The power of downtime

I love solitude, which is no surprise since I’m an INFJ. I spend the majority of my day alone but not lonely. Downtime comes easy to me, free of feeling guilty or restless; this wasn’t always the case.

My 20’s were about go, go, going. Ovaries to the wall. “Yes to life!” all over the place. It was exciting. It was exhilarating. It was exhausting, which I didn’t realize until I joined the 30+ club and paused to take a breather. I would not do my 20’s in any other way if given the chance, but it would be nice to travel back and sprinkle wisdom dust onto my 20something self. Insight bestowed upon me, I’d carve out downtime for myself.

There’s plenty of research that explains why our brains need more downtime. But knowing what’s good for us and making decisions that follow through with that knowledge can be at odds. When it comes to scheduling downtime for ourselves, the obstacles could be an extroverted nature that craves constant connection with others; we could be conditioned to constantly check-in with work via email; we could straight up be addicted to our smartphones; or we could simply be caught up in the habit of constantly having something to ‘do.’

Harvard Business Review offers these tips on how to do downtime:

Clearly schedule your time: Just as you would schedule a work meeting and stick to it, schedule evenings off, one to two days a week free of work, and weeklong chunks of vacation every year. Unplug, and stick to it.

Allow for ad hoc downtime when you need it: Google’s headquarters have a game room and on-site massage. One of John’s former employers had arcade games, an on-site coffee house, and scenic hiking trails. If you’re feeling stuck on a problem, frustrated, or simply tired of sitting down, take 10 minutes to walk, read for fun, or grab coffee with a friend to clear your mind.

Shut off your smartphone: Constant interconnectedness (like smartphone use) is a stressor. Leave your laptop at the office when you’re able. Carry two phones — one for work and one for personal use — and leave the work phone in your bag when you come home or in the safe at your hotel when you’re on vacation. If work requires you to be on call, mentally “shut off” the phone until it rings. Find ways to create clear boundaries between work and life.

Free up your RAM: In Getting Things Done, author David Allen states that having tasks on our mind is like using up RAM on our personal computers because there is limited capacity in our short-term memory. Instead of going through the day on mental overload, distracted by those fleeting to-dos, it helps to keep an organized list and physical folders containing all of the tasks that take up mental space. Feeling organized enables worry-free downtime.

Create rituals and routines: Scientists have long recommended developing routines for sounder sleep, and many professionals, like Stephen King, have routines that get them ready for work. Create rituals and routines that signal to your mind that it’s time to start work, leave work, meditate, or engage with family.

Technically I can’t go back and make the downtime request of my 20something self. I can stay tuned in to my needs these days, we all can. Even though it feels counterintuitive to request solitude to strengthen relationships with coworkers, friends, and signifs in our lives, doing so can help us realign and refuel.   

Infomagical begins February 1

infomagicalemoticonI feel like I have a solid system in place when it comes to managing my time spent online, so when I first heard about Infomagical on Note to Self, it sounded more like an add on than a simplification of the way I do life. Thinking I might mention Infomagical in Friday’s post this week, I found myself taking their quiz this morning, just to see if I could get a better understanding. I found the quiz questions playful. So playful, they drew me in, kept me engaged, and by the time an emoticon with rainbow lasers shooting out of its eyes popped up at the end, I was totally sold.

I’m doing it. I signed up.

I don’t know how my phone free evenings will affect my ability to fully participate in the texts they send out (will participating in this project generate FOMO for me?!), but I love the idea of questioning the way I gather and process information.

Let me know if you decide to participate, I’m totally curious about how their challenge week plays out for various goals.

How to make change happen

One of the best books I’ve read on change is Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. The authors do a great job explaining the psychology related to change; the metaphor they use for the rational and emotional parts of our brains is both entertaining and effective. I’m an information person, so I like having a big picture view of change when I attempt to make small changes in my life happen. If you’re more of a cut to the chase type, here are some concrete steps you can take today to make change happen, or revise how you’re approaching that New Year’s resolution that may be slipping away from you.

Identify the change you want to make

If your brain goes vague, steer it to specifics. “Eat better” becomes “Eat more veggies and less junk food. Cook at home at least three nights a week.” “Create more art” becomes “Create art on Saturdays for at least three hours.” “Watch less t.v.” becomes “Keep the t.v. off after 7pm” or “T.V. free Tuesdays.” “Be more social” becomes “Make plans with friends at least once a month.” And so on.

Adjust your environment to support the change you want

In the “Eat more veggies and less junk food” example, this means not buying junk food and having it in the house, which probably means going to the grocery store after you’ve eaten so you’re not hangrily making impulse decisions and before you know it, the cart is full of Doritos and soda pop.

For the creating art example, a dedicated physical space is ideal, but if that’s not possible, a ritual (like lighting a candle or listening to music) that signifies you’re transforming the space works. Getting in the zone requires disconnecting from the world, so silence your phone and avoid the temptation to hop on the internet.

Celebrate small successes, frame failure as necessary

High five yourself in the grocery store when you fill your cart with veggies, nevermind the looks you get, haters gonna hate. Pat yourself on the back for the environmental adjustments you make, it’s not cheesy you’re worth it.

Failure is part of life, so embrace it, learn from it, and move on. The thing about failure is when we try to avoid it or deny it, it manages to stick around. When we embrace it and recognize it, it goes away on its own. Kind of like campfire smoke.

The Friday posts this month are all about making requests; requesting change from ourselves can be uncomfortable because turning the ol’ eye inward and being honest with ourselves takes that quiet courage you know I’m a fan of.

Requesting support

Asking for support is not easy. Our culture doesn’t encourage it, so we end up feeling high maintenance or weak or like a failure just at the thought of reaching out. Plus the slate’s full when it comes to the reasons why we might avoid asking for support. Notice I’m using the word support, not help. Help feels like a paternalistic hand descending from the sky whereas support falls in the realm of empowerment/collaboration. So besides the culture that tells us to suck it up and deal, why else might we fear asking for support?

Maybe the person we need support from has denied us in the past. Or we’re worried that the person will judge us, or forever label us needy. Maybe we just like the feeling of accomplishing things on our own and want to put off asking for support just a little bit longer. If we’re at work, maybe we’re afraid that asking for support will prevent us from scoring a bonus or people’s respect or a future promotion. Maybe we’ve observed others ask for support in tone that makes us want to do anything else besides be seen as similar to that person. Whatever the reason(s), asking for support requires the same quiet courage it takes to challenge any conventional ideals.

I’m not saying it’s easy, and taming the ego before attempting this can help:

  1. Explore what’s making you resist asking for support. It could be overcome easily, or maybe it’s an uncomfortable feeling/realization. Either way, face it, be with it. It’s easy to stall on this step if your exploration takes you off into the depths of your psyche; come back for the moment!
  2. Just do it. Ask for support. Be specific about the support you want, because sometimes you just need someone to listen to you vent about your terrible day and other times you want someone to listen and offer solutions on how to deal with the monster you have to interact with at work.

We benefit from asking for support. In some cases a camaraderie that wasn’t there before forms. It can be refreshing for others who struggle with asking for help to see you model it. And of course when you ask for support, you relieve yourself of feeling isolated or misunderstood or underappreciated.

Who’s ready to practice asking for support? Let’s model the quiet courage it takes to step off the track of cultural norms.

State your needs, make your requests

Key to basic need

The line between stating needs and making requests is fine. It’s easy to confuse the two; things that fall under the “It’d be nice if…” umbrella get categorized in our minds so often as necessary.

I need a vacation. I’d like to go on a vacation.

I need to get my car washed. I want to get my car washed.

I need to see that cat video. I love cats, show me the video!

I need to eat lunch. I need to drink some water. I need to use the restroom. Those are needs.

