Busting Buddha’s Knees

October 12, 2012

It was not one of my finer moments. Eyeing the soft, dry grass, I knew it was a now-or-never moment to whip out the lawn mower for the final cut of the season.

In between phone calls, I raced around the house, collecting the extension cord and my tennis shoes for a quick jaunt around the yard with our electric mower. I read Buddha, power of slow, slow living, slow movementsomewhere that grass clippings act as a natural fertilizer so I opted to mow without the clipping basket, making the mowing experience a tad louder and messier.

That’s when my neighbor decided to say hello through the hedge. In my breathlessness, I waved her off, although I hadn’t seen her all summer.

“Things to do!” I shouted over the mower’s drone.

“That’s right,” she said flatly. “You never have time.”

Ouch.

How could this be? Did I really give my retired neighbor the feeling I never have time for a chat over the fence? Did she feel slighted because I wouldn’t turn off my mower and have a gab in the light of the setting sun?

Maybe she heard the ticking of the clock in my cranium. I was busy and gave her the feeling she wasn’t important.

Back at the task, I sloppily pushed the mower around for a few minutes until our tiny lawn had been slaughtered into a diminutive version of itself.

As I flew back into the house, I caught the extension cord on the pedestal where my Buddha statue placidly rests. He tumbled to the ground, leaving a dent in the wood floor and shattering his right knee.

It was a sign that I needed to slow down. Now.

In that moment, I knew what I had to do. I headed back outside and called out to my neighbor.

“Where have you been, my friend?” I asked her calmly. She smiled. A warm exchange ensued. She suddenly felt heard, important, loved. It made me smile from the inside out.

I’m sorry, Buddha, for shattering your knee in the process. But since my mom saw the Dalai Lama live last night, I hope you’ll forgive me.

It’s a lesson I hope I’ve learned for the last time.

On What’s Most Important

September 20, 2012

Fame. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.


I work with famous people on occasion when I’m on a film or TV set. And what I’ve observed is the pressure they endure on a daily basis, trying to uphold a standard that the public has set for them. It is tiring, taxing and at best, unnerving. Everyone has an opinion of you and if you aren’t in the best of moods, it somehow lands in the tabloids the next day.

My sister once said, “I’d like to be just left of the limelight. In the mix, but not in the public eye.”

I see what she means now.

The other day I had the chance to drink champagne with several celebrities, but after a day’s work in a dusty studio that smelled of manure and pyrotechnics, I was ready for a shower and some pizza with the kids instead. So I drove the hour home, racing through the door with a heightened level of excitement to see everyone again, only to find my family busy with their iPods, laptops and television sets.

Enter the feeling of let down. It’s what my friend Donald calls the moment of doom right before you enter your familiar space at home. You know it will be different than you hope it to be, but hope dies last, as they say.

It wasn’t until we had assembled at the dinner table an hour later that I realized why I had run home instead of sipping the bubbly with the stars. It was a moment of belly laughs and connection and jokes with the kids that I wouldn’t have missed for the world. It may have been slower in coming than I had wished, but the love was there all along beneath the distraction of our digital world.

Fame can’t give you that. Family can.

Silence is a rarity in our 24/7 world. Enjoy The Soothing Sound of Silence audio post. To listen, click on the link, and you should automatically be able to hear it. If not, right click the link, then save to your desktop to listen on your own audio software.

The other day I scored major points with my son. He indirectly mentioned his concern about my iPhone obsession by commenting about how another soccer mom watched her phone more than the game.

“She’s reaaaaaaally manic about her phone, Mom,” he eyed me closely. He was looking for hand tremors, involuntary eye-twitching or anything to reveal whether or not I could take on his veiled challenge. (To my defense, I do watch his games, not my phone, but it is usually in my pocket, tugging at my thoughts even as I focus on the field).

In an effort to prove him I could do without my phone not only on the sidelines, but also in life, I snapped it off mid-day in the middle of my work week and headed for the pool.

“Looks like it’s going to be a hot one. And look, Son, I’m leaving my phone at home.” He raised not one, but both eyebrows as he watched me turn it off completely and calmly place it in the cupboard.

Can you hear the slot machine go ka-ching? Yes, I scored big with him that day. And you know what? Instead of drawing my attention to my phone screen, I had plenty of time to watch other people do it instead.

