Do you often feel that you don’t even have time to breathe?
Being busy to a point can be a good thing, but being “too busy” all the time is not!
Why are you so busy? That is the question!
The answer may be as simple as – you are not saying NO enough. You may be trying too hard to please others, to get them to like you, to fit in, to fulfill a sense of obligation or responsibility, or maybe being busy has become a badge of honor that signifies your importance in the world.
Whatever the reason . . . it’s time to change!
When every minute of the day is focused on doing what others want you to do that there is little or no time for things that matter to you – you are putting your mental and physical health at risk.
You can’t do everything – choices must be made. If you are caught in the YES trap because you cannot bring yourself to say NO, your life will be controlled by everyone around you. You are living for others, not for yourself.
Your daily habits define your life. What you do repeatedly day-in and day-out is what you become good at doing. If you want to change a behavior, you must destroy the root of the problem.
If you are too busy, the root of the problem is probably your inability to so NO.
NO is an incredibly powerful word! Learning to say it can change your life.
Think about the impact of saying no to foods you shouldn’t eat, to things you don’t want or shouldn’t do, to taking on others’ responsibilities, to people who make unreasonable demands on you, to toxic relationships and just because it is your choice to say no
How Do You Eat an Elephant?
One bite at a time, of course.
How do you stop saying yes? With one NO at a time!
If you have been a habitual YES person most of your life, this change will not happen overnight – but you can make the change. Slay this particularly dangerous dragon one battle at a time. Small steps will deliver amazing results.
Start saying no in one particular area of your life. Say no . . .
When your child or spouse asks you to do something they could (and should) do for themselves.
When a friend wants you to do something that holds zero interest for you.
When you are tempted to eat the second piece of candy (rather than stopping at one).
When your significant other asks you to have dinner with friends you do not want to be around.
You get the idea!
When your comfort level with saying no in that situation increases, choose another. Slowly, it will become easier and easier to say no when it is in your best interests.
A Daily Challenge
Challenge yourself to say a “difficult” NO at least once a day. Keep a record of your successes. Use an app on your phone (i.e. BEAR for IPhones or NOTEBOOK) or keep a small notepad handy for quick recording when it happens.
Don’t worry when you falter and say yes instead of no. Changing a deeply ingrained habit takes time. So, be patient with yourself and keep on keeping on.
Why Saying NO Is Important
It is essential for your mental and physical well-being.
You have a greater sense of control over your life.
You have more time to do what youwant to do.
You will have more fun engaging in activities of your choice.
People will respect you more.
It establishes healthy boundaries in relationships.
It sets clear expectations about what others can expect from you.
In spite of the fact that people brag about being able to multi-task, the reality is that the human mind can only focus on one thing at a time. When you pay attention to one thing the mind automatically blocks out all other stimuli. Multi-tasking is simply jumping from focal point to focal point; but, you are still only focusing on one thing at a time.
The payoff from trying to multi-task is not worth the toll it takes on the individual making the effort.
David Meyer, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan states the following:
Doing several tasks simultaneously may seem like the height of efficiency – and it would be, if a person had more than one brain. In the real world, multitasking actually wastes time and reduces work quality.
Many studies have shown that multitasking slows down the mind and makes it less effective. Dividing and distracting the mind causes rapid mental course changes, the inability to effectively focus, and creates stress – which increases with every additional task that is added to the mix.
Imagine a dog who is trying to chase three different balls thrown in different directions. He runs two steps in one direction, three steps in another, and one step in the third. He ends up running in circles.
The mind is the same.
The more time you spend changing mental direction the less time you have to actually focus on a single task.
The more directions or mental tasks you add, the less effective you become.
But . . . that is not the whole story. Another facet of multi-tasking is worrying about events, projects, or situations that have nothing to do with where your focus should be at the moment. Worrying about what has happened, or may happen changes nothing. All it does is drain your mental and emotional resources, making you less effective at the task at hand.
Let your subconscious handle it. The subconscious mind is one of the most powerful tools that we possess. It is unnecessary to make an effort to keep everything at the “top-of-mind” because everything that happens is stored in your sub-conscious.
If someone asks what you did last Monday evening, you do not have to consciously go back and examine every minute of that day to find the answer. The subconscious mind takes over; it instantly searching the brain’s archives, retrieves the memory and quickly delivers it to the conscious mind.
It works the same way with any task that involves memorized actions and facts. Like conscious thoughts, these subconscious processes also utilize brain energy and processing capacity that can go on overload if pushed too far, which can take a toll on your emotions.
The Human Computer
If you compare the brain to parts of a computer, the conscious mind is somewhat like the user interface, the part that becomes visible on screen that can be directed by the click of a mouse to execute a command.