I like the sentiment “state your needs,” and would like to see “make a request” used more when it’s appropriate. When we step over the line from stating needs to making requests, something significant happens. We must value ourselves to own the request. Now that the request is more than a basic need (what jerk denies a basic need?), we find ourselves on the cliff of vulnerability. We’re scared to be pushed off with “no” so maybe we veil our requests in statements of need.

I need to know if you’ll be there. Will you be there?

I need you to reply to my text. I’d like you to reply to my text.

I need you to complete this report. Please complete this report.

I need you to go to the grocery store. Please go to the grocery store.

I need you to take out the trash. Please take out the trash.

Or in some cases we try to offload the ownership completely.

Do you want to complete this report?

Do you want to go to the grocery store?

Do you want to take out the trash?

This is one of my biggest pet peeves and sometimes when someone drops one of these on me and I feel surly I reply with a flat “no.”

Let’s be brave and practice making requests. This month’s Friday posts will focus on making requests in various areas of life. Comment below if you would like to request a specific topic be included (e.g. communication style/amount, support, advice, boundaries, workplace, solitude time, change…). 

Day of spontaneity

IMG_1613.jpgWhen I was in college a friend gave me a set of Angel Cards; for the past 15 years I’ve used them to provide a focus for each day. I drew “spontaneity” yesterday. I went with it. Focusing on spontaneity seemed like a great way to practice living in the moment and a great reason to toss my “To Do” notebook to the side—even if just for one day.

Since I’m the type who prefers to have a plan, I struggled through the morning. Dropping my morning routine and just going with whatever I felt like doing was especially uncomfortable. I abandoned my writing schedule, dropped my partner off at work, and drove around aimlessly until I felt compelled to go West. “To the mountains!” I thought. The forecast looked good for finding some sunshine and possibly a view.

Before I could even get out of the city limit, I saw that I had a text from my partner. They needed me to pick up a part from Home Depot; in my willingness to go with the flow of spontaneity I forgot I’d committed to this. I pulled off the highway and found the nearest store. I had a moment of frustration, “My day of spontaneity is spoiled! Just when I was gaining momentum, THIS.” And then I realized THIS was a superb situation to make sure I was practicing spontaneity. I may have shook my fist at the powers that be at this point and mumbled, “touché.”

As I left the store, I spotted a familiar face approaching. It was a young man who I knew from my days of working at the youth center in Montbello. I shouted his name, waved his way, and we briefly caught up. I first met him when he was 11 and now he’s 23. He smiled his distinct smile at one point and my mind flooded with memories of him and his sister. All this, in only a few moments. I walked away from this encounter feeling nostalgic and grateful for my day of spontaneity.

I felt confident and trusted the process; I decided to cook seared scallops for dinner. Whaaat? This isn’t quite as random as it may appear. I’m in the last six months of my PY35 and told myself from now until the end of my Power Year, I’d try one new thing each month. I’d never cooked sea scallops at home, so yesterday seemed like a great day to kick off my “one new thing per month” challenge.

According to my partner, the pan seared scallops were a success. The IMG_1614smell in our home when I woke up in the middle of the night convinced me otherwise. I didn’t like fish when I was a kid, probably because I lived in a landlocked state and all I ever tasted was old smelly fish from the grocery store that had been sitting there for who knows how long. I still live in a landlocked state. Even though I spent big bucks to get fresh scallops from the specialty market in my neighborhood, they had a slight fishy smell when I unwrapped the butcher paper and the odor permeated every room in our house, which I only noticed after waking up to the fishy smell that lingered. It reminds me of choking down fish sticks on Fridays as a kid. Is it likely I’ll prepare sea scallops at home again? No. Am I glad I did it? Yes!