Is that really what I do all day? I watched people cling to their devices like an emphesymic patient to his oxygen tank. Because I knew my phone was at home, I felt more energetic, as if that holding pattern of “what is someone calls/texts/emails me” had been eradicated. And in truth, it had.

It appears many more of us are engaging in digital distractions than not these days.

My Wall Street trader friend on Twitter @StalinCruz pointed out an article about distracted walking that underscores our often harmful obsession with smartphones. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 1,152 Americans have been injured in handheld digital device-related events while walking in the past few years. A man recently fell onto the train tracks in Philadelphia while playing with his phone. Luckily, he was not seriously injured, but it shows how all-consuming our electronics have become that we don’t even notice the danger of our own behavior.

A University of Maryland study spanning six years found 116 cases in which pedestrians were killed or seriously injured while wearing headphones, two-thirds of whom were men under the age of 30. Fifty percent of the cases involved trains, while 33% were incidents in which a warning horn was sounded just before the accident.

Believe it or not, I have friends who leave their cellphones behind when we meet. We enjoy hours-long conversations without the need to cache, photograph or Facebook every moment we spend together for their broader network. I find when I’m with people who’d rather update their social media status than update me on their lives, it is a classic cocktail party experience in which they are looking over your shoulder for someone better to interact with. It’s distracting at best. And in the case of walking, talking and texting, it can be lethal too.

Take the no phone zone challenge today. Leave that mobile behind and reconnect with people in the flesh with your eyes, ears and fingertips at the ready for a real, not virtual, human interaction. Turning on to life is worth it.

Trust me on this one.

 

 

The title caught your eye, didn’t it? Not all things that are worthwhile have to come slowly. And although I am dedicated to the power that slow brings, I’m equally committed to human happiness. And I mean for everyone.

You can experience instant joy by doing a few simple things. So in true slow style, I offer you five methods to attain more joy in every day situations.

  1. Traffic jams. Instead of beating yourself over the head that you took the slow lane and are now trapped on the road, take a look at all the other cars in line with you. They want to get to their destination too. Smile at someone you pass. They just might smile back. Joy points: 2+
  2. “I’m late” syndrome. While we all like to be on time, life gets in the way sometimes. So if you are going to be late to an appointment, call or text the person and let them know. Chances are they’ll be equally relieved to have a few minutes to breathe themselves. If you are going to be late for an event, trust that the Universe has your back and is aligning with what is meant to be. And remember: there’s really no such thing as late: you arrive at the right time, every time. Joy points: 1+
  3. The sound of music. Listen to your favorite tunes. A good song can boost your mood in no time. Joy points: 2+
  4. Acceptance. You might find this hard to believe, but accepting that some people in your life aren’t going to change can liberate you to focus on what they can do. While I do not condone abusive behavior (and if you find yourself in that situation, please ask for help), your quirks make you the person you are. This rule applies to everyone. Joy points: 3+
  5. Gratitude. I once thanked a person who said she could never be my friend for teaching me so much about communication. She didn’t get it, but it made me feel better as I left the situation. Gratitude can heal the weirdest of circumstances. Joy points: off the charts!

So now I’m going to tell you a little secret. To unlock your joy, look at your attitude. A good attitude will give you the altitude to stand above anything life throws at you.

I’m feeling a little joy high right now. Are you?

The GPS Override

June 26, 2012

We have all learned to rely on technology for just about everything. Need a recipe? Google it. Want to know where you are in any given city? Check your map app. Care to drive blindly through a foreign city, listening only for the commands of your GPS? You know what to do.

But here’s the thing. As quick as technology has made us, it hasn’t always contributed to smart action. If you know, for instance, that you should turn left at that intersection, but your GPS is telling you to take a right (it doesn’t see the detour sign like you can), how often do you listen to the machine? I’ve become so navigation system-dependent that the mere thought of going somewhere without it sets me into a panic. Yet I remember a time when I would leave the house without even a map. It was more about knowing the approximate vicinity, then stopping at a gas station to ask exactly where you are.

Remember the days of mapquest.com in your pre-satellite-guided driving days? You’d patiently type in your starting and stopping points, print out pages and pages of directions and somehow direct yourself to the place whilst glancing down at the paper every two minutes? And there it all was in black & white.

Today I am often led astray by Nancy the Navigator, that cold-hearted voice coming from my machine suction-cupped to the windshield. As she guided me here, there and everywhere on a recent jaunt, only to land just a few paces from my starting point, I swear I could here connivance in her tone!

So I’ve made a promise to myself to wean myself off my devices every so often and to step back into life where the streets have names, and people, not machines, guide me there.

Let’s get lost together. Who knows who will meet along the way?

 

 

Imagine taking an entire day off. No cell phone. No one calling your name. No computer. No client calls. No children begging for ice cream. Just you, yourself, and, well, YOU!

Yesterday I declared a sabbatical from my every day life and headed for the hills. Well, not really. I first headed for the woods. In fact, I left my iPhone, with little battery power left, behind. After an hour power walk, I went to the gym to enjoy the sauna and a hot, albeit short, shower. Browsing the supermarket aisles for a snack, I took my time with no real purpose or timeline. I even waited patiently in line while two women and a two-year-old unloaded their heavy shopping cart onto the conveyor belt. I had two items, but didn’t mind just standing there soaking in my surroundings. What an fabulous feeling not to try to squeeze time like an orange!

I missed the train to Munich so had to wait 30 minutes for the next one. So what. I called my husband with 30% left on my iPhone battery to say I’d be home in the evening or later, in case I found a movie I liked.

When I finally got to my destination, thousands of people rushed to and fro. Seeking refuge (and warmth) in a bookstore, I sat amongst the others on a long bench made for book lovers who just want to focus on one thing: the book or magazine they were reading. I found a book on burnout, which felt purposeful enough as I am doing research for a new book on it myself.

It was there that I realized how tiring a purpose-driven life can be. When we do everything on purpose, with focus and intention, we have no real time for Bacchalian enjoyment. To do a thing simply because we want to resides outside the realm of our vocabulary. In our achievement-oriented society, having a ‘be’ day seems extravagent indeed.

But it was just the thing I needed after a string of successive achievements. When we keep our eyes on accomplishment only,  we have no time to recuperate. With all our time spent on going for the gold, we find our worth only in the doingness of things instead of realizing just being is more than enough.

Did you know you will continue to exist — that is, to be — even when you don’t ‘do’?

Where did our drive for constant activity come from? According to the book I just read, Warum Burnout Nicht Vom Job Kommt by Helen Heinemann (in nearly one sitting – it was that good), burnout comes from the blurring of the lines around our specific roles in public and private life. If we live with uncertainty as to where my role begins and, say, my partner’s ends, we are left with a domain over which we will combat. Combine the lack of clarity with a lack of pause to reconsider which direction each of us should go and a wildfire ensues. Each of us, running as fast as we can, toward an ill-defined end goal can lead to burnout faster than you can say, “Call 911!”

Slowing down and taking pause really do help because in those pockets of air we allow ourselves come the solutions to many of our issues we otherwise quickly try to sweep under the carpet.

Take the Slow Challenge and call a whole day off for yourself. What do you think you’ll discover?

Instant America

March 28, 2012

Instant gratification, high-speed Internet access, speed dating. Now, now, yesterday!

We live in a culture of speed. This infographic proves it. Yet we get more accomplished (the real reason for why we want to go so fast) if we slow down.

How will you slow down today?

A recent Workplace Survey conducted in eleven countries by the global executive staffing firm, Robert Half International, found that your  boss can be a source of great stress. Duh? Not surprising, but the reason can often be attributed to a lack of management skills, not just to the fact that he or she may be a jerk.

Other stressors in the modern workplace include:

  • increased workload
  • too few people to handle the job
  • unpleasant work environment (colleagues and office gossip)
  • inappropriate pressure from the boss
It sounds to me as if the modern workplace could use a huge dose of slow.
First, it is no wonder that more and more people are stressed out, given the bare bones staff with which many industries are forced to operate. Then, consider placing someone ill-equipped in a position of power. Add too few resources such as time, money and personnel, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for disaster.
Management skills are something everyone can learn. Just take a look at this beautiful performance leadership matrix, developed by Dan McCarthy,  Director of Executive Development Programs (EDP) at the Whittemore School of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire.

Courtesy of GreatLeadershipbyDan.com

According to Dan’s nifty model, if you’re forcing people to take action, but it has no impact on performance, that’s just plain nagging (note to self: remember the next time you insist that your kids brush their teeth RIGHT NOW, that maybe it could wait a minute). If you’re asking for action and it does impact performance, that’s managing (if, say, it’s been a while since they brushed). No action, no impact ~ you’re on vacation. No action, BIG IMPACT ~ you’re an osterich leader.
Some may have more inherent leadership talent than others, but giving people the tools to do their job will place everyone in a better position. I’m a big fan of guided training; that is, offer up pre-assessment, the training itself, then follow up with a post-training assessment. Life’s in the details. That goes for work too. For all you HR folks listening out there: follow up is everything to ensure your return on investment (ROI) hit the mark. Would you throw money at something just to say you did it? Of course not! The same goes for training. It’s worth seeing what stuck and what didn’t.
Imagine being led by someone who knows less than you? Perhaps you are a technical wizard, while your supervisor made a move across industries to land the job above you.
Now imagine how you might become an invaluable resource to that person because you know your stuff. Your boss will come to you in a pinch. Being a go-to person places you in your own position of power. You are indispensible. Chances are he or she won’t toss you under the bus (or the boss?), as long as you’re performing.
And that’s the clincher. Performance depends a great deal on your office environment. If you can’t stand the people you work with, you are more likely to experience low levels of motivation. That’s when it’s time for an assessment of your own. What are you willing to live with? What not?

Burnout syndrome*, once considered a ‘manager’s disease’, affects people across all industries. A slow-creeping form of exhaustion accumulated over years of perfectionismstress and overwhelm, burnout is not just reserved for the highest-ranking professionals. It can happen to anyone.

Health care workers are cited by the World Health Organization (WHO) as particularly prone to job burnout. Using an Iranian psychiatric hospital as an example, the WHO found that 96% of all mental health care workers experienced some level of burnout while a full half of the study respondents experienced a high-level of job burnout. 

What is job burnout?

Herbert Freudenberger, a German-American clinical psychologist, is said to have coined the phrase “job burnout,” defined as “a state of fatigue or frustration brought about by devotion to cause, way of life, or relationship that failed to produce the expected reward.” (African Journal of Agricultural Research  Vol. 5(17), pp. 2321-2325, 4 September, 2010) What was once high job motivation sinks to the depths of despair and apathy.

What causes burnout?

The causes can be varied, depending on a person’s situation. Not only work-related stress, but also lifestyle issues can lead to a high rate of burnout. Working consistent long hours, having little familial or social support, sleeping and exercising less can hinder the rejuvenation process all human beings require to lead happy, fulfilling lives.

Are some personalities more prone to burnout than others?

It is said that perfectionists and pessimists are more susceptible to burnout as it is in their very nature to push harder and harder to reach their goals. Workers that lack the necessary skills to complete their tasks, coupled with a lack of confidence, the inability to relax and so-called Type A personalities, are also at risk.

What are some of the signs?

The Mayo Clinic Web site suggests answering the following questions, quoted below:

  • Have you become cynical or critical at work?
  • Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started once you arrive?
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
  • Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
  • Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
  • Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
  • Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
  • Have your sleep habits or appetite changed?
  • Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, backaches or other physical complaints?

If you have answered yes to several of these questions, you may be on your way to burnout. The important thing is to seek medical advice from your doctor to determine whether the cause of your symptoms are burnout-related or have some other origin such as a malfunctioning thyroid or clinical depression.

How can you prevent burnout?

If you answered ‘no’ to most of the above questions, but are still concerned that it could happen to you, consider the following strategies:

1.    Just say ‘no’. Setting boundaries early with others should not be considered walls, but paths to your sanity.

2.    Slow down on purpose. Set your own speed limit. Walk slower than normal. Breathe.

3.    Recognize your inner perfectionist. If you give 115% every day, you will use up more of yourself than you have. Allow for 80% every once in a while. Use the other 20% you saved for self-renewal.

4.    Exercise. According to the German Society of Neurology, even fifteen minutes of movement every day can extend your lifespan by three years.

5.    Note your stress points. If you start to feel that cortisol (the stress hormone) tingle move up your spine, identify the situation and write it down for later analysis. The more self-aware you become in stress situations, the more control you can get over them.

6.    Make a date with yourself every day. Close the door to your office and just be. Pacing yourself will ensure sustained energy throughout the entire day.

What other strategies have you found useful to embrace the power of slow?

 

*This post should not be considered medical advice so if you are considered about your mental health, please seek medical consultation immediately.

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