Running on Empty

Have you rushed into this new year to find yourself already running on empty? Here’s a gentle nudge to be mindful of your own need for renewal.

By Andrea Chilcote

I had one of those early morning dream states in which I was already up and at my desk. The last two hours were not real sleep, and served as an omen for the day ahead.

When I reached for the half-and-half (yes, it’s as much my habit as the coffee), it was low. So low, I would have to conserve if I were to have second cup. Running on empty.

Things proceeded as planned, though with a definite layer of unexamined stress surrounding my activities. “What is this?”

I put the thought (feeling?) to the side and carried on. A glance at a friend’s Facebook post revealed a challenge. “What is one thing you will do to renew yourself today?” I had no response. Struggled with it for 30 seconds then moved on to my next task. Yes, I know I could have saved time by not being seduced by Facebook. I was not there long.

Task, task, task. One foot in front of the other. Suddenly, the time to leave for a meeting grew near. As I began a print for a document I needed, I considered the paper level. Running on empty. The printer ran out before the last two pages printed. Empty all the way.

I filled it and stowed my document.

A few other minor annoyances arose, and when I reached my car I had no room for error.

Out of gas. Empty. (Oh not really, because I had enough to get to a station. Just running on empty).

I stopped to fill the tank, and made arrangements to call my client from the car if needed.

The afternoon proceeded generally as planned. The stress seemed to dissipate, yet something was still off when I arrived home.

The dogs were waiting for me, and very vocal about my arrival. Oh yes, they love me but they were hungry. And thirsty. Whisper pointed out the fact that the bowl contained only about an inch of water. (Mind you, if there was an inch, they were hydrated). When I went to fill the bowls, even the water tank was low and I had to replace that. Low, not empty.

In loving memory of Whisper. “It was a beautiful life for a most beautiful girl.”

Andrea and Whisper —Cambria, CA 2017

What do you do when your tank is low? Do you let it run dry? Do you replenish it at the last moment like I did today?

Perhaps the most important question – for me and for you – is my friend’s Facebook challenge: “What is one thing you will do to renew yourself today?”

I will answer that tomorrow morning, and I know it will transform my day.


This article was originally posted in October 2014, when Andrea was blogging for The Spirited Woman.

Rushed

Although Andrea originally wrote this blog during her July 2014 vacation, we think now is a great time to slow down, and practice deliberate assessment of our need for speed as we dash into the holiday flurry!

by Andrea Chilcote

I’ve been rushing a lot lately, even when there’s been no compelling need to. Given that I’ve spent 10 of the last 14 days on vacation, rushing might just be a bad habit.

When I looked up the synonyms for “rush,” I found many words that describe my demeanor. While I can’t say I’ve used all of these words, they sure describe many of my actions: hurry, dash, run, race, sprint, bolt, dart, fly, speed, zoom, scurry, scuttle, scamper, hasten, tear, belt, pelt, scoot, zip, hotfoot it, hightail it

This “problem” came into my awareness precisely because I was on vacation. From the first day, I questioned why I still felt stress, even though I was supposedly free to relax and enjoy. The very first thing I noticed was my language.

“I’ll hurry and shower (or eat, dress, pack – fill in the blank).”

“Let’s dash over there.”

“Speed up!

And I noticed other’s responses:

“There’s no hurry Andrea. Enjoy your lunch.”

“Take your time.”

“Relax. What’s the rush?”

But… did they mean it? Seriously, it’s easy for others to say “relax,” until my pace encroaches on their expectations. Did it?

Analyzing further, I realized that of late I have two speeds, high and off. Off is usually reserved for sleep. High is for everything else, and not everything requires that amount of energy expenditure. And, it sure depletes the enjoyment of simple pleasures.

Have you also experienced this? If you have a habit of pedal-to-the-metal and jackrabbit starts (and I’m not just talking about driving), what are the costs? Are you, like me, burning precious fuel?

Yesterday I began a deliberate practice of assessing my need for speed. In the last 24 hours, I have had more productive conversations and more presence. I’ve enjoyed small rewards from a slower pace, and I’m sure breathing more freely. (Oh, and I’ve still gotten a ton done).

