Guest Writer: How to Reduce Stress at Work

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Work can be stressful although it doesn’t have to be. Even black belts can’t be super calm and relaxed at work all the time. Once in a while I sneak in a little taekwondo practice in my office (yes I’ve done a spin kick in a dress). Other times I look for more traditional ways to bring a sense of calm to my workday.

I found these tips from the blog at ClickTime helpful and great reminders of simple things we can do to reduce workplace stress:
How to Reduce Stress at Work: 12 Strategies to Handle Stressful Careers

 

 

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How Martial Arts Can Help You Succeed in the Working World

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It’s either this or punch a hole through the monitor.

I’ve been in the corporate world for roughly 15 years, and much of that time has been spent in healthcare. Taekwondo has been a major influence in how I carry myself, how I handle stress, how I communicate, and how I prioritize.

You don’t need to be in martial arts to reap its benefits and kick ass at work because I’ve done the work for you! I’ve compiled a list of articles that can help you successfully handle the ups, downs, challenges, and changes of the working world. Enjoy!

Communication and Teamwork
Learning to Be Human
How Punching People Made Me More Empathetic
Teaching Means You’re Learning for Two
How I Would Teach a Taekwondo Class: a Parody

Change
The Poomsae Series: Koryo, or, Managing Change Like a Black Belt
Closed Door, Open Window: How Adversity Can Hone Adaptability
Can We Pause for a Change?
What’s Your Span of Control? The Answer May Surprise You!

Conflict and Stress
Sparring Multiple Partners
Guest Post: How Martial Arts Can Help Reduce Work-Related Stress
When Life Takes a Swing at You
Don’t Be So Defensive—Unless Somebody is Trying to Punch You in the Face

Leadership
To Lead or Not to Lead
What I’ve Learned from Coaching Children and Business Leaders
True North
The Jyo Kyo Neem’s On You: First Days as a Black Belt

Prioritization
It’s All Cookies and Crackers
In Defense of Complacency
Defending Your Work-Life Balance
Why I Chose to Pursue a Black Belt Instead of a PhD

In Defense of Complacency: When Good Enough Is Good Enough

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Good enough. Let’s move on!

In new employee orientation at my workplace we play this video with alarming statistics of what could go wrong when 99.9% is “good enough.” Newspapers are missing front pages, shoes are shipped in mismatched pairs, newborns go home from the hospital with the wrong parents, planes crash…you know, fun uplifting stuff. We ask the new employees their opinion and of course they say, no, 99.9% is not acceptable. I work for a healthcare organization, so understandably excellence, use of best practices, and an aim for zero mistakes has a heightened sense of urgency.

(This is the part where I lean in conspiratorially)

…Caring for hospital patients and landing planes aside…Don’t you think there are times when good enough is good enough? Right now you want to say, “No, that’s not true! We should always strive for perfection! We have to always try our absolute best!” But I also know you’re fighting the urge to admit that I’m right…just a little bit, at least in certain circumstances. Ladies and gentlemen, I now take the role of the little devil on your shoulder and will present my argument for why complacency is sometimes the best approach, or why good enough is indeed, good enough.

There are times in taekwondo class that I do revel in the mechanical minutiae and the persistent pursuit of perfection, most often in forms. Forms are my moving meditation and give me the chance to really immerse myself into my practice. Whenever I’m leading a group of students through their form I encourage them to try just one little thing differently the next time they do it. That staves off the boredom that can accompany repetition (I remember those seemingly endless form practices as a child). Compared to fast-paced sparring, practicing forms is a downright luxurious, dare I say decadent (and delicious) deep dive into technique.

And then there’s sparring. I don’t have time to worry about the minutiae during a fight. Hopefully all my training outside of sparring have programmed certain skills, minutiae and all, into my body so it reacts subconsciously anyway. I try my best in each fight, but I don’t necessarily do my best. I’m okay with that. As long as I’m defending myself effectively (for the most part), getting in a few good hits on my opponent (for the most part), and most importantly having fun, that’s good enough for me.

