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How to reduce screen fatigue in 8 easy steps

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The truth about Working from Home

How to work from home – with breaks from the screen, exercises for the eyes and body, and tips for reducing the need for excessive online meetings.

Since COVID-19 arrived, record numbers of staff are working remotely have been inundated with web conferences, online meetings, and webinars using various online conferencing software such as Zoom, Google Meets, Google Hangouts, Facetime, Skype, Teams and many more. These excellent tools have helped us to keep in touch and adapt our ability to continue to keep large and small businesses and educational institutions operational to varying degrees during lockdown and quarantine.

For some the ability to work from home has been pure bliss and a dream come true for  others it has been  an absolute nightmare. Whichever end of the spectrum you are on, like it or loath it, the reality is that for the foreseeable future [at least] remote working is the current reality aka the new normal.

So how have you dealt with and managed with your remote working circumstance?

Have you established a routine for yourself and faced your remote working circumstances as if you were still going to the office OR have you taken a more relaxed approach?

Do you get up and get dressed and face your day the same as you would if you were going into an office or do you wonder around in your pj’s or other comfortable attire and only adorn a respectable business appropriate blouse or shirt when you know you have another online meeting to attend?

Have you created a dedicated workspace in your home or has your bed become your new office?

Have you started feeling less and less inclined to actively participate in online meetings or do you show up mindfully and purposefully because after all you still have deliverables and deadlines?

Have you begun to resent the alert that indicates you have yet another team meeting  to attend and WHY can’t they just send you an email?

Do you show up for your team meetings prepared to engage with your colleagues because even though you are working remotely you recognise the need to interact and stay connected to your team?

Have you found yourself glossing over emails and not purposefully engaging with the content and making mindful decisions based on those emails?

Is your energy levels and body language and facial expressions evident that you have lost the ability to engage and are operating on autopilot?

 

We know that too many online meetings and too many hours in front of the screen can be detrimental to our mental and physical health.

While we can not escape the seemingly endless list of online meetings and lectures, we can try to achieve a little bit of balance in our day-to-day work-life.

This article will cover: 
  • The symptoms of screen fatigue
  • Exercises for the eyes and body
  • Why online meetings are tiring and how to reduce them
The symptoms of screen fatigue

So much information is transmitted digitally, and when the brunt of your job is information processing on a screen, fatigue can certainly set in.

Screen fatigue is a medical diagnosis called asthenopia. Asthenopia occurs as a result of staring at a computer, tablet, or phone for extended periods of time. Screen fatigue has multiple symptoms including headaches, pain around the eyes, dry eye, blurry vision, tired or watery eyes, tiredness, difficulty keeping your eyes open or focused on the meeting, sensitivity to light, and even vertigo. Asthenopia has also been called digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome (CVS) and can be exacerbated by reading digital texts for extended periods, working in dim light, or excessive exposure to the kind of blue light emitted by screens. Some people even report an intense feeling of apathy and anxiety after excessive online meetings.

Like all medical conditions there are ways to minimize the effects and manage your health if you are beginning to feel the effects of CVS.

Here are a few that might just help you:

Glasses. Screen fatigue glasses are available so check with your optician or retail outlet if you think you could benefit from a pair.

Take a Break. If you were in the office you would get up and go to the bathroom or printer or have a quick chat to a colleague, perhaps even take a smoke or coffee break, go out for a quick lunch-time errand. So what is stopping you from doing the same while working from home? While you may not be able to walk over to chat to a colleague  you can still get up  and do something else for few minutes; grab a cup of coffee, maybe put on a load of laundry, perhaps a couple of quick laps of walking around the garden or up and down the driveway, maybe even do some gardening if that is your thing.

Reduce Glare. If you sit in a workspace that has constant glare from windows or lights, you may consider rearranging your workspace. If you can reduce external glare from the screen, your eyes will not have to readjust as often, while you are working. Antiglare screens are also available for this purpose.

Adjust Display. The brightness level of your computer screen can also factor into the fatigue your eyes experience. Go to the settings and find the brightness level. You can adjust it to a lower brightness, which will reduce the harsh light streaming from the screen.

Stay Hydrated. Proper water intake helps reduce eye strain, itchiness and irritation. Sometimes when we perform work that isn’t physically strenuous we easily forget the importance of drinking water. Get in the habit of keeping a bottle at your desk and refilling it as soon as it’s empty.

Exercise. Just to be clear, we want you to keep your job. We also want you to stay healthy and able to engage in this new environment, so take time each day to do some sort of physical activity for at least 30 minutes. Your physical and mental health is your priority.

Limit your screen time. Use the built-in features on your phone to report, monitor, and limit your screen time. Apple IOS and Android phones track which apps you use most frequently and how long you are on your screen. With those details, you can make changes to limit exposure and work more efficiently. Perhaps you are spending too long commenting and scrolling through LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram, which can result in more on-screen hours than desired. If your phone does not have these features, there are plenty of apps that do. These apps are typically based on the Pomodoro technique and allows you to work in 20-minute intervals while blocking all websites, pop-ups, alerts, and messages across multiple browsers and prevents certain apps from working. You can focus on one task at a time so you can finish that to-do list and have plenty of time to incorporate off-screen activities into your day.

Practice the 20-20-20 rule.Try looking at something 20 feet away every 20 minutes for 20 seconds. Excessive time in front of a screen that is close to your face can cause screen fatigue. If you alternate looking at something up close and far away, you can help combat it (Marcin, 2017). Looking out the window or going for a quick walk can help.

