Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Live ’09 with more frugal values
It’s time we stop instant gratification and preach patience
Stress for Success
December 30, 2008

Brace yourself: 2009 may be even more financially challenging than 2008. Given that our collective American values got us into this mess perhaps we should identify which ones and replace them with values to help us get through it and avoid the same mistakes in the future.

Here are some values that drove our profligate behavior in recent decades and new ones with which to replace them:
* Greed Þ moderation
* Instant gratification; spend now! Þ patience; save more!
* Materialism Þ generosity

A thesaurus search for "moderation" finds: restraint, self-control, and temperance. "Excess" is its antonym.

In which ways are you personally excessive? Do you eat or drink too much? Are you a shopaholic? Does your excess fail to satisfy you in a day or a week? It may be time to consider decreasing yours significantly.

But first you must decide if you actually value moderation. Identify how restraint could benefit you - and not just financially. For example, if you’re an over-spender does this create tension with your significant other? If so, controlling your spending would benefit both your bank account and your relationship.

When tempted to buy something unnecessary ask what you value more, the item or your relationship, the item or your bank account. Consciously comparing how much you prefer one thing over another prioritizes your values. If you buy the item consciously admit that you currently value the item more than your relationship or your bank account.

The infamous American need for instant gratification has skyrocketed along with advertising, intensifying with each new generation. We forget that our grandparents accumulated their possessions after a life time of saving for them.

Instead, many in financial stress today were tempted by the soaring real estate values that made them feel rich. Those who refinanced their homes taking out and spending cash on stuff now have lots of stuff and a home that' s worth less than their mortgage.

We need to get back to the novel idea of buying only that for which we have cash. However, the convenience of credit cards makes this hopelessly outdated. But you can stay on a disciplined budget and enjoy the convenience of credit cards.

Decide how much you can afford to spend monthly after your rent/mortgage is paid. Withdraw that amount of cash divided it into four weekly envelopes. When you get gas, for example, use your credit card