And then there’s jump spin kick…and 360 roundhouse (tornado kick)…and 540 spin kick….yeah, y’all gettin’ good enough from me and that’s it. I’d like to think a sign of maturity is not only a healthy awareness of one’s strengths but also of one’s limitations. I’m petite, pushing forty years old, and have a messed up back, hips, and right hamstring. I push myself hard during workouts, but I’m also well aware of my physical limitations. With these types of complicated airborne kicks I just think, “F-ck it,” do my best, and put my energy into activities I can master with both feet on the ground. The kids can jump all they want, and I enjoy watching them fly around in the air. I’d rather play with knives, hand strikes, our hapkido-inspired self-defense techniques, and my trusty forms. Good enough for me.

The question is, “What’s the best use of my energy and my time?”

I naturally do better and more effortlessly reach that 100% of excellence when I’m doing something I enjoy, I feel confident, and I’m being creative. I can get that 100% with things that are more difficult or less enjoyable if I approach things piece by piece, rather than take on the entire burden at once. And sometimes I just call it good enough and move on.

Sometimes it’s okay to accept “good enough.” When time is limited or resources or limited (or capabilities are limited), it’s perfectly fine to give your best version of good enough and move on. That’s a smarter and healthier approach than running yourself into the ground trying to do something that for you is too frustrating, too difficult to be worth the trouble, or infringes on more important priorities. If you’re running in circles, trapped in analysis paralysis, going down a rabbit hole, or in the throes of any other metaphor I see way too often in the corporate world all in the pursuit of absolute perfection I suggest you stop wasting your time, stop stressing yourself out, and accept “good enough.”

Perhaps there’s a fine line between giving your all and picking and choosing your battles. One of my coaching clients compares his approach to his career development and his work as hospital leader to how he approaches woodworking, his favorite hobby.

“I want to make sure I get the measurement just right before I put the pieces together,” he told me. “If you’re careless and you cut a piece too short then it’s too late. You can’t put the piece of wood back together.” I suppose that’s true for major decisions about his career or choices he must make that would have a major impact on employees and patients….but there are other times when you can just slap shit together and call it done.

Complacency, at least in the context of this article, is not giving up. Perhaps a better word would be “Contentment.” You do what you can, and at the same time you also let go and accept what is.

And that’s good enough for me.

It’s All Cookies and Crackers (or, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff)

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I’ll take them with peanut butter please! ALL the peanut butter!

One of my coworkers used to work for Keebler. When people would get all bent out of shape over not-so-significant things as people are wont to do in the corporate world, she would remind them, “Guys, we make cookies and crackers. That’s it.” That was her reminder to them that they were not dealing with life or death situations, regardless of how big (or expensive) the problem seemingly  was.

Working in healthcare for over a decade has helped me develop somewhat of the same perspective. I’ve always been in a non-clinical supportive role–first as a hospital librarian, then as a consultant in the learning and development department. My years at the hospital reminded me that whatever we were worrying about in my department ultimately wasn’t that big of a deal. We could leave what we were doing at 5pm and forget about it. It wasn’t brain surgery or fighting cancer or running the emergency department. I work with people who do that and leave the life-saving to them. No one ever died because of a so-so team building session…at least I hope not!

Taekwondo has also given me a great perspective too. I had a two-and-a-half hour team meeting yesterday. We are dealing with a number of stressful situations, and emotions are high. We’re trying to stick together, but it’s easy to ruffle feathers when everyone’s a little on edge. I was able to quickly put it out of my mind because I had other things to worry about–namely, filling in for my instructor for three back-to-back taekwondo classes. Luckily I had some good black belt partners to tag-team with me, and I think we did a good job. The best part was how much fun we had. Do you think I really cared about a PowerPoint presentation when I was busy chasing around two teenage boys and yelling directions at them during a sparring match? Nothing else really matters when you’re trying to not fall over or get hit in the face.

“It’s all cookies and crackers” has become one of our favorite catchphrases around the office. We’re doing good things, important things, but ultimately, we’re not doing anything worth losing sleep over. As I said in my more recent and more nihilistic post, nothing really matters–not really, not in the grand scheme of things. “Cookies and crackers” is also a reminder to myself to just enjoy life and not worry about it being perfect or working out to the outcome I expect or demand. It will all work out as soon as I release my vise-like death grip on it. Usually when I let go things work out even better than I could have imagined.

