Reconnecting with myself

Nothing beats going into nature when it comes to reconnecting with myself. After a week full of social gatherings, lovely lunches and dinners with friends, working with clients, teaching and learning, I needed a time out to come back to myself, to process and recharge. So today I went on a hike to a beautiful temple on the mountainside not far from where I live.

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Nature has amazing cleansing, healing and soothing properties. I sense it immediately when I step on to the trail and start walking on the small path. Slowly – one step at a time – my brain starts processing all the inputs I’ve gotten throughout the week. I breathe in the fresh air, absorb the beauty with my eyes, and listen to the sounds of birds chirping and the dry leaves crunching under my feet. All my senses come alive. The combination of being in nature and moving the body is ideal alone time for me.

At the moment I am reading the book ‘Being Genuine’ by Thomas D’Ansembourg about Nonviolent Communication as a tool for improving relationships: with a partner, friends, colleagues and yourself. In the section, I was reading today he pointed out, how it doesn’t make sense that “relationships, whether with ourselves or with other people are expected to operate unassisted, without any fuel, with scarcely any maintenance!” I couldn’t agree more, and I especially find that we often neglect investing in the relationship with ourselves. This happens for many reasons; we might not be aware of the actual need, or we don’t think it is important, there is a lack of time or it might even be because of fear of what might come up, if we take time to tune in and listen to ourselves.

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Life for me has always been as much about the people I share it with, than any of the activities I engage in. But to be able to connect with other people in a meaningful way, I need these pockets of time just spent with myself – to help me understand my own needs, values, priorities, emotions, thoughts and relations. By nurturing the relationship with myself, I create a solid foundation for connecting and engaging with others in an enriching and expansive way.

I can only recommend to go for a solo walk and spend some time in nature; be it a park, your garden, a mountain, the sea side or somewhere else.

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Everyday is Sunday or is it? – how I manage my work

Being self-employed comes with great freedom; I decide the hours I want to work, and since my work is online I can decide whether I want to work at home, or choose one of the many coffee shops in town – or even go for a nice walk while solving a problem. The backside is that I can work everyday and anytime which means in some ways I am never really off.

Learnt by trial and error I have four rules of thumb that help me manage my work.

1. Get things out of the head
An essential tool for me is to keep lists; to note down what would otherwise take up immense space in my mind. I keep a weekly schedule and daily to-do lists, these are dynamic and I revise them everyday; I update, cross things off and move things around. I use both an old school notebook and my iPhone when things come up; thoughts, emails I want to write, inspiration or to-do’s. I immediately note them down, this helps me keep track of task and ideas – and remain focused on what I am working on.

2. Prioritize
The list of ‘To-dos’, ‘Must-dos’, ‘Want-tos’ and ‘Would-be-nice-to-dos’ is endless when you are self-employed. So I have to prioritize. I look at my list and ask myself, what is most important to achieve at the moment. Which task will help me get there? I put these on the list. I look at what I have to do for my clients. I put these on the list. But the most important thing for me has been to make peace with the fact that I will never finish completely. There will always be more work to do. So it really comes down to focusing on what matters most.

3.Set boundaries
I have learnt that it is crucial to set boundaries: to stop checking emails at some point and to start the day without checking emails as the first thing in the morning. In some ways it is too easy to be online and available all the time, I find that I tend to prioritize work over everything even though I don’t want to. One way I’ve managed to balance my life is by setting hours for work but also to schedule time for exercise, self-care, play, quiet time and time with friends and family.

4. If it only takes five minutes do it now
I’ve experienced that I often feel more overwhelmed about the workload when I’m actually away from the laptop or not workbalanceing. I build up mental tension about all the things I have to do in the near future when I have days away from work  dedicated to my Qi Gong studies, photography or other activities. I realized that by spending 5-15 minutes revising my lists and sending off a couple of emails that are important, I can actually enjoy my time away from work much more.

Managing my time is a constant act of balance that I am (still) learning to master. These four rules of have helped me, I hope they will help you too.

What a buddhist nun taught me about stress

Do you often feel stressed, overwhelmed and like you aren’t achieving enough? I used to feel like that constantly, and would blame my job, my boss, society etc. What I didn’t realize then was that I had an enormous power to change my experience.

Last year I went on a 10-day silent vipassana meditation retreat. I had been on shorter meditation retreats before that had given me deep insights, so I approached the 10-day retreat with great expectations.

On the enrollment day there was a short interview with one of the head nuns, and when she asked me what I expected to get out of this retreat, I said something like: profound insights about myself, a greater sense of calm and reaching new levels in my meditation practice. The nun smiled gently and told me “try to just be present and relax.”

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Time would show that it was easier said than done.

During the first days my body had to get accustomed to the new routine: getting up at 5 am, sitting in meditation for many hours and only eating two meals a day. Additionally I noticed how the mind goes through its own process: when you stop talking and stop getting new stimulation, the thoughts you are thinking become magnified. The way the mind works becomes so clear; it tends to repeat the same thought patterns again and again, and the more attention you pay to certain thoughts the more they reappear.

After the initial days of physical adjusting and mental cleaning, my western mindset began to get a little restless and expect results. I started feeling like I wasn’t achieving enough in my meditations. I felt like I couldn’t go as deep as I thought I should. So for the next days I pushed myself so much so that I created muscle knots in my chest from breathing so deeply and strongly. I put immense pressure on myself without realizing it.

It wasn’t until day 7 – when I was exhausted and frustrated – and just let go completely that things started to change. I stopped expecting to go deep into meditation, I kept showing up, just sitting in the meditation hall, sometimes kind of daydreaming other times listening to the sounds of nature. I became conscious of how crazy I had been acting and I started laughing inside. Then I realized something profound: I and only I had created the huge pressure I had been feeling! And it not only showed mentally but it had actually created physical defects.

That’s when I truly understood the words the nun had said to me: “try to just be present and relax.”

I have been working consciously with my body and mind throughout the last year, and the experience form the mediation retreat has stayed with me. I now understand that by being present and letting go of expectations we can reduce our feeling of stress – and that the ability to relax and release pressure is in our hands alone.

Here are 7 simple tools that you can use to reduce stress:

Light· Don’t believe everything you think
· Put less pressure on yourself
· Breathe
· Do your best, and know that it is all you can do
· Stop trying to control
· Laugh more
· Keep showing up

Get inspired!

I’ve always found that I get inspired and energized by new knowledge – and especially if it is conveyed by passionate people. I want to share with you some of my favorite TED talks that have thought me valuable lessons – for work and life.

The Happy Secret to Better Work, Shawn Achor


“If happiness is on the other side of success, your brain will never get there.” Shawn Achor argues that happiness inspires productivity, not the other way around. He includes practical tips to increase your happiness. A great talk.

Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are, Amy Cuddy


Amy Cuddy talks about the connection between brain and body postures. You’ll get great tips for giving talks, presentations and build confidence. A new approach to ‘fake-it till you make-it’.

Forget Multitasking, Try Monotasking, Paolo Cardini


A humorous short snippet that reminds us of the importance of monotasking in a world that preaches multitasking.

How schools kill creativity, Ken Robinson


A TED classic and my all time favorite. Great reminder for everyone of the multiple types of intelligence that we inhibit.

The Transformative Power of Classical Music, Benjamin Zander


Benjamin Zander is absolutely passionate about classical music and it’s hard not to get caught by it too – and he shares intriguing insights: “I realized my job was to awaken possibility in other people. And of course, I wanted to know whether I was doing that. And you know how you find out? You look at their eyes. If their eyes are shining, you know you’re doing it.”

Which TED talks have inspired you?

How walking keeps me sane

Maybe you are just like me; you sit in front of the computer, working on your projects and forget everything around you. Where you are sitting, what the weather is like outside, how your body feels. Minutes quickly turn into hours. The longer you sit, the harder it is to let go, to take a break. I notice how it seems like my sensory scope diminishes and my outlook becomes narrower and narrower as I focus intently on the tasks on my to-do list. I forget everything I know: that I’ll be more productive if I remember to take small breaks – that I’ll prevent a headache by getting up, drinking water, stretching my legs – that going on facebook, reading blogs doesn’t really count as a time out!

When you are self-employed work is endless, and this feeling of having a never-ending to-do list is what stresses me out the most. I constantly have to remind myself that it is important regularly to step back and enjoy what I have accomplished. And to step back to gain perspective, create space in my brain for new ideas, and get away from the computer.

What works best for me is to take a walk. While my feet move almost as if by themselves, and the air gently touches my skin, it feels like someone slowly removes my blinkers. I immediately gain perspective and thoughts flow in a way more fruitful way. I can distinguish between what is important and what isn’t. And most importantly I can feel my body again.

 “Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, & the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.”
– Søren Kierkegaard

Losing touch with our body and being lead by our minds is one of the biggest roads to stress and burnout. I know from my own experience, how the mind can trick you into thinking tasks are a matter of life and death. And that you have to continue no matter what. Beyond exhaustion. I’ve learnt my lesson.

How do you make sure you don’t work beyond your limits?