Why online meetings are tiring 

Meetings are important to connect with teams, share knowledge, and build rapport. During these unprecedented times though, meetings are also a way to keep connected with our colleagues, as we learn to navigate our way into  a new and often very different world of work. We have all at some point in our work-life wished to just be able to work from home and avoid those horrid morning commutes through endless traffic and school runs which were just endless. If we remember why we wanted to that  when we could not have it a t that time; now might be a good opportunity to revisit those wishes and call to mind those reasons which seemed so far from reality at the time. What did working from home look like to you? What did you think it would be like? What was so appealing about working from home for you and has your opinion changed at all?

There is a lot of talk lately about cognitive load and for good reason. We are in the midst of a pandemic and as managers and leaders must be aware of the trauma employees continue to experience. Anxiety is high and many  people have or are  experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder in the past few months. Others struggle with the chaos of children and spouses at home. People have more on their mind and plate than ever before, and many are at their tipping point. Requiring staff to be online with cameras turned on multiple times a day is insensitive to the situation at hand. According to Sander & Bauman (2020), online meetings increase our cognitive load. We need to work harder to process non-verbal communication when working on-line and to try to concentrate, simultaneously hoping there are no home distractions (i.e. barking dogs, noisy lawnmowers, honking horns, screaming kids). At times our online virtual backgrounds fail, revealing a cluttered room on the screen.

There is no doubt that online meetings are here to stay. However, we can control the negative effects by reducing meeting frequency and what times they are scheduled.

Creating a shared, detailed agenda ahead of time using a Google doc can cut down on meeting length. Participants can comment or edit beforehand to make the meeting smoother and more efficient. Additionally, using a messaging platform can help reduce the need for meetings by allowing for team communication in real-time. Lastly, a quick touch-base phone call is often the best means to communicate. A call also reduces the stress of having to get dressed up, clear your calendar, and declutter your surroundings. The added benefit of being able to go for a walk and get away from the screen can make phone calls an appealing option. Zoom, Teams  and other online meeting platforms are great tools. But just because we have all these bells and whistles doesn’t mean we need to use them.

Trust your team, check in when needed, but do not require a cognitively burdened employee to be in back-to-back meetings all day.

5 Reasons to Take the road less travelled and succeed

Take the road less travelled

Have you been lead to believe that a career path is linear and prescribed and should be followed like a set formula; and if you don’t, the likelihood of success is marginal or is at best the luck-of-the-draw.

A non-traditional career path is not always the most comfortable approach, but it is one that can make job candidates more appealing to a smart recruiter or hiring manager. In my experience, intentionally making myself uncomfortable has helped me develop a more holistic skill set. For some, a non-traditional career path can be too challenging to handle. However, I have learned that you do not need to stifle internal anxiety about making big career changes. It is natural, and an opportunity to learn and grow personally and professionally. The key is to use that discomfort productively and ultimately master the situations that seem overwhelming at first.

There are (at least) five lessons I have learned throughout my career in which taking the “easy” route would have been perfectly acceptable, but by taking the road less travelled I gained much bigger rewards.

  1. DON’T OBSESS OVER BIG BRANDS OR LOGOS

Early on, I threw away the notion that big employer brands matter. Choosing to focus on a lesser-known company where the learning opportunities are exponentially higher will almost always bring your the rewards you are looking for. Don’t get me wrong; I believe that working at a big company with a reputable brand can be very good for professionals especially at the beginning of your career.

Big brands have the resources to train people well. If however, you desire a career with velocity and autonomy, a big company is not where you want to spend the entirety of your career. Many people who have grand career aspirations become dependent on navigating internal politics based on their employer’s logo and become less focused on the actual work. Large companies tend to be complex, bureaucratic organizations. While they might be highly competitive and impress your friends and family, you may be unable to progress your career quickly.

For me, moving on from a well-known brand allowed me to manage a large team at a young age; something that would have taken me years to achieve had I been concerned with working my way up the corporate ladder. This is the type of intangible experience that gives a career velocity.

if you are passionate about marketing but realized you want a broader scope as an example; working for a large company can  train you well for the workforce. If you know you want more, it is going to show. So make the choice and move to a smaller company that is perhaps less well-known, but where you can challenge yourself with roles and responsibilities that would have taken years to achieve elsewhere.

  1. TACKLE DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS HEAD-ON

As a woman, it’s vital to force yourself to have uncomfortable conversations with your managers about other priorities in your life, specifically if you have children and family obligations. You must set expectations both at work and at home to achieve enough balance to thrive in each environment. As a younger woman, finding your voice and setting those boundaries with your supervisors and senior managers can be challenging and intimidating. I have witnessed many young women burn out because they pretended that they did not have obligations outside of the office and instead poured the majority of their energy into their work. But that is not reality.

More recently, COVID-19 and the work-from-home culture has made having a family very apparent. You can’t hide the fact that kids are home because they are bursting into your home office, interrupting Zoom calls, and have home-school schedules that require your attention. It has brought about a reckoning. Previously, uncomfortable expectation-setting conversations about family responsibilities were mostly relegated to women, but that is starting to shift. The pandemic has democratized this aspect of work-life balance by making it more ubiquitous and gender-neutral.

  1. FIND AND LEARN FROM ALL TYPES OF LEADERS

The truth is that no one, not even an executive, is good at everything. Some are amazing people managers and fantastic at leading a team. Others are the wicked-smart types, geniuses but genuinely terrible at managing people.

