Just Breathe


The Power of Meditation (and Prayer) in Times of Stress

Let’s face it, we’re stressed.  I’m stressed, you’re stressed, we are all stressed.

I’m no stranger to stress.  As an entrepreneur I have had more than my share of sleepless nights and fretful days as I have navigated through a world that has very little appreciation for the sacrifice and dedication that it takes to open, build and run a business with no safety net, no guaranteed income and no long term security.  Most of my friends have government jobs or jobs with large corporations that offer significant long-term benefits and job security.  I grew up surrounded by teachers and people employed by fully funded NGOs.

I’ve worked in start-up firms or for myself since I was 19.

Sure, I’ve brokered some big deals in my day.  The kind that purchase a modicum of security for a few months or even a year, but the money inevitably runs out and I am always left searching for the next big thing.

In the era of COVID19 many of my closest personal friends, colleagues, associates, and clients are experiencing job related financial stress for the very first time and I’ve been fielding a lot of calls from a lot of stressed out people.

Earlier this week I created a resource page that I published on google docs to help people find the things they might need to get through these stressful times.

But today I decided to write about the one thing, regardless of the situation that everyone should do when stress begins to mount.

Breathe!

Focusing on your breathing is the first step of meditation in all its forms.

According to Healthline.com, meditation, regardless of religious context has been scientifically proven to reduce stress, control anxiety, promote emotional health, enhance self-awareness, lengthen attention span, slow age related memory loss, improve sleep, control pain, and decrease blood pressure.

In my book “Prayer School”, available on Amazon.ca or for free download I dedicated the entire first chapter to centering and opening your mind and heart for greater things.  Whether you are religious or not the practise of the breath prayer (or breathing meditation if you prefer) is a key step in calming your mind and centering your thoughts for a greater purpose.

So here is a quick breath prayer or breathing meditation exercise that I teach everyone who comes to me in financial stress. When pressures mount and it seems like you are losing control follow these steps to calm your mind before you act on your impulses.  Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

1 – Stop

2– Be Still

3 – Breath In for a count of 4

4 – Hold it for a count of 4

5 – Breath Out for a count of 4

6 – Repeat until you feel your heart rate slow

If it helps repeat a mantra as you breath in and out.  Personally, I like to breath in and out on Psalm 46:10, “Be still (in), and know that I am God (out).”  It helps me to remember that I am not alone in the world.  But the words don’t really matter, I had one friend who like to breath “I like (in), peanut butter sandwiches (out).” The point is, to take your mind and body away from whatever it is that is causing you stress in the moment.  Once your heart rate settles down, you can turn your focus to the problem at hand with more clarity and peace of mind.

This practise works to calm anxiety and stop panic attacks in their tracks, but meditation is also a great way to inject a general sense of calm into your daily life.  Many people have incorporated meditation into their lives as a regular practise at the beginning and/or end of each day.  I’ve been doing it every morning for decades.  That’s next level stuff though, for now, and while we all learn to navigate the world during and post COVID19, a simple breathing meditation can go a long way to help us all through these stressful times.

 

How do you deal with stress?  Let me know in the comments below.  And if you are having trouble dealing with financial stress as a result of COVID19, or any other reason, get in touch and let’s talk.  But first – breathe.

Lauren

 

 

Living on the Edge


Transferable Lessons from Athletic Training for Life During COVID19

Depending on when you choose to start counting, we are now somewhere around 20 days into the brave new world that is COVID19.  As fate would have it, the morning before the province locked down the schools I went to my local public library, (the city locked them down the next day) and picked up a few books that I had been waiting for.  I now have these books for an indeterminate time, so I’ve been taking a slower, more studious approach to reading.

The first book I read was, “Peak: The New Science of Athletic Performance That Is Revolutionizing Sports” by Dr. Marc Bubbs.  I heard about this book on a performance podcast for triathletes and decided to check it out.  Dr. Bubbs was interviewed by a triathlon coach that I follow, and I was intrigued by some of the things he was saying specific to triathlete nutrition, so I decided to get his book.   Don’t tell my wife but, I’ve been considering hiring a nutritionist to help take my training to the next level, she already thinks I’ve lost my mind with all this triathlon stuff, I can’t wait to see her reaction when I start pouring bone broth into my coffee.

