Why Impatience Is Harming Your Work (+ How to Slow Down)

Why Impatience Is Harming Your Work (+ How to Slow Down)

Of all the desired areas for growth that come up during my executive coaching sessions, impatience is mentioned pretty often. This may be a concern that to the specific subset of ambitious and goal-oriented individuals with whom I work, but it also says something about human nature.

Now more than ever, our culture is struggling with an epidemic of impatience. There’s a video that’s been making the rounds on Facebook lately that speaks to this phenomenon: a girl of about four or five describes an experience of being caught behind a woman at the grocery store who was walking slowly. The tyke expresses her irritation, wishing that the lady would just hurry up. The video showed up on my timeline several times, and each of my friends who shared it wrote something like, “Story of my life.”

Of course, our world today is one where there are apps for everything—where a three course dinner can show up on your table at the click of a mouse or tap of a finger, and where communication occurs at lightning speed. And this attitude has affected all facets of our lives—from work to grocery shopping to social activities.

I get it: we’re used to immediate results. I’ve left many a restaurant when it looked like I wouldn’t be seated immediately, or driven circuitous routes (that ended up taking longer)  just so I could avoid moving slowly through rush-hour traffic on the highway.  But while a little impatience might be OK when you’re streaming a movie or heating up your leftovers, it can definitely work against you other times.

In a classic study on Type-A behavior, impatience-irritability was correlated with increased frequency of physical complaints. Another recent study  suggested that impatient people age faster, as evidenced by shorter telomeres (caps on DNA that prevent them from fraying). One study of teenagers even found that those who were labeled as impatient or restless by interviewers ended up earning significantly less than their peers by the time they reached middle age. And I think most of us can recognize that impatience doesn’t feel good: it makes us feel exhausted, out of control and on edge. Of course, then, its physiological effects can’t be good for us.

When I’m working with clients who struggle with impatience, I’ll engage them by asking what they’ve done to address it. The response is usually something along the lines of, “I multi-task by checking my email or thinking about other stuff while others are talking about unimportant things in meetings.”

As you can imagine, the people around them pick up on this. As a result, common complaints I hear about impatient people are that they are poor listeners, and that they can be overbearing, rude, and impulsive.

So what’s an impatient person to do? Well, here are some scientifically-proven tricks to cope more effectively with your impatience. And remember: it’s a natural feeling, but we can practice reining it in.

1. Shine light on what’s good in the moment.

While being grateful might not seem to have a lot to do with patience, one study suggests otherwise. Participants were given a writing task designed to make them feel either happy, grateful, or neutral. Then, they were able to choose between getting $54 immediately or $80 in 30 days. The researchers found that those who felt grateful were more likely to wait in order to receive the $80, compared to those in the happy or neutral groups.

In moments when you are feeling impatient, try a quick gratitude exercise in which you focus on things that you are grateful for in the moment. As a longer term strategy to increase your overall level of patience you might want to develop a regular gratitude practice (e.g. write down three things for which you are grateful at the end of each day).

2. Tune into the micro-moments themselves.

I’ve found that many people get impatient because they want to get to the end result as quickly as possible. But by doing this, they overlook their experiences in the present, and lose sight of their value.

Earlier this week, I was coaching someone who is consistently frustrated in meetings. He tends to make up his mind pretty quickly, and perceives discussion to be a waste of time. But by having this attitude, he was overlooking two very important aspects of collaborative process. First, research suggests that the more ideas that people generate, the more innovative their solutions are likely to be.

Second, if he actually wants people to be bought into a decision, it’s valuable for them to have an opportunity to talk things through. Think about it, in which instance are you likely to get more behind a decision?  (a) When you have a chance to talk about it and felt like your opinions were being considered; or, (b) when you’re simply told what to do? For most people it’s the former. By recognizing the value of conversation, you will likely feel a greater sense of ease and freedom in the moment (not to mention, you’ll gather additional information that could sway your opinion).

3. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.

