Saturday, April 5, 2008


PRESSURE… It’s one of the main reasons we develop PASTA – pain, anxiety, stress, tension and/or anger – in our lives. If we don’t deal with it, it continues to build. And the more it builds, the more harm it does.

I recently had some first-hand experience with this; I was under a lot of pressure and it was starting to take a toll on my body. Anxiety was making me frenetic; my heart was racing, and my body didn’t quite know what to do next. I was out of sorts, out of focus, faint, bloated, even a little depressed. Fun, right?! I don’t think so.

Since coping with pressure is central to the work I do with clients, I knew I had no excuse… it was time to take action – now!

Here’s what I did to shift gears – without losing any momentum:

Adjust my posture – I had been sitting at my desk for long periods of time in a hunched up, rigid position, leaning forward with my eyes glued to the monitor. (Yes, I know I’m a posture specialist… you’d think I would’ve learned by now! But hey, I’m human.) So I made a decision to check in on my posture and straighten up several times a day. That one step made a surprisingly big difference in how my body felt.

Loosen my clothing – My pants, and sometimes even my shirt, were too tight. My belt was cinched around me like a saddle on a horse, prepared for a long, arduous ride. When I loosened my clothing, I could breathe much easier.

Assess my “intake” patterns – I tend to eat a healthy, nutritionally sound diet (with a healthy dose of cheating), but when I slowed down enough to notice, I realized that I was eating rapidly, on the run, in the car, standing up, late at night just before bed…not the best choices. In my hastiness, I was asking my body to do several things at once, and by the laws of physics, that means we must slow down.

Take control of my internal dialogue – It was running on a steady diet of fear and confusion, and that always leads to dark and scary places. “I’m holding onto control as tightly as possible, trying to keep myself safe.” So I started to ask myself questions: “What’s the big damn hurry?” and ”What are you afraid of?”

Tie up loose ends – I noticed I was not completely finishing communications, which kept them swirling in my mind. They were eating up my energy and attention while I pushed them back into the corner instead of dealing with them. And why was I avoiding them? Because there were underlying fears. The fear of expressing myself. The fear of standing out. The fear of confrontation. It turned out that the biggest piece I needed to communicate was to myself! Once I recognized this, I felt a great sense of relief and got back into the flow of things.

Reach out for support – Being the type to explore alternative healthcare options before a Western medical approach, I called my acupuncturist. We had an in-depth discussion of my symptoms and started a six-week program of acupuncture treatments and Chinese herbs that he developed especially for me and my mind-body system.

It seems that pressure and tension are inevitable parts of being human. Fortunately, we always have options on how to deal with them. If you’re looking for ways to free yourself from the stress of daily life, here are three critical steps:

1) Identify your “stressed-out” symptoms. Where do you feel the tension in your body? How is your breathing? How is your posture? (Contact me for a complete Body Checklist – it’s free.) When you become aware of your physical response to stress, you gain insight and ability to reverse the process.

2) Try out different strategies to relieve stress. Take care of loose ends and incomplete communications. Take better care of your body through nutrition, sleep and exercise. Cut back on caffeine or other stimulants. Use deep breathing to reset your internal experience. And here’s the best one… take a break!

3) Cultivate support. Whether that means calling a friend or family member to blow off steam, finding a workout partner, working with a healthcare professional or calling a coach, get an outside perspective.

If I can support you in balancing out your life and minimizing stress, please feel free to give me a call.

Why You Must Understand the 2 Types of Stress

Stress causes so many problems with people: headaches, lowered morale, hormonal imbalances, cramped posture, shorter attention span, emotional reactions, the list goes on and on.

When I talk with people about managing or minimizing their stress levels, I often hear the same thing over and over again: "I need stress! It helps me perform better in less time. I won't get anything done if I'm not stressed out."

And they're right! To a certain extent, anyway.

In one of my favorite books, The 4-Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss makes a distinction between 2 types of stress (on page 37):

“There are two separate types of stress… Distress refers to harmful stimuli that make you weaker, less confident, and less able. Destructive criticism, abusive bosses, and smashing your face on a curb are examples of this. These are things we want to avoid. Eustress, on the other hand, is a word most of you have probably never heard. Eu-, a Greek prefix for “healthy,” is used in the same sense as euphoria. Role models who push us to exceed our limits, physical training that removes our spare tires, and risks that expand our sphere of comfortable action are all examples of eustress – stress that is healthful and the stimulus for growth.”

Exactly!! Certain types of stress decrease our ability, confidence and strength; certain types of stress increase our ability to perform.

The problem is, ambitious professionals often confuse the two, lumping them into one package. They think their work-related stress is making them step up to a higher level of performance when really it's tearing down their ability to perform.

How can you tell the difference between these two types of stress? Here are a few hints:

Distress triggers tension in the body. The breath gets shorter, muscles tighten up, headaches develop, and there's a sense of being threatened. Time seems scarce. At the end of the day, you feel drained.

Eustress triggers a sense of excitement, eagerness to take on a challenge, even a little adrenaline. Time flies by. At the end of the day, you feel energized and excited.

There are many more indicators of distress and eustress, and many strategies to manage them both. If you'd like to talk about them, please feel free to give me a call.

Remember, here's the main idea:
More success, less stress!

Understanding the Stimulation

For 42 years, I have been a regular coffee drinker. Like most professionals, I really enjoyed the taste, and the shot of adrenaline it gave me: the intensity, the sense of clarity and power and strength.

But in the back of my mind, I always knew these were temporary feelings. I also knew I didn’t like being dependent on a substance for these experiences. Over time I switched to half-caf; then I went to ¾ decaf. But I still submitted to the habit, trance and temporary fix.

One day, about a month ago, I went out for a run and tripped over a rock – and limped home with two cracked ribs. For some reason, in the slowed pace of my recovery, I decided to finally conquer my caffeine habit, once and for all. “I’m done with this,” I said.

Although I did go through three days of headaches – typical for caffeine withdrawal – I was surprised to see that my shift to a caffeine-free life had no effect on my ability to work. In fact, I found that I could focus for a longer period of time now that the hyper-intense feeling was gone. The anxious tightness was replaced with a sense of steady progress, and I wasn’t wasting attention on getting a refill for my coffee cup.

After a month without caffeine, I finally ventured back into the ever-present Starbucks line for an afternoon treat. And you know what? It just wasn’t as good as I remembered… “Why did I drink this all day?”

If you’re considering what life would be like without caffeine or other stimulants like sugar, simple carbs, nicotine or narcotics, here are a few insights for you to consider.

1. Why is it so hard to kick the stimulant/caffeine habit ?....Because it is there for a reason, probably a very good reason. You created quite a while ago and until you find out its purpose, it will be almost impossible to let go.

2. Stimulants are an artificial way to keep running at top speed. When you take them away, you have to be willing to honor your natural rhythm, the ebb and flow of energy that we all experience. One way to ease into this is to 'stop your racing and focus on “efficient pacing” '– the workday pace that keeps you moving and energized, not drained and grasping....... (My upcoming book includes a whole chapter on efficient pacing, but until it comes out, please feel free to call and discuss this with me.)

3. Long-term stimulation habits typically disrupt people’s sleep patterns. Many professionals who run “full tilt” all day have a hard time settling down to sleep at night. That’s partly because they don’t realize that it takes hours for the body to process caffeine. It stays with you longer than you think.

4. Many, many people use caffeine and other stimulants because they’re afraid of being lazy. Have you ever heard yourself saying, “If I’m not under pressure, it won’t get done”? Or, “I work better under stress and duress.” We create stress in our lives and fuel ourselves with caffeine and run around like panting puppies – all because we believe we can’t accomplish as much any other way. (Psst… here’s a hint: it ain’t true!)

I encourage you to start paying attention to your caffeine intake (or your use of other stimulants). Just notice the pattern – how and when you reach for it. After you observe it for a while, start asking yourself how much stimulation is really necessary and how much you consume out of habit.

Whether you decide to kick a habit or not up to you… but make it a conscious decision to methodically understand its purpose first,not a trance-like operation.

Break the Trance with Jiminy Cricket

Most people tend to wander through life, chasing white rabbits down into the abyss of Wonderland. Fortunately, at some point we "awaken" and realize that we have been off-track, in a trance, led astray into fantasyland where we can avoid or get away from some task or idea, even boredom.

I believe we spend a good part of our lives in a trance -- not really paying attention, not making conscious choices, just going along with the flow of daily life and impulses. So, I decided to start looking at the nature of my trances, how and when they start. How do we identify that we are even in one? And how do we navigate out of a trance?

1. Recognize the signs of your trance. Write down five to ten concrete and specific behavioral, emotional and/or intellectual patterns that indicate that you are in your trance. (I.e. wasting time; daydreaming; choosing the path of least resistance) Also list the principle process or ways by which your trance kicks into gear – i.e. what triggers it.

2. Write down the benefits and limitations (or dangers) of being in your trance. What is there for you? What is it trying to tell me?

3. List the potential benefits of avoiding or shortening your trances.

4. List ways to pull yourself out of the trance state -- at least momentarily.

5. Create a symbol or reminder to check in with yourself and see if you're in a trance. It could be visual (a color, number, faces, scenery, images, etc.), auditory (a song, a noise, a voice, etc.), or sensual (a physical sensation that reminds you to check for a trance state).

One’s imagination can be very powerful. Create an imaginary friend/ally in your consciousness who will operate whenever you ask it to (like Jiminy Cricket* on your shoulder), reminding you to be in your body, centered and present.

* Jiminy Cricket is a fictional character who first appeared in the 1940 Walt Disney animated film Pinocchio. He was appointed by the Blue Fairy to serve as the official conscience for Pinocchio. He is also a comical and wise partner who accompanies Pinocchio on his adventures.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Welcome to "Breaking the Trance"

Hello, and welcome to my blog!

As part of my ongoing commitment to support ambitious professionals, I will be posting regular insights on how to optimize our personal and professional lives.

In “Breaking the Trance”, you'll find short, informative entries to ponder, valuable resources, wonderful quotes to reflect on and more.

Thank you for visiting, and please feel free to leave a comment.

Warmest regards,
Dave Brown Balance Coach for Ambitious Professionals