This summer, why not take advantage of the natural world around us to reduce your levels of stress. Bring a bit of nature indoors and take the time to really savour our good experiences as they happen.
1: The "What Did You Do Today?" e-mail
Everybody's talking about Google, and some time ago co-founder Larry Page told Business 2.0 magazine one of their motivational strategies: they wrote a program that uses a weekly e-mail to ask every engineer what they did that week. The program assembles all the answers and sends them out at the end of the week.
Obviously this technique encourages accountability and maybe a bit of competition, but it occurs to me that even those of us working on our own could use a variation of this strategy to motivate ourselves to stay on track.
ACTION: If you're having trouble sticking to your intentions, start the week by sending yourself an email that briefly describes what you plan to accomplish this week. At the end of the first day, open that email, check off the planned tasks you've done, add whatever new tasks came up, and re-send it to yourself. Repeat daily, and at the end of the week, you'll have a record of what you meant to do and what you actually did. Print that one out.
After a few weeks, you'll have a good picture of how well you're sticking to your plans - and what's distracting you if you're not.
2: Make Your Own Luck
Lately there have been a number of people studying luck. One of them is Dr. Richard Wiseman, and he concludes there are four main elements that go into making someone lucky:
(1) lucky people create, notice, and act upon chance opportunities that come up;
(2) lucky people make good decisions using their intuition as well as logic;
(3) lucky people's positive expectations about the future help them achieve their dreams; and
(4) lucky people are able to turn bad luck into good fortune. (For more information, see his book, "The Luck Factor.")
ACTION: If you'd like to experiment with being more lucky, choose one of the four factors above to pay attention to for one day. For example, you could analyze every event that happens to you today with a view to trying to figure out how it could represent an opportunity. Or you could simply start the day wondering what form of good luck you will encounter, and watch for that all day. Try one strategy per day and at the end of the week assess whether you've had a luckier week than usual.
3: Less Bloomin' Stress
Going out into nature can be calming and so can bringing a bit of nature indoors, according to a study by psychology researcher Helen Russell at the University of Surrey.
She gave two groups of volunteers a tough math test. One group took the test in a room with normal office furniture. The other group took the test in a room that contained 27 tropical plants. The group with the plants scored lower on a skin-conductivity stress test.
ACTION: Even if, like me, you have a red thumb (is that the opposite of having a green thumb?), this time of year is a good opportunity to stock up on some plants for your work area. As well as reducing stress they add oxygen and humidity to the air, and NASA research suggests that common houseplants can convert chemical air pollutants into harmless substances. Recommended plants include ivy, potted chrysanthemum, Peace Lillies, and Philodendrons.
4: From Sub to Conscious
You may be open to using your intuition more often, but how can you access it? A while back, author and speaker Mark Diener suggested five ways in Entrepreneur magazine. They are:
(1) Toss a coin. Ask yourself how you feel about the result.
(2) Scribble or doodle. Draw whatever comes to mind for a few minutes. Only at the end of that time look more closely and interpret what the doodles might be telling you.
(3) Force a comparison. Pick a word at random from a magazine and consider how your question or challenge might relate to that word.
(4) Write with your non-dominant hand. It may not look elegant (or even readable to anybody else), but it may reveal something new.
(5) Ask an object. This is similar to the forced comparison—look at a random object in your environment and consider what it suggests to you about your situation.
ACTION: Try these five techniques first with a decision that's not too important, so that you don't feel great pressure to get results. Make the process playful and notice the outcome.
5: Do You Have What You (Really) Need?
There's nothing wrong with wanting more, but sometimes it blinds us to what we already have. A couple of years ago a U.K. survey revealed that 60 percent of the households surveyed said they cannot afford to buy everything they really need. This included 40 percent of households with an income of £50,000 (about $92,000) or more! Maybe they have a different definition of "really need" than I do…
So how can we focus a bit more on gratitude for what we do have? Researchers from Loyola University suggest that we take the time to really savour our good experiences as they happen: be conscious of them with all our senses. For example, on a picnic, notice the beauty of the setting, the sounds of nature, feel the bark of the sheltering tree, taste the full flavour of the bottle of red wine, and smell the new-mown grass.
ACTION: If you feel that maybe you're putting a little too much attention on what you want rather than what you have, try the 'full savouring' exercise with something today, no matter how simple the experience.
6: And a (Short) Quote to Think About:
"Change your thoughts and you change your world." -- Norman Vincent Peale