I’ve been lucky. I’ve had the chance to work for, and learn from, the full spectrum of leaders. I spent several years working for a mentor who was a great leader of people and manager of teams. Later I went to work at an organization where my manager wasn’t a particularly great people-leader. Still, they were smart and creative and I gained a lot of important functional experience.

It is important to remember that there is no such thing as a perfect leader, and often we don’t get to choose who we work for. It often comes down to taking the initiative to recognize and learn from the strengths of whoever your leaders are at a given moment and translating both their strengths and weaknesses into skills that you can use in the future.

  1. GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY

Looking back, I have always taken on tasks and responsibilities that were “below my pay grade” as a way to build trust with my team. I will get into the weeds and write email copy, or go to meetings where I’m not expected. Even now, I often do things that others would consider to be their direct responsibility.

Doing the unexpected builds trust, affinity, and goodwill with your teams. It also builds credibility because you show your team members that you are a good practitioner, not just a figurehead devising strategy. It also throws ego out the door. When your team knows that if they need help with something, all they have to do is ask you and we will tackle it together. I believe this approach creates a healthy culture and establishes your role as a leader. Nobody wants to work for someone who delegates responsibility and is incapable of understanding what the real work looks like and what it takes for teams to be productive.

 

  1. DO NOT LET ANXIETIES OWN YOU

Some people are very risk-averse and they do not like a lot of change inmost aspects of their lives. If your career is the antithesis of your personality and you have found that when managing the anxiety that accompanies uncomfortable situations and challenging decisions you endure throughout your career, you have to move through it and not let it own you.

For some people, the anxiety that accompanies navigating a career can be an unpleasant nagging, but it can be downright debilitating for others. By acknowledging its presence and moving through the discomfort, you learn how to manage it rather than let it manage you. Some people may view it as a weakness. I am proof that you can allow discomfort to exist and turn it into a tool to not only survive but to thrive.

Resilience

Resilience – Super Glue of the Psyche

tree of hope

You know you are having one of those months when the crow’s feet have turned into vulture’s claws, when your sense of humour has completely failed you and you feel like you are stuck in some bizarre combination of the twilight zone and groundhog day.

You get times like that don’t you? My current blame du jour are the retrogrades, that those in the know predicted would throw all unfinished business and all that has been emotionally papered over, into deep fractures.

Change is one of life’s inevitabilities and as much as we are digging the vintage vibe or doing the ostrich thing to the stuff we can’t bear; change is the only constant.  We are all having to dig deep these days. Not just profoundly into our pockets but into our psyches too, to help mend and make do and get through in these volatile and uncertain times.

Redundancy, relationship crises, health issues and financial worries are becoming an increasing life burden for all of us. When the future is foggy, we struggle to find an anchor to keep us from feeling like we are drifting aimlessly and uncontrollably. We want black and white answers when those 50 rainbow shades offer an overwhelming and altogether unsexy prospect.

So, the buzzword to hold on to is Resilience.

Simply put, it is the ability to dig deep within ourselves to find that reserve of energy and resolve we need to help us through the tough times. Resilience is a skill and it can be practiced just like practicing to play a musical instrument or a sport.

Easier said than done for many, especially when you feel like jelly and you find yourself on shaky ground. Where is that strength you need to draw upon?

It is right there at the core of your being. You must have faith in your own instincts and abilities which will help guide you along the way. Digging deep into hitherto unknown reserves of self is what Japanese author Haruki Murakami writes about in his book on spirituality, philosophy and marathons What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

Keeping the goal in mind and consistently reminding yourself that things will get better; as you take baby steps each day towards it. Coaching is great for this. Ordinarily we seldom, if ever, need to dig that deep for our everyday lives. It is however, worth creating systems which you can turn to when you feel the ground shaking and your nerve is heading for the Exit with someone else’s coat.

Here are a few coaching tips to help consolidate Resilience.

  • Maintain good relationships with your family and friends. Accept their help in times of stress. Offer help to those who are less fortunate than you are – and YES there are always others in a worse situation than you are. Give generously and earnestly, especially when you feel you have little to give. We feel at our best when we are able to help those less able than ourselves. The smallest act of kindness done in earnest will open the door of abundance.
  • Try to look at the big picture of life and avoid viewing difficult times as insurmountable. Take small steps toward your goals and take one day at a time. Avoid the pitfall of trying to solve tomorrow’s problems today. Deal with what you can deal with today, do it well – tomorrow is not guaranteed. Stay focused on what you can manage today, right here, right now. Remember there are things you can control and there are things you cannot. So do what you can do, manage what you can manage and keep moving forward.
  • Accept that change is a part of life and acceptance of what is – is key. Keep working toward your goals every day, and keep asking yourself “What can I do today to move in the direction I need to go in? Small consistent acts in the right directly get results.
  • Maintain a positive view of life and visualize what you want. When we feel like our resolve is fading, often times our energy levels tend to wax and wane as well. It is critical at these points to take care of yourself. Eat well, sleep and exercise to keep yourself healthy – even if you only do a quarter of what you would normally do. This is especially important during times of stress. There will always be an obstacle or hurdle that we will need to navigate in our lives. Learn to navigate these hurdles with confidence in your own abilities is key. Fear and anxiety will always rear their heads – it’s perfectly okay to recognise that you are fearful or anxious. The trick however is to not allow it to paralyse you into inaction.
  • Make the Decision to Prevail. This too shall pass. As the Good times come and go so too, do the Bad times. Nothing is permanent – as sure as day follows night these periods of volatility and uncertainty will pass.

