Are you feeling Life-Tired or lebensmude?

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.”  ― Friedrich Nietzsche

Monday’s and the start of the week can make people feel worried, upset or even depressed at the prospect of the week to come. I came across a phrase recently that really struck a chord with me. The phrase is:

LEBENSMÜDE  or Life-Tired. It is a German phrase that struck a chord with me.

We believe ourselves to be firmly attached to the effort of daily life, but some of our behaviours attests to something more; an occasional longing to give up our hold the life we lead. When this happens, we suddenly feel low; possibly distracted from the task at hand; even possibly wanting to give up and walk away from the situation. This could be the work environment, a situation at home or even something to do with friends or family.

For many people these days, this feeling can be complete almost overwhelming. Almost like a tidal wave of doubt and angst suddenly hits you. I am sre we have all felt this at some stage.

Some turn to drink. Others to drugs. Some feel anxious and try to run away. Others, even start to feel depressed. You may turn to sport or exercise, but for me, I turn to my thoughts and feelings, expressed through Mindfulness. Having practiced mindfulness now for coming up to three years, it still amazes me, how a simple breathing exercise or a mindful walk can change my whole outlook. Even a brief loving, kindness meditation can work wonders.

I am currently going through a four week mindfulness programme , sponsored by the place where I work. Part refresher; part to help me develop as a mindfulness coach at work; we were encouraged to read an article on how to be more mindful at work. In fact almost every one of the ten tips, not only apply to work. But also apply to re life you live. They include four of my favourite tips:

Be Consciously Present
Mindfulness is about being aware and awake rather than operating unconsciously. Be aware of what’s going on around you and what’s going on within you.

Be a Single-Tasker
Multi-tasking is trying to do two or more tasks at the same time or switching back and forth between tasks. Nobody can actually multi-task. In reality, your brain is madly switching from one thing to the next, often losing your train of thought in the process. Why not try single-tasking by trying to do one thing at a time.

Mindful Reminders
I, like most people who’ve undertaken training in mindfulness, appreciate the benefits of mindful living. Unfortunately, I keep forgetting to be mindful!  I have to use a reminder. In fact, it is the bracelet I wear next to my watch which I bought when I started practising, as my physical reminder. What is yours?

Cultivate Humility
Humility comes from the Latin “humilis”, meaning grounded. Humble people have a quiet confidence about themselves and don’t feel the need to continuously remind others of their achievements. I have come to feel humble as part of my journey through my mindfulness practice.

It is also useful to have a sense of fun and pleasure as well. Maybe even useful to have this word, lebensmude,  to hand on days when it feels as if nothing will ever work out.

In the meantime, I leave you with the following quote.

Don’t exist.

Live.

Get out, explore.

Thrive.

Challenge authority. Challenge yourself.

Evolve.

Change forever.

Become who you say you always will. Keep moving. Don’t stop

Brian Krans

 

If you want to check out the article on 10 ways to feel mindful at work, go to:

https://www.mindful.org/10-ways-mindful-work/

Hear, Listen and Attend

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”  ― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

When I was young, I was partially deaf. This was due to a number of problems with wax and my sinuses. A couple of operations later and I could hear. Not perfectly, but well enough not to consider it a disability throughout my life.

As a result, it has made me very aware of the sounds around me; the conversations that take place and the discussions that I am involved in. Does this mean I am good at hearing things? I try very hard to hear and can on occasions ask for something to be repeated if I fail to hear what is said. This most often happens in a crowded place with multiple people chatting away.

Does this mean I am a good listener? Nope!

I know that on occasions, whilst I might be hearing what is being said, I can zone out of the conversation; perhaps thinking of the answer I want to give; perhaps thinking of a parallel topic, or sometimes my mind just wanders off. Then all of a sudden, the person that is talking will stop and you realise that they have asked a question and you have no idea what was asked.

Gotcha!

The comment “Were you listening to what I was saying?” means they know you were not listening.

There is a distinct difference in hearing and listening. The dictionary definitions are as follows (via Oxford English Dictionary):

hear (verb)   perceive with the ear the sound made by (someone or something)

listen (verb)    give one’s attention to a sound

There is a distinct difference between the two:

  • “I hear you” to me means I understand the emotion you are trying to convey.
  • “I am listening to you”  to me, means taking in what the person is saying. Really, hearing what is being said i.e. “listening and understanding”.

I think back to the comment that was made to me “Were you listening to what I was saying?”, actually, means more than just hearing what was said. It really means, did I take in what was being said and did I understand its underlying reasons.

The next time you are involved in a conversation with someone, really listen to what they are saying, rather than just hearing the sound of the words floating around you.