My day of spontaneity stirred up wonder and awe in me. I saw things from a different lens than usual. I didn’t feel compelled to go big with my day. I recognized the subtleties of spontaneous actions and reflected on it all. You don’t have to have Angel Cards to have a day of spontaneity. Do it this weekend! Go ahead, plan a day of spontaneity 🙂

Clients: Email me for a copy of Day of Spontaneity Guidelines (they help you avoid the impulsive pitfalls of shopping and other vice driven hijacks to your day)

Three simple resolutions to make 2016 healthy and happy

IMG_3653The fault of most failed New Year’s Resolutions is that they are too vague and goal oriented. As well intentioned as SMART goals may be, when it comes down to it, they are just a catchy acronym that don’t connect the individual making them with the process and specific steps it will take to reach the desired outcome. There are a variety of words used to make up SMART (most common: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time based), some of which I find limiting and all of which require brain power to clarify—brain power better used on self-restraint, self-discipline, or setting up an environment or system in your life that supports the resolutions you’ve made.

Here are three process oriented resolutions for those of us who would like to make 2016 healthy and happy:

1. Treat food as fuel, not comfort or a reward

Even though I love to indulge in a good steak and use meals as time to connect with family and friends, it’s important to me to keep in mind that at its core, food is a basic need. When our relationship with food is complicated by it being presented as comfort or a reward, we’re apt to experience guilt or shame when it comes to eating. If we treat food as fuel for our bodies, we can focus on filling up with the nutrients we need instead of constantly feeling like we’re testing our willpower—will we or won’t we reach for that sweet/salty/crunchy whatever?

Thanks to food marketing and the scientists behind making fast food and junk food addictive, reframing how we see and relate to food is no easy feat. However, if we take a moment to ask ourselves, “Is this fuel to help my body run?” each time we’re making a decision related to what we’re going to eat, we’re on the path toward a healthy relationship with food. When we approach food as fuel, we’re naturally guided to seek out nutrient dense items at the grocery store more than the quick ‘n’ easy nutrient-less number whatever at the drive-through.

If you’re not sure how to treat food as fuel, understanding the basics of proteins, vitamins, and minerals is a good start. And if you’re curious about “good cholesterol” and “bad cholesterol,” you can find articles on the internet to help you understand the bigger nutrition picture.

2. Replace screen time with _________(fill in the blank)

A lot of us tend to ignore the clues all around us that indicate we may want to rethink how much time we spend staring at the screens of our computers and mobile devices. We notice we have trouble focusing on one thing at a time, we suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out), we feel strangely disconnected from our friends who we keep in touch with on various social media platforms, we’re amazed how quickly time passes when we’re clicking on links and watching videos online.

I like to replace screen time with reading actual books with paper pages, playing nerdy strategy games with my partner, and exploring my city’s cultural offerings. Based on my non-scientific study of one, less screen time leads to a fitter, healthier, more productive life. I started screen free evenings last summer; it morphed into mostly mobile device free evenings when my partner and I found a show on Netflix we wanted to watch on evenings during the week; I have a steady stream of books from the library coming my way, so it’s likely I’ll get back in the groove of being completely screen free in the evenings. I recommend screen free evenings to anyone having trouble falling asleep at night (combined with a coffee curfew of noon) or anyone who is just looking to feel like they have more time to themselves.

Note to Self is a great podcast worth a listen, if you want to hear others talk about how the struggle with managing technology in their lives is real.

3. Practice kindness every day

This sentiment is so cliché it’s easily ignored. Good thing we didn’t waste all our energy on understanding what SMART stands for, we still have strength to do the actual work of being kind. And it is work. When we’re kind to ourselves, we’re less critical of where we’re at in our lives and what we’re doing (or not doing). Guy Winch makes a strong case for practicing emotional hygiene in his TED talk, “Why we all need to practice emotional first aid.”

If we focus on practicing kindness, a lot falls into place. Being kind means being inclusive, being compassionate, and being empathetic. Moment to moment, not just when you’re at your place of worship or with your group of friends. Practicing kindness in a variety of settings and especially with those in our lives we find most challenging, creates a space for us to live in that is cushioned with love instead of riddled with hate.

Cheers to you and making the choices in 2016 that bring about positive change!