5 ways to work with the flow

I was supposed to sit on an airplane right now and spend the whole day travelling. I don’t. They cancelled my flight and instead I’m on the balcony in my house. Nobody knows yet. I will fly all night instead so it feels like I have been given an extra day in life.

I could have been upset about the fact that I had to change my connecting flight, that I was arriving a day later, that I had to write my clients about a sudden change in work availability. It wouldn’t have made any difference about the actual situation, but somehow we often get stuck in negative and unfruitful reactions to things that happen to us, and spend a lot of energy on something we can’t change anyway. Once you realize that it really doesn’t change anything, it seems like such a waste of time.

The situation got me thinking about how working with the flow of things helps me keep a more balanced state of mind in everything I do – but especially when it comes to my professional work.

Working with clients – and with people in general – demands you to let go of control. This could potentially stress me out a lot. When I was younger I would often create a huge amount of mental stress by obsessing about the outcome of my efforts. So much that I would often feel paralyzed in my actions because I was too afraid of something going wrong or things not working out exactly as I envisioned them. I have become much more aware of these obsessive patterns and how they don’t serve me, but sometimes they still show up.

waterfallThe other day I went on a daytrip to a waterfall with a friend, I was mesmerized by how graceful the water moves. It always makes its way, but doesn’t try to penetrate or move the obstacles on its path. And that is exactly why it can be soft and still keep going with an innate power and drive.

My friend and I are both self employed and we talked about how to work with clients, be successful in what we do and enjoy our work. “I’ve heard the key is to work towards a goal without being too attached to the outcome” I told him. Sounds right, but how do you actually do that? We asked ourselves.

A big part of it is to let go of wanting to control everything.

Here are five ways you can try to work with the flow and not against it:

Let go of what you can’t change
Use what is given to you
Work with great discipline but be flexible
Respond constructively to the situations that arise
Use the circumstances that inspire you to fuel your work

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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.”

Chedi

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

Remember to breathe!

 

It is so easy to get caught up with stress, to be busy and to feel overwhelmed. However the best tool to manage stress is something we always have with us: the breath. It is actually so simple, and yet we tend to forget it. We rarely pay attention to our breath during the day.

The last weeks I’ve been reading “The Art of Communication” by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk and Zen master, and it really got me thinking about how much power lies in our breath. If we use it consciously, it can help us reduce the feeling of stress and acquire a greater sense of calmness.

Thich Nhat Hanh encourages us to be more mindful in everything we do. The first step is to pay attention to our breath; by paying attention to our breath we bring the awareness back to our body and to the situation we are in right now.

What often happens when we work is that we tend to be so focused on our thoughts, ideas, and the problems we are trying to solve. On our plans, emails, conversations we have had, and meetings we are going to have. We move from one task to another without any kind of break. Quickly the day passes and our mind is galloping away like a wild horse.

 

“Breathing in I am aware of my body, breathing out I release all the tension in my body”  T.N.H

 

It often feels like it is more productive to act fast and get as much done as possible. However I have found that by taking short breaks, looking away from the computer screen, breathing, and changing my seating position, I can work more consciously. I get better at distinguishing between things that are important and things that can wait. It stops me from merely reacting to whatever lands on my plate, and instead I have the opportunity to choose to respond. When we react we are often driven by our emotions, whereas when we respond we act from a more conscious place.

 

“Whenever the phone rings, you can hear it as a bell of mindfulness and stop whatever you are doing. Instead of rushing to answer the phone, you can breathe in and out with awareness three times before answering the phone to make sure you’re truly present for whoever is calling.”  T.N.H

 

It is all about changing your way of seeing things. By consciously trying to be aware of your breath, your body, and your actions throughout the day, you get less carried away by the stream of inputs, demands and pressure that meet you.

 

“When you breathe in mindfully, there is a happy reunion between the body and mind. This doesn’t take any fancy technique. Just by sitting and breathing mindfully, you’re bringing your mind home to your body. Your body is an essential part of your home. When you spend many hours with your computer, you may forget entirely that you have a body until it’s too achy, stiff or tense for you to ignore. You need to take breaks and return to your body before it gets to that point”  T.N.H

 

I invite you to try breathing like this:

Inhale deeply, feel the air going through your nostrils down the lungs, expanding them and expanding the entire trunk of your body; lung, stomach, lower back and waist. Then open your mouth and exhale fully in an even and gentle way. Feel your breath going out, and releasing a wave of relaxation through your entire body from the top of your head and all the way down to the tip of your toes. Notice your scalp, your forehead, your eyes, your temples, face, throat, shoulders, neck, arms, chest, stomach, back, hips, pelvis, legs and feet.

Breathe deeply like this three times, and notice how you feel afterwards. Notice how you come back to your body. How the activity in your mind has slowed down. How the tensions in your body have loosened. How whichever emotion you were feeling before is less strong now. Breathing deeply is such a simple exercise, but the effect is great, and you can do it anytime and anywhere.

 

“Breathing in and out three times is enough to release the tension in the body and smile, and then we can continue our work.”  T.N.H

 

I would love to hear, how it feels when you take time to breathe deeply and consciously throughout your day.

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?