Many of us are aware of the importance of creating a balanced financial portfolio, but do we know how to create a balanced life?
Having an out of balance lifestyle leads to poor health, career burnout, chronic stress and depression. In a recent study , researchers found that obese individuals reported significantly lower life balance scores and much more stress. It’s likely that a chronically imbalanced lifestyle leads to obesity and other health concerns. Researchers have documented the emergence of a new personality type that emerges from increased the stress and burnout created by an imbalanced lifestyle. A type D person is distressed and often exhibits certain personality traits including negativity, pessimism, depression, anxiety, and loneliness, and a decreased ability to relax and enjoy leisure time.
You can avoid these negative outcomes and achieve a more balanced life by concentrating on building a balanced life portfolio. A solid financial investment fund is managed carefully to provide a diversity of investment vehicles that provide the greatest return while limiting losses. Balancing investments against each other ensures that when some investments fall others will rise to cover the losses. We can use this portfolio metaphor to help us achieve balance in our lives as well. Below I identify three ways in which you can use your financial wisdom to help you achieve more balance in your life.
You can organize your life portfolio into seven different types of investments:
Think of the time, attention, and money you have as resources that you can invest in each of these seven areas. Make choices to invest your time and energy in alignment with your values and priorities. Rather than viewing these as individual choices, we can consider them as a part of our life portfolio.
For example, you may place a high priority on your career and make time and energy choices accordingly. But what if something happens that makes pursuing your career no longer possible or desirable? What else are you investing in that will balance that loss so that you are still living a fulfilled and happy life?
Diversification does not need you to place equal investments in each of the seven areas of your life. But it does need you to pay attention to each and investing in your goals for this area of your life. Do you see investments in each area in your calendar and checkbook? How we spend our time and money reflects our values and priorities. If one or more of these seven core life areas do not appear in your monthly schedule and budget, your life is likely out of balance.
You are the one who decides where to invest your resources. The concept of investing your time highlights the centrality of choice. We always have a choice in how we spend our resources, not matter how limited those resources may be.
Too many times we complain about our lives being out of balance as if we are not the ones directing the show. Imbalance is a product of abdicating our power of choice to others. It is also the result of refusing to make choices based on our priorities.
In this brief video , I explain how we give our power to choose away when fail to distinguish “should” from “must”. “Should” focuses on what others want from/for us. Yet, “must” is driven by our life purpose and core values. Identifying our “must list” pulls us forward, creating energy, productivity and joy in our lives.
Thus, we need to gain clarity on our purpose and core values to build a life of balance. If you are not yet clear on these two items, this is the first step to your balanced life. You can sign up for a free life planning toolkit to help you specify your life purpose. You can also take a free on-line survey to help you identify your core values. The survey will also show whether your core values are out of balance in your life.
You must check the performance of your investments at regular intervals. The concept of investment also reminds us to make and test these choices in light of future goals. You are not “spending time” doing an activity, you are “making an investment”. Like financial investments, we can expect that the “return” on the investment increases.
What are your goals for your relationships? What are your willing to invest in those relationships to achieve that goal? How will you know if you have achieved or are on target to achieve your goal? As you can see, life balance requires that we have clear and measurable goals in every area of our life. This is what enables us to assess whether we are on target or need to revise our investment strategy.
Moreover, regular assessment allows us to keep our life portfolio balanced over time. The only constant in life is change. We start new relationships, end previous careers, get new interests, develop different health needs. Each of these life events produce change in other areas of our lives.
Every financial broker will tell you that diversification is not a one-time action. Some investments will outperform others. Thus, the most balanced financial portfolio will become out of balance without readjustment. This is why you need to reallocate your acquired resources to reflect your goals.
Reallocation is needed in our lives as well. The changes we experience in our lives require reassessment and reallocation of our time and money. When we do this based on a concrete assessment of our goals and progress, we make sure that we are continually creating a life of balance.
Balance isn’t just something you do. It is a never-ending, and limitless, act of being. By practicing the tools described in this article, you are inviting this state of being into your life. Once you have mastered the concepts and applied the strategy of choosing to focus on what matters most to you, the opportunities, joy and passion your life will expand to fill the horizons of what you can dream. I challenge you to fully explore the possibilities of this evolution of self.
Think of how you currently or are planning to allot your available investment of time and energy. Which of the seven areas (environment, career, relationships, spiritual life, health, personal growth, recreation) are strongly supported in your investment fund? Write down your top three goals in each of the seven areas. Have you allotted enough time and energy to meet all three values and priorities consistently? Which areas are “underfunded?
Make a commitment today to reallocate your life portfolio to create more balance. Do not allow your precious resources to be “wasted” or spent based on other people’s values and priorities. Now that you are clear on you priorities in each of your life areas, commit to funding your goals. You have enough time for everything that matters most; it’s up to you to decide what matters most.
Congratulations! You are well on your way to creating the energy, time and balance you need to live the life of your dreams! If you’d like more support in balancing your life portfolio, feel free to contact me or post your questions and challenges below.
How can effective time management help us support ourselves? Many of us are great supporters of other people. But, we have never thought about what it means to support ourselves. We are great supporters of our family and friends. Great advocates for the social issues we care about. We take pride in the myriad of ways we help others achieve their goals. So what does it mean to support yourself?
Supporting yourself involves the same activities we engage in to support others. Supporting yourself means developing your capacity to live your best life. It means directing your attention and resources in developing your potential to the fullest. This involves investing the time to needed to identify your life purpose. Then, focusing with laser like precision on expressing that purpose in your life. Effective time management enables you to create a life that supports you.
