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

CAT | Challenges

I was reading a very old book by Seneca the Younger called On the Shortness of Life. Although it was written almost 2,000 years ago, it reads like a message for today.

Seneca talks about people spending all their time in foolish activities rather than leading their lives. When we look at our lives today we see the same thing. Instead of leading our lives, we spend too much time thinking about the future or the past.

The past is a powerful time waster. I’m not talking about reminiscing or remembering a particularly fun time. I’m talking about time spent dwelling on bad experiences, fears, embarrassing moments, and all the trivial things from days gone by.

You cannot change one minute of the past. It’s done. Baked. All you can do is waste precious time in the PRESENT reliving bad experiences from the past. You can re-write them and mis-remember them. Or you can relive the details in excruciating clarity. But you can’t DO anything about them.

The future is not quite as bad. We need to plan. But we don’t need to plan TOO MUCH. There’s a point at which we work so hard trying to get things perfect that we take no action at all. We need a healthy mix of planning and acting. The acting part is called living.

The thing about time is that it’s easy to waste. Most of us don’t place much value on time. But it passes at exactly the same pace for all of us. You can use it or you can waste it. Unfortunately, too many people use up too much of their time without a thought to how valuable it is.

You get exactly 1,440 minutes each day. The same as everyone else. The same as presidents and prime ministers; the same as actors and singers; the same as professors and teachers. Every one of us gets exactly the same allocation every day. How do you use your allocation?

Living? Planning to live – someday? Fretting on the past? Watching TV shows you can’t remember?

We all need to “recharge” our batteries and have downtime. But we also all need to take control of our lives and use our precious time wisely.

One of the guiding rules of my life is to work on the highest priority activities I can. From that follows a process of setting priorities. How important is giving the cat fresh water today? How important is meditating? Reading? Writing? Paying bills?

We are all very busy. Perhaps all overwhelmed at times.

And yet we let other people simply interrupt our day. The phone rings and we answer it. An email pops up and we read it. An instant message comes in and we stop whatever we’re doing and look at it. Someone walks into the office and we give them our attention.

I recommended to a coaching client last week that everyone in his office should keep an Interruption Log. Literally write down every time they were interrupted (by a beep, a tweet, a knock at the door, a message, a phone call, etc.). And then write down whether this interruption was high, medium, or low priority. In particular, was it higher or lower priority than the thing they were working on when the interruption occurred?

If you work from the perspective of priorities, you can always be working on one of the most important things that needs to be done. And when you do that intentionally, it becomes easier to resist interruption.

For example, talking to the sales person on the phone is almost never higher priority than anything else you can do in your day – personal or professional.

Live in today. Live in the now. And guard your precious time wisely. No one else will!

:-)

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Feb/17

5

Mindfully Unplugging

I’m an amateur photographer. So when I see something really cool that I could share with others, my natural reaction is to take a picture. But there’s one important time when I can’t.

I love my hot tub. From this relaxing location I look across my back yard to a vine-covered fence where orange trumpet flowers invite hummingbirds. It’s also a resting place for birds and a playground for squirrels. And every once in awhile I see something that would make a perfect picture.

My hot tub is also a great place to meditate. I’m totally unplugged, warm, relaxed, and I have great scenery.

( I didn’t take this picture )

A few days ago I spotted a mommy and baby squirrel making their way across the top of the vines. Every once in a while they would stop and all I could see was two tails sticking up from the leaves. I thought, “What a great picture!”

But here’s the deal: I’m not taking my camera in the hot tub. It would take me less that a minute to either drop it or splash it. So I’m just not going to take the chance. And while I have a bit of frustration about that, it’s also a blessing.

There are times when you need to put down the technology and just enjoy the moment – knowing that it cannot be captured. You can choose to live in this moment or spend your time fretting because you can’t do anything but live in the moment.

Some people define “mindfulness” as emptying your mind. Dismissing all thoughts. Stopping the flow of images and ideas through your head. But that’s not the only way to look at it. Being mindful truly means to stop and notice what’s going through your head. It means acknowledging what you see and hear. And then, without dwelling on it or passing judgement, continuing the journey of being mindful.

People often ask me if their running or swimming or other exercise counts as meditation. My answer is always: As long as you are unplugged. Exercising while listening to a book or songs with words is great. But you’re filling your head with those words. And as a result, you’re not fully focused on the activity and the experience. It’s not bad in any way. But it’s not the same as mindful meditation.

Even if you don’t have a hot tub, you can choose to unplug and practice quiet time without external stimuli.

Sometimes the experience is as simple as a chattering squirrel.

:-)

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Aug/16

16

Scheduling for Success

I recently posted a quick video on the subject of scheduling (using a calendar) vs. working from priorities. See my YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/karlpalachuk

I’m particularly interested in how you add things to your to-do list in order to be more successful. You might want to add one or more of the following activities:

– Daily quiet time
– Exercise
– Reading
– Writing / Journalling
– Studying a hobby or new skill

We are all super-busy these days. So how do you add something to your routine when you’re already so busy? I’m assuming that what you want here is to help build new habits.

If schedules help you build habits, then they’re excellent. If working on priorities help you build habits, then they’re excellent. For most people, I think attaching new habits to your existing schedule is the easiest way to make sure the new habits are exercised.

If you prefer to work on priorities rather than schedules, you’ll need to make the new habit a high enough priority so that it actually gets some attention. After all, it’s easier to add something to your calendar than to suddenly make it a higher priority than anything on your to-do list.

Whichever method you use, you have to overcome the societal influence that says you should put work above personal improvement. After all, we find it much easier to add work-related tasks to our over-full lists. For some reason, it seems more acceptable to add work to our list instead of things like reading or exercising.

The irony is that you need the non-work related tasks in order to recharge your batteries, maintain your health, and improve your skills. But instead, we fill up our already busy schedules with more “tasks” that may or may not contribute to our overall success.

I encourage you to spend time evaluating priorities – and then putting daily reflection high on the list. Make that the first thing you do every day and chances are very good that all the other priorities will fall in line much more easily.

:-)

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Over the last year I’ve consumed a large number of books on habits. Creating habits, breaking habits, good habits, bad habits, etc.

3d-businessman-with-the-brain-exposed_M1KbxcAOIt’s interesting how much we focus on the physical side of habits. For example, in your morning routine. You probably do the same things in the same order almost every day of your life. SO: Adding a new habit to that routine is difficult. You’ve created a box of time and packed it full of things that need to be done within that time. So it’s hard to wedge one more thing into the box.

Those things are physical. Get up. Got to the bathroom. Make coffee. Brush teeth. Activity. Activity. Activity.

Mental activities are also habits. And one could argue they are harder to recognize and harder to change. It takes a certain mindfulness to examine yourself in real time and explore what you’re thinking.

For example, when I’m given advice to change something in my life, I am immediately resistant. It doesn’t matter whether the change is large or small. It doesn’t even matter if it comes from a stranger or a trusted friend who is extremely knowledgeable on the subject. The strange thing is: I’m surprisingly open to recommendations and criticism. Even in my mastermind groups, I have to remind people that I’m far more open than I appear to be.

So my first reaction is resistance, followed by contemplation when I’m alone and don’t have to worry about the responses of others. Then I try to look at the advice I’ve been given. And very often I take that advice. But I still acknowledge my mental habit of resisting as a first response.

Think about your mental self-talk. Is there a lot of “I’m not good enough” or “I need to change …” talk inside your head? Those are patterns. They are habits of thinking. Spend an hour trying to keep track of where your mind wanders and your first responses to things. After all, you’re awake most of your life and your brain is always working. What’s it working on?

Mental habits are hard to change. Unlike physical habits (which are also hard to change), mental triggers are harder to spot sometimes. If a driver cuts you off and you become angry or judgmental, it’s easy to see the trigger. But what about if you’re just walking down the street or driving peacefully and your brain starts chattering on about all the problems in your life? What was the trigger? How do you step back from the current mindset and try to find the trigger?

When changing a physical habit, we first recognize the trigger. For example, stepping into the line at the grocery store. Let’s say that as soon as you do that, you start eyeing the candy bars and virtually always end up throwing one in the cart. Recognizing that trigger can help you choose to attach a different activity as your response. Maybe you’ll grab sugarless gum. Maybe look at the magazines instead. Or maybe you’ll go in the quick-check line with no candy bars.

The point is, you recognize the trigger-response-reward and begin building a different habit. You start to lay down a different response and reward.

Now consider a mental example. What triggers judgmental attitudes? What is your mental response? What’s the reward? It takes quite a bit of work to identify your responses and rewards – especially if they are purely mental.

If you’re interested in exploring this, I recommend a two-step process. First, spend some quiet time each morning thinking about thinking. Relax, quiet your mind with a few deep breaths. Then just pay attention to the thoughts that wander into your brain. When you recognize a thought, label it. For example, say the word Happy. Then set that thought aside and wait for the next. Label it. Perhaps Hungry or Tired or Frustrated. The interesting thing about our brains is that they never stop. There will always be another thought. It might be a memory, a plan, a worry, or a distraction because a bird flew by.

The goal is to teach yourself to identify your thoughts. You have millions of them every day. And if you’ve never spent time recognizing them, then you won’t be good at it. So the first step is to identify the kinds of thoughts you have. What does a positive thought look like? Or a negative one. Or a self-blaming one. etc. All of that work takes place while you are sitting quietly, trying to simply observe your self.

(The oft-quoted numbers of 50,000-80,000 thoughts per day are literally just made up numbers that got repeated again and again. We don’t have a way to measure how many thoughts we have. But even a little research suggests that it’s much higher than the mythical number.)

The second step is to practice labeling your thoughts as you go through your day. When that driver cuts you off, what goes through your brain? You clearly have a choice about how you react. Your thoughts and reactions are not outside your control. BUT you do have a mental habit of response. Without thinking about it, you have laid down a pattern of response.

You can literally observe yourself as if you are outside yourself. Watch the driver cut you off. Then STOP your brain from responding. Now choose. As you watch yourself respond, try to identify the reward. How does anger or frustration or judgement serve you in this context? What’s the reward? And remember: In the world of the mental, the reward is probably mental. Satisfaction, self-righteousness, fear, anger, pity. Something inside you gets value from a specific mental response. What is it?

Once you recognize the trigger, response, and reward, you can decide whether you want to keep responding in that way. It may be that the answer is yes. It may actually make you feel better and contribute to your happiness. If that’s the case, you are now more fully aware of that.

But if you want to change your response, you also have that choice. For example, you could simply choose to be amused by the driver who cuts you off. Maybe you’ll enjoy pondering whether you’ll catch up to him at the next light. Now you can start to build a new habit. When someone cuts you off, you can slow down a bit and choose to be amused. Your reward is tiny bit of happiness. And if the drivers where you live are anything like the drivers where I live, you’ll have lots of opportunities to practice your new pattern of trigger-response-reward!

One of my favorite sayings is Slow Down, Get More Done. This is another example of that. After all, if you choose to, you can choose how you respond to every little thing in your life.

Habits got you where you are. Habits will get you wherever else you want to be.

:-)

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I had a conversation with someone the other day about meditation. He expressed a very common belief: I tried that and it didn’t work for me.

I couldn’t help wondering, “What do you mean by try?”Yoga Pose

Whether it’s meditation, exercise, playing the piano, learning a new language, or anything else, you can’t try once. Trying has to mean that you give it a real effort. If I try to do something once I am virtually guaranteed to fail (or be very bad at it). You can almost never do something right the first time.

On the flip side, if I work at something for an hour every day, I am virtually guaranteed to get good at it. That’s true of speaking a new language, learning a new exercise, wood carving, or anything else. You get good at whatever you put your attention on.

I’m a big believer in daily meditation. And guess what? I have trouble quieting my mind – even after sixteen years of meditating almost every day. I have trouble slowing down. I have trouble emptying my mind. I have trouble sitting still. I have trouble getting comfortable.

BUT I know how. I know what it feels like when my mind begins to calm down. I recognize that because I’ve experienced it thousands of times.

Another friend of mine posted something on Facebook a few days ago. He was starting a new I.T. project and referenced one of my books on project management. He referred to the “muscles of success” regarding projects. Those are the good habits that keep your project on track, on time, and under budget. Just like anything else, consistent activity becomes a habit – even making a profit!

Take stock the next time you decide to “try” something. Trying once is essentially useless. If you’re gonig to try, you need to commit to enough attempts to actually understand and make a little progress. Don’t quit after one attempt and say you tried.

:-)

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Saturday morning: I woke up in lots of pain and had difficulty putting weight on my left foot.

Bow PoseSo I hydrated my body and went to Bikram Yoga: 90 minutes of strenuous yoga in a 100 degree room (38 celcius).

Why? Because that’s what I need to do.

 
I have a chronic disease called Rheumatoid Arthritis. It’s not what most people think of when they hear the word Arthritis. RA is an immune disease in which the immune system goes into overdrive and attacks the body itself.

My disease is generally well managed, but from time to time I have a flare-up. When that happens, my joints become sore from inflammation. It also makes me very tired. Certain joints have a great deal of pain. The natural human reaction to this is to lie around, do nothing, and don’t move those joints!

In fact, that’s the worst thing you can do. First, you have to realize that there are many different kinds of “pain” in your body, and each kind of pain needs something different. Inflamation can cause pain, but moving your joints won’t cause damage. In fact, moving the joints will help prevent damange. It’s not the same as a pain from over-stressing a muscle.

Heat also helps the joints feel better. And yoga reduces inflamation. There’s more research about this all the time. So even though my workout was painful and exhausting, it’s what I need to do. In the long run, yoga helps me keep my disease in check.

This is the way with all good habits. At the moment, you might not want to do the thing you should. Or you might have great excuses not to (It’s raining; I only have a little time; I’m tired; etc.).

All good habits are like this.

I write when it’s time to write – whether I want to or not. I limit my night time activities so I can get up early, even if I miss some fun stuff. I limit my eating and drinking so my belly doesn’t grow too large. I spend within my limits even if I *really* want something.

In the moment of our greatest weakness, habits help us do the things we really should be doing. And the best part is, there’s nothing heroic about this. Once you have a good habit, the “default” action is to excercise that habit rather than break it. So doing the right thing is just a matter of doing what you do every day/week/month.

When was the last time one of your good habits helped you out on a bad day?

:-)

 

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I have Rheumatoid Arthritis. One of the powerful effects of this disease is exhaustion. In fact, the most common way that people discover they have RA is that they wake up one day and they’re so tired that they can’t get out of bed. This gets worse and worse until it takes more than an hour to just get out of bed in the morning.

sleeping-eyes_450My disease is very well under control after sixteen years, but I have been through long spells of exhaustion. And I still have to be careful not to over-exert myself.

One of the beautiful side effects of social media is that you can appear to be everywhere at once, doing lots of things, and producing lots of “content” all the time. That’s what people tell me they see of me. In reality, I have periods when I work and periods when I rest, and I am rigorous about working when I work and resting when I rest.

From time to time, I have to take medicine that prevents me from drinking alcohol. Let me just say for the record, I like a beer now and then. Well, now and now again. I’m glad the surgeon general recommends that I have two or three drinks a day, and that other countries’ surgeons general recommend more than that.

But sometimes I have to just stop.

As we get older, we are supposed to learn that overdoing things is bad for us. That’s easier said than done for some people. And some lessons we need to keep learning year after year. In my case, there’s also a little mixture of fear. Eventually, with RA, I will have flare-ups (“flares”) that cause permanent damage to my joints. This just will happen. Even if I’m stable for five or ten years, eventually there will be flares and eventually they will cripple me.

So my goal is to avoid things that will cause flares or make them last longer. And so, I take the doctor’s advice. Whatever it is.

One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn isn’t about alcohol or even what most people think of as self-care. It’s simply about rest. I try to rest up enough on the weekend so that I’m “fresh” on Monday morning. I try not to over-do it all week, but I have a little less energy every day. And so – with rare exceptions – I have stopped planning anything for Friday night.

Fridays I stay home. I don’t go out on dates. I might be talked into a dinner, but I don’t let it drag on. I go home so that I can collapse and go to sleep. As a result, I can do almost anything on Saturday. As you can imagine, Friday is a very popular night for doing things. So I quietly avoid all those things.

Sometimes people push, and they push very hard, for me to break this rule. “You can sleep in Saturday.” Or, “It’s just one night.” After all, I seem very healthy and I seem to be able to do what I want. So what’s one more night?

They don’t see the cane hanging in my closet, which I rarely use. They don’t see the medicine I inject in my leg. They don’t see the yoga and the meditation and the Karl who crashes hard night after night from simply leading life one day at a time.

I’m not ready to say I’m thankful for my RA, but it has taught me a great deal about discipline. I know for a fact that my body will deteriorate. I also know that I can slow the progress of that deterioration if I am committed to certain behaviors.

Friday IS just one night. And I CAN sleep on Saturday. And I can bend the rules and break the rules all I want. There’s no one to stop me. But I have to be committed to the long-range plan. The rest-of-my-life plan. The plan that keeps me upright and working and playing.

I’ve been doing Bikram Yoga for about sixteen years. I’m pitiful at it, really. I can’t do hardly anything at all. I go and I try. It’s painful. And frustrating. But I go and I try. Why? Because everything would be worse if I didn’t.

So I go and foolishly try to stand on one leg . . . even though it feels like I’m standing on 1 x 1 Legos. I bend and stretch and get frustrated that I can’t touch my toes without bending my knees. Sometimes my muscles just give out and I lie down and wait for the next posture.

But I go.

And I keep trying.

I’ve learned that pain and weakness are literally moment-to-moment things. I might not be able to get into a posture the first time. But sixty seconds later, I can do it fine (or at least “some”).

All of these lessons have helped me in my personal life and business life as well. I have to have rules and I have to stick to them, no matter what others want to tempt me to do. I have to stick to my formulas for success even on days when I can’t see the progress. And I have to realize that failure literally lasts sixty seconds and then you’re on to the next thing.

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One of the emerging trends in the U.S. is unplugging. As we become more connected to our technology every day, the need to uplug becomes greater.

In fact, unplugging has become popular enough to have its own day. National Day of Unplugging was March 6th of this year. The day was started by a group called Reboot.

And now, Jenifer Novak Landers – life coach, author, and entrepreneur – has developed a stylish way to unplug at home or at the office. She is creating a line call Unpluggables and raising starter funds through an Indiegogo campaign. See https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/unpluggables.

Unpluggable Indiegogo campaign

Why Unplug?

There are three primary reasons we all need to unplug. They are personal, social, and business.

More and more, research is showing that our constant use of technology is harmful to our bodies and brains in several ways. This is particularly true with cell phones, which have become the all-in-one entertainment center of choice. We’re beginning to see research that supports much of what we already suspect: Cell phone addiction can have negative impacts on our lives – both physicially and psychologically.

For a place to start looking at the research, see https://student.societyforscience.org/article/watch-out-cell-phones-can-be-addictive – or just Google “cell phone addiction” for other links.

On a personal level, over-use of mobile gadgets could be stimulating your brain in harmful ways. On a much more personal level, we all need to take time to relax, disconnect from others, and fully appreciate ourselves and our lives. We need to stop communicating with the outside world and spend more time in reflection. That’s a fundamental precept of my Relax Focus Succeed® philosophy.

On the social level, we all know that “devices” are bad for family communications. Kids won’t put them down. Sometimes adults won’t put them down. Some people literally cannot go five minutes without checking their cell phones. Watch people on a date at a restaurant. Even those who avoid their cell phones whip them out the second their date gets up to use the restroom.

Jenifer tells the story, in her Unpluggables video, about putting a sign on her TV when her daughter was young. The sign read “Magic Happens” because magic happens when we turn off technology and spend time with each other. That was the original idea that became Unpluggables.

Basically, Unpluggables are stylish cases to put your phone into as an outward sign that you are choosing to set aside the technology and pay attention to the people in your life. My favorite design is the wedding set. Hers is white with a veil and his is a little tuxedo. Unplugged weddings have been around about five years. Other unplugged events are growing. For example, see An Unplugged Weekend: 7 Tips To Make It Happen.

Families need to unplug during meals. The Unpluggable line makes it easy to do this with a visible sign that people are choosing to spend time with each other.

On the business front, cell phones are often the cause of great frustration. Forbes recently posted an article entitled How To Get People Off Their Phones In Meetings Without Being A Jerk. And Entrepreneur magazine publishes articles like, Why Successful People Never Bring Smartphones Into Meetings.

Jenifer’s Unpluggables line will include sets that can be used at meetings, weddings, and other large gatherings. She’s even going to have decorated boxes that can be passed around at meetings, so folks can just give up the device for an hour.

 

Give and Get

Contribute to the Unpluggable CampaignPlease contribute to Jenifer’s Indiegogo campaign. She needs money to create designs, acquire materials, and find manufacturers for Unpluggables. If you contribute, you can get an Unpluggable or several other “perks.” You could even get a starter kit so you can become one of the first resellers for Unpluggables.

Please look at the campaign here.
https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/unpluggables

Donate whatever you can afford.

At least two elements of Relax Focus Succeed® are easier when you unplug: Relax and Focus.

That’s why I’m supporting this awesome campaign.

 

:-)

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One of the most obvious examples of “workaholism” is simply over-working. Over-working means that you continue working after you are no longer productive. You might do this out of guilt or frustration. You might just be completely overwhelmed. And that’s precisely why you need to force yourself to stop working and recharge your batteries.

Here’s the thing about too much work: Eventually, everything floats to it’s natural level. So if you exhaust yourself, your body will eventually collapse and you will catch up on sleep whether you want to or not. Or maybe you will get sick, forcing you to slow down.

Here’s what happens when you work too much. As we all know, there are “diminishing returns” from too much work. You focus too closely on what you’re doing and your brain gets tired. That’s why people who work on heavy equipment and critically important jobs (like airline pilots) are forced to take breaks. Accidents happen much more frequently when people are tired.

And tired doesn’t have to be eight or ten or twelve hours. Depending on the combination of physical and mental activities, you might be worn out after only a few hours.

Most of us don’t work on those critically important jobs. For most of us, when we get tired, there are no dire consequences. No one dies. No one is injurged. But we ARE less productive. We DO make more mistakes. And the overall quality of our work is lower. That’s why it’s important to take breaks throughout the day.

As you work day goes along, you gradually become less productive over time. So you are most productive during the first hour of work and least productive during the last hour of work. Everyone has a threshold of productivity. There is literally a point where you move from productive to un-productive. If you keep working, you will eventually be counter-productive.

productive un counter

 

Most of us are vaguely aware of the line between productive and unproductive. We tend to tell ourselves that we’re really just “less” productive. In reality, we’re making very little progress except in a mechanical sense. For example, we’re not able to write a coherent memo, but we thing we can sort files or clean up minor tasks. We don’t realize that we’re maknig mistakes.

The line between unproductive and counter-productive is essentially invisible. This is where mistakes happen. We do work that has to be thrown away, un-done, or completely re-done. We are creating re-work and don’t even realize it.

But we feel productive because we’re still working! And we feel like we’re doing something instead of nothing.

 

Overworked Character Showing Exhausting WorkloadAnxiety Causes Over-Work

One of the biggest culprits in over-working is anxiety. You might have a deadline for work or home. (Most often, it’s work and not personal.) You may have stress related to money problems or a big project. Anxiety and worry raise the levels of cortisol in your system. (Strictly speaking, they reduce your body’s ability to regulate the production of cortisol.)

Stress and anxiety are related to sleep disturbances, early death from all causes, occupational injuries, heart attacks, suicide, risk of type 2 diabetes, divorce, breast cancer, and just about every bad thing ever in your life.

With stress, anxiety, and high levels of cortisol, your body gets “stuck” trying to address the panicky feeling you have. Your physical body wants to be “on” and to solve the problem. In some cases, this is good behavior. But the classic example of fighting off a saber tooth tiger should be enough for you to realize that you almost never find yourself in a true fight-or-flight situation.

As a long-term, chronic condition, this is very, very bad.

Physically, your body is 100% ON and wants to stay on. At the same time, you are unproductive, tired, and probably irritable. When you slip into being counter-productive, you don’t even realize it.

You’re essentially in a panic. You can’t sleep because your body is filled with natural chemical stimulants. You are making no effective progress. And you’ve into the counter-productive zone.

You can’t relax. You can’t stop.

… And that’s exactly why you HAVE TO stop. You have to force yourself to NOT WORK.

 

Breaking the Cycle

The best way to get yourself out of this high-anxiety over-working situation is to train your body to relax. Here are a few tips:

1) Physically put the work down. Wrap it up. Put it away. Go in the other room. Whatever it takes to be out of the work area, do it.

2) Engage in a non-work activity. This might be reading, watching TV, writing, or even playing a game of solitair on your phone. Your brain might only be half-engaged, but it’s not engage in work.

3) Meditation can train your brain to slow down. Meditation reduces stress. In fact, studies show that it reduces cortisol quite significantly. Meditation also increases endorphins – the feel good chemicals associated with love and pleasure.

4) Pour yourself a cup of tea – or a glass or wine. The ritual, along with the senses of smell and taste, will become a powerful signal to your body that work is done for the day.

Relaxation is a habit. Once you train yourself to relax, your body will learn to respond. After you learn to relax, your brain will literally pick up the signs of relaxation and help you to get there quicker. Once you’ve broken out of the anxiety/work cycle, you need to rest. Whether that means sleep or play, you will recharge your batteries as long as you are not trying to work.

And don’t try to cheat! If you say “Well, I’m *just* reading, or *just* doing this one thing …” your brain still knows that you’re working. Any attempt to work will prolong the stress and the anxiety. You have to really stop working in order to break the cycle.

Tomorrow will always be there. And it will always have work to do, and bills to pay. Tomorrow will always bring temptations to over-work.

In the long run, you will get more productive work accomplished when you are well rested. But that’s a habit you have to create.

:-)

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kp handsA friend of mine was recently diagnosed with RA – Rheumatoid Arthritis. This Fall is the 15th anniversary of my diagnosis for RA. I wrote the following notes to help my friend with this disease, which she will have for the rest of her life.

If you are newly-diagnosed with RA, or you are close to someone with RA, I hope this is helpful.

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Sue,

First, I am very sorry that you have R.A. There’s no fun here. I hope you were properly diagnosed by a good doctor. The single biggest problem with R.A. newbies is that they are mis-diagnosed. Either they are told they have something else, or the R.A. diagnosis is made late. In some cases – such as Kathleen Turner – patients are mis-diagnosed for years. The result is usually crippling deformity.

Here are my thoughts on treating R.A. Take it all as one person’s experience. I have been diagnosed with R.A. for 15 years this Fall. And it is pretty well under control. I have some level of pain every day, but it’s quite tolerable.

Second, I highly encourage you to ignore all “natural” medicines, potions, etc. I don’t know what your opinions are about western medicine, vitamins, or homeopathy. But here’s the truth: If you do not properly treat R.A., you will become crippled. There’s an excellent chance that you will get your disease under control with the right medications. If you treat yourself with vitamin supplements, etc., that’s the same as no medicine at all. You will become crippled if you ignore this.

Everyone you meet will tell you about glucosamine, chondroitin, bananas, akai berries, and magnets. They all mean well, but you need to nod politely and listen to your doctor. Also – remember that R.A. is nothing like osteo arthritis. R.A. is an immune disease in which your body attacks itself. Osteoarthritis is one of those diseases that everyone gets if they live long enough. It has to do with the wearing out of your joints. Whether or not you have R.A., you will probably also get osteoarthritis some day.

Third, the real medicines that actually get the disease under control are very nasty. They will make you tired. The disease will also make you tired. Some medications will make it hard for you to sleep. The pain will come and go with or without the medicines. It will just “go” more often with the medicines.

The medicines fall into two categories: Control the disease and control the pain. Do not confuse these. And always be very clear what each medicine is for. For controlling the disease you may be prescribed medicines such as Plaquenil, Methotrexate, and Arava. Each of these has side effects. Everyone responds differently.

As for pain, I highly encourage you to do everything you can to minimize the pain medication you take. Pain is not the same as suffering. You will live with pain the rest of your life. You can learn to live with it or numb yourself. Just be aware that being permanently numbed will affect every aspect of your life and can lead to drug addiction and alcohol abuse in an attempt to escape the pain.

Personally, I prefer Aspirin for pain. As long as you are religious about taking food with your aspirin, you can safely take very large amounts. It is the safest pain reliever you can find, and has almost zero side effects.

Work with your doctor. Be attentive to whether the medicines are helping, and which side effects you are experiencing. The most common approach to R.A. newbies is to crush the disease into submission with a series of horrible drugs. Keep working on it. It may take years to get under control. Ideally, at that point, you’ll move to something like Arava or Enbrel, which are true miracle drugs.

Fourth, you need a good Rheumatologist (“Rheumy”) who takes you seriously. Good means that they keep up on the literature and research. It means they understand the role of exercise and stretching/yoga as well as pharmacology. It means they listen to you and respond in a timely manner. If you have doubts about your doctor, get another one ASAP. Especially early on, time is your enemy. You need to take this disease seriously and your Rheumy needs to be your ally.

Fifth, you need to educate yourself. Subscribe to Arthritis Today. Check out web sites that are run by legitimate medical outfits. Join an email list or web forum and read what other people are going through. When you’re comfortable, talk about your symptoms and experiences. It helps to know that you are not alone in this.

Sixth, I have found that daily meditation is a GREAT way to handle R.A. Meditation has many benefits. The most important here are 1) It reduces inflammation, and 2) It can help you manage pain. There’s a great audio program by Shinzen Young on using meditation to manage pain. I highly recommend it.

I was just exchanging notes with someone about the pain I experienced in yoga today. She asked whether it was good or bad. Pain is neither good nor bad. It is just pain. Sometimes the pain makes you limit your movements. But, really, it’s YOU limiting your movements, not the pain. When you sit differently or limit your movements, you will have a temporary change in the nature of pain, but you may be permanently limiting your movements. Be careful.

Seventh, you should do yoga. Personally, I love the hot Bikram yoga for several reasons. The heat makes everything in my body feel better. In addition, Bikram yoga consists of the same postures each time, in the same order. That means I can learn what to expect and I can gauge how I’m doing today vs. some other day.

I am told endlessly (by everyone at every opportunity) that yoga is a “practice” and that I shouldn’t worry about getting it “right.” That sounds great, but I’ve been doing yoga for fifteen years and I only do one pose consistently well: Savasana.

Yoga strengthens the muscles in a gentle way. It reduces inflammation. It has a meditative quality. It can make you sore in the short term, but will reduce pain overall in the long term.

The best part about yoga is that it teaches you a mindfulness about your pain. If you do two sets of each pose, one on the left side and one on the right, then you will have four opportunities to check in with your body. In many cases I find that I can’t do the first (right side) at all; I can do the second (left side) a little; I then do the third very well; and can’t do the fourth well.

The point is: you pain moves every minute. The last stretch, which seemed unproductive, loosened things up. Don’t stop because you couldn’t do something two minutes ago. “How do you feel now?” means NOW. This instant, not two minutes ago.

Eighth, you need to work on exercise and weight control – for the rest of your life. As with yoga, all exercise is useful. You need to do what you can do. More and more, you won’t be able to jump, slam, hit, or play hard. So a lot of aerobic exercise is out. Weight lifting will probably be severely limited.

But you need to keep moving. Riding a bike, walking. Whatever keeps you moving.

Exercise reduces inflammation, strengthens muscles, and burns calories. Weight control is very important with R.A. because you can’t exercise as much as you used to. And added weight means added pressure on your joints – especially the hips, knees, and ankles.

Obviously, that means you need to watch your diet because you can’t burn as many calories as you used to with exercise. So you need to manage in-take very carefully.

Ninth, you will experience flare-ups (flares) that are worse than your normal level of pain, discomfort, sleeplessness, exhaustion, etc. As you work to get your A.R. under control, you will gradually have fewer and fewer flares.

No matter what, you need to take flares seriously. Don’t push yourself too hard. That can make the flare worse, and make it last longer.

Every flare represents a (temporary) step backward with the disease. Each flare is an opportunity for your joints to be damaged a little before you get back on track to a stable state. If you have too many flares, you will eventually have the kind of joint damage you’re trying to avoid with medicines, diet, and exercise.

Keep track of your flares and tell your doctor. If they become too frequent, it may mean that your disease is no longer responding to your medicine. This is VERY common. You may need to be switched to a different regimen. Again, take it very seriously.

I have found very few things that I can associate with flares. One is very acidic food (like vinegar and cucumber salad). Another is lack of exercise.

Overall, there’s a lot you can do with R.A. It is a chronic disease. That means you will have it for the rest of your life. Right now we don’t have a cure. So you need to manage it, even if you never become friends with it.

Consider getting a hot tub. Absolutely the best monetary investment I ever made in my health.

And remember, with all the advice on exercise and yoga and eating right: It’s okay if you forget. It’s okay if you get off track. It’s okay if you’re not perfect. Just remember to start over, get back on track. When you don’t do the things you’re supposed to do, you will have more pain, more inflammation, and more weight. When you do the things you’re supposed to do, you’ll have less pain, less inflammation, and less weight.

Again, this is all based on my experience. Your mileage may vary.

Good luck!

– karlp

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