 

Being resilient does not mean that we do not experience difficulty or distress, emotional  pain or sadness. Resilience involves the behaviours, thoughts and actions that we can learn and develop to navigate the emotional distress. Learn and practice self-compassion and recognize that everyone suffers. Being gentle and kind to yourself is a much more effective road to healing. If your best friend were going through a rough time you would be kind and gentle with them; NOW go and do the same thing for yourself.

Another sure-fire way of developing some psyche superglue is to hire a coach. Book your 30-minute trial telephone session today by emailing me at renatafester@career-coach.co.za

 

 

Coaching Package to Choose From

During these unprecedented times we all need a little help. Here are a few packages which may tickle your fancy and provide some help along the way to redefining your normal.. If any of these sound like something you may be interested in doing click here to connect with me and we can schedule a FREE consultation session with no obligation.

If this is not what you are looking for let me know how I may be of Service and we can tailor make a packed to suite your unique needs.

Click here to connect with Me  

4-Week Coaching Packages
4-Week Coaching Packages

Coaching

Change your thinking

4 Short Stories that Will Change the Way You Think

The past week has been an interesting one, filled with both joy and sorrow.  As is want to happen the new week arrived in all its magnificence and serendipitously, I found these Four Stories that gave me pause to reflect. These are old familiar stories and you have probably read them before with slightly different people and contexts however the lessons remain the same.

Change your thinking
Change your Thinking

Story #1:  All the Difference in The World

Every Sunday morning I take a light jog around a park near my home.  There’s a lake located in one corner of the park.  Each time I jog by this lake, I see the same elderly woman sitting at the water’s edge with a small metal cage sitting beside her.

This past Sunday my curiosity got the best of me, so I stopped jogging and walked over to her.  As I got closer, I realized that the metal cage was in fact a small trap.  There were three turtles, unharmed, slowly walking around the base of the trap.  She had a fourth turtle in her lap that she was carefully scrubbing with a spongy brush.

“Hello,” I said.  “I see you here every Sunday morning.  If you don’t mind my nosiness, I’d love to know what you’re doing with these turtles.”

She smiled.  “I’m cleaning off their shells,” she replied.  “Anything on a turtle’s shell, like algae or scum, reduces the turtle’s ability to absorb heat and impedes its ability to swim.  It can also corrode and weaken the shell over time.”

“Wow!  That’s really nice of you!” I exclaimed.

She went on: “I spend a couple of hours each Sunday morning, relaxing by this lake and helping these little guys out.  It’s my own strange way of making a difference.”

“But don’t most freshwater turtles live their whole lives with algae and scum hanging from their shells?” I asked.

“Yep, sadly, they do,” she replied.

I scratched my head.  “Well then, don’t you think your time could be better spent?  I mean, I think your efforts are kind and all, but there are freshwater turtles living in lakes all around the world.  And 99% of these turtles don’t have kind people like you to help them clean off their shells.  So, no offense… but how exactly are your localized efforts here truly making a difference?”

The woman giggled aloud.  She then looked down at the turtle in her lap, scrubbed off the last piece of algae from its shell, and said, “Sweetie, if this little guy could talk, he’d tell you I just made all the difference in the world.”

The moral:  You can change the world – maybe not all at once, but one person, one animal, and one good deed at a time.  Wake up every morning and pretend like what you do makes a difference.  It does.  (Read 29 Gifts.)

its all about Perspective
Perspective

Story #2:  The Weight of the Glass

Once upon a time a psychology professor walked around on a stage while teaching stress management principles to an auditorium filled with students.  As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the typical “glass half empty or glass half full” question.  Instead, with a smile on her face, the professor asked, “How heavy is this glass of water I’m holding?”

Students shouted out answers ranging from eight ounces to a couple pounds.

She replied, “From my perspective, the absolute weight of this glass doesn’t matter.  It all depends on how long I hold it.  If I hold it for a minute or two, it’s fairly light.  If I hold it for an hour straight, its weight might make my arm ache a little.  If I hold it for a day straight, my arm will likely cramp up and feel completely numb and paralyzed, forcing me to drop the glass to the floor.  In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it feels to me.”

As the class shook their heads in agreement, she continued, “Your stresses and worries in life are very much like this glass of water.  Think about them for a while and nothing happens.  Think about them a bit longer and you begin to ache a little.  Think about them all day long, and you will feel completely numb and paralyzed – incapable of doing anything else until you drop them.”

The moral:  It’s important to remember to let go of your stresses and worries.  No matter what happens during the day, as early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down.  Don’t carry them through the night and into the next day with you.  If you still feel the weight of yesterday’s stress, it’s a strong sign that it’s time to put the glass down.  (Angel and I discuss this process of letting go in the Adversity and Self-Love chapters of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)

Story #3:  Shark Bait

During a research experiment a marine biologist placed a shark into a large holding tank and then released several small bait fish into the tank.

As you would expect, the shark quickly swam around the tank, attacked and ate the smaller fish.

The marine biologist then inserted a strong piece of clear fiberglass into the tank, creating two separate partitions. She then put the shark on one side of the fiberglass and a new set of bait fish on the other.

Again, the shark quickly attacked.  This time, however, the shark slammed into the fiberglass divider and bounced off.  Undeterred, the shark kept repeating this behavior every few minutes to no avail.  Meanwhile, the bait fish swam around unharmed in the second partition.  Eventually, about an hour into the experiment, the shark gave up.

This experiment was repeated several dozen times over the next few weeks.  Each time, the shark got less aggressive and made fewer attempts to attack the bait fish, until eventually the shark got tired of hitting the fiberglass divider and simply stopped attacking altogether.

