RFS Blog | by Karl W. Palachuk – Relax Focus Succeed. Learn more at www.relaxfocussucceed.com

So this duck goes into a pharmacy . . .

Good Looking Babies

Magician’s Kid

Class of 1982

The New Job

Defining Personal Values

In his autobiography Even This I Get to Experience, Norman Lear relays a story told to him by a therapist. He says to imagine a crowded room with about fifty people in it. Suddenly there’s smoke and someone yells “fire.” Some people escape, but others are jammed in the doorway and can’t get out.

The lesson: “Your thoughts are no different from those people who rushed to the door and are crushed there. Let the people out one or two at a time and everyone gets out. . . . Same thing with your thoughts, Norman.”

Single File

Someday I’ll come up with a less gruesome example. But it really struck me that this is an important lesson about our brains. So many people complain that their brains are over-active. They can’t think straight because of self-diagnosed ADD. Or their lives are just busier than everyone else. Or they can’t meditate due to monkey mind.

Here’s the deal: We’re all like that. We all have a million thoughts a day. We are all super-ridiculously busy. We all have monkey mind.

And for all of us, focus comes when we begin choosing to address the situation instead of using it as an excuse to be parallized by a tangled ball of thoughts. Despite all the research verifying that there is no such thing as multi-tasking, many people embrace it. For some, this is because it keeps them in the middle of the whirring, buzzing busy-ness and doesn’t require them to take responsibility for not making progress.

Everyone can focus. Everyone. When my daughter was born, I was amazed at how she could entertain herself watching the ceiling fan, or the faces of people going by. Then, I was amazed at her ability to play with blocks or books for hours. At every stage – even when the world said “Kids at that age are impossible” – she had periods of intense focus.

For some reason, many people don’t acknowledge their own ability to focus. Whether it’s reading, gardening, carving wood, painting, or just working really hard, we all have periods of great focus. But we don’t notice what’s going on in the moment.

When you’re focusing intently, you don’t notice that your brain has quieted down. You don’t notice that the thoughts have moved to the background and are forming a nice, orderly line. That’s because, once you’ve set your sites on the one thing that needs attention, your brain relaxes a bit and digs in. You choose to focus and it works hard to help you.

Intellectually, we know this is happening. We know we can do it when we need to. But we really love the story about millions of competing thoughts and monkey mind. That story gives us an excuse not to be focused.

Here’s the reality. If you know you can focus once, then you can focus again. You can choose to take a little time and be aware, in real time, how your brain and body feel when you’re focused. You can almost step outside yourself and catalog what’s going on. Try it.

The next time you are doing something super focused (anything from frosting a cake to balancing your books), do a quick cataloging exercise. How does your brain feel? How are your emotions? Are you relaxed? Is your heart going fast or slow? Are you muscles tight or loose? What does this kind of focus feel like?

Note: Focus can be very different for different situations. If you’re mountain climbing, your physical senses might be very highly tuned in and hyper aware. If you’re much safer and less intense, such as planting flowers, you are more likely to be very relaxed with a lower heart rate.

Once you’re aware of these moments of intense focus, you can start figuring out how to get back there. What’s the setting? What’s the task? What time of day? etc.

One of my favorite rules of life is Slow down, get more done. This is certainly an example of that. In the end, you get a lot more done when you only try to do one thing at a time.

Next time I’ll talk a bit about setting priorities. As long as you’re going to line up those thoughts single file, you might as well figure out which is at the front of the line!

:-)

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Jun/19

18

You Don’t Know . . .

Cowhand: “It looks like you’re putting the saddle on backward.”

Dude: “What makes you say that? You don’t even know which way I’m going!”

:-)

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Jun/19

11

Embrace Imperfections

Many people consider me to be odd because of my meditation practice. In fact, I think it has been central to my personal health and business focus. If nothing else, it helps me to slow down and take a measured reaction to events. It also helps to see from outside myself and understand my situation more quickly than if I take action first and think later.

One of my favorite meditations is on rocks or pebbles. I collect pebbles from beaches that I visit (and the occasional mountain top). And every once in awhile I collect a piece of coral or a sea shell.

An imperfect piece of coral

All too often in life, we tend to think that things are not “beautiful” unless they are perfect. In fact, there’s research to show that human faces are considered more attractive if they are perfectly symmetrical.

But the real world is rarely filled with perfect symmetry.

About five years ago, a friend and I were in Australia and we saw a number of perfectly symmetrical trees. They were so perfect, they looked fake. We commented to each other that, if you drew one for an art class, the teacher would tell you to add some imperfections because no natural tree is that perfect.

At the same time, we all know that it is our imperfections – our uniqueness – that makes us who we are. It’s also what we find appealing in others. If you meet someone who looks like everyone else, talks like everyone else, and does what everyone else does, they are very forgettable. It’s the people who are a little different that you remember.

I love the coral in the photo above. When you examine the individual coral polyps, it’s easy to see the beauty and magnificence of these creatures that become huge reefs (and white sand beaches).

But click on the picture and look at the detail. You’ll see the broken parts. The imperfections. Those are also part of the coral. In fact, that’s where the story is. Did the weak area cause this piece of coral to break off more easily? If it was snapped off by a parrotfish, why wasn’t it ground into dust?

Perhaps we need to be a little kinder about imperfections, both in ourselves and in others. Perhaps we should focus on the interesting story. After all, perfection is a lot less interesting.

:-)

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Jun/19

10

Lawn Distance

Two houses next door to each other fell in love with each other.

It was a lawn distance relationship.

:-)

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May/19

25

Leave Gaps

Nothing is important. Um . . . Let me rephrase that: Leaving space in your life for new things is important. Leaving space for “nothing” means leaving space for opportunity.

We modern humans have a natural tendency to over-pack, over-schedule, and over-commit. We stack our day with frenzied activity and act surprised when one domino knocks down all the rest.

A few years ago I wrote a blog post about one of my favorite “Rules for Life.” It’s called Silence Means Nothing. (Read that now.) The gist is that we spend lots of energy filling in the mental gaps when we waiting for communication.

A very common example is when you send a text and don’t get a reply. Is that bad? Did I offend someone? Is silence a yes or a no? More often than not, silence has nothing to do with you. Perhaps the other person had to jump in the car and drive somewhere. Or their mother called. Or something. Once you tune into this, you’ll see examples everywhere.

In my “day job,” I train technology consultants to be better at the business side of their business. Very often, that means helping them to create good processes and procedures. A big piece of this is helping them manage their work load. And the biggest problem I find is over-scheduling.

Think about your average day. Is it filled before you start? Is you entire day booked up by the time you start your first task? If the answer is yes, then you’ve set yourself up for a stressful afternoon. Why? Because “something” will happen. Something always happens. One client has an emergency. Another shows up late. Somebody goes home early.

Whatever it is, something interrupts your nice, tightly-packed schedule.

Another maxim I use in by business is related to project management: Something’s going to go wrong. We don’t know whether it will be big or small, but we’ll find it and fix it. We’ll always be successful in the end; we just don’t know how smooth the path will be.

Accepting that emergencies and interruptions happen does not mean you’re a bad person. Don’t plan your day as if everything will be perfect. When was the last time that happened?

Here’s a challenge to reduce your stress in the next week: Leave gaps. Leave blocks of time un-scheduled. Leave room at the table for an unexpected guest. My guess is that you’ll actually get a lot more done. When the inevitable interruption takes place, you’ll wiggle things around a bit and take care of it without throwing off the rest of your day.

Three great advantages come from leaving gaps in your day.

  • “Stuff” happens that you didn’t expect. Now you have a little extra time to take care of it without making a mess of your whole day.
  • No emergencies or big interruptions happen. Good! That gives you time to finish everything you had scheduled and either start working on tomorrow’s list or give everything you do today a little extra attention and love.
  • In your open time, your brain relaxes and new ideas emerge. You may not have time to work out all the details, but you’ll probably have time to jot down a few notes so you can revisit the new ideas another time.

There’s a lot of great research about the chemical factory inside your brain. When we over-book and over-pack our lives, we place ourselves in a perpetual state of “Fight or Flight” – and that’s not healthy. You need it once in awhile, but as a constant state of operation, it will lead to serious health problems.

Really. Google “perpetual fight or flight” and read any ten of the five millions results that come back.

Yet another of my maxims is Slow Down, Get More Done. When you under-pack your day, you actually have a chance of accomplishing everything you need to do. AND you leave room for opportunity to knock on your door.

Opportunity has probably been knocking for a long time. You just didn’t have time to answer the door.

:-)

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May/19

25

Piano on the Porch

Joe: Why is there a piano on the porch?

Moe: He forgot his keys.

:-)

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Feb/19

20

Working Out Your Whole Brain

At one time, we thought the brain was just one thing. Now we know that the brain is more complicated and miraculous than ever.

You have parts of your brain that are automatic, controlling your basic functions. And you have some you can control. Others more or less lie dormant until we call on them. THOSE are the ones I find most interesting.

There’s an old saying about getting old: Use it or lose it. That refers to your body. You have to remain flexible, or you’ll stop being flexible. You have to keep walking or you’ll lose the ability to walk. You have to use your muscles or you’ll lose your muscles.

How many ways do you use your brain?

The brain works the same way. If you stop doing puzzles, a certain part of your brain basically shuts down. If you stop being artistic, another part shuts down. And on it goes for memory, attention, focus, etc. There’s new research that people who do a variety of interesting things can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

I recently wrote in my technology newsletter about attending conferences outside the field of technology. I love going to conferences for writers in particular because there’s so much creative energy in the room.

We all spend so much time in our businesses that we end up putting on blinders. We are super focused on the here and the now and the challenges. We are focused on the next payroll and the next marketing campaign.

Conferences put us in an environment where people are talking about other things. Writer conferences are particularly good because only a few people are talking about writing. Everyone else is talking about their book project. And those subjects are as varied as the book shelves at Barnes and Noble:

Science. History. Art. Biographies. Business. Cooking. Health. Lifestyles. Technology. Fiction. Travel. Science. Romance. Everything!

One reason I travel and attend so many conferences is to keep the creative part of my brain engaged. I refer to it as mixing up the mental DNA. I meet a variety of people and talk about hobbies, challenges, the tools they use, and the habits that contribute to their success.

One of the ways people get “stuck” in their personal and professional lives is that they stop doing a variety of things.

Really. It’s as simple as that.

Workaholism is the most visible example. People work and work and work. And then they work at night, on the weekends, and even while riding a bus or train. They don’t garden any more, or take a drive in the country.

Workaholics get obsessed with getting more and more done. They lose sight of the fact that the work will literally never be done. (And it shouldn’t be, because then you have to go get another job.)

When you stop having hobbies, painting fences, meeting new people, reading for fun, or gardening, you shut off pieces of your brain.

Workaholics aren’t the only ones. Some people get completely obsessed with cleaning or knitting or bingo. Whatever it is, they do that one thing all the time and stop doing other things.

A friend recently invited me to a local poker night at a bar. No actual money is at stake, but teams compete and move through a league similar to bowling. She was a little surprised that I said yes right away and jumped right into it. I’m not a big poker player, although I enjoy it. But it was something different to do.

I have another friend I call on to keep a level of weirdness in my life. About once a year I say, “Find us something different to do” – and it never fails. Last year is was superstar midget wrestling. This year, who knows?

But it will be a new thing for me. And I have a strong tendency to not do new things most of the time. So I’ve made a habit of saying yes to lots of stuff simply to include a variety of experiences in my week, month, and year.


What do you do to light up various parts of your brain? Remember: Use it or lose it!

:-)

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Dec/18

23

Only Do Three Things per Day

Most of us have too much to do. We are overwhelmed at work and overwhelmed at home.

And guess what? Most people are even more overwhelmed when they start making to-do lists. Why? Because they write down dozens of items and can see that the list will eventually have hundreds of items.

Most people aren’t good at managing their to-do lists for two simple reasons: First, they’re overwhelmed. So, second, they don’t make lists!

The real problem is not the number of things on your list. The real problem is confusing urgency with importance. Here’s a sad rule of life that is nevertheless true:

Everyone in your life is willing to put items on your to-do list; Only you can decide what actually gets on that list.

So, how do you make such decisions? Well, for starters, you have to spend enough time in introspection to know what’s truly important in your life. This starts with an understanding of your values and guiding principles. Once you focus on what’s most important in your life, it becomes easier to figure out what’s important this year, this month, this week, and each day.

I’m a big believer in meditation or morning quiet time. I know some people find it hard to do, but that’s mostly because they don’t really try. You can’t do anything effectively if you try for five minutes and decide it’s not for you. That includes meditation as well as playing the piano.

With regular meditation, you can identify the most important values and goals in your life. After that, tackling to-do lists and daily activities becomes much more manageable.

The key to success is to identify no more than three “roles” in your life that you will act on today. For example, your role as parent, employer, spouse, or community member. We all play several roles in our lives. But of course we can’t do everything every day!

Here’s how this helps you lower your stress and actually get more done: Choose only three things to do each day. More specifically, for each role in your life, choose one thing. If you’re lucky, you will accomplish those three things. And if you actually accomplish more, you should feel good about that.

But please don’t sabotage yourself. You will be tempted to choose three things per role, or two things per role. That sounds good, but leads you quickly down the road to overwhelm.

As a completely separate project (as more of an intellectual exercise), it is a good idea to keep some big master list of things that need to be done. But only do this if it relieves stress rather than adding more.

In general, you can reduce stress by focusing on the highest priority items in your life. It also helps a lot if you train yourself to stop worrying about all the low-priority stuff. I know: Easier said than done. But remember that most of that low priority stuff was put on your list by someone else.

When I first moved to California, Blue Diamond Almonds had an ad campaign with amond farmers saying, “A can a week. That’s all we ask.” This is sort of similar.

Do three things each day. That’s all I ask.

:-)

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I just finished an excellent book entitled Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr. He starts out by examining Carl Jung’s work on the two halves of human growth or the two halves of life.

“The first half of life is spent building our sense of identity, importance, and security—what I would call the false self and Freud might call the ego self. Jung emphasizes the importance and value of a healthy ego structure. But inevitably you discover, often through failure or a significant loss, that your conscious self is not all of you, but only the acceptable you. You will find your real purpose and identity at a much deeper level than the positive image you present to the world.

In the second half of life, the ego still has a place, but now in the service of the True Self or soul, your inner and inherent identity. Your ego is the container that holds you all together, so now its strength is an advantage.”


I know it’s pretty heavy stuff. But here’s what rings so very true in the modern world: Never before in human history have we been more empowered to project an acceptable view of ourselves to the world. Think of what people do on Facebook. They post up images of their ideal selves. No one posts up their petty fights and selfish actions.

In some ways, this is very good. After all, as people take pride in being kind, loving, cheerful, and good citizens, we expect more of that in the real world (off social media).

For the Rohr, “First half of life” activities include saving money, building a family, securing housing and food, and joining groups that identify you (your family, your sports teams, your country, your party, your ideology). Second half activities are more focused on tearing down all that and defining yourself without regard to family, country, ideology, etc.

Ironically, a lot of the activity of acquiring and identifying in the first half of life is actually an attempt to figure out who we are. We spend a lot of time with “us” vs. “them” activities, because that collection of “us” activities helps us see who we are as individuals. In the second half of life, we begin tearing all that stuff down to see who the real person is inside all those masks we’ve put on for decades. The never-ending search for our true selves involves stripping off those identities of party, ideology, and possessions. If we’re lucky, we also strip off the victim-self.

Rohr’s most important argument, in my opinion, is that we in modern society continue with “first half” activities into the second half of life. Many people never get around to second half activities at all. As a result, they never finish acquiring; they never identify outside of an ideological philosophy or religion; they never take time to try to figure out their true self. And, sadly, they never start the work to find out what fulfills them as individuals. They just keep plugging along as they did for the first half of their lives.

The down-side is two-fold. First, we as individuals miss out on the potential to find out who we truly are, without the trappings of the seeking/acquiring world. In the terminology of Abraham Maslow, we give up the opportunity for self-actualization. Second, society loses because we’re spending so much time fighting each other and focusing on our differences instead of what we have in common.

Yesterday would have been my father’s birthday. But he died at age fifty. He didn’t get to have a second half of life experience. When I think of him, and friends I’ve known who died young, it rings very true for me that we need to take this second half stuff pretty seriously. You never know when your time will be up. So it makes sense to get started today. When you get to mid-life, you should make a conscious effort to stop working on first half stuff, and start working on second half stuff.

As you can imagine, that means a renewed focus on meditation or prayer, quiet time, and self-reflection. Maybe I was just predisposed to like this book from the start.

:-)

 

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Oct/18

8

Do You Need to Be Done?

I realized a while back that I no longer strive to be “done” with a lot of things.

Some things need to be done, of course. But others are never done.

When I’m writing a book or putting together a new presentation, I love the feeling of making progress. I track it on Excel spreadsheets. I post chapters and share milestones. I love finishing the first draft and moving from the “creating” phase to the editing phase. And even though the post-writing phase is a lot less fun, I push through so I can be done. Done done. Really done. Go-do-something-else done.

But there’s a whole different class of things that are never done. For example, I love paying bills. I know that sounds odd, but I’ve always loved paying all the bills and making payroll. There’s a real sense of accomplishment that I can make enough money to pay down all those bills and have money left over. This used to be more fun back in the days when bills showed up as pieces of paper and were paid with checks in envelopes. Now bills show up electronically and area often paid the same way. Money just sort of magically moves around.

Laundry is another thing that’s never done. It’s always nice to be “done” with laundry. But, unless you do laundry naked, you know it’s never done. There’s always another towel, another pair of pants. I knew someone who was so obsessed with having the laundry done that she ran an entire washer and dryer cycle for one single sock. But of course, later that day, there was more laundry.

You can probably think of many things in your life that are never done. Cooking meals, mowing the lawn, cleaning everything, and getting ready for all the stuff you have to do in the next day, week, or year.

We all have never-ending chores. And we like some more than others.

One of the great lessons of my life is that it’s okay to accept that some things will never be done. When I stop mowing the lawn, it probably means my grass is dead. That’s no good. So mowing the lawn forever is a good thing. And, really, paying bills forever is a good thing. The same is true with filing paperwork, vacuuming, and figuring out what meals I’m going to eat in the week ahead.

At some level, I think it’s a universal human trait to enjoy finishing things. I wonder what that sense of accomplishment does to improve our lives or chances for survival. Is there an evolutionary reason that we are motivated to both start and complete projects? I can’t think of any. But I do think this is a universal human trait. I don’t think birds have a sense of accomplishment when they add the last twig to a nest, or fish when they swim to the place of their birth. For them it’s just a thing they do.

So I’ve divided my accomplishments into two types: Those with “Done” as a legitimate goal, and those that will never be done. And I’m at peace when certain things are never done and never will be.

Now, excuse me while I load the dishwasher.

:-)

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