You might want to try active listening. Active listening is a set of tools and techniques to help you be more effective. Some active listening techniques include:

  • Building trust and establishing rapport.
  • Demonstrating concern.
  • Paraphrasing to show understanding.
  • Nonverbal cues which show understanding such as nodding, eye contact and leaning forward.
  • Brief verbal affirmations like “I see,” “I know,” “Sure,” “Thank you,” or “I understand.”
  • Asking open-ended questions.
  • Asking specific questions to seek clarification.
  • Waiting to disclose your opinion.
  • Disclosing similar experiences to show understanding

Here are some examples of statements and questions employed with active listening:

  • Building Trust and Establishing Rapport: “Tell me what I can do to help.”
  • Demonstrating Concern: “I am eager to help you; I know you are going through some tough challenges.”
  • Paraphrasing: “So, you are saying that the uncertainty about who will be your new supervisor is creating stress for you.”
  • Brief Verbal Affirmation: “I understand that you would like more frequent feedback about your performance.” “Thank you. I appreciate your time in speaking to me.”
  • Asking Open-Ended Questions:  “It’s clear that the current situation is intolerable for you. What changes would you like to see?”

Give one of them a try. You might notice a difference.

In the meantime, I leave you with the following quote.

“I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth diminishing your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear.” ― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

Work will not set you free, your attitude might

“It was sad, like those businessmen who came to work in serious clothes but wore colourful ties in a mad, desperate attempt to show there was a free spirit in there somewhere.” ― Terry Pratchett, Making Money

A recent article prompted me to reflect on the way we work today and our attitude to work.

The article talked about one of the leading entrepreneurs today, a chap called Elon Musk. You might not have heard of him, but you might have heard of the Tesla car, which is one of his companies. Anyway, Elon was asked about the ups and downs of his life and Elon Musk was asked about the ups and downs of his life – in particular of setting up and growing an enterprise. He replied “The reality is great highs, terrible lows and unrelenting stress. Don’t think people want to hear about the last two,”

Although Elon was talking about setting up and running companies, I think that the phrase also applies to many people in the world of work today.

I completely concur with Musk about the ‘great highs, terrible lows and unrelenting stress’ as I reflect on the world of work that I have lived through over the past 30 years.

I have experienced fantastic highs. Standing in front of 1,000 plus people sharing my experiences of designing and implementing a global Performance Measurement and Management System that supported 2,000 users and was used across a global business. Oh and then being presented with an award, which came as a complete surprise. By the way, to many people standing in front of that many people presenting would be a nightmare. But I enjoyed it.

I have experienced terrible lows. Having to go through a European wide organisation restructure, which meant that colleagues were let go. Having to design the selection criteria and then choose who was to stay and who was to go. Going through the selection process and then watching people being asked to leave a company they cared about and were doing a meaningful job.  To some, a number exercise, but not to me.

Finally, unrelenting stress. As the result of a major change programme that did not go well; having to work 7 days a week with long hours; with exceptional pressure to keep the “boat afloat” and continue to deliver to the customers. Unrelenting. Unforgiven. Harsh and pressured to turn around a terrible situation. 

Reflecting on all of these experiences, I have come to realise that you have to care – and care deeply – about the work that you do and more importantly, the people you work with. Else, why would you put yourself through the pressure, stress and heartache? When you can walk away.

This then poses the next question; work time. If you consider the amount of time you spend in the world of work, both travelling to and from work, as well as actually working itself, it makes up the majority of your adult life. Almost four million employees are working at least 48 hours a week. The average working week in the UK is now 43.6 hours compared with a European average of 40.3 and limits of just 35 in France. If you add on the average 3-hour commute per day, then you are talking about over 58 hours per week working.

Our adult lives are work focused.

Please feel free to say they are not but the truth is, they are. We will never break away from the work world until we get to the nivara of a non-work society where everyone is free to enjoy what they want to do and “work” is carried out by robots. Till then, we will have to work and be tied into work customs and outcomes.

Back to the question I posed at the start. Work will not set you free. You will set yourself free through your attitude.

Whatever work you do, and I have experienced some of the most “interesting” – suitcase porter; soiled bed linen clearer; snooker attendant; multi-vendor service engineer; technical escalation manager,  and even prisoner mentor (yes inside a category B prison with “lifers”); every role, in the end, is carried out by someone.  You will all come to realise that there are very few if any, opportunities to be content in the world of work. Work will not set you free from the grind and effort of delivering a service/product / solution, or whatever.

What sets you “free”, to use a phrase, is how you approach the “work” you do. Your mind set. How you want to serve the customer or the people in the value chain. Your own passion and ethos on serving people.  Even in the most recent challenges I have had, my approach has always been how to serve. In some cases, ignoring the politics of the organisation and focus on the customer and the people involved.

Am I right? Wrong? Will work set you free? Not sure. How you approach work might.

If you want to read more about the tweet and the dialogue that prompted this article, go to:

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/31/elon-musk-is-bipolar-has-terrible-lows-and-unrelenting-stress.html

I leave you with the following quote.

“God might work in mysterious ways, but hell worked on efficient ones.” Richelle Mead, Succubus Shadows

P.S Do not put into google “work will set you free”, else you will get the phrase “Arbeit macht frei” (German). A phrase meaning “work sets you free”. The slogan is known for appearing on the entrance of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps.

Simple steps to help develop a “Now Mindset”

“Forever is composed of nows.” ― Emily Dickinson

One of the biggest questions people ask about Mindfulness, is all around being the in “now”. What on earth is it about? What does it mean and why even think about it?

Practicing Mindfulness helps you to focus on being present in the now. Present moment awareness brings calm, peace and sanity to your life. It exposes your ego and puts you in touch with your true self. It helps you be more connected to both yourself and also to everyone around you.

The present moment is all there ever is. Still, most people ignore it, imagining the future or the past, stuck in their thinking minds.

The present moment is so simple. Its simplicity is masked by the egoic mind – wanting to get to some imaginary point in the future (as if the future will bring more happiness than anything could now), or reliving the past (as if this is more important than now). So many of our problems, traumas, anxieties, fears etc. are all based in our minds. Dwelling in the past, or conditioned by the past and then negatively anticipating “the future”.

Time exists only in the mind. It keeps you from the conscious presence that is who you already are, only available within the present moment.

So how can you become more aware? It does take some time, so be prepared to take a few minutes out of your day to try one of the following:

  • Be aware of what you can see, hear, smell, feel. Take a moment to really concentrate on looking at an object or listen to the sounds going on around you. Perhaps sit outside and feel the breeze on your skin or the smells in the air around you.
  • Be aware of your breath flowing gently in and out of your body. The breathing exercise is one of the fundamentals of Mindfulness practice. For a blog post I wrote on the breath practice, go to: https://martinsummerhayes.com/2016/04/20/the-mindfulness-tool-the-breath/
  • Experience and feel your body from within – for example can you be aware of your legs – as if you are feeling the inside of them? This might sound strange, but try it, and you might be surprised by the results.
  • Can you hear the silence behind any noise that may be there? Listen to the background, as well as the foreground noises.
  • Be aware of space around all things you can see rather than just the things themselves? Look beyond the foreground and look to the background.
  • Finally, can you feel yourself as the awareness behind the thoughts that arise? This is probably the most difficult one to try.

 

Practicing any of these approaches on a regular basis will help put you within the present moment and somewhat out of your mind. Of course the mind may well pull you back in again with some thought, or emotional resistance may arise, but that is the challenge with the mind.

You may notice that as you stay in the present moment, you might become more aware of deeper feelings, thoughts and emotions that you were not aware of before. This is fine, and they are as they are. Allow them to be as well, do not name any emotion or thought – let them be, be the space for them, and see what happens. You may notice as you do this, a sense of peace, aliveness, awareness, however subtle or strong is arising in the background

This practice of present moment awareness and acceptance puts you in touch with what you really are, and sets you free from all the negativity you may be carrying in your mind. There is only this moment, and it is as it is.

I leave you with the following quote.

“Live in the present, remember the past, and fear not the future, for it doesn’t exist and never shall. There is only now.” ― Christopher Paolini, Eldest

Your toes are good reminders of now!

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

Question for you.

It is funny, but how often do you think about your feet?

Go on, take a moment and try to remember the last time you really thought about those things at the end of your legs. Unless you have recently bought a pair of shoes and are wearing them in; like I did; or you have a bunion or a pain in your feet; or have gone for a long walk; it is unlikely you have spent some time thinking about them at all.

 

Now I have got your attention on your feet, I’d like to say that you can use your feet in a Mindfulness practice that helps focus you on the now. Yes, both a Mindfulness practice as well as practising being in the now. Plus it is something that is fun that you can try at home, in the office, on the train, almost anywhere….

The invitation begins by gently bringing your attention down the legs into the feet. Sensing your feet directly without looking at them. Allowing your awareness to sink into your feet and fill them from the inside to the outside. From the bones, right out to the surface of the skin. Perhaps sensing the many small bones within the feet. Maybe feeling the sensations of touch on the skin; the sensations in the soles of the feet; the sense of touch and pressure where the feet make contact with the floor. Perhaps exploring with your awareness the boundary between the feet on the floor. Next……

Can you Wiggle Your Toes
Seriously. Our toes are anomalies from the rest of our bodies, for they’re one of the movable parts of our bodies that we don’t reflexively move or incorporate into the rest of our normal movements. Our toes are just there, not moving. Rather than over-thinking this one, trust me and try the following:

  • Scrunch your toes up to make a toe fist
  • Wiggle them
  • Stretch them out
  • Focus on moving your big toes without moving the rest of them
  • Now do whatever feels right for your toes
  • Now allow your awareness to sink into your feet and fill them from the inside to the outside, perhaps sensing the sensations of touch on the skin
  • The sensations in the soles of the feet, the sense of touch and pressure where the feet make contact with the floor.
  • Perhaps exploring with your awareness the boundary between the feet on the floor.
  • Perhaps the weight of the feet on the floor
  • Finally, allow your attention move away from your feet.
  • You have been experiencing “the now”

Did you notice that you couldn’t really think about anything else while you were actively moving your toes? You might also suddenly notice other parts of your body. It can be really weird when this happens.

The act of being present is, in a sense, a meditation without meditating. With it comes a sense of stillness. For a few moments in your busy, 24*7 lives, you feel at peace. At one with yourself and the world around you.

Finally, the photo I used is of my wacky striped socks. I came across a set of weird and wonderful coloured socks, bought them and have enjoyed wearing them both at work and at home. The look on some of my colleague’s faces when they see them brings a smile to them and me. The photo is a collage of four days of sock wearing at work last week!

If you look closely, you may notice that my left ankle is larger than my right. This is the long term outcome of being run over a few years ago. I have three screws in my left ankle and have five degrees less movement; hence the swelling. Oh and sometimes it does hurt, but that is life.

I love whacky socks and please feel free to share photos of your wacky socks!

Finally, if you would like to do a more formal practice to shift out of doing mode, then try the following link:

https://www.mindful.org/a-7-minute-practice-to-shift-out-of-doing-mode/?mc_cid=0cb29957c3&mc_eid=abae5a711f

I leave you with the following quote.

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

 

How to accept the now, by being present

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.” ― Thomas Merton

Contrary to popular belief, humans cannot multitask. We get ourselves so wrapped up in trying to do a number of tasks at the same time, it stresses ourselves out. What we are capable of doing is handling a number of serial tasks in rapid succession, or mixing automatic tasks with those that are not so automatic.  

It’s like how we think. We can only think of one thing at a time. However, with upwards of 70,000 thoughts going through our heads, we believe we are able to multitask our thoughts. Our brains are incredibly clever at rapid thought change, but in reality, our conscious thinking is a sequence of thoughts; one after another.

We can only think of one thing at a time. However, with upwards of 70,000 thoughts going through our heads, we believe we are able to multitask our thoughts. Our brains are incredibly clever at rapid thought change, but in reality, our conscious thinking is a sequence of thoughts; one after another.

Most of our thoughts are spent in the past or in the future, rather than the present moment. What we end up doing is passing through that moment on the way to somewhere else and, in doing so, we miss the moment. That’s how life ends up passing us by – we do it to ourselves.

So, how do we stay present?

The first thing to recognize is that try as we might, we really can only do one thing at a time. Ruminating over the past, and that’s all we’re doing is ruminating over the past; is problematic because the past is something that can’t be changed. Certainly, we can change our relationship to past memories, but staying “back there” is simply ruminative and, for some of us, baldly destructive. There are a number of techniques that are used that can help you if there are past memories that badly affect you – Reframing; Integral Eye Movement Therapy; Talking therapies; NLP; Hypnosis; literally hundreds of different techniques. What they all do is change your relationship to the past memory.

Anticipating the future is also problematic, even futile, because, no matter how much we’d like to convince ourselves otherwise, we can’t really control the direction in which things will go. We can have an intention or goal in mind, but, in the end, the fates, God, the universe or something has a way of deciding.

Staying present, then, means staying here, right here, and there are a few simple techniques that can help us all experience the moment that we’re in.

Observe what you are doing right now

What you’re doing right at this moment? For most, right now, you are reading this blog post. Are you just reading? Where are your thoughts? Your emotions? Your hands? Your sense of time? You are reading – that’s it…so, just read. Not being present is easy. It is so easy to let our minds wander. Back and forth across our lives. The next time you are doing something, try to just focus on that task. I tried this, this morning when I cleaned my teeth. I focused my attention of the brushing motion; the froth created in my mouth and the tingle of the cleansing toothpaste. For a few moments, I was completely present.

Take a breath:

Our breath, along with change, are the only constants in our lives. Being present starts with the breath. All Mindfulness teaching starts with the breath. After all it , s always with us. Simply draw a deep breath through your nose rather than your mouth. When we breathe through our mouth it triggers a subtle anxiety response, which increases heart rate and redirects blood flow. A slow release of breath through the nose has the opposite effect of mouth-breathing, and draws a relaxation response. One of the quick mindfulness techniques is to breath in for half the amount of time you breath out. You can say breath in for a count of six and out for a count of 12, whatever works for you. I try to notice the difference in the air temperature between the in breath and out breath when I practice. It is always cooler on the in, than the out.

Take a moment:

Our 24*7 lives seem to be always on. When was the last time, you stopped and took a moment, even a few minutes to stop what you are doing? During the day, we rush to get to work; we try to cram in as many emails, meetings and tasks as possible and then rush home again. When we get home, we fill our task list with chores and activities. Even when we go on holiday, we seem to try to fill up every waking moment. Instead, take a mindful moment.

That is what mindfulness meditation teaches you. Whether it is 3 minutes, 10 minutes or even longer, try to take a moment every day. There is going to  be a follow up blog post with a fun way to bring attention to te now. In the mena time, if you have a ay of being present in the now, do share.

I leave you with the following quote.

“The past is already gone, the future is not yet here. There’s only one moment for you to live, and that is the present moment”

Gautama Buddha

Stress and the pressures of life

“The reason many people in our society are miserable, sick, and highly stressed is because of an unhealthy attachment to things they have no control over.” ― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

I have been silent for a while.

Not in the speaking sense, but from a blog posting perspective. Life and mostly work have been the focus for the past month. A major transformation programme got to launch position and from that day on, it has been full on. Not just for me, but for a whole group of people.

The teams involved have been working long hours, resolving issues as they came up. As someone said “Fixing the wings, at the same time as the plane was flying”.

This put a huge amount of pressure onto everyone involved, me included.

Some people reacted to the stress and pressure by going silent. Some by shouting and swearing. Others still, looked like they were carrying the world on their shoulders. Everyone was impacted in some way. I, too, felt the stress, but, I feel I dealt with it in a slightly different way.

I became more focused; but at the same time, more focused only on the moment at hand; rather than the whole situation. This is part of the mindfulness training and background that I have developed over the past few years. Experiencing “present moment awareness” and only the “present moment”. It is one of the cornerstones of Mindfulness practice and it is something that you can use, not only in a formal manner, but also day to day, even moment to moment.

So what is Present Moment Awareness?

So often, we let the present slip away, allowing time to rush past unobserved and unseized, and squandering the precious seconds of our lives as we worry about the future and ruminate about what’s past. Present-moment awareness involves monitoring and attending to your current experience rather than predicting future events or dwelling on the past. In effect focusing all your attention on the “now”. The present moment is all there ever is. If you don’t believe me, let me give you another premise.

I will do a follow-up article on some of the steps you can take to develop present moment awareness, over and above formal Mindfulness practice.

How long is “now”?

Ugghh? What on earth is Martin banging on about now?

Well, according to a number of studies, it is approximately 3 seconds. Yep, 3 seconds. Whether it is giving someone a hug (I would not necessarily recommend that at work), through reading an e: mail marketeers latest e: mail to you extolling the virtues of xyz; different studies suggest that “now” or the present moment is about 3 seconds in length. In fact, we go through life perceiving the present in a series of 3-second windows. Outside of that timeframe, we then start to either use memory as an aid, or we start to store what is going on around us in short term memory.

Part of my mindfulness awareness, is that I can not change the past, nor can I impact the future. I can only exist in the present moment. Neither can I influence the actions of others, or correct the mistakes that other have made. In addition, I am not responsible for the outcomes of others.

Does this make me more detached? Nope. In fact it helps me increase focus on the present activity and helps me deliver the task at hand. It also helps, as I am more calm and for those around me, that can help them as well.

Nope. In fact, it helps me increase focus on the present activity and helps me deliver the task at hand. It also helps, as I am calmer and for those around me, that can help them as well.

So being present is literally, as short as 3 seconds. I would not advocate using that as a reference when being at work, but I would say, that recognising life is lived in the present moment, is key to dealing with the stress of life.

If you would like to read the article on e: mail marketing or the article on hugs, which both reference the 3 second effect, check out the following links.

https://www.digitaldoughnut.com/articles/2016/march/your-marketing-email-has-only-3-seconds-to-capture

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2011/01/hugs-follow-3-second-rule
In the mean time, I leave you with the following quote.

“I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth diminishing your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear.” ― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience