Appropriate Edge

In Yin Yoga, a common instruction is “Find an appropriate edge.”

What this means – “Find a place where you can hang out. You are slightly uncomfortable, but you can sit with it a while.”

Yin yoga has you stay in one pose for an extended period. It can be very uncomfortable. However, in this process, I find that I leave one of these sessions feeling more peaceful.

Appropriate edge changes daily.

Some days I better tolerate sensation and discomfort.

Some days I can stretch more.

And some days, I have to ratchet WAY back – supporting EVERYTHING with props and reducing the time spent in pose.

I have found that life works this way as well. Some days, I’m in a space where I am looking to “stretch myself” and can tolerate the discomfort that entails. Other days – I’m already so uncomfortable that I just can’t.

I’ve noticed, in both myself and others, that we assume that our “appropriate edge” is both much further than is truly appropriate (no pain, no gain = invitation to long-standing injury) and is based on our best days when we are at our most flexible and pain-tolerant.

We forget that we are organic beings with variable energy.

What is your “appropriate edge” today?


Resources:

Melissa West – Yin Yang Theory, Episode 497 – I’ve been following Melissa West’s yoga for at least 8 years. She’s the online yoga teacher I point most beginners towards. Her workouts are very do-able for everyone, she has wise recommendations for replacement exercises, and she combines theory/story and practice in a beautiful way – demonstrating how yoga (or, really, any physical practice) can integrate mind and spirit with body.

The Step Before the System

Perks are great, but they are detached from the day-to-day.

Often, perks are a way to “shield” managers and executives from the sticky task of creating a healthy, humane, and sustainable day-to-day environment.

“We have a wellness program, what’s your problem?”

What if you have me on so many disparate projects that I don’t have time for your “wellness” program?


There is a need for a deeper conversation about work, what an organization is and its role in our world, how we decide what activities to pursue, and the relationship between customer, employee, and organization.

We have wellness programs – yet the disengagement, burnout, anxiety, and depression statistics are frightening.

We have wellness programs – yet only 1/5 – 2/5 of employees use them, even with incentives and punishments.

I’m not saying that wellness programs are bad. Not at all.

They are a tool in the toolkit and evidence that the organization is at least thinking about the importance of employee health and its importance in achieving organizational goals.

I am just asking for a deeper conversation.

One where we stop talking about workplace wellness as something separate and apart from the work itself.

Much of our issue with workplace wellness is, in my opinion, an issue of prioritization and trying to do too much at once.

Much of our issue with workplace wellness is, in many people’s opinion (most notably Gallup), an issue of management and leadership (or lack thereof).

The wellness programs are helpful.

But if your employees have no time to use your wellness program resources, or, even if they ARE able to use those resources, they work in an environment that doesn’t reinforce their attempts at self-care, the wellness program becomes a shiny, expensive pink elephant.


Resources:

Harvard Business Review – What Wellness Programs Don’t Do for Workers (Article). This article got me thinking further about the workplace and why working conditions for knowledge workers seem to be deteriorating even though we have tons of research and writing about employee engagement, employee health, and the importance of both for creativity and innovation.

World Health Organization – Stress at Work (Article). When workplace stress and burnout catches the attention of the World Health Organization, you know it’s bad.

Personal Observations on Burnout (Blog Posts) – As you know, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. We can do better.

What Are You Amplifying?

What are you amplifying?

All that is “wrong” with the world?

All that is “right”?

All that you want?

All that you don’t?

Oneness or separation?

Love or hatred?

Joy or sorrow?

It’s become clear, to me at least, that it’s time to become mindful and careful about what we are amplifying.

We have been seeing it in the conversations around Facebook, “fake news” and “deep fakes.”

We see it in our Amazon experience.

We see it in the ads that are served to us as we surf the Net.

Each time you click something, buy something, watch something, pause on something – you are amplifying.

Artificial intelligence and quantum computing algorithms begin to shape your world based on what you are paying attention to.

Complicating matters, we are hard-wired to focus on the dangerous and negative. Marketers and those who wish to spread their message know this and act accordingly.

We’re easily manipulated, even when we are doing our best to be mindful.

Think about a time that was traumatic and dramatic.

Now try to remember a time where all was well in your world and everything was peaceful.

How quickly did you remember the trauma and the drama?

How hard was it to remember a peaceful time?

Think about the news? How much of it is trauma and drama?

How much of it is positive?

So much is competing for our attention and doing so in ways that are noisy and negative. Our brains like that.

We are going to keep being fed the noisy and negative – because that is what we are amplifying.

What do you want to do to break the cycle? Change what gets amplified?

What we pay attention to is going to shape our world.

What world do you want to live in?


Resources:

I find that when a topic begins to cross my path repeatedly, it’s time to pay attention. Quantum computing, recently, has been that topic.

What makes Quantum Computing so interesting, and scary, is that it potentially takes information and either amplifies or cancels it. We are seeing this work in current AI algorithms using binary (classical) programming and current technologies.

Introduction to Quantum Computing (Lynda.com – non-affiliate link, 60 minutes) This is the Lynda.com tutorial that got me thinking about Amplification. Mid-way through, one of the experts mentioned waves, troughs, and how they amplify and cancel each other. She mentioned that this concept is being leveraged in Quantum Computing and AI applications.

The Grand Challenge and Promise of Quantum Computing (GoTo 2019, 45 minutes) A clear explanation of what quantum computing is and potential applications.

Tristan Harris – How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds (Medium article) Tristan Harris was a technology ethicist at Google. He describes the “behind the scenes” of how technologies are being leveraged to take over our attention.

Accepting Positive Feedback

Much of the conversation around feedback centers around negative feedback.

How to receive negative feedback without getting angry or beating yourself up.

How to give negative feedback in ways that don’t trigger the receiver and allows the receiver to make positive change.

However, many of us struggle to receive positive feedback.

Especially those of us who struggle with perfectionism.

Attagirls, thank yous, this-is-greats and other positive affirmations and appreciations fall on deaf ears.

The response starts with “Yeah, but I didn’t…”

Whenever I catch myself saying “Yeah, but I didn’t…” either verbally or in my head, it’s a signal to pay attention. What is truly being reflected back?

Maybe I’m doing better than I thought I was.

Maybe I DON’T need to do or be “more.”

Maybe whatever I put out there doesn’t need to be perfected.

Maybe my standards for myself and my work are unrealistic based on the requirements for the task, the time I have, the resources I have access to, and the energy available.

This is why I “look outside myself” for feedback.

I know that I tend to look at things with grey and foggy glasses – especially when I am under stress.

I know that my perspective, of myself and of my work, is cloudy and inaccurate.

External feedback, especially external positive feedback, is a valuable source of information that we can leverage to gain a more accurate perspective on our environment and our place in it.

And maybe, just maybe, give ourselves permission to be more human.

How to Pause

Just do it.

OK, maybe it’s not that easy.

Others get uncomfortable with the silence.

YOU may be uncomfortable with the silence.

It’s OK.

We’re trained to talk and be experts and be “influencers” and all that.

We’re trained to DO. Preferrably immediately.

We’re NOT encouraged to pause. To observe. To allow ourselves to think.

To take the space and the time to think through the consequences of the “yes” or the “no.”

To remind ourselves what is important.

To analyze whether the opportunity or idea in front of you moves you towards or away from that thing that is important.

You make multiple decisions throughout a day – whether you know it or not.

Do I have coffee this morning, tea, or something else this morning?

Pause.

Should I wear the red shirt or the blue shirt this morning?

Pause.

Do I take public transit, risk driving the Beltway, or call in sick?

Pause.

Each day is filled with these decision opportunities.

I invite you to allow yourself to pause each time you see one.

It makes for great practice when you are faced with higher-stakes decisions.


I’m doing a quick poll on my Facebook Business Page.

What specific topics should I cover in Dealing with Ideas that Distract? The course will be 3-weeks and the videos will be 1 hour long with an hour of live Q&A.

Comment by number. Choose your top 3.
1) How to intake a new idea
2) Saying “no”
3) Periodization – what should I focus on during this period?
4) Important vs. Urgent – Telling the difference
5) When should the new idea take priority and how to pivot
6) Scheduling and Backlogs – Making room for new ideas

You can respond here or on Facebook. I personally moderate the comments on this blog so it may take a few hours for your comment to appear on this page.

Thank you for your feedback.

Busyness – Not Just You

When we’re busy and have that high-octane, panicked feeling that time is scarce …our attention and ability to focus narrows. Behavioral researchers call this phenomenon “tunneling.” And, like being in a tunnel, we’re only able to concentrate on the most immediate, and often low value, tasks right in front of us. (Research has found we actually lose about 13 IQ points in this state.) We run around putting out fires all day, racing to meetings, plowing through emails, and getting to 5 or 6 PM with the sick realization that we haven’t even started our most important work of the day.