“Take a deep breath”—it’s a simple (but not necessarily easy) piece of advice. Even if it feels like work in the moment, a deep breath will calm down your body and help you to quell some of the frustration or antsiness you might be feeling in the moment. (I’ve written a more comprehensive post about how to handle negative emotions through breathing and other practices.) Plus, by relaxing on a physiological level, you will likely be less prone to exhibiting nonverbal signs of impatience like fidgeting or nodding too quickly in an effort to get your audience to speak faster.

4. Make a deliberate decision to surrender.

When there’s absolutely nothing you can do in a situation, you might just want to do nothing. To empower yourself, think of this as a deliberate, conscious decision.

Your flight is delayed. You’re stuck on hold with customer service for 30 minutes (and counting). Traffic isn’t moving. In these cases and more, there’s literally nothing you can do. Will getting irritated and frustrated about it change the situation? Not at all. So, take your deep breaths and take a moment to decide you’re going to accept the situation.

5. Expand your aperture.

There’s a reason that “put it in perspective” is a common piece of advice for all sorts of issues. But when it comes to impatience, I like to think about this advice visually: imagine your point of view is a camera lens, and you can adjust the aperture to let in a bigger picture. Think about it: in the grand scheme of your life, does a few extra minutes behind an elderly person using a check at the grocery store really matter? A year from now, will you care that your colleague wasn’t perfectly concise when presenting her argument in a meeting? Probably not. So, focus on the big picture, and relax.

St. Augustine wrote “Patience is the companion of wisdom.” Cultivate yours, and appreciate the benefits.

If you need more help dealing with your impatience, I encourage you to check out my Executive Mindfulness Online Course. To learn more, click here.

 

How to Tell if You Need an Accountability Partner

How to Tell if You Need an Accountability Partner

Have you ever looked back at recent journal entries only to realize that all of the optimistic goals you wrote down never made it off the page?

Maybe you said you were going to lose 20 pounds, and actually ended up gaining five.

Or perhaps you were going to write the Great American Novel, but instead only wrote two blog post drafts, neither of which you ended up posting.

You’re not alone. A lot of well-meaning individuals find themselves in similar circumstances.

According to, research, a common reason that people fail to meet their goals is that they are too vague. Without a clear sense of what exactly you are aiming to accomplish, you can lose focus, and give up.

At other times, the goal may be too challenging (e.g. you decide you’re going to do an IronMan triathlon in two months, even though you’re haven’t run a mile in 10 years). In this case, research shows that even though hyper-ambition may improve performance in the short-term, it also may reduce your commitment and level of engagement when the going gets tough. Another common mistake is becoming so focused on the eventual outcome that you lose all intrinsic motivation to achieve the goal you set to begin with.

That said, none of these common pitfalls mean you should give up on your goals. Just because you’ve struggled to translate desires into action steps doesn’t mean you don’t have the capacity to make things happen. You probably just haven’t figured out the best work structure to support your process.

Whether you’re someone who works best alone or someone who is most inspired by collaboration, working with an accountability partner on your personal goals could be just what you need.

As the name suggests, an accountability partner is a friend or colleague who helps to hold you accountable to the goals you are setting, and each of the steps along the way.

You may love the idea of checking in with someone about your progress, or the idea may send you immediately into an anxious tailspin. Research has actually shown that setting a goal and receiving feedback results in better performance than mere goal-setting alone. Support from a coach or accountability partner has been linked to better performance and goal attainment at work and in a variety of health domains including chronic illnessdiabetes management and weight loss,  to name a few.   

If you’re curious about whether or not you might need an accountability partner, here are some clues:

1. You keep missing the deadlines you set for yourself.

If you constantly commit that you’re going to do X by Y date, but then blow past each deadline, you could probably benefit from an accountability partner. Often, the fear of embarrassing yourself by missing the deadline you promised to yourself and to another person is enough to make you get things done. I have a lot of clients who follow through on our agreed-upon action items the day before our scheduled meetings. It might be last minute, but the fact is, they’re progressing towards their goals. A sloppy, first-draft version of an action item is better than no deliverable at all.

