This Holiday, Just BREATHE.

We DID Christmas in my family. We did it BIG. The tree, the gifts, the Christmas carols, the eggnog, mom's turkey croquettes. We did it even though my parents didn't really give a hoot about religion. I knew they didn't. We were the go-to-church-once-a-year family. Christmas was all about the rituals, not the heart and soul.

My dad and my brother have since passed, and those Christmases are no more. That's actually kind of cool; I now get to choose what I want this holiday to be for me.

Which got me to think about breathing. Yes, breathing.

Bear with me here.

Learning about breath came upon me early.

I did it in Acting Class when I went to George Washington University and studied to be an actor. I did it with my voice teacher, the venerable Joy Mclean Bosfield from the original cast of “Porgy and Bess.” I did it when I figured out my rhythms as a lap swimmer. And I did it when I took my first yoga classes in the basement of a church in Washington, DC, steps from the Capitol, long before yoga became fashionable in the West.

Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; hate less, love more; and all good things are yours.”

Swedish proverb

But the person who really got me to understand the power of breath in a different way was Eric Butterworth, a man of the church.

Eric Butterworth is one of the giants of spiritual thought in the 20th century. When I found Eric in the 1990s in Manhattan, he had been a Unity minister for over 50 years. By then well into his eighties, Eric and his wife Olga held a service every Sunday at Lincoln Center’s majestic Avery Fisher Hall.

Eric championed a practical sort of mysticism. “As you inhale,” Eric suggested, “say to yourself ‘God is.’ As you exhale, ‘I am.’”

God is/I am; God is/I am. God is/I am.

So simple. I call this magnified breath my "Eric breath."

Breathe down deep. Say it quietly. Repeat the words on each breath.

If you're an agnostic or simply allergic to the word God, no worries. Substitute God with another word that represents a positive universal force for you: Peace, Energy, Love.

Eric’s mantra is identical to the well-known Sanskrit mantra So hum that first appeared in Sanskrit literature in the medieval period. “I am that. I am the force behind everything. I am one with the divine.”

While I repeat the mantra, my breath and the mantra quickly become one. I am breathing the mantra, the mantra breathes me. Its simple words carry an extraordinary energy. Prana (i.e. life force) activates.

I tend to be an instant gratification guy. Here's the beauty of the magnified breath: It shifts my energy. Instantly. Every time.

I do my Eric breaths in the middle of the night, when I cannot fall asleep. I do them in a crowded room, when the social energy feels frenetic. I do them in a meeting when a conversation is getting on my nerves.

Fred Tan is a VP with Goldman Sachs Wealth Management in South Florida AND a seasoned meditation teacher. Fred’s describes his experiences of breath as follows:

My meditation and my breathing get to the point where I become so relaxed that my breathing pattern alters. I am fully aware of being still, and I lose complete awareness of my body. My entire awareness rests in the cave of my heart. My mind forgets that it exists. This is my state of liberation. And I experience great peace.

Here's my hope for you and me and all of us. Amid the busyness of the impending holiday week, the feelings it is likely to invoke, the pressures we may feel – let us find a bit of liberation.

It begins with stillness. An attention to breath. And a willingness to let things be.

Warm wishes for a peaceful and blessed holiday season.

Is Your CONFIDENCE Right-Sized?

We worship at the altar of confidence.

That wonderful We can do this mindset. The confidence that begets I want to conquer the world with you and follow you to the moon.

It moves you up the corporate ranks real fast. It is the energy of possibility. It’s seductive. Until it isn’t.

I hadn’t given overconfidence much thought until I stumbled on a research update in a 2020 issue of Harvard Business Review. “Feeling Unsure of Yourself? Spend Time with a Hubristic Teammate,” HBR/September-October 2020, drawn from The Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Overconfidence, lead researcher Joey T. Cheng asserts, is what happens when we look at a situation in a biased way. When we are overconfident, we misjudge our value, opinion, beliefs or abilities and we have more confidence than we should, given the objective parameters of the situation.

Ouch. Overconfidence is one of the most ubiquitous biases to which human judgment falls prey. 93 percent of American drivers claim to be better than average drivers. This is statistically impossible. The subprime mortgage crisis of 2008, and the great recession that followed, are an example of overconfidence gone bad. Elizabeth Holmes’ confidence in the mission of Theranos is confidence seriously gone off the rails.

Experience tells you what to do. Confidence allows you to do it."

Tennis Champion Stan Smith

It’s tempting to consider overconfidence an individual character flaw. Think again. Here’s what Cheng and his associates discovered in their research.

In their experiment, 104 undergraduate students were randomly partnered up after individually completing a computer task and rating how confident they were in their performance. Each pair then collaborated on an extension of the task. After jointly performing this extension, participants revised their assessment of their individual performance.

Cheng and his team found that those who were working with an overconfident partner (overconfidence = students’ self-assessments were not substantiated by their actual scores) became overconfident themselves. Subsequent experiments showed that the effect persisted over time and across various tasks.

Overconfidence is readily amplified in herds. And it can quicky take an ugly turn. Ever worked on a team where everyone committed to deadlines they could not meet? Helmed a sales organization where both your CEO and your sales reps consistently overestimated revenue potential and, in turn, habitually fell short?

Not pretty. If you run with a herd of overconfidencers, how do you claim your right-sized confidence? Where is that middle lane between grandiose overconfidence and lack of self-esteem? What is the zone where justified belief meets reality?

4 Habits That Foster Right-Sized Confidence

Question Everything

Examine your assumptions. Fully vet the data you use to make decisions. Listen to people who have more experience than you in the arena where you toil. It does NOT mean second-guessing yourself. Does not suggest you be overly critical of yourself, not take risks or not trust your gut instincts. It means doing your homework to substantiate or refute your instincts.

There’s an old-school decision-making technique called Force Field Analysis. It is so straightforward – that’s what I love about it. In a Force Field Analysis, we create two columns. In the left column we list all the forces that exist in favor of a course of action. In the right one we list all forces that may imperil the same action. For each force that will potentially hinder our action, we list tactics that will help us overcome this barrier. A simple process. Quick. It immediately clarifies our path forward. It forces us to question our assumptions. It gets us to confidence that is earned.

Expand your Context

We’re likely to be biased toward overconfidence when we, as Mr. Cheng’s research suggests, toil in a bubble of fellow overconfidencers. When we seek to aggressively innovate, an initial burst of overconfidence may, in fact, be helpful. If we, however, wish to sustain this burst, considering a wider context will always foster more enlightened decisions. 

What are our competitors doing? What are they NOT doing? What can I/we learn from their failures? What can I/we learn from their successes? How does what I/we do fit into this larger eco-system? Asking such questions gets us to better-informed decisions. It leads to grounded confidence.

Conduct a Skills Check

19 years ago, I got a book deal. I thought to myself, well now that you have a book, you need to build a business around this book. Sounds good, right? Did I actually have the knowledge and skills to run a business, find well-paying clients, scale size and revenue? I had some decent instincts, at best.

My friends all rallied around me. Yeah, you can do it! And sure, I can give myself a pep talk, over and over again. You can do this. You got this. You can do this. You got this. The pep talk will raise my confidence level and get me pumped. I believe in the power of visualization and positive affirmations. Thank goodness, I also DID realize that I entirely lacked the essential skills to successfully launch a business. I truly did. I joined a small business strategy group in Manhattan for a year. In this group, I quickly learned all the things I didn’t know. A pep talk or positive affirmation isn’t what raised my confidence – learning actual skills did. 

Talk to your Advisory Board

Confident people are confident enough to call on the guidance of others. They have their trusted advisors. At best, an entire advisory board. When we know who to call in a crucial moment, when we surround ourselves with smart people who have wisdom to offer, when we have the courage to listen and perhaps even change our mind – well, then we are confident enough to learn. When we are confident enough to learn, we are confident enough to expand our horizons and deepen our understanding.

I have personally seen therapists over multiple decades, had business coaches, marketing advisors, belong to a Mastermind Group. I do few things alone. The moment we decide to not go it alone, we have started to demonstrate true confidence. In the end – yes, we will make some of the tough choices we have to make alone. Our decision will be made with more confidence when we have been well advised.

Amazon and the shelves of your local bookstore overflow with self-improvement literature. Books that tell you how to overcome limiting beliefs. These books are one big rallying call to summon MORE confidence.

As you absorb the inspiration you will find, stay mindful of the ugly turn. Overconfidence is that turn.

Fake it til you make it is that turn. Overcommit, overpromise, overestimate is that turn. Ignoring hard evidence is that turn.

Be confident, please. Very confident. Allow your confidence to be informed by the 4 habits outlined here. They will fuel you with the energy of true possibility. Not wishful thinking.

And that’s the best kind of confidence.

Instead of GETTING BUSY over Christmas, Choose Reflection Time!

What are you doing over the holidays? I ask Mitch, an Executive in a Dallas Engineering firm as we ponder our holiday plans. Are you going to have a traditional Christmas?

Well, my wife’s parents were going to come down from Arkansas but they just canceled, Mitch sighs. It will be just the 2 of us and the 2 young ones. It will be quiet, he adds.

Quiet. That sounds wonderful to me.

Quiet can also feel a little scary after a very challenging year. It can bring up a whole lot of not so pleasant memories.

Consider this: In case you’re Netflixed-out and sick and tired of being cooped up at home, why not sneak in a bit of INTENTIONAL quiet time! Quiet time with a PURPOSE.

Reflection time. Thinking time. Feeling time.

"Successful people love to take action. More successful people take action AND reflect."

Achim Nowak

The benefits of reflection time are endless. Research by Giada Di Stefano, Francesca Gino, Gary Pisano, and Bradley Staats in call centers, for example, demonstrated that employees who spent 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting about lessons learned performed 23% better after 10 days than those who did not reflect (Harvard Business School, 4/2014). Powerful, right?

In my work as an Executive Coach, a lack of self-awareness is always THE #1 career derailer. Self-awareness is enhanced through acts of intentional self-reflection. When we engage in self-reflection, we begin to better understand our relationships with others and how our behavior is helping or hindering these relationships. Self-reflection time leads us to examine beliefs and values that may not serve us. It makes us conscious.

And being conscious changes how we live every moment, every day.

If self-reflection time is so beneficial, why do many of us avoid it? Well, it can feel uncomfortable. YES. We confound reflection time with dreaded workplace performance reviews. EEEK. We prefer doing to stopping and not doing. YES – and so what? Perhaps we don’t know how to get started, and so we settle for accidental self-awareness.

Self-reflection is easily started by asking helpful questions. Questions that are not about “beating yourself up.” The following 3 questions are a great place to begin.

REFLECTION QUESTION #1: What am I grateful for?

Gratitude questions are a perennial favorite - and they can feel like a bit of a cliché. Yeah, I know how to do that! you may think to yourself. Yes, I have no doubt you do – and how often do you actually “go there?” Thinking gratitude is one thing. Even when it is heartfelt, it tends to be fast and fleeting. Writing down what we’re grateful for takes us to the well. The more things we write down, the more spring forth. Especially in a year as harsh as 2020, when it is so much easier to focus on everything that went wrong, jotting down what we’re grateful for will yield heaps of surprises.

A bonus: Writing down what we’re grateful for delivers many ancillary insights. About our behavior in situations that “worked.” How we enabled good outcomes. How we allowed the easy wins and quick successes. And how we at times, perhaps, didn’t.

REFLECTION QUESTION #2: What have I done that worked?

This question goes to THE basic strengths-based principle: Focus on what you do well and do more of that instead of constantly trying to fix things that you don’t do so well. We don’t have to be good at everything. It is hugely liberating to own that and let it be. There is little joy in constantly “fixing” the things we “should” be good at but are not. By amplifying what we do well, we energize ourselves. When we energize ourselves, we energize everyone else in our orbit. Good begets more good. Success begets more success.

Let your reflection time be joyous. Give yourself permission to reflect with genuine curiosity. You will, of course, stumble on things that you did not do well, wished you had done better, wished you could do over again. Good. There are insights to be found here. These insights have a different flavor when we’re not on a Let me Beat Myself Up Mission.

"Don’t settle for ACCIDENTAL self-awareness. Start an INTENTIONAL self-reflection practice."

Achim Nowak

REFLECTION QUESTION #3: What has “touched” me Recently?

The word touched is not meant to signify touchy-feely. Not fluffy, superficial, lack of substance. Think of things, situations, people, causes, moments, movements that have stirred you deeply this year. Moved your heart and soul. Ignited your humanity. Know what these things were and are. They are the things that connect you with who you are at your finest. They activate your deepest beliefs and values. They link to your spiritual core, even if it is a core that operates in deep hiding behind your rational mind.

Knowing what touches us is a rich gateway to a more authentic expression of ourselves. It is a guidepost to a more impactful way if being and engaging in the world. Self-reflection opens that door. Walk in.

Here are some other self-reflection questions that you may find helpful: What would I like to do more of in 2021? What would I like to do less of in 2021? What are some things, people, opportunities that I am avoiding? What are some potential future states that excite you – even though you have no idea how to get there (just yet!)?

If lots of writing is not your thing, find a regular reflection partner. Not someone who tries to provide answers, tell you what’s wrong, wants to fix you. No. Someone who will be there, listen, hold space for you, let you talk out loud. Great self-reflection time. The insights will come.

reflection time

Thirst drove me down to the water where I drank the moon’s reflection, the great mystic poet Rumi wrote.

Don’t turn self-reflection time into a chore. Another thing that you must check off your to-do list in an overly busy week. Instead, trust that self-reflection time will help you to continuously find your spirit and strengthen your character. Know that self-reflection is part of every spiritual practice on our planet. Find your inner thirst and quench it.

Go, drink the moon’s reflection over the holidays. Savor your reflection time. Do it with joy.

2020 is Almost Done. Take the Helicopter View.

I used to teach a leadership program with a strategy guy. Marc Rubin.

Take the helicopter view. One of Marc’s favorite phrases.

I have used other terms that connote the same mindset – being the observer, double-tracking our experience - but the notion of helicoptering tickles my fancy best.

No matter how well you may have fared in the year that is coming to an end, 2020 sucked. Sure, you learned to be more resilient. More agile. Adjust, adapt. Let go of stuff you thought mattered. You may have been fortunate enough and stayed Covid-free.

But let’s be real. 2020 sucked.

In a ride as traumatic as this year’s, it is tempting to clamp up inside. Go numb. Or go micro and obsess about the minutiae of the moment.If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change, beloved author and transformational thinker Wayne Dyer said. Yes. Helicoptering is the act of changing how we look at things. It takes us out of the muck. Helps us soar to new heights and lifts us into a more expansive view. At its best, it liberates us from the shackles of immediate circumstances.

"You can’t helicopter if you don’t REMEMBER to helicopter. Cue yourself to go on a helicopter ride."

Achim Nowak

Micro, macro. Zooming in, zooming out. Observing. Helicoptering. Call it what you will – this is an essential life skill and a prime leadership trait that helps us get out of the muck and shift perspective. Here are a few considerations that help us do this well:

Prompt yourself

Don’t let your helicoptering be a lucky accident. Pilot that helicopter. I like to give myself clear mental cues. Intentional inner commands that I call upon when I wish to redirect my attention. The best mental cues are a mere word. I invoke this word at will. Say it to myself, quietly’Helicopter is such a cue word. Evocative. Bold. Clear. It tells me to lift out of the immediate moment. A linguistic prompt begets action. Immediately.

Sense the urgency

Here’s how I propose you use this prompt: When you find yourself bogged down in a conversation that does not seem to go anywhere. When the creative juices simply are not flowing. When the energy feels stuck. Cue yourself. Helicopter.

Step outside of the moment. Hover above it. Circle the scene of the crime. For a moment only, for minutes maybe, until clarity comes. This is the beauty of helicopter-hovering. Clarity WILL come. Energy WILL start to flow again. Every time.

Travel the time/space continuum

The beauty of helicoptering? We observe the space/time reality of a specific moment and leave it all at once. We demand that our perspective change. We have the option of transcending the time dimension. Think of “past moments.” Travel to “future moments.” Suddenly the dynamics of the present moment seem like a mere blip in the time continuum. Less precious. Not such a big deal. Perspective shift. Major.

The space shift? As I hover above a moment, I am able to be conscious of all the other moments happening at the very same time in other buildings, other spaces, other cities, other worlds. Because my view broadens, the pressures of the present moment diminish. Again, not such a big deal. I am able to exhale. Whew. Perspective shift.

"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."

Dr. Wayne Dyer

This holiday season may not look like holiday seasons past. It may not be the holiday season of your dreams. It may come with a sense of loss and wistfulness and disappointment. Compared to other holiday seasons, it may suck.

Remember to cue yourself. Helicopter. Perspective shift, and the relief it offers.

Yes. The helicopter view can do all that.

Ignore Your Psychological Profile and “Act Like” the Leader You Would like to Be

My European colleagues think we’re a little nuts.

You Americans are obsessed with psychological profiling. You put your leaders through psychological assessment after assessment. And with every new self-assessment you stick them into another little psychological box.

Yes. I know what they mean.

I have sat with powerful clients in one psychological debrief after another. As we walk through a 30- 40-page psychological print-out of “who they are,” I watch their spirit slowly die. It’s one big stab to the soul.

We do it in the spirit of hiring for competencies (translate: a futile attempt to predict mysterious and complex future human behavior). We do it to foster self-awareness. I firmly believe in the need for enhanced self-awareness. There are other paths to higher self-awareness. Even when we couch assessment outcomes in terms of “tendencies” or “preferences,” the language of a profile immediately defines the tight bounds within which we see another person and ourselves.

My C-level clients can rattle off their psychological profile at the drop of a dime. I’m an ESFJ. I’m a High D, low I. I lead with blue, Marcia leads with yellow.


I looked at the website of a professional organization the other day. The majority of board members identified themselves by name and their MBTI profile.

Linda Chapman, ENFP

Richard Gonzalez, ISTP

Really? I mean, REALLY?

We have collectively bought into the notion of a neatly bound, neatly labeled self. And here’s the kicker. In my experience, cognitive awareness fosters minimal to no behavioral change. No, it tends to cement a fixed notion of self, and any personal exploration now occurs within the narrow confines of who we think we are.

I began my career as a professional theater director and acting coach at some of the big acting schools in New York. I imagine Meryl Streep showing up at an audition:

Hi, I’m Meryl Streep, and I’m an ENFJ. I will now do Juliet from “Romeo and Juliet” for you …


I am interested in the leader who exhibits true personal range, not the leader with a fixed sense of self. I’m interested in a bold exploration of all that we are and might be.

Let us switch for a moment from cognitive parlance to performance language, shall we?

Act Like

Act Like invites a delighted exploration of who I might be. And since whatever I decide to explore hails from my imagination, it is inherently part of who I already am.

An example:

Martin, a Swiss native, is the European GM of a global Fortune 500 enterprise and an integral part of the company’s Executive Team. He was viewed by his American CEO as being too quiet and passive. Perhaps a little dry, a little too quiet. After bantering back and forth a bit with Martin, I volunteered the following thought, one European to another: What do you think would happen if you acted a little more like an American?

Martin liked the idea. We had a good bit of fun, jesting about what “act like an American” might look like.

When Martin and I spoke again after his next executive meeting, I longed to hear how his experiment went:

“I had a blast”, Martin said. And after a short pause he added. “And you know what, acting like an American works with my European team, too.”

Bingo. Act Like gets us over the angst of “this is not me” or “this is not who I really am” thinking. Whatever we do when we Act Like is who we already are. It is the self we do not yet know.

Act Like steers us from incremental baby steps toward taking the bold leap. Act Like circumvents the fixed confines of our psychological profile.

Wanna be an inspirational leader?

Act Like one.

Wanna be an empathetic mentor-coach?

Act Like one.

Wanna be a fearless innovator?

Act Like one.

You’re in charge. You decide what it is you want to be. You fill in the blanks.

And then just start to Act Like.

Act Like. It’s who you already are. You just don’t know it yet.

How Do People Who NEVER Have Enough Time Manage Their Time?