The subconscious on the other hand is like the processor. While invisible, it actually does most of the work, executing on every command within milliseconds after the user initiates it.
Also, like a computer, if you ask it to execute too many commands simultaneously, or give a command that is far too large and complex, it will freeze and lock up.
Let’s look at an example:
You are under pressure to finish an urgent project at work. But, before you left for work this morning you had a fight with your spouse. You have consciously put the fight out of your mind, but your subconscious mind has not stopped running through the words spoken in anger and the emotions that flared.
After a hour or two at work, you realize you are not giving your full attention to the project; plus, you are extremely irritable, which is not typically your nature.
Even though you are not actively thinking about the fight itself, while you are trying to keep you conscious mind focused on the work, your subconscious continues to ruminate on the fight and react emotionally to it.
The emotional response of your brain is creating a physiological and psychological effect that is absorbing all your processing capacity and coloring every other thought you have, even those that have nothing to do with the fight at all.
Essentially, the mind has locked up! The past is controlling the present, making it almost impossible to function effectively and take care of what needs to be done at this moment.
Developing the ability to let go of the past, and stay in the present moment is critical to a high level of productivity and effectiveness.
Then . . . there is the challenge of the future. Some object to the philosophy of “living in the moment” by saying that the present is not the only important time frame – that the future is equally important. I agree the future is important, but there is a caveat that must be added.
Plan, but Do Not Dwell on the Future
We need to plan for the future, short-term and long-term. Setting goals and having a clear picture of where you want to go during the next few months and years will help pull you into the life that you want to create.
But . . . thinking about the future should not be something that consumes a large percentage of your mental time.
Like the past (which is gone and cannot be changed), the future, which has not yet arrived, also cannot be changed by your thoughts. It can only be changed as you live in each present moment – thereby creating the future.
Dwelling on the future is dangerous for another reason – it allows you to stack-up multiple possible scenarios that become stressors. Worry overloads the mind, causing an emotional crash (going back to the computer analogy) followed by mental paralysis.
There is no need to put yourself through that kind of mental anguish when your imagined scenarios may never happen. It is a total waste of time and energy to stress about all the things that may or may not happen. Live in the moment and deal with what actually happens – when it happens!
The brain tends to look at the size of the task involved – rather than stretch it out over time. That is why it is important to break down tasks and challenges into bite-sized pieces, so the mind does not stress out and go into resistance mode. It is also an excellent way to overcome procrastination tendencies.
Now that we have covered the negative aspects of focusing on too many things at once, let’s look at something that can be powerful and useful.
Get in the Zone
There is definitely something therapeutic about focusing on one all-consuming task. The majority of us probably have at least one experience of focusing completely on a specific task and found that it pulled us into “the zone,” blocking everything else from our awareness.
This “zone” is a maximal state of attention, which can also include a maximal state of enjoyment, or a maximal state of pain, depending on the nature of the activity. The more you focus on a stimuli, the more you feel it.
The opposite is also true, the less you focus on it, the less you can feel or perceive it.
The body uses this principle to help reduce pain. When a person suffers from a cut, burn, or other painful injury, the pain can be diminished by massaging the area around the wound. The sensory nerves that react to the massage send pulses to the spinal cord.
At the same time it is also sending inhibitory pulses to the nerves nearby, which lessens the pain coming from nerves in the damaged area of the body. Scientists have even developed devices that can stimulate the nerves so much that they can negate a large portion of pain from severe injuries.
The psychological effect in the brain works the same way. We can effectually block out stressful thoughts by occupying our mental channels with ONLY what is going on in the moment. This is known as “diversion.” In Spanish divertido means fun, entertaining, or funny.
Diversion is the core of using the present moment to find peace of mind and create high levels of productivity.
Live in the Moment
When life is full of chaotic elements that threaten to overwhelm, it is simple to forget them all by focusing solely on what you are doing in the present (the here and now).
Although pleasurable activities are great for this purpose, they do not have to be pleasurable for this to work.
Scrubbing the bath tub can work just as well as binge-watching your favorite TV series. In fact, scrubbing the tub may be even more effective since it requires the involvement of all five of your senses, instead of just sight and sound.
This is why many people find activities such as gardening, jogging, sports, listening to music, painting, and crafts to be very therapeutic. They are great stress relievers. Even workplace activities, when not tied to urgent deadlines, can be relaxing.
This principle of living in the moment is also fundamental to meditation, which is meant to absorb your mind completely – to bring you fully present by focusing on one thing – like your breath going in and out.
Find diversions that work for you – that bring you into the moment – the give you peace of mind and improved performance in anything you endeavor.
Reaching high levels of professional and financial success at any cost has been the modern-day Mecca to multitudes of business men and women for several decades.
Unfortunately, the attainment of such an all-consuming goal has not produced the peace and happiness that was expected. There was a dark side to success.
Fairly recently, the question of balance and its impact on mental health and happiness has taken center stage in many circles of psychological research. Dozens of studies have been conducted and published on the subject as companies and individuals alike have noticed that their chaotic lifestyle has not produced the happiness they hoped to achieve. The cost has greatly outweighed the benefits.
The majority of these studies agree on one thing – there is potential for incredible benefits from living a balanced life filled with interesting and varied experiences rather than living with an all-consuming focus on career.
The studies also included some important findings about the effects of stress. Stress is not always detrimental to health and happiness. In fact, a bit of stress here and there is actually healthy, for both plants and animals – it stimulates growth and development. It depends on the source of the stress, how relentles it is, and how it is managed.
The danger comes when relentless stress pounds the mind and body and the individuals accept it as the norm. They cope with it the best they can; but allow no time for recovery from the depletion of resources.
Professional burnout from chronic stress debilitates the individual to the point that s/he can no longer function effectively on a personal or professional level.
“Burnout is one of those road hazards in life that high-achievers really should be keeping a close eye out for, but sadly – often because of their “I can do everything” personalities, they rarely see it coming.”
The individual may suffer with any or all of the following:
Physical and emotional exhaustion
Cynicism, anger, detachment
Feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
Bouts of anxiety and depression
Professional burnout does not happen overnight. It comes on slowly, overtime, making it difficult to recognize. There are warnings signs, but there are rarely recognized until it is too late.
The human body thrives on moderation. In spite of that being a fairly well-known fact, there are huge numbers of people who gravitate toward extreme lifestyles. They tend to be adrenalin junkies with a need for more and greater challenges.
It may be a psychological compulsion to escape the sea of sameness that drives them to seek everything in unhealthy proportions. But, whatever the cause, there is an endless list of good reasons to avoid the rat race and live a life of moderation on all fronts.
The Pressure Starts Early
A close look at America’s higher education system is good case study for what is happening. As knowledge increases, and job requirements become more demanding, the amount of curriculum required to graduate from college goes up, while the time allotted for completion of tasks goes down.
This places students under incredible amounts of stress. If you are a recent graduate or have a child in college you are probably aware that symptoms of chronic stress are everywhere – poor eating habits, lack of sleep, chronic anxiety and depression, poor quality of work, and a decreasing appreciation for study.
As a nation, America, has created such high expectations and placed such high stakes on a single four-year period of life that the pressure is almost unbearable. Even the students with the highest scholastic standings begin to dread the moment they have to open a text book.
High schools are not much better. Even the elementary schools are intense. Kindergarteners and First Graders have homework! Is it any wonder than many children hate school?
The problem is simple. When you put too much emphasis on a single focus, and create too much pressure around it, eventually even pleasurable activities become drudgery. The joy of the activity itself is smothered by the stress connected to it.
A good illustration of this is that many artists decide to keep their art as a hobby or recreation, rather than pursuing it as a profession. They realize that if their livelihood depended on their art, the pressure would dampen the fun, and joy of creating would lose its magic.
In America the one aspect of life where this principle is most blatantly violated is work/life balance. American professionals push themselves beyond reason their entire lives with the goal of retiring early and enjoying life more. Unfortunately, they often get the early retirement in the form of an unexpected permanent vacation because they literally work themselves to death.
Today, even a “typical work week” is extreme – more often than not it is 60 to 90 hours rather than 40.
A Series of Unhealthy Extremes
In order to cope with the unrelenting pressures, people turn to energy drinks, alcohol, ice cream, cheesecake, and other comfort foods and activities to dim or wipe out the memories of everything that happened during the past week – or that they have to face in the coming week.
Life becomes a series of unhealthy extremes – each one throwing everything else more and more out of balance.
The Solution is Simple
Simple – yes! But, not necessarily easy to incorporate when you have been on the fast track for years. It is called BALANCE!
Limit the number of hours you work each week – cut it down to at least 50, but 40 would be better. Disconnect from your electronic leash at the end of the day and on the weekend.
After a busy day at work, make it a practice to enjoy a nice dinner with family or friends. Plan time in your schedule in the evenings or on the weekend to do something you really enjoy – painting, hiking, swimming, basketball, reading, going to the movies – anything that is FUN and takes your mind from the pressures and responsibilities of work.