I have been obsessed with time management ever since I can remember. As a child I loved the book Cheaper By The Dozen. I was enthralled by the father who sought to do everything in the most efficient manner possible. This made sense to me because I knew that time was a limited resource.
Time is the great equalizer, in that we all are given the same 24 hrs in a day. How we spend those 24 hours determines how many days and how fulfilling the future days will be. I remember my father explaining to me that if our entire lives were compressed into a day, we would only be in school for a few hours. But, those few hours of the day would make the rest of the day more enjoyable. I’d have resources and freedom to pursue my inner desires. That seemed like a fair trade to me and I decided that suffering through a little bit of pain or boredom was a reasonable exchange for my future enjoyment.
I spent much of my time trying to find the most efficient way to manage my obligations. This would enable me to have the most enjoyment of the rest of my life. This approach to time management was limited in its effectiveness. As the tasks I had to do became longer and more complicated, the dreaded tasks still took many hours, weeks, months or years. Worse yet, I was setting myself up to live my life “later”, after I had completed X, Y, or Z tasks.
I know that I am not the only one who struggles with this approach to work and life. Many people are waiting for “the summer”, “the next promotion”, “retirement”, “marriage”, “children”, “an empty-nest”, ect until you feel free to “live your life”. Stop waiting. Now is the only time you have. Now is the perfect time to support yourself.
Completing the tasks in front of you and enjoying your life need not be mutually exclusive activities. You do not have to wait for “your turn” after you have finished all the tasks on everyone else’s list. You can structure your daily activities, and your life, so that you are productive AND filled with excitement and joy. The secret is learning how to manage your energy.
Many people mistakenly think that enhancing your capacity to be creative and productive is only about managing your time. While time management is important, managing your energy is a more effective means to enhancing your creativity and productivity. Managing your energy requires becoming more aware of your moment by moment energy levels and the life factors that influence them. As you become more aware of what influences your energy level, you can delegate energy draining activities and limit your exposure to energy draining people.
Like time, your energy is a valuable and limited resource. If you do not manage it well, you will find that there is no energy left for you to do the things that you want to do. You don’t have the energy left to write your book, exercise, socialize, ect. Even though these activities are important to you, you can’t find time to do them. At the end of the day, all you have energy for is vegging out on tv and dreaming about your future life. The future is when you believe that you will have the opportunity to live out your desires.
Unlike time, you can actually “create” more energy. By managing your activities well, you can plant seeds that will “grow” your energy levels. You do not have to settle for your current amount of energy. You can expand your energy reservoir by intentionally choosing energy expanding activities. This approach to life will enable you to get more done and feel better about yourself and your life in the process.
Below I discuss two actions will substantially expand your energy levels while improving your productivity and creativity. Implementing these actions, will help you to go to bed happier, having accomplished more in your day, sleep better, and wake up feeling more refreshed and excited about your day. This is how you support yourself. This is giving yourself what you need to live your best life now, not “someday when…”
I encourage you to practice these two actions daily. Make sure to track the changes you observe in yourself and your life as you do.
The definition of energy expanding activities is any thought or action that fills you with energy and joy as you take part. For obvious reasons, what counts as an energy expanding activity varies from person to person.
To identify your energy expanding activities, you can track your energy levels throughout the day. On a hourly basis, asses you energy level on a scale of 1-10. Notice, how the level increases or decreases throughout the day. Write down recent activities that you think might be associated with the changes in your energy level.
Try to identify at least 20 energy expanding activities of various forms. Some you can do with others, some you do alone, some cost money, so are free. You get the point. The goal is to have a variety of energy expanding activities that you can add to your day on a regular basis. You also want to have some that you can add “as needed” to help pull you up after an unexpected energy draining activity. Think of this as your emergency self-care kit.
Too often we blur the lines between these two types of activities. That is a serious drain on our energy level and a damage to our quality of life. But, when you distinguish the must list from the should list, you can manage your energy more effectively.
“Must list” is important because it helps you achieve what you truly want. It is connected to your life purpose and allows you to fulfill the personal goals you’ve set for yourself. If your goal is to be an Olympic swimmer, you must practice on a regular basis. But if it is your mother’s goal for you to be an Olympic swimmer (or get married, or move closer to home, ect), then the activities associated with this goal does not belong on your “must list.” These activities are examples of “shoulds”.
Shoulds are only important because they help you to conform to what others want you to do. When you find yourself saying “I should do…..” what you are actually communicating is that someone else wants this for you more than you want it for yourself. “I should exercise… study… go out more”. All these activities are things you think others expect from you. That is why doing them feels draining.
The best way to expand your energy and live a productive and creative life is to eliminate everything on your should list. Once you stop doing the things on your should list, you will have more time and energy for your musts. What?! Am I suggesting that you don’t exercise, study, or get out of your comfort zone? If you can not connect these activities to goals you find personally meaningful, your attempts to do them will be unsuccessful and draining.
Respect what creates energy for you and focus on deleting the things that drain your energy. Connect your regular activities to things that give you personal meaning. This produces a magical multiplication of hours in the day. You will get more accomplished in a day and feel happier doing it.
You do not have to wait for the future to start living the life you desire. Support yourself today. Restructure your activities around your purpose and watch your energy and joy grow!
In my book, Your Life As A Celebration, I discuss how you can transform your life into a celebration of you. You can create a life that affirms your core values and engages in your life purpose. In short, you can create a life that honors your purpose, personality and perspective. This is a life that fills you with energy and joy because it is an authentic reflection of you. Rather than living into someone else’s definition of success, you are able to create your own personalized success vision. This personalized vision of success inspires you to take action. Your inspired actions transform your life into a true reflection of your innermost desires. Here success is not a destination, it is the process as well. The goal is to have every day be and more complete expression of your talent and purpose.
One way to express and track this transformation is through your birthday celebration. Your birthday becomes an opportunity to celebrate what you love about yourself and life. Your birthday also allows you to track your progress of becoming more authentically yourself. Here, I describe the process of turning your birthday into a celebration that honors the gift of you.
Everyone who knows me, knows how serious I am about my birthday. I have never gone to school or work on my birthday. My friends say that’s because I have a summer birthday. But I believe that if you only celebrate one holiday a year, it should be the day you were born. It’s a celebration of your life and all that you contribute to the world. That is worth missing a day of work or school.
Unfortunately, too many women avoid celebrating their birthdays. For them birthdays marks their decline in beauty, vitality, and worth. The negative images associated with aging lead many women to attempt to remain 29 years old forever.
Yet as you connect with your life purpose, you will find that you have much to celebrate with each passing year. You are no longer wandering through life or looking backwards to some romanticized glory days of youth. You are daily living out your life purpose. You are nurturing your gifts and contributing them to your community. This is definitely worth celebrating. Since you grow within a community of supporters, your celebration should also be communal.
With each passing year, you know your heart better. Now you can incorporate that wisdom into activities that fill your life with purpose, meaning and joy!
My birthday celebration takes up an entire month and is affectionately known as Keshapolooza. I encourage you to make your own personal birthdaypalooza. It may be a day, week, month, or even a year for special milestones. Regardless of the length of time, it should be a celebration of your life’s purpose and contribution.
Here are some questions to consider to help you plan your own birthday Palooza:
Joy is an amazing emotion in that it feeds off itself into expanding circles of joy. Regardless of what they are, joyful activities will shape your bio-cognitive functioning. For a better understanding of how your emotions influence your health, read my article on natural boosters of your immune system. The experience of joy also improves your general sense of well-being. Thus, it changes how you experience other areas of your life.
Living a life of purpose is critical for your happiness. Individuals who have a clear sense of meaning and purpose in their life are happier, healthier, and live more productive lives. While most people are clear on the importance of life purpose, they remain confused about how to identify it for themselves.
If you are looking to gain clarity on your life purpose, sign up for my free life planning toolkit. This resource will guide you step by step in identifying your life purpose. You will then use that purpose to craft your personal mission statement and vision statement for your life. These resources serve as guideposts in decision-making about your time, energy, and resources. They also inform the imagery and symbolism of your birthdaypalooza. Because, the symbols of your birthday celebration are powerful affirmations of your life purpose.
The answer to these questions will give you a concrete lists of people and activities to include in your birthday celebration. You may not be able to do all these activities, or include all these people. But this will serve as your initial brainstorm planning list.
Be as creative as possible in thinking about how to include this list in your celebration. If an activity you dream about doing is climbing Mt. Everest, perhaps you can include indoor rock climbing or a local hick as part of your celebration. Or perhaps you can include images of Mt. Everest in your celebration.
There may be people on your list of ideal birthday celebrants who live far away or are no longer living. Think creatively about how you can connect to that person or your memories of that person across the distance. Remember, this is your celebration. Whatever activities evoke personal connections for you are ones that you want to include. This reminds you that you are not alone and allows you to experience the joys of life with your community. Such social connection is crucial for happiness, health, and longevity.
Food is a sensory pleasure that connects us to feelings of satisfaction and well-being. The strong connection between food and emotions is where the “emotional eating” ritual begins. Except now you are not using food to escape painful feelings. Rather than mindless eating, you intentionally savor the food and all the other sensory aspects of your celebration. This practice of mindfulness intensifies the joy and pleasure of the experience.
Music has been described as the “universal language” because of it’s ability to communicate directly to our souls. With our without words, music moves us. Music is highly personalized. What moves us may not have the same effect on others.
For your birthday celebration, identify a piece of music that is particularly moving for you. Make sure that this music inspires you and reminds you of your life purpose. This will be your “theme song.” Every great movie (and great hero) needs a theme song and so do you. You should play your theme song frequently throughout the day, throughout your birthday celebration, and throughout the year. Play it when you are feeling happy, depressed, confused, angry, ect. Play it whenever you need reminding of your purpose and inspired into action. You may need different theme songs for different phases of your life. I change my theme songs annually.
Remember that your birthday celebration is a way of tracking and celebrating your self-discovery process. Be as specific as possible about what you have learned about yourself and about life in this past year. Each birthday is a sort of graduation celebration. You want to be clear on what you have accomplished thus far. We recognize that life is a journey. Therefor we can look forward with anticipation to the upcoming year(s) and all these wonderful gifts we will discover and experience in the next leg of our journey.
Write all your answers to the questions above in your birthdaypalooza journal. These will become the seeds of your creative brainstorming about how best to honor your life journey this year. The form of your birthday palooza will change with each year, but it should always be a “full-sensory” event, including sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and movements that bring you joy and help you to connect with your life’s purpose. The meanings of these objects and activities do not need to be obvious, only significant to you. You may decide to consult books about color therapy or aromatherapy in your selection of specific images and smells, or you may choose to go with what you know at your gut level moves you. This is your personalized holiday and today you can have it your way!.
