Spiritual Balance – Week 35: Open Doors

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I’m a person of lists and plans. I always want to have a plan for the short and longer term. I need to be organized to feel comfortable and be in control.

However, I was also taught by my teacher early on in my martial arts training, that situations constantly change and we need to adapt to new opportunities and challenges. As they say in the military: “all plans are outdated upon first contact with the enemy”.

Have a plan and follow it. However, watch out for unexpected opportunities and be flexible enough to change your plan to embrace them.

We need to have a plan and a goal to know where we want to go to, and to make progress towards that destination, instead of wandering aimlessly around (“going nowhere fast”). However, that plan must not make us myopic and oblivious for necessary change.

Throughout my life, I always had a plan, but the best things happened when an unexpected opportunity presented itself and I reached out for it. Even though many times I was scared to my bones.

Having a plan and working towards it, prepares us to be ready for the moment when opportunities present themselves. However, if we don’t make the leap and grasp them, all the preparation was for nothing.

Have a plan, work on it. Prepare yourself, but be ready to drop your plan and adjust to the moment when needed. Don’t be scared of unexpected opportunities. They are when magic happens in life.

I recently read a very similar idea in ‘Racing Winter on the Pacific Crest Trail’, by Kyle S Rohrig. It goes like this:

There are always doors that open unexpectedly for us. Walk through them. After you walk through an open door, new doors will open up behind, eventually leading to an endless universe of open doors and opportunities. You find good thing behind open doors.

If you close the door, the opportunities end right there. That’s it, end of story, you’re stuck. Being stuck is stagnation. Stagnation is the beginning of the end.

Or in the words of Daoism:

When we are young we are flexible, we push out, we try new things and grow. When we stop being curious and flexible, we get hard. When we get hard, we break, crumble and fade away.

Be open, be flexible, see opportunities!

 


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.

Spiritual Balance – Week 34: Be Part of the Solution, Not the Problem

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You have three basic options to react when you are faced with a challenge, problem or just a frustrating situation: (1) you can hide your head in the ground and hope it goes away, (2) you can complain about it and become part of the problem, making it even worse or (3) you can find ways to address and improve the situation, becoming part of the solution.

We already established that hope is a bad strategy, hence (1) is not a good path to follow. For obvious reasons, (2) is not any better, unless you are striving for a live of self-inflicted pain and misery.

Don’t be part of the problem. Be part of the solution.

So rather than dwelling in your pity, think about solutions you can bring to the table when you’re faced with a tough or frustrating problem.

This happens to me every day. I go along with my day, and then out of the blue, I get that email which makes me want to choke someone’s throat. Like everyone else, I get angry for a moment. However, I try to be conscious of that reaction, and then step back and think of other ways to react. Often I will take a few hours or even a good night sleep before I respond. That gives my subconscious mind some time to process and come up with a different perspective.

In Tai Chi we say “there is always a third way”. Usually we only think about two reactions whan confronted with an unpleasant situation: give in or fight back (fight or flight). There is always a third way through which you can turn the situation into something positive.

When faced with something that annoys you, don’t give up, look away and walk away. Be part of the solution, find a creative way to solve the problem, drive that solution. Once your mission is accomplished, look back and be proud of how you reacted and what change you drove.

When I am faced with something that makes my blood boil or makes me want to scream at someone, I give it a big pause first. Pretty much all problems can wait for a moment. A well thought through response and action plan is always better than a rushed one. Then I ask myself these three questions:

  • What is the opportunity for change?
  • How can I avoid or improve a similar situation in the future?
  • How can I help others through situations like this?

I even have a Post-It sticker with those three questions on my office desk as a reminder.

I give it a moment or two. I find the third way, do what needs to be done and then move on. In every single case I will be way more satisfied than if I had given in to my first impulses.

Whenever possible, try to identify the root cause of the initial issue and solve it so that the same situation won’t happen again.

 


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.

Spiritual Balance – Week 33: Accept your Worries and Then Take Action

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We all have our personal level of being worried, it actually doesn’t change much with external circumstances. Some people are just happy-go-lucky, while others tend to constantly mull in the past and worry about the future.

Accept your worries. Then take action!

External events might push us up or down for a while, but surprisingly we all bounce back to our personal levels, no matter how dramatic an event happened to be. A death of a loved one is devastating, but usually people move back to their previous happiness level after a while. Winning the lottery is thrilling, but the glamor fades aways quickly – as does the money in most cases.

Take action

Accept and embrace your personal level of worries. It is just what it is. Work with your worries, embrace them and take them as signals for things you can either improve in your current environment or at least mitigate.

However, don’t day-dream and hope that all your worries will be magically solved if only that specific one thing would change (e.g. you get that promotion, you move to that new place, you quit that job,…).

Your worries will not change because of external events. They will only change because of actions YOU take or mindset changes YOU make.

Fix your problems here and now and take them as opportunities to learn and grow. Don’t hope for that external change, that will make everything magically better.

Hope is a bad strategy.

Be in the here and now

Most times, taking action is the right approach, but sometimes you also need to change your perspective.

Mindfulness is a proven way to reduce your worries and increase your overall happiness. Observe the small things, like the taste and heat of the cup of coffee you hold in your hands. Enjoy the moment and the current pleasures, like the sunrays dancing on your face.

Be in the here and now.

Likewise, the people we are surrounded with influence our own moods in a great way. If you surround yourself with negative people, you will likely also develop a bleak view of the world. Change it. There are no brownie points for putting up with negative or rude people. Ditch them immediately and move on to greener pastures. If they happen to be family – do the same.

There are no free rides, people need to live up to being in your inner circle.

There are also times when an external change is actually needed. In those cases, move on and let go. At times, that’s good and necessary, just don’t think that you will magically be a happier or better person if you don’t change any of your inner parameters and attitudes along with it.

 


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.

Spiritual Balance – Week 32: Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

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First we have focused on developing healthy habits to lay a sustainable foundation to go through our days. Then we explored ways to be more effective at work in order to free up time. Let’s take both to good use and move on to exploring what really matters to you and then making time for those things – your purposes.

Put on your own oxygen mask first.

When you travel on any commercial airplane, you will need to go through the safety briefing before taking off. One of things that stuck with me was the advice to “put on your own oxygen mask first”.

It seems to go against our instincts initially. We want to help our kids or the elderly before we turn our attention to our own needs. However that is shortsighted. Even if we want to help others, we first need to take care of ourselves.

Let me repeat this – before we can help others we need to take care of ourselves first!

In the specific example for airlines, there is no use in putting on the oxygen mask on your first child and then passing out before you can help the second. You have to get yourself into a stable spot before you can help others in a sustainable way. Put on your own oxygen mask first.

The same is true for less dramatic settings. You need to get yourself into a good spot first, before you can have positive impact on your family, friends, community or society at large.

Get yourself a healthy basis, de-stress your work, find the things you really care about, explore your passion, purpose and spirituality, and allocate time and energy to it. Then help others and make this world a better place. This is what these tips, hacks, habits and suggestions are all about.

Put on your own oxygen mask first.

Most likely the most important piece of advice of all.

 


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.

Be More Effective – Week 31: Bringing it All Together: Make a Plan to Calm the Monkey Mind

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In Zen our usual behavior is often referred to as the ‘monkey mind’. Our mind is constantly busy, jumping from one thing to another, never fully focusing on following through on any single priority. There is always another banana on the tree that grabs our attention.

Calm you monkey mind. Reduce distractions. Make a plan and go for it.

Our goal is to calm the monkey mind. To remove distractions from our workplace, relationships and life in general.

Our goal is to understand what’s important today, the next week, this year and in our life. We need to assess, prioritize and plan.

Our goals is to make time for those priorities and focus on them, without being distracted by the banana on the other tree.

Our goal is to empty your ‘to do list chasing mind’ and free it to concentrate on the work at hand.

This week is really about consciously bringing together all the pieces we discussed so far. Step back for a moment. Reflect on the things you practiced the last 30 weeks and make a plan on how you will bring them together.

Make a plan. Write it down. Commit to it.

Clear your mind, make a plan ahead. Stop your mind from wandering and worrying. However, also know that you won’t fully stick to it and don’t get frustrated if you don’t.

 


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.

Be More Effective – Week 30: The Power of Routine and Rhythm

Preserve your willpower

We all have a certain amount of willpower available each day. Some days it’s more because we are energetic, we slept well or the sun is shining. Some days it’s less.

Regardless of what our level is, every decision requires a little bit of that energy and depletes our will power for the day. When our willpower goes down, our ability to stick with priorities and resolutions goes down with it. When our willpower is depleted, it’s harder to say ‘no’ to temptations and ‘yes’ to things that are good for us but require our conscious decisions and energy to get started.

That is why we drink alcohol after a challenging day, why we skip the gym in the evening if the day was stressful. The more our willpower is depleted, the less we can put in the way of not dropping on the couch, getting a bag of potato chips and a beer and watching TV.

Manage your willpower carefully. Don’t waste it for decisions that are not important. Create rhythms and stick to them.

Since our willpower is a limited resource, we need to manage and invest it carefully. We must not waste it for things that don’t matter but focus it on the ones that do. The more we can remove unnecessary decisions or avoidable annoyances, the more we will be able to get the things that matter done.

Simplify decisions

One powerful habit to avoid wasting your willpower is to remove decisions that don’t matter.

Here are some examples that don’t matter on a day-by-day basis:

  • When to get up in the morning – just do it the same time every day
  • What to eat for breakfast – you can celebrate that decision, but during the week, just stick to one thing (for me it’s an apple)
  • Where to find your office stuff, keys, etc – just get it ready the evening before
  • What to wear for work – I wear the same style every week, blue jeans, black long-sleeve shirt, sneakers; and I pack it on Sunday for the entire workweek
  • What to eat for lunch – again, make it fancy on the weekend or in the evening, make if effective for lunch; I get soup and salad every day; it’s healthy, gives me energy and isn’t so heavy that I get tired
  • Where to park – I park in the same spot every day; it’s higher up in the garage and I could be closer if I tried, but I waste zero energy finding a spot in the morning or wondering where my car is parked in the evening

I have many more things where I can go ‘on autopilot’ and still know I make the right decisions, but let’s leave it there. You get the idea. Find out where you spend energy deciding every day, make the right decision once, then repeat and leave it there.

Remove annoyances

Reduce or remove things that deplete your willpower, even if it might mean you need to change your routines a little bit. It pays off as the day goes along.

Here are some examples of things that annoy me and what I do about them:

  • Annoying traffic – move the times when you commute to avoid rush hour or take the bus; it’s better to get up an hour earlier than to be stuck in traffic for 30 mins
  • Distractions in the office – get good noise cancelling headphones, find a quiet place or work from home when you need to get things done
  • People that don’t give you energy or make you happy – ditch them; right now
  • Spam calls on your phone – put it on mute and don’t answer, you can always check your voice mail

Again, what is the list for you? What can you do to avoid those situations?

Decide ahead of time

On the important decisions it’s best to decide before your willpower goes down. If you want to go to the gym in the evening, decide the day before and then just execute. Don’t hope you will make good decisions after a long day at work.

Create rhythms and triggers for those decisions, so you don’t need to convince yourself every time. For example put your gym bag on the driver seat of your car, so you have to see it when you leave work and get triggered to go.

Don’t starve your willpower

Make healthy choices! Your brain needs glucose to fuel your willpower. When you’re low on glucose levels, your willpower will shut down first. After all, for basic survival, willpower was the most dispensable investment. Don’t think you’re affected by that? How good are you at staying away from junk food, when you are really hungry?

Stay hydrated, but also keep your glucose levels at a constant level. Eat some fruit at regular intervals. Don’t wait until you’re hungry.

There is power in rhythms and predictability. Build routines, build rhythms, and stick to them. Routines and rhythms give you structure, predictability and peace of mind.

Don’t wing it every single day, have a plan for what you want the day to look like. When you can, stick to that plan. Be flexible and adjust but start from a good framework.

 


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.

Reflection: A Special Note on Burn Out

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We talked about different aspects and approaches to increase efficiency and control of your priorities. Those habits are useful for anyone, but consciously and consistently applying them is even more critical if you are working in an environment that is high stress or even conducive to burnout.

Burnout creeps on you and it is not pretty when it gets you. It also takes much more effort to cure it than to prevent it. In the following, I’ll provide a shortlist of principles that have worked for me in such situations in the past. They won’t work universally, but some of them might do the trick for you. If you feel stressed right now, give them a try and see what they can do for you.

I initially called those ideas ‘hacks’ to sound trendy, but changed it to ‘principles’ to make a point: those are not quick and easy fixes. You need to be serious, deliberate and consistent about them. You have to put in energy to make them work. And you need to keep doing it every day.

My principles will move on a spectrum from purpose (to keep your passion and happiness) to time management (to actually make room for all that purpose stuff).

Protect your personal passions

The most important rule comes first:

Know what you care about outside of work. Set time for those activities. Block it on your calendar and then protect it fiercely.

It is important to create a balance between your work and your passions outside of work. There is always more to be done at work, thus having a tendency to slowly creep into your personal life to the point where you suddenly realize that something is fundamentally wrong. Death by a thousand paper cuts. Don’t let that happen.

Know what’s important to you and then create rules to protect it. Those rules need to be yours. Different things work for different people.

For me, family comes first. With that, I have a rule that I don’t work once I’m home. I don’t work on weekends. I might come in early or stay later if I need to, but when I’m home, I’m home. There are a few cases where I deliberately decide that I want to finish something on a weekend, but I have a very high bar for those exceptions.

Create the moments you care about at work

We talked about making time for your personal passions. The same applies to your work passions:

Don’t get lost in tactical work. Set focus times where you do the things that matter to you and that align with your passion.

We all chose our jobs for a reason. We chose them because we are deeply passionate about core components of the role. At the same time, every job comes with a bunch of things we are not quite as excited about. The routine, the day to day, the reactive.

We need to do those things, but we must make sure that we don’t get lost in them and forget what actually excites us. Just as for your personal passions, you must block time for the things that get you excited at work. Again, it’s very personal to you what that is, but make sure it doesn’t get lost in the daily ‘rat race’.

For me, my primary motivators are working with and coaching great people. I also love to solve problems and build products. I’m blocking time for those deliberately. Being a data guy, I even color code my calendar to get reminded every time I look at my schedule if I’m striking a balance that works for me.

Change your mindset

We all have to do things we don’t particularly care about much. After all, we’re not at a party, we get paid to do a job for our company. However, usually there is a reason for the things we do:

Try to understand the reason. Discover the meaning. It makes a huge difference!

There is a reason for everything. While certain tasks might seem tedious and unnecessary, in most cases they serve an important and distinct purpose.

For example, at Amazon, we write a lot of documents and we constantly look at a lot of data. Very often I see the question “why do we need to do this” in people’s eyes. There is a reason. Looking at data helps you understand what’s going on, reflect and learn what happened and why. Then you can develop the right action plan to correct what you’re doing moving forward. Writing documents helps to sharpen your thinking and then to sell your ideas to others to get the proper support to make them happen.

If you look at the true purpose of why things are done, you can find much more satisfaction in doing them. There is ample research that purpose and passion are not defined by what you do, but how you think about it.

Pace yourself

Sometimes we have to push hard and go late. Make sure you don’t make it ‘always’.

There are times when you need to push hard and give it your all (and maybe more). But there are also times when you can recharge your batteries a little. Know when you need to do which.

It’s important to understand when you need to push hard and when you don’t. None of us can go full throttle all the time over an extended period of time.

Push hard when you need to, but also recognize when you have a period where you can recharge batteries. This is not about slacking because that will only catch up with you. It’s about knowing when you have to do 120% and when 90% is just fine. Remove the pressure from yourself when you can and don’t feel bad about it.

When I have the occasional day, when I can go home at 4 pm and enjoy a sunny evening with my family, I cherish that time and don’t feel a tiny bit guilty for not working late.

Treat it like a project

So with all that blocking of time, how do you actually get stuff done?

Treat your work day and tasks like a project. Prioritize, scope, focus, time-box. Don’t idle at work, rather focus and spend your idle time on the things you care about.

We need to treat our work tasks like projects. We need to deliberately manage them instead of just keep going until we will be done at some undefined point in the future, with an undefined amount of time and effort invested to get there.

Start your project now and don’t procrastinate it, even if the start scares you. Every journey starts with the first step.

Avoid unnecessary rework. Put your best foot forward and get it right the first time. If you don’t, learn what was missing and make super-sure you will get it right the next time you have a similar problem to solve. Nothing eats more time and energy (and is more frustrating) than repeated rework and fixing of the same issues.

Time-box how much time you spend on something (after all you want to free up time for the passions we talked about above). Prioritize what really needs to get done versus what just seems urgent or important. If the work is too much, see if you can scope it down without harming the overall outcome. Can you remove unnecessary ‘bells and whistles’? Time-box, and then be extremely focused in that time-box to deliver your best work most efficiently. Treat it like an engineering ‘dev spike’. When you hit the end of your time-box, stop. You need to train yourself to take your focus times serious.

If it’s still too much, it’s ok to say ‘no’ to things. Just know and be clear why you say ‘no’ and what trade-offs you’re making. Communicate the reasons and trade-offs. Communicate them early. It’s ok to not be able to tackle something if everyone knows about it and has enough time to come up with a mitigation plan (even better if you can propose a mitigation plan yourself). It’s not ok to let something slip past the deadline and then announce that you didn’t have time.

Be focused, cut out the slack. Rather than idling at work, double down, be your most focused self and then spend your freed-up time on the things you care about at work and at home.

 


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:

 

Capture

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.