Zip Up to Protect Your Energy

Most of what I do with clients involves digging up and getting rid of deep-seated causes of their procrastination so they can create the life they want. Sometimes what’s holding them back is just that they don’t have the energy to take the actions they want to. And sometimes, the way to get that energy back is surprisingly easy.

If you find that just being around certain people drains you, watch this short video. In it I’ll show you the three simple steps (really, the same step repeated three times!) to do the Zip Up, a simple way to keep from getting drained around those difficult people so you have more energy to put into activities you want to do.

It’s weird, but it works according to the many clients I’ve taught it to. See if it works for you.

Four Rules for a Vacation That Helps Your Business or Career

Now that Fall is really here and summer vacations are over, it’s time to start thinking about your next vacation. Really. You need to take breaks from work in order to do your best. A good vacation will send you back to the office refreshed, energized, and more creative. Go without a decent vacation too long and you actually put your job or business in jeopardy. You can lose your focus, start making obvious mistakes, miss great opportunities, and risk getting into fights with co-workers, your boss, or your clients.

Now, if you are going to go to the trouble and expense to take time off from work, do it right so you get the most benefit from the break. Here is an excerpt from my as yet unpublished book (working title: Living Better Than a Lottery Winner) which sets out four simple rules to actually get the benefits you need out of your vacation. I know, I know, these rules are easy to say but can be hard to do. If you’re thinking that, consider this: if you don’t do what you need to in order to get an adequate break from work, part of you is probably already working against yourself and on track for getting fired or sabotaging your business anyway, just to get the break you need, so you might as well do what I recommend here instead.

Vacation!

THE RULES OF A GOOD VACATION

Rule Number One: Do not spend time with family or friends on your vacation.

I don’t care how close you are to your parents, how much you love your cousins, or what a great time you had with your friends five years ago. Just don’t do it.

I don’t mean you have to leave your husband at home or the kids with their grandparents, although some people do need that much of a break from time to time. I mean don’t go stay with your parents for a week and call it a vacation. Don’t even make plans to stop by your aunt’s and uncle’s house on the Big Island in the middle of your time off. Think of your vacation as time away from all obligations, including familial ones. If you don’t, your break will end up feeling like one more chore and you will end up feeling like an overwound watch at the end of the trip rather than the limp, relaxed dishrag you are aiming for.

When I was in the process of burning myself out therapizing non-stop, I still spent holidays with family. I called them vacations. I lied. I came back from such “vacations” as tense and tired as when I left.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a great family, including my in-laws, and I love them all dearly. It is always important, fun and enriching to spend time with them. But it is not, I repeat NOT, a vacation. When you spend time with your family, or even your friends, you are “on” all the time to a certain extent. You are watching your Ps and Qs, and inevitably missing a P here or a Q there and feeling like a failure for fighting with your father over politics again or for not helping your sister with the dishes or for thinking of ways to avoid explaining why you’re not married yet or . . . . You get the idea. A break is where you get away from most of the expectations on yourself, not where you exchange one set of expectations for another.

So, no family or friends on your vacation.

Rule Number Two: Schedule a two-week vacation.

I know—you can’t possibly take two whole weeks away from work. Your To Do list is just too long, and no one else can do any of the tasks on it right. If you’re gone that long your boss will think you aren’t really committed to the job and your performance reviews will slip. That amount of time will allow your coworkers to snap up all the good, visible projects that could advance your career. I’ve heard all the excuses for not taking a two-week vacation. Now it’s time you heard the reasons you have to have one.

First, at some point I read about some research done somewhere showing that people do not relax for the first week of the vacation. They are still thinking about what they did or didn’t do before they left, and can Roger handle that presentation on his own, and what if I don’t get the numbers from Gigi right away when I get back, and what did my boss really mean when he said not to worry about the project—is he planning to fire me? Apparently, we all need that first week of vacation just to decompress in body and mind. The second week of vacation is where the real regeneration happens.

Second, you need all the regenerating that happens in that second week. Only then can you go back to work with energy, enthusiasm, and new ideas so that you don’t just do your job, you excel at it, get handed the stretch project that gets you noticed, strut your stuff and finally move into the corner office.

Finally, the alternative to taking the time you need is that you continue plodding down the path you are already on. At best, you’ll stay stuck where you are. More likely, you will get more and more tired, make more mistakes, and have less ability to deal diplomatically with boss, coworkers, and clients, not to mention what will happen to your home and social life. If it’s bad enough, you may even unintentionally screw up enough to get yourself fired just to give yourself the rest you need. I’ve seen it happen with more clients than I believed possible.

So plan for two weeks away from work. Then do it.

Rule Number Three: Rule Number Two means you need to take two weeks away from work, and what that means is no contact with work.

I mean it. Leave the laptop, Blackberry, and phones turned off. Better yet, leave them at home. Don’t let the office know what hotel you are staying at. Leave no contact information whatsoever in the wrong hands—by which I mean with anybody at work.

This means you will probably have to do some groundwork at the office before you leave. If in the past it was expected that you would take “working vacations,” it’s time to disabuse coworkers and bosses alike of the notion. A working vacation is not a vacation; it’s just work. You won’t get any of the benefits you really need from your time off. Be gentle, be firm, be strident if you must, but let people know that you will be out of touch from the time you walk out the door pulling out your hair until the time you walk back in with a tan and a smile.

I’ve known people who had so much trouble with this rule that they had to go somewhere where they literally could not be reached. Some options might be staying in yurts while trekking through Nepal, floating down the Amazon by raft, or snowshoeing to the South Pole. If this isn’t in your budget, you will have to learn to be firm and make yourself electronically unavailable to the office. Or drop your cell phone in the lake on your first day out.

Rule Number Four: Go away.

Don’t think that staying home and remodeling the bathroom will give you the R & R you need. It won’t. You’re just exchanging one To Do list for another. This does not give your body and mind the space they need to do the healing you need.

You also will not get the right kind of break if you plan to stay home and not do any of the chores on your list. It sounds good. I’ve tried it before. I told myself “Hey, I’ll just act like a tourist in my own hometown for a couple of weeks. I won’t have to do any planning. I’ll save tons of money. I’ll get to see all the places I keep meaning to get to.” But it didn’t work out that way. I ended up hanging around the house feeling guilty that I wasn’t being more productive. Plus, staying in the same old surroundings kept reminding my brain of the same old daily thoughts, which simply were not that restful or stimulating.

I’m not asking you to spend a lot of money traveling to Thailand or other exotic parts. If the most you can afford is a trip to a friend’s lake cabin in the middle of February when he’s not using it, then do it. If you swear up and down you cannot afford a vacation of any kind, I’ll even take the stay-at-home vacation as long as you promise to go somewhere you’ve never been and do something new each and every day. (It’s better than nothing.) All I’m pointing out is that you need to get away from your everyday routine to get any benefit from your vacation.

By the way, if you only get two weeks vacation per year from your employer, it’s time to do a serious evaluation of your job. Okay, if you are just starting out and you have to wait a year or two before you get more vacation time you’ll probably just have to tough it out. However, if you’ve already been in the same job for seven years and this is all you get and all you will ever get, ask yourself if the job is really filling your soul. It certainly isn’t giving you much time to pursue other interests, so if the job itself doesn’t fulfill you, then look for another one that either does or that gives you enough time for a life outside of it.

This is just my personal opinion here, but I believe staying put simply because your job pays you enough to have a nice comfy retirement isn’t a good excuse for keeping a job that doesn’t give you time for a life now. What kind of life will you have left when you turn sixty-five, anyway? If your job is that wearing it is probably affecting your health, so how much time will you really have left even if you make it to retirement age? In addition, your mood and imagination are getting ground down daily. How long do you think it will take to get them back once you retire?

Nancy Linnerooth

So there you have it. If you want to reap the benefits at work of a good vacation, start planning that mid-winter break trip now. And don’t forget to follow the rules!

Detaching from Unhelpful Family Beliefs

One of my clients recently decided to take the plunge and expand her business into a more spiritually-focused area. She knows this is what she is supposed to do, has already had great experiences adding a spiritual aspect to her current offerings, and knows of people who make their living selling products designed to help their customers grow spiritually.

She was excited, got some great ideas for what to offer, started making plans, then suddenly her creativity just dried up. When I asked what was stopping her, she said she was afraid it wouldn’t make her any money. Since we had already looked objectively at the issue and recognized that spiritual growth is an expanding field with plenty of potential customers, I knew this was an emotional belief that was getting in the way.

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When I asked who the fear sounded like most, she said her parents. So we tapped on her parents’ fears that you can’t make any money with that woowoo stuff. After about fifteen minutes, she could look at the fear in a detached way, knowing that it was her parents’ belief, not hers. Best of all, her creativity came back right away, along with her motivation to do what she needed to create her classes and get the word out to people who would love to take them.

This is a common outcome of tapping on such blocks. What was interesting to us was that other memories came up where she had heard of other peoples’ beliefs. We tapped on those too, even though she had not experienced those first-hand

This happens quite a bit. When you tap on the main source of a belief, other sources surface. It is important to tap on those messages, too, even if they weren’t originally addressed to you or if you only heard about them second hand. The fact that it came up while you were tapping means that you’ve internalized at least part of the message and it will slow you down if you don’t get rid of it.

So notice while you are tapping if other memories come up. Even if you don’t know how they are related to what you are working on, they are probably part of what is blocking you and need to be tapped away.

Get started.

Sometimes it can be hard to identify all the sources of your own emotional beliefs. If you could use some help identifying the blocks you have and rooting them out, email me to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype. I want to hear what you are struggling with, then we’ll see if I can help.

Are Cravings Sabotaging Your New Year’s Resolution?

It’s the new year, and a quick survey of the resolutions Americans make every year shows that losing weight is one of — if not the — most popular. Maybe it’s because, by New Year’s Day, the stress of the holiday season, family get-togethers, and trying to meet everyone’s expectations has led to too many trips to the cookie jar. Unfortunately, as most people know, losing weight is one of — if not the — most difficult resolution to keep.

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I started working with a client to get rid of her cravings for sweets so she can lose the weight that crept up on her over the holidays. One of the first things I told her to do is to stop beating herself up for not sticking to a diet. This tip is counter-intuitive for most people. They think “if I make myself miserable over that bag of Lays Potato Chips I just ate, won’t that stop me from wanting to eat junk food the next time?”. Unfortunately, the answer is no. In fact, not only will yelling at yourself for giving in to a craving not help you eat less, it will very likely lead you to eat more!

Think about it. Most people break their diets when they are stressed or down. How do you feel when you get mad at yourself and say things like “I’m such a loser” or “I have no will power”? If you’re like most people, saying anything like that makes you feel more stressed and more down. Then that ice cream looks like just what you need to feel better. And on and on goes the cycle.

For some ideas on what to do to get out of this cycle, check out my post on Cravings. (Hint: relaxation exercises are much better than food to bring down your stress, but you have to remember to do them before the craving hits. Tapping can help to get to the base of what’s driving the craving.) But whatever you do, the first step is to stop hitting yourself over the head and neck (metaphorically speaking) when you give in to a craving. Instead, tell yourself you’ll do better next time. Then go do something relaxing, like exercising.

Get started.

Please e-mail me at nancy@unblockresults.com to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype to talk about what might be blocking you.

Exercise and the Stressed Brain

I’ve been recommending exercise to stressed out clients (and depressed clients, for that matter) for years. Those in the know suggest that you get aerobic exercise — i.e., exercise that raises your heart rate enough that it is a little difficult to talk, like running or dancing — for half an hour, three times a week at a minimum. If you can’t get a full half-hour in at a time, or you only have two days to exercise, do what you can. My clients have reported that even ten minutes of working out can help them feel more relaxed and happier. (Of course, if your doctor doesn’t think you should exercise, listen to your doctor.)

https://unsplash.com/photos/ljoCgjs63SMTherapists, doctors and scientists have known for a long time that exercise helps with stress. Now scientists have run experiments which show exercise actually changes the brain so it handles stressful situations better, at least in rats. A New York Times blog post from last month reviews three recent studies showing how the brains of rats who exercised handled stress better than those of couch potato rats — expressing fewer specific genes, showing less serotonin levels, and dampening the effects of oxidative stress in response to stress.

So the proof is in: exercise really does make a difference. Don’t skip it this season because you have too much shopping to do, or the in-laws are coming to visit, or you have a five-hour drive to Christmas dinner. Those are the very stressful situations that exercise will help you handle calmly.

Oh, and start exercising right away if you haven’t worked out since the late ’90s. It took the rats between three and six weeks of exercising to see big changes in their brains. The scientists don’t know how long it takes to make a difference in humans. They haven’t done that research yet. But it’s a fair bet that the sooner you start exercising, the sooner you’ll feel more relaxed.

Get started.

Please e-mail me at nancy@unblockresults.com to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype to talk about how we might work together on what’s blocking you.

Family and Friends — To Keep or Not to Keep

On Thanksgiving, the LA Times ran an article by two professors — one from Harvard Medical School, the other from UC San Diego — touting the importance of keeping everyone in your social network of friends and family, even those who are demanding or get you angry.

https://unsplash.com/photos/tysecUm5HJAAs evidence, the professors point out that, while a study they did in 2007 found that people with overweight friends were more likely to gain weight than those with normal weight friends, they also found that those people who got rid of their fat friends gained more weight than those who kept their heftier friends. They also noted out that those who stay connected are more likely to be happy, pointing to an interesting statistic:

“Each happy friend increases a person’s probability of being happy by about 9%, while each unhappy friend decreases it by only 7%. So the virtue of staying connected lies in playing the averages. It’s true that the best-connected individuals at the center of the social network are more likely to “catch” an unhappy wave spreading through the network, but they are even more likely to catch a happy wave.
As a result, the people who stay connected are significantly happier than people who don’t. In the battle between the happy waves and sad waves, happiness wins.”