2. You “fall off the wagon” quickly.

If you find yourself quickly abandoning your efforts to develop new habits, then you might benefit from an accountability partner. An accountability partner can be a cheerleader who encourages you when the going gets tough, or even in those moments when change feels overwhelming.

Many people become discouraged about their goals when they find themselves fixating on the “big picture” or end result too soon. They want to reach their goal perfectly and immediately, and so not being able to becomes an opportunity for self-sabotage. An accountability partner can remind you of this pattern, support you through it, and help you keep things in perspective.

3. You’re competitive, and perform better with peer pressure.

If you’re the type of person who performs better when you have an audience or someone to compete against, an accountability partner can help. For example, I never work out as hard by myself as I do when I’m working with a personal trainer. Somehow, knowing someone is watching makes my sense of pride kick in, and suddenly I’m willing myself through additional step-ups or push-ups.

Even if you’re not comfortable asking someone to be your accountability partner, you might get some good results by using social media for support (or peer pressure). One research study  even found that people who posted about their weight loss journey on Twitter lost more weight than those who were striving to lose weight, but chose not to post their progress.

4. You make a lot of excuses.

Be honest with yourself here. If you tend to make a lot of excuses for why you can’t get things done, then an accountability partner who is willing to push back and call you on it is the way to go. If you can’t count on yourself to challenge your rationalizations, then finding someone else who is willing to serve this role can help you out.

5. You simply like doing things with a buddy.

Some people simply prefer to have a partner in crime as they’re working towards their goals. It gives you someone to bounce ideas off of and a feeling of support. You could even pick similar goals and hold one another accountable.

As human beings, we are social animals, and it’s important to remember that. When we set goals, we can often be more stubborn and prideful versions of ourselves, but that stubbornness and pride can sometimes do us more harm than good. If you find yourself glomming onto the idea of a goal that you just can’t seem to make happen (even in small steps), an accountability partner might be the perfect hack for you. Seeking support doesn’t mean you’re weak—it means you’re taking action.

For more tips on working with an accountability partner, click here and here.

How to be more productive in 7 easy steps

How to be more productive in 7 easy steps

You’re a human living in 2017, which means you’ve probably got a lot on your plate. Aside from the demands of your work, you’re tending to relationships—with your family members, friends, and/or your significant other. You probably try to work in some time for hobbies, relaxation, and adequate sleep, though sometimes the balance can still be skewed. It’s a challenge to balance it all.

One question I often ask my clients is, “Are you doing too much? After all, feeling overwhelmed most often results from being over-scheduled and spread thin. Perhaps you’re engaging in a lot of tasks out of obligation rather than actual desire. If so, paring things down can be a good place to start.

But other times, feeling overwhelmed is simply a state of being, one in which you let all of your stressors stew in your head gets the better of you. What if you want to make time for all of your recreational activities, while also making sure to feel focused and productive during “to do list” time?

Well then: your other option is to increase your productivity. Easier said than done, I know.

The following suggestions are focused specifically on work, since most of my clients have found that concentrated periods of productivity at the office free up more personal time. Across the board, the key is being more present, and accountable with how you’re spending your time.  So let’s get started:

1. Track how you’re using your time.

While these suggestions aren’t exactly in a particular order, but one is a good diagnostic “test.” Unless we have scheduled meetings or phone calls, we tend not to be aware of how exactly we use our time each day. To get a more accurate assessment, start by tracking your use of time for two weeks. Simply create a spreadsheet, and make a note of how much time you spend doing various activities each hour—from responding to emails, to procrastinating on Facebook.

Once you are able to identify your prime time-wasters, you can cut back accordingly, and be more productive

2. Move some stuff off of your plate (if possible).

If you’re a leader, or in a position in which you are able to delegate activities to others, then you might want to do a self-check to see if you are delegating as much as you should. Often, we get overwhelmed because we make too many assumptions about what others expect from us, even what we expect from ourselves. For example, you may think it’s easier for you to copy and collate those slide decks, but perhaps it just feels easier because you’re anxious about relinquishing control of the project. Get curious, and honest, and ask yourself, “Is this really the best use of my time?” You may find that your administrative assistant or colleague could handle it just as easily.

As you are tracking your time (in step 1), keep a list of those activities you are doing that could be delegated to others because (a) it’s their job or (b) it could provide them with an opportunity to learn new skills. Then, dole out the assignments. While you’ll need to check up on progress (and might have to do some training), this will help you to make the best use of your time over time.

(Need some help with delegation? Take my free course).

3. Commit to doing things at a certain time of day.

Have you ever gotten to the end of the week and realized that too many of the items on your to-do list didn’t get touched?

You may not be intentional enough about scheduling. If you want to get more done, decide in advance when you’re going to do them, and write it down. Research has found that you’re much more likely to fulfill your commitments to yourself if you take this approach. The other benefit of this exercise is that it can help you re-prioritize or delegate as necessary. You may realize you don’t have time to complete all that you’ve committed to, and that will help you get more realistic about your priorities.

4. Be wary of perfectionism, and rein it in.

If you’re a perfectionist, you’re likely not making the most efficient use of your time. This statement isn’t meant to be critical, but rather to point out one of the ironies of perfectionism—that it makes you waste time and energy on things that can sabotage your productivity, and well-being.

Since you might be striving for perfection on tasks that just don’t warrant it, make a concerted effort to differentiate between the tasks that require “perfection” (e.g. a presentation to a sales prospect), versus those for which “good enough” would suffice (e.g. an email to your mom). Then, spend your time accordingly.

5. Give yourself a break from notifications.

Email is one of the of the biggest time-sucks that I hear about from my clients. Even if they commit to limiting email consumption to certain points during the day, the lure of the notification signal is too much to resist. If you’re in a position in which you don’t need to be responding to emails with immediate urgency (I think most of us are in that camp, regardless of urgent things can feel), then cut back on how often you’re checking them.

Turn off your monitor, mute the notifications, or put your phone in your bag so you won’t be tempted. It might feel hard to do at first, but across time, you’ll get used to it, particularly when you are able to appreciate the benefits of being more productive.

6. Skip the sleep sacrifice.

With all of the competing demands many professionals face, sleep can often be the first to go. If you sleep a little less, you can shove one more activity into your schedule, right? Not exactly.

Research suggests that this is flawed reasoning, as inadequate sleep is linked to fatigue, poor concentration, and decreased productivity. If you’re someone who tends to skimp on sleep, shift your priorities to include rest, and you’ll likely find that you’ll be much more efficient during your waking hours.

7. Procrastinate with intention.

AKA: Take breaks. It may seem like a paradox, but you can actually make better use of your time if you carve out time for intentional “procrastination” (e.g. not working) during the work day.

Breaks have been found to help you to refocus, increase job performance, and even increase your level of satisfaction. During those instances when you feel your energy and concentration waning, don’t try to will yourself through it with a clenched fist! Instead, take a 5-10 minute break. Then get back to work with a renewed sense of energy.

What You Need to Know About Listening to Music at Work

What You Need to Know About Listening to Music at Work

In my on-site work with executives, I always notice a a lot of employees wearing ear-buds or listening to music in the office. My first thought is to marvel at how many different songs must be playing in one office at a given time. On that note, one woman I work with, who used to work at a lively startup in Brooklyn, told me that her reason for swearing by headphones at work was simply to drown out the music being played over the company speakers. “Headphones gave me a faux-sense of privacy,” she told me. And she attributed her ability to be productive in what was a chaotic environment to to the sense of privacy she created with music.

But as a classically-trained pianist, I couldn’t imagine being the idea of music creating an atmosphere of focus and productivity. To me, music is often a distraction that causes me to involuntarily tap out the melody with my fingers. So, is there a “right” answer here? What does science say about the effects of music on performance?

Long story short: It depends. And specifically, it depends on the nature of the task you are doing—and, to some extent, also type of music you’re listening to!

In a  classic study of assembly line workers, background music was found to increase overall productivity. Based on what we know today, this net improvement was most likely due to the music having a positive effect on the mood of the workers—especially given the repetitive and likely boring nature of their work. This reminds me a bit of how music can “pump” you up during running or lifting weights.