Dr. Bubbs is the Performance Nutrition Coach for Canada’s national basketball team and has consulted with professional NBA, NHL and MLB teams all over North America.  What I was expecting to get out of the book was a lot of information about athletic fueling and while there was plenty of that what I really learned was more about training load and recovery strategies.  It turns out you can’t eat in a vacuum all aspects of life affect your results.

Last night after a particularly stressful day managing our lives and businesses in this new world (we are both self employed) my wife and I each had a mini nervous breakdown.  The stress of not knowing what to do or how long this is going to last finally got to us and as we talked it out, I noticed I was using the same language Dr. Bubbs uses to talk about athletic recovery.

Here are the terms I learned from the world of elite athletics that we can all apply to life during the outbreak of COVID19.

Functional Over-Reach

It’s a well-known fact that you build muscle and endurance by continually placing stress on the area you want to increase.  That’s what lifting weights and running wind sprints are all about.  Functional Over-Reach (FOR) is the act of continually pushing training to the razor’s edge of complete exhaustion and then backing off.  By doing this repeatedly you can quickly build up muscle and endurance getting faster and stronger over a short period of time.  Most amateur athletes and weekend warriors never reach the stage of FOR however and don’t get the full growth benefit of their training.  In order to get to FOR you must push past the initial tired stage and find that next gear.  Some people call it the second wind but even if you can find it very few people will push it all the way to total exhaustion.

Critical to the build phase, once you’ve completely exhausted yourself you must take adequate time to recover before going out and doing it all again.   Recovery times vary depending on the athlete and what you are trying to build but the point is, stress and recovery go hand in hand.

Non-Functional Over-Reach

If you fail to give yourself the proper amount of rest between heavy training days, you will inevitably enter a phase of Non-Functional Over-Reach (NFOR).  Simply put, you’ll stop getting any growth benefit from your training.  Your strength, endurance or speed will plateau, and you might even start to get weaker.  NFOR is the alarm bell or blinking red light that your body sets off saying “slow down, we can’t do this anymore!”  A coach or athlete that keeps track of their training metrics will recognize NFOR the minute it starts and go into a prolonged rest phase or ratchet back training to include fewer hard days.  You don’t get a second wind from NFOR, there is no benefit to continuing to push a body that has stopped absorbing training.  The only thing to do is rest.

Over Training Syndrome

Finally, if you miss or ignore the signs of NFOR you will begin to experience Over Training Syndrome (OTS).  OTS is quite simply an injury waiting to happen.  Stress fractures, cartilage damage and repetitive strains all tend to be the result of OTS.  Since you failed to recognize the signs of NFOR and didn’t get adequate rest your body simply breaks down and forces you into an even longer period of rest.  In extreme cases OTS can end your athletic career altogether.

 

So, what does all this have to do with COVID19?

As I explained to my wife, it’s as if we have all entered a phase of mental NFOR.  The first couple of weeks we could push ourselves to adapt.  It was tiring but we could go to bed and night, get some rest and be ready to go again the next day.  But now, with no end in sight, and no escape it’s not fun anymore.  We aren’t growing, we aren’t getting any better at adaptation and we might soon start to experience prolonged anxiety, depression and mental illness as a result.

We all need to take a break.  Phone a friend, watch a good movie, go for a walk, take up a new hobby.  Anything really that takes your mind off the news and your social separation.  Do it as often as you need to.  For me that means completely shutting down all news sources between the hours of 8:00 am and 6:00 pm, texting a friend at least once a day, getting up from my desk to move around every few hours, and going for a walk every afternoon.  Whatever it is for you find something that gives you a mental break.  We can all get stronger through this, but only if we avoid mental OTS.

Keep your chin up!  Don’t over train, we’re all in this together.

Lauren

Parkinson’s Law – or – The Pursuit of Uber Productivity


I write my business plan every fall.

It’s more like a giant To Do List, Mission Statement and Daily framework for how I want to attack the coming year all rolled in to one.

I try to attend a national conference during the last week of October every year and when I return to the office I sit down, assess how I’ve done so far on my previous year’s plan and what I need to do in the next two months to finish the year strong.  Then I write out my plan for the coming year.

At the end of 2017 I recognized that I had run into an unexpected problem.  I realized that up to that point my goals had been too general and too easy to achieve.  Ultimately, I had left too much time unspecified in my day and filled it with unimportant, low productivity busy work.

It was then that I learned Parkinson’s Law.

According to Wikipedia, Parkinson’s law is the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.  Or that a bureaucracy grows to use every resource allotted to it.

This was first posited in 1955 by Cyril Northcote Parkinson in an essay published in The Economist.  Parkinson was a naval officer and historian of the 2nd World War who wrote over 60 books on history and management theory through his experience as a civil servant.  His theory was later expanded upon in the best-selling book “Parkinson’s Law or The Pursuit of Progress” published in 1958.

When I was writing my business plan for 2018, under the heading Customer Relationship Management (CRM) I made the bold pronouncement that to achieve my goals for this year I would need to reach out to 40 clients, contacts and prospects every single day!  (How I arrived at that number is a discussion for another time, it’s an interesting story too but not what I want to focus on today.)  When I showed that to a colleague he laughed and said it couldn’t be done.  Well it can!  And I’ve done it to great effect because I made it not just a goal but a requirement. 

Now to be clear – reaching out is not the same as having a conversation or a meeting.  Writing an email, leaving a message or sending a text all count.

In my pursuit of that magic number I have learned 3 things that world views as negatives that Parkinson’s Law requires in the positive to achieve more.  Stress, Pressure and Nervousness, when channeled in their positive form can be used to stimulate high performance.

That’s:

Stress –not distress

Pressure – not anxiety

Nervousness – not worry

Hall of Fame Pitcher, Nolan Ryan once said that the day he didn’t feel the pressure to perform when he stepped on the mound was the day he knew it was time to retire.

Motivational coach and productivity expert Darren Hardy once relayed a story from a 95-year-old business leader and friend of his about what he called Genesis Deadlines.  According to this business legend, God created heaven and earth in six days to show us and inspire us about what could be done in a short span of time.  This man would routinely take his goals and plans and shorten the time frame by a third before making them public or presenting them to his team specifically to create pressure and inspire creativity.

My goal of 40 reach-outs is part of a larger, stress inducing requirement of my daily life.  Without making my goals requirements or turning my want to into have to I would slow down and fill my life with mediocrity.

How do you stretch your capacity, create pressure and turn your life to the pursuit of productivity?  I’d love to hear your story in the comments or send me an email, I promise to respond to every one…

L C Sheil writes regularly about, spirituality, life and business coaching.  He is the founder and director of The Matthew 5:5 Society (formerly The Meekonomics Project) where he coaches ministry and business leaders to Live Life to the Fullest in Complete Submission to the Will of God. 

Mr. Sheil has authored two books and is available for public speaking and one on one coaching in the areas of work life balance,  finding and living your core values  and financial literacy.  Write to The Matthew 5:5 Society here for more information or follow L C Sheil on twitter and instagram.  

The Rewards of Reading


Lose yourself in a good book and boost your overall well-being

I’m an author. I’ve written 2 full length books with a 3rd in the works and several more in the concept stage. There is also a work book related to my day job and all these blog posts. I write about 500 words a day and I endeavor to read about 1 book a week.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that I consider reading to be an essential part of everyday life.  It’s basic to communication, via email or text message, paying bills and even navigating traffic. But did you know that reading for personal enjoyment and learning is not only a good form of low-cost entertainment, but it also brings with it a whole host of other benefits? Here are some ways reading can have a positive impact on your life.

It sharpens the mind

Regardless of your age, the more you expose your brain to information the better it can learn and remember. Research by Live Science.com, has shown that neurons in the brain have the ability to change structurally in response to new experiences. Reading ranks as the number one activity we can do to promote ongoing improvement in our knowledge, vocabulary and intelligence. Keeping our brains active engages our mental pathways, potentially reducing the risk of cognitive decline in old age and could even prevent dementia. In fact, a recent study from Prevention.com found individuals who frequently participated in intellectual pastimes over the course of their lifetimes had an approximately 32 percent slower late-life cognitive decline than those who didn’t.

It reduces stress and improves well-being

In the constantly connected and always on world of today, finding an effective way to slow down is highly important. Enter reading. A summary report from Canada’s National Reading Campaign notes that among traditional relaxation strategies, reading ranks as number one. Curling up with a good book has been proven to reduce stress levels by as much as 68 per cent. And it doesn’t take a lot of time either. According to the report, it only takes six minutes of reading to effectively slow your heart rate and ease tension in your muscles.

Reading has been linked to other positive physical and social effects as well. Book readers are 28 per cent more likely than non-readers to report very good or excellent health, and 15 per cent more likely to report a very strong satisfaction with life.

Social benefits exist for fiction lovers as well. There is evidence that reading fiction helps to promote empathy, boost self-esteem and improve social skills. When you identify with the emotions of a novel’s characters you are activating the same areas of the brain that light up when you experience real-life issues.

It helps children succeed in life

Parents who read to their children positively influence how much their kids like to read. Reading for fun enhances comprehension, vocabulary and attention span, and increases children’s confidence and their motivation to read throughout their lives.

Reading levels among youth are also a key indicator of future success in both education and life. A report by Statistics Canada found that those in the top reading levels in junior high school are up to 20 times more likely to attend university than those in lower reading levels. A similar study indicated that children with higher reading skills went on to have higher incomes and more professional roles in adulthood.

So, why not pop in to your local library or bookstore and see what catches your interest. You might be pleasantly surprised to discover a page-turner that you just can’t put down – plus a rewarding endeavor that is oh so good for you!

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

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O Come, O Come Emmanuel


“… and ransom captive Israel.” [author unknown]

I have mixed feelings about Christmas.

I love the overarching narrative of the original Christmas story. God became man to show us a better way of living. He used unexpected circumstances to come into the world and announced his arrival to religious outcasts. He subverted both the religious and political establishment and grew up in relative obscurity until the time came to establish his ministry.

manger

Over the centuries many religious practices and traditions have been established to help cement the significance of these events in our minds. We sing because the angels appeared to the shepherds in song;

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth… [Luke 2:13-14 The Message]

We give gifts because the Magi came bearing gifts fit for a king;

They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh. [Matthew 2:11 The Message]

And we get together with family and friends to celebrate, worship and eat because really what else are we going to do with all that food?

All of these things we do at Christmas are good things. But I have mixed feelings about Christmas because as Timothy Keller so aptly put it;

Idolatry means turning a good thing into an ultimate thing. [Timothy Keller; Every Good Endeavor, Connecting Your Work to God’s Work]

For many, even for many Christians, Christmas is no longer about the birth of a savior. No, Christmas stopped being about salvation and God’s rescue mission for humanity, a long time ago. Now the good and fun things about Christmas, the singing, the gifts, the family and friends have become all there is. As a result the Christmas season itself has become an idol. We worship the season without giving a second thought to the significance of what God has done as a result of coming into human existence.

I make no secret of the fact that I can be an emotional person. For a forty something year old man I cry a lot and I don’t care who knows it. Last Sunday my wife had a panic attack about all the things we needed to do in order to be ready for Christmas. The list was endless but not a single thing on her list had anything to do with celebrating our salvation as a result of the birth of Jesus. While she cried about buying gifts and baking cookies and doing laundry I remembered the words of a 12th century Christmas song and I quietly wept for everyone who is caught up in the idolatry of Christmas.

O come, o come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depth of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way the leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

We’ve made good things into ultimate things and lost site of the only true thing, and I weep for our loss. This Christmas please join me as I pray the words of that ancient hymn;

O come, o come Emmanuel…