The marine biologist then removed the fiberglass divider, but the shark didn’t attack.  The shark was trained to believe a barrier existed between it and the bait fish, so the bait fish swam wherever they wished, free from harm.

The moral:  Many of us, after experiencing setbacks and failures, emotionally give up and stop trying. Like the shark in the story, we believe that because we were unsuccessful in the past, we will always be unsuccessful. In other words, we continue to see a barrier in our heads, even when no ‘real’ barrier exists between where we are and where we want to go.  (Read The Road Less Traveled.)

Changing Seasons

Story #4:  Being and Breathing

One warm evening many years ago…

After spending nearly every waking minute with Angel for eight straight days, I knew that I had to tell her just one thing.  So late at night, just before she fell asleep, I whispered it in her ear.  She smiled – the kind of smile that makes me smile back –and she said, “When I’m seventy-five and I think about my life and what it was like to be young, I hope that I can remember this very moment.”

A few seconds later she closed her eyes and fell asleep.  The room was peaceful – almost silent.  All I could hear was the soft purr of her breathing.  I stayed awake thinking about the time we’d spent together and all the choices in our lives that made this moment possible.  And at some point, I realized that it didn’t matter what we’d done or where we’d gone.  Nor did the future hold any significance.

All that mattered was the serenity of the moment.

Just being with her and breathing with her.

The moral:  We must not allow the clock, the calendar, and external pressures to rule our lives and blind us to the fact that each individual moment of our lives is a beautiful mystery and a miracle – especially those moments we spend in the presence of a loved one.

Your turn…

How do you think differently today, than you once did?  What life experience or realization brought on a significant change in your way of thinking?  Please leave a comment below and share your story with us.

Make dreams come true

Goal Setting is the thing to do right…Wrong! – Part 2

Make dreams come true
Make dreams come true

Part 2…

So I am not saying that goals are bad things and you should avoid them. If goals work for you then go for it

For a lot of us, a goal can be the tool that sets our direction and inspires us to keep going.

But when I look back at the way my career change actually unfolded, it didn’t happen in a series of big tick-boxes.

It happened in micro-moments of consistent actions.

You could call them systems, or you could call them habits.

Here’s why they worked so well:

 

Habits have a ‘how’

“Habit is the intersection of knowledge (what to do), skill (how to do), and desire (want to do).” – Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Have you ever thought to yourself: “I could make a career change in no time, if only I knew what steps to take”?

It’s the classic career change conundrum – you know the high-level result you want, but you do not know what each specific little step is or looks like, nor do you know the actions you need that is going to get you there.

So you end up with these gloriously intangible goals, much like the ones I listed out in my book, and then you sit and stare at them, and feel bad that you haven’t got there yet, and beat yourself up for not knowing how.

But you can get your hands on a Habit.

Because if it’s a habit, you know what it is and how to do it.

So we tend to get into the Habit of doing things, rather than just setting a goal.

 

If there’s only so much you can do, you can at least do a lot of that.

We have already established that you are not the boss of everything.

You can not control results, but you can control your actions.

So shifting your attention away from the lofty, the far-off and the at-least-50%-out-of-your-hands and toward the tangible, the manageable, the consistent and the completely-under-your-control is probably a smart move.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People author Steven Covey has a great way of explaining this.

Picture a circle.

Inside it, cram everything you care about: your declining eyesight, the refugee crisis, climate change, the housing market, whether your kid is having a good day at school, what the recruitment agent is going to say in your meeting tomorrow, how good your hair looks today, the location of your car keys, whether or not you’re happy in your future career… there’s a LOT in this circle.

Covey calls it your Circle of Concern.

Inside your Circle of Concern is another circle.

This one is called your Circle of Influence.

And inside your Circle of Influence are only the concerns you can directly impact or control.

Goals tend to live inside your Circle of Concern and outside your Circle of Influence. They rely on factors that are only partly in your control. And they are focused on outputs (what happens next) rather than inputs (what you actually do).

But your hairstyle? The house you choose to buy? The skills you develop or what you spend your Thursday evenings doing? Whether or not you try that new recipe that’s been rolling around in the back of your head for months?

 

In these matters, you are the boss.

When you operate within your Circle of Influence, you will make the biggest impact.

And the more time you spend working and playing inside of this circle, the larger it grows.

 

It’s hard to pick a fight with a mouse

Goals can tend to feel high-stakes and paralysing, habits can be as small as you need them to be. A Stanford psychologist BJ Fogg recommends starting with ‘tiny habits’, actions so small that they are almost laughable. Instead of trying to start a habit of flossing twice a day, for example, he suggests just starting by flossing one tooth.

Why?

You can find a lot of good reasons why the goal of quitting your job in 3 months’ time, regardless of what happens between now and then, might not be the best idea. You can argue your way in and out of that for hours.

It is much harder to argue with a habit of putting whatever coins you have in your pockets into a savings jar every day when you get home.

Insignificant though actions like this might sound, they are actually incredibly powerful. The hardest part of anything is just getting started, and once you have started getting into action with a habit, they have the capacity to snowball.

Maybe you want to write a novel. You decide to set up a tiny habit of writing just 300 words a day. You figure, to complete a book at that rate, it will take about 300 days. Except… it turns out that writing 300 words is really easy, and even on your busiest days, you are getting it done. In fact, on a lot of days, you find yourself overshooting the 300 word mark and just continuing to tap away, writing 800, 1,000, 2,000 words in a day.

You can’t argue with small.

