Look what the tree in my side yard decided to do. It’s a miracle after a long winter. As a speaker who helps groups stop burnout and who shares stories of my therapy dog, Bella, and her amazing work, I was thinking who needs words when there is something like this tree bursting into pink blossoms? Take a moment today to notice what this new season has to offer.
I was reading an article by Paula Davis Laack–a leader in the stop burnout world–and she suggested a number of quick ways to work on managing stress while at work–while under pressure. So instead of telling you her ideas or mine, (but here’s the link if you want to read them for yourself: https://www.pauladavislaack.com/ and click on “Get Strong Now”), I thought it would be fun to see what ideas you have.
What you can do today no matter what you’re juggling? Can you take ten deep breaths on the way to the rest room? Can you close your eyes and quiet your mind before you eat lunch? What works for you? For those of you who have attended my stop burnout talk, remember the power of gratitude. Is there a problem you’re struggling with that you can look at differently, realizing that it’s also an opportunity?
Lastly, remember that stress is a motivator. It’s also a good part of being alive, often bringing out our best efforts. So watch what you tell yourself. Instead of repeating, “Oh, I ‘m so stressed out,” try replacing that with “I’ve got some challenges that are taking me to interesting places.” Is that too corny?
Yes, I know it’s really fun to complain, so you can give yourself some of that too, just don’t let it become a habit. Please share your ideas. I know they’ll be a gift to others.
P.S. It’s gray and rainy here in the Northeast so I’m thinking tulips!
Here are snow drops, bravely blooming on this last day of February in Connecticut. My mother always looked for them and for skunk cabbage in the marshes just when winter seemed to be lasting forever. They were a sure sign that spring was on its way, even though there might still be snow on the ground.
This got me thinking about change, and what winter things I might want to do before the real spring arrives. So instead of just waiting for spring, I thought it would be interesting to see how to say goodbye to winter. Let’s look at two categories:
Girl stuff: girls like to clean out closets, reorganize drawers, get junk out of the basement, have a clear inventory of what they have, and in small ways and large, create order out of chaos. Time Magazine, in the February 27th/March 6th issue, has a wonderful article by Scott Sonenshein on “How to create more from what you already have.” As he writes: “the science of stretching offers an effective, more fulfilling alternative that invigorates us to do more without needing more.” And he adds at the end of the article: “You already have everything you need to succeed. Just stretch.”
That is exciting. It’s like yoga for the mind. It taps into our creativity, and the fun of improvising. Okay, now on to the boy stuff: boys often like to build things, fix things, figure out how things work, split wood, make noise, make a mess, be outdoors. And of course many girls like these things too, just as many boys may be really good at cooking, cleaning, organizing.
Think of one thing you can do today that helps you say goodbye to winter. It might be doing something that you won’t want to do once the weather is nice outside. It could be giving yourself time to look at the seed catalogs and start planning your garden. Or it might be seeing what kind of soup you can make with what you already have in your kitchen. Just like the brave snowdrops that make me smile every time I see them, find something that gives you the same kind of lift as a warm, spring day.
Henry (our cat) and Bella (our dog) know how to enjoy the perfect day when outside winds are howling and the snow is drifting against the house. A good lesson, don’t you think? No stress or burnout!
Well, maybe nothing, but here’s a fun idea for mid-February. Join the Random Acts of Kindness Campaign: https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/rakweekpartners. Take a look at this video and sign up.
Oh, and what does this have to do with my usual topic, how to stop burnout? Give this a try and you’ll find the answer.
Many years ago, my mother gave me a wonderful book: “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path of Higher Creativity,” by Julia Cameron. Or, if I were writing the subtitle: “A way to find your best self.” It’s a workbook, filled with quotes, exercises, case studies and really good advice on nurturing our creative and true selves. Here’s something from the book that I forgot about, but am going to do today:
Go on “an artist’s date.” This means treat yourself to something you really would like to do, whether that’s quiet time at Starbucks or a walk in the park after work, or whatever calls to you. I’m going to my local bookstore. There’s a really comfortable couch there and I’m going to take off my jacket, look at books, pick up a pile that look interesting, and then sit on the couch and give myself time to browse through them. Just that.
I’m not going to rush. I have no “to do” list. I’m not doing research for a project. I might look at children’s books. Or novels. It doesn’t matter. Why are these dates important? And how might they cure our winter blues?
- We give ourselves credit for getting things done, but see if you can detach from that as these dates feed us, balance that activity with things that restore our energy
- We need solitude and time–quiet, uninterrupted time that is just for ourselves
- Julia writes about how we try to wiggle out of these dates–something is always more important–but her point, as I understand it is, build this habit and your life will be rewarding
- Get over the guilt of being nice to yourself and treat yourself as you’d treat a good friend
- Anytime we invest in ourselves, we feel better, stronger, see things in a more positive light
Here in New England there’s snow on the ground, but the days are getting longer. The sun feels a bit brighter. What could you do for yourself today that would be gift to yourself? I’ll be at the book store.
I know it’s a strange idea to think of the thing we try so hard to avoid, as a force that might help us. But over and over, in my work helping groups stop burnout and get re-energized, I’ve seen how burnout has helped people. It’s made them change. It’s clarified what’s important to them. It’s set them on a new course.
My past year has been full of activities surrounding the publication of my third book: “Joy Unleashed: The Story of Bella, the Unlikely Therapy Dog.” In fact, I’m speaking more now about the book than I am about burnout. At first I felt upset that my work had shifted. But now I see that my dog’s wonderful work comforting others, has deepened my understanding of why it’s so important to not let burnout eclipse our gifts. So, yes, burnout can be a friend, as long as it’s a friend you pay attention to. As long as you don’t get stuck.
Here are the key lessons I’ve learned about self-care from my energetic (that’s the nice word for “crazy”) working dog:
- Surprise yourself. Sit when you’d stand, stop when you’d go. Mix it up.
- Ask questions and the answers will come
- Small shifts lead to big changes
- Help comes from surprising places: a child, a dog, a stranger
- Pay attention
- Give thanks even when you don’t feel like it
- Grow in curiosity and giving back
- Travel light–see what you can get rid of and see how that makes you feel
- Cast off resentment–it just gets in the way
- Don’t be afraid of uncertainty or emptiness: wait, sing, a path will open.
Not bad lessons from a dog! Be brave and share your thoughts. That will help all of us have the best year ever.
Part of the magic of having a therapy dog and visiting rehab facilities, is that you never know what will happen. Just last week, Bella and I went into Martha’s room, as we have every Wednesday for the past year, and she was clearly in a mood. First she announced that Bella was “selfish” because she backed away from her. I said something diplomatic like, “That’s just Bella, Martha. I’m sure she likes you.”
Then she glared at me and said, “That dog has the wrong name!” Now both Bella and I were thinking of backing up. I didn’t want to encourage this line of thinking so simply waited to see what she’d say next. In a burst of energy from this petite ninety-year old, she announced: “Her name is Donald Trump!”
“What?” I said. “No way!” Then quickly realized I was in Alice in Wonderland territory and shouldn’t argue.
“So nice to see you, Martha,” I added before I could be told why my sweet dog had this new and inappropriate name. “We’ll see you next week.”
Martha shook her head, a dismissal. It’s Wednesday tomorrow and I’m wondering what will happen? Will she be the gracious Southern Belle who loves giving Bella treats, or will we be branded with a new name? I’ve learned from this wonderful dog, to take it all in stride. And like her, to simply show up, take the treats, and let go of what happens. To practice kindness. And that, by the way, is my wish for our country in this new year.
(photo of Trump courtesy of Getty)
My dog, Bella, was given a toy snowman for Christmas by the students at a local middle school where Bella is a regular visitor to the classroom. This is her favorite assignment as a therapy dog. Once the kids gave it to her, she swiftly began dismembering it and we sang a new version of the “Frozen” song: “Would you like to eat a snowman?”
Now that the holidays are over, we have bits of the stuffing on the rug, a carrot nose under the couch, and a toy that now looks like many of us feel after the holidays. Deflated. But if you could see Bella’s joy as she ripped the toy apart, the concentration and pleasure as she extracted the stuffing from its belly, you’d laugh and maybe agree with me that this phase is okay too. The preparation is done, the guests have gone home, the tree is shedding its needles, and today it’s overcast and gray. Bella doesn’t mind. She thinks it’s the perfect time for a nap, until she can find another toy to destroy.
Yes, I know, everyone has advice about resolutions, getting fit, eating better, reducing stress and so on. But my suggestion is different and it’s simply to step outside of your normal schedule and try something new. Just last week I added a spinning class and I wasn’t sure I’d make it back to my car. My legs felt like rubber! But the fun thing is that I felt energized by it, and yes, I’ve gone back.
What could you do and why would you do it? See what calls to you. Is it something related to music, or is it an idea that you’ve had for a while but haven’t done anything about? It could be as simple as trying a new recipe, taking a different road on the way home from work, visiting a neighbor. Why do these small steps matter? I don’t really know the answer except that for me, new things are energizing. They add sparkle to life. I read once that when we’re on a path that we haven’t taken, that we tap into an ancient response that makes us more aware and alive. So don’t make resolutions that feel like one more thing you don’t want to do, but instead shake it up. Have fun! You might surprise yourself.
(Image courtesy of Inc.com)