Finally, they noted that family and friends share things with each other like gifts, information, and kind gestures. All this leads them to their conclusion that “We need our connections, good and bad. Every one of them.”

Well, yes and no. I’m a big fan of social networks. One of the first things I recommend to anxious and/or depressed therapy clients is that they spend more face-to-face time with family and friends. If they don’t have many connections, maybe because they just moved to a new town, we talk about ways to meet other people with similar interests. If they are really stuck, I’ll get them started by sending them off to a cafe where they can at least see other people and have a little interaction. Social isolation is very stressful. Social interaction can bring stress down and raise a person’s mood.

But there is a caveat: it has to be good, or at least neutral, social interaction. When you have a toxic relationship, you negate the benefits of having the relationship. I’ve had clients for whom a dinner spent with their “best friend” always left them stressed out and miserable for the whole week. Dumping such “friends” opened the door to getting to know people who became real friends, improving my clients’ moods and their lives significantly.

Now I’m not recommending that you disown your brother or ditch a friend the first — or second, or third, or fiftieth — time you have a fight. Disagreements, bad days, annoying habits, they can happen in any relationship. You need to take a big picture view of what goes on between the two of you. If you get along okay with someone generally, keep them in your social network. However, anyone who brings you down regularly or has you questioning your worth whenever you are with them is not someone to spend time with. Avoid them. And if you feel like those are the only people you ever meet or make friends with, consider talking with a therapist about changing your expectations about how others can treat you. You may have been stuck in a pattern that kept attracting the wrong people into your life, but that pattern can be changed.

Here’s the second caveat: you need people in your social network. So if you decide that you really have to to stop getting together with your old high school friend or limit calls and visits to your sister, you need to spend more time with other people in your life. Seek out the ones who make you feel good about yourself, even when they challenge you. Go out for coffee. Schedule a game of squash. Host a dinner party. Do whatever suits you, but make time for it in your busy week. It will help lower your stress overall.

What if all the positive people in your life live in another state, or you have too few people like that around to spend time with, or you don’t have anyone like that in your life at all? Then it’s time to make more friends. Join something, like a sport, or a book club, or an alumni group. Go to a friendly church, mosque, or temple. Volunteer for a good cause where you will be working with other people. Any activity can do the trick so long as you actually spend time meeting and talking to other people over time. That’s the easiest way to start new friendships.

Get started.

Please e-mail me at nancy@unblockresults.com to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype to talk about how we might work together on what’s blocking you.

Food and Family Stress

I read an article on food and family stress in the New York Times last week. It was full of stories of families fighting over food at the holidays: a mother berating an overweight daughter for eating too much; a grandmother criticizing a grandson for eating too little; a father trying to keep everyone from eating chocolate. I’m willing to bet most people have at least one story like these about family problems around food to tell.

Holidays are big sources of pressure for vast numbers of people. Food issues hound many, many people. And family problems can replay every time a family gets together. Put those three together and you can have big bad stress waiting for almost everyone in the month of December. What to do?

https://unsplash.com/photos/aEnH4hJ_MrsThe Times article recommends that people set up boundaries (that’s therapy talk for rules), like making a “good-natured announcement” that comments about how much or little a person eats won’t be acceptable this year. Then every time someone breaks the rule, call them on it. Oh, and have a sense of humor about it all. Good advice, but I was left wondering how many readers could implement it without more support. Changing ingrained family interactions is notoriously hard, especially if it is your family. That’s why we family therapists get serious training in how to interrupt those old patterns and shift everyone in the family to a new way of acting.

If you aren’t planning to get your parents, in-laws or siblings in to see a family therapist for a few sessions before Christmas or Hanukkah, you can still change the way you react to what your family members do.  Try one or more of these approaches now to get yourself ready:

  1. Practice breathing. I know, you breathe every day. How can that help? I’m talking about the kind of slow, deep breaths that bypass your chest and go all the way down to your navel. They can calm you down and help you think even in the middle of the most stressful times. (I read somewhere they teach this kind of breathing to Marines so they can use it in the middle of battle.) The reason to start practicing this kind of breathing now is that it’s much easier to remember both to do the breathing and how to do it in a stressful moment if you have been doing it every day for a few weeks until it becomes a habit. Then, when your sister says you really don’t need that extra piece of pie, you can take a deep breath and remember to smile as you tell her that comments about how much a person eats are unacceptable this year. For more details on this kind of breathing, see my earlier post. Don’t try this if you have asthma.
  2. Between now and the next family event, practice acting just the way you want to when your relatives misbehave. Here’s how. Sit somewhere quiet without distractions. Close your eyes. Run a movie of your brother sneering when you put your homemade candied yams on the table (or whatever gets you upset). See yourself reacting calmly, saying and doing exactly what you want to in exactly the way you want. If you start to get heated up, stop the movie, rewind it to a point before you got upset, then play it again seeing yourself being the cool, self-possessed person you want to be. Make the movie as vivid and full of details as you can. Do this at least once every day from now until you all sit down to dinner together. The more times you visualize responding to a stress in a certain way, the more likely you are to act that way when the stress really happens.
  3. Get on the phone and start discussing the new boundaries (remember those family rules?) with each of your family members now. You may have to clear the air before the big day. Sometimes people don’t realize what they are doing is hurtful. Calmly talking with them about how you feel now can give them time to think about changing their ways. Then they will be less likely to react defensively — and hurtfully — when you announce the new rule while carving the Christmas goose.
  4. Realize that just telling family members about the new rule may not be enough to change long-standing patterns. You may have to take action beyond just reminding your father at the holiday dinner table that it is not okay for him to call you fat when you take a roll. You may have to get up and leave the table if he continues the rude comments. You may have to leave the house. Decide now what you will do, tell your father what you will do before the day (see Approach #3), then do it if he keeps up the fat jokes after you’ve asked him to stop. Don’t make a scene. Just quietly stand up and go. Dad will be much less likely to joke about your weight at the next family gathering. That sort of dispassionate response to bad behavior is sometimes the only way to establish new boundaries.

Remember, you can’t change what other people do, only how you react to it. Then, if you change how you react, you may be surprised at how they change what they do. But you have to change first.

Of course, some stress and pain goes so deep that these steps will not be enough. You can always try using my Quick Start Guide to tapping to calm yourself down as you think about stressful family scenes from the past that you expect to replay this December. If you need more, think about a visit or two with a family therapist to work on setting those new boundaries.

Get started.

Please e-mail me at nancy@unblockresults.com to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype to talk about how we might work together on what’s blocking you.

Plan Now to Limit Holiday Stress

Happy Halloween!

The ghosts and goblins (jedi and fairies mostly this year, actually) are parading past my door now, reminding me that the holiday season has arrived! Turkey dinners with all the trimmings, trips to see Santa, office parties, holidays of all persuasions spent with family. For some, November through December is a magical season. For many, many others, it is a stress-filled time to be endured.

If you fall into the latter camp, I have one suggestion: less is more. Make it your mantra.https://unsplash.com/photos/pR3Y-KVQwpA

If hosting Thanksgiving has become a logistical nightmare, give away some of the tasks. Pick up the cranberry sauce and stuffing at the deli counter at your supermarket instead of making it from scratch. Put your kids in charge of decorating. Tell your guests that dinner is potluck this year. Stop planning for it to be perfect and start expecting it to be good enough.

If gifts for Hanukkah or Christmas are completely out of hand, just stop the madness. The recession gives you the perfect excuse to buy fewer gifts. Have them wrapped in the stores or take them all to the table at the mall where a local non-profit is wrapping gifts as a fundraiser — a huge time saver for you. Decorate just one room instead of the whole house. Give up the picture of the ideal Norman Rockwell holiday in favor of one where you actually enjoy yourself.

Which brings me to family. If yours causes you stress, know that you are not alone. It seems that people somehow expect that, this year, family time will be all warm and fuzzy even if it has been filled with shouting, broken dishes and slamming doors for the past twenty years. You will have less stress if you give up the unreal expectations. Assume this year will be like last year. If time with family equals stress to you, then limit your time. Leave the party an hour early. Book a flight for only 3 days instead of 5. Plan some excuses in advance to cut the conversation with Uncle Rex short (“Excuse me, I’ve got to talk to Andy about his new snowblower”). Lowered expectations and less time with difficult people will make for a happier, less stressful time.

I may just have to revisit this topic once or twice in the coming months. In the meantime, start thinking of ways to dump some of your holiday stress this year.

Get started.

Please e-mail me at nancy@unblockresults.com to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype to talk about how we might work together on what’s blocking you.