I Stress, Eustress, We All Stress

stress-cartoonSome time ago I came to realize an important fact about myself. I work better under pressure. I can have a list of tasks pages long, and perhaps weeks to do them, however, I will still be the most effective and productive at these tasks just before they need to be completed. The reason for this unfortunately is largely chemical. When we are under pressure or stress, our body releases a cascade of hormones that have the effect of heightening our awareness, getting glucose to the areas of the body that need it most and creating that ability to focus and excel at the task at hand.

When we operate at our best under this sort of pressure, we experience a different type of stress. One of a more positive nature. This is typically called Eustress. Eustress is the happier cousin of distress, however the factors that determine which one you experience as a result of a particular circumstance, is dependent entirely on your outlook of the experience you are going through. If you feel you have the resources to cope with the apparent issue, both internally and externally then the situation will result in this positive type of stress. Note that I used the word “feel”. The reason for this, is your reaction is not based on the reality of the situation, but more so on your belief in your ability to handle the task at hand. Yes, it is easier said than done, and the belief really has to be internalized in order for the situation to be viewed positively.

If you have been reading the above and saying “yes, this is me exactly!”, then allow me to provide a word of caution. Eustress can turn into distress at the flip of a switch. It is worthwhile examining what those situations are so you can monitor yourself and not be caught unaware.

Too much Eustress causes Distress

When you are used to eustress being your friend, the tendency is to take on more and more work as it always seems to work out. However, be warned that each of us has a critical point where the whole picture flips. It may be one additional task, it may be something unforeseen like an illness, however it usually is something small that makes the picture change. The result is Distress. So monitor your amount of tasks.  Do not allow too many items to build up as you may land up being ineffectual with the entire lot.

Don’t forget to De-stress

Each one of us has a stress capacity. Our daily actions and activities either decrease or increase our stress capacity. Activities like exercise, meditating, family time etc. build up our stress resistance and deposit stress capacity into the “bank account”. What usually happens though, is these activities provide us with the capacity to taken on more stress. As a consequence, we land up having less time to focus on these stress reducing activities. The result? We start running low on our stress resistance reserves. When we reach the bottom of the barrel, eustress can easily turn into distress.

As we start a new year, I hope you are feeling that your stress resistance tank is full. Be mindful and ensure that each day you do some activity that puts back what you have taken out. If you have to go a few days without refilling, don’t get into the bad habit of not maintaining some balance. Try to have an awareness for the perfect amount of work that will stimulate you and keep you “in the zone” without overloading you and tipping the scales. Lastly, remember that stress is relative, and sometimes you just need to view it from a different angle. After all, it’s something we all have to live with. Yes, I stress, eustress, hell, we all stress.

So go ahead, create your life.

Are You a Depreciating Asset?

Depreciation, a term commonly used in 42-15529695business when referring to fixed assets, is defined as “a drop in value”. When we own something like a vehicle or a piece of machinery, as it gets older so the value of the asset goes down. I would like to suggest that each one of us has the same ability to become a depreciating asset. Not only to the company or organizations we work for, but also to ourselves. The good news is, we have a choice and the control to ensure that we don’t “depreciate” in our value but actually “appreciate”. Like a fine wine we can get better and better with age.

So what are the aspects to look after to ensure that we take care of our most precious possession, that being, ourselves?  There are three main areas of our lives that were we are in danger of depreciating. These are:

  • Intellectual
  • Physical
  • Spiritual/Emotional

Intellectual

This aspect relates to the work that we do. Ask yourself the question. What is the value that you bring to your workplace? When last did you do something to improve your knowledge in the work that you do? If we are not constantly increasing our knowledge around our work, not only will we will not maintain the status quo but rather our knowledge will decline as the world around us moves on. Before you know it you will find yourself being replaced by someone who has better knowledge and continues to learn. It is therefore in our own interest to ensure that we set targets for learning and increasing our intellectual capacity.  I would suggest that a goal is set for each quarter of the year.  Certain areas of the brain have the ability to improve as we get older, so take advantage of this and continue to learn. This learning need not be limited to our jobs but can also include things like, learning a new language or skill.

Physical

We all lead busy lives. Unfortunately, when the going gets tough the first thing we tend to neglect is our physical form, our bodies. Stress, fast food diets, lack of exercise, these factors all take their toll, and we risk falling prey to the lifestyle diseases e.g. diabetes, heart disease etc.

It is critical that part of our “appreciation plan”, is to look after our bodies. Make exercise a regular part of your week. The recommended guidelines are 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. This can even be broken down into 3 x 10min sessions if you do not have the time to do 30min in one go.

The benefits are too many to list but include stress resilience, reduction in disease risk factors, natural anti-depressant effect, and even brain improvement and growth. Exercise should be top of your list for your “me” maintenance plan.

Spiritual/Emotional

The spiritual aspect of our lives is an extremely personal component. It is here that we find, not only the strength to persevere through tough times, but also our compassion and ability to support others.  To be in touch with the spiritual and emotional side of our lives can provide many gifts. Some people find this aspect through religious observance, other through meditation or even music. What ever your choice is, it is important to find that activity or inactivity (in the case of meditation) that provides you with the energy of regeneration and balance.

Many of us give more attention and care to our motor vehicles than ourselves. We would not think of letting our vehicle go 1000km past the service date. We do this to ensure that the value of the asset is maintained. We should do the same with ourselves, and I suggest this “service plan” is conducted using the 3 checks mentioned above: Intellectual, Physical, and Spiritual/Emotional. By doing this and putting a plan in place we will ensure that our most precious asset not only is maintained, but actually appreciates and grows in value to ourselves and those around us. So be proactive and Create Your life!

The Secret Reason Why We Always Click on Articles That Share Secrets

Go on, admit it! afb6_book_of_secretsThe moment you see a tweet or search results come up saying “10 Secrets of ………” or “5 Secret foods that will …….”, we cant help but click away. We want to know these secrets. We don’t want to be the one who misses out. If there are secrets going around then I damn well want to be in on them.

All to often we click on the mysterious link and when we read what the fantastic secrets are, we are left with the thought that it was not such a great secret after all. We can’t help feeling that we have been manipulated into reading these articles. Even if we have had this experience ten times though, we still can’t resist. Just incase there are some real secrets we can’t risk not finding out, and we click away, wasting hours of our time.

The reason why people use these tactics to get you to read their articles , buy their products or go to their website to learn their secrets, are far more basic than we ever imagined.  It’s not because we really believe that there is some amazing piece of information available. It’s not because we think that the answer to all our problems lie in the secret information you are about to receive. Nope, the reason is far more basic than any of those, and it stems from our childhood.

Do you remember the first time someone told you something and asked you to keep it a secret. As a child it burned inside you. You felt you had to let it out and tell someone. It was also a terrible punishment if you knew that anyone of your friends had a secret and would not tell you. It’s our first experience of being excluded in society.

Often, the more the information is withheld the greater the value we place on the information. A great example of this is the book going by that awesome title  “The Secret”. The Secret holds information from over 100 years of thought leadership. Hundreds of thousands of people have purchased this book just so they will not be the ones not knowing this vital information. Yes, unfortunately there is no real mystery or magic, secrets sell.

So, you might be asking, how does this little sales secret work? My theory is that it works by tapping into two basic human insecurities. The first being, not knowing something that everyone else does, or to put it simply being left out. A fear taught to us at a very young age in primary or even nursery school. And the second insecurity, a desire to have power, or to have information that no one else does. This plays on the issue of self worth. The next time you feel compelled to click on that “secret” link, pause and think about how you are feeling at that time. What emotional triggers are being pressed and can you avoid the manipulation.

Being aware of how and why we fall for this “secret” sales ploy can now assist us in not clicking on that link. I recommend asking yourself the questions, “If this was such a secret, would it be on Twitter?” and “If there was really 10 steps to untold riches, would it only sell for $19.95?” Yes a bit of common sense can save you lots of time.

Remember, if it sounds to good to be true it probably is. Lastly, if you are looking for the best secrets online, check out………shhhhh.

Don’t Let Burnout Stop Your Blaze

As it gets towards the end of the year, many corporates move into high gear.Unfortunately it tends to be at about burnout2the sametime that most employees are feeling exhausted and burnt out, and just feel like shifting into low gear.

The symptoms of stress burnout are both physical and Psychological. Below is a list of both of these characteristics with an indication of how common the particular symptom is. The trouble with burnout is you never know you are in it until it’s too late. Your performance at work starts to decrease. You start having petty arguments with your colleagues over things that would never have bothered you before. At home, you don’t feel like talking with your significant other, never mind getting into bed with them at the end of the day. And the next day, it all starts again.

Over 50% of workers say that they feel overwhelming stress during their job (CareerBuilder.com). This overwhelming feeling of stress is a typical sign of burnout and a good indicator that it’s time to examine what is happening in your life and your reaction to situations.  When the thought of going into the office fills you with dread, you are experiencing burnout and need to get yourself on a rejuvenation mission to get the real you back in your life and your work. This article provides some tips to identify when you need the break to get your energy back and rejuvenate your mind.

The problem stems from our perception. We don’t realize we are in a burnout situation until it’s too late. Stress is a “chicken and the egg” scenario. We think we are stressed at work because we are tired and run down. When the reality could be that we are run down and tired because of the stress at work. One needs to know what the warning signs are so you can stop the downward spiral before it stops you.

Physical symptoms of stress include:

  • fatigue (51%);
  • headache (44%);
  • upset stomach (34%);
  • muscle tension (30%);
  • change in appetite (23%);
  • teeth grinding (17%);
  • change in sex drive (15%);
  • feeling dizzy (13%).

Source: American Psychological Association study, 2007.

Psychological effects of stress include:

  • experiencing irritability or anger (50%);
  • feeling nervous (45%);
  • lack of energy (45%);
  • feeling as though you could cry (35%).

About half of Americans (48%) report lying awake at night due to stress.

Source: American Psychological Association study, 2007.

Now, if you are anything like me, you have been going through the list ticking off which ones you feel are appropriate. You might even have so many ticked off that you are on the verge of deciding you need to check you your self in for some Psychological R&R. Hold the phone there, as many of the above symptoms are also part of normal stress. You need to take into account the prevalence and severity of your own symptoms.

If you have gone through this list and can identify with many of them, I suggest you do the following. Keep a diary of your stress responses, as listed above, for the next two weeks. Each day jot down how many of the symptoms you have and also make a note of what caused the particular feeling e.g. Irritability during staff meeting.

Once you have your two weeks worth of data you will be able to get a clearer view on your situation.

If you are scoring many of the symptoms on most of your days, I suggest it’s time to take some time out. Plan a week away. If you can’t manage to get the time off for a full week, take two days and have a long weekend. It is important to really switch off during this time to get the full benefit.

When you get back to work after the break, do the diary exercise again and see if there is any change. If your scores are still high, there might be something else going on. It could be time to speak to a counselor or psychologist about your feelings at work and what you can do about them. It could also be that you are not happy in your current role and the feelings are an indication that it’s time for a change.

Whatever it is, you need to give it some thought and be kind to your self. Take a break and get your energy back before you make any rash decisions. The rejuvenation might be all you needed to put the spark back into your work…and other things. Create your life.

The Dangers of Multitasking

My name is Kevin and I’m a multitasker. I need help. It starting to happen more and more often. I’m sitting eating a bowl of soup and I’m thinking, “I should be checking my email while eating, I’m wasting time.”. I’m on the phone having a conversatimultitasking3on, I open Facebook, then LinkedIn, “yes of course I’m listening to you”, whats happening on Twitter, I should go through the last proposal, got to maximise my time, wonder if I can listen to the latest talk on TED while talking, “yes, I know, that’s terrible, what it’s not? um sorry can you repeat the story.”. If I am not multitasking, I am left with a feeling of panic that I am wasting time, when in reality the opposite is true.

A great example of the ever busy, doing, multi-sensory society we live in is restaurants. Pioneering this fad in the early ninety’s , Sports Cafe’s were the start of this downward trend in human relationships. Come to a restaurant with friends, each table has its own screen, and if you find the conversation boring, well you can zone out and stare at the screen while appearing to be in conversation. Today, you would be hard pressed to find a restaurant without a TV screen. The next time you are in a restaurant, have a look at the amount of people sitting at a table together but either engaged with text messages on their cellphone or staring at a TV screen, while the people in their immediate vicinity are ignored and clearly disengaged from any personal interaction.

In business, the problem is compounded further by the many modes of communication we have available. Phones, cell phones, text messages, numerous email accounts, instant messaging, skype etc. are just a few of these. We have made ourselves so contactable that we don’t have any time to spend with the people who are lucky enough to get hold of us. I have been in management meetings where every single person in the room (except the one speaking) is answering email. I have been the boss who listened with one ear to a team member while continuing an online conversation in order to satisfy both parties. The unfortunate result is neither is satisfied. People know when we do not give them our full attention. In the end our relationships with our colleagues and staff suffer, leading to  further problems for the company down the line. In order to grow people we need to give them our attention. Half the attention will yield half the results.

We are living in a society that encourages multitasking. We are bombarded by messages all around us that tell us we have to do more. Use the tools, maximise your time, communicate and connect, do more with less. The sad fact of the matter is the more we do, the less we experience. Our minds are only capable of a certain bandwidth of experience. So while we might be able to be physically present in a conversation and type a text message at the same time, the reality is we are missing out on being mentally present with the person we are having a conversation with. When it comes down to it, our lives are an accumulation of our experiences. There is nothing more. Even the possessions we collect along the way mean nothing if we cant experience them. By multitasking we are cheating ourselves out of fully experiencing the very things we engage with. Human or inanimate, multitasking removes us from being directly engaged and the full experience.

My suggestion is that we keep a time and place for multitasking. I think a few ground rules would serve us well in this regard and here are my top five suggestions:

  • Try not to multitask when interacting with others. Apart from being rude, it robs you of the experience of the interaction.
  • Remind yourself that the value of time is in your experience during that time, not how much you can get done.
  • In business, focus on the task at hand. Set aside time for email, and messages. Don’t be ruled by interruptions of a digital nature.
  • Set aside a technology free day, once a month or once a week if you can manage. It brings about a sense of reality to the connection chaos.
  • Learn to switch off, and take back control on when to be contactable. This way you will be very present in your interactions without distractions.

I have to check my mail now and answer the phone so good luck with the suggestions. Seriously though, once the panic settles and you decide when to multitask, you will be more effective and engaged than ever before. So take back control. Create your life.

67 Minutes of Positive Thought

Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela.nelson-mandela

Today Nelson Mandela celebrates his 92nd birthday. South Africans have been asked to give 67 minutes to uplifting South Africa. I find myself at this moment sitting on a plane a few thousand kilometers above this wonderful country of which I am so proud of, thinking of a way in which I can pay tribute to this man with my 67 minutes. And so, I realized that I could spend the next 67 minutes writing this post and giving thought to all the things that South Africa has done for me, and meant to me over the years, in the hope that it will do the same for those who read it.

Firstly, it’s important to note that Nelson Mandela is an idol of mine.  Many years ago, I was asked during a Life-line Personal growth course. “who is your idol?”. This question raised some anxiety in me. I was against idolizing any human being. We all have flaws and we all contribute to this world, however small. However, instead of saying I don’t have one, out from the back of my mind I realized I did have an idol, and I found myself saying mine was Nelson Mandela. The reason for this is largely based on his ability to forgive. One of the hardest traits to master of our humanness is forgiveness. Our ego usually gets in the way. We have been schooled and brought up with the notion of fairness. Those who do wrong will therefore never succeed and the scales will be balanced.  All to often, we feel we are the one who should administer the balance of the scales. No one has taught forgiveness by example more for South Africa than Nelson Mandela. I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity in 1994 of meeting him in person and sharing a few words.

During the late eighties and early nineties many South Africans fled our beautiful shores based on a fear of South Africa’s future.  Today they still carry with them something they will never lose, an affinity and joy for all things South African, and a part of their cultural makeup. I was studying at the time and remained optimistic about the potential future that hung in the balance.  Could we pull this unified nation off?  Looking back over all those years, I think the answer is an overwhelming yes. The people of South Africa have done this, and the leadership of Nelson Mandela guiding us through those early years of transition contributed a major part to this success.

And so, here I am, giving thought to what it means to me to be a South African.

To me it means:

  • Being proud of what has been achieved over the past 16 years.
  • Being free to express the part of my culture that makes me uniquely South African. A combination of heritage and an ever-evolving aspect of  my present daily interactions.
  • Immense pride at our World Class World Cup achievement.
  • Opportunity. As an entrepreneur in South Africa, I see awesome ability and great market opportunity. We can both contribute and take part in the global economy.
  • Beauty. Our land holds awesome beauty. I have yet to see a country that holds as much diversity and splendor as ours.
  • Technology. We have first world technology. Yes we could always have faster bandwidth, but hey I work from Greyton with an ADSL connection and feel as connected as if I was working in a big city.
  • Energy. In our people and in the earth. South Africans have a reputation as being great workers overseas. We have an innate spirit of energy and it spills over into all that we do.
  • Resilience. South Africans bounce back when adversity strikes. Not only in business but also in our personal lives, our history has taught us to continue when the going get tough.
  • Our Sun. Our weather creates positivity. From the crisp sunny winter days in Johannesburg to the glorious windless summer days of Cape Town in February.  The rain brings sustenance and the sun energy for our country to grow.

This land, the people, and the leaders, all have had a part to play in getting us to where we are today. Nelson Mandela was one of the first torchbearers in this relatively short journey we have been on so far. These 67 minutes have shown me that I have so much to be thankful for as a South African. I hope they have inspired your thoughts to thankfulness instead of criticism. To joy instead of fear. To hope instead despair.  Lets celebrate the positivity of our country with Nelson Mandela as we wish him health and happiness for the years ahead.

Don’t hoot I’m studying!

One of the “luxuries” of living in the country is the drive that I regularly get to do on route to Cape Town. Rather than curse at the 1.5hrs it takes to complete the journey, I have managed to turn it into quality “me” time.  So apart from the occasional singing at the top of my voice, what, you may ask, do I do to fill the time. My answer is audiobooks.  For a few days a week I get to spend a 3-5 hours learning stuff. What a fantastic opportunity to keep the gray stuff in my head from shrinking. So what do audiobooks hold in store? Well, anything and everything really. From novels to non-fiction, business to birding, languages to love, it’s all there for the taking, at a price of course. 111 Traffic Jam

How do you go about it? There are numerous ways to download material. My favorite is a site called www.audible.com . You become a member, take out one of their package offers and away you go. However, you might be happier with Amazon, eMusic or iTunes (some good free stuff here). They all have audiobooks on offer.

The device that you listen to the book on does make a difference to the experience. The iPod or iPhone is a great device to use as it will hold your place for you when you turn it off, and it gives you the ability to take it out of the car and continue anywhere else. The best feature for me though is the ability to learn at double speed.

Did you know that our brain can absorb information far quicker than we can speak. This is the reason that we sometimes get bored during conversations…(*yawn).  Our mind is way ahead of the topic. The clever people at Apple have taken care of this by giving you the option to listen at double speed. It takes a while for you to get used to it, but after about 5 minutes it sounds no different. Normal conversation seems soooo slow.

So if you spend a couple hours in the traffic everyday, why not turn this time into productive learning time. Traffic jams become a thing of the past. You hardly notice them when you are engrossed in a chapter of a good book. My advice, get off the slow road to gray matter deterioration and onto the super fast learning highway, you won’t look back. So go ahead and do it today. Create your life.