I always have to laugh a little when I get myself in any kind of tailspin about anything. Supposedly I’m some guy who feels confident enough about the things he’s learned to help other people avoid coming all unraveled unnecessarily, writing about it all the time for a site like this and creating books like 101 Ideas to Kick Your Ass Into Gear. Well, I’d venture to guess that even the Dalai Lama gets grumpy or unsettled once in a while. Or at least most of us do; even the most disciplined students of balance, well-being and serenity are still human, and will almost certainly have a bad day now and then.
I definitely found myself coming off the rails a bit this week, and strangely, I’m glad I did. It was a great reminder of the things that mostly keep me centered, and a reminder that a certain balanced diligence is required to lead a happy rewarding life. So what had me all in a tizzy? It turns out it was the same thing that is probably at the root of almost all uneasiness, anger, or other unbalanced states. Things weren’t going my way. It started a week ago with some interpersonal challenges related to projects I’m working on, and then I worked all weekend, and things started snowballing at the beginning of the week with a series of rescheduled meetings and missed deadlines. By Wednesday morning, I was officially a mental trainwreck.
So what did I do to get “normal” again? I remembered a short list of things that that will always get me back on track. A few of them are questions that will just give me perspective, and a few are reminders that keep me going daily. But before I do any of them, there’s one other thing I do.
It’s amazing how often we forget to do that, and sometimes just pausing, taking a few normal breaths will make all the difference in the world. Stand up to do it if you can. Roll your neck a little. Let your shoulders hang. Then breathe again. When you feel more calm and centered, try asking yourself a few questions:
Do I need a break?
Am I eating well?
Did I sleep okay last night?
Can I really control this?
A lot of the most driven people I know simply forget to stop working or forget to eat, or work too late and end up short on sleep. If you’ve done any of these things, TAKE A DAY OFF for cryin’ out loud. In spite of your irrational belief that the world will shudder to a halt if you do, we’re sorry to say it won’t. Get a good night’s sleep, get your routine in order. Eating, sleeping, and physical activity should come naturally, but get derailed a lot in modern life. And the control part? Chances are, you have little or no control over half of the things you’re worked up about, and instead of focusing on how the world around you needs to change, you probably need to think about how YOU need to change to accept it, so you can be happier in it. What helps me personally do that is part pragmatism, and part prayer. Below is what I do to clear my plate a little so I know what to expend my energy on. I’ll leave you to your own devices in the prayer department if you’re so inclined.
Make a List. Duh.
Many of us are so used to making our own kinds of lists to stay organized that we may forget that there’s more than one way to make a list. One of my tools in times of duress is recommended in varying forms by a multitude of success and motivation gurus, and takes two simple steps:
First, just spew out a list of all the stuff that seems to be on your mind, without prioritizing. Try to let stuff just pop into your mind, and onto the paper without analyzing its importance.
Second, go through the list, and use whatever you prefer – numbers, asterisks, whatever – to sort the items into three basic categories:
1.) Things that could be taken care of in the next hour. Phone calls or emails you’ve put off, taking out the trash, whatever.
2.) Things that could be done TODAY. A trip to the store or the post office, a task that takes a few hours, etc.
3.) Things that won’t get done today, and require some planning and organizing. You can transfer those to a to-do list later.
Third, do all those little things! And when you’re done with the little things, tackle those “today” tasks. The simple act of making the list may actually make you feel more stressed than before you made it, but you’ll be amazed at how much more at ease you are after notching off a few trivial tasks. Then you’ll be more willing to relax a little, and that’s when your mind does its best work – when it is naturally processing information unfettered by a flurry of trivial tasks.
Feel better yet? I do.
I think I’ll take a day off.