Share the Road

This weekend, I and my family spent over 36 hours on Canada’s highways. Driving all the way from Winnipeg, MB to Slave Lake, AB provided a lot of opportunities to meet many different road personalities.

There are the drivers who are in absolutely no hurry to get to where they are going, instead choosing to enjoy the journey and many sites along the way.  On the other end of the spectrum are the drivers who are entirely focused on the destination, spraying everyone behind them with dirty, salty road slush.

And then there are the drivers who don’t like sharing the road.  They view someone’s signal to switch into their lane as an invitation to quickly speed up and ride the bumper of the car in front of them, ensuring the person can’t get in.  They switch lanes without signaling and honk impatiently anytime they feel their road space is being invaded.  They are the people who, when they are driving slowly on a two lane highway, refuse to pull over to the side of the road and let the long line of cars behind them get by, or, even worse, choose to speed up as soon as someone tries to pass.  Their determination to own the road holds other back and puts lives in danger.

36 hours of driving time also provides a lot of time for thinking and as we encountered yet another driver who didn’t like to share the road, I started wondering, how many of us sometimes refuse to share the road on a professional level?

Do we ever hold someone back by refusing to share an opportunity for personal or professional growth?  Do we hoard those opportunities or pull people in, asking for their help and guidance?

Are there times we put a team goal, an employee’s goal or a colleague’s goal in danger by cutting in front and focusing on our own agenda?  How often, in relentless pursuit of our own goals, do we forget to check over our shoulder to see if that race to the finish is putting someone else’s goal in danger?

Have we ever been so afraid someone will pass us by that we deliberately block their efforts, in a vain effort to stay in front?  Are there times when we could pull over and let someone else take the lead?  Perhaps we can even give up the wheel and give someone else the chance to drive for awhile.

How often do we get impatient with peers or employees when we feel they are not catching on quickly enough or that they are holding us back and slowing us down?  Do we berate them loudly or do we slow down, perhaps even stop for awhile and spend additional time coaching and mentoring them, helping them build their confidence and skill level to the point where they not only keep up, but get to the point of being able to lead?

It can be tempting to try and make the journey alone, to hoard opportunities and focus entirely on our own goals. The downside is that when we refuse to share the road, very often we are the ones that end up alone on the side of the road and all those people that we ruthlessly pushed aside in our rush to reach our destination, will pass us by as we wait for someone, anyone to stop and get us out of trouble.

Friday Inspiration: Oh, Yes You Can

What a week!  It has been filled with an interesting combination of “Yes, I did it!” moments, some moments of sheer frustration and a lot of moments in between those two extremes.

When I’m in the midst of a sheer frustration moment, when I’m feeling a little stalled or stuck, videos like this one help me move beyond that moment to a “Yes, I did it!” moment.   Enjoy!

Stress and bubble wrap

Stress. The word alone is enough to make some people start feeling like the world is closing in on them.

There are numerous studies and research papers that talk about the impact of stress on our lives, on our society and on business productivity.  While the exact numbers vary, depending on which white paper you are reading, all of those reports and studies have one thing in common…numbers are rising.

A higher percentage of people are visiting their doctor for stress-related ailments and complaints.  When stress is not managed, we get sick more often.  The flu and the cold keep us at home in bed more often.  As stress levels continue to rise, we are entering hospitals for stress induced heart attacks, diabetes and cancer.

Businesses are seeing higher absenteeism rates and even when employees do show up, they are showing up in body but with only half their mind present. The other half is still in the car in the parking lot trying to figure out how they are going to get through to lunch.

When we learn how to manage stress, when we control the stress instead of allowing it to control us, we enjoy richer, deeper, stronger relationships.  We work better, we feel better … we live longer.

The question becomes, how do we do that?  What can we do to bring our minds, our lives back to a healthier place?

Know yourself:  There are too many people working in jobs they don’t enjoy because someone told them they should do it or because of the status associated with the job.  Perhaps they are not working at a job or in a field of their choice because they don’t want to appear unsuccessful in the eyes of their friends, family or sadly, in the eyes of total strangers.  Work takes up a huge amount of our lives.  The stress we put upon ourselves each and every day, when we go to a place we don’t want to go to, is enormous. Within each of us is our own definition of success, our own picture of what a fulfilled life looks like.  Go after that vision; don’t let other people’s vision of success define your life.

Live in the moment:  Try to truly experience what you are doing now, rather than worrying about the work you left behind, or chores you should be doing.   Stop worrying about all the things that could happen.  Stop hanging on to and rehashing poor decisions or errors made.   When you do that, instead of dealing with the stressful situation once, you are living it over and over again.

Get organized:  Getting organized is more than just creating a filing system or cleaning up a storage room. Get rid of clutter; get rid of things you are hanging onto “just in case”.  When my husband and I downsized, we had to get rid of stuff, lots and lots of stuff. And you know what?  We haven’t missed any of it.  Absolutely hold onto some treasures; pulling out pictures, children’s artwork, whatever your treasure is, invites joyful memories and sharing time, two other great stress relievers.

Be realistic:  Much as we might like to think we can do it all, we can’t.  What can you reasonably accomplish in 24 hours, knowing you need to set aside time to sleep, to exercise and to eat?  Taking care of yourself physically makes it easier to accomplish more, so don’t eliminate those from your schedule.  Then, if you think you need 45 minutes to get something done, give yourself an hour so you don’t get stressed out when you run into a complication.  Create a “must do” list and a “if I have time” list.   Take an item off the “if I have time” list if you don’t need that extra 15 minutes you gave yourself for the other project.

Take a few deep breaths.  Stress is a chemical response to a perceived danger or threat.  Deep breathing forces you to stop, to focus on your physical reaction.  A few deep breaths reduces blood pressure and muscle tension, two physical reactions that need to be managed in order to get back to a state of mental calmness.

Meditation, humour, talking to people in your support network … all these activities help to reduce stress.

And when all else fails, grab some bubble wrap!   Something about the mindless act of popping the bubble, hearing the popping noise and then moving on to the next bubble, until there are no bubbles left to pop, brings my stress levels down every time!

What are some techniques you use?

Where’s Your Focus?

I was driving home from a training session on Wednesday and as very often happens on open highways on sunny days, there was one driver who was in a huge rush.  It was a busy, two lane highway. The driver would tailgate the car ahead of him until a spot opened up where he thought he could safely pass.  He wasn’t always right.  His reckless driving put people at risk.

As I watched him head off into the distance, I remembered being a very, rushed young mom trying to get to daycare before 5:00 pm.  Being late meant paying extra fees and I wanted to avoid that. Being stopped at a train or a red light was pure torture as I watched the minutes flick by on the dashboard clock.   I ran yellow lights and cut people off in traffic, while frantically calling the daycare to let them know I was on my way.  Every once in awhile, I made a complete mockery of the tagline “Friendly Manitoba” on my licence plate.

One day, after arriving on time, but stressed out, I had my own personal “ah ha” moment.  Was my real goal to get to daycare by 5:00 pm or was my real goal to get there?  It seems so obvious, but I realized that I had been putting my focus on the wrong part of that sentence.  Having to pay late fees was ultimately less expensive than the costs associated with a speeding ticket, car repairs and the resulting increase in registration and licence fees. And even if I did manage to avoid a speeding ticket or an accident, I was arriving at the daycare so stressed out that I was not the mom I wanted to be.

I’ve learned to ask myself that question a lot. What is the real goal? What is the true purpose?  Sometimes we get so caught up on timelines and deadlines, some self-imposed, some not, that we lose focus of the real purpose of our goal.  What will cost more?  Launching a new product, riddled with glitches on Tuesday, because we said we would, or delaying the launch for a month to work those glitches out?  Is the real goal to introduce a quality product or to introduce a quality product on Tuesday?

I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t attach deadlines to goals.  If we give ourselves all the time in the world to get something done, that’s usually how long it takes!  So go ahead set deadlines.  Just don’t let those deadlines divert you from your real goal.

Enjoy your weekend … and drive safe!

Just Breathe

Adding home relocation to an already busy schedule has made me recognize all over again the preciousness of time!  The extra demand on our time has also made me that much more aware of my own physical and emotional response to stress, as well as an interested observer of other’s reactions.

This last week I saw what I can only assume (hope!) was an example of someone finally tipping over the edge of reason when the “final straw” was added to a large pile of frustrations.  A pick-up truck was trying to get across two lanes of busy traffic and had to inch into the second lane in order to see if anyone was coming. There was and the lady in that SUV was beyond angry at the truck driver. She followed him for about three blocks, sitting on her horn the whole way. She then proceeded to cut me off so she could get next to the truck, roll down her windows and scream at the top of her lungs.  I shook my head in disbelief and then started wondering just what else was going on in her life to make her that angry.

Of course, I have also been guilty of over-reacting to a small frustration.  When I am tired, when I skip a meal, when I don’t take my mental breaks, when I don’t allow myself “just in case” time or when I’ve been given bad or disappointing news, it is tempting to just give in to the frustration and take it out on someone else.

Of course, “losing it” doesn’t fix anything. Instead it usually makes things that much worse!  So what do I do when I feel myself starting to lose control?

I breathe!  Deep, long breaths followed by a long, slow exhale. This can be done in traffic, at the office, anywhere and it’s free.  Concentrating on something as simple and basic as breathing helps me gain control over my emotions.  Breathing deeply helps to deactivate the stress response and activate feelings of relaxation.  And then, when my emotions are back under control, it is easier to put the situation into perspective.  What is the real, long-term impact of the situation?  And what can I do to eliminate or reduce reoccurrence?  I’m not able to answer any of those questions while my emotions are running out of control.

Whatever frustration you are faced with, the one thing that you have absolute control over is your response to the situation.   You can choose to let it control you or you can breathe deep and put it in perspective.