MORE TIME DURING THE HOLIDAYS

Ah… the holiday season. Filled with great joy, family and feelings of love and gratitude. Sometimes, however, it is also filled with stress, feelings of being overwhelmed and stress. It seems we need another hour or a couple of hours in our days to get everything done. There is shopping, finding the perfect gift for people we discover we do not know as well as we thought we did. Often there is either travel, or preparing for the arrival of people who are traveling to see us. We have to shop and prepare meals considering everyone’s likes, food allergies and culture restrictions. Not only do we have all of these things to consider, but we also have our regular obligations of work, housecleaning and parenting as well.

Sadly, there is no way to extend the daily deadline beyond 24 hours. How then, can we gain more time during the holidays? The man above you might recognize, his name is Albert Einstein. world-famous physicist. He developed the theory of relativity. I found this hard to grasp when it came to time. How can time be relative? Is not an hour always 60 minutes?

I found the answer, and a great explanation on the theory of relativity in a most unlikely place. There is a home-improvement store here called Menards. On the bottom of all of their sales ads they have motivational sayings in real fine print. One fine day while pondering why I even live in a place where I would need a snow blower, I found the answer I was looking for. On the bottom of the page read “How long 3 minutes is depends on what side of the bathroom door you are on.” While I would love to claim credit for that great bit of wisdom I cannot.

How does this translate to the relativity of time, and more importantly, how can it help us gain more time during the holidays? Think of that situation if you will. Yes, it is odd that a self-improvement website will ask you to think of spending time in the bathroom. I don’t know about you, but sometimes that is when some of my greatest ideas come to me. Have you ever had to use the bathroom when somebody else is doing the same? Every second can seem like an eternity. If you are the person on the inside the time would certainly seem different, yet they are exactly the same amount of time.

That is the most poignant example I have seem, but doesn’t the same thing happen to us during the holidays? It seems when we have one more place to stop and it closes in a half an hour that is when we get into the line with the sweet little old lady paying for her cartload of groceries with change…of which she has to count out by hand. Wait, did she just loose count and have to begin again? How long have I been in this line? How about preparing meals. I have experienced this first hand. Please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t mean I actually prepared the meal. Watching Margie work so hard during the holidays to make sure everything is done at the same time, and that time being close to when our guests arrive is crazy. Especially when you have to consider everything cooks at a different rate.

You may be thinking this is great Neil, and I have spent part of my holiday time reading this article and other than a entertaining bathroom analogy, you haven’t told me a single thing I can do to help my holiday craziness. Fair enough. Let us explore a few simple things we can do that will not only help us make better use of our time, but take the stress out of the time that we do spend, allowing us to enjoy more of what this time of year is all about.

The most important thing that can change our holiday is focus. When we are stuck in the slowest line in the store, focusing on that can only raise our stress level and blood pressure. What if we chose that time to try and focus on what we have to be thankful for. During the holidays that is something we all can count on and is a great gift to give ourselves. Even just a distraction whether it be reading those informative magazines telling us what the royal family is doing, or where Elvis, who is really alive, is spending his Christmas. Try to find the most interesting or amusing headline. Think of a nice thing you can say to the cashier, who truly is under a great deal of stress themselves.

Another great thing we can do is think about the outcome we are striving for. Is the goal to provide a tasty and enjoyable meal our family can gather around and share the holiday? Then does it matter if the steamed vegetables end up being part of dessert or the gravy is not as smooth as we would like? Sure, it would be great if the meal was perfect, but that is not what the holidays are all about, and nobody will expect that. What if something goes terribly wrong? One year my aunt was supposed to watch a pot of soup that was baking as the rest of us went to pick up some other relatives. She…well…I am not sure what she did other than it wasn’t watch the soup. It burned and had to be thrown away. The entire pot tasted terrible, but there was other food and it is still a story we laugh about today.

That brings us to our last point, find ways to laugh. Nothing is that serious and it is often things that go wrong that make the funniest and most entertaining holiday memories. Find a way to laugh, it will make a great holiday gift to everyone you share the holiday with. In that vein of thinking, try finding ways to genuinely compliment as many people as you can. Know and understand each of us face unique holiday stress and all of us would appreciate some kind words.

Please feel free to share your holiday stress relieving ideas in the comments below. Working together we can make the holidays better for everyone.

HOW TO STAY HEALTHY THIS WINTER

This season there will be lots of focus on what to eat, wear and do to stay healthy. Winter(The season it is where I live) can be very cold with temperatures well below the freezing mark.

I recall as a young man my mother making sure I wore the warmest, and quite often the most ridiculous clothes I owned. This often called for what we can safely call a wardrobe adjustment before arriving at school.

I remember being fed chicken soup when I was feeling under the weather. I remember some of the great tasting children’s medicine I was given. How they think that tastes like bubble gum I’ll never know.

One area that was never mentioned was the importance of my thoughts and emotions on my health. We all know when we are stressed our physical body changes. When we are mad we breathe different, our blood pressure rises. When we are nervous our stomach can get quesy.

What we may not stop to consider is how this affects our immune system. The leading cause of both physical breakdown and aging in the body is stress. It also happens to be the leading cause of heart disease in the industrialized world.

This is why making sure we take care of ourselves and those we care about emotionally this holiday season is so important. It cannot only keep them from getting the cold or flu, but quite literally save their life. I can’t think of a better gift to give.

How can we make sure to help each other? Have patience when waiting on longer lines while shopping. Be extra nice to the person working at the store, especially if they seem extra stressed. Give relatives a call just to say hello and do everything in our power to spread the gift of joy and positivity during a season where it is most needed.

P.S. – my book A Happy Life for Busy People not only contains many tips for reducing stress during the holidays, it makes a great gift too!

EVOLVE, DO NOT INVOLVE

Here is a simple question I have learned to ask myself that has reduced my stress by a great margin. In addition to the stress reduction, it has kept me focused and helped me improve almost every aspect of my life. What is this amazing question? Will this help me evolve in any way? Now this can be financially, spiritually, emotionally, physically or any other way in which you might come out a better person.

Routinely I see and hear about people concerning themselves with things that do not matter in the slightest. They argue passionately (and sometimes even hold grudges) about things such as sports or politics. They get involved in gossip. They worry about celebrity activities. The ironic thing about all of this is it seldom affects the people they get so passionate about. The political landscape will not change because you and your coworker are no longer on speaking terms. Your team will not change its approach to the game because you and your best friend end up screaming at each other. In fact, they probably will never even know or care that the discussion happened. How will it affect you? It will stress you out, put a little wear and tear on your nervous system and probably a lot of your relationships.

Then there is the matter of gossip. Margie and I go to great lengths to keep this as far away as possible. Working in bars as a DJ, however, I have the unfortunate displeasure of seeing this more often than I care too. People who have no involvement in an issue throw their opinion and quite often themselves into others business. I cannot think of a time when this has resulted in anything but more of a mess.

Begin this week to ask yourself “Will this help me evolve as a person?” Maybe the book you are about to read will help you learn something, or maybe it will give you a laugh or some heartfelt entertainment. Will voicing your disagreement as to how your football team played verses how your friends played do anything but start a disagreement?

While thinking of this, be careful to know the difference between instant gratification and evolving. Sure screaming at your spouse when they make you mad may allow you to blow off some steam, but will it do anything to help your relationship evolve? Will giving a not so friendly gesture to the person who cut you off in traffic really do anything to help the situation?

This takes a little practice and we all have moments that we do things that have us asking ourselves, “Why did I do that?” If we make a practice of asking ourselves “Will this help me evolve?” more often, we can avoid asking ourselves the first question.

LIVE LIKE YOU’RE ON VACATION

If you can belive it, this is me at work. Why on earth am I wearing a tropical shirt and hat from Jamaica? It was all inspired from a line in a song by the rock band Kiss. The line is this, Don’t need to wait for an invitation . You gotta live like you’re on vacation. This line was the beginning of a great quest for me. Personally I love tropical vacations. Literally I am transformed into a different person when I step off the plane. It is a different mindset. Anyone who has went on vacation knows exactly what I am talking about. Working on my upcoming book Living the Dream the question foremost in my mind was how can we take this mindset back with us like a valuable souvenir? How can we tolerate bosses who insult us or workplaces that are negative? One I have been working on lately. How can we tolerate freezing temperatures with no sun when we would much rather be at the beach?

While pondering this question for months on end I discovered a great and powerful secret. One I am going to share with you free of charge right here in this blog post. Those of you who will be able to wrap your head around this secret will at once understand the freedom it provides for anyone who uses it. I have personally used this secret everyday since I discovered it. Not only has it provided me a great sense of freedom, but it has made my life so much more enjoyable. Here is the great and powerful secret.

There is no law of physics that states your mind and body have to be in the same place at the same time.

I encourage you to read that statement again slowly. Ponder what that means for you. Cleaning the toilet? Why have your mind focused on the task at hand and all the not so pleasurable things that go with it. Working out? Think of how great you will feel with your new body on the beaches of Fiji. That is why a lot of us listen to music or other such things while we workout. I am in the gym 5 days a week and I can promise you that would not be possible without the encouragement of Tony Robbins, Eric Thomas or the music of Motley Crue and Shabba Ranks.

When we realize this power, it is important to note the two sides of it. When you are in a not so pleasant situation. Say working at the post office with a boss who walks the thin line between sane and insane, hypothetically. Then you can imagine being on the vacation that job allows you to save for. What beach will you go to? What will you see while snorkeling? Before you know it, the time clock will tell you it is time to go.

Here is the other fun part of this. It can really benefit you to be fully present during the good times. Once my lady had a bath with scented bath salts, a few candles and a glass of wine waiting for me. (yes I do have one amazing lady and don’t I know it) Now I knew this was going to be a great experience so I tried to soak it in with all of my senses. I felt the warm water relax my muscles. I took a deep breath and enjoyed both the scent from the bath salts as well as the steam. I took time to really enjoy the taste of the wine, the glow of the candles. I hope you are getting the idea. Do this with every pleasure, big and small, that life gives you. How many times have we driven somewhere only to park and wonder who drove when we were the only person in the car? This can be good if we are fighting rush hour, but if we are taking a drive to the grocery store via the parkway, take time to enjoy the scenery. Enjoying a great meal? Take time to savor every bite. The smell, the taste, the texture of the food in your mouth. We are preparing to go on vacation to Jamaica in November and I am already excited to soak that all in.

Here is my advice to you. Be present when life is pleasurable. When it is not, send your mind on vacation. Go skiing, or camping. Think of an especially good memory you have or maybe something you really are looking forward to.

Remember, your mind and body do not have to be in the same place at the same time.

WHAT I LEARNED FROM A FARMER PART 2

If you recall a while back I wrote a post about what I learned from a farmer. WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM THE FARM Here is another thing we can learn from a story I have heard about an old farmer.

This farmer was asked about what he was doing to address that squirrel problem. He was asked, “What are you doing about these squirrels? They are eating half of our crop! Are you trapping them? Are you poisoning them?” The farmer just smiled and shook his head as he replied, “nah, I’m just planting twice as much.”

You see that farmer discovered something I was just reminded of recently. We can fight against what is holding us back, or we can work twice as hard and still succeed. The farmer could have trapped or poisoned the squirrels and just been faced with more. That is not to say we should not address challenges, just remember to work on what we have control over as well. Like the farmer let us plant twice as much.

So, if your business is struggling make twice as many calls as you normally do. You and the spouse not getting along that well? Instead of focusing on what you think they might be doing wrong, focus on being twice as loving yourself. Feeling more stressed out lately than normal? Do twice as much to take care of yourself. Maybe add a second stress relieving activity to your day or meditate twice as often?

Even taking control of our lives gives us a boost knowing we are not leaving the quality of our life up to outside circumstances and people. While there will always be ‘squirrels’ in life, we must always remember to plant twice as much.

*disclaimer* I am actually a fan of squirrels and no squirrels were harmed in the writing of this blog.

YOU NEED TO ARM YOURSELF

Arm yourself? Is this turning into a blog about gun control? Certainly not. If this phrase sounds a bit to confrontational for you, let me remind you of one thing. We are in a fight. Some of us may not look at it that way, but that is truly what it is. We are in a fight for control of our mind, our body and our spirit. Daily we are exposed to negative influences on social media, in advertising and even through the people and situations we come in contact with.

If we are honest with ourselves, hasn’t there been a day where stress and overwhelm has stolen our day? You had things you wanted to get done, but then something happened that just left you feeling totally drained and overwhelmed due to some stressful situation? Maybe it has even stolen some joy out of your day. You had a nice party to attend or lunch to enjoy with a friend and because of something you are overwhelmed by you can’t fully enjoy it? Sometimes it can even make the littlest thing seem so stressful. 

Have you ever noticed when you are totally stressed out that is when everything seems to fall apart? You are running late for work because your car won’t start, and because you are rushing you spill coffee on your lap. Then halfway to work you realize you forgot your cell phone and cannot tell your spouse you will have to stay a little later at work resulting in them being upset you will come home late without telling them.

Whew! I don’t know about you but that makes me tired just reading that story. So how do we keep from getting overwhelmed? I am going to share something I do that not only helps from getting me too stressed out, but also helps me improve my life and learn more than I ever thought I would. Care to find out what that is? I have developed that habit of asking two very important questions. Yes, that is it. Sounds easy doesn’t it? Well it is and it isn’t. All that is required is remembering two questions. You may even wish to write them down on a piece of paper because during stressful and overwhelming times trying to remember those two questions Neil told you to ask to keep from being overwhelmed can be…well…overwhelming. The ‘difficult’ part about this is learning to come up with constructive answers. There is no shortcut that I know of to being able to do this. What I recommend is to begin doing this today. You do not have to wait for stressful situations either. You can ask these two questions about any event in your life and the result will be more knowledge and more productivity.

So what are the two magic questions? I was beginning to think we would never get to them myself. Here is the first question, “What else can this mean?”. Let us say we were supposed to meet a friend for lunch at noon. Here it is 12:30 and we are sitting alone with no call or text. Our first reaction may be that our friend is rude, that they do not respect our time. These options could be true, but if we ask ourselves “what else can this mean?” we open ourselves up to other possibilities. Perhaps our friend was in an accident? Perhaps they are having a day like we described above? Maybe they are stuck in bad traffic and do not want to use their phone and are more worried about getting to us safely. Maybe we didn’t communicate the time correctly? Maybe they just do not understand how important being on time is to us? When we start to explore these other options it not only prevents us from being stuck in a feeling of anger and frustration, but surely prevents the friendship from taking too much of a blow even if we have to explain when we say to meet at noon we would really like to do so. Coming up with positive alternatives to negative situations can be tricky. Especially in the beginning when our brain is not used to it. To help it along we can pair it up with the second question.

Ah, the second question. This question is one of my favorites and has helped me survive quite a few stressful situations. If I was to be perfectly honest it has probably helped the welfare of the few of the people involved in stressing me out too. What is this question? When faced with a challenge and even one you may not be able to come up with a single positive meaning for, although I promise that will get easier with time, use the second question. Ask yourself, “How can I use this?” If you can find a way to get some good use out of a stressful situation you have, in effect, used it instead of allowing it to use you! How cool is that? When you realize there is something you can get out of a stressful situation it loses its power over you. Take our friend being late for lunch example. We could use that to practice patience certainly, but we can also use it to practice communicating something that bothers us with tact. We could use the extra time to do a quick meditation. Maybe we could read our favorite inspirational blog on our phone as we wait?

When stress comes knocking and bad things happen keep yourself armed with these two questions to fight off the effects of negativity and to keep from being overwhelmed. “What else could this mean?” and “How can I use this?” Feel free to list some of your examples of how you put a negative situation to use for you in the comments below and inspire other readers.

DON’T LET IT KILL YOU!

Stress..wouldn’t it be great if our life didn’t have any? Sure a few days where everything goes along perfectly would be nice every now and again, but when it comes to having no stress in our lives at all let us be careful what we wish for. 

Ok before I lose you completely let me explain what i mean. Imagine if everything we had to lift was as light as a feather? Sounds great, but how on earth would we build the muscles needed for our body to work properly? It would be great if our partners agreed with everything we thought, but where would the variety in our relationships be? I can just imagine what you are thinking,  “Neil, i really could skip the stress that comes with disagreeing with the one i love. “. It is no fun going through the frustration and sometimes hurt feelings that come with disagreements, but often times this is when we learn the most about and grow closest to our partner. 

You see whenever stress appears in our lives the easiest way to not let it get to us is to ask one very important question,  “how can i use this?”. By asking this, and by using the stress to better ourselves it will keep us from feeling overwhelmed. Here is a list of  some of the possible things we can come up with. 

  • I learned something about the person i disagreed with
  • I learned something about myself
  • Here is an opportunity to show something great about my character 
  • I made it through this stressful time

So next time stress appears in your life look it square in the eyes and say “I’m going to use you, you will no longer use me.”