Hand stopping dominoes from falling

How to deal with the anxiety of taking risks

If you’re risk-averse, the prospect of taking a risk typically brings to mind one of two outcomes that leave us dealing with anxiety: 1) either the attempt fails—or worse, it proves harmful—or 2) it succeeds but introduces new challenges and unknowns you might not feel equipped to handle.

The second outcome can be especially daunting. It sounds cynical, but success can add more responsibilities and unforeseen activities to your plate.

What if it’s too much? What if I can’t handle the extra time and effort that’s required to keep this going?

This fear of the unknown is a very real scenario for many people, which is why making real change in our lives feels so hard.

The Reality of Change

If you decide to create a new habit or tackle something challenging, you will definitely create new variables to manage.

Objects in motion tend to stay in motion, and they can create other little motions—there’s your physics lesson for today, from a non-physicist.

Often, instead of admitting that yes, we want to succeed at our goals but yes, we also feel uncertain about managing the outcomes, we label ourselves as lazy or procrastinators.

Now, we have a “personality trait” to blame, one we think we were born with and can’t change.

How can we change anything if we believe we’re just inherently slothful people who always procrastinate?

If you’re risk-averse, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

You beat yourself up for not doing “it,” whatever “it” is, and wonder when your current existence will become uncomfortable enough to finally push you to take that scary risk, make that decision, and just deal with whatever happens.

And to a great degree, that’s true.

For all of us, real change happens when we decide that the benefits of doing something different outweigh the costs of staying where we are:

  • You start eating healthy when your cardiologist puts you on notice.
  • You put your resume out there when you get passed over for a promotion again.
  • You invest in therapy because your out-of-control emotions are impacting your relationships.

But until you reach that point, there’s a mountain of explanations and rationalizations blocking your path. They all boil down to you being someone who “just doesn’t get it.”

Rather than accepting the more workable reality that “I’m choosing not to engage with this right now because I’m not willing to deal with the possible results,” we instead bring our best authoritarian voice to the party, hoping it will give us that swift kick to get motivated and “just do it already.”

We spend a lot of time in this mindset, and all it does is reinforce a wicked shame narrative.

Child being scolded by parent

The Shame Game

I recently saw a viral video where a young woman was yelling, pointing, and wagging her finger at the screen, animatedly telling her millions of viewers that they haven’t succeeded yet because they’re lazy.

I wish I was exaggerating for narrative effect, but sadly, it was as described.

Her rant was long and harsh. I felt like a scolded child with her hand fresh out of the cookie jar just watching it.

What was truly shocking were the thousands of “atta girl” comments on the video, thanking her for motivating them to stop being so lazy, to say what needed to be said, hearts and party-hat emojis scattered throughout. ❤️ 🎉

But the reality is, most of these commenters won’t change a thing about their life. They’ll just let the platform take them to the next video because that’s what we’re conditioned to now.

Contrary to popular belief, shame is a terrible and costly motivator and makes our struggle dealing with anxiety even worse.

To add insult to injury, this video even had a big brand sponsor, paying her to shame people like this.

I digress.

The point is, we quickly shame ourselves for not taking actions, and then we feel anxious because we know our current behaviors are keeping us stuck.

Risk and Reward

Ironically, no matter how we feel, changing anything involves encountering risk:

  • Eating heart-healthy often means spending more on groceries (have you ever seen kale BOGO?).
  • If your current employer finds out you’re job hunting, it could lead to awkward feelings or a preemptive push out the door.
  • Therapy requires both a financial and emotional commitment that may require you to confront some uncomfortable truths about yourself and your relationships.

Once we think about these possible outcomes, we either decide it’s worth it right now, or it isn’t.

We take our actions from there.

This dynamic repeats daily, creating decision paralysis when we feel tension between the “right” and “wrong” thing to do.

But this dynamic can also bring us what we actually want if we’re willing to accept the possibility of risk.

Sounds easy enough. Why is it so hard then?

Transformation from caterpillar to butterfly

Patience in the Process

Our modern challenge is that we have zero patience for any kind of process to unfold. We want to become the best version of ourselves by next Tuesday.

Marketers exploit this by playing on our fears that unless we take big, bold actions today—buy that membership, purchase the latest book, enroll in a high-intensity workshop—we won’t have peace of mind.

They draw us to their quick fixes promising fast transformations and a life devoid of dealing with anxiety.

In the first session with a client, I point out that our hour-long chat won’t magically change their life. In fact, it might even take several sessions to feel like you’re making any progress.

Given the mental gymnastics that clients perform just to get the courage to start therapy, this can be off-putting.

But if we can connect in the first session, and you walk away feel heard and seen, we’ve achieved our goal.

Picking apart your life to figure out what’s working and what’s not takes real time.

Today, most of the solutions we need to change something in our lives are right at our fingertips.

If you want to organize a cluttered closet, you’ll find limitless strategies online in one afternoon. You can tame that closet by sundown.

Finding options and strategies isn’t the issue.

The problem is the modern “go big or go home” approach.

Small Steps, Big Impact

We glorify great risk.

Our heroes today are those who defy gravity, overcome impossible odds, face political persecution, or stare death in the face. We are drawn to those who seem to risk everything to build a company, create a movement, or save a life.

We don’t often celebrate the small acts of bravery that no one sees.

You won’t see the local news interview someone who managed to take a brisk walk five days this week to improve their physical health.

Consequently, we think it’s no big deal when we actually do accomplish what we set out to do.

“I didn’t run a marathon or anything,” you might say.

But actually, you made a healthy choice five times this week, despite being tired, the weather, how goofy you think you look when you swing your arms, or whatever obstacle your mind presented you.

That’s a big deal.

By tackling these small risks, you build confidence and gradually increase your tolerance for bigger risks and challenges.

Maybe after a streak of brisk walks, you’ll decide to keep going, maybe even join a 1K walk for a cause you care about. Your consistent small steps lead to crossing the finish line with others who share your passion.

Look where you are now!

You can absolutely conquer your fear of heights by parachuting out of a plane.

But you’ll build more confidence to engage the risk and danger of heights by peeking out of a high-rise window first and working your way up.

Engaging with risk involves more than just weighing the probabilities of potential outcomes.

By taking manageable risks, you give yourself the opportunity to explore some new small aspect of life.

This crock-pot-style approach allows you to catch your breath, evaluate the results, and use those insights and experiences to guide your next steps.

What is one small risk you can take today?

A human hand and a robot hand reaching toward each other

When Will AI Become Your Therapist?

Do you think AI will take over therapy and make people like me obsolete?

It’s interesting to me that when some new and revolutionary tech pops onto the scene, people immediately go to the worst case scenario.

  • It will take all our jobs.
  • We won’t be able to think for ourselves.
  • It will take over the world, and we’ll become its slaves.
  • It will bring out the worst in us.
  • It will require nothing from us and turn us into entitled pagan sloths.
  • It will turn us into cheaters and plagiarists.

I remember these same arguments at the dawn of the Internet age (I’m that old).

We fancied ourselves as quite the industrious lot with our CC mail to chat with the colleague in the next cubicle and our Macintosh Quadra computers, but the real future was so much more than just thinking differently about our work.

When the Internet went mainstream, it was like the picture quite literally overnight went from black and white to color (I’m also that old).

The Internet defiantly ended one era of human history, but gave birth to technologies and opportunities that started millions of completely new paths.

It was a very big deal.

Now, 30 years later, you can easily say that the Internet has, for sure, brought about some of my aforementioned bulleted list.

I surely feel like an entitled pagan sloth sometimes when I take binge-watching too far.

But it has also brought legions of opportunities that would not have existed without it.

My previous career as a communications professional would not have existed without the Internet, and I would not be doing the work I’m doing today in mental health without this monumental technology shift.

I’m pretty grateful for that.

AI is a very big deal, too.

AI is bigger than the Internet. It’s a different kind of game changer because you don’t have to just play the one game.

The Internet fundamentally transformed communication and information sharing.

But AI will stretch across every industry, sector, application and function.

It will change everything.

That’s why it feels so scary.

And for mental health, these changes could present some real challenges in terms of safety and accuracy.

In spite of this, though, taking this same all-or-nothing approach to this new technology might also limit us from what those changes can offer.

As a therapist, instead of thinking about what AI could take away from me, I can consider how it will enhance and expand my role.

  • What things could it do better than me so I can focus on what I do best?
  • How will it help a client who is resistant to starting therapy or who is having trouble engaging in therapy once they’ve gotten access to a therapist?
  • How can it help clients apply the principles they learn in session in those times when real life throws a curveball at them?

It’s true that AI has ratcheted up the stakes already by making the basic tenets of therapy potentially available to people efficiently and inexpensively.

But therapy is not that cut and dry.

We don’t solve the mental health problem in our society by just providing access to mental health services and information.

  • Once there is access, the therapy has to engage the client in some way so that they will come to the table to do the work.
  • The therapist and the client have to work together to create goals that the client will agree to work on. And if they’re not working on them, then we try to work through that to find goals the client will agree to work on.
  • And the client has to do the work to understand that the benefit of being able to function in their life in spite of the challenges outweighs any of the financial and emotional costs that therapy brings.

These are all things that require accountability and a human touch (and also work). And to be honest, this is the sweet spot that most therapists want to be in as they serve their clients.

Rather than fearing AI will replace me, I can choose to adapt and integrate AI as a tool that supports and extends my capabilities so that my clients have what they need to generate solutions for their problems.

Having said that…

AI will not make therapists obsolete but it will most likely redefine the practice of therapy in some very real ways. It just performs too well, too easily for that not to happen.

The challenge, though, is to steer the development of AI in ways that keep it anchored to the core values of the profession—empathy, ethics, and personal connection—while embracing the opportunities for growth and innovation that ultimately will serve our clients best.

I’m on board with that.

________________

This recent “60 minutes” segment is what spurred my thinking on this. It’s an interesting piece, and I think the players in this space are trying to do the right thing. Check it out if you’re interested.

Solar Eclipse April 8, 2024

Lessons in Resilience from a Solar Eclipse

There’s something kind of magical about knowing exactly when the moon will sneak in front of the sun and cast a brief shadow over the day.

I remember an eclipse when I was in middle school that I witnessed through a pinhole on a sheet of paper. While I didn’t see the eclipse directly because I enjoy having healthy retinas, seeing the shadows interplay on the back of my math homework was still pretty amazing. I knew something big was happening in the sky.

Eclipses are totally predictable but we still get caught off guard by the randomness of celestial bodies lining up perfectly.

Stress is a lot like an eclipse.

We know it’s out there and we’ll experience it, whether we’re looking for it or not. But we have a hard time letting stress just be in our lives and observe it for what it is.

We work hard to find ways to get it to go away, to not feel it or experience it, or — on the opposite end of the spectrum — to prepare for every possibility so as to not be caught off guard and feel the stress of being out of control.

Big work presentation next week? Ready for it.

That yearly family get-together that’s equal parts fun and dysfunctional? As ready as anyone can be.

We see these kinds of stressors coming from a mile away and try to gear up mentally.

But what about the random stuff?

Flat tires, a sudden work crisis, those out-of-the-blue calls from the school principal, the brand new air conditioner that dies in July?

We can spot the big stressors ahead of time just like astronomers predict eclipses, and we’re happy to pull out our best instruments to measure it.

But we have to be just as diligent about being resilient with the small stuff.

In the same way the moon puts itself between you and the sun in an eclipse, stress places itself between you and what you want.

Every. Single. Time.

You can fight it if you want, if you think you can move the moon at will (maybe you could if it was made out of cheese).

Or you can find ways to take a breath and simply notice what’s happening around you, appreciate life for what it is, and wait for that stressor to pass out of your perspective, as it often does.

So, what do we do when life throws us a curveball?

The goal here is to develop psychological flexibility. This isn’t about being ready for a monumental event or crash; it’s more about being able to bend, twist, and keep your life going in spite of what gets hurled at you, big or small.

Every time you bend and twist, you get stronger and more pliable. Like Neo dodging a bullet in The Matrix, it takes bigger and bigger things to knock you down.

Here are a few broad ideas to get you started:

1. Stay Present
An eclipse is a once-in-a-lifetime event (theoretically; I’ve personally seen two, but whatever). You wouldn’t spend that moment scrolling through your phone, right? Of course not! Staying present, fully immersing yourself in right now, can help you appreciate what you do have, even during stressful times.

2. Embrace Your Experiences
Every experience, good or bad, brings with it a lesson. Much like how we marvel at an eclipse, understanding that its beauty is in the fact that it won’t last long, embracing your experiences without judgment can help you develop resilience. Acknowledge your feelings, don’t beat yourself up for having a human response, and move forward.

3. Make Your Values Your Compass
Your values are your North Star, guiding you through your darkest nights and your brightest days. Identifying what truly matters to you—whether it’s family, health, or career—can provide a sense of direction and purpose, especially during times of stress. Now you know what matters to you, and what doesn’t. Let those values guide your choices and decisions.

4. Take Committed Action
Small, consistent actions aligned with your values can lead to significant changes. Whether it’s prioritizing family dinners, making time for a run or walk, or pursuing the first steps of a passion project, these actions take you closer to where you want to be. Stress will feel less disempowering when you are aligning your behaviors with your deepest values.

5. Develop a Growth Mindset
If you let them, your challenges can be an episode of “Watch Me Grow.” Instead of looking at challenges as forces always trying to drag you down, or an indictment of your propensity to fail, learn to embrace the mindset that says, “What can I learn from this?” or “What other opportunities might this lead to?”

View each obstacle as an opportunity to learn something you didn’t know before, and develop a stronger, more resilient version of yourself.

Just like those moments when we use pinhole cameras or special glasses to watch an eclipse, we can observe from a distance and manage our stress.

By staying present, embracing our experiences, aligning our actions with our values, and cultivating a growth mindset, we build resilience—not just to withstand stress, but to thrive right in the middle of it.

 

Walkman headphones with cassette tape

The Stress-Busting Soundtrack of the 80s

One thing is becoming very clear as Generation X enters AARP territory: we are now in charge of the class (we just let ourselves in, thank you very much) and we just wanna rock.

I follow a few Gen X groups on Facebook, and the nostalgia for 80s music is unbelievably strong.

I think that’s probably true for other generations, but 80s music seems to be in a genre all its own.

We Gen X-ers hang so many different memories on certain songs. We can conjure up all five senses and get right back to that special moment before the first verse of the song is done.

I remember hearing Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” while riding the school bus home in the sixth grade. That’s pretty much the memory, and I’m not sure why just that one detail survived the long arid hallways of my brain.

But when I hear that song now I instantly see myself sitting behind the bus driver feeling pretty good about the clothes I was wearing and wondering what the age of jive was. (Yes, I sat in the front of the bus, and still do. That’s how you stay out of trouble.)

Any song from Chicago 16 brings me back to my heart-a-fluttering days for whatever flavor-of-the-month movie star I was obsessing over.

Thank goodness for streaming and playlists, or I’d be missing out on reliving all this. It’s a great time to be alive!

Lucky for us, the science people can show there’s more to our connection with music than just nostalgia.

Why You Still Want Your MTV

When we listen to music, especially those tracks that are attached to our developmental years, our brain lights up. This isn’t just an emotional response; it’s a complex neurological process.

  • What’s that sound? The auditory cortex in the temporal lobe area of the brain processes the basic properties of music, such as pitch and rhythm. This activation is the initial step in how music is perceived and understood by the brain.
  • You get the feels for the old days: Music engages the limbic system, including the amygdala and hippocampus. The hippocampus is charged with forming and retrieving memories, which explains why music can bring on such vivid memories and emotions.
  • You’re motoring: The cerebellum and motor cortex work together to produce physical reactions like tapping feet or dancing.
  • Not just a simple mind: The prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that involves planning and anticipation. It’s focused on complex cognitive behavior and decision-making, which is also engaged when we interact with music, such as when we predict the next note in a melody.

That may be the Schoolhouse Rock version of how it all works, but a recent study shows that listening to 80s music may actually relieve stress.

A hair transplant clinic studied over 1,500 adults who underwent mental stress tests while listening to various music playlists spanning different decades. When it came to the 80s playlist, the participants reported a 96% reduction in blood pressure, and 36% reported a drop in heart rate.

Those are two big indicators in managing stress, and this group saw the biggest reduction. That feels like justification to me!

Interestingly, heavy metal came in a solid second place for reducing stress.

Rock on!

Whether you listen to 80s music, you play an instrument, or you can sing all the words to “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” you don’t need a study to tell you that having music as a part of your life will go a long way to help manage stress.

In a crazy world that’s constantly changing, 80s music, or whatever the music of your youth, is a pretty powerful soundtrack between the past and the present. Music is an easy way to sample a simpler time when everything seemed possible and a little less weird.

So crank up that playlist, and fight for your right to … stay calm!

_______________________________

Bellier, L., Llorens, A., Marciano, D., Gunduz, A., Schalk, G., Brunner, P., & Knight, R. T. (2023). Music can be reconstructed from human auditory cortex activity using nonlinear decoding models. PLoS biology21(8), e3002176. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3002176

Pereira, C. S., Teixeira, J., Figueiredo, P., Xavier, J., Castro, S. L., & Brattico, E. (2011). Music and emotions in the brain: familiarity matters. PloS one6(11), e27241. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0027241

Gordon, C. L., Cobb, P. R., & Balasubramaniam, R. (2018). Recruitment of the motor system during music listening: An ALE meta-analysis of fMRI data. PloS one13(11), e0207213. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0207213

Toader, C., Tataru, C. P., Florian, I. A., Covache-Busuioc, R. A., Bratu, B. G., Glavan, L. A., Bordeianu, A., Dumitrascu, D. I., & Ciurea, A. V. (2023). Cognitive Crescendo: How Music Shapes the Brain’s Structure and Function. Brain sciences13(10), 1390. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci13101390

Casio watch

The Timely Art of Work

Early in my career, I remember a youngish senior director who worked from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. every day. He rarely came in early or left late. You could almost set your Casio watch by his schedule.

This was a busy and fast paced company, and there was always plenty to do. But he rarely wavered from his schedule.

He always got his work done. He was no one’s bottleneck.

As you might expect, he was often the subject of snark and ridicule for his eight-hour day, mostly by his peers. The rest of us thought he was a rock star.

He was knowledgeable, accessible and easy to be around.

One time I asked him if it bothered him that people made fun of his seemingly slacker work ethic.

“If you stop and think about it, eight hours is a pretty long time to do anything,” he responded. “If you can’t get the work done in eight hours, you’re either not really working or you might be working for the wrong reasons.”

🤔

If I hadn’t been so young I might have paid closer attention to his comment. At the time, I just thought he was being clever.

You may think your bursting schedule and overflowing to-do list is a testament to your unwavering work ethic and commitment. But it could also be a subconscious effort to seek validation.

It’s easy to use work to prove our worth, not just to others but also to ourselves. We learn early on in life to validate ourselves based on our output or the accolades we get.

That’s not inherently bad, but if working yourself to near burnout is the only way you can feel good about yourself, it may be time to unlearn some deeply held beliefs and habits.

When you learn how to operate within your capacity, you leave room for creativity, growth and satisfaction.

That sounds like the right reason to me.

Insecurity - pointing fingers at yourself

What Your Insecurities Say About You

Feeling a bit insecure is something we all deal with from time to time. Who hasn’t gone into an important presentation, a big game, or a new support group with some butterflies about how you’re going to pull this off?

I would venture that even today’s most reliable standard bearers of achievement still struggle with those little thoughts that question if they really are this good, or if this is all just one big swindle they are foisting on all of us.

When these thoughts and feelings become a daily chorus, though, they can cloud reality.

Instead of keeping you on your toes in preparation for a good result, insecurity keeps you mired in the weeds of one metric — how you’re not measuring up and you never will.

Despite how many of your friends and coworkers extol your greatness, your thoughts constantly remind you that you’re just not all that.

That’s not exactly a recipe for accomplishment or feeling good.

Worse, if you’ve felt insecure long enough, you’ve become conditioned to hear those thoughts, so you believe them.

This, of course, may be keeping you from accomplishing your most important goals.

What does insecurity look like for you?

For many of us, insecurity is that nagging feeling of not being good enough, that accusatory voice in your head that whispers (or sometimes shouts), “You can’t do this!” or “They don’t really like you.”

It’s like having a persistent shadow of inadequacy that seems to follow you wherever you go.

I always pictured that voice as Lucy Van Pelt from the Peanuts comic strip, that shrill voice berating me over my shoulder with all the things I probably can’t or won’t do.

Maybe for you insecurity is less of an animated voice and more of an action.

  • Maybe you take on more work than you know you can really do well because you crave approval from your boss.
  • Or maybe you micromanage everything — and everyone — in your life because if something doesn’t go according to plan you think it will be all your fault.
  • Perhaps you let others take credit for your good work instead of speaking up for yourself.

There are a zillion ways we let our insecurities hold hostage the things we value most in our lives.

Where do these insecurities come from?

In many cases, our past experiences, especially those from childhood, shape these insecurities. If you grew up in a less-than-ideal home environment, you might be more familiar with this shadow than you’d like.

Maybe you had a parent or sibling who constantly criticized you, or you struggled to get validation and approval from your family in spite of how well you performed.

We take notes about the environments we grew up in, and we try to draw some conclusions about ourselves based on that information.

  • If I share my authentic self with others, I’ll be made fun of or ridiculed. Therefore, my feelings and emotions are not important.
  • If I had been a better student, my parents wouldn’t have been so upset with me all the time. Therefore, I must not be good enough on my own for them to love me.

We go through our early lives in all our domains of home, school, and friends with this observational mindset of “If this happened, then this must be true.” In science, that kind of thinking can be helpful because you wait to see if the data supports your hypothesis.

But it’s not so helpful in non-science life. We can come out of childhood and adolescence believing some pretty amazing and inaccurate things about who we are that go completely unchallenged.

Perception becomes reality

Part of the problem lies in our perceptions of those early events. We took in the events of our early childhood with our five senses (six, if you saw dead people 😂), and we didn’t really have a frame of reference for what we were seeing.

We didn’t have enough life experience to see how similar situations might play out differently in other people’s lives. So we go with what we see in front of us. What else was there?

If you have a sibling, you may have discovered that they have a different outlook on how you grew up. They may have grown up in the same house with you, in roughly the same developmental time frame, with the same set of people.

Yet they may remember things you don’t, or they heard completely different words in a particular conversation. They may have come away from their childhood with a different perspective on the very same events.

That doesn’t mean the events were not dysfunctional or traumatic, if that was your experience. It just means the information your sibling heard and witnessed may have brought them to a slightly (or even vastly) different conclusion about who they are.

This alphabet soup of perspective is what we take into adulthood, and we may not give much thought to any of it until we start trying to challenge ourselves in meaningful ways.

Instead of achieving our goals, to our horror we watch ourselves trashing our good efforts with thoughts and actions that take us further away from success.

The observations of life are so ingrained in us that we don’t stop to ask if we even have all the information. We respond how we have always responded, even if we don’t want to.

That’s why it feels so hard to just make that voice go away or simply take a different action.

You have been living according to a kind of script where you think you have the whole story, but you don’t.

The good news is you can work with that.

The rest of the story

Once you see other stories played out in other lives, you begin to realize that your underlying script might have some real flaws. You start to understand that this script may not take you to the story you want to live out.

  • Maybe it needs to be revised in a couple of areas to get the story back on track.
  • Or maybe it needs a complete rewrite, with new dialogue and better story structure.

Either way, part of the process of dealing with your insecurities is understanding that those insecure voices or behaviors were just your way of dealing with the circumstances life brought you.

Your insecurities are not a character flaw, they are a life raft that you jumped into to get yourself to the next stop (the same way I just jumped into a different analogy there 😬).

Give yourself the grace to view your insecurities as part of how you coped with your past, and work on changing that script to focus on a new and confident story.

Woman asleep wearing a sleep tracking watch

The Problem with Sleep Trackers

Everything runs on data now (and Dunkin’), so it’s easy to hand over the reins to a gadget or an app to find out how we’re doing.

Sleep trackers and apps come up a lot in my work with clients. Because so many people struggling with their mental health have issues with sleep, many of them have resorted to trackers and wearable tech to try to get better data about their sleep patterns.

We’ve got watches, earbuds, and rings, you name it.

In the old days, approximately 2014, you could put your phone under your pillow and it would capture your movements while you slept. That was nice because the warmth from your battery overheating kept your pillow nice and cozy. 🤦🏻‍♀️

Invariably when I ask my clients how well they sleep, they whip out their phone to tell me.

And it almost never reports a good story. There’s always a deficit somewhere in the week prior, leaving my client frustrated and worried about how to interpret and improve their data.

Now we have frustration and worry on top of whatever we’re already working on, which, of course, doesn’t help at all.

Sleep trackers aren’t designed for this kind of scrutiny. There are too many uncontrollable variables in your world that make the data they collect suspect.

At best, they might give you a little peek into an area or two, like how many times you moved around in the night, or how long you were in bed. How does that help you sleep better?

Real, actionable data on sleep comes from a lab in a facility where you are observed in a room while hooked up to wires and monitored. I’m not sure how well I would sleep in that environment.

And believe it or not, those lab tests don’t really measure insomnia. Instead they are looking for sleep apnea or other conditions that might be detrimental to your health.

Still, we let these trackers dictate our mood and ultimately our choices, when they really don’t have the whole picture in terms of what data really constitutes good sleep.

In my opinion, sleep trackers create more stress than they alleviate.

It’s like having a backseat driver in your brain, constantly pointing out every wrong turn. Fine, you only got an hour of REM sleep last night. What exactly are you supposed to do about that?

You can get good, unmedicated sleep using a more empirically-based method like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (I’m certified in CBT-I so ask me more about that if you’re curious 😉).

It takes a bit of time and focus to unlearn some myths and bad habits around sleep, but once you learn them (and apply them), you will be amazed at how much better you feel about your sleep.

And you don’t have to wear your watch to bed unless you’re just super time conscious.

We may need to work on that, too. 😆

At the same time, I’m not a Luddite.

I like technology and apps because they can help us do some things better and faster.

What kind of technology can you use instead of a sleep tracker?

For starters, how about the one that reminds you to land your busy daytime plane and get ready for bed?

Time moves fast at night, especially if you are busy with kids and kitchens.

Once you sit down, it’s easy to let Netflix keep rolling you over to that next episode. (Do you remember when we had to use a remote for that? If you’re old enough, you may remember actually being the remote in your family. Good times.)

Use your calendar app, reminder app, or some proprietary app that does basically the same thing to light up when it’s time to start winding down.

Don’t set a reminder that says, “Go to bed.” No one likes that. You don’t just throw your kid in bed and turn the light out, do you?

No, you get them started with a bath, cozy pajamas, brushing teeth, and then a book, or two, … or ten.

Use your app to remind you of the first step in your own cozy, beddy-bye time ritual. You’ll be a whole lot more excited about a reminder to get in your fuzzy Hello Kitty jammies than in just going to bed.

Another great way to use technology is to capture all the garbage that invariably starts coming to the surface when your brain is taking its last gasps of air for the day.

Whether it’s your Notes app, your Todoist list, your Trello map, whatever, use it to get that stuff out of your head and somewhere else.

No doubt while you’re reading your nighttime print book (because print books don’t give off blue light) you’ll be tempted to wonder if you included the Net Sales Valuation in  your TPS report. Capture that wonderment in your app and move on. You’ll take a look at that tomorrow morning before you send the report.

The best use of an app for sleep is to use a meditation app to seal the deal.

But not just any meditation app, the best is to find one that does a Body Scan Meditation. We’re not emptying our mind or anything transcendental.

This exercise will teach you to relax your whole body bit by bit. We Westerners are a tense bunch, and most of us carry stress in our muscles most of the time.

Even when you feel pretty relaxed when you turn out the light, you will be surprised how much tension is still in your neck and shoulders that you need to release.

Plus, a body scan is a great way to learn to relax during the day, so you can be good and relaxed at work. That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

I think we can all agree that technology is here to stay. But technology should never stress you out, or make you worry about something else.

Use it to help you, and remember, you always have the power to use that power button.

Interested in more witty and informative insights like these?

  • Sign up for my emails to stay updated on my latest articles and projects.
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  • Work with me one-on-one for sleep coaching or counseling (Florida folks only for counseling).
Interesting...

How Do You Spend Your Downtime?

Cal Newport has done some great work in the area of deep work and productivity. If you are trying to get your act together and produce meaningful work, his books and such will get you where you need to go.
 
Here he has some interesting insight on the way we spend our down time. In the first 20 minutes of this episode, he breaks down the differences between slow distractions and fast distractions, and how they affect us.

Key takeaways for me:

  • “The idle mind is anxiety’s playground.”
  • Two new words I can now use at cocktail parties:
    • simulacrum
    • interstertial
Enjoy!
What do you want?

Mastering Goals and Values in the New Year

The start of a new year always brings with it an evaluation of where you are now against where you want to be.

As humans with the ability to make a big mess of good intentions, we like the idea of drawing a line in the sand and starting over.

That’s what the month of January represents to most of us.

In my own life, and in my work with others, I’ve noticed one of the most obvious missing components in getting where you want to go is, well, knowing where you want to go.

It sounds overly simplistic, but many of us have, at best, a fuzzy idea of exactly what we’re trying to accomplish here.

We set goals every year and, have mercy, do we love setting goals.

  • We make vision boards and post-it-note collages.
  • We create detailed spreadsheets with metrics and columns that do the calculations automatically (sheer wizardry, in my book).
  • We create the perfect environment that uses the perfect tool to do the thing.
  • We shout out to all things social media that this is the year we are gonna get that thing done.

By January 15, which is right about now, we have already figured out that the goals we spent weeks crafting during the ho-ho-ho season have to now be lived out.

And it’s hard.

  • It’s hard to get up early to do the thing.
  • It’s hard to stay up late to do the thing.
  • It’s hard to stay up late to do the thing, and then have to get up early to do the thing.
  • It’s hard to fight against the cobwebs trying to suffocate and trap the momentum of the thing.
  • It’s hard to pay attention to just one thing for more than eight seconds.
  • It’s hard to say no to people and things when you just wanna hang out and be the fun-in-the-sun person (if you live in Florida, this is totally do-able in January).

Some people get super motivated when things get hard.

But for most of us who don’t chase back-to-back Superbowls or Wimbledon wins, it’s easy to get discouraged when you aren’t seeing any progress.

Now you start to wonder if this was even a goal worth pursuing. Why am I even doing this?

Maybe this isn’t the right year, you tell yourself. As if.

Sometimes it’s a discipline thing, and you should, you know, just do it.

But part of the problem is that we haven’t done the hard work of determining what all these goals are supposed to add up to — our values.

We don’t get a lot of instruction on values as kids.

Often we’re asked what we want to do when we grow up. This usually means some kind of career choice that requires specific goals and actions to get there (astronaut, doctor, secretary — literally just those three choices in my own 4th grade class).

Hardly anyone asks us what kind of person we want to be, or what we want our life to represent or stand for. That won’t get you invited to parties.

Early on, we become conditioned to look at goals as a measure of how well our lives are going.

But understanding what you want your life to mean makes all the difference in actually achieving your goals.

The biggest difference between values and goals is this: you will never accomplish your values.

Values are not limited by time or effort, they are always ongoing.

If you can accomplish something, complete it and move on, then it’s not a value. It’s a goal.

If one of your values is to use your business success to improve the lives of others, then you will never accomplish this value.

You may set a goal this year of donating $1 million to your favorite charity, and you may accomplish that.

But you still have plenty of room to continue investing in others. As long as you’re breathing and making money, this effort can continue.

So, financially investing to support the needs of others is one of your values.

Pledging a certain amount this year is one of your goals to help you express this value in your life. You will either accomplish it, or you won’t.

Why is this distinction important?

Confusing goals and values makes it hard to make good decisions, and doubly hard to persevere through challenges.

How do you even know if this is something you should be pursuing?

When you understand what your values are, the opportunities that come your way will either take you towards your values or away from your values.

Honestly, that’s really the benchmark, it’s that simple. For real.

When you have honed in on your values, then it is so much easier to look at an opportunity and decide if it takes you where you want to go.

Yes, I know there are off-the-wall, amazing, unexpected opportunities that happen in life. But if you try really hard, I’ll bet you will find underneath that spontaneous opportunity, it either takes you where you want to go, or it doesn’t.

One of my values is to be a healthy, fit and active grandmother to my two young grandsons so they don’t mimic my grunting noises when I bend over to pick something up.

There are a variety of goals I can choose from to accomplish that value, everything from walking to weight training to martial arts.

I can engage in any of those activities and set goals, but my goals will reflect the fact that I am doing this for my health.

I’m not trying to be world champion (anymore). I’m not trying to be the best at any particular exercise.

I just need it to take me towards the health and energy I need to mix it up in that toddler life.

This takes a lot of pressure off of me because I know why I have the goal and what I need it to do for me. As I get older, my goals may have to change a bit to make sure I’m continuing to move toward that value.

Understanding this concept makes decision-making so much easier, especially when you have multiple variables in play, or you’re choosing between two good things.

It also makes for a more SuperBowl-style steely resolve when things get challenging because you know why you’re doing this in the first place.

Think about it

  • What values are most important to you right now?
  • How do your current goals take you toward these values?
  • Think of a time when your goals didn’t align with your values. What impact did this have on you?
  • What one step can you take today that will move you toward your values? Start there to create meaningful goals for this year!
White daisy in the rain

Growing in the Skin You’re In

Recently, I read about actress and model Pam Anderson’s bold choice to go makeup-free at a high-profile fashion event, embracing life in her 50s with a more unfiltered presence. In fact, she didn’t even bring a stylist with her.

The horror.

Kudos to her, because I’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada, so I’m assuming that’s a very judg-ey crowd.

I think she looks happy and youthful.

Like Pam, many of us reach a stage in life where the urge to conform or create a certain image becomes less pressing…and also pretty exhausting.

So we start questioning: Are we doing this for ourselves or for others?

It’s a valid question. And for a lot of us, it brings on a hopscotch journey of just trying to settle in and feel comfortable with where you are.

We call it “feeling comfortable in our own skin.”

And we do all kinds of things to try to achieve this feeling. We celebrate the things that seem to work, and rationalize away the things that don’t. (I’m not mocking, that is human nature.)

But let’s flip the narrative around a little bit.

What if you learned to embrace the discomfort of being in your own skin?

Walk with me here…

Reaching your 50s often brings a cocktail of discomforts.

  • Let’s be honest, once you enter midlife you find there are some things you didn’t know your body was doing for you until it stops doing those things.
  • Some relationships you thought were solid and healthy you realize through your own discomfort may not be what they seem.
  • Goals and dreams you had when you were younger suddenly don’t seem as achievable or appropriate now, and what are you supposed to do with that?

That’s all pretty uncomfortable.

We like to avoid the uncomfortable.

We want it to just go away so we don’t have to deal with it.

So we try to shoo away uncomfortable feelings with all kinds of potions, lotions, experiences and rationalizations.

But just because we avoid something doesn’t mean it goes away. If a telemarketer has your cell phone number, then you probably already know that.

The irony of avoidance in midlife is that you’re more capable of handling things than what you realize because you have seen and been through some real stuff. You’ve already proven you can handle discomfort.

You just have to give yourself permission to use it to pull the right levers.

Learning to Embrace Discomfort

Keep walking with me here.

So, what does embracing discomfort look like?

I’m not talking about wallowing in your pain, throwing your hands up all like, “What’s the point? I guess I’ll just feel bad forever.”

Put down the diary, Bridget Jones.

Embracing discomfort is about accepting where you are, shifting your perspective and looking for what you still have yet to learn.

This is where you get the confidence to pull the aforementioned levers.

For example, let’s talk about wrinkles. I see changes in my face that I am sometimes uncomfortable with, partly because I know it’s not really going to get better.

Fact: If the timeline is moving, I am aging. We all are. (I’m a real hoot at parties.)

Now, I can do things to take care of my skin that will take the edge off a bit (hence my 9-step AM & PM skin care routines), but the reality is, if I live long enough, I absolutely will have wrinkles.

I could sit with that discomfort and worry about what I will one day look like, especially compared to women years younger than me.

Or, I can use that discomfort to remind myself of a few things. Each wrinkle means:

  • I am being blessed with long life on this earth with my family. Not everyone gets this opportunity.
  • I have had more time to keep working towards my own goals, or helping other people with their goals, people I wouldn’t be able to help if I’m not here.
  • I found humor in more than a few things.
  • I have the capacity to empathize.
  • I still manage to be surprised by life (this is how I explain the forehead lines, what else could it be?).

The wrinkles then become less about my image in the world, or to “look good for my age” and more about marking the time that I have already had to invest in others.

Knowing that, can I take actions to continue to invest in others and see where that goes?

How does this relate to feeling comfortable in your own skin?

Let’s keep walking, walking.

Identify Who You Want to Be

The key to navigating this phase is getting clarity about who you want to be. This is harder than you might think.

Ironically, you may be able to aggressively list all the things you don’t want to be. We’ve allowed our media and social environments to condition us to always focus on the things that we’re not.

  • I want to not be so anxious.
  • I want to stop being unhappy.
  • I want to stop feeling so tired.

But if I ask you, who do you want to be?

It might take you a hot minute to come up with even just a couple of things.

  • What kind of person do you want to be?
  • What kind of legacy do you want to leave for your family? Your friends? Your community?
  • What are your values, those overarching themes in your life that you are always working towards?

Get Moving and Keep Moving

Once you start learning what kind of person you want to be, begin taking actions in that direction.

Every decision that comes your way will either take you towards that person, or away from that person.

Decide accordingly.

Take real actions every day that will actually move the proverbial needle.

I’m not talking about busy work, planning and spreadsheets and whatnot (shout out to my fellow procrastinating perfectionists).

This is pull-the-lever, step-out-on-the-Indiana-Jones-invisible-bridge kind of action.

This one thing keeps most of us from what we want.

We are afraid to use the very discomfort we are trying to avoid to actually get us moving, even in small ways.

Action begets more action.

Once you get something moving, that energy doesn’t just stop. It has to go somewhere else. Use it to take the next step.

And guess what?

When you start taking real action, you don’t have a whole lot of time to worry about how you look, how awkward you feel, that stupid thing you said, and other defeating narratives.

You are doing stuff that matters to you, and you don’t want it to stop.

Case in point, this whole post was an action towards my larger value of helping others learn the skills to get what they want from life.

It won’t go viral or start a movement. But my discomfort with feeling like I’m not where I want to be with my writing goals spurred me to act, because actual writing will take me closer to my writing goals.

The wrinkle in time

This is all less about becoming more comfortable in your own skin, and more about being comfortable with the person you’re becoming.

True beauty and joy comes from a willingness to engage what may not be working for you so you can grow and change. It doesn’t come from arriving at some predetermined destination everyone else is headed towards.

Seeing your lifelong values actually start to unfold is pretty great because it means you’re actually doing what is most important to you.

Makeup is optional.