I’d love to hear about your birthday palooza and join in your celebration. Please feel free to share photos, cards, or notes about your process. You can tweet photos and descriptions of your birthday experiences to me and our community @coachkesha #birthdaypalooza. Your celebration is not selfish or self-centered. It is a public recognition that you are a unique creation and that your life matters. This is true for you and for everyone else who shares this planet with us. Honoring yourself gives others permission to do the same.
We like to think of some people as particularly gifted or talented in some areas. We think they they are born with innate abilities that make them masters in specific arenas. Yet, the mythology of giftedness is damaging to us as individuals and as a society.
First, the ideology of giftedness is problematic because it is empirically untrue. Second, the belief in giftedness perpetuates social inequality. Third, the myth of giftedness encourages people to avoid the pursuit of their dreams. In this article, I discuss how you can avoid the pitfalls of the gifted myth. You do this by using a growth mindset to fully develop your talents and achieve mastery in your chosen field.
Research has shown that our ideas about innate giftedness does not explain outstanding performers. They argue that we should not think about the distinction between mastery and proficient as the product of innate talent. Rather mastery, and what we call talent, is the product of consistent practice.
K. Anders Ericson’s research produced the 10,000 hours rule of thumb. He observed that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve mastery in any area. That’s approximately 3 hours of practice a day for 10 years. Thus, the difference between the individuals at the top of their fields and the amateurs is many, many, MANY hours of practice.
In a study of young musicians, Ericson and his colleagues asked teachers to rank the students according to their “talent”. The teachers were asked to identify those individuals who were the most talented. These were musicians that the teachers believed to have the most promise for international music careers. Surprisingly, the teacher’s evaluation of the student’s talent was actually a reflection of the students’ hours of practice. Those students who were judged as most likely to have outstanding international music careers practiced on average for about 10,000 hours. Those identified as “good” by their instructors had practiced for approximately 8,000 hours. Those considered the least accomplished practiced for approximately 5,000 hours.
Thus, what we are labeling as evidence of “talent” is the reflection of differential amounts on practice.
Ericson asserts that 50 hours of training is enough to allow you to become competent. This average is applicable for any skill with a moderate level of difficulty. These fifty hours of training allow your body and mind to learn how to make the appropriate response automatic.
Yet, those individuals achieve the mastery level commit to never stop learning. This is what enables them to dominate their field. The masters work with coaches who give them the feedback needed to constantly improve their performance. In the video below, legendary basketball player Michael Jordan discusses the importance of practicing with a coach. He identifies consistent practice and direction from his coach as responsible for taking his game to master level.
The ideology of innate levels of giftedness supports the practice of tracking in our schools. This logic suggests that students will perform at the best level for them when grouped according to ability.
Research shows that tracking doesn’t improve student learning. But tracking does expand social and economic inequalities. Rather than an assessment of ability, the notion of giftedness is often a reflection of social privilege. Those individuals from more privileged families (e.g. higher SES, white) are more likely to be evaluated as gifted and placed the more advanced educational tracks. This is a pervasive pattern that has been observed in a variety of schools and states across the country.
We deny opportunities for learning and success to many students by reserving the “enriched” curriculum for those identified as gifted. Yet, schools that are effectively “detracked” show high achievement across all groups of students. Countries such as Finland that do not practice tracking students according to ability demonstrate the highest overall scores of educational achievement. They also show the smallest range of achievement gap amongst its students. Rather than seeing intelligence and ability as a fixed entity, we now know that our capacity changes with our environment.
In her groundbreaking book, Mindest: The new psychology of success, Carol Dweck shows that perceiving our intelligence, talent, and abilities as something that can grow improves our performance and happiness. This growth mindset suggests that we can expand our ability in any area. But the fixed mindset implies that our level of ability can not be changed by our efforts.
Dweck’s research shows that you truly are what you believe about yourself. Individuals with a fixed mindset experience lots of stress from trying to prove their ability over and over again. They are more likely to give up or not try when things are challenging. Yet, individuals with a growth mindset experience challenges as learning opportunities. As a result of this growth mindset, they are likely to improve from their efforts.
Thinking of yourself and others as possessing an unknown and growing capacity for greatness inspires actions that produce such greatness. It provides opportunities to all. It focuses our attention on learning and growth rather than proving our worth. These are just a few of the many benefits we receive from discarding our erroneous ideas about giftedness.
The belief in giftedness encourages some people to play small and avoid pursuing their dreams. They believe that if a particular skill doesn’t come easily for you, then it’s not likely your area of success. This mode of thinking encourages us to give up on our dreams. We give up because we haven’t already demonstrated our “potential” for success.
Yet, there are many examples of successful people who looked like they had no potential for such success earlier in their lives. James Earl Jones has earned three Emmy awards. He is also the iconic voice of Darth Vader (Star Wars) and Mufasa (Lion King). But James Earl Jones had a stuttering problem for years as a child. In fact, he practiced poetry, public speaking and acting to help correct his speech problem.
Author Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel A Visit From the Goon Squad. But she experienced public failures early in her writing career. In fact, she said her first novel was so bad that even her mother hated it. Rather than throwing in the towel and proclaiming she was not a good writer, Egan continued to learn and improve in her craft as a writer.
Before becoming the youngest self-made millionaire, Bill Gates was a college drop-out. He was also the co-owner of a failed business. Yet he did not interpret these occurrences as a sign that he could not be a successful entrepreneur. Rather, he allowed his passion for computer programming to continue to lead him. Eventually Gates built Microsoft, one of the world’s most successful technology companies.