Andrea and Whisper —Cambria, CA 2017

It’s a bit bittersweet that I didn’t embrace this lesson a week ago, while the ocean breezes blew. But I can wait for another vacation, or I can consciously embrace a variable speed commensurate with what’s required. It sounds inviting – I’ll let you know how it goes.

[Rushed originally written July 17, 2014]

Relating to Ourselves: The Need for Renewal – Part II

by Andrea Chilcote

Does the full swing of this New Year 2017 already have you feeling fatigued? Here’s Part II of Andrea’s re-blog, Relating to Ourselves: The Need for Renewal, a timely nudge towards remembering to honor our needs for rest and renewal.

Andrea Chilcote

Recently, I led a workshop with a team of people who are driven, dedicated — and stretched thin. I began our work with two questions: “How do you feel right now?” and “What do you need?”

Almost everyone replied with some version of the following: “I feel very tired, and I need rest and rejuvenation.” As they spoke, I secretly related. It had been a long and exhausting week for me as well, and I was looking forward to a weekend of play with friends who were visiting us, a rare three-day respite from the demands of life.

Even as I pushed forward that day, I realized that I was fatigued, and in need of a good night’s sleep. But there was more. I felt a longing for connection with people who enjoy and value the things I do. I wanted to be outdoors, enjoying the wonderland that is my desert in March. And I longed to be with my loving and goofy dogs, a pack that now includes a foster Husky. For me, rest can be active. It’s a time when I can turn off the noise of my mind and focus on the experience at hand — an enjoyable one.

How do you feel right now? What do you need? Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and feel the answers to the questions. Do you feel stress or fatigue? Do you have a longing for some enjoyable experience that has been missing from your life?

If you have no shortage of things to do, it may seem as if there’s no time for “me” time, rest time or play time. It is, of course, a matter of prioritization. If you’re telling yourself a story about how you can’t possibly do the thing you long to do, consider the cost of depriving yourself. Recreation is defined as “refreshment of health or spirits by relaxation and enjoyment.”

Andrea Chilcote

Rest and recreation does not have to take a long time or cost a lot of money. Many years ago, I regularly dreamed about fun activities with friends during particularly stressful times. While I couldn’t call upon those dreams at will, they conveyed a valuable message that I was working too much and playing too little. Life coach Martha Beck offers practical advice for adding more laughter, play and connection to your life in her book The Joy Diet. Intentional Resting’s Dan Howard promotes active resting and teaches simple tools for calling upon a restful state in the midst of everyday activities.

This past weekend, I played hard and laughed heartily. We took long hikes, enjoyed fine food and wine, and howled with the Husky dogs. I’m rejuvenated and ready to meet the challenges life has in store this week. And, the people around me will benefit from my more relaxed state of being.

What do you need to rest and recharge in a positive way? Whether you have three days, three hours or three minutes – take action – and enjoy the rewards.

Part One: Relating to OurSelves – Putting Self First – read

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Stress Test

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by Andrea Chilcote

 

The following is a recount of an event that took place over a year ago. It seems like an appropriate message as this week closes.

Every now and then, I get a simple stress test. I had one last night.

It was 1:45 a.m., late enough that I was finally in a dream state, yet sufficiently early enough to not be disturbed by thoughts of unfinished to-do’s or the bottle of water I finished before bed. Delicious, deep sleep.

Then suddenly – lights, pulsing beeps, and a repeated, recorded announcement: “Proceed to an exit. Leave the building now.”

I sat up in my hotel bed and looked around. No smoke, no smell. For a brief moment I considered ignoring the warning – a misguided, sleep-induced idea of course – and then I heard doors opening and closing in the hall. I would join the others who must be more aware of what was happening than me.

What to wear? What to take?

I located a sweater and pulled it on over my pajama top, more for decency than warmth. Next I found my room key (didn’t they always say to take your key in the event of a fire?) and my phone, and exited, joining many other guests on the parking lot. I was on the first floor, so my trip to a side door exit was a short one.