Brigid Schulte’s brilliant summary of the impact of busyness from her article Preventing Busyness from Becoming Burnout, Harvard Business Review.

Not mentioned in Schulte’s article is how addicting this level of focus is. I suspect, for many, tunneling is the only form of meditation practice they have.

There’s also an adrenaline rush that comes from being busy. For those of us who work on projects, remember the rush of “crunch time?”

Add the fact that our culture rewards the perception of busyness and is it any wonder most of us are running around ineffective, frustrated, and burned out.

We can look at the trend of busyness through the lens of Ken Wilber’s “All Quadrants” framework:

  • I – Your interpretation + what you get out of “being busy”
  • We – The social “busyness” expectation
  • It – Reacting to others’ behaviors (such as the late night/weekend email from your boss)
  • Its – The systems that keep us “busy” – from weekly status meetings to instant messengers and notifications,

There are some system-level interventions we can use to slow down the treadmill – IM blockers, blocking slack time on our calendars, task visibility – but there is something deeper at work here.

What ARE you getting out of seeming “busy” all the time?

Is there a feeling of “belonging?”

Is it a convenient excuse?

Are you fearing loss of reputation?

If you are not “busy,” do you fear you won’t have value?

Or that you will be seen as “less than?” Or “not in demand?”

If you are not busy, will it force you to look at your life and face some hard truths that you really don’t want to see?

Does busyness allow you to avoid taking responsibility for your life and blame something else for your unhappiness?

Unless you are clear on what you get out of being busy, it’s going to be difficult to step off the hamster wheel.

The Discipline of Not Doing

NOT doing is one of the disciplines I and my clients seem to struggle with.

I have something that needs to be done! Why can’t I just do it NOW!

I personally feel this impulse when the things on my current to-do list don’t excite me. Often, this lack of excitement is a result of the task being in that dreaded dip. The grinding part where I am too far from the start to stop and too far from the goal to see it. The part where I just have to suck it up and do the work for the sake of the work.

I also encounter this feeling when I find I suddenly have some slack. The temptation to fill that slack with more work is great.  Particularly in our hustle/grind/just do it environment. Being busy allows me to avoid more uncomfortable activities, such as self-reflection. 

“Busy” is a badge of honor.  We can justify busy to others.  Reflecting and integrating looks a lot like “doing nothing” and, therefore, is much harder to explain.

Filling the slack, or starting another “new” thing when I have other things to do, is hazardous.

The “new” thing invariably takes more time, energy, and resources than initially predicted. “This will be quick” is a signal that I am about to lose focus on the important things I need to be doing.

The “new” thing still leaves all the “old” things unfinished; noshing away at my cognitive load and energetic resilience.

The “new” thing adds to the workload. It only takes 1 or 2 “new” things and the unfinished “old” things to find myself suddenly over-worked and stressed.

Occasionally, I get impatient because I have a thing that I know needs to be done in the future. My ego wants to “get ahead.”

Another warning that I am about to go off track is the voice that says, “If I get this done now, I’ll be ahead of the game.”  This voice has caused me more work than any other voice I have in my head.

Certain activities need to happen in a certain order. For example, if I decide to do a rewrite of a chapter while the chapter is out for review and before I have received the feedback, I’ve just doubled my workload. I will still need to do the rewrite.

The discipline of finishing what I have started and staying focused on what I need to do right now is, for me, one of the most challenging disciplines I practice. 

It requires saying “not yet” to great ideas and opportunities – some of which may pass me by.

It requires having faith that the work I am currently doing will result in a positive outcome.

It requires being OK with not “getting ahead” of my tasks.

It requires being OK with giving myself some slack when I am blessed with it.

The Cult of The Hustle

When did performative workaholism become a lifestyle?

Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work?, Erin Griffith, The New York Times, January 26, 2019

The always-on, always-on-call, always producing, always sharing, always hustling, maximizing ROI life.

The whole thing feels like an energy suck in one direction.

It’s not just young people. I’m seeing it in my cohort too.

Hustle, grind, climb the ladder, stay on top, keep informed, serve all.

The ones who can’t (or won’t) keep up are beginning to opt out.

Those of us who have hit the middle of our lives, I’m coming to believe, got lucky.

We remember a time when we had to find pay phones, couldn’t take our work home with us, couldn’t be on-call all the time, had to go to libraries, bookstores, encyclopedias, and newspapers to find information. The technologies weren’t there.

We also went to college when it was much less expensive. We are not burdened with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans.

Many of us are already at the point where we have proven ourselves. Most of us have already found our place in the world (even if some of us aren’t entirely happy about it).

I don’t think I’m a complete Luddite. The access and visibility to more options is awesome.

However, for those of us in middle age who find ourselves overwhelmed by the technologies and expectations of our current culture, we have a lived model of what happens when we don’t have the electronic leash hounding us 24/7.

Deeply consider why you are doing what you are doing.

How is what you are doing working for YOU?

It’s one thing if you are driven by an idea and voluntarily hustling to make that idea real. Working in the flow state when time passes without you knowing it.

It’s another to have an entire culture expecting you to move ever-faster and working to channel YOUR flow state into THEIR agenda.

I feel for those who come behind us. We, at least, know a different lived experience.


I’m heartened by a progressively louder conversation around human energy and how the way we are working isn’t sustainable.

Change is going to require personal responsibility around managing your energy.

Re-learning the cycle of growth and rest.

It’s not a technological problem and will not be a technological solution.

We need to figure this out for ourselves in an unsupportive container that keeps preaching the hustle and grind and “ever-increasing energy” and growth at all costs.

For myself, it’s time for me to opt out of “performative workaholism.”

Life is too short.


Resources

Thanks to Julie Dirksen and the Nerdy Shop Talk Facebook Group (Closed) for these resources.

Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work, The New York Times (2019)

Palaces in Time: Designing Against Productivity, Sebastian Deterding, MIT Media Lab (2015, 1 hr 15 min video)

Accounting for Energy

I’ve been thinking about personal energy and our plans recently.

Often, we tend to make our plans based on our best case scenario.

We’re feeling healthy, energetic, our best selves. We then make our plans and set our timelines accordingly.

Then we beat ourselves up when the average to bad days kick in and we don’t get done what we intended to get done.

Energy management is particularly acute for those of us suffering from chronic conditions or extended illnesses.

We have good days and bad days. Sometimes, it’s tough to predict which days will be good and which ones aren’t. Sometimes, we don’t even know until we get started and realize that we either a) feel better than we thought or b) don’t. Sadly, b happens more frequently (at least in my life) than a.

I’ve been experimenting with leveraging the Scrum project management concept of “story points” as it applies to my personal projects.

First is figuring out the complexity of what I’m trying to do. Both the cognitive load required (high/average/mindlessly repetitive) and the amount of focused time I will likely need (lots/some/”this will just take a few minutes”)

Second is figuring out my energy patterns and what a realistic cadence looks like.

In Scrum – each sprint has a set of available points based on the cadence set by the team. In a personal context, you have a set of available energy points based on your productivity patterns.

You then look at your “backlog” (or the “to-do” list) and assign “story points” (or level of effort points) to each task.

Ideally, you match the tasks you intend to get done that sprint (or week) with the energy points you have available and the priority of the task.

Example: I have a high story point task I need to get done this week (such as “Finish Chapter 3 of the book” – high complexity/cognitive load AND requiring lots of focus time). If I’m going to get that task done, I shouldn’t plan to get much else done beyond previously scheduled client work (which also takes up energy points). I might find a mindless, low focus, need-to-get-done task from my backlog to fill in extra time and get it off my plate – but only if I underestimated either my energy or the amount of effort the main task takes.

I find keeping track of my to-do list (what I planned to do that day) and my done list (what I actually did) over a week or two helpful in determining what I can realistically get done. If I’ve never done this type of tracking before, I would consider doing it over 4 or more weeks – to account for any hormone fluctuations, illnesses, life patterns, etc. This tracking sets up the “energy points.”

Tracking my productivity patterns becomes especially important when I am going through a health flare-up, such as the back injury I was fighting last year or a visit from the Cookie-Monster Bathrobe.

Instead of beating myself up over what I haven’t managed to get done, I use that information to set realistic weekly sprints for myself and resetting expectations.

Any big change in your health or stress levels should trigger a re-evaluation of your energy points.

Right now, I find myself saying “no” a lot more frequently – only because I don’t have my usual number of energy points to work with on top of having high story point tasks on my plate.

I’d rather disappoint someone up front and find them a different resource that will help them with their issue than to promise something I can’t deliver. My ego hates this. I want to be able to do all the things at the pace my ego wants to set (which is instantaneous).

When it gets right down to it, maintaining positive relationships by doing what I say I’m going to do when I say I’m going to do it to the best of my ability is more important to me than serving someone poorly.

What are your current energy levels?

What tasks are on your plate, how complex are they, and when are the deadlines?

How do these match up in your life?

Let me know if you find this framework helpful.