How often have you muttered those words to yourself when you feel stressed, under pressure, tense and gnarled in your body, or worse yet, don’t feel like you’re in your body at all?
Just relax. If only it were that easy.
I think of a chat I had with Dan, a Financial Comptroller who I had the pleasure of coaching a few years back. Dan is super smart, ambitious, driven, and yes, intense. Can you please just get him to relax a little? urged Joe, the company’s considerably more relaxed CFO.
I experience you as just a little intense, I volunteer to Dan in our second meeting.
Yeah, I have heard that before, Dan says and laughs.
Are you this intense outside of work as well? I inquire. Dan chuckles again.
My wife and I have this standing joke, Dan tells me. When we go on vacation together, she starts calling me Vacation Dan. It’s the only time I ever really stop and unwind.
I ask the obvious question: What would happen if you brought more of Vacation Dan to work?
I don’t know how to do that, Dan answers disarmingly.
Dan picks up this conversational thread the next time we speak. I told my wife about our conversation. She laughed and said I’ll make you a 20 dollar bet that you can’t do it!
It often is such a fine line between relaxed and not so relaxed, isn’t it? I won’t review the basics like taking a breath or meditating here. Yes, do those things. I will also not indulge the notion that you are a fundamentally intense person who simply can’t relax. Dan knew he could.
If you hold deep trauma or psychological scars, excavate and release them with the help of a professional. Otherwise, consider some of the following behaviors when your situational stakes are high, time is tight, and you want to get stuff done immediately. When a relaxed way of showing up seems to just fly out the window:
Muscle memory is a powerful thing. Athletes know. Even on a day when our mind may not feel as sharp as we’d like, our body performs. It remembers. Muscle memory kicks in. So, go and begin to remember what your body feels like when you’re at your most relaxed. Remember your VACATION-SELF. For me, that is when I step out of the pool after I have just had a robust lap swim, when I lounge on my daybed and read, sit on the stool at my kitchen counter and conduct business from there. My job is to show up that relaxed, as often and whenever I can.
Remember. And drop into it.
Notice when you’re pressing just a little too hard for an outcome, for consensus, a resolution. When it is not happening in your ideal timeframe. Notice when others may need a different pace, additional time to reflect, or a pause. Reality is not matching your ideal-outcome storyline. Notice how you’re suddenly driving conversations with an irritated edge, an annoyed tone, a slight petulance. Just a little too hard.
Notice. And pull back.
Some people go quiet when they’re not relaxed. Most folks go hyper. They talk more. Talk faster. Their talk is wont to sound repetitive. It becomes noise. Allow for silence. Don’t fill every second with chatter. In the silence new wisdom appears. In the silence we better observe what’s really going on. In the silence we hear, and reconnect with, our heartbeat – and the energy that emanates from our hearts.
Shut up for a moment. And settle into silence.
An I, I, I storyline undercuts relaxation faster than anything else. I have to get this done right. I need to finish these 5 items before 3 o’clock. I know more about these matters than the rest of the team. I would rather work on something else.
Me, me, me. Whenever possible, direct your attention to the person or persons in front of you, what they are saying, what they may need, and how you can be of service. Shift your focus from you to them. Every moment instantly gets simpler. Suddenly, we’re engaged with what is actually real, in front of us, in this moment, not our random storylines. Exhale.
Focus on others. And feel your body unwind.
It is difficult to relax when I believe that every outcome is dependent on my behavior, my actions, my efforts. Whew, what pressure. I don’t advocate for a fatalistic mindset, mind you. I believe in my ability to affect outcomes. I equally believe that if something doesn’t work out just as I wished, that outcome is the outcome that was meant to happen, in that moment. The one that will lead us to the next right outcome. That sort of faith allows me to relax. And this, of course, is the paradox: When I relax, I am able to more potently affect the outcomes I envision and desire. Go figure.
We’re talking relaxation practices here. And we’re talking relaxation consciousness.
Truth be told, Vacation Dan never fully showed up at work. But a slightly less-driven Dan who listened a little better did. It starts with muscle memory. In case of doubt, allow your muscles to remember your most relaxed self.
During this time of social unrest and unprecedented workplace disruption, remember your VACATION-SELF. Summon that Self more frequently. It will require some intentional mental prompts.
Go prompt. And enjoy.