Understandably, no one spoke to one another. We all found separate places to stand or sit. I chose a corner curb, but not after envying many who had brought along their rental car keys and entered their cars, making a nap a possibility.

Why had I not brought my car keys? And my wallet? I briefly considered the hassle of having my wallet burned in the potential fire, a scenario that seemed unlikely given that there were no signs of anything amiss. It was a lovely evening – quiet and warm – and a catastrophe was not in the offing.

About the time the sirens came roaring in, I was becoming annoyed. Who or what caused this interruption of my sleep? As I often do when things outside my control create stress, I had a conversation with myself. “You’re only making it worse. It is what it is. You’ll surely get some sleep before the alarm goes off.” And perhaps the most significant advice I had for myself: “Look around you. No one else is getting agitated. Just chill.”

“Why,” I wondered, “do I still sweat the small stuff?”

Soon enough, an official fire department vehicle drove through the parking lot, telling us it was safe to return to our rooms. While I wanted to know what had happened, sleep was more compelling.

Back in bed, I struggled to relax, stressed over the fact that my own alarm was set to go off in just a few hours.

At about 3 a.m., once I had finally gone back to sleep, the event repeated itself. This time I dressed, and took my wallet and car key. I would have gone immediately to my car had I not been stopped mid-trip by other guests returning at the advice of the staff. The alarms were quieted. I went back to bed again.

I’m guessing I got 90 minutes of sleep after that, for a total of four or five hours. It was certainly not a crisis, and I knew I would be able to (and did) function just fine the next day.

Why do I let these irritating yet small things annoy me?

When I checked out of the hotel this morning, the front desk manager was apologizing profusely to the man in front of me. “No problem,” he said with a smile. “It happens.”

I relaxed and tried to model this man’s equanimity. While I probably fooled the manager, I still felt annoyed.

Many hours later, I’ve let it go – of course. What I haven’t (completely) let go of is the question of why I compound stress by worrying about that which is out of my control.

Do you ever waste precious time and energy thinking and feeling violated by unintentional inconveniences? I do, too often. I’m going to memorize and practice the other guest’s line: “No problem – it happens.” I’ll let you know how it goes.

The Difference Dilemma

Andrea Chilcote, Erik's HopeWe all know the value of different perspectives and different styles, whether we’re seeking counsel from a close friend or are in need of fresh approaches to problem-solving.

You’ve probably experienced the difficulty that different styles, preferences or personalities can cause, even in the most solid of relationships.

One of my trusted and valued colleagues has a very different thinking and communication style than mine. And, our differences are what I value most about her. I couldn’t (and wouldn’t want to) do the detailed, precise and consistent work she does. And my guess is that she wouldn’t want to live in my world of ambiguity and constant change. The quality that comes from our collaboration depends upon both of our unique strengths. Sounds like paradise, right?

The trouble with stylistic differences is that we all not only have distinct modes of behavior, but we also have unique and often unconscious needs for how others behave in relation to us. When these needs go unmet, or we experience inputs counter to our needs, we risk a phenomenon called “stress behavior.”

I wrote about stress behavior in my post last year, when my “buttons” were being pushed by changes imposed on me. (I love change, but I’ll initiate it myself, thank you very much). This week, my buttons got triggered by a different need, one that followed my inability to respond appropriately to the colleague mentioned here. It was the perfect recipe for an ongoing downward spiral, something that, according to the Urban Dictionary, starts out bad and just gets worse and worse.

My colleague, whom I’ll call Julia, was experiencing a frustrating situation, one that had been lingering too long. She needed my help. My natural reflex is to approach issues in a pragmatic, objective manner. When faced with a problem, I have a bias for action – action to solve the problem. Many people – some of you as well as Julia – have a need to be heard and understood before accepting help. If you’re more like me and that sounds foreign to you, just consider someone in your own life who has that need. Chances are, you’ve offered well meaning (and sound) advice, and yet have found that the other person only seemed to escalate her feelings. To you, perhaps, she seemed unable to detach from the problem long enough to find a logical solution.