And yet, here I find myself stress-eating gummy bears and drinking hastily chilled Chardonnay over–in the big scheme of things–a really insignificant and dumb work-related issue. It’s not even worth explaining, but it’s left me upset, embarrassed, and worried that someone’s feelings were hurt. Of course no one else thinks it’s a big deal, and I’ve already been reassured as much by a few trusted people. I know it won’t matter in six months. It won’t even matter in six days. It won’t even matter in six hours.

I’m not sure what bothers me more–this tiny, stupid little incident that I’m already starting to forget or the fact that my detached, too-cool-for-school attitude towards work had a weak spot. I don’t mean I’m detached in the sense that I don’t care. I really like my job. It’s fun, fulfilling, and I’m good at it. I’m just less emotionally attached to work than I am to other aspects of my life. I think it’s a healthy outlook to have and one I wish I could apply to things in my personal life that get under my skin (and insecurities) much faster.

But it’s true…it’s all just cookies and crackers, even the things that I think are a big deal. The failed relationships I agonized over–cookies and crackers. The current struggles I’m having around body image and food control and weight–cookies and crackers, no pun intended. Annoying or upsetting things that happen at work–cookies and crackers. I’m sure our upcoming taekwondo tournament will be filled with stressful incidents–cookies and crackers too. None of this bullshit is worth losing sleep over although I will have to remind myself of that every time I obsessively weigh myself or get angry at a referee’s decision or if I ever decide to date again. Cookies and crackers, all of it.

The moral of the story: Just have fun, try to be nice to people, and especially be nice to yourself. At then end of all of this I’m still me, and I’m awesome whether I succeed or fail. So are you.

Guest Post: How Martial Arts Can Reduce Work-Related Stress

Dreading going back to the office on Monday? Counting down the minutes until Friday? Then consider taking up a martial art to help you ease work-related stress. Check out how in September’s guest post for BookMartialArts.com: How Martial Arts Can Reduce Work-Related Stress.

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Some knife-hand blocks would serve him well right now.

Looking for a great way to lower your stress levels? Why not sign up for an affordable martial arts training camp? From Taekwondo to Krav Maga, BookMartialArts.com has camps on various types of martial arts disciplines to choose from!

What I’ve Learned From Coaching Children and Business Leaders

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2016 has been my year of coaching. When I’m not yelling and punching stuff, I’m a leadership development consultant for a large healthcare organization. A large part of my job is coaching clinical and non-clinical leaders and a select group of physicians. I help them set goals, solve problems, guide them through decisions, provide feedback, and most importantly, I help build their confidence.

Meanwhile I’m continuing my black belt studies, both my own practice with such things as new forms and advanced self-defense, and also learning how to teach and coach other students. My instructor had been calling on me to help out since I was a bo dan, and now that I’m a black belt, the expectation is higher. At any moment I may be asked to help demonstrate a drill, teach a small group of students, referee a sparring match, coach students at a tournament, or do whatever else is needed. While it’s in the black belt’s job description, I also consider it my way of giving back to a community that’s been so supportive of me.

Is it possible to find a common thread between the leadership coaching I do during the day and the taekwondo student coaching I do in the evening? It’s one thing to scream, “Block and counter!” at a nine-year-old during a tournament sparring match and quite another to ask a physician what challenges she thinks she’ll face as she manages a high-profile hospital project with partners who are spread across a large metropolitan area…or are they more similar than I think?

In both instances I’m developing leaders (either future executives or future black belts). One of these days I know those in my care will have to go out on their own. Maybe they will someday be overseeing the opening and staffing of a new hospital, or maybe they will someday be overseeing other students in the dojang. I can’t fight their fights for them, whether in the sparring ring or in the boardroom, so I need to prepare them to branch out on their own.

I’ve identified some universal tenets we can use when developing leaders, regardless of age or level of skill:

1. Compassion. Everyone has vulnerabilities. A leader in charge of a half million dollar budget is under immense pressure, as is a child competing in her first taekwondo tournament. In either case I consider myself a caregiver and try to be sensitive to the individual needs of whomever I’m working with. You can push and stretch someone while still being kind and empathetic.

2. Listening and Observation. People need an objective gauge for how they’re doing. Focus, listening, and observation are crucial for giving meaningful feedback. I am using the same focus when I’m listening to a business client talk about their career goals as I am when I’m observing a taekwondo sparring match. I’m not waiting for a chance to speak and show off how smart I am. I’m focused on what they are telling me (and what they’re not telling me) and how I can help them based on my observation.

3. Customization. While you may choose to follow a standard coaching approach for multiple clients (or students), the individual needs and learning style of each client should be considered. I’m reminded of the categories in Dr. Paul Hershey and Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model. Some people need specific direction (“telling” or “directing”) while others benefit more from being guided to make their own decisions (“coaching” or “delegating”). In some instances, through inquiry and discovery, I can guide my client to make their own decisions about what they need to do to improve their performance. In other instances, say, with young children in a sparring match, I need to be more directive, scream something like, “Back kick!” or “Hands up!” and move on without explaining the “Why?” behind the motion.

4. That Extra Push. Think of coaching as tandem skydiving. It’s scary as hell, but you know you’re in the safe hands of an expert who has your best interests (and hopefully your safety) at heart. Many of us have made the most improvement when we’ve been pushed beyond our comfort zone. The encouraging words of a boss, teacher, family member, friend, or trusted coach can make all the difference. It’s a little scary to jump off the proverbial edge, but the payoff can be incredible. A good coach is willing to support a client or a student through every difficult step…and then shove them off the edge.

5. Praise! People of all ages respond to encouragement, and research has shown that performance improves when positive feedback is given more frequently and at a higher ratio than criticism…not that constructive criticism isn’t crucial, but constantly hearing, “Don’t do this” and “Don’t do that” and “You did that wrong” can make a person become weary and discouraged. Smiles, words of encouragement, acknowledgement, and even hugs can go a long way. Reward people when they do it right and kindly correct when they do it wrong. (Except in those instances where someone REALLY deserves push-ups.)

Things Got Weird and Then Got Better

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Kitty was about to have a breakdown or a breakthrough…or both.

This morning during a meeting I revealed more of myself than I intended to, and I didn’t even say a word. We were meeting with a person in another department to discuss the sticky logistics of a shared project and were trying (without too much luck) to get some clarity on our roles and responsibilities. I won’t bore you with any more details.

I’m not the most vocal person in meetings, but I always try to contribute. This time I just shut down. I stayed silent, kept my eyes down the entire time, and refused to speak when questioned. I simply could not talk. Throughout the meeting what kept my mood lifted was reminding myself that tomorrow I will be donning a white dobok, getting my heart rate up dangerously high, and duking it out with teenage boys. I’m not sure what was more hilarious or ridiculous—me sparring or the polite argument that was occurring in the meeting.

After our guest left my coworker, a wise man with a wealth of experience, looked at me and said, “Are you OK, partner?” Luckily I have the type of relationship with my coworkers that there’s a safe space to open up, so I did. I said the politics and emotion involved in the project turned me off from the beginning, plus, there was something about our guest that (a) I didn’t quite like and (b) reminded me a great deal of myself. I said the politics and confusion around another project similarly pushed me away. I might be overly sensitive to things like that; I’m not sure. Also, and I didn’t admit this–I was totally lost. I got so lost in the rhetoric that I wanted to throw up my hands and say, “Stop going around in circles, just tell me when to show up and what to do,” but it was so far into the meeting that I didn’t want to admit they’d lost me thirty minutes ago.

Then a deeper, darker feeling of malaise washed over me. This was all pointless. Everything is pointless. Life is pointless. Wait a minute, what?? Where the heck did that come from?? All I wanted to do was have my little peanut butter snack after we got out of the conference room and now this?? What the hell is going on??? The same thing happened this past weekend when I finally had to have a come-to-Jesus meeting with myself about the way I was not taking care of myself very well and letting my health decline. I’d like to think it’s old resistance sloughing off as I progress to brighter and greater manifestations…but for now it kinda sucks.

I felt myself getting a little flustered and so I clammed up before the tears that were starting to spring to my eyes could do any damage. I am usually emotionally detached in the workplace, and it’s served me well. I exhibit a great deal of care and compassion, but there is no love. For me love and work are mutually exclusive, although I know it’s not that way for some other people, therefore, when I sense myself getting emotional about something work-related I’m frustrated. I absolutely loathe the idea of crying at work or feeling anything more moving than a sense of obligation to do what I’ve been tasked to do, no complicated questions, no arguments, no politics, no games, no anger, no emotions. My happiness isn’t hinged on work…or at least that’s what I tell myself to stay tough.

“I get the sense you saw something in her you didn’t like about yourself,” my coworker said quietly as we walked down the hall back to our desks.
“She seemed fake,” I said. This woman was very intelligent and very nice, but her mannerisms and choice of vocabulary were like a parody of business buzz speak. I added, “And I’m very fake. Everything you see is an act…and…and…[I waited for some privacy before I blurted out the next part] I hate corporate America, I really hate it and I don’t fit in…but I’m here.” I don’t lie or withhold information. I’m just a different person in the office. And it’s wearing me out.

My coworker patted my shoulder and offered to talk if I wanted to. I’m not sure I can open up again. Some feelings I didn’t know I had were stirred up, and now that they’ve surfaced I’m not sure what to do with them. I wonder if that’s been contributing to the general low mood I’ve been in for the past few weeks. I felt like Holden Caufield, that whiny little asshole who thought everything was “phony.”

Overall I’m satisfied in my job. I have a great team, great boss, fulfilling work, a decent work-life balance, and the means to support the lifestyle I want. Even though I work for a non-profit service-oriented organization I think capitalism is absolutely fan-freaking-tastic. But… I don’t “lean in,” I hate politics and power plays, and I feel like I’m putting on an act every day. On one hand what they see is not the True North I talked about in a previous post. On the other I have lived in the skin of my professional persona for so long that it does feel real to me. As for the corporate America thing, it’s all I’ve known during my professional life. The money and perks are good, I’ve learned a lot and met nice people, and although I’m very curious about what life outside the cubicle is like, I’ve gotten along OK on the inside other than eye strain and a messed up hip from sitting in front of a computer all day. If were truly living my dream I’d be a life coach and a yoga teacher. Right now I’m just too practical and comfortable. I don’t think “corporate America” was really the problem this morning, though; I was looking for a target to take the hit for my frustration and unhappiness. Maybe I’m the one who needs a life coach.

Suddenly the Tide Turned….to AWESOME!!
Back at my desk I was lost in my thoughts, my face hot from embarrassment, sadness, and confusion when another coworker snapped me out of my fog. She was a new employee and was conducting brief one-on-ones with everyone in the department to get to know them. It was time for her to meet with me. We happened to be wearing white jackets and black pants so we hit it off immediately. Texas women don’t get mad when someone is dressed alike. We’re just tickled pink to have found a “twinkie.”

I talked for a few minutes about what my team does and described our current projects…and I was already exhausted and bored with myself. There I was going again as Miss Slicked Back Serious Professional and I was tired of hearing myself talk. Thankfully my new coworker caught a glimpse of a picture of my boyfriend (“very handsome” in her words, and she’s right) and when I told her that we had martial arts in common she dropped a delightful bomb on me.

She is part owner of a team with some fairly renowned and respected fighters in the UFC. They have a gym not far from our workplace.

W.O.W. AAHHHHHH!!!!!! I nearly jumped out of my seat I was so excited.

After that the professional facade dropped and I animatedly chatted with her about taekwondo, what it’s like to own a fighting team, all the events she’s gotten to attend, how incredibly nice so many fighters are under all that muscle and grit, and who we thought got cheated in their fights. I instantly felt relaxed, happy, and I forgot why I was upset in the first place. Who knew I’d ever be this excited to talk about sports?

“I’m really a fun girl. This is just my professional persona,” she said slyly when our little informal interview ended. She straightened her lacy lapel and trotted away in her high-heeled sandals. It was like she was giving me permission to put on the act in the office. Maybe everyone else is putting on a bit of an act too. Maybe I’m putting too much pressure on myself to “keep it real.” Can we truly be ourselves in the workplace? Am I truly myself in the workplace? Do I need to be? Does it matter as long as I’m doing honest work? Do I even really care? Not really. It’s like going to another country with a working knowledge of the language. I’ll get by in Mexico with my broken Spanish, but underneath I’m thinking in English, and when I’m by myself I’ll revert back to my English-speaking American customs. I’m who I need to be to get by during the day.

“Let go, you’ve been holding it up all day,” my yoga teacher said tonight as he encouraged us to relax into foreword fold and let the weight of our heads loosen from our necks. I chuckled. I’ve been holding up a lot more than my head, and it’s a relief to let the weight go.

If you want to see the real me, go to the dojang. Come on, you knew I’d link it back to TKD at some point.