Your Most Important Resolution for 2015
Strategies to manage stress
There is no shortage of advisor on how to reduce stress. One example is this article on stress management that identified six broad strategies to manage stress:
Avoid unnecessary stress:
To the extent possible, learn to say no, avoid people who stress you out and avoid topics that create stress. One simple strategy to reduce stress is to take one leading psychologist’s advice, mute the ping on your phone that shows a new email and get into the habit of checking emails only once every 90 minutes.
Alter the source of stress:
Express your feelings, be open to compromise and manage your time better to focus on priorities.
Adapt to the source of stress:
Reframe problems, look at the big picture and focus on the positive.
Accept things you can’t change:
Rather than fuming, look for the upside and share your feelings with your spouse or a close friend.
Make time for fun and relaxation:
Do something every day that you enjoy, keep your sense of humor and focus on connecting with friends. (Research shows that relationships are a key source of happiness.)
Improve your lifestyle:
We all know the prescriptions for a healthier lifestyle – focus on exercise, diet and getting enough sleep. To that list should be added reducing sugar and caffeine and ensuring that alcohol is consumed in moderation.
If you’re serious about reducing stress, then consider incorporating two or three changes off this list into your routine.
Adding meditation to your routine
There’s one other stress reduction strategy that you could add to this list – and that’s taking 15 to 30 minutes a day to practice meditation. For reasons that we don’t entirely understand, meditation has a positive impact on how the brain functions – a recent Harvard study found that after only eight weeks a clinical trial found that daily meditation had led to a transformation in the brain structure.
Some advisors might associate meditation with touchy feely actors and pop singers. But meditation is not limited to those professions – an article on CEOs who meditate includes Newscorp’s Rupert Maxwell, Salesforce founder Marc Benioff, Medtronics CEO and current Harvard Business School professor Bill George and Oprah Winfrey.
As you think about changes in your routine for 2015, consider whether a short daily period of meditation should be on your list. There are lots of books and online resources on meditation techniques. Below is one site’s advice for people starting to meditate.
Counting you breath
Whether you sit on a chair or cross-legged on the floor, make sure that your spine is upright with head up. To straighten up, imagine that your head is touching the sky.
Try and keep your eyes open. Open eyes allow you to be more present. Just lower your eyes and let your gaze be soft.
In ordinary consciousness we are hardly ever present. For example, sometimes we drive the car on autopilot while being preoccupied with thoughts. Suddenly we arrive at our destination and don’t remember anything about the drive! In ordinary life, we tend to equate focus with concentration. That’s like using the mind like a concentrated beam of light. But in meditation, that kind of mind isn’t helpful. It’s too sharp and edgy. To focus in meditation means to pay soft attention to whatever you place in the centre of awareness. Paying attention to the breath is a great way to anchor yourself in the present moment. Notice your breath streaming in and out. There’s no need to regulate the breath – just let it be natural.
If you are having difficulties settling, you can try counting the breath – which is an ancient meditation practice. On your outbreath, silently count “one”, then “two”, and up to “four.” Then return to “one.” Whenever you notice your thoughts have strayed far away or you find yourself counting “thirtythree,” simply return to “one.” In this way, “one” is like coming home to the present moment. It’s good to return without a backward glance.
When you notice thoughts, gently let them go by returning your focus to the breath. Don’t try and stop thoughts; this will just make you feel agitated. Imagine that they are unwelcome visitors at your door: acknowledge their presence and politely ask them to leave. Then shine the soft light of your attention on your breath.
It’s difficult to settle into meditation if you are struggling with strong emotions. The way to deal with strong emotions in meditation is to focus on the body feelings that accompany the emotion. For example, this could be the tight band of fear around the chest or the hot roiling of anger in the belly. Let go of the stories and refocus on your body.
Silence is healing. I know that there are is a lot of ‘meditation music’ around, but nothing beats simple silence. Otherwise the music or sounds on the tape just drown out the chatter in your mind. When we sit in silence we actually get to experience what our mind is doing.
Start with 10 minutes and only sit longer if you feel that that is too short. Don’t force yourself to meditate longer if you are not ready to do that. In time you might like to extend your meditation to 25 minutes. That’s a length that allows you to settle your mind without causing too much stress on your body. Most importantly, shrug off any ‘shoulds.’ Some people enjoy sitting for an hour at a time. Others find that they can’t sit longer than 10 minutes. Do what feels right for you!
Create a special place to sit. You might like to place a candle in front of you and objects that have meaning to you
Most of all it’s important to enjoy meditation. You might like to try sitting with a hint of a smile. Be kind to yourself. Start sitting just a little each day. It’s helpful to establish a daily habit.
Dan Richards conducts programs to help advisors gain and retain clients and is an award winning faculty member in the MBA program at the University of Toronto. To see more of his written commentaries, go to www.danrichards.com or here for his videos.