In our situation, my unwillingness to acknowledge Julia’s reality only caused the situation to worsen. My stress behavior ignited her stress behavior, and very quickly we were speaking different languages. Hers was to convey detailed accounts of the problem (which I actually needed to understand) and mine was to blow through the details in an effort to make forward progress.

Fortunately, our mutual respect prevailed that day and we got back in sync quickly. But the lesson was loud and clear. The only path to effective collaboration of any kind is awareness and acknowledgment of one another’s needs. Those seemingly subtle needs that arise from personality or style have a loud voice under stress.

You don’t have to be an expert in human behavior to put this lesson into practice. You only have to be willing to stop, observe and respond. When you find yourself at an impasse, there’s a simple way to break the logjam. Listen … acknowledge … align. Then, state what you need. Don’t be surprised when you get it.


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

You Just Have to Laugh

Andrea Chilcote

This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. Enjoy it!


by Andrea Chilcote

It’s week five of a five-week travel run. While travel is a necessary part of the wonderful work I get to do, I treasure time at home, off the road.

As with many situations in life, it’s the little things that cause stress during business travel. And, as is true in most circumstances, one’s attitude determines the degree of angst. This fifth week, I decided you just have to laugh.

I’ll admit that laughing at things that aren’t obviously funny is not my usual behavior. In fact, I have to consciously relax into finding humor. And deciding to do just that was the source of this week’s lesson.

I’m not even going to recount the not quite funny situations I laughed at. They’re boring, except perhaps to fellow road warriors who might show some empathy for my car debacles, road construction or customer service breeches.

What I want you to know is that I learned (or once again realized), one of the mechanisms through which our thoughts create our reality: our thoughts, feelings and behavior are contagious.

By laughing, or at least smiling, through minor annoyances (those I couldn’t change with demands or aggression even if I had wanted to), others around me smiled too. I struck up conversations, complimented people and brightened days. And I felt calm and relaxed – surely a boost to my work and the equivalent of an extra hour or so of sleep.

Some of you are masters of this technique of bringing lightness to stressors. I have always envied you. This week I learned it’s as easy as a lighthearted laugh.

My Connection Timed Out

woman-frazzledby Andrea Chilcote

Last spring, I blogged about how confounding technology difficulties were metaphors for life. In keeping with my theme this new year, I am sharing about how my connection timed out – another prompt for self-care. Are you taking time to “smell the roses” before your connection times out?

April 2013—This week we have seen the perfect storm in our three-person office. Two new computers with Windows 8 (I liken that to learning an ancient foreign language if you have not yet experienced it), an ill-fated email server conversion, an “upgrade” by our internet service provider — and much to do that is dependent on technology. I won’t mention the common printer jams and such (oh, I guess I just did).

“Your settings are not holding.”

“We are experiencing password failures.”

“Access denied. You do not have administrative privileges.”

“Your connection has timed out.”

I came to wonder if the confounding pre-programmed messages from our technology providers were nothing more than metaphors for life. And then I got the one-day flu.

That’s not a joke. This week I managed to squeeze into 24 hours, chills, fever, severe body aches and even a cough. It came and then it vanished. I know that’s odd, but it’s what happened. The message was confirmed — my connection had timed out.

I often advocate self-care. It’s usually a reminder to myself as much as it is a message for you. Lately, I have been tipping the scales in the wrong direction, and I got a warning sign. Fortunately my psyche as well as my immune system were aligned and I received just that — a warning.

The minor annoyances of life and work can conspire to produce real stress. Yet when we lose touch with the reality of what they really are (annoyances), and connect with them in a way that allows them to expand into something they’re not (real problems), life has a way of re-setting the controls.

Today I learned of a friend who lost her beloved mother. She wrote that when life became a whirlwind for her, her mom encouraged her to “stop and smell the roses.” That was good advice.

If your connection with things beyond your control has “timed-out,” take a breath and consider what’s worth your precious energy. Connect with someone you love, with nature, with art, music or any passion you hold. It will give you the stamina to deal with those computer messages, and it just might prevent the flu.

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The post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger.