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The Courage To Change Your Life

 Changing one’s life in order to improve it is like planning for a necessary holiday to an unknown foreign country: time consuming and uncertain. You feel exhausted and Spain sounds a great place to go for refreshment, fun and drinking sangria. But then the questions pop up. When is the best time to go? Can you afford it? Will you enjoy Spain enough to justify the effort of getting there? Wouldn’t it be better just to hang around at home and eat mac and cheese instead of being subjected to some strange cuisine that might just turn out to be bull’s testicles in sauce? In short, is a change of scenery really worth it?

It’s no wonder that many people resist making any change at all even if their current situation is quite dire because of the uncertainties that go with it.  They fear jumping from an increasingly hot frying pan into a hellish fire. However, failing to take charge of your life when it is obvious that change is needed, it is like refusing to take a health giving holiday for fear of imagined disasters: at best you will end up with a narrow and restricted existence, at worst life will thrust change upon you that you are totally unprepared for.

Faced with the unknown consequences of any choice, whether it is a holiday, a change of job or lifestyle, there are two possible approaches: either plan the next move within an inch of its life, or choose to feel the fear and do it anyway ignoring that the possibility that the fear might hold a useful cautionary note.

The latter method is very tempting when you are desperate, or young and foolish.  It has minimalist simplicity: I want out of the place I am in and this is the way I am going to do it. Don’t think any further. Knock yourself out.

Older and/or wiser people prefer to canvass the implications of any possibility to see what problems might arise before initiating any change at all. They fall into the trap of trying to ensure that every foreseeable eventuality is covered. Unfortunately, plans for change only go so far.

On a recent trip to Vietnam, I took the mature approach. I checked out most of the factors that might cause me discomfort but I overlooked just one thing: the humidity levels at the time we chose to go. Thirty-three degrees Celsius sounds delightful but, trust me, it is not necessarily so if humidity hovers around the 90% mark! I sweated so much my hair stuck to my skull as if I had just emerged from a shower without a towel; kindly strangers in the street offered me bottles of mineral water, while vendors of fans swarmed around like Australian bush flies. So I proved the validity of Murphy’s Law for the zillionth time. Life is a wild ride and if anything can go wrong, it will.

Nevertheless, change in life is inevitable. Unlike holidays you can’t choose not to go forward; therefore it is best to learn how to make change work for you.  The trick to working with it is to take basic precautionary steps to ensure you will end up where you want to go in relative safety: if you want to go whitewater rafting down the Amazon, you need appropriate gear and preparation. But once the choice is made, take courage to move forward upon your decision. It is true that the adventure will throw up the unexpected. However, human beings are blessed with a wonderful ability to create safety nets through flexible thinking to solve immediate problems. Changes in life, even those that bring some discomfort, always enrich and educate so long as you take responsibility for making them as positive as possible as you go along. I survived Vietnam humidity by cycling between dehydration tablets, coconut water, air-conditioned buildings, the hotel swimming pool, and cold beer. I even worked it out after three days that the midday sun is not the best time to go sightseeing. (I admit to being a bit slow on the uptake there).

Like travel to foreign lands, the value that changing an unsatisfactory situation can bring is never obtained by simply dreaming about it or wishing for someone to take you there. The courage to change requires both responsible action and trust but it brings with it vitality and invaluable experiences with it.

If you are a person currently facing a need to change and anxious about the consequences of doing so, the brain reprogramming visualization, Releasing Fear of Change, page 87, The Good Work Book, helps to relieve known and unconscious anxieties.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Co-creative relationships: the greatest challenge of all

Recently my husband and I enjoyed a delightful breakfast in a local café that offers particularly good food. We sipped our lattes and munched on eggs and bacon (him) and gravalax and potato croquettes (me) companionably.  We gossiped about his work and my plans for my future.  We talked family matters and our plan to add a new fur family member to it.  It was a lovely experience in which I could rightly say that all was right with my relationship world.

Then we drove home and because it was the weekend when we got out of the car we spent a moment or two surveying our backyard, which has yet to be developed into a formal garden. It has a couple of raised vegetable beds, a row of lemon trees in pots, a heap of discarded rock and unsightly piles of second hand building materials set alongside an ill-tended compost heap. 

I stared at it hopelessly. The fact of the matter is that this sight had assailed my eyes for the past 10 years and more.  Why?

I could say that it was due to the fact that all our spare cash had been earmarked for renovations on our old Federation house. I could say that establishing a garden requires a lot of heavy manual work that I am not suited to. I could say that my husband’s and my own time has consumed by activities that are necessary to create an income. I could give many excuses, but the real reason that the garden has not progressed is because we do not work well together.

This problem was manifested in its essence on this particular morning.

I said to my husband, ‘I have been thinking that we need to design this area soon.’

He replied, ‘Oh yes, well, I have done that already. This is what I am planning.’

He strode forward and measured out a length of grassy sward that lies beyond the back verandah.

‘I’m going to run a retaining wall along here. The steps from the verandah will go along from there to there.’ He waved his hands to indicate his scheme. ‘The vegetable beds will be extended and I’ll put the new ones closer together.’

It was clear to me that a vision of this scheme was clear in his mind but it was considerably less clear in mine owing to the fact that I had never been involved in this plan. I was scrambling to make personal sense of his ideas and to engage in them. 

As I have a natural tendency to look at lines and proportions, at the flow of paths and buildings that visually connect parts of a garden its various features, I translated his scheme into my own aesthetic perspective. It seemed to me that the location of his proposed retaining wall would give more visual dominance to the vegetable garden than to the extended area beyond it which looks out to a fine country landscape.  In my own mind I saw the extended area as being more important to the pleasure of the garden than the vegetable patches. But in the speed of the exchange, I could not articulate that. I resorted to an immediate objection

I said, ‘I don’t know that I think the retaining wall should go there. Why not two or three metres closer to the house?’

My husband’s hackles immediately rose. ‘Why do you want that?’ he said in the tone of one whose arms are raised in pugilistic fashion.

‘Because I think the proportion of the garden will be wrong.’ I replied, no doubt in a tone equally defensive.

The conversation thereby degenerated into an argument about who was rigid and who was not listening, and who knew the most about design and who did not. I threw my hands up in resignation and my partner raced off to the next-door neighbor to smoke a cigarette he knows I dislike.

So it was that after a harmonious breakfast our pleasant connection was brutally cut. And of course the plans for the garden are liable to have been put on hold for another 10 years. 

This story of conflicting visions for work, differing intentions, unacknowledged capabilities, mental rigidities, ego and poor communication strategies is repeated with far worse consequences the world over. The potential for the Good Work of one individual to be enhanced, respected and incorporated into the Good Work of another is negated on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, knowing how to develop a co-creative vision for work projects that harness the different dreams, perspectives and skills of all those who will contribute to it is a rare skill in a world where people still prefer and are familiar with leaders who will leave them little personal responsibility for outcomes.

In our sequel to The Good Work Book, I plan to tackle the difficulties inherent in creating co-creative relationships. (Readers will be pleased to hear that I aim to have my own backyard in order before we publish it. :-) I have just one principle in mind when I offer our guidance to other people: I have to have proved it works.)

In the meantime, I would love to hear your suggestions or personal experiences about the contentious issues of working relationship that you think should be covered in the new publication. Please add a note in the comment column.

 

 

 

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Transforming unsatisfactory work into a dream job

When people complain to me about their jobs they often describe their problems in general terms: the boss is unappreciative, the pay isn’t good enough, or colleagues don’t communicate adequately.  They will often say that they are looking for a dream job, but find it difficult to describe what it would look like. This is when I find that identifying the flipside of their stated dissatisfactions is the surefire way to uncover want they really desire for work: appreciation for effort, adequate financial reward, or a working environment in which communication is clear, comprehensive and timely. Put in those terms, clients can usually describe how wonderful it would feel to have the relief and pleasure of such possibilities.

Using the flipside technique to discover one’s dreams is almost too easy. The real difficulty lies in how to bring these dreams into form. And this is where the generalized nature of dreaming for a better future has a great disadvantage; due to the inherent largeness of dreams, they often seem so distant or unlikely that they are abandoned as unrealistic or compromised until they lose their essence.

The trick to materializing dreams, however, is to move from the right brain imagining of beautiful possibilities to left-brain practicality. To do this, start by pinpointing the tangible examples of your generalized complaints. If the boss is unappreciative, how does her exact behaviours demonstrate that? Does she criticize and rarely praise? Is she unaware of the extra effort you have put in or the positive results of a project you have participated in?  How many extra dollars do you need to make the pay ‘enough’? What small change in communication methods or style do you need to make your job easier?

Once you have identified how your dreams look like in practical terms, you are in position to turn them into goals that you can act upon. You can ask the boss to reflect on what aspects of your latest work she likes, or for a pay rise that moves you a little in the direction of the security you want. You ask a colleague what he needs from you that would help him communicate more effectively.

Unfortunately achieving dreams in this way does not appeal to the impatient self who wants a miracle to drop from the sky. It does not feel satisfied by a small improvement in matters. It forgets that nothing on earth is created that is not achieved by one small step followed by another one. Impatience undermines the persistence required to see real results. 

More importantly, however, is the fear of taking responsibility for the small step. It is often scary to commit to asking for or creating a change.  It needs courage and skill to speak up and to ask for what we want.  Many fear being judged or even punished for asserting their needs. It also means knowing how to present our needs in a way that does not threaten the other person or violate their own needs. Usually it means persisting until we get what is rightfully ours. This is the reason why The Good Work Book provides so many techniques to make creating change easier and less stressful.

One step at a time is not glamorous. It can seem but a drop in the ocean of discontent but it is worth reminding oneself regularly that every time you manage to create a small positive change, the closer you are to achieving the conditions of life that are part of your bigger dreams.

And every time that happens, you have contributed to the making of a happier, safer or more effective world. Your own personal dreams, ordinary though they may appear, reflect wider human and spiritual yearnings. They are your own contribution to creating the kind of wider world we want: a working world of personal respect, security and interactive harmony. A world of Good Work.

 

 

 

 

 

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Adrenaline overload as a cause of work stress

Adrenaline and its associate, the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, are responsible for the ability to respond quickly to threat. They also help to give us mental clarity. They come to our aid in any stressful situation that requires immediate action and a sharp mind, such as demanding, emotionally charged moments at work. They assist people remain on the job even in the face of fatigue and numerous pressures.

Unfortunately they are also addictive.

People who can’t slow down usually have some degree of an addiction to the benefits of adrenaline. They call upon these substances to keep them an extra boost under pressure. However chronic stress, if continued for a long time, can damage many parts of the body. And a large part of the damage is due to the effects of continual norepinephrine release: sleeplessness, loss of libido, gastrointestinal problems, weakened immune system, depression, and vulnerability to addiction.

It makes good sense, then, to wean yourself off a dependence on adrenaline.

The question is: how to do it?  It is not an easy thing to do, particularly if you are one of the many people who have a weak ability to let go of stress naturally.

The first step in changing a pattern of reliance on the stress hormones is to make a point of becoming aware of the state of your body throughout the day. At the moment you are reading this blog, stop for a moment to scan through your body. Notice tension spots? Ask yourself if your posture needs adjusting? Are your hands or feet cold? Is your jaw tight? Is your mouth dry suggesting that you need a drink of water?

These observations take only a few seconds but in making them you are noticing those needs of your body that, if addressed, will automatically help your body to rebalance and become less stressed. Your need for the double-edged sword of adrenaline/ norepinephrine will be a little reduced as you slow down to listen to it and to make the necessary adjustments.

Of course, this is just a beginning in learning to slow down. However, the self-awareness that a regular body scan brings can gradually be directed towards making adjustments to your work processes to make them easier and more comfortable.

You can also develop your natural ability to let go of stress by regularly using the Stress Relief visualization in The Good Work Book. (See page 66). This technique will begin to create a brand new response to stressful situations provided you take the time to repeat it until a new neural pathway is established. The best way to do that is to practice it after a stressful day or before going to sleep at night. It may also give you a better night’s rest.

If you have any questions as a result of doing the exercise, please use the comment field.

 

 

 

 

 

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Is work/life balance really possible?

 Most people would agree that work/life balance is important for a person's well-being, and also that it is often very difficult to achieve. Some go so far as to say that it is impossible, and so don't even go there.

In the bad old days, before I had even heard of the term work/life balance, my own balance was woeful. I had a reasonable income and mental stimulation in my job but little else. The various jobs I did were so demanding that when I had time for ‘life’ I had no energy left over for it.  Life for me was the 2 hours each day that I spent alone on car-choked roads between work and home.  For me, work/life balance was an impossibility. And for many it remains so.

In The Good Work Book, we discuss the work/life problem from an alternative perspective. We do not see balance in one’s life as a simple equation of how much time you spend on the job and off it. Rather it is whether or not you use all your time in a way that naturally balances the requirement to earn a living with the other essential human needs: rewarding relationships, leisure activities, bodily health and spiritual nourishment.

I have found in the years that I have been learning to create true balance that the more a job supports these non-financial needs, the less likely it is I run out of energy at the end of the day.  In short, balance helps the whole self to reenergize as the different aspects of it are given their times for rest and nourishment. Free time can then become real fun time. 

The question, then, is to what extent does your particular job support this kind of whole self balance

Each form of work varies in its inherent ability to support the different needs. Some work naturally supports enjoyable relationships, whereas in other jobs the relationship connection is akin to an automated telephone service. Artists have plenty of time and opportunity for spiritual expression and partying with their friends, but usually their income verges on the poverty line.

This means that in looking at making work/life balance feasible, the first thing to do is to honestly check the degree to which your regular work allows for each of your needs to be met. You may well find it is not as bad as you tend to think it is. Some of my clients who complain about their actual work because it is repetitive or tedious still find their employment rewarding because they value their friendships there. To have their need for meaningful (spiritually fulfilling) work met, they might best invest leisure time in a productive hobby where their passions are given rein.

Once you have the realities of your job’s natural balance clear in your mind, you can turn your attention to exactly how you could achieve greater life satisfaction either by make alterations to the current job or by looking for the unmet needs outside of it.

However, the immediate problem with this advice is that you will need to give yourself time to make this review, and then to commit to making changes if they are necessary. Those who have a reluctance to seriously consider making changes can use the visualization, Releasing Fear of Change, in The Good Work Book ( Page 87). I love that visual for any time that I know I need to make a change but somehow can’t get round to it.  It dissolves hidden anxieties about doing things differently, or when having change is suddenly thrust upon you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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