But what if your job is more demanding from a cognitive perspective?

In a quasi-experiment of individuals in a variety of jobs in an office environment, researchers found that those who preferred to listen to music during work experienced an increase in performance, mood, and satisfaction with the organization as a result of their choice to “tune in” on the job. Again, the individuals who had the least complex jobs seemed to benefit the most from the addition of music.

However, for surgeons  (who have pretty complex work, if you ask me), listening to music on the job has actually been linked to greater relaxation, speed and accuracy. The possible explanation posed by the study authors is that music helped them because they were experts familiar with their work, and were simply uplifted by (rather than distracted by) the music in the background. Further, since their work was primarily nonverbal, any presence of lyrics didn’t interfere with their ability to concentrate on the task at hand.

In another study, researchers found that the quality of work in a sample of software designers also improved while listening to music. Again, as is case for both the assembly line workers and the surgeons, this effect was likely contingent on the relationship between improved mood and productivity. And although lyrics might be distracting to some (which I’ll tell you more about below),  they didn’t  interfere with their ability to concentrate because of the nonverbal nature of the work.

Now, with all that said, music—especially music containing lyrics—may be a distraction if you’re engaging in complex, verbal tasks, emphasis on the “verbal.”

If you are engaging in complex verbal tasks that involve memory, analysis and/or comprehension, you might want to turn off the music—particularly if you are an introvert. Not sure? Let me explain.

In one small study  of introverts and extroverts (as assessed by the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire), the researchers examined the effects of listening to pop music while engaging in a memory task in which participants had to remember objects immediately or after a delay, and a reading comprehension task. They found that performance on the immediate memory task was hampered when listening to music for both groups. In addition, introverts revealed a significantly worse ability to remember objects after a delay than extroverts (and also performed significantly worse than introverts who did the same task in silence). This same pattern of hampered ability was seen in introverts who completed a reading comprehension task while listening to music. The researchers suggested that because the introverts in the study reported that they were less likely to work with the radio on and that they listened to the radio less in general, the study itself put them more outside of their preferred work style comfort zone. I also suspect that because introverts tend to be more likely to process internally and can find too much external stimulus to be draining, the music might have been more of a distraction to them.

Now, if none of these study findings felt relatable, perhaps you are just one of those people who just feels powerful when listening to music—and you are not alone!

Remember the ubiquitous meme of Michael Phelps  listening to his headphones during the Rio Olympics? Did that meme resonate with you?

Well, science may still be supporting your choices, as research has shown that music may help you get pumped up before a big meeting or presentation. Though once again, it depends: You have to pick the right song.

In one study, researchers had undergraduates complete a variety of tasks while listening to music that had either been identified as “high power” or “low power” by another group of subjects (these ratings were not correlated with the lyrics). They were then asked to complete ambiguous words that could be completed with powerful or non-powerful words. E.g. p – – – r (someone could choose power or paper, for example). Those in the high power condition were significantly more likely to choose “high power” words than “low power” words, suggesting that an implicit feeling of power had been elicited through the music. Researchers also found that listening to powerful music enhanced abstract thinking, feelings of control over future events, and subjects’ willingness to go first in a debate (i.e. showing more assertiveness).

If you want to harness the power of music, choose songs with heavy bass, as researchers found that tracks with strong bass-lines were associated with higher feelings of power among listeners, as  compared to those who listened to music with less bass.

PS: In case you’re wondering what songs created these effects, the high power songs were: “We Will Rock You” (Queen), “Get Ready for This” (2 Unlimited), “In Da Club” (50 Cent), while the low power songs were “Because We Can” (Fatboy Slim), “Who Let the Dogs Out” (Baha Men), and “Big Poppa.” (Notorious B.I.G.)

How to Improve Your Sleep Quality…and Boost Your Success

How to Improve Your Sleep Quality…and Boost Your Success

Recently, I was coaching a client I’ll call Justin, who was complaining about his difficulty falling asleep. As his company goes through major structural transitions, Justin is, unsurprisingly, very stressed out. As a senior executive, he has a lot on his plate, and often finds himself obsessing about what he needs to get done rather than just diving in.

To be clear, Justin has good reason: as an analytical guy, he typically tries to address all sides of a given issue before making major decisions or taking definitive action. While this problem-solving impulse is definitely a huge asset for him on the job—when having to develop new business strategies, or engage with clients—it can be hard for him to turn it off at night when he’s trying to go to sleep.

And Justin’s definitely not alone. I can’t tell you how often I hear about sleep issues in my work. There are the top managers who rely on cutting back on sleep as a way to get more done (especially before big meetings or presentations); then there are the company founders plagued with insomnia, who spend their sleeping hours stewing in questions and obsessions about high-level business matters. Across the board, the likely result of poor sleep is fatigue, poor concentration, and hampered productivity—plus a range of conditions spanning diabetes to immune suppression. Needless to say, pulling all nighters is rarely “worth it.”

So, how common are sleep issues?

Well, let’s just say it’s not just company founders who are finding themselves struggling to get some shut-eye. According to the American Sleep Association 30% of Americans experience short-term insomnia, and 10% have chronic difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep during the night. Further, inadequate sleep (or consistently getting low-quality sleep) has been shown to increase stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, leading to all the ill effects associated with chronic stress—from reduced focus to hypertension and high blood pressure, among others.

Bottom line? If you have sleep issues, they are affecting way more than just the quality of your life—because the quality of your life affects the quality of your work.

If, like Justin, you often find yourself awake at night stimulated by work-anxiety, here are some suggestions.

1. Tire yourself out.

For those who deal with chronic insomnia, moderate aerobic exercise has been proven as an effective sleep-aid: regular exercise has been shown to halve the average time it took to fall asleep, while also improving sleep quality and feelings of restedness in the morning. These research results stem from a relatively long-term study (the duration of which was several months), suggesting that regular exercise isn’t a short-term fix, but a worthwhile investment that will have a positive impact on your sleep (and your mood, your relationships, your diet, and a myriad of other facets of your life).

2. Be disciplined with a bedtime ritual.

Those of us who have children know that parenting experts frequently suggest having some sort of a routine to get the kids mentally and physically prepared to fall asleep (e.g. I use a bath, book, and lullaby with my preschooler). Yet most of us ignore this wisdom when it comes to ourselves, instead choosing to “lull” ourselves to sleep by checking email, surfing social media, reading news reports about crime or politics, or something else equally unsettling.

Well, the parenting experts have long-been right: just like our children, we do far better when we are conditioned for sleep with a wind-down routine of our own. So try going to bed at a consistent time each night, choosing a relaxing activity or two (e.g. bath, reading, quiet time, meditation) as a lead-up to bedtime, and you might find that it helps you to wind down and go to sleep.

3. Resist the temptation for digital distraction.

Perhaps it’s comforting to know that our entire culture is constantly tempted by distraction, inundated with images, updates, notifications and more at all times. Whatever your reaction, it’s clear that indulging these distractions isn’t a recipe for relaxation.

When you’re tossing and turning in bed, it is certainly tempting to pass the time by scrolling through social media or getting caught up on your stack of magazines. However, by doing these things, you’re engaging your mind in activities it finds “interesting,” and therefore increasing the odds that you’re not going to fall asleep.

Fortunately, I’ve never had problems with insomnia; but I have spent countless nights staying up later than I wanted to be because I got sucked into Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. (If you’re wondering if that extra time spent scrolling was particularly edifying or enriching to my life, the answer is no). If it’s too hard to resist the siren call of your smartphone, don’t keep it near your bed.

4. Establish—and maintain—healthy spatial boundaries.

Commit to putting your work away at a certain time, and stick to it. And, while it might be comfortable set up your laptop and work in your bed (even before your cut-off time), if you have sleep problems, you should really avoid doing this. Aside from the fact that it’s bad for your posture (my massage therapist has admonished me for this on multiple occasions), it’s also strengthening a connection between your bed and work. (i.e. like Pavlov). A classic piece of advice from sleep experts is that the bed should be reserved solely for sleep (and sex). (Similar reasoning to the wind down routine – want to condition yourself appropriately).

5. Schedule your “worry-time.” Really.

This might sound counterintuitive, but it’s a Cognitive Behavioral Technique (CBT) for people who suffer from anxiety disorder. Select a time on the calendar during which you deliberately decide to devote 15 – 30 minutes to worrying.  You can aim to do this every day for a week or more. And instead of leaving it to chance,  insert it as an entry on your calendar, along with a reminder. Think of it as a trick for your mind.

Strangely, when we are having anxious thoughts, we usually try to avoid them; we feel like we shouldn’t be worrying, or start telling ourselves stories to try to convince ourselves that we feel differently. But with this paradoxical technique, you are actually embracing your worries, and giving them less power. During your “worry appointment,” spend the whole time worrying about whatever problems are bothering you.

This might cause anxiety the first few times, and that’s normal. But what tends to happen over time is that people can become bored with their own worries, which are often repetitive. The other benefit of this approach is that when you catch yourself worrying about something at other times during the day, you can tell yourself, “I don’t need to think about that right now— I’ll worry about it later during my scheduled time.” (And, since you have the time scheduled to do so, you actually will).

6. Vent about your stress…to your journal.

Research has shown that expressive writing can help to reduce intrusive and avoidant thoughts. To make this exercise effective, focus on creating a cohesive narrative, using words related to cause and insight. In other words, try to use the writing to make sense of the experience – instead of just getting stuck in the worries, look at the meaning you can make of it, or the learning you can experience from the events. (e.g. If you have a friend that is constantly complaining about the same thing over and over, it’s unlikely to make her feel better. However, if she is gaining perspective and growing as a result of the experience, then the mental exercise is much more likely to be beneficial to her).

7. Keep a notepad by your bed.

When you have a lot going on in your daily life, it’s totally natural to feel your upcoming tasks and agenda items tugging at your mind when you’re lying in bed each night. There are the projects steps that need to get done, the ideas that need to be generated, the people you need to remember to call.

To deal with this, it can be helpful to keep a notepad by the bed, so you can make a quick note of these thoughts when they came up, rather than ruminating about them. In my own experience, this little trick saves me from the worry that I’ll forget the thoughts. And once you write the thoughts down, think of it as a release—then you can think about something else. (And, if you’re thinking you’ll save yourself a step by entering these ideas straight into your favorite organization app of choice, I recommend staying with the old school approach so that you don’t get pulled into all of the other potentially distracting delights that your smartphone has to offer).

8. Give your mind something else to do.

Instead of counting sheep, you might want to try out University of British Columbia researcher, Luc Beaudoin’s technique called the “cognitive shuffle.” To do this, when you are in bed, come up with a word that has no repeating letters. Then, think of words that start with each letter of the word. For example, if you came up with the word “plate,” you would first, come up with a list of words that start with “P,” then “L,” “A”, and so on. Apparently, this strategy is engaging enough that it gives your mind something to do instead of worrying, but not so exciting that it will get in the way of falling asleep.

9. Meet your new friend mindfulness.

I know you’ve probably heard the benefits of mindfulness touted for productivity, but hear me out. Developing a regular mindfulness practice  will also help you to create a different relationship with your thoughts, and help you relax a bit—especially before bed, when monkey-mind can go wild.

The Greater Good Center at the University of Berkeley defines mindfulness as “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” A simple mindfulness practice is to strive to observe your breathing. As you notice thoughts coming up, gently notice them, let them go, and resume focusing on your breathing. Repeat this process throughout your practice.

By learning to observe your thoughts with a greater sense of spaciousness, you’ll get more skilled at letting them go, instead of getting caught up in them. With consistency, your mindfulness practice will create changes in your brain that will help you to better regulate your emotions and stay calmer.

To learn more about the benefits of mindfulness and how to develop a practice of your own, click here.

 

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