Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Slowing down: watching and noticing the colors

Recently, I was working with a client frustrated by his own rapid and negative thinking, anxiety, and a pressing sense of what he "should and shouldn't do." His day-to-day life consistently felt stressful and overwhelming.

Although his situation was extreme, it's similar to complaints I hear from many people about the stresses of modern life.

I said to this client that, regardless of any other action he takes, he needed to learn how to slow down and relax. Now, the concept of "slow down and relax" is relatively simple, but knowing the Hows, Whats, and Whens can be challenging. 

We came up with a short-list of specific activities he could do to slow his thinking and activity throughout the day: do a meditative exercise upon waking, take mini-breaks every hour to 90 minutes (stop what you're doing, walk to a window or outside, breathe, clear your mind stretch, relax; then, after a few minutes, go back to it), have "wind down" activities before bed, and attach a mindfulness exercise to a daily activity (showering, driving, going to the bathroom).

So, in the days that followed this client session, I became more aware of opportunities to give myself a mini-break, to slow down and relax.

One day, I was looking at a desk toy that my sister had given me many years ago. When you turn the toy upside down, two different color liquids glide through the clear liquid, making dripping shapes and bouncing off of one another. 

I'd never thought much of it. It's not very exciting to look at. It lasts only 15 seconds or so. And it's not THAT pretty or interesting! 

However on this particular day, I'd been working hard and feeling tired, and I needed a diversion. I flipped the toy over, and surrendered to its colors, letting go of everything else. I lost myself in the sight of the red and blue dripping bubbles. Ahhhhhh! 

I had misjudged this toy. I originally thought it should entertain me. Instead, I realized that it was a pleasant focal point designed to relax me. When I returned to work a minute or so later, I felt slightly refreshed. 

Do this once during your work day, and it won't have much of an overall effect. Yet, if you find a half dozen pleasant and interesting ways to slow down, refocus, clear your mind, and relax throughout your day, it will set the stage for getting rid of that oppressive sense of being driven and overwhelmed, making things feel more manageable and even enjoyable.
Just take 15 seconds and watch...!

Monday, November 17, 2014

For job interviews, prepare a few stories to tell (behavioral interviewing)

Behavioral Interviewing is a popular technique currently used by many employers in job interviews. Behavioral interviewing is just a fancy term for asking a candidate to tell a story, and the request often begins with the words, “tell me about a time when…. 

For example, Tell me about a time when you knew that you and your team discovered that you would not be able to meet a deadline. Explain how you handled it and what happened. As another example, Tell me about a time when a conflict between two of your teammates interfered with the work that needed to be done. How was the situation handled? What was your role? What happened?

These types of questions can address something that actually happened, or they can ask what you would do in an imaginary, hypothetical situation. For example, Let’s say that there is a conflict between two of your teammates that was interfering with the work that needed to be done. How would you handle that? For hypothetical situations, create your answers based on your actual experiences.

The standard advice that I give to my Life & Career Coaching clients is to prepare three stories before the interview that explain times when you and your teammates faced one or more really tough challenges, you were able to figure out what was wrong and what needed to happen instead, and you resolved the situation successfully. Then, when you are asked a behavioral-interview question, choose the story that best addresses the question. If another excellent story occurs to you, use that one instead. You can feel relaxed and confident during the interview, because you have three “in the can," ready to go should you need them.

Finally, when telling your story, try to address these aspects of the situation:
  • How you analyzed the situation, determining what was working well and what wasn’t
  • How you communicated well so that no one was surprised by the difficult situation
  • How you “played well with others,” coordinating your efforts with teammates to get the job done
  • How you played a unique and important role in addressing the situation
  • How you analyzed and tested possible solutions to the problem
  • How well things turned out in the end

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Don’t stretch! Instead, relax until your muscles loosen.

I'm a retired team-sports jock. In high school, I was a member at various times of the varsity basketball, tennis, soccer, and track teams. Later in life, I learned to play shortstop for a recreational softball team, and I played corporate-league basketball.

Needless to say, I’m no stranger to locker rooms, gymnasiums, practice sessions, games, and tournaments. I’m also well versed in ways to stretch my muscles before and after working out so as to prevent injury.

Early in my athletic experiences, stretching was always uncomfortable. It felt as if my muscles were tight, and I was using various poses to take the tight muscle and pull on it slowly until it submitted and loosened.

I remember when my whole approach to stretching changed in the mid-90s, which was approximately the same time I began to practice different types of meditation. I was in the middle of my stretching routine, and I just didn’t feel like yanking on my own body anymore. Instead, I just remained in the stretching position, relaxed, breathed deeply, and stopped trying to make things happen. To my surprise, the more my breathing, mind, and total body relaxed, the more my muscle loosened and stretched out. Whoosh! My body part just “melted” into position, smoothly and easily.

The difference between stretching and relaxing was like the difference between cutting into a cold stick of butter immediately after it’s been taken out of the refrigerator and moving the knife through the stick after it’s been on the table for a few hours.

In recent years, whether it’s an athletic pursuit or some other activity, I think to myself, “Relax into it,” and things tend to go smoother and easier. 

Don’t push or pull. Relax and flow.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Things go faster when I slow down

I'm a tea drinker. In my office, my routine is to fill the water filter first. Then, I pour the filtered water into an electric kettle, which gets the water really boiling. Finally, I pour the water over the tea bag (a British college buddy taught me years ago not to dunk the bag into the water initially), and then I let it seep for a few minutes (longer if it’s Oolong or herbal).

Recently, I’d been experiencing some frustration with my routine. Rushing in between client meetings, I’d pour the water from the filter container into the kettle, and, just before the container emptied, the water would change direction and spill around and near the kettle. Sighing, I’d grab a napkin or paper towel, and I’d wipe up the mess. This continued for the better part of a year.

Finally, frustrated with having to mop up every time I filled the kettle, I decided that I was going to get to the bottom of the spilled-water mystery.

The first thing I did was I decided to fill the kettle slower, thinking that rushing and speed might be the cause of the spillage. Slowing down also allowed me to observe what was happening. When I did this, I noticed that slowing down alone didn’t prevent the mess. At the last second, the water stream angled downward and spilled down the side of the kettle.

The next time I filled the kettle, I decided that I would try to change the angle of the spout just before it emptied. Again, I poured it slower than I usually did so that there was time for me to observe what was happening and adjust what I was doing. As the container was about to empty, I angled the spout upward slightly to compensate for the water's change in direction, and the last stream of water angled perfectly into the kettle without mess.

It struck me that I'd put up with a frustrating situation for so long—doing the same thing over and over, just wishing that things would magically get better somehow. Slowing down the process gave me time to observe and choose a different, better course of action.

What other areas of my life could benefit from slowing down, observing, and improving my technique?