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My sons are amateur jugglers. They practice weekly with a juggling company, and last week was the biggest performance of the year. Hundreds of parents, grandparents, friends, and others stream into a local high school auditorium to watch a series of choreographed routines. What’s most amazing about this performance isn’t the coordination and skill. It’s what happens when a ball or a pin is dropped. The marvel is in the recoveries.

Have you dropped any balls in front of others lately? Said anything stupid in a meeting? Made the wrong decision on behalf of a team? Hurt your family by doing something selfish? Missed a deadline or commitment?

Here’s one I did recently: People realized I was obviously multi-tasking on an important virtual meeting. I forgot to hit the mute button, and the group heard me typing. Then, when it was my turn to provide input, I had nothing helpful to add. Worst of all, some on my team surely felt devalued. I metaphorically dropped the ball in front of my audience.

Everyone drops the ball from time to time. The question is, how do you recover?

4 Recovery Lessons from the World of Juggling

Few examples of recovery are as instructive as a juggling performance. In other performances, your mistakes are harder to see, or it’s easier to blame someone else. It’s difficult to hear a misplayed note in a band performance by one instrument. It’s not easy to pick up on a missed line in a play. Even a strikeout in baseball can be attributed to good pitching. But in juggling, it’s often you and your rings, pins, or balls. When one hits the ground, everyone sees it.

Here are some ideas I picked up from the juggling performance that may help each of us when we drop balls in life:

  1. Own the drop. Rarely do jugglers leave what they dropped on the floor. Sometimes the routine requires them to leave it behind, but even that is intentional. Most of the time, they move toward their drop and deal with it. I was hoping no one noticed my disengagement on that virtual meeting. Maybe they’d forget about it, I thought. Instead, I apologized to the leader of the meeting. “I should have been more engaged,” I said.
  2. Pick it back up and keep going. Jugglers take a breath, pick up their drop, and keep going. The mark of a strong juggler is the poise they demonstrate after a recovery. They don’t slouch, frown, curse, or shrug. They stand tall and start again. I was embarrassed by my behavior on that virtual meeting. It tempted me to turn off my webcam or leave the meeting. It made me uncomfortable thinking about joining the next meeting with the group. But I took a breath, swallowed my pride, and actively re-engaged.
  3. Recognize the jugglers around you. Jugglers gain comfort knowing that, even if they are the only one on stage at that moment, they are part of a company of performers. Everyone around them is or will be juggling too! And everyone is dropping. Everyone is vulnerable and exposed. That provides perspective and comfort. It’s also what makes it easier for me to write about my dropped balls in work and life. I know you’re dropping balls too. We’re all part of a company of ball-droppers. Take comfort in that.
  4. Find encouragement in the audience. No one threw fruit at the stage or heckled the jugglers in that high school auditorium. Of course not; these were kids. In fact, an audience at a youth juggling performance might be among the most encouraging and forgiving you’d find. Hopefully, you too, have an audience you can look to for encouragement and forgiveness. Maybe it’s not your boss or your family members. They may be too focused on their own juggling to be forgiving and encouraging. Perhaps it’s a friend, colleague, or God. Find someone who says, “This is hard. I’m with you. And you can recover.”

Have you dropped any balls lately? Consider taking a cue from the world of juggling.

The post How to Recover from Mistakes and Dropped Balls appeared first on Matt Norman.

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I often overeat when I’m anxious. I admit that I over-lots-of-things when I’m anxious. According to Gallup, you probably do too. We over-analyze, over-do, over-use, and over-engineer. And you know what? I’m over it. I’m now repeating this word when I’m over-doing it to reduce anxiety: Enough.

Bethany Newman via Unsplash

Recently, I’ve been making a conscious effort to say “enough.” Here are a few of the areas where I’ve done this:

Decide You’ve Consumed Enough

There I was at the dinner table with my family, feeling tired and preoccupied with the events of the day. The food tasted good and soothed something emotional inside me. I wanted more of that feeling the food gave me. In fact, the fuller I got, the more I felt secure and in control. But, as I reached for another portion, I said to myself, “Enough.” Instead of eating more, I stopped, drank some water, and engaged with my family.

Decide You’ve Worried Enough

Another situation arose recently where I found my mind spinning with catastrophic thinking. What if thoughts cycled over and over on a topic that concerned me. It seemed to me that the more I cycled on that thinking, the more I’d get clarity and control over the situation. It was as if cycling what if thoughts was a form of diagnostic of the problem and predictor of the future. That was wrong. Rather than gaining clarity, the worries only became more real in my mind. So, as I started another cycle, I said to myself, “Enough.” My thoughts redirected to the present moment and my anxiety started dropping.

Decide You’ve Done Enough

It was the end of a workday. My kids were watching television and my wife was still at work. I was responsible for making dinner. I looked at my laptop on the counter and thought about the emails that were likely piling up in my inbox since I hadn’t checked it in a few hours. (I took work email off my phone a few couple years ago to maintain healthier boundaries, and it’s both freed me up and made me more productive.)

I opened the laptop and thought, “It’s OK if dinner isn’t ready when everyone wants it. They can be patient because I will feel calmer if  I get more work done.” But, after answering one email and receiving the dopamine boost that accompanies an item crossed off my list, it occurred to me that this wasn’t a wise use of time. Email can wait. My kids shouldn’t have to. Enough. I went back to making dinner.

The Power of the Word: Enough

The word “enough” reminds me that I am enough, have enough, and have done enough. It’s the opposite of the anxious voice in my head that questions my enough-ness. “Consume more, do more, analyze more, use more,” pleads the anxious voice. “Get more out of yourself and the people around you.”

In an age of anxiety, perceived scarcity, and celebrating being gritty, it’s tempting to replace “enough” with “more.” You might think, I can do more. I can consume more. I can be a better parent. I can be a better friend.

I’m sure you can improve. But what if you relaxed in the reality that right now, you’re enough. Right now, you have enough. Right now, you’ve done enough.

Maybe the word “enough” would turn anxiety into peace, scarcity into abundance, and striving into rest.

Where can you be, do, or have…enough?

The post How to Reduce Anxiety by Deciding You’ve Had Enough appeared first on Matt Norman.

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Recently in a coaching conversation, I asked a client what he wanted in life right now. Initially, the response was somewhat obvious: happy family, health, work success… Then he paused to reflect more deeply. “I want to know I’m doing a good job,” he said. “Actually, you know what I really want?… I just don’t want to be anxious.”

Can you relate to that feeling? That tight and unsettled feeling that you’re not enough? That angst about the future?

What do you do to make it go away?

Short-term, Ineffective Ways We Reduce Anxiety
  1. Numb it. Typically, this involves doing something with your body to release dopamine and other positive endorphins to make yourself feel OK. You can fill your stomach with a good meal. You can drink a glass of wine. You could take a nap. Smoke a cigarette. Go for a run. Meditate. Most of those things have positive health benefits. And they make you feel strong and calm for a time. But then they wear off, only to leave you feeling like you have to work out or drink a beer or eat chocolate in order to feel OK.
  2. Ignore it. This is what psychologists would refer to as living your false self. Rather than being your true, authentic self, you pretend everything is OK. You stay shallow. You rationalize why nothing is wrong. You don’t let people challenge you or make you feel uncomfortable. This keeps you protected from the anxious thoughts about the future or whether you’re really enough. The problem is that it’s not real. You don’t truly live in this false reality.
  3. Avoid it. Another way to avoid the hard thoughts is to distract yourself. Stay busy. React to your to-do list or what others need. Complain about others to deflect responsibility. Or bury yourself in technology. Check your email. Find something “important” on your phone during a meeting. Dodge the bullets of fear. Again, though, it’s just a temporary fix.
The Best, Long-Term Ways to Reduce Anxiety

Through my work coaching myself and others through fear and anxiety, I’ve only found three approaches that really work over time:

  1. Grow. As psychologists and learning experts Murray Bowen, Robert Kegan, and Edwin Friedman have all so effectively explained, the essence of growth is separating from your attachments. It is to see yourself apart from the world while remaining related to it. This requires self-definition and becoming clearer on who you really are — not what your mom wants you to be, or what your boss expects you to be. This requires deep self-reflection and being aware of your family-of-origin patterns, your addictions, your weaknesses, and your personality tendencies. Rest comes in finding your true self.
  2. Sacrifice. During a period in my life when my anxiety was very high, I began volunteering at a local school. When I walked through those doors, I left my preoccupations at the door and put the kids’ concerns before my own. It was freeing. The lesson: Acts of self-forgetfulness reduce anxiety. Go to the back of the line, be about others, and think about what others need. When you sacrifice your needs for others, your needs lose power over you.
  3. Trust. Open your hands, release control, and accept who you are and what’s happening around you. I’m not suggesting you be passive or resign yourself in apathy. Rather, it’s in trusting the future, trusting God, trusting others, trusting yourself, trusting that good will come from whatever may happen. Trust is also about resting in what you have, being grateful for what is rather than what might be or should have been. Through the act of trusting, you will cease striving for something more.

What do you really want in life? If it has something to do with peace, authenticity, and joy, try not to numb, ignore, or avoid your anxiety. Instead, choose to grow, sacrifice, and trust.

The post How to Get What You Want in Life by Reducing Stress and Anxiety appeared first on Matt Norman.

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Recently in a coaching conversation, I asked a client what he wanted in life right now. Initially, the response was somewhat obvious: happy family, health, work success… Then he paused to reflect more deeply. “I want to know I’m doing a good job,” he said. “Actually, you know what I really want?… I just don’t want to be anxious.”

Can you relate to that feeling? That tight and unsettled feeling that you’re not enough? That angst about the future?

What do you do to make it go away?

You may have tried to:

  1. Numb it. Typically, this involves doing something with your body to release dopamine and other positive endorphins to make yourself feel OK. You can fill your stomach with a good meal. You can drink a glass of wine. You could take a nap. Smoke a cigarette. Go for a run. Meditate. Most of those things have positive health benefits. And they make you feel strong and calm for a time. But then they wear off, only to leave you feeling like you have to work out or drink a beer or eat chocolate in order to feel OK.
  2. Ignore it. This is what psychologists would refer to as living your false self. Rather than being your true, authentic self, you pretend everything is OK. You stay shallow. You rationalize why nothing is wrong. You don’t let people challenge you or make you feel uncomfortable. This keeps you protected from the anxious thoughts about the future or whether you’re really enough. The problem is that it’s not real. You don’t truly live in this false reality.
  3. Avoid it. Another way to avoid the hard thoughts is to distract yourself. Stay busy. React to your to-do list or what others need. Complain about others to deflect responsibility. Or bury yourself in technology. Check your email. Find something “important” on your phone during a meeting. Dodge the bullets of fear. Again, though, it’s just a temporary fix.
The 3 Best Ways to Reduce Your Anxiety

Through my work coaching myself and others through fear and anxiety, I’ve only found three approaches that really work over time:

  1. Grow. As psychologists and learning experts Murray Bowen, Robert Kegan, and Edwin Friedman have all so effectively explained, the essence of growth is separating from your attachments. It is to see yourself apart from the world while remaining related to it. This requires self-definition and becoming clearer on who you really are — not what your mom wants you to be, or what your boss expects you to be. This requires deep self-reflection and being aware of your family-of-origin patterns, your addictions, your weaknesses, and your personality tendencies. Rest comes in finding your true self.
  2. Sacrifice. During a period in my life when my anxiety was very high, I began volunteering at a local school. When I walked through those doors, I left my preoccupations at the door and put the kids’ concerns before my own. It was freeing. The lesson: Acts of self-forgetfulness reduce anxiety. Go to the back of the line, be about others, and think about what others need. When you sacrifice your needs for others, your needs lose power over you.
  3. Trust. Open your hands, release control, and accept who you are and what’s happening around you. I’m not suggesting you be passive or resign yourself in apathy. Rather, it’s in trusting the future, trusting God, trusting others, trusting yourself, trusting that good will come from whatever may happen. Trust is also about resting in what you have, being grateful for what is rather than what might be or should have been. Through the act of trusting, you will cease striving for something more.

What do you really want in life? If it has something to do with peace, authenticity, and joy, try not to numb, ignore, or avoid your anxiety. Instead, choose to grow, sacrifice, and trust.

The post How to Live with More Joy and Authenticity appeared first on Matt Norman.

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There I was in a hotel on a business trip. My mind was racing. The trip packed my agenda with meetings and dinners. Always on, constantly prepping for the next thing. Meanwhile, my to-do list was growing with other work and personal needs. On top of it all, I had been fitting in podcasts and a book into the margins. It was hard to shut off my brain.

That’s why I knew I needed to turn off screens and limit inputs for 30 minutes before going to sleep. It’s also why I set the timer on my phone the next morning for 10 minutes after I woke up. It’s during that time that I’m most deliberate with my thoughts. That daily practice leads to greater peace and performance.

Does your mind ever get out of control? What daily practices help you manage your thoughts?

To be your best self, you need to know and manage your thoughts. Deliberate thinking time is the best place to do this work. Sure, you could skip the process of actually scheduling it in, instead hoping that you’ll find quiet time throughout your day. But just like physical fitness, it usually doesn’t happen without dedicated time to work on it. Think of daily deliberate thinking time like a workout for your brain.

The Types of Thinking Your Brain Requires

Good physical exercise requires different types of activity. You do strength and cardio, upper and lower body, aerobic and anaerobic. Likewise, good mental exercise requires aware and purposeful thinking. When I’m in my deliberate thinking time, I do different thought exercises to build awareness and guide my thoughts.

Here are five different types of thought exercises that every brain needs:

  1. Narrative. This type of thinking comes fast and furious whether you want it or not. In that hotel on the business trip, these thoughts kept coming:

    Here you are in your hotel room, far away from home. You’re enjoying this work and you’re disciplined to take this time to meditate. You’ve also got a lot to do today. How should you open your first meeting this morning? It will be stressful…

    Our minds are designed to constantly explain what’s happening. Since the thoughts keep coming, you don’t want to fight it. Just think it and release it to make room for other types of thoughts.
  2. Imaginative. Our brains are also designed to see what’s possible. We can imagine the future or imagine ourselves in certain situations. Athletes imagine themselves shooting a free throw or sinking a putt. Artists imagine a completed canvas. Leaders imagine product innovations or a future state of the organization. During my deliberate thinking time, I imagine myself walking with God in Northern Minnesota. We talk and I experience being there in that place. It gives me a peace and perspective like I’d have if I were there rather than in the hotel room.
  3. Automatic. Daniel Kahneman calls this System 1 thinking, or “thinking fast.” It’s the thinking about needing to re-position your body to relieve your back pain. It’s the thought to silence the alert on your phone, or the thoughts that will rush in when you step through your morning routine. It can be helpful to recognize that these automatic thoughts exist because they are hard wired to guide your moment-to-moment responses to the world.
  4. Careful. Kahneman refers to this as System 2 thinking, or “thinking slow.” This is the planning for work meetings you’ll lead. It’s the deliberation over a difficult decision. And it’s the calculations I was making in my brain about how much travel time I needed between meetings on this work trip because I was in an unfamiliar city. At home, that would have been automatic.

    Careful thinking is important for choosing wisely and performing tasks with caution. I chose to do careful thinking at the completion of my deliberate thinking time in that hotel room. My mind was calm and vigilant to make good choices.
  5. Experiential. As David Rock explains, scientists refer to another type of thinking as the direct experience. It’s when you process information coming into your senses in real time. As I sat quietly in my hotel room, I monitored my breathing, slowly in for four beats, slowly out for four beats. I noticed where I felt pain or tension in my body. I listened to the quiet and observed the darkness.

    Experiential thoughts are particularly useful because they are inversely correlated with Narrative thoughts. You can’t think about your breathing and the stress you feel about your upcoming meetings at the same time.

While it’s true that the body fuels the mind, it’s also true that the mind drives the body. To be your best self, it’s important to dedicate time to physical fitness. Perhaps more importantly, it’s necessary to invest regular time in mental fitness. It will result in more holistic management of your mind, which will lead to greater peace and performance.

The post Exercises to Help You Reach Your Mental Fitness Goals appeared first on Matt Norman.

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There I was in a hotel on a business trip. My mind was racing. The trip packed my agenda with meetings and dinners. Always on, constantly prepping for the next thing. Meanwhile, my to-do list was growing with other work and personal needs. On top of it all, I had been fitting in podcasts and a book into the margins. It was hard to shut off my brain.

That’s why I knew I needed to turn off screens and limit inputs for 30 minutes before going to sleep. It’s also why I set the timer on my phone the next morning for 10 minutes after I woke up. It’s during that time that I’m most deliberate with my thoughts. That daily practice leads to greater peace and performance.

Does your mind ever get out of control? What daily practices help you manage your thoughts?

To be your best self, you need to know and manage your thoughts. Deliberate thinking time is the best place to do this work. Sure, you could skip the process of actually scheduling it in, instead hoping that you’ll find quiet time throughout your day. But just like physical fitness, it usually doesn’t happen without dedicated time to work on it. Think of daily deliberate thinking time like a workout for your brain.

The Types of Thinking Your Brain Requires

Good physical exercise requires different types of activity. You do strength and cardio, upper and lower body, aerobic and anaerobic. Likewise, good mental exercise requires aware and purposeful thinking. When I’m in my deliberate thinking time, I do different thought exercises to build awareness and guide my thoughts.

Here are five different types of thought exercises that every brain needs:

  1. Narrative. This type of thinking comes fast and furious whether you want it or not. In that hotel on the business trip, these thoughts kept coming:

    Here you are in your hotel room, far away from home. You’re enjoying this work and you’re disciplined to take this time to meditate. You’ve also got a lot to do today. How should you open your first meeting this morning? It will be stressful…

    Our minds are designed to constantly explain what’s happening. Since the thoughts keep coming, you don’t want to fight it. Just think it and release it to make room for other types of thoughts.
  2. Imaginative. Our brains are also designed to see what’s possible. We can imagine the future or imagine ourselves in certain situations. Athletes imagine themselves shooting a free throw or sinking a putt. Artists imagine a completed canvas. Leaders imagine product innovations or a future state of the organization. During my deliberate thinking time, I imagine myself walking with God in Northern Minnesota. We talk and I experience being there in that place. It gives me a peace and perspective like I’d have if I were there rather than in the hotel room.
  3. Automatic. Daniel Kahneman calls this System 1 thinking, or “thinking fast.” It’s the thinking about needing to re-position your body to relieve your back pain. It’s the thought to silence the alert on your phone, or the thoughts that will rush in when you step through your morning routine. It can be helpful to recognize that these automatic thoughts exist because they are hard wired to guide your moment-to-moment responses to the world.
  4. Careful. Kahneman refers to this as System 2 thinking, or “thinking slow.” This is the planning for work meetings you’ll lead. It’s the deliberation over a difficult decision. And it’s the calculations I was making in my brain about how much travel time I needed between meetings on this work trip because I was in an unfamiliar city. At home, that would have been automatic.

    Careful thinking is important for choosing wisely and performing tasks with caution. I chose to do careful thinking at the completion of my deliberate thinking time in that hotel room. My mind was calm and vigilant to make good choices.
  5. Experiential. As David Rock explains, scientists refer to another type of thinking as the direct experience. It’s when you process information coming into your senses in real time. As I sat quietly in my hotel room, I monitored my breathing, slowly in for four beats, slowly out for four beats. I noticed where I felt pain or tension in my body. I listened to the quiet and observed the darkness.

    Experiential thoughts are particularly useful because they are inversely correlated with Narrative thoughts. You can’t think about your breathing and the stress you feel about your upcoming meetings at the same time.

While it’s true that the body fuels the mind, it’s also true that the mind drives the body. To be your best self, it’s important to dedicate time to physical fitness. Perhaps more importantly, it’s necessary to invest regular time in mental fitness. It will result in more holistic management of your mind, which will lead to greater peace and performance.

The post Increasing Peace and Performance through Deliberate Thinking appeared first on Matt Norman.

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Every day, a person walks by a house, and every day there’s a dog howling on the front porch. Every day. Howling. A man sits next to the dog on the porch, calmly rocking in a chair. Finally one day, the passerby stops.

“Why does your dog howl every day?”

“Because he’s lying on a nail,” the man says.

“Why doesn’t the dog move?”

“Because it doesn’t hurt enough yet,” he replies.

As we kick off a new year, now’s a good time to take notice of the nails you’ve been lying on — and decide once and for all that you’re going get up and put an end to the needless suffering.

Think about all those annoying, nagging, or even painful little things you simply put up with on a regular basis that could prove distracting to you throughout a day. You don’t have to keep putting up with them, especially since they may be affecting your overall productivity. Make a list and start attacking them.

For example, here’s one possible nail: All those emails you don’t read that fill your inbox. Taking on this never-ending battle of unwanted emails is a good way to start decluttering your life, beginning with your inbox.

One of the best gifts I gave my wife this holiday season was to unsubscribe her from over 30 unwanted email sources. It only took me about five minutes, but don’t tell her that. She appreciated the gesture even more than the pajamas I got her for Christmas.

You might rationalize that it will take longer to unsubscribe than it will to just hit delete. But I don’t think that’s true. Each time you have to trash a message, it takes a moment of your attention and a second to hit delete. The time it takes to delete those emails, day after day, adds up to a lot more than five minutes of unsubscribing.

(This assumes you’re deleting the unwanted messages. Imagine leaving them in your inbox!? You don’t do that, do you? That would be like leaving junk mail strewn across your desk or kitchen counter.)

So just get up off the nail and unsubscribe, or notify the sender that you don’t want to receive the emails.

The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

Clutter, chaos, and distractions kill productivity and joy. The more leaders I’ve worked with and studied, the more I’ve become convinced that the most impactful leaders rely on a system to block distractions so that they can focus on their most important work.

In his book and training on the Getting Things Done (GTD) framework, productivity guru David Allen advocates five steps to help get off the nail and stop the unproductive howling:

  1. Capture. Collect what has your attention. Most of us have multiple inboxes, calendars, task lists, and work spaces. We use multiple devices and have different people pulling us in different direction. We have to lay it all out and consolidate it to get a handle on it.
  2. Clarify. Process what it means. Decide its priority and what it’s asking of you. Then delete, delegate, decide, or do something with it. Don’t defer or demur. It’s got to be done or it will clutter your mind and space.
  3. Organize. Put it where it belongs. Give it a priority or deadline. Make it visible and easy to access on a defined action list. Or schedule it.
  4. Reflect. Review frequently. This needs to be a regular process. You can’t ignore dishes in your sink just like you shouldn’t neglect the emails, tasks, and requests. Being proactive about cleaning up your inbox and to-do list might be one of the most clarifying and anxiety-reducing activities you can do on a regular basis.
  5. Engage. Simply do. Work the system. Live with freedom and confidence. Tackle your most important goals for the coming year. Take command and operate with confidence. This is your life. Get off the dang nail.

What causes you enough pain to howl inside but not enough that you’ve done something about it? Stop putting up with the little things that kill your productivity and joy, and start the new year strong!

The post How to Avoid Distractions and Practice Stress-Free Productivity appeared first on Matt Norman.

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I paced nervously behind the stage. In a few moments, I would be expected to deliver a presentation at our annual company conference. A voice in my head warned me, over and over again: Do not get on that stage.

The warnings triggered physical alerts: A quickened pulse. Short, shallow breaths. Tightened muscles.

Ten years have passed, but I remember my next move as if it were yesterday. Despite all the warnings, I chose to walk onto that stage and deliver the presentation.

When do you hear the voice that tells you not to go forward? Does it tell you you’re not smart enough, not physically capable, or not emotionally able?

That voice is well-intentioned, but it’s probably wrong about you.

In his book Endure, Alex Hutchinson chronicles the running world’s pursuit to break the two-hour marathon. Through the fascinating narrative, he explores the elastic limits of human performance, telling the stories of people who broke previously accepted limits. Those feats include:

  • Summiting Mt. Everest without oxygen
  • Surviving for weeks without water
  • Breaking speed barriers in cycling and distance barriers in running
  • Diving to the depths of the ocean without oxygen

His conclusion: The human brain is designed to stop us from doing things that might jeopardize our survival. But it’s over-protective. We can usually survive well past what our brain advises.

Talking Back to Your Brain

Recently, I thought I was going to throw up while exercising with a group of friends. The pain of the workout was so intense my brain told me that I had to stop. But… having just read Endure, I coached my brain to back off.

“You’re not telling me the whole truth, brain! You’re wrong about my limits!” I told it. And in response, I pushed through the pain.

What does your brain tell you not to do that you know you should or could do? Where has your brain convinced you that you’re not capable of going further, stepping out, taking the risk, or getting uncomfortable?

Try talking back to your brain.

The next time you’re exercising and your brain tells you to stop, try saying, “Thank you but you’re being overly protective. I can do more.”

The next time you’re doing something hard at work and your brain says “you’re not good enough,” say back to it, “I appreciate your concern, but it’s important for me to do this.”

When you’re feeling the inhibition to hold back in a meeting, remind your brain of what Dale Carnegie said: The person who goes farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore.

The more you overrule your self-protective brain, the more it adjusts its protection zone. Neuroscientists call this neuroplasticity — the ability to change your thought patterns. The warning signals fade away. The mental boundaries push out further. You step right through your previously accepted limits.

Last week, I returned to that same stage where my brain had tried to convince me to bail ten years ago. Once again, I was there to present to my colleagues. But this time, I couldn’t hear more than a faint echo of that old warning voice. Calm pulse, breathing fine, relaxed muscles, it felt so good. And it reminded me how glad I am that I didn’t listen to that warning voice ten years ago. That I decided to talk back to my overly protective brain.

Your brain is built to keep you alive. But sometimes, it just tries too hard at the expense of your growth. The only way to move beyond pain and fear is to think of your brain as overprotective — and elastic.

Which self-imposed limits do you need to challenge?

The post How to Overrule Your Brain and Push Your Limits appeared first on Matt Norman.

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Juan Martin del Potro was amped and frustrated. It was the finals of the 2018 US Open Men’s Championship, and he was losing to Novak Djokovic. The tension only mounted as spectators and his tennis club from Argentina sang at the top of their lungs like it was a soccer match, reminding him of the stakes: He was playing for the pride of his country. While Djokovic operated like a calm surgeon, del Potro was getting more and more worked up. And as the expectation and intensity rose, he began to overswing. He was trying to do too much with each shot.

Do you ever feel like you’re swinging too hard?

After taking some time off at the end of August, I was excited and ready for the “new” that September ushered in. On the home front, we’d just bought a gleaming light-colored rug to place inside the doors to our backyard. And at work, our company was kicking off its new fiscal year on September 1. A fresh start.

Then it started raining. Lots of rain. A great, mud-producing rain. And here’s the thing: Kids and dogs don’t notice mud like I do. As I watched the mud fill up in the backyard, I got pretty amped up about wiping feet, keeping the dog outside when she was muddy, and anything else I could do to try to protect that brand new rug. But it was an exercise in futility. The worst moment came when we went inside to get towels to clean off the filthy dog, only to return and find one of the kids had already let her in the house. Mud everywhere. I might have screamed.

The fiscal year that had started with fresh expectations got a bit muddy, too. Like any month of the year, some things went well, others didn’t.

I was quickly realizing that you just can’t keep everyone’s mud off the nice new rug—no matter how hard you overswing to try to keep it all tidy and high functioning.

One Antidote to Anxiety

As I’ve started to feel amped and frustrated, one thing has kept me calm and focused on what really matters: silence.

Last February, I wrote about a practice I had begun in December of sitting alone in silence every morning. I had picked a word to focus and direct my thoughts in those silent moments. The word was “meek,” which I explained actually means “strength under control.” Think of it like someone who is well-trained and accepting of circumstances.

As I sat in silence each morning through September, my mind shifted from expectations to acceptance: to take what comes, and to do what’s right and needed, regardless of how it feels, whether it’s reciprocated, or whether it produces immediate results.

You see, too often you and I need life to go a certain way to be OK. We want people to act a certain way, we want to accomplish certain things, we want life to live up to our expectations. We want to keep things tidy and we want to win.

Silent focus on being meek reminds me to accept my current reality as a human being, as frustrating and muddy as it may be. To stop overswinging for a moment and rediscover my inner calm.

What kids and dogs are running around your carpet with mud? Will you swing at the situation with all your might and fury? Or will you operate like a calm surgeon?

The post One Way to Prevent Yourself from Trying Too Hard appeared first on Matt Norman.

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Several years ago, I went to see a prominent psychologist. I’d been having persistent stomach aches, shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing, and sharp pains in my head. My doctor said I was healthy. Nothing was wrong with my body. What could be the problem, I wondered. After ten minutes and a few questions, the psychologist told me I needed a workbook called Mind Over Mood.

He was right.

The workbook uses a cognitive therapy framework, which is different from a Freudian or family-origin approach to psychoanalysis. Because moods like anger, sadness, fear, anxiety, guilt, and shame release hormones and toxins that create physical stress, it starts by asking you to reflect on your moods that are triggering physiological responses in your body.

What Happens When We Hide Negative Emotions

I’d kept my moods pretty well-hidden. To my co-workers, friends, and family, I seemed happy, optimistic, and confident. But that wasn’t how I often felt when no one was looking. I was anxious and afraid.

Getting honest and clear about your emotions invites the next question: What thoughts are prompting these emotions? For me, they went like this:

  • What if I fail?
  • I don’t know if I have what it takes.
  • What does the future hold?

Those thoughts were relentless. They were constant. They were accusations and threats. They came at me on my walk to work, at my desk, in meetings, and in bed. And they seemed like reasonable questions that deserved answers. So, I let them come, hoping I’d sort out a clearer answer each time, not realizing they were wrecking my body. The workbook opened my eyes to these thoughts — and what to do with them.

You see, up to this point, I assumed my only options were: ignore them (not possible), ruminate on them, believe them, or simply replace them with positive thoughts. But as Mind Over Mood revealed, the problem with those options is that “when we feel intense moods, we’re more likely to distort, discount or disregard information that contradicts our moods and beliefs.”

How do you change the thoughts that prompt the moods that trigger the feelings in your body?

Get Curious About Your Negative Emotions

Get curious about the thoughts. Say to yourself, “I’m having these thoughts. That’s part of being human. Where are they coming from? And what else might be true??

Here are some examples of thoughts, along with a helpful curiosity-question:

  • Thought: I’m so overwhelmed with what I have to get done.
  • Curiosity: What is truly important right now?
  • Thought: Am I failing?
  • Curiosity: Where does my value come from?
  • Thought: I don’t think I can do this.
  • Curiosity: What challenges have I overcome in the past?
  • Thought: What if something happens to me or my family?
  • Curiosity: What sources of strength and support do I and my family have?
  • Thought: What if people think I’m not good enough?
  • Curiosity: What strengths do I have?

These are just examples of thoughts you may be having, along with one approach to being curious about that thought. It doesn’t reject or accept the thought. It just challenges you to see a fuller picture of reality.

As you move into a new school year, a new season, or other changes in your life, be curious. Ask yourself non-judgmental questions about your body, your mood, and your thoughts. Ask this about your thoughts: What is the true and full picture of reality? When you do, your thoughts may become more balanced, your mood may improve, and your body will thank you.

For more references from Mind Over Mood, check out this post on anxiety I wrote four years ago when I was feeling particularly stressed and overwhelmed. It’s part of being human.

The post How to Manage Negative Emotions by Managing Your Mind appeared first on Matt Norman.

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