Count Your Blessings

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A very simple intervention to help reduce stress is to focus your thoughts and mind on the good things in life and off of the negative things in life. Take a moment to think of three things you are grateful for right now. Also list three things you like about yourself!

count your blessings

You may be surprised when you do start counting all the little blessings in life. They rally add up!count-your-blessings

 

Especially in America, we are so blessed and have so much to be grateful for! What are you thankful for today?

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Where you are, you are

Often times we hold images in our minds from our harshest critic. 
We can be kind to others. We are shepherds and we are caretakers to others.
Although we are awfully hard on our own self. 
In reality both sides are battling it out inside of our heads. Imagine the old cartoons, where there is a devil (or a critic) on our left shoulder and an angel, (the caretaker) on our right shoulder. Both are whispering in our ears, what we need to hear. I challenge you to take five minutes to think through and write down what each voice has been telling you. If you are being honest with yourself, you will hear your own inner-critic first and then notice your strengths, second.
It is natural for our minds to be so focused on the negative first. Although, we can learn to control our thinking. The first step is practicing being mindful. Try being here-and-now. Do not focus on what you have to get done in two hours or later tonight. Be present with yourself, right here and right now. First this starts with breathing. 
Keep your eyes open but just focus on your senses rather than your thoughts. Notice the environment and what you are feeling, sensing, breathing, seeing around you ….
What are you seeing? Look only at one thing at a time. If you are thinking about what you are thinking and interpreting, you are no longer being mindful. Attempt to perceive without judgments, interpretations, evaluations or too much  input from the brain. You should have a running commentary of what you are experiencing right now.
 This exercise was meant to help us become more alert and aware of our surroundings. Mindfulness is “thinking about thinking.” We do have some control over our thinking.  We call this being “mindful.” Being mindful can help us de-stress and relax. Doing this meditation will help you be more present in the here and no, not distracted by thoughts and judgments. At work, be fully attentive and present at work. But then at home, be fully present with your family, instead of focusing on your thoughts and worries of work.
Next week, I will offer some more techniques to help you de-stress and be even more mindful.

What I learned selling books door to door

Alright, so during the summer of 2006 I sold books door-to-door in Columbia, Missouri in an attempt to pay for college tuition and rent. As it turns out, I was not much of a salesman. That summer was one of the most challenging summers of my life. I learned a lot about myself, how to sell and ho to work hard no matter what.

While I did not walk away from the experience as a rich man, as others actually did, I did grow as a person in four major areas: time management, positive self talk, self-care and a having a business mentality or mindset.

Let me explain: In time management, I learned to break days into manageable sections. Selling books door-to-door, my team woke up everyday at 5AM. We showered, ate breakfast and drove to our locations. We had to knock on our first door at 7AM. Then we were not allowed to come back home until 10AM where we ate diner and went to bed. This routine started over again Monday -Saturday. Sundays were hardly a day off, since we had to travel three hours to get to an all-day business meeting with other link-minded book salesman in the same larger geographical region.

The thing about time management, first was focusing in. Focus on the first 3 hours. Map out a game plan and work hard for 3 hours. Do not think about lunch or tomorrow, push hard and focus in on the next potential customer.
The second time management tip is the more obvious stuff. There is no time for emails, going to movies, museums, football games, etc….This is not tourism nor a vacation. This is earning wages and working hard.

During the week-long training in Nashville, before heading out to Columbia, we were given a lot of training on selling, thinking like a business person and  we did a lot of practice role-play to get ourselves ready for the actual summer. After the role-plays, mentors and business experts gave us a lot of tips and feedback. They taught us to think positively. They showed us how to do positive self-talk. In between doors, on our drive from home to our locations and even during potty-breaks we were suppose to sing or shout, “It’s going to be a great day!” and “I am a selling machine!” I was pretty unfamiliar with this idea of positive self-talk up until this point in my life. Especially after a complete rejection from a potential customer who is threatening to call the cops, it really is encouraging to look at the positives instead of getting our psyche thrown off by a ragging homeowner. Even if the positive self-talk was just lies, it was still encouraging.

