Archive for the ‘Stress’ Category

Thanksgiving Leftovers

OK, so I finally threw out the remaining crumbles of Thanksgiving stuffing last weekend. Now that we’re headlong into the rush and buzz of the holiday decorating/shopping/singing/gift-giving season, I have this deep need to hold onto the simplicity of Thanksgiving—“the holiday that’s just about food and family”, as one of my friends described it. I’ve had several people confess to me recently that Thanksgiving is actually their favorite of the holidays, and I can’t personally argue against this sentiment.

How can anything be better than having a day—or a season—to reflect on feeling grateful—to be well, to be surrounded by loved ones, and to indulge ourselves with harvest feasts that remind us of our abundance and blessings? No malls, no carols, no shopping lists to break the bank; but we still have the joy of gathering together to eat and talk turkey.

Gratitude is, by its very nature, good for us. (And not just because our grandmas taught us to appreciate and be thankful as a practice of living as civilized beings.) When we experience gratitude, appreciation and deep levels of caring, something amazing happens to our biology. Research demonstrates that when we feel gratitude or appreciation, we have increased levels of DHEA, the anti-aging hormone, flooding our endocrine system. In addition, acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter, rushes into the neurological system to produce feelings of calmness, peace and contentedness; it is the body’s natural chemical that promotes relaxation during sleep, massages or other low-energy states.

I was raised on The Power of Positive Thinking. At an early age, my father introduced me to Napolean Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, the book that described the law of attraction years before The Secret. Practice in positive thinking can help shape attitudes of optimism, problem-solving and perseverance. New research in neuroscience, however, demonstrates that positive feeling—the deliberate invocation of a feeling state created through positive imagery—can have a direct and immediate effect on the body’s hormonal and nervous systems, and can create an actual shift in a person’s emotional state.

Last year, I became a certified provider in HeartMath, which is essentially a set of tools to help reduce stress, increase focus and live a heart-centered lifestyle. The HeartMath Institute has conducted and collected extensive research in neurophysiology, and has produced a wide array of tools, resources, publications and products which help people learn to work with their own biology to be effective in their work, in their play, and in their relationships. I’ll write more about HeartMath as time goes on, but feel free to check it out for yourself, or call me if you want a one-on-one demo.

And in the meantime, there’s no rule that says you can’t hang onto Thanksgiving a little longer. It’s not an accident that we start the bustle of the holiday season by giving thanks.  Keep it alive all season. Happy holidays!


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FlexibilityRecently, at an EQnomics Series “Pulling the Stress Plug” event I discovered at the last minute that the LCD projector’s cords were not in the bag. I realized one of my colleagues may have inadvertently put them in her/his laptop bag at their last presentation. While normally, I would double-check the cord was there, however, this time being in a hurry I neglected to do so assuming “It’s been there every time and so, of course, it’s in the bag now”. This minor omission of cords left me unable to do a major part of the visual presentation including the really cool HeartMath® bio-feedback computer demo. This was frustrating and no one at the venue had extra cords. What to do?

First of all, a little background first. I have been speaking, training and presenting for over 15 years. I believe strongly in caring for my participants’ experience and their time by presenting high impact, fun, informative, practical and memorable presentations. I do this in part through meticulous and careful preparation. Thus, for every presentation I have contingency plans, built-in equipment/material redundancy, and an over-preparation mindset. For example, I bring extra extension cords, a power strip, black gaffers tape for taping down cords and loose table draping, my own folding fabric screen as some venues have projection screens that are too small for optimal visual impact, fresh dry-erase markers, and so on. I also prepare additional activities as back-ups so we can then draw on other approaches in case we discover that the feel and/or needs of the group have changed. Further, I balance this careful planning with being comfortable with presenting on the fly, and being flexible for whatever may arise for the inherent differences of each venue.

So, what to do? The solution was simple. The training that day was “Pulling the Stress Plug.” I figured, what a great opportunity to model the EQ skill of Stress Tolerance through the EQ skills of Flexibility and Problem Solving. So, while disappointed for a brief moment of not being able to offer the presentation as planned, the EQ skill of Flexibility allowed me to adjust to the situation. Flexibility reminded me that the way things are planned do not necessarily determine the way things actually are. As a result I was immediately able to re-write my presentation and approach in my mind and move forward with a great workshop without any perceived hitches. Preparedness (through content and experience to draw from) aids flexibility greatly.

The outcome? Rather than being stressed, I saw it as an opportunity to adjust, adapt and offer the participants other great approaches to manage their stress. The EQ skill of Flexibility helped me see solutions and opportunities to enjoy instead of just a problem to endure.

So, call me at 801.787.8014 or email me at jonathan@peoplesmarts.biz and we’ll arrange a free and fun no-strings attached Training Demo on any of the great EQ Skills to help your team more effectively manage the stresses they experience.

Jonathan Sherman
Director of Training and Development

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The other day I was preparing for the “Pulling the Stress Plug” workshop as a free “Thank you!” Training Demo for one of our long-term clients. Of the various stress mastery techniques and mindsets that we teach in this workshop, one of them involves a neuroscience bio-feedback technique called Quick Coherence as developed by HeartMath. You can read more about the three steps here, but in a nutshell, Quick Coherence is an unusually simple, highly effective, and rapid method for reducing stress, anxiety and improving performance. HeartMath describes it briefly as follows:

“Create a coherent state in about a minute with the simple, but powerful steps of the Quick Coherence® Technique. Using the power of your heart to balance thoughts and emotions, you can achieve energy, mental clarity and feel better fast anywhere. Use Quick Coherence especially when you begin feeling a draining emotion such as frustration, irritation, anxiety or anger. Find a feeling of ease and inner harmony that’s reflected in more balanced heart rhythms, facilitating brain function and more access to higher intelligence.”

emWave-smIn preparation for the workshop, I brought the various HeartMath emWave equipment home to test it over the weekend, thinking my family would find it interesting. Using both sophisticated technology and simple instructions my two youngest (Matthew, age 8, and Molly, age 10) quickly and easily kept achieving optimal coherence levels, as indicated by a green light on the emWave Personal Stress Reliever (PSR). Well, Matthew took to it right away and kept asking if he could use it over the weekend.

