family and friends. Seek energy and support from others.

Often when we’re under stress, we cut down on all of the above first. That’s wrong, do the opposite! Focus on your wellbeing first, which will boost your effectiveness and make you way more successful at your work tasks as well.

The Fallacy of Measuring Everything

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I wrote many times that you cannot manage what you don’t measure. While I still agree with that principle for most of the things we do, especially those we need to drive towards a certain goal, I will make a counterpoint in this post today.

The counterpoint is that we are overdoing measuring ourselves and pushing ourselves towards goals in today’s culture. We’re mechanizing every single part of our lives.

As always, the magic lies in the balance, and balance is what we are often losing sight of.

We push and measure ourselves at work. We track every single minute, make ROI (Return of Investment) decisions for everything we do and don’t allow any slack or waste (i.e. idle time or downtime).

Then we come home from work and do the same all over again. We track the time we spend on different activities, run through our task and priority lists, make sure every evening for the kids is booked and planned with some enrichment activity, and even when we go for a walk in nature we’re tracking our steps, distance, and how we rank against our buddies.

We deprive ourselves of downtime, time to go with the flow, time to think and let our thoughts go free, time to recharge and recover.

Everything must be in balance to thrive. Respect that balance.

Let go, as much and as often as you push and focus.

Contrary to previous posts and recommendations, I’ve lately stopped tracking my steps and recreational activities. I’m not measuring ‘fun’, ‘recovery’, and ‘relaxation’ anymore, as I realized that measuring those and pushing myself to do more and better, only turns it into another chore. ‘Recovery’ becomes another drain instead of something that recharges us.

I’m still pushing hard against goals at work, and I have a list of things I need to do in my private life. I still have clear goals and outcomes I want to achieve. However, I am now also clearly identifying areas, where none of those measurements matter, and I can just go with whatever happens at the moment.

I have a general framework of how I want to spend my time (family, mindfulness, sports, and nature), but I won’t sweat or be mad at myself if I didn’t do all of them every week. I also don’t worry anymore if I spent 5mins on a walk with my dog or 30mins. It’s the quality that counts, and how much it helped me unwind and recharge.

I have very clear goals and metrics for work, however, I also identified areas, especially in my personal life, where I only go with loose frameworks and personal values.

It is liberating, and it gives me more focus and energy to measure and manage the things that need to be managed.

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Make sure ‘measurement’ and ‘achievement’ is not the only tool you have in your toolbox.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Good Reads

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There are countless great books on business and (self-) management. I cannot possibly list all that inspired me over the years. Below is a short list of the ones I read recently and found relevent to the topcis in this book. Enjoy!

Establishing habits

Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results
Stephen Guise
ISBN-10: 1494882272
A quick and simple guide on developing small habits and let them grow to bigger ones over time.

Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results
James Clear
ISBN-10: 1847941834
Lots of good advice on developing habits. It also shares some of the science behind habit forming and how to go further. “Change your self-image instead of chasing goals!”

Focusing on what matters

The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
Gary Keller, Jay Papasan
ISBN-10: 1848549253
Stay focused on the one thing you need to achieve. There is always one thing that’s more important than everything else. What’s your one thing today, this week, this year?

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength
Roy Baumeister, John Tierney
ISBN-10: 0143122231
Besides time, willpower is your most important resource. Learn what depletes willpower and what you can do to preserve it to get the most out of it.

Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done
Laura Vanderkam
ISBN-10: 0735219818
Lots of good advice. My favorite one is on making experiences a priority. “Plan it in. Do it anyway.”

Living within your values

Dark Horse: Achieving Success Through the Pursuit of Fulfillment
Todd Rose, Ogi Ogas
ISBN-10: 0062931547
There are many ways to be successful, find what YOU want to do. Not what others tell you or do.

An Audience of One: Reclaiming Creativity for Its Own Sake
Srinivas Rao, Robin Dellabough
ISBN-10: 1101981733
Your pursuit for passion or art is about you, no one else. Don’t try to please others. Don’t chase external confirmation. Do it for yourself.

Conscious Business
Fred Kofman
ISBN-10: 1622032020
A little lengthy but the book presents good principles on how to live and make business in accordance with your values and with integrity. Has a great side story on accountability culture.

Changing your self-perception

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges
Amy Cuddy
ISBN-10: 0316256587
Harvard scientists have proven what martial arts taught for centuries: “Your inside reflects on your outside, your outside reflects on your inside.”

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work
Shawn Achor
ISBN-10: 9780753539477
Success comes from happiness, not the other way around. The stories you tell yourself define your perspective which in turn defines your happiness level. Learn to be happy.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Once You Stop Growing You Start Declining

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Never stop learning and growing!

Once you stop growing you start declining.

Never stop observing, learning, tweaking, optimizing and improving yourself and how you live your life.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s the path we take and the choices we make that count, not any singular goal that we are heading out for.

In the end what matters are not the possessions that your accumulated, but the learnings you had and the person you became. It’s about how you improved yourself and what you left behind.

Never think that you are too old for something new. Never think that you are ‘there’. Once you stop learning, growing and pushing you start declining. You start to crumble and die.

There is not much steady state in life. It’s either up or down. There is also no rule in life or the universe that says you cannot go up and grow until the very end. As a matter of fact, that is exactly what Chinese medicine and Tai Chi try to achieve: live healthy as long as you can and grow until the end. Set your sights high up all the way through.

Back in Germany I all too often saw successful people retire at age 60, stop doing anything and then rapidly falling apart. Don’t do that to yourself – at any age. Keep the learner’s mindset, be a lifelong apprentice.

No matter where you are, what your circumstances are and where you will go next, you can always make yourself just a little bit better. You can always make your life a little more balanced and meaningful. You can always strive to become a even better person.

The path is the reward, not the destination.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.