Okay, well with self-care, I learned how to control my energy level. These were long days, even longer weeks. And as I mentioned earlier, I was not very good at selling. So often times, I came away empty handed. The first few weeks I was adjusting to the ridiculous schedule I was not able to focus in on one three hour time block at a time. I was worried about the entire day and that was draining my energy level. Once I figured out how to focus in on the three hour time block, I was able to get my mind off of the worries of the day and just focus on the next street. Each street was a treasure hunt to find a customer. My positive self-talk told me, “someone on this street was going to purchase books today!” I am blessed to have learned this crazy skill of energy preservation. I used this skill again just this past week at a youth-group lock-in. All of the teenagers were napping by 4AM, I stayed away the entire night and didn’t nap until after the lock-in was complete and I was in my bed at home. Mental self-care was all about focusing in on the successes, that was the only way to survive mentally.

Another part of self-care is that I learned that I do not want to be a salesman. I do not want to be a workaholic that does not have time for anything other than making money. I found my true self and many things that I am not passionate about during this summer. But by going through with the experience I can now relate to people who are feeling burn-out of long work days and of the burn-out of sales.

Finally the main thing I learned is about the business mindset. The company, I sold books with, who will continue to go unnamed, had excellent training materials. I still look back at the sales manual today. The training was a great experience. I am thankful for that. I am thankful for not waking up to the dreaded day of selling books in the summer heat of the Midwest.
So I am blessed to have learned a great deal from my time there that summer. Now I can put these things and other things into practice even today. I encourage others to learn also from my experience instead of through the hard way!

One simple way to dramatically improve your life

It does seem so simple. From a distance it does not seem like it is even worthy of a drum-roll. Although, it is worth it and so much more. This simple adjustment in your life can reduce your stress level, lift your mood and help you focus on what is important. This key behavior is an attitude modification.  Let me explain:

Instead of reacting to stress or crisis, learn to respond.
Instead of letting circumstances determine our mindset, master the skill of adjusting your attitude despite the circumstances.
Instead of letting the present here-and-now trouble control our emotions and thinking, contemplate hope, realize the trouble is temporary and maintain a positive outlook.

The simple serenity prayer is a great reminder. I say this everyday:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

*[Serenity = peace of mind.]


How-to:

Let me offer some example. Imagine that there is a last minute office meeting in the board room, completely unplanned. You are put on the spot by your boss (the managing director of the building) to present to his boss (the CEO of the company). You are stressing out! The situation is stressful! Your first initial thoughts are not pleasant (“What am I doing?” “What am I suppose to say?”  ” I want to hurt my boss, he should have given me a heads up!” “I am not going to look good.” “I hate this” – you get the idea). That initial thought is followed with emotions (nervous, stress, anxious, scared, embarrassedunprepared, unworthy) and physical sensation (heart racing, mind cluttered, sweating, nerve pain, shallow quick breathing, blushing, chest tightness, tense muscles, light-headed, feeling out of control and fatigue). All three of these (initial cognitive thoughts, body’s reaction and emotional toll) of these naturally lead to a natural behavior (running to the bathroom, being tense and clamming up in the board room, raging anger towards boss in spite or sarcasm or worse a meltdown). 

All of these behaviors are common natural reactions. Although, instead of behaving naturally, it is better to stop at each step and learn how to respond instead of merely react. The concept is simple in theory but in implementation it takes some practice. So first when we have those initial cognitive mental thoughts regarding a stressor, realize these are natural reactions. Everyone has these fleeting thoughts. The first thing we can do is instead of agree and listen to these thoughts, we can ignore them, or better, we can dispute them by thinking about the situation more rationally. 
The second step is in the emotions and physical sensations, again these are natural feelings. At first it is very difficult to ignore these emotions. We shouldn’t. It is good to acknowledge these emotional feelings and research where they are coming from and why. Bottling up emotions is negative. Somethings just talking to someone is the biggest help.
Finally, our behavior. After having a bad day emotionally and cognitively, it is easy to just react with negative behavior. Although, even after dealing with emotions and thinking, we may still desire to do something negative emotionally. We still have to think about it. We still have a choice to make. We can, with some practice, choice to behave in a positive manner, even after a long negative day full of stressors. 

Going back to the example, instead of embarrassing yourself and making the CEO and your boss like fools, you told yourself quietly  that “I can do this!” and “I am awesome.” Positive self-talk disputes the negative thinking. Second you feel the anxiety but instead of letting it eat away at you, you choose to strike a confident posture and breathe deeply through-out the entire meeting. When the meeting is over you talk to your boss privately about how you were actually feeling. Also when you get home, you deal with more of your negative with your supportive spouse (ideally). Finally the behavior in the board room is driven my the positive reaction you are maintaining. Instead of despising your boss and acting immature, you are flexible and professional. You do your best honest work given the circumstances.