When you take the time for self-care on the weekend, going back to work on Monday morning will be much easier. You will have decompressed and regenerated enough that you will be able to handle work stress and the occasional crisis with grace and dignity – and let it go when it is over.
Daily and weekly rest and relaxation stabilizes you emotionally and psychologically. It is a much wiser strategy than working nights and weekends 95% of the year so that you can take one extended annual vacation.
Developing a nice balance of work, rest, and fun throughout the week increases overall satisfaction with life.
Balance and Moderation in all Things
The human body and mind were not meant to handle excess.
Balance and moderation can be applied universally in life, whether it is eating, sleeping, exercise, entertainment, socializing, study, or work. For example, the body does not do well when you starve it for three days and then binge eat for three hours.
The secret of good health and peace of mind is striving to find balance in every facet of your life.
Be sure there is time in your schedule to purchase fresh, healthy foods, to prepare tasty meals and allow plenty of time to enjoy them. Eat regular nutritious meals every day to provide the necessary fuel for your miraculous body to function at the highest level.
Regular exercise in moderation is also a key factor to mental and physical health, as is regular social interaction, regular eustress (a good form of stress that can actually increase our performance at a task and your general happiness and sense of well-being), regular sleep habits for adequate rest, and regular relaxation.
The word “regular” comes from the root “to regulate” which means to keep things in their proper proportions. But, even regulation can become extreme. If you obsess over counting calories, timing your exercise to the second, and stress when you only get seven hours and twenty minutes of sleep, you need to loosen up a bit.
It is not uncommon for people to go from an extremely chaotic lifestyle to an extremely regimented one. Flexibility is critical to a balanced life. Being able to go with the flow is important.
There will be days – even an occasional week when things get out of balance. That is to be expected. It is perfectly OK, as long as you do not allow it to become the “norm” again and slip back into a permanent pattern of imbalance.
Other Possible Dangers
When making the shift from a chaotic, extremely hectic life to a more normal pace, there are some common pitfalls to avoid. One in particular is going to the opposite extreme and taking the stance that life is to be “lived fully.” That you should stop taking life so seriously and do whatever makes you happy – whenever you choose to do it – no matter what anyone else thinks.
This approach also carries with it the potential of great dissatisfaction. Meaning and direction in life, both personally and professionally, are powerful factors that contribute to health, happiness, and fulfillment.
If you remove the meaning from your work, then you remove the reason to work at all. It is the same with life. In fact, many of the happiest people claim that their source of joy comes from finding a deeper meaning to the everyday aspects of living.
The lesson to be learned from all this is that extremes of any kind are dangerous.
Recognize your physical and emotional instincts and live a lifestyle that accommodates them, but does not make you a slave to them.
Moderation and balance are the keys to a peaceful, joyful life.
Stress eating can happen any time of the day (or night). In fact, it is usually worse in the evening. So, every effort should be made to stop stress eating at night.
You have a hard day at work, or one of the kids give you grief after school. Finally, dinner is over, dishes are cleared, and everyone is asleep except you. You are finally alone and have time to relax. It is so nice and quiet.
Unfortunately, there is also too much time to think about the day and everything that has happened, or might happen. It is all TOO MUCH!
All you can think about is eating something sweet and yummy – the great distractor – to make you feel better. AND . . . you deserve it! What can you do?
There are a few tips I can share that may be helpful. They work for me; maybe they will work for you, too.
When You Want a Snack – WAIT!
This is a tip that not only works in the evening, it is a good one to use anytime of the day when you have the overwhelming urge to grab an unhealthy snack between meals.
Find some other way to distract yourself. Ignore the urge for a few minutes. Tell yourself you will get the snack after you take care of “one more thing.” This gives your body time for the craving to disappear so you can move on with healthier activities.
After 15 or 20 minutes, if you are actually feeling hungry, then maybe your body really needs something. Go for a healthy snack of fruit or a small handful of nuts to take the edge off until meal time (or bedtime).
There is a good chance the craving will fade and you will know that you were in “stress-eating mode” rather a real need to feed your body. Plus, you will have made it through without giving in.
Clean-out Your Pantry – No Junk Food Allowed
Take the necessary steps to make night-time stress eating difficult. Clean out your pantry, freezer and refrigerator. Get rid of all the chips, ice cream, buttery popcorn, hot fudge, cookies, pretzels, and any other favorite munchies that you typically have readily available.
When you have multiple choices of favorite unhealthy snacks lying around, you will almost always go for them. It is difficult to choose healthy alternatives when stress is in control of your mind and body.
If your pantry is bare of such temptations, you are more likely to eat a healthier substitute that you have on hand than you are to jump in your car and drive to get something unhealthy.
When your pantry is clean, make healthy options easy to find and eat. Always have fresh fruit you can peel, or cut up quickly. Also, keep small portions of raw nuts like almonds, cashews, walnuts, packaged in snack-sized baggies ready to grab and munch.
Hard-boiled eggs are great for a quick evening, high-protein snack – even a few slices of real cheddar cheese, or apple slices dipped in almond butter.
Snacking can be fun and healthy if you want it to be.
Always Eat at the Table
Eating should be reserved for the kitchen or the dining room. When you get used to eating in the living room, your favorite recliner, or in bed, you will have a much harder time breaking the night-time stress eating habit.
In fact, eating in any of those places creates a double whammy bad habit. You are not only stress eating unhealthy foods, you are doing it in parts of the home that are meant for relaxation (not eating). It can easily lead to overeating and serious weight gain.
For the health of the entire family, make a strict rule that meals and snacks are only eaten in the kitchen, breakfast nook, or dining room. No eating should be allowed on the sofa, the recliner, in front of the TV, in the office, or in bedrooms.
Establish a Healthy Evening Routine
How do you wind down and get ready for bed? That may be part of the problem.
If you make it a habit of grabbing a bag of chips or a big dish of ice cream to eat in front of the TV before you go to bed, you have already established a pattern that must be broken.
Change things up! If your family enjoys dessert, serve smaller dinners so they have room for a small tasty dessert that is served at the end of the meal, with a nice cup of tea or coffee.
Start a tradition of enjoying conversation with the whole family over dessert. Then clear the table and have the whole family go into the living room to watch a little TV before bed.
Or, take a leisurely walk around the block – a great way to relax before settling down for the night.
Another great way to de-stress is to use aromatherapy while taking a long bath. It clears the mind, relaxes the body, and helps release tension for a better night’s sleep.
The more relaxed you are the less likely you will be to indulge in stress eating at night.
I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions for a good evening routine.
What ideas to you have for de-stressing and relaxing in the evening before bed?
Expanding your weekly exercise routine with new and different physical activities is always a good idea. Incorporating hiking into your routine is smart because it burns a lot of calories and works muscles not used in the more common workouts.
Do not jump into hiking – full speed ahead. You could injure yourself. Before you make a commitment to hike five miles a day, be sure your body is ready for hiking.
How to Add Hiking to Your Exercise Routine
Start with Cardio
If you have not been exercising regularly, please, start working on your cardio before you ever go on a hike.
Try low-impact cardio, such as swimming, walking, aerobics, treadmill, stationary bike, or dumb bells. You can then add higher intensity workouts, such as kickboxing, spin class, or a high-impact cardio class at your gym.
Continue doing cardio on the days when you aren’t hiking to get your body in better shape. Being in shape will give you the stamina to eventually increase the frequency and distance of your hikes. It will not take long until you will be able to handle those 5- or 10-mile hikes with no problem.
Include Weight Training
If you want to become a “respectable” hiker, you should consider improving your muscle mass. This is important because hiking uses a lot of different muscles.
Weight training should be done by everyone, whether you hike or not, so now you have a good reason to do it. A few days a week working on your core and your arms and legs will be very beneficial, not only in the beginning, but also when you are ready for those big, uphill hikes.
Ease Into Hiking
You are ready to begin, great! Please, move forward at a pace that works for your body.
For the complete novice, find nearby hiking trails that are short and relatively easy – no more than half-mile long so that you will only walk a mile total.
A one-mile hike is good distance to start. It allows your muscles and frame to get used to walking trails and you can see how your body adapts.
If there are no short, easy trails available, take a main trail (which usually starts out fairly easy), but stop after 15-20 minutes. Turn back and return the way you came. You can use the same trail and gradually increase the length of time or the distance you walk.
Another option is to start out walking trails in a nearby park, preferably dirt trails if you can find them. Walking on dirt is different than walking on sidewalks.
Get a Hiking Buddy
A good way to encourage you to keep up with your hiking plan as part of your routine is to hike with a friend. Hiking alone can be boring, so consider bringing someone with you. It is also safer to hike with a friend, just in case either of you run into a problem; and, always carry your cell phone.
Choose someone who is on the same hiking level and with the same goals: to get in shape, to lose weight, or to be healthier and feel better (mentally and physically). Don’t ask an extreme sports enthusiast to be your companion. For obvious reasons, that would not be a good match.
A regular exercise routine is a fundamental necessity for anyone who wants to stay healthy and life a long, happy life.
Start exercising today – even if it is just a 15 minute walk around the block, graduating to walking trails in the park, and eventually building up to more – including hiking in the great outdoors.