 

Slow consistent progress is permanent Progress

Goals can set you up for a jerky journey with little traction.

You create a goal, circle it for a while, make a big leap forward, and then, once you have achieved it, you have to come up with the next one. If you don’t achieve it, you then have to deal with the emotional fallout. Mapped onto a piece of paper, your forward movement looks like a game of leapfrog with a very nervous teammate.

Habits on the other hand are by their very nature ongoing and consistent. They tell you what to do and when, and are active regardless of output. Small steps, taken consistently, move you forward faster.

“The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.” – James Clear, author of Atomic Habits

And good news for your achy willpower muscle: once you have formed them, habits pretty much operate automatically.

In fact, once we have got going with a habit, our brains actually adapt to make it easier to complete. After about 30 days of practice, carrying out a habit becomes easier than not doing so.

As Charles Duhigg wrote in The Power Of Habit:

“Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realise – they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.”

 

The nature of your life is dependent on the nature of your habits

Philosopher William James described habits in this way:

“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits  practical, emotional, and intellectual  systematically organised for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”

Habits, not goals, shape your daily experience of the world.

 

The time of day you wake up. The way you brush your teeth. How you get to work, the turns of phrase you use, the way you automatically respond to certain events.

Goals are interruptions to your status quo.

Habits, on the other hand, build, shape and create the form and direction of your life.

And if that is true, then whether or not you shift into fulfilling work is entirely dependent on the habits and consistent behaviours you choose to cultivate.

 

On other words, choosing and building a powerful set of habits can help you move into fulfilling work inevitable.

Now that sounds pretty good, no?

How to build helpful habits in career change

 

Create opportunities to be gloriously surprised

All you can control is what you do, not what happens next.

So, as you start designing some new habits and behaviours, let go of any thought of whether or not it will ‘work’ or be ‘worth it’.

Perhaps you consider starting a new habit of going to one new, interesting event per week.

But then the doubts come in: By the way these are also  know as Limiting Beliefs

“There probably won’t be anyone interesting there.”

“You don’t WANT to work at the circus – why go to a workshop?”

“You’ve had a tiring week – no point going if it’s just going to be a waste of time.”

Your job is not to make it worth it.

Your job is not to know the outcome.

Your job is just to keep opening the door to the possibility of something fantastic that you didn’t see coming.

You can’t control whether it happens or not.

But one thing is for sure: without an open door, it ain’t coming in.

How do we see Ourself

Choose pleasure, not pride

Intrinsic motivation is far more effective than extrinsic rewards.

In her book Better Than Before, author Gretchen Rubin uses this example:

“If I tell [my daughter] that she can watch an hour of TV if she reads for an hour, I don’t build her habit of reading. I teach her that watching TV is more fun than reading.”

So where possible, set up habits that will feel good to do and give you a sense of accomplishment when completed.

This does not mean it won’t take any effort to get started with them. Setting up a new habit involves some change, and it will take willpower to get the ball rolling.

Perhaps you know that talking to new people often feels a bit awkward to start with.

But once you’ve opened a dialogue, you always enjoy the conversation, and you are thrilled to have made a new friend you can learn from.

It will take some effort to push past the initial hump of always reaching out to people you encounter who do interesting work. But the more you do it, the smoother that initial hump will become, and the more enjoyment (and great conversations, and new insights) will follow.

Following a pleasurable feeling  and setting up a system to do more of it, is always going to reap greater rewards than fighting against an unpleasant one. Besides, if you want to find fulfilling work, doing a lot of things that feel unfulfilling is unlikely to get you there.

Follow the hints and the feelings that tell you what you love, what comes naturally, what elicits a sense of flow.

 

Do more of what works

Often times, habits are pitched as things to be changed, to quit, or to fix.

You are giving up your smoking habit.

You start running every morning (to fix your low fitness levels).

You stop drinking coffee in the mornings.

However, when you are trying to create a habit in order to fix or stop something, it takes more effort, and reminds you of the negative element you are trying to get away from.

Stopping something gives you the sense of having less of something in your life, but it does not necessarily replace it with anything else. You want the good stuff, and more of it.

The most effective habits start with the questions:

“What do I know works well for me?” and then: “How can I do more of it?”

So take a look at the things you have done in the past that have given you more clarity or more progress when it comes to your career change.

When have you found new insights to explore, and how did you find them?

What was different about that conversation that led to a new opportunity, from the other conversations that fizzled out?

Sure, you know that for extroverts, going to networking events works brilliantly. But you are way better in 1-1 environments. So how do you have more 1-1 interactions with people in your day-to-day?

Look for what works, and then focus on building a habit that has you do more of it.

 

If in doubt, change your environment

Stanford behaviour scientist BJ Fogg says he has learnt that only three things will change your life in the long term.

Option A. Have an epiphany

Option B. Change your environment (what surrounds you)

Option C. Take baby steps

Epiphanies are hard to come by, and they are out of your control.

Baby steps are the mouse-sized micro-habits you can build with very little effort over time.

And if you are not sure what baby steps to take, create the habit of taking them into new environments. If you are struggling for ideas on your future career, or struggling to find the right steps to take, remember one of the simplest principles of systems theory:

New inputs = new outputs.

If you want new ideas, new insights, new possibilities, build the habit of filling your environment with new experiences.

Widen your social circle by adding new people with new perspectives into your social circle.

Take yourself into new places and surroundings.

Giving yourself new experiences.

Build habits that change what surrounds you, and you will watch your perspective on the world, and the opportunities you can see, change along with it.

 

One thing at a time, and one thing only

Set yourself up for success.

