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How to Turn Challenges Into Advantages

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At a women’s retreat, I asked, “Who has experienced stress in the past week?”

All hands went up. I then asked how they knew they were stressed. Their comments ranged from “constantly feeling overwhelmed” to “exhausted.”

They were unable to get everything done that was expected of them and there was little time left for pleasure or relaxation. They felt there was never enough time, there was too much to do, and they were constantly required to learn something new.

As I jotted their responses on the white board, I was reminded again of just how many demands are placed on us every day and the heavy toll it can have on our lives.

A thousand scenarios contribute to the challenges we face and the stress those challenges can create.

Our minds keep racing as our “to do” list gets longer and longer. We run out the door in the morning, grabbing a bagel or sweet roll to eat along the way and return in the evening, dragging. As we drop our keys on the kitchen counter, we look around at the mess left from the morning and wonder where to begin. Our stomach hurts and we grab a cookie. And as it melts in our mouth, we realize we have been snacking on sweets of some kind all day.

When we finally get a moment to sit down, we zone out on TV, Facebook, or some kind of internet game before we fall into bed. Our neck and shoulders hurt, acid reflux starts, and we wonder if we will be able to go to sleep and/or stay asleep.

Perhaps you are challenged, as I am, with the world of technology.

Although it allows me to manage a website, publish blog posts and podcast episodes, and do other functions, the language of computers and technology continue to frustrate me. When given very concise step-by-step instructions, I can maintain some semblance of functioning. But when something goes wrong or I need to learn something new, I quickly feel a sense of anxiety and time pressure to complete my projects.

While technology allows us to do things we never imagined, it can also increase our workload as we struggle to learn and apply it. We are not only required to work faster and smarter but to improve the quality and quantity of output, and we struggle to keep pace.

It feels as though the learning curve gets steeper and steeper. The harder we try, the more tension we experience and the more difficult it becomes to stay focused. As the cycle goes round and round, we find ourselves overwhelmed and exhausted.

With little time to think through our options, we become disorganized and make quick decisions without proper consideration, resulting in more and more mistakes. Accidents waiting to happen seem to be lurking around every corner.

We begin to make excuses, and blame others for everything that is going wrong. We no longer take the time to call our friends, send thank-you notes, check in on a friend who has been sick, or play with our kids or grandkids. There just isn’t enough time.

And at the end of the day, we feel like a violin string that has been stretched so taut that if we breathe it will break.

When our day begins and ends with a never-ending stream of things we “have to do” and “must do” to survive, it is time to stop and take a very serious time-out.

First, write down what you are doing all day long.

  • What has been scheduled?
  • What has not been scheduled?
  • What can you eliminate?
  • What wasted time can become more productive?
  • What unrealistic expectations have you put on yourself?
  • How do those expectations keep you from finishing the everyday tasks you face?
  • If you started to put some structure to your day, how would that help you accomplish more and free up some time?

We can’t slow the world down.

But we can get off the merry-go-round that simply spins us around and around, out of control. We can take back our life. It doesn’t mean we won’t be required to learn new skills, work more effectively and efficiently. It doesn’t mean we will find all the answers. But we can become more skilled at problem-solving and managing our time.

We can schedule in some serious down times. In the process, we become more proactive instead of reactive, and become empowered to take charge.

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