I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get overwhelmed by my to-do list. I can end up grinding my teeth thinking about all the meetings, projects, and deadlines piling up on my calendar. That’s when I know it’s time to take a deep breath, calm myself, and affirm, as the Daily Word recently reminded me:
I have all the time I need
to do all that I need to do.
Once I’ve calmed myself, I’m able to reprioritize and see that everything is happening perfectly—on God’s timetable, not my own.
When you’re on a tight schedule, one of the things that can add to that feeling of stress is an interruption: A traffic jam puts you a half-hour behind. An urgent phone call breaks your train of thought. An unexpected visitor interferes with your carefully planned day. But don’t be too quick to look at interruptions as the enemy. Sometimes those unwelcome intrusions are blessings in disguise. For example, there have been times when I’ve gotten bogged down in my writing and an interruption occurs. Surprisingly, when I return to my writing, I find the right words. Neuroscientists call such interruptions “disfluency” and confirm that they can enhance creativity by leading to insights and innovation.
A variation of the interruption is the plan gone awry: New developments undermine the project you’re working on. The dream job you wanted so badly isn’t offered to you. A layoff derails your carefully planned career. At times like these, it’s wise see if the bad news is, in fact, good news in disguise. An example I often give is when the California wildfires of 2007 burned down our house. At first, that loss seemed devastating. But it led to our moving across the street to the house we’d always dreamed of living in—which was priced lower than the cost to rebuild our old house!
So escape the tyranny of your to-do list and don’t be too discouraged by setbacks. How many successful people do you know who are doing what they thought they’d be doing at the outset of their careers? Often the path to achievement is more like a winding road than a vertical ladder. While focus is a wonderful thing, it’s important that your commitment to a goal doesn’t blind you to the opportunities that a so-called derailment might be presenting to you.
As humans, we often tend to look at the dark side of things. For many of us, the proverbial glass is always half empty.
This is unfortunate because research has shown that what we place our attention on tends to grow stronger in our minds and in our lives—for good or bad. My daughter-in-law, Madeleine Homan Blanchard, has a master’s of science degree in neuroleadership from Middlesex University. As I’ve learned from Madeleine, studies confirm that your thoughts and experiences actually change the cells and structure of your brain—something scientists call neuroplasticity. If you focus on positive thoughts, your brain will strengthen the electrical pathways related to an optimistic outlook. If you focus on negative thoughts, your brain will become hardwired to pessimism.
There’s nothing wrong with identifying negative situations and working to make them better. The trick is to keep your eye on the positive. No one expressed this better than retired basketball legend Michael Jordan, who said:
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Do bad things happen? Of course. But so do good things. This week Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times reported that 2017 “was probably the very best year in the history of humanity.” He pointed to statistics that showed a smaller proportion of the world’s population was hungry, impoverished, or illiterate than at any time before. “In another 15 years, illiteracy and extreme poverty will be mostly gone,” Kristof reported. “After thousands of generations, they are pretty much disappearing on our watch.”
Take that, gloom-and-doomers!
As a witty T-shirt points out, technically, that proverbial glass of water is always 100% full—half is full of water, half is full of air! So look at the bright side—your brain will thank you for it.
I can’t believe how fast this year has gone by. I like the joke about how life is like a roll of toilet paper—the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes!
Of course, everyone’s year is 365 days long. But for a lot of us, it feels like the years go by faster than they used to. Why do you think that is? I recently heard an interesting theory. When you’re in your 70s like I am, each year is only about 1/70th of your life. But when you’re 5 years old, each year is 20 percent of your life! That’s why the years seem to fly by as we age.
Remember when we were young, how we couldn’t wait until the school year was over? It seemed to drag on forever when we were waiting for summer to arrive. These days, at the beginning of each new year, Margie and I say “Just think, pretty soon it will be summer and we’ll be at our cottage in Skaneateles!”—because we know how fast those months will go.
Whether you’re young or old, though, I hope you enjoy every day. Life is a very special occasion. Don’t miss a minute!
Over the past week, those of us living in southern California have had a whole new complication thrown into our busy holiday schedules: wildfires. For me it’s a reminder of the lesson I learned ten years ago, when our long-time family home burned to the ground in the massive Witch Creek fire of 2007. The lesson is this:
What matters in life is who you love and who loves you.
Everything else is just stuff.
Sometimes in our lives—and particularly during the holidays—we get lost in accumulation. We want to buy more things, do more things, see more things—and we get ourselves and our priorities out of whack.
How are you doing so far this month? Are you focusing too much on stuff—such as what you have and what you have to do—and not on the people you love?
It’s not too late to turn that around.
Reach out today and tell the important people in your life how much you love and care for them. Better yet, cozy up around the fire and spend time talking and laughing together. That’s the real spirit of the season.
Having just experienced a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend, I’ve been reflecting on the relationship between thankfulness and stress. Recent research indicates that when you’re stressed out, if you stop and count your blessings and what you are thankful for, your stress will go away. Turns out that you can’t feel stress and be thankful at the same time. I love that!
Let’s keep this idea in mind as we head into the December holiday season. The minute you feel stressed out—shopping and thinking of all the other things you need to do in preparation for the holiday—take a deep breath and think of something you are grateful for.
This reminds me of the lyrics to a wonderful Bing Crosby song we used to sing when I was a kid:
“When I’m worried and I can’t sleep,
I count my blessings instead of sheep,
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.”
Good on you all!