Start small.

Overcommitting to a whole bunch of new habits has the same impact as setting yourself a scary goal. It feels overwhelming, paralysing, and invites fear of failure and procrastination.

Get into the habit of just one small, consistent new behaviour.

Get curious about it.

A tiny drip of water, over time, can crack open a whole boulder.

Do not underestimate the power of one thing done consistently over time.

“The best thing I ever did was to commit to one small action each day (less than five minutes). Sometimes this lead to further leaps, other times that was all I did. This might have been making a list, sending an email, commenting on a post, a bit of research, etc. When I combined that with trying to make the small action something that was slightly out of my comfort zone as well, good things started to happen.” – Amy G.

 

Get trigger-happy

New habits are often difficult to get going because they require  Two things #1 that you change your behaviours, #2. that you remember to do them.

According to Zen Habits writer Leo Babauta, the often-overlooked key to building a new habit is to tie it to a trigger – an event that will remind you (eventually automatically) to carry out your habit:

“Habits become automatic after we have created a bond between the trigger and the habit. The stronger the bond, the more ingrained the habit.”

Babauta recommends finding an action or event that is already ingrained into your routines in life.

For example, if you need to remember to take a daily medication, keeping the box on top of your toothbrush will help you tie the action of taking your pill to your already-automatic (we would hope) routine of brushing your teeth.

If you want to build a habit of staying in touch with old friends, use an already-ingrained habit (opening your email client for the first time in the morning, checking social media on your commute) to act as a trigger to send one checking-in message to someone you haven’t been in touch with for a while.

Need to start injecting your weekly routine with something fresh and new, to inspire new ideas and broaden your experience of the world? Every time you see a vaguely interesting event coming up in your local area, put it into your calendar.

Consistent triggers make new habits feel natural, faster.

 

Work with the way you work

A habit is an expectation you have set for yourself (or, sometimes, that someone else / society expects of you).

Gretchen Rubin suggests there are four primary ways, or ‘tendencies’ with which people respond to those expectations.

Knowing your ‘tendency’ (Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel), you can pre-empt the ways in which you might get stuck building or maintaining your habits, and set up systems and approaches that help you get things done.

You might, for example, need to rely on accountability more than others, and tell multiple people about the habits you are trying to build.

Reminding yourself of the greater good you are trying to achieve might be the primary kick you need.

Or perhaps deadlines are the only thing that will get you out of analysis paralysis and moving forward.

Take the Four Tendencies Test here, and use the results to craft your approach to habits in the way that works for you.

Finding fulfilling work is a revelatory process

It is what makes it magical. It is what makes it nerve-wracking, too.

If only a career you love was the output of a nice, neat algebraic formula, setting goals and project-managing, the whole thing would be smart and simple.

But it’s not.

It’s messy, and full of surprises, and it requires you to be in a space of not-knowing for far longer than most human beings are comfortable with.

What will anchor you, keep you grounded and making forward progress, are habits and systems.

Consistent, forward nudges that you actually do, that keep you feeling proud and motivated, and that opens the door, over and over again, to the possibility of being gloriously surprised, to the unexpected and the new.

What habit could you start cultivating in your own career change? Let me know in the comments below.

Goal Setting is the thing to do right…Wrong! – Part1

 

Dreams and Goals

This is Part 1 of 2

 

Goal-setting seems like a smart thing to do in a career change. However, this might actually be exactly what is keeping you stuck. Renata explains why big targets can be a false friend. Here is what she recommends doing to start making progress towards that Ideal Career instead.

Let me tell you a short story

A little while ago I was doing a cupboard purge something I had not done in a while.

I found a black hard cover notebook. I immediately recognise this old faithful companion that contain hundreds of lines of my handwriting and doodles, in different colours of ink and pencil.

Journal entries, to-do lists, thoughts I had jotted down. Pages and pages of confused, frustrated outpourings about my work, my life, my future. I took a moment to read those words and I was transported back to that year in a deeply visceral way that I haven’t felt for a long time. The desperate awkwardness of feeling like a fundamental misfit in a career and a life that was not for mine. The sense of being caged in and stuck, trapped by the very life choices I myself had made in the years before. The  dark emptiness ahead of me when I tried to imagine what else I could do.

As I flipped through the pages of that old book one page in particular hit me hard.

It was a list of goals.

Big, ambitious, hopeful goals. The only kind I had, back then.

And then next to them, in a different pen, clearly written later in a fit of irritation, a series of scrawled, pointy, sarcastic flippant questions…

      • “Have three reasonable career options I’m truly excited about.” LOVELY. HOW, EXACTLY?
      • “Start a side line income to make extra cash” WHICH YOU’LL DO IN WHAT SPARE TIME?
      • “Have  ($6000) saved by June.” WHAT FOR, GENIUS?
      • “Hand in my notice by September” YEAH, RIGHT!!

 

Reading the contents of that page was like watching a snippet of the perpetual state of the inside of my head – the never-ending back-and-forth of a hopeful, fierce optimist and an angry, hurt cynic.

I made a lot of lists like that.

I remember how painful and pointless those felt, once their initial balm wore off.

Unrealistic, hollow-feeling goals, created mostly because I didn’t know what else to do.

They sounded nice, but I rarely did much about them.

It wasn’t a question of what I wanted on a grand scale.

It was the specifics I had no clue about. I still did not know the steps to take to get there.

Sound familiar?

Goals are not very helpful in the day-to-day logistics of a career change.

YES goals can feel productive, and make yo feel good in the beginning. Perhaps these goals even feel good the day after you write them down.

But beyond that initial feel-good sensation you have initially it can actually have the opposite effect on you making any meaningful change.

Here’s why.

Fulfilment isn’t SMART

Anyone who has ever done any goal-setting has come into contact with the idea of SMART goals at some point:

We are told Goals must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based.

This is Fair enough however finding fulfilling work is not quite so neat.

Setting SMART goals is an organisational task – finding the logical pieces, breaking them into chunks, and putting them together in a way that leads you forward, step by step.

Finding fulfilling work however feels more like trying to jump off a jellyfish into an ocean you are not convinced actually exists.

You do not really know where you are going, so being specific i.t.o goals setting is laughable.

You are not sure how exactly to measure fulfilment (beyond ‘Makes me want to poke myself in the eye / Doesn’t make me want to poke myself in the eye’), so that’s a shaky one too.

You do not even completely believe it’s possible, so how can it be achievable or realistic?

And time-based… if ONLY a deadline could fix this mess.

So sitting down to write some goals for your career change… eerr if it feels ridiculous, that’s probably because it is, a little.

Extrinsic motivation is not effective

Imagine you have set yourself a goal to lose 10 kilos.

You start going to the gym every day, because someone told you that gym exercise gets faster weight-loss results than anything else.

You hate the gym. You hate the smell of the changing rooms, you hate the perky gym bunny types who take up all the machines, you hate the music they play, and you hate running towards your own reflection in a mirror for half an hour and traveling precisely nowhere.

You start taking a salad and a Thermos of cabbage soup to work every day. You hate salad. You hate cabbage soup. You are starting to hate your life.

But you would love to loose those 10 kilos.

So you put up with it. You eat the soup, holding your nose and visualising your life once you’ve hit your goal. You endure the gym, wishing you could just hit your goal and never have to go back there again.

What are the chances of you hitting your 10-kilo target – and, more importantly, maintaining it afterward? I would say Pretty low, no?

Goals that do not inspire you or give you that “hell yeah” feeling or rely on extrinsic motivation such as an external, tangible result or outcome you need to achieve will not be achieved.

These goals feel heavy, looming over you menacingly until you have hit them. The process of working toward them often doesn’t feel enjoyable and takes a lot of effort despite the rewards at the end.

So you’re less likely to take the steps you need to take to achieve them.

Extrinsic motivation has repeatedly been shown to be less effective than Intrinsic motivation, which is driven by enjoying the activity itself.

Extrinsic motivation: “If I walk five miles today, I can have that piece of chocolate cake.”

Intrinsic motivation: “I love dancing – I’m going to dance in the kitchen just because it feels great.”

Extrinsic motivation: “If I spend the next month learning about the political system in Uzbekistan I’ll look really smart at the university dinner party.”

Intrinsic motivation: “How DOES the inside of my remote control work? This is fascinating…”

In other words, given the choice between rewards or enjoyment, you are far more likely to do things you enjoy.

So, ironically, you are more likely to lose 10 kilos by throwing the scales in the bin and going dancing every weekend than you are by trying to haul yourself to the gym every day if going to the gym is not your thing.

In your career change, you are more likely to find fulfilling work  (albeit counter-intuitively) by doing things you enjoy than you are by setting yourself a goal to change career.

Pressure encourages procrastination

There is a fair amount of pressure involved in goal-setting.

Either you hit your goal, or you don’t.

There is no room for the grey area on the way.

And if you don’t hit it, you’ve ‘failed’. Unpleasant. Scary. Dunce hat. Ugh.

Procrastination is based in fear. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of change: all fears that grow from an attachment to a specific outcome… otherwise known as ‘a goal’.

In career change, this often looks like vacillation, over-thinking, endlessly weighing up options, researching things to death…

Sound familiar?

What if you get it wrong? What if you don’t hit your target? What if it never happens?

High stakes creates high tension – and the higher the tension, the less likely you are to act.

So if you have set yourself a goal and you are getting stuck in procrastination-whirlpools, this might be why.

You are not the boss of everything

Unfortunate, but true.

No matter how hard you try, or how much effort you put in to achieving a goal, sometimes the world just gets in the way. Life happens.

Maybe you twist an ankle and can’t train for the marathon.

Maybe the taxman slings you an unexpected curveball and your savings goal hits the deck.

Maybe your company withdraws its plans to offer a round of voluntary redundancies next month, like you were expecting.

Maybe your kid gets sick and you spend your week curled up on the bathroom floor mopping brows and blowing noses and you don’t get your LinkedIn profile up to date like you said you would.

These moments hurt. Partly because they throw a spanner in the works and we have to deal with the possibility of failure.

Partly because it forces you to realise that you can’t control results.

You can ONLY control what you do, but not what happens next.

      • You can create a perfectly written LinkedIn profile, but you can’t control whether or not people will read it.
      • You can reach out to someone you admire, but you can’t control whether or not they will respond.
      • You can go to an event you have never been to before, but you can’t control whether or not it will spark a new career idea.

Trying to consistently hit your goals when you are only responsible for part of the process is a pretty heavy expectation.

Don’t just set goals, build habits.

Looking back at my notebook, I’m pretty proud to say that  I have achieved pretty much all l the goals I set back then and am working  on achieving the new ones I have set.

I found a way to visit amazing places met some truly amazing people and do work I am completely in love with.

That wouldn’t have happened without giving myself the space to dream ridiculously big and commit to consistently doing things I had no idea how to do BUT learnt that it was possible and I could them.

continue …

Read part 2 next