I have an auto-immune disease. It’s been 5 years this July. I manage the symptoms by sticking to a very strict, very plain diet of about 20 items. It can be very stressful at times and debilitating if I’m not careful about what I eat.
Last year was a bit of a shocker and I had weeks off work, too ill to do anything. What a waste. So this year, I’m doing things differently, and so far, so good. And what is that approach?
My “something different” is a morning regime of a 15-minute guided meditation, five minutes of exercise, breakfast while writing my worry list and then 15 minutes reading a business book. Let’s break that down.
Meditation. Yes, yes I know, it’s just new age bullsh*t, meditation doesn’t do anything, my brain doesn’t work like that, I can’t sit still, etc. Here’s the thing: I’m not very good at sitting still, let alone calming my thoughts! But five months later, I’m much better at it than I was. And it’s not called the practice of mediation for nothing.
I use a guided meditation, by an Australian guy called Malcolm Huxter. He lives on the Central Coast, and you can hear the odd bird in the background of each track. He’s easy to find using Google. Huxter is also a trained clinical psychologist, so he knows what he’s on about.
I really can’t recommend mediation enough. And if you don’t like Malcolm, there are loads of apps and other options. Give it a go, it’s really worth it!
Next, exercise. I just do some squats and some specific exercises to help with nerve pain. The alternative is hard core drugs that will make me unable to think straight. So exercise it is. You might not an auto-immune disease to contend with, but if you spend all day at a desk glued to a computer screen, you could still probably do with getting moving for five minutes every morning. Just sayin’.
Then, it’s on to my worry list. This has been a revelation. Instead of just writing a to-do list, or adding to yesterdays, I write a worry list. Sometimes this has one item on it, sometimes it’s a page long. And it’s not just work issues. Anything personal, family, etc that’s worrying me goes on the list. And once everything is written down, then I write a to-do list for the day. Sometimes there are things on my worry list for which there are no obvious actions. So I take a few minutes to think those through and decide my next steps. You would be amazed how much planning you can get done in 15–30 minutes, and how much it helps during the day.
And lastly, breakfast and a book. So far, I’ve read about six business books this year, and learned something new and interesting from each one. My favourites so far have been Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore and Deep Work by Cal Newport.
At this stage you are probably thinking: I can’t do all/any of that. My mornings consist of I dragging myself out of bed, contending with my wife/husband/kids/dogs/cats/my own bad temper and trying to get to work with my clothes on straight. How on earth am I supposed to fit four new activities in?
Well, here’s the thing. If you are under stress, you are probably not sleeping very well. Meditation will help with that. Second, if you want a different outcome, you need to do things differently. Third, if you wake up in the morning, and spend the first 15 minutes stressing about the day and/or reading your phone, you may as well get up and put that adrenaline to good use. And lastly, if you know you are going to get up a bit earlier, you might just put down that second glass of wine and go to bed a bit earlier, which can only be a good thing.
If all of the above reads like the newly converted, then you would be right. I haven’t had a day off work so far this year through illness, and I’ve taken painkillers a whole lot less than last year. Even though I am currently under a huge amount of stress due to both work and personal projects, I am keeping it together, and getting things done.
So what are you waiting for? Google Malcolm Huxter (or download a meditation app of your choice) and start making a difference to your stress levels, one morning at a time.
Sarah Penn, managing director, Mayflower Consulting