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12 ways to beat workplace stress

Originally posted March 20, 2014 by Dan Cook on https://www.benefitspro.com

Work life today is hectic, to an extent that might have been hard to imagine just a generation ago. Stress levels are through the roof, and many workers struggle to stay engaged, let alone productive.

Author, lecturer and motivation coach Andy Core addresses these issues in his new book, “Change Your Day, Not Your Life,” offering advice on how to move from “striver” to “thriver.”

“To start reclaiming the goals that once inspired and excited you, you’ll have to change the way you approach your day,” he says. “Instead of a worker whose actions are dictated by supervisors and to-do lists, you’ll need to begin acting like the CEO of your own life.”

To get there, Core offers a 12-step Inner CEO program. (Yes, you can still drink on this 12-step path.)

1. Figure out what’s doable in a day.

To Core, it’s all about balance, not focusing in laser-like fashion on one or two goals or trying to get 50 different thing done with no focus at all. Working with a client he calls “Janet” whose life was way out of balance, he told her to start by trying to change what she set out to do one day at a time.

“Janet was disappointed when I told her that changing her life was just too hard. But I explained that turning your whole life around is too big a goal. I simply wanted her to change her day. Our whole strategy was to make small, doable changes that would, over time, create an unstoppable momentum.

“You must do the same. You must set realistic boundaries. You must create goals that can be accomplished in the space of a day. Remember, nearly all problems, challenges, and needs are best faced if they are brought down to the scale of ‘what can be done right now’ by taking on ‘one small piece’ of a difficult situation.”

2. Get big things done before 9 a.m.

Impossible, you may think. My third latte hasn’t even kicked in! But Core insists that any normal person can put several achievement notches on their gun belt before the dreaded staff meeting.

“Ever notice how your morning sets the tone for your whole day? If you get a groggy, frustrating start, you’ll probably feel sluggish and behind the eight-ball all day long. However, if you start your day with positive and productive ideas, actions, thoughts, and feelings, you’re likely to gain momentum throughout the day.”

This time he cites “Barry,” a real early bird who gets the worms. His “daily pattern involves getting up early, exercising, eating breakfast, spending time with family, and accomplishing several meetings or other work activities before 9 a.m.  The point here isn’t how early Barry’s alarm rings — it’s that he makes the most of the first several hours of his day instead of snoozing and procrastinating, as so many of us do. The truth is this: What you do first matters.”

3. DO first, then KNOW (not the other way around).

Core is one of those folks who believes that, once you put on your running shorts and shoes, you will get your butt out the door at 6 a.m., regardless the weather. Thinking about how something would be good for you doesn’t help. Thinking about how good it was for you after the jog — now that’s using your noggin!

“Most people believe that the knowledge that something is important should make you want to do it,” he said. “But in reality, that’s not the case. Study after study shows that knowledge alone usually isn’t enough to impact our desires. In fact, the opposite is true. First, you must do something — like bite the bullet and put on your workout clothes! If you experience positive feelings, attitudes, and results because of your action, you will learn that whatever you just did is good, and you’ll want to do it again, and again and again. Over time, you’ll develop a new habit, and you’ll become an evolved person.

“In other words, you must do in order to know in order to be different. Remember, nothing in your life gets better until your daily patterns get better.”

4. Own up to your junk hours.

“Junk hours” are those minutes we spend doing nothing to avoid doing something, Core says. You know them: checking your stock portfolio four times a day. Reliving the big game’s highlights with your cubicle buddy. Checking out the latest fashion posts on Pinterest. And on and on.

“In order to maximize each day, you need to own up to your junk hours,” he says. “You need to identify when you’re going through the motions of work, versus when real work is being done. Don’t be ashamed that your junk hours exist, because everybody needs to take breaks and shift gears. Your task now is to exchange your low-value ‘junk’ activities for ones that build greater health and value into your workday.”

5. Instead of adding to your to-do list, build a new pattern.

Make tough, priority-driven decisions, not longer check lists. That’s what this is about. Decide what matters to you in your life today, and build steps to pursue those goals.

“To build a productive new pattern into your life, you usually won’t have to add new tasks to your day. Instead, you’ll simply do what you are already doing, or want to do, in a way that becomes habitual,” he advises. “For instance, if you want to wake up an hour earlier so that you can jump-start the day, you simply have to change the time your alarm rings and the time you go to bed. It isn’t sufficient to simply trigger the start of a new behavior. You need to make sure that you have a motivating reason to make this change, as well as the confidence and energy to sustain it so that it becomes a pattern.”

6. Start with one thing. Then add another. Then another.

Referencing the No. 1 New Year’s resolution — I’m gonna lose weight — Core explains that the reason this rarely works out for people is that the goal should not be to lose weight, but to make healthy lifestyle choices. If we eat well, get rest, exercise and engage in activities that gratify needs other than hunger, the weight will disappear.

“Don’t take on more than you can handle. Break each goal down to its smallest components, then pick one of them to tackle. Pursue this change until it becomes a habit, then move on to the next one. Start with one thing and don’t add another until you’re ready. Positive motion creates positive emotion,” he says.

7. Make a big-box checklist.

Core’s a checklist guy. He just thinks most of us go about them all wrong. Here’s his advice:

“Make an actual, on-paper checklist each afternoon for the following day or each morning. Put a box by each task — the more important that task is for you to complete that day, the bigger its box should be.

“I focus first on my big-box tasks. At the end of the day, if most of them have checkmarks, it’s generally been a good day! Yes, prioritizing my daily list by the size of the boxes on it may sound simplistic, but it has made me feel much more accomplished and satisfied with my day. It also has helped me relax in the evenings because it is easier to remember the big boxes I’ve checked off, thereby making it easier to leave work at work.”

8. Think about it so you don’t have to think about it.

This is about focusing on what slows you down so you can speed up those particular processes or activities. He uses the example of preparing a meal. If you have trouble doing it, then plan meals ahead of time, maybe several days or even a week’s worth. Get the ingredients, know how long it will take, and maybe do some prep before you leave in the morning.

“Figure out where these areas are for you and commit to learning a new pattern. Yes, learning new patterns can initially be tedious and laborious. But once they’ve taken hold — often in three weeks or less — they’ll speed up your performance, streamline your effort, and lower your stress. By putting in some thought about ‘problem areas’ now, you’ll save yourself from having to think about them later. Eventually, this method changes once-tedious tasks into automatic behaviors.”

9. Infuse meaning into your work.

Let’s get this straight from the horse’s mouth: “First, let’s get one thing straight: Doing meaningful work does not mean that you will ‘love’ every second of it. ‘Meaning’ can simply be a recognition of what you enjoy about your work. With that understanding, though, you’ll be more motivated, productive, and satisfied. I recommend completing the following exercise:

• Focus on what gives you the greatest joy and meaning at work — be able to define it.

• Reflect on how you are making a difference at work and through your work — be able to give examples.

• Reflect on the meaning of your work as it relates to your core values.

• And then … seek to increase what you enjoy!

“You’ll come to find that the ‘administrivia,’ the mundane and routine chores required of you, and the not-so-exciting aspects of your work become easier to do and get completed more quickly if you have a strong focus on what you do find exciting, rewarding, or fulfilling.”

10. Seek to serve, not shine.

This one’s a little touchy-feely. Core urges us to put aside our ambitions and egos and approach life from the viewpoint of service to others. You Type A characters may have trouble with this one, but here’s what he recommends:

“To some extent, it’s human nature to look out for Number One. We all want to rack up accomplishments, receive accolades, and garner recognition. But in many situations, the desire to shine can cause you to get in your own way.

“Ironically, the key to shining is putting others first. People who channel their efforts toward making others’ lives easier are nearly always respected, included, and considered valuable. When you help others reach their goals and become their best, you’ll usually find that the same things happen to you.”

11. Fill up your energy bank account so you can make withdrawals when you need them.

In other words, don’t expose yourself to a lot of negativity. Don’t expend a lot of emotional coinage on projects or people who drain and frustrate you. Watch more romantic comedies and attend high school basketball games where kids play for glory only.

Says Core: “Know your needs and capacities and try not to exceed them on a regular basis. In other words, get enough sleep. Eat nutritiously. Exercise when time permits. That way, when you do find yourself needing to push the limits, you’ll have a healthy margin of energy, motivation, or whatever to draw on. Manage what you can manage as often as possible in order to compensate for what you cannot manage.”

And he advises us to stay present, in the present, and stop spinning our lives into a future over which we have no control.

“The future can be an inspiring thing… but it can also be a scary and misleading one. Awfulizing, what-ifs, and doomsday thinking can plunge you into paralyzing anxiety. And making incorrect assumptions can send you down the wrong path. That’s why, aside from setting goals for yourself, you should try not to let your mind wander into future outcomes. The only thing a person truly can do is to focus on the processes of today — and live them out to the max. Enjoy the process and take great joy in the rewards!”

12. Forgive yesterday so you can work on today.

As with the future, so with the past, Core tells us. Once we decide to stop projecting into the future, don’t replace that by getting stuck in a past we cannot change. Accept it, forgive yourself and others for what needs to be forgiven, hang on to the sweet moments for sustenance, and get your mind and body back into the now.

“Treat yourself with the same compassion and generosity you’d extend to another person who’d messed up or fallen short of a goal. If it helps, follow the two-hour rule I learned from one of my past coaches: When you have a bad performance or make a mistake, you have two hours to pout, scream, cry, wallow, or do whatever you think will help you deal with the disappointment. But when 120 minutes have passed, it’s time to start moving forward again.

Remember, nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes. What sets thrivers apart is the fact that after a fall, they forgive themselves faster, get back up, and continue the journey forward.”