Since the 1980’s, Harvard’s Michael Porter has conducted research that has shaped how a generation of CEOs define strategy and make strategic decisions. So I was kind of surprised to stumble on an article by Porter and Nitin Nohria in a 2-year-old issue of Harvard Business Review about how CEOs manage their time (Porter & Nohria, How CEOs Manage Time, HBR, July/August 2018, p. 42)

Porter and time management. Really?

Then I thought to myself duh, of course. When there never is enough time, how we use time is strategic. It is game-changingly critical

Porter and Nohria tracked the time allocation of 27 CEOs over the span of a quarter. Their companies have an average annual revenue of $13.1 billion. During this time, their time allocation was coded in 15-minute increments.

The basics: These CEOs work an average of 62.5 hours a week. It comes with the territory. 79% of them conduct some work on week-ends. They spend about half of their time (47%) at corporate headquarters, the other half on the road. They are fiercely protective of the time they have with their families. They are equally vigilant about self-care to be able to sustain the rigors of their work pace. They dedicate time for health, fitness and rest.

You may not be the CEO of a big corporation, but all of us are the CEOs of our own lives. Here is just some of the rich wisdom from Porter’s current research that resonated with me and that, I believe, is relevant for anyone who wishes to make smart choices about how s/he uses time:

Know Your Agenda. Not the agenda for a meeting. No, the agenda for your work, a period of your work, a portion of your life. The stuff that is most important to you and your business. The area where notable progress will yield the most compelling results. It sounds ridiculously obvious and is at times so tough to execute: Spend the bulk of your efforts in this area or areas. Say no to other areas. Resist the urge to have too many agendas. Have too many, and none of them will rise to the level of crucial importance.

Choose Face-to-Face Contact: In-person contact with a CEO is powerful time. It holds symbolic importance. It says you, your concerns, your department’s agendas and goals are important enough that I won’t delegate them away. Your business is important enough that I will make the trip and show up for the Town Hall meeting. Yes, we’re on coronavirus time. But 1-1 intimacy is equally powerful in a Zoom meeting. And just this week, two of my clients told me they were holding in-person off-site events in October. That’s how strong the pull of in-person contact is. With proper precautions, of course.

Smart CEOs understand the symbolic importance of their presence. They rely less on impersonal email communication and choose the power of face-to-face contact whenever possible. A very smart practice, not just for a CEO.

Allow for Spontaneity: CEOs never have enough time. Yet many of them know that part of their job is to respond to the unexpected. The larger their business portfolio, the more likely it is their days will be touched by the unexpected. Instead of fully booking every minute and every hour every day, some CEOs protect time every day that is not scheduled. Flex time, if you will. There will always be plenty to do during this time in the absence of the unexpected. More importantly perhaps, this time allows for spontaneity when that is what’s required.

Have Clear Email Norms: Don’t spend an inordinate amount of your time answering emails. Be vigilant about which emails you would like to be copied on, which not. Ensure you don’t get stuck in long email chains. Make your norms explicit. A 5-minute informational update call may be more relevant than never-ending email ping pong. Yes, be vigilant.

Rely on Your Supporting Players: Pretty straightforward and at times easier said than done. Have a great team. Hire folks that are good at what they do and complement your skills. Continue to develop and challenge them. Give them the space to truly excel and do what they do best. And listen to them. Yes, listen, listen, and listen some more.

Claim Your Down-Time: The best CEOs are militant about protecting down-time. That is the time they require to exercise and take care of their bodies. Time to unwind before they go to bed. Time they spend with their families. Time they need to think and do nothing. They know how much they need this time, and just how much of it. They claim this time, and they do not negotiate it away. Ever. Because they know that when they do, they invariably make less cogent decisions. And nobody wants that.

The one area where all CEOs in Porter’s study crave improvement? I chuckle because it comes up so often in my conversations with the leaders I support. We need to do meetings better.

CEOs admit that they get trapped in unexamined meeting norms. Meetings are scheduled in the cadence of a well-worn habit. We have always had 1-hour meetings. We always schedule 30-minute calls. We always do 2-day off-sites. We always invite all business units. We always have a packed agenda. We always review meeting notes. We always, always, always.


Stay conscious of how you use time.

Question how you schedule your time. Question it all.

Leave time for down-time and spontaneity. And get ready to be surprised. You may have more time on your hands than you thought possible.

Bring Your VACATION-SELF to Work!

Just relax.

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.

4 Ways to Get to the Other Side of Exhaustion

Everyone I spoke with last week is exhausted. Physically, emotionally exhausted.

I feel exhausted as I write these words. It was, ironically, a week rich with professional successes. I worked at a comfortable pace. I live in South Florida where the weather is nice and I get to swim in a lap pool every day. I’m not suffering. On the contrary, in many ways it was a week in which I settled rather comfortably into my new normal.

And I am exhausted.

You and I may feel exhausted because we’re working hard. Really, really hard. We may feel exhausted even though we’re NOT working hard.

Behind every activity we engage in, every person we engage with, every mundane little task we perform looms shock and trauma about the complete disruption of life as we knew it.

Emotional and psychological trauma, says, is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless in a dangerous world. Psychological trauma can leave you struggling with upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that won’t go away. It can also leave you feeling numb, disconnected, and unable to trust other people.

That about sums up current circumstances, doesn’t it?

Here’s the bedeviling part. If you’ve lacked self-care habits in the past, this lack is now magnified. If you DID have great self-care habits – well, many of those habits may not be actionable right now. If you live in Florida, for example, you can’t go the gym, swim in the ocean, attend your yoga class. And other practices, like meditation perhaps, may feel much harder because you’re suddenly sitting with the depth of your trauma. You’re bringing trauma into acute consciousness.

Trauma experts have a slew of strategies for how we can start to overcome traumatic exhaustion. What works for us tends to be very personal. What works for me may not work for you. If you experience chronic exhaustion due to childhood traumas, I urge you to consult with a professional. Here are my 4 favorite starting points:

1.   Acknowledge that it is so.
Ditch your Superman- or Superwoman Complex. Many of us have been trained or trained ourselves to push through exhaustion. Try a little harder. Go get it done. That mindset has not been sustainable in the past, and it is not sustainable now. We cannot do anything about our physical, mental or emotional exhaustion if we do not acknowledge that it is so. Notice. Accept. When we don’t, we are likely to experience more debilitating PTSD in the future.

2.   Focus on 3.
Wake up in the morning and identify your top 3 priorities for the day. Make sure the 3 priorities are actually achievable. If you’re overwhelmed with too much on your plate, “Pick 3” will immediately keep you from overwhelming yourself. It will make it easier to make more self-nurturing decisions as you move through the day. If you’re an individual who has been furloughed or lost a job, “Pick 3” will help you define and execute simple successes that will energize you.

3.   Get Moving.
This may feel counterintuitive when you feel exhausted. Remember - trauma disrupts our body’s natural equilibrium; it freezes us in a state of hyperarousal and fear. As well as burning off adrenaline and releasing endorphins, exercise and movement can actually help repair our nervous system.

Try to exercise for 30 minutes or more on most days. If it’s easier, three 10-minute spurts of exercise per day are just as good. Trust that this exercise will lessen your exhaustion. Exercise which is rhythmic and engages both our arms and legs—such as walking, running, swimming or basketball works best. If none of these are an option for you, play some music and dance. It works brilliantly.

4.   Self-regulate your nervous system.
No matter how agitated, anxious, or out of control you feel, it’s important to know that we can change our arousal system and calm ourselves. Not only will it help relieve the anxiety associated with trauma, it will also engender a greater sense of control.

Mindful breathing is a quick way to calm ourselves. Simply take 60 breaths and focus your attention on each ‘out’ breath. Sensory input changes our emotional and mental state. Does a specific sight, smell or taste quickly make you feel calm? Or maybe petting an animal or listening to music works to quickly soothe you? And ground yourself. To feel in the present and more grounded, sit on a chair. Feel your feet on the ground and your back against the chair. Look around you and pick six objects that have red or blue in them. Notice how your breathing gets deeper and calmer.

And of course, always the basics. Exhaustion and trauma can disturb our sleep patterns. But a lack of quality sleep can exacerbate your trauma symptoms and make it harder to maintain our emotional balance. Go to sleep and get up at the same time each day and aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.

Above all, keep it simple. But please, un-exhaust yourself.