Matthew-09Monday, as I was heading out the door to work, Matthew exuberantly exclaimed as he held the green-lit emWave PSR aloft, “Hey Dad! All I’m doing is saying ‘La la la’ in my head and smiling!”. I laughed, hugged him and left. I thought that was all, however, for the rest of the day his words kept coming back to me: “All I’m doing is saying ‘La la la’ in my head and smiling.” There you had it: My 8-year-old son had mastered the Quick Coherence technique in only a few tries. Nothing fancy. Nothing complex. No muss. No fuss.

Some people, usually adults, worry that mastering stress is too complicated and/or that it will involve too much time that they don’t have for mediation or yoga. Take it from a child, folks: Effective stress management isn’t in long-involved methods; It’s in the simple. “La la la” is a child’s version of a mantra—just something to fill the mind (i.e., the practice of mindfulness) with something else other than distraction and worry. The simple act of just physically smiling shifts our neurochemical state by releasing stress-relieving and pleasure-inducing endorphins and DHEA in the brain. Repeated simply over and over produces a coherent, stress-relieving state, quickly.

For years I have said in my stress management workshops that children are little Zen masters and that we would be wise to learn from them. My son proved it to me again. As Darth Vader said to Obi-Wan Kenobi, I can say of my son: “Now the student has become the master.”

An 8-year-old nailed it. Not only that, his example helped me nail it the rest of the day. In fact, it’s helping me right now. I feel fully coherent and peaceful as I’m typing this for my deadline. No stress. No muss. No fuss. I’m just, “La la la” and smiling. I feel just fine.


Jonathan Sherman
Director of Training and Development

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BurrastonPond5-09-JDSThe Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my childrens lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
—Wendell Berry, from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry (Counterpoint, 1999)

Wendell Berry’s poem well describes the experience of mindfulness and it’s relation to ameliorating the effects of stress. In our workshop “Pulling the Stress Plug”, as well as in our executive coaching, we delineate several of the most effective strategies for managing stress in real-time. One of the methods that we frequently employ is the concept and practice of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is about connecting with things that do not stress in the here and now vs. things that do. In the poem above, as the stress and resultant despair of daily life invade his sleep, the poet (a thing that does stress), seeks in nature (that which does not stress) a connection with peace that then frees him from his stress. “The Peace of Wild Things” describes a classic experience of mindfulness for releasing stress by re-centering ourselves fully on what is.

Generally, however, we humans do just the oppossite.
We worry over what should be or what should’ve been, what was wrong, what is wrong and what will be wrong. Instead, as Thich Nhat Hanh counsels, “We have to learn to practice touching what is not wrong inside us and around us” (Touching Peace: Practicing the Art of Mindful Living, Parallax Press, 1992). Connecting with the “wild things” is one way of touching what is right.

“But, Jonathan I don’t have a serene lake replete with drakes and herons next to my home to de-stress by.” You don’t need it. Thankfully, to experience the full benefits of mindfulness you don’t need any “thing” you just need the life you already have and what is already around you. There is no right way to experience mindfulness. Further, and fortunately, there are also as many ways of experiencing mindfulness as there are people to experience it.

For example, I find my own “peace in the wild things” through the nighttime routines with my children. At the end of the day when my wife is “baked” and off for some much needed down time my children and I prepare for bed. After they’ve brushed their teeth and donned their jammies we tickle each other, play silly monster games, and laugh ‘til they protest with intense delight, “I’m gonna pee!!!”

As they cavort and shriek wildly I find solace in their wildness. They typify in their very being, without wordy discourses such as I am now giving, full presence in the now. They simply are mindfulness personified.  After the wildness finally subsides we cuddle for reading, quiet talking and sharing as they fall asleep in my arms. It is in this moment as I lay down in the grace of these wild things that I too find peace. I too find freedom.

How does this relate to reducing stress in the workplace? Simple. Young children are not troubled by the stress of tomorrow’s workday. So I take my cue from them and remind those intruding work-related stress thoughts we all have, “Not now. That’s for tomorrow. Now I am with my children.” And then I am with them. While I may have to say that to myself several times, it is that simple. I have found that when tomorrow’s workday comes I am then able to be much more present in the workplace, and thus more productive, because I’m not feeling the sting of regret of missing out on my children’s lives—because I didn’t. I was there with them and I was there fully. This work-home balance (some call it work-life balance, but I don’t believe in separating my work from my life) is so essential for stress-reduction and happiness in both arenas.

PullingPlugonStressSo, how does this relate to your workplace? Instead of talking about it, we would love to come to your workplace and show your team just some of what is available to your them and how they and your organization (as well as you ROI!) can benefit from stress-reduction and mindfulness practice. Give me a call at 801.787.8014 or email me at jonathan@peoplesmarts.biz and we’ll arrange a free and fun no-strings attached “Pulling the Stress Plug” Training Demo for your team.

Jonathan Sherman
Director of Training and Development

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