Ask Jan – Coaching Tips for Easy Solutions

Q: I can’t seem to get out of my brain. I am a deep thinker and when something goes wrong in my life I just get stuck spinning around in my head, asking the same question over and over. Usually the question starts with ‘WHY’. What is going on with me?
– Thanks from Brain Stuck in Chicago

A: The image that pops to my mind is of a dog chasing its tail – forever. If you are going to be stuck in the question asking and answer finding phase, accept it. Clearly this is something that your brain does regardless of your intention not to do it. This is a common issue for cognitively-oriented people and problem-solvers who often believe that if they can just determine the cause of a situation, they can ‘fix’ it or ‘avoid’ it in the future.

You can avoid being pulled into the endless circular loop of questioning, however, by choosing what questions to ask. Instead of asking ‘why’ something occurred, ask ‘how’ and ‘what’ questions such as ‘How could I behave differently?’, ‘What is the learning experience here for me?’ and ‘How did I create the impression that this situation was acceptable to me?’ These questions create possibilities for more effective problem solving since they are directed at raising self-awareness and changing your behaviours.

Ask Jan – Coaching Tips for Easy Solutions

Q: I just started a new job and now my workspace at home is completely out of
control. I can’t throw out the old stuff since it has good memories, and let’s face it, I am a pack rat. But I don’t really have room for the new stuff. Any suggestions?
– Piled High in Idaho

A: Dear Piled High, I am hearing that you have attachment issues – that’s right. You are still attached to the old stuff that no longer is of use to you. This is a common situation, and the main reason why storage boxes were created. If you are not ready to get rid of certain things but need more space, try putting the non-essentials into labelled boxes in your closet or basement.

You can even attach a list of the box contents to the outside of each box to help you find things later. This is a great way of getting stuff out of your way, but keeping it available for later use. This also works when getting divorced – you can temporarily avoid ditching the old stuff until you are really ready to let go of it.

Sometimes finding a ‘temporary home’ for the stuff you are attached to but don’t use is a great way of consciously getting the article out of your space but not breaking the attachment fully. After your neighbour has been temporarily using your dresser for 5 years, you won’t have
any desire to get it back. If you have something that still works but you don’t use
anymore, you may just want to find a new home for it – one where it will be used. Your old but still working printer or cell phone will be greatly appreciated at women’s shelters for example.

Getting Organized In the Midst of Chaos

I am living in chaos. That’s right. I am renovating my house. And not just one room – but the whole house, all at once! It feels like camping, which I used to like to do. I am sleeping on an air mattress and since I don’t have any chairs, I squat on top of piled boxes of new flooring to eat my morning cheerios with an unwashed spoon. We are into week 4, and I am still sane – but barely.

Given this, I have spent considerable time in the last month thinking about how to create a manageable ‘Jan’ space amidst the drywall dust and wall-less interior. When renovating, moving or experiencing big environmental changes, creating a ‘safe space’ is vital, even if it is tiny and temporary. So this month, we will explore how to do this – how to bring a tiny bit of order to your life, when chaos tornados about you.

Research has demonstrated that the state of our environment has a big impact on our productivity, and our feelings of wellbeing. Ever wondered why you suddenly must vacuum everything BEFORE you sit down to tackle that deadline? This might not be procrastination. Rather, creating an orderly environment might just be a metaphor for your thinking process. Putting material things in their place is good practice for putting mental things in their place.

Here are a few tips to help you bring order to your world. If you are moving, redecorating, or renovating, a few of these easy strategies might just help you stay sane amidst your chaos.

  1. Think small because size does matter. Don’t try to order the whole space, or you might get overwhelmed. Just focus on the immediate areas which are the most important to you. Draw an imaginary circle around your bed and your desk, for example. Tidy everything within this circle, and exclude the rest. Each time you tidy your area, make the circle a bit bigger.
  2. Got boxes of stuff? Whenever possible, pack stuff in clear containers and bags so that you don’t need to label things. You can just look right into the box without even opening it.
  3. Divide disorganized piles of things into 3 big piles according to their ‘use value’ – things you use everyday, things you use once a week, and everything else. This works especially well for office materials. If you must pile your piles on top of each other, pile the more frequently used things on top of the less frequently used stuff.
  4. Need to get rid of overflow? Try putting stuff that is on its way to the Goodwill into your trunk. You might not have time to drop it off this week, but at least it is out of your way, and on its way out of your life. At times like this, I think of my truck as a giant extra purse!
  5. Got workmen in your house? Feeling invaded? Even the best crew can sometimes drive you crazy. You can ask them to take scheduled break times in a particular area of your house. This will give you a predictable opportunity for 15 minutes of quiet time upstairs.
  6. Driven crazy by constant interruptions about the reno? Schedule a time for others to ask you questions. For example, be available from 8-9, 12-1, and 3-4. Close your door and shut out the chaos during your unavailable times. Even if you are just having a nap behind that closed door, it helps to create boundaries that protect your privacy.
  7. Work from home? Leave whenever you can. Set up shop temporarily at the library, or at a friend’s house.

This is why God made laptops and cell phones.

Celebrating Singledom During February, the Month of Love

Got a Sweetie? If so, then you are probably looking forward to Valentine’s Day. If not, you might consider renaming February 14th – Singles Awareness Day.

Yup, Valentine’s Day is for lovers, and as wonderful as that is, the entire Western world’s 24 hour focus on celebrating that special relationship can feel a bit isolating for even the happiest of singles. Cultural norms play a big part in this.

Although expectations have weakened over the last generation, most of us will still follow (or hope to follow) this common pattern: finish school, find work and focus on career development, connect with a few potential life partners, choose one from our diverse selection, and settle down to raise a family of our own. Sounds easy enough, however finding and staying with the ‘right’ partner can feel overwhelming. And for those of us who are still looking for that special life partner, or feel unsure about our current choice, Valentine’s Day can amp up the pressure and leave us questioning our current state of happiness.

In honour of Valentine’s Day, and out of respect for humanity’s ongoing search for belongingness and unconditional love, this post will look more closely at myths about love and happiness.

Ever thought, “If he/she just loved me more, I would be happy”? Or the reverse, “Without his/her love, I would be absolutely miserable”? Or “I must be on track because he/she thinks I am fantastic”? Admit it. We all have these kinds of thoughts at some point in our lives. We attach our self-worth or state of being to another person’s views of us or their behaviour towards us. This makes sense since this is how as children, we learned to navigate the social world – we judged our self according to the reactions we got. And we were happy when those around us treated us as if we were special.

As adults we have other avenues to happiness that aren’t contingent on the love of others. Research in the field of Positive Psychology suggests that happiness can be achieve  in 3 different ways. The overall happiest people are those who develop each of these areas.

  1. Actively search out pleasure: Embrace your inner hedonist and DO things that you enjoy! Can’t find the time for something you love? Schedule in 15 minutes of fun, 3 times a week. Trust me on this. Once you start having fun again, and feeling happier, you will suddenly find the time for 20 minutes of fun, 4 times a week. Pleasure-seeking is addictive.
  2. Do more of what you do well: Embrace your natural gifts and DO what is easy for you. Doing what comes easily will reduce tension and diminish daily tolerances. It will create a state of ‘flow’ in your life where time passes free of dramas and challenges. Addicted to struggle, even though you claim to hate it? Being in flow means you can put that problem – solving energy towards creating visionary change, rather than just mopping up other’s tragedies.
  3. Spend time with others: Create love by being loving. Love is an internal experience that we create within ourselves. Ever noticed how you might be in a great mood when everyone around you is grumpy, and pretty soon your good mood has rubbed off on them? Love works the same way. Give it to get it. Are you introverted and find that spending time with others leaves you drained and unfocused? Dump the energy vampires. Drop your need to fix things. You don’t need a lot of friends, just a few really good ones will do the trick.

Follow these steps to happiness and by next year, you may

have renamed February 14th Singles Appreciation Day.

Art of the Mini-Vacation

Recently, someone I know recommended practicing the Art of the Mini-Vacation. “What a great idea!” Mini-vacations can happen anywhere, anytime. They can last 10 seconds, 10 minutes, or 10 hours. A weekend mini-vacation lasts 2 days!

So how does that work?

Any time taken away from the rush of your current life, or without the focus on your future life qualifies. Research indicates that high performance athletes take a type of mini-vacation while playing sports. Ever notice how tennis players bounce the ball a few times before serving? They are focusing their concentration, lowering their heart rate, resting muscle tissue, and restoring equilibrium to their bodies. Without a doubt, mini-vacations increase endurance and productivity – by refocusing attention, deeper meaning is brought to the tasks we do right now. For budget-minded, time-crunched vacationers, imagination is key. Here are some fun ways to practice the art of the mini-vacation.

  1. Waiting for the bus? Breathe deeply and feel the air enter and exit your lungs slowly.
  2. Meditate! Meditators have been mini-vacationing for centuries.
  3. Walk with focus. This is easy. Concentrate on how your feet feel against the floor while walking. Be conscious of how you ‘peel’ the soles of your feet up and into the air for the next step. Notice how your balance shifts? Remember to watch where you are walking though!
  4. Find 1 hour for a massage, and pretend you are in another country while being pampered.
  5. Vacuum with calypso music on. Dance while doing the rugs and pretend you are tidying your summer house in the Caribbean. You can add to the mini- vacation by practicing another language at the same time.
  6. Stay over night in a B&B just outside the city. Try things you would never try at home.
  7. Celebrate morning. This is a personal favourite. I snuggle my giant dog before getting out of bed. (Yes – I let him on the bed.)
  8. Put surprise love notes in your kid’s pockets. Just doing it feels great. And they feel special too.