Stress Management Advice from Buddha (And Why It Works)

Stress Management Advice from Buddha (And Why It Works)

Following along with the theme of overwhelm, busy-ness and the stressful feeling that we sometimes experience, I was reminded of this Buddhist saying,

“Meditate for an hour every day unless you are too busy.
In that case, meditate for two hours.”

It’s one of those phrases that (usually) makes someone laugh. Of course, it’s counter-intuitive; when we’re too busy we try to do more in less time, but at some level, we know that slowing down is actually our deeper need.

What I see in this is that when we feel that sense of being too busy, or being overwhelmed, or feeling the pressure of everything we have to do, what we’re actually experiencing is the power of thought.

Or, rather the illusion of thought.

As I talked about here, we may or may not have a lot to do; those tasks may or may not be important (after all the size of our to-do list is only a function of which of our ideas we’ve decided to implement!).

What IS true, is that sometimes we feel super-heroically productive and sometimes we feel like a swarm of hornets has decided to nest in our hair.

I call it the ‘illusion of thought’ because the noise of those buzzing hornets is caused by the hornets (imaginary though they are).

It isn’t caused by the to-do list, the pressure from our boss, or the weight of making our business or venture a success.

The feeling of stress or pressure does not come from the circumstance of the to-do list (or any circumstance). It really doesn’t, and therefore the solution is not in the action, it’s in seeing the illusory nature of the noise.

 

Back to Buddha…

 

The reason the directive to extend our meditation time works is because it gets us to stop, smile, and turn the volume down on the nesting hornets.

It helps us shift our focus from the noise in the system to what actually matters. We don’t actually need to meditate for two hours, we simply need to see that listening to the noise is as helpful as a dog chasing its tail.

If there is something to ‘do’ then we know, in that instant, exactly what it is — and we are fully capable of taking the action we need to take. Once we see it, it’s as if it’s done.

 

Where are you seeing, or not seeing, the hornets?

 

What’s in your head this week? What are you looking at, or listening to, that’s the equivalent of those buzzing hornets?

And what’s lying behind that? Where is it you want to put your focus — and what do you already know to do once you can see that they are neither real, not harmful?

I’d love you to connect and let me know.

In the meantime, have a wonderful week.

With love,

Cathy

 

P.S. If you’d rather write to me privately, please use the contact form on my website — I see and reply to every email.

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The Domino Effect: Change Your Life in the Time it Takes to Read this Post

The Domino Effect: Change Your Life in the Time it Takes to Read this Post

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote out to my email list about overwhelm and why it has nothing at all to do with the size of our to-do list.

The post touched one of my readers so strongly that she wrote to me,

“Cathy, I’ve been in perpetual overwhelm for as long as I can remember and now it’s completely disappeared. I can hardly believe it! It isn’t often that something impacts me in a jaw-dropping way like this. Thank you!”

I’m happy, of course, to have had a positive impact on her — especially because time pressure is something that entangles so many people I know — especially high-achievers.

What I love most, though, is that she saw the immediate and permanent nature of how change works. What she’s seen isn’t a solution for overwhelm, it’s the key to unlocking everything she could ever want in her life.

 

Change Happens in an Instant

 

When we see something — really see it — our lives are 180 degrees different.

When something makes complete sense, looks astonishingly obvious, and yet, is so different to what we’ve seen up to now, then, then we’ve had what I call an insight.

An insight happens in a flash, and it creates a change that can look, and feel, like a miracle.

 

Stop Looking for Tactics

 

We’re tempted, when we have a challenge, or something we aspire to, to look for more things to do. We want to learn new strategies; we go to google, or to books and courses to gather information, case studies, solutions.

The trickiest challenges though — the ones that give us the sleepless nights and the stomach-knotting anxiety, don’t respond to information. They are not problems of reality, they are problems of perspective. Therefore, looking for tactics, habits, and new ways of ‘doing’ won’t solve them.

When we have a problem of perspective, we don’t need to add in more things to do, we need to do less. We need to create the space to see our challenge differently, to go back to the basic principles of how we are creating what we think is the problem.

Because, chances are, the problem isn’t what you think it is.

 

You Have it Backwards

 

It happened with a client this week.

She wanted to approach her week differently, to make space for strategic thinking rather than dive into the mundane each day when she got to the office.

She wanted a ‘framework’ and some ‘rules’ that she could commit to, because she believed that the framework would create a new (more strategic) way of working and that being more strategic in her work would create different results, thus calming the tension she was feeling.

The wiser ones amongst us, however, know that that’s equivalent to moving a pile of paper from the desk to the floor: we haven’t solved the problem, we’ve simply moved it.

Just as my subscriber didn’t need productivity tips to get over her feeling of overwhelm, my client didn’t need a time management framework to help her focus on the strategic work.

She had it backwards, as many of us do.

 

Tactics Are like Deckchairs

 

That phrase “moving deckchairs on the Titanic,” refers to the pointlessness of activities that have no impact on the real problem. Yet still, sometimes, we engage in those activities.

Much of life is like this.

Certainly for my client, searching for time management habits was about as useful to her problem as stacking deckchairs on a sinking ship. She might have a neat pile of deckchairs but the ship was only going in one direction.

As we talked more about why she wanted to create that strategic approach to her work, what she was really seeking, and why, she had an insight about the direction of her work. And, from that, she immediately knew how to allocate her mornings.

As soon as she understood what she was looking for, the action presented itself as if by magic. Action follows understanding. Always.

Sure, sometimes it’s helpful to create a framework to shift habitual ways of doing things, but in support of a direction, not because we think it will create one.

Just as turning the volume up and down on a radio makes zero difference to the channel it’s tuned into, tactics and transformation live on two separate dials. If we want to change something in our lives, we need to see it first; the ‘radio’ equivalent of tuning in to the channel we want to listen to. Then it makes sense to adjust the volume.

If overwhelm is your ‘thing’ then this post on my blog might help you see something new. If your challenge is related to something else, then read the post through the lens of that problem, because the solution will come from the insight you have, not the tactics you apply.

Have a wonderful week,

With love,

Cathy

 

P.S. If you’re curious about how coaching can help you tune the right dial on the radio, then please contact me and enquire about what options are available right now.

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What does ‘dignity’ mean to you?

What does ‘dignity’ mean to you?

A few weeks ago I spent some time with a powerful entrepreneur and philanthropist, someone I respect for his achievements but, more meaningfully, for who he is, and how he acts.

The conversation flowed from technology to culture, to creating a positive impact in the world. He’s putting a new initiative together and we were bouncing ideas around.

 

Then the Word ‘Dignity’ Came up and We Both Lit Up

 

One of the non-profits I work with has dignity front and centre of their mission, and my inspiring colleague told me the story of his grandfather, a cabinet maker who, for him, had embodied the word in the work he created. Dignity in form.

Our conversation stayed with me and today I was reflecting on the meaning of the word ‘dignity’.

It’s commonly used to describe a way of being, and the conditions that facilitate that for other. We see dignity in someone when we see a person who has agency, not dependency, who is able to express their essential humanness.

When I looked up the origin of the word, though, I saw that it comes from the word ‘worthy’. Of course there is more than one definition, but the one that struck a chord with me was this:

“the state of being worthy of respect or honour”

 

‘Worthiness’ Is a Term That Is Bestowed, It Is Earned Rather Than Claimed

 

And that made me think: what if we looked for dignity, not in others, but in ourselves. What if it was our intention, in every interaction, to come from a place of dignity, whatever the situation or perspective of the person in front of us.

We are all human after all and the more we can identify with the humanity of the person in front of us, the more likely we are to be worthy of respect or honour ourselves.

Not that honour for its own sake matters, but for the positive impact that can ripple out into the world when we act as our best selves.

I’m curious — what does ‘dignity’ mean to you? Leave a comment below and let’s start a conversation.

With love,

Cathy

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Do You Ever Feel ‘Overwhelmed’? (And What to Do About It)

Do You Ever Feel ‘Overwhelmed’? (And What to Do About It)

“OMG, I feel so overwhelmed!!”

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard those words from friends and clients.

It’s that feeling of pressure, the feeling that things are closing in on us, that we can’t complete everything we ‘have’ to do, that things around us are getting out of control. I’m sure we’ve all experienced it at one time or another.

 

And Yet…

 

…the feeling of ‘overwhelm’ is often unrelated to the reality of having a lot to do.

That might sound counter-intuitive, but there are plenty of times (right now for example) when I have a lot to do and somehow I manage to tackle one thing after another, crossing them off as I complete them. I feel busy, but I feel productive. I feel positive, not panicked.

 

What’s the Difference?

 

Whether I have a lot to do is a function of how many of my ideas I’ve decided to take forward; — whether they’ve made it from my imagination onto paper. It doesn’t always seem as if I have control over this, but I do.

Always.

An idea is only an idea until I decide to do something about it and, more and more, I wait until something really grabs me before I commit to action. If I don’t, if I act on too many of my ideas, then ‘having a lot to do’ very quickly turns into overload. It’s a function of the tasks I want to complete divided by the time available.

However, any feeling of ‘overwhelm’ is coming from my experience in the moment.

I might, or might not, have a lot to do, I might be under deadline, I might be in a habitual thought pattern about not completing everything I want to do, I might be having a ‘moment’ when I’ve allowed my thoughts to get the better of me.

Whatever is happening, my best response is to take a breath and allow it to pass.

I know, with 100% certainty, that the feeling of overwhelm is unrelated to what I have on my list of things to do.

 

Time Maths

 

We were on holiday recently and most of the day I felt pretty relaxed. We weren’t rushing to do a lot, the day started slowly, and flowed without much planning. We might see friends, go to the beach, and most days my husband talked about checking his emails or completing some small task — he talked, mind you, he didn’t always do.

“Oh well, I can do that tomorrow,” was his usual reaction when going to the beach became more important than writing to a colleague.

When he set his expectations in the morning, I think he genuinely wanted it to happen. I’d already let go of any such notion, so I just smiled when his idea got postponed to another day.

Hardly ever, though, even when the (admittedly half-baked) plans for trips or activities didn’t materialise, did we experience overwhelm.

“Ah!” I hear you exclaim, “that’s because you were on holiday!”

Yes, that’s true, but to me it looks the same as when we’re home. There are many things I add things to my to-do list that could feel urgent:

○  Book the dog in for his vaccination.

○  Write ten pages of my book.

○  Read that ‘important’ report from a colleague.

○  Do a Facebook live.

Really, the world will not end if I don’t get everything done the day I first think it.

 

Better Planning?

 

So, am I saying we should be less ambitious with what we want to do? Plan better, perhaps?

Maybe. Not necessarily though.

Some days I have a long list of things I want to do; others I focus on one single activity. I don’t schedule time and I don’t have a fixed way to plan.

What I do know for sure is that the way that I feel about what I’m doing, especially if it’s a feeling of pressure, isn’t created, and can’t be solved, by how well (or badly) I plan. There is no relationship whatsoever between what I do, and how I judge myself for the doing or not doing.

 

Reality Versus Weather

 

By separating the feeling from the reality, it becomes much obvious that feeling is fickle. So fickle in fact, that we never know what will show up, when it’s going to arrive and how long it will last.

Like the weather.

Our holiday was in northern Spain where the weather is fickle, very fickle. The promise of a sunny day can be replaced by drizzle and cloud with zero warning. And it can clear just as quickly.

That feeling of overwhelm is like a change in the weather. We can feel like superman one day and a jibbering wreck the next. And we still have the same intention about what we want to do.

The experience we’re having is as fickle as the Cantabrian weather. Just as quickly as the cloud comes over, so it will pass. It isn’t telling us anything relevant about the state of our to-do list or what action to take next. There’s certainly no reason to escalate the feeling into panic.

As we see this more clearly, it becomes easier to ignore those aberrant feelings and move our focus back to what we want to do; to tune in to what’s important in the big picture of life.

The to-do list will still be there and you can choose to take it one task at a time, or you can re-assess your priorities. It’s your list after all!

 

It Might Be Normal, But…

 

It’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed from time to time but you don’t have to get caught up in believing the feeling is telling you anything relevant about the world around you.

Being able to tell the difference, and knowing when you’re listening to wisdom versus listening to a passing rain shower is the key to creating more impact in your work and in your life.

Email me if you see the difference — or if you don’t — that’s also a great place to start a conversation.

With love,

Cathy

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Worst Advice Ever? Scenario Planning – Game of Thrones Style

Worst Advice Ever? Scenario Planning – Game of Thrones Style

“Fight every battle everywhere, always, in your mind. Everyone is your enemy, everyone is your friend. Every possible series of events is happening all at once. Live that way and nothing will surprise you. Everything that happens will be something that you’ve seen before.”

 

These words were spoken by Petyr Baelish, also known as Littlefinger, giving counsel to Sansa Stark in series 7 of the TV adaptation of Game of Thrones.

He’s advising her to play out all the angles, to imagine all possible futures, so that she can prepare for them. Given that she’s had some pretty rough moments in the show up to now, it seems like sensible advice.

 

Or Does It?

 

When I worked in economic policy, we used to call this “scenario planning” — the next best thing to having a crystal ball.

The politicians we worked with wanted to know what was around the corner, what the economic situation had in store, and therefore what response they should be preparing.

The world was (and is) complex, especially when it involves the moving pieces of the economy and political institutions, forecasts are notoriously inaccurate, and scenario planning — looking at a range of possible outcomes and their relative likelihood — became the way strategists and policy advisers made sense of an uncertain future.

Invariably though, while scenarios allowed us to model alternate futures, resources that might come in and out of government, and which parts of the electorate might be affected by them, the future, when it rolled around, usually had something unexpected up its sleeve.

 

The Ultimate Preparation

 

While life isn’t an episode of Game of Thrones (thankfully!) there are parallels in how many of us play out scenario-planning in our lives.

We think about careers, about relationships, about life plans.

“Will I be happier in job X or job Y? Is this person my soulmate? Is now the right time to have children?”

We make decisions based on what we think is coming, we try to avoid future risks, and we choose the lifestyle we hope will make us happiest in the long-term. It might be diverting, even reassuring in the moment, to plan for all possible scenarios, but can we really outwit the unexpected?

 

Prepare to Do Battle

 

Of course, in times of war (fictional or otherwise), it makes sense to ready one’s army and understand the ways of the enemy. Just as in life it makes sense to ‘sharpen the saw’ as Stephen Covey called it; to master the skills of our chosen profession and develop a deep understanding of the ‘human operating system’.

But, since we really are playing a game of uncertainty, how can we prepare for that future? How is it possible to be prepared for scenarios we can’t predict?

 

Human ‘Flight’ Mode

 

As I write this, I’m watching swallows outside my window. They’re ducking and diving, chasing insects or perhaps engaged in a catch-me-if-you-can game. It’s hard to tell if they have any motivation, but they seem to be having fun, following each other’s movement like a free-flowing dance.

The swallows are aerial gymnasts, they’ve mastered the skill of flying, yet their game seems to be something they are responding to in the moment.

It reminds me of young children running around a playground with no fixed objective other than having fun. They probably don’t even have ‘fun’ as an overt objective; they’re without thought, without intention, they’re being themselves, naturally.

This, I think, gives us the answer to the question of planning for a future we can’t predict.

 

The Playground of Life

 

Many of us still live life as if we know what’s coming — some of us even think we can control what’s happening to us! But this isn’t how the world works, and we humans do better when we accept that.

When we stop over-thinking and over-planning, when we stop running those scenarios and managing that future imagined risk, that’s when we become free to enjoy life.

Just like the children in the playground, we’re more likely to thrive if we have less on our minds.

When we’re open, we can see opportunities, and life becomes that glorious playground, full of rich experiences, and, yes, a few nasty tumbles.

If we show up more prepared to live like that, who knows what things of beauty we might create along the way.

I strongly doubt that George RR Martin is constraining his imagination, so why should we?

With love,

Cathy

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