What these people had in common was a belief that past failures did not prevent their future success. They demonstrated a growth mind-set. They each continued learning and cultivating their interests, regardless of how others judged their likelihood of success.
Don’t fall into the trap of giving up on your dreams just because you weren’t a child prodigy. Don’t assume that just because you haven’t experienced a visible level of success, it is not in your future. Failure is not proof that you can’t be successful. Rather it is an opportunity to learn a key component of your future success.
Understanding that giftedness as a myth liberates us. It frees us individually and collectively to invest in ourselves and others. Rather than thinking about talent as a limited resource and directing our focus on identifying those with innate talent, we are now free to focus on interest and effort. If a person is interested in a particular skill or field of knowledge, they are more likely to invest the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice needed to excel in this area.
What topics, skills, questions, goals interest you? How are you pursuing them? Now there is no excuses for why you “just aren’t college material” or “don’t have the business sense to become an entrepreneur” or any other excuses that may have justified you not pursuing your goals. Whatever you are lacking now can be learned. You only need to identify your method of getting the information and commit to 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.
There are many course, books, programs, videos available to teach you the skills needed to become a master in your chosen area. In this information age you can easily identify resources to teach you almost anything you want to learn. Getting the information is only half the battle. The other part of the equation is logging in your 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.
Follow the lead of those who have already achieved mastery in their respective areas. Get yourself an expert coach. An experienced coach can design an individualized training program for you and give you the feedback needed to improve your performance. This allows you to focus your full attention on carry out the program. There’s no need for you to try to be both the performer and the evaluator of your performance.
Making the same mistake over and over again will not get you closer to master status. Mastery requires adjusting your performance based on feedback. This feedback loop allows you to get closer and closer to your goal. Your coach provides you with the feedback necessary to recognize errors and correct them. The expert eyes if a coach are a critical component of your journey to mastery. This is how you work smarter, not harder.
What’s the next step in your personal journey to mastery level? Have you identified your goal? Are you learning the skills needed for your craft? Are you putting in your 10,000 hours of deliberate practice on a regular basis? Do you receive personalized feedback on how to improve your performance from a coach?
If your answer to all the questions above is yes, then let me say “Congratulations!” You are well on your way to achieving master status and dominating your chosen field. No matter how far away it may feel, just remember that if you keep your focus you WILL achieve your goal. I am so proud of you and excited for what you will contribute to our world through your commitment to mastery.
If your answer to any of the previous questions is no, you now know the next step in your journey to mastery. The fact that you have the interest and commitment means that you CAN achieve your goal. You still need to combine that with instruction and 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to realize your dream. I wish you success on your journey!
If there’s anything that I can do to support you on your journey to mastery, please do not hesitate to contact me. If you have suggestions for others on the journey, share them below. Also, please share your success stories as a form of encouragement to others. Wishing you a life full of purpose, meaning, and joy!
People who are successful in life and their careers have mastered the skill of saying no. They don’t say no to everything. Instead, they say no to people, projects, and activities that are in not line with their core values and life purpose. In this article I share how this simple word can help you create balance in your life and work. I also share two easy techniques to help you develop the habit of saying no to everything that is not in line with your core values and purpose.
Early in my career as a college professor, I was overwhelmed with service obligations. I was new on campus and everyone wanted to take advantage of my new energy and areas of expertise. They frequently invited me to participate in their projects, classes, and committees. Additionally, the fact that I was also one of a handful of black faculty on campus meant that I was the first person to come to mind for any request related to diversity.
Service is my way of life. I am always looking for ways that I can add value to others through my unique gifts and talents. I was also eager to get to know and work collaboratively with my new students, colleagues, and administrators. But the expansiveness of my service and teaching obligations made it difficult for me to find time for my research, my family, and my other life priorities.
I quickly learned that I needed to perfect the art of saying no if I was going to be able to thrive in this career and in all the other areas of my life.
Developing the habit of saying no to most request was difficult for me and is challenging for many of the women I work with. Many of us pride ourselves on being helpful to others. We are also very concerned about hurting others feelings or disappointing them. However, once you fully understand the value of saying no, it becomes clear that this is a loving and compassionate act for you and others.
By saying no to most request, we protect our time and energy. This enables us to say “yes” to things in line with our core values and life purpose.
We all have a finite amount of time and energy. Spending time on a non-priority project provides less time for our high priority projects. Many of us are overwhelmed because we are doing too many activities. When something that we really want to do comes along, we add it to the list because it’s too great to pass up. But adding to a crammed schedule means that we will not have the focus and energy to do our best in this activity. We may not even enjoy it as much because we’re exhausted from all the other activities jammed into the day.
Often times we don’t want to say no because we don’t want to disappoint the person making the request. Just imagine how disappointed they will be when you don’t complete the job. What about when you don’t do your best work because it’s not high on your internal priorities?
People make requests of us because they value our talents and competencies. They expect us to bring our best game to the requested project. That’s difficult to do when it’s not something that we value. This is what often leads to “forgetting” to do an activity or missing a deadline on a project. It may seem as if we are disorganized or too busy. But in fact, we are unwilling to prioritize that activity given our limited resources. If we communicated this to the person at the time of the request, they could have found someone else who could focus on the activity. But, now they are doubly angry. First, because their activity didn’t go off as envisioned. Second, because they believe that you are the reason that it didn’t.
It is disingenuous to accept a project that is not in line with our purpose and values because we can not do our best work. It’s better to say “no” upfront. We will experience a smaller level of disappointment compared to the disappointment later in the process when we haven’t performed our best.
Resentment occurs when we feel out of control. Saying no helps us to regain control of our life choices. This prevents our growing resentment of others for the choices we make.
Accepting projects based on other people’s values and priorities creates resentment. We act as if they “made” us do something. This resentment is compounded if we think that they are not grateful for our “sacrifice”.
When you do things because they are in line with your purpose and values, you’re not disturbed by the outcome.
If the outcome is different than you expected, or if others don’t appreciate it, you still believe it’s valuable. It’s always nice to have your work valued and appreciated. But when you work on things that you value, it is already valued and appreciated!
We do our best work when we are focusing on projects and activities in line with our core values and life purpose. This is how we get in the flow. In flow, we are fully engrossed in a activity that we find intrinsically meaningful. As such, we are willing to go the extra mile to achieve optimal results.
Also, we gain energy when we work on activities in line with our purpose. This energy enables us to remain engaged in action. It also provides us with creative insight that isn’t available to people with more peripheral interest.
Have you found that when others tire and shut down, you can sustain your engagement? Are you able to see possibilities and opportunities more clearly than others? This resilience and problem solving ability comes from your sincere passion and curiosity. It is easy to do your best at things in line with your purpose. Your passion gives you the curiosity, insight, and motivation needed to excel.
Reflecting upon how you feel after an activity is an indicator of its relationship to your purpose and values. If you feel physically tired but emotionally energized, you are likely doing something in line with your purpose. If you feel drained and depleted, you’re probably not working within your purpose.
While the work may not be easy; it is easy to excel at activities in line with your purpose.
You owe it to yourself, and others, to only accept projects that bring out your best. This is where you can make your greatest contribution.
You understand why it’s critical to say no on a regular basis. Now let’s consider how you are going to build that habit into your life. Having “yes” as our default position has become a habit for many of us. That bad habit is not going to change without intentional intervention.
I’ve listed two proven strategies to help you address your habitual yes. These techniques will shift your default response from “yes ” to “no to anything that is not in line with my purpose and core values”.
Fasting means to refrain from food or activities for a specific period of time. The purpose of the fast is break existing habits. It is also intended to promote reflection and introspection.
Taking a yes fast means that you will say “no” to all requests of you for a specific period of time. That period may be a month or a year. I suggest at least a month so that you can say “no” long enough for it to become your new default. It will also give you enough time to observe the consequences of saying no. This will help you become more comfortable with the new habit.
At first saying no may feel very uncomfortable and others may exert even more pressure on you. This is especially true if you’ve developed a habit for saying yes. But, staying the course will allow you to observe that others’ can adjust and the world will go on. Although you may believe (or people may suggest to you) that you are the only one who can do this activity.
Saying no allows you to see that other people really can step up and do the activity. Or if the activity doesn’t occur, perhaps that’s fine as well. Perhaps that was not the best way to meet the need/goal anyway.
This will be a scary experience in the beginning.
Developing a habit of saying no requires both faith and courage.
Faith to believe that you really are meant to do those things in line with your life purpose and core values. Courage to protect the space to do that. Your faith and courage will reward you with increased time and energy. This reclaimed time and energy can be invested developing yourself and your purpose.
If the thought of saying no to absolutely everything is too scary for you, set a narrow parameter. Your parameter should require you to say no to 90% of new requests but allows a small fraction to still get a yes.
After my early years of teaching, I realized I needed to change from my default yes. But, I felt unprepared to go 100% cold turkey no. After discussing this with my trusted friends and mentors, I decided to say no for an entire year to any request that would take more than two hours of my time. The two-hour time limit included the time to prepare and participate in the activity. This was a very difficult thing for me to do. I called my closest friends on a weekly basis with all the reasons why I should make exceptions to my rule. Thankfully, I have great friends who continued to remind me of my commitment and why it was important.
With the help of my support team, I was able to stay the course. By the end of the year, my default was no longer “yes”. I was able to experience the value added to my life of saying no to the many “good, but not purpose-driven” requests made of my time.
Another option to help you move from a default of yes is to establish a No Committee. The No Committee takes the stress away from you of deciding whether to say no.
You select close friends and family members that know you, your work, and your life well. You then explain to them your intention of saying no to non-purpose driven activities. Clearly articulate to the No Committee your life purpose and core values. This will become their guide for all their decisions. Inform them that you commit to abiding by the decisions of the committee.
Because the committee is made up of people who love you (but are not you) they can evaluate the request with emotional distance and clarity. They agree to compare the request to your established priorities and core values. Then make their decision based whether the request is line with your purpose.
The No Committee must have an odd number so that there is never a tie. The committee must agree to respond with a quick turn-around to any request that you pass along to them. I’ve served on a No Committee for years. I have found it a useful and effective way to support my loved ones in achieving more balance in life and work.
Your balanced life can begin today! It requires you to prioritize activities related to your purpose and core values. Say no to everything else! You’ll be amazed at how you can increase your impact on the world and your own happiness. If you’d like other resources to help you better manage your time and balance your energy, check out my YouTube videos on time management and emotion management.
Share you thoughts on effective strategies to create balance in your life. Let’s keep the wisdom flowing! Comment below.
Imagine….You’ve successfully completed that important task in half the time you expected. You now have the much desired extra time to spend with family and friends. You even have time to take a leisurely stroll through the park and soak up some rays. As the sun is beaming down on you, you smile at how proud you are of yourself and how you handled this challenge. You also notice that the knot in your stomach is gone and you no longer feel that pressure on your temples. This is your new life, now that you’ve finally conquered procrastination. Procrastination is a habit that many of us develop early in our life and this problematic behavior grows with us.
Merriam-Webster’s definition of procrastinate is “to be slow or late about doing something that should be done : to delay doing something until a later time because you do not want to do it, because you are lazy, etc.”
I used to proclaim that I did my best work through procrastination. I often waited for the night before to begin a paper assignment. I figured that since I still received an A, procrastination was actually helpful for me. As the length and challenges of my writing assignments increased, I quickly learned that this habit was a hindrance rather than a help. Once I became an educator, I realized that getting an A on a paper didn’t mean I was doing my best work. It only meant that my work was relatively better than my peers. Now I know that I did not submit my best work. The feedback from my teachers could have helped to make me an even better writer and thinker. As my academic career progressed, I learned that procrastination is costly. Procrastination created missed opportunities, lowered my productivity, and generated more stress.
Have you struggled with procrastination? Do you want to drop this negative habit from your life? Let me assure you, this is possible. Understanding procrastination and what it costs you, is a powerful motivator to stop it. In this article, I share a simple, but often overlooked technique to end procrastination for good.
I disagree with Merriam-Webster’s characterization of procrastination as laziness. Procrastination is not about being lazy; it is about avoiding a problem. Specifically, it is about avoiding unpleasant emotions. When we procrastinate, we are attempting to avoid negative emotions. These negative emotions are associated with that problematic task. Thus, procrastination is really driven by fear and anxiety.
The decision to put off writing that paper or completing that report until tomorrow is actually an attempt to manage uncomfortable emotions. Those emotions may be fear, embarrassment, insecurity, confusion, or anger. They are often associated with thoughts such as:
By avoiding the task, we avoid feeling these unpleasant emotions. Thus, procrastination serves us as an emotion management strategy. But, it is not an effective emotion management strategy. Procrastination often creates extra problems, as well as more stress, frustration, and discomfort.
In a long-term study of procrastination, researchers at Case Western University revealed that procrastination has short-term benefits but long-term problems. These researchers document that procrastinators have less stress than non-procrastinators in the short-term. Yet, in the long-term procrastinators show higher levels of stress, more mental illness, and lower academic performance. This data shows that procrastination is an emotion management strategy, albeit an ineffective one. While procrastination provides short-term relief from stress, it creates more long-term stress and lower performance.
Additional research shows that procrastinators have poorer health outcomes than non-procrastinators. Part of these poor health outcomes is because they procrastinate pro-health behaviors. Pro-health behaviors include activities like going to dental and medical check-ups. Even after controlling for check-ups and similar health maintenance activities, procrastinators show more stress and physical illnesses. Thus, procrastination itself seems to create physical health illnesses.
You can unblock and end procrastination for good. First, you must identify the fear that is causing this problematic behavior. Listen to the stories that play in your head when you think about performing the task. Identify the underlying fear. Is the fear the result of thinking that you’re not good enough and others will find you out?
Now that you’ve identified the source of your fear, here’s a way to manage these emotions. People frequently use meditation or mindfulness strategies to enhance one’s emotional intelligence and manage emotions. But I’d like to add a new, often overlooked, strategy to manage the emotions associated with procrastination. Best of all, you already have the tool you need in your kitchen or on your phone.
Make timers your best friend. Timers are especially useful for activities that are important but difficult to begin. Starting the task is often the most difficult part. This is because of fears and anxieties about how challenging the task will be. Starting is also difficult because of the uncomfortable feelings that we expect will arise within us as we perform that task.
As I’ve explained procrastination helps us avoid those uncomfortable feelings by avoiding the tasks. Unfortunately, avoiding important tasks limits our success. Procrastination creates more uncomfortable feelings when the things left undone create their own crisis. It also leads to disappointed in ourselves for not fulfilling our personal goals. Thankfully, something as simple as a timer can help us address this quandary.
By setting the timer we have a known ending point. For tasks that have high levels of anxiety, set the timer for short increments of time (2-5 mins). It is easy to convince ourselves that we can live with being uncomfortable for 5 mins. This allows us to begin, knowing that even if it is painful, it will not last long.
They key to the success of this method is allowing yourself to stop at the end of the timer. Beginning is the most difficult part. When the timer goes off, you often feel that it wasn’t as bad as expected. To maintain the integrity of the value of the timer exercise, it is important that you pause at the ringing of the timer. At this pause consider whether you want to continue or to save the rest of the task for the next assigned time. Either choice is a successful outcome.
The focus here is not on the completion of the task. Rather the goal is to build behaviors that will lead to the completion of the task. Minimizing the emotional discomfort and providing an element of choice are acts of self compassion and respect. Compassion and respect works in getting the cooperation of even the stubbornest toddler. You will find that it works on yourself as well. Everyone wants to be respected. We all want to know that our feelings and well being matter. The timer exercise enables you to communicate this compassion and respect to yourself. It also allows you to build the successful track record needed to extend the desired behavior.
The next time you notice yourself procrastinating, identify the source of the anxiety. Then use the timer system to manage your anxiety and get your tasks done!
I’d love to hear about your progress with using timers to manage anxiety. Please comment below. Also share other personal strategies to overcome procrastination.
Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to win the Nobel Prize, an Oscar or a Grammy? Thousands of people in the audience clapping for you. Your family and friends sitting by your side, rejoicing in your achievement. Video cameras and photographers capturing every moment. You taking center stage to accept this public recognition of the value of your contribution. And don’t forget the after parties!
While only a small percentage of us will ever win the Nobel Prize or an Oscar, each of us can experience a celebration of our unique contribution to this world. What will you be celebrated for? Like a Nobel Prize, such celebrations of lifetime achievements are reserved for those who have made the required investments and demonstrated the value of their contribution. Achievement awards are granted to those with a long-term track record of productivity and progress. Here I’ve listed an easy to follow formula to help you build an award winning life. By following these rules, you will enhance your productivity and effectiveness in achieving your life goals.
Your values identify what you believe is important in life. They clarify which goals are worthy of pursuing and what types of activities are appropriate for accomplishing those goals. When we are acting in line with our values, we experience joy and energy. When we are feeling drained and stressed, it is often because our activity is out of line with our values or we have values that are in conflict with each other. The more specific you can be in identifying your values and distinguishing which ones are higher priority, the easier it will be for you to make decisions about the best way to use your time and money. I’ve found this free website helpful in identifying core values and in ranking them hierarchically.
Businesses have them. Non-profits have them. Do you have one for yourself? The value of a mission statement is that it focuses investments of valuable resources (time, money, people) in order to achieve maximum results. Rather than trying to do everything and ending up with mediocre results, a focused mission statement helps you make choices about which sets of activities will produce the best results. Activities in line with your values and purpose will increase your productivity and impact. Make sure that your personal mission statement and life values are congruent. If you have not already done so, write out your personal mission statement. It is not enough to have a general idea of your life focus in your head; it must appear on paper. The simple act of writing down your goals increases your likelihood of achieving them. Place your personal mission statement somewhere that you can see it daily. Perhaps tape it to your bathroom mirror or use it as your computer’s screen saver. A daily reminder of your mission statement energizes you and will enable you to make decisions more quickly and easily throughout the day.
Reflection gives you an opportunity to reconnect with your life goals and values. It provides you with the crucial space to evaluate your current behavior and activities and revise them both in order to build your optimal life. Journaling can be a valuable tool for reflection; but so can meditative walks or conversations with a trusted friend. Regardless of the form, find a way to incorporate reflection into your life on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis. The insight and energy you receive from such periods of regular reflection will fuel your success.
No one ever receives an award for being just like everyone else. You have a unique set of experiences and combination of character traits that give you a distinct perspective. Share that perspective with others. If you are wondering why something that is needed isn’t already being done or why people aren’t approaching a question/problem/issue in a specific manner, it’s likely because you have not yet shared your unique contribution. Others do not think like you and will continue to grope in darkness without the benefit of your light. If there is something that you want to say, chances are there is someone who wants to hear it. Click & Tweet! To live a life worthy of celebration, you must be willing to publicize your distinctive voice.
Our lives are the cumulation of our habits. What we do on a daily basis creates the patterns that shape our future. If you want to accomplish more than you already have achieved, you will need to add new habits to your arsenal. The content of these habits will vary based on your goals, personality, and interests. However, the willingness to create new habits signals a willingness to learn and expand beyond current limitations. Such an orientation is necessary to achieve your maximum potential. There is no such things as being “too old” to learn, grow, or change. There is a wise saying about teaching “stop learning today, stop teaching tomorrow”. In order to be an effective teacher, one must be constantly learning. This truism is not limited to teachers. I say “stop learning today, stop living tomorrow Click & Tweet! “. There are too many people who are alive, but they are not living. They’ve lost their zest for life, their curiosity, their joy. This need not happen to you. Commit to being a life long learner. Challenge yourself to constantly add new habits that are in line with your life mission and watch your effectiveness and impact grow exponentially.
I believe that everyone of us should be in at least two types of mentoring relationships. One relationship where we are gaining knowledge, skills, and support from someone who has already achieved something that we aspire to. The other is a relationship in which we are sharing the insight we’ve gained along our journey with someone who is striving to attain some of the accomplishments we’ve earned. As a mentor, we invest our time and resources in actively supporting these people. By continually placing yourself as both a mentor and mentee, you can make sure that you are continually learning and building a legacy.
Nobody’s perfect. We make mistakes and so do the people around us. Forgiveness provides us with the keys to grow beyond our mistakes and the mistakes of others. Even in forgiving others, we are really giving a gift to ourselves. The release of that anger frees our body and mind to learn from the situation and heal. Byron Katie has a great book, titled “Loving What Is”, that can help you move to forgiveness by asking four simple, yet powerful questions. These questions allow you learn and grow from even the most painful situations. Practicing forgiveness protects our joy and purpose as we go through the typical and atypical challenges of life.
Just like following driving rules allows you to safely navigate the roads and arrive at your desired destinations, these rules help you to identify, protect, and nurture your unique contributions to our world. These seven rules ensure that you are able to implement your distinctive contributions with effectiveness, consistency, and in harmony with your personal values. Click & Tweet! I’d love to hear your thoughts on creating an award winning life.
Are you ready to create your award-winning life?
I’m on a mission to more fully use my gifts to build a business and a life that makes a positive impact on my future and our world. I would love for you to join me!
I believe that when each of us connects with our purpose and passion, we are empowered to build a better future for ourselves and others. This is the heart of productivity: accomplishing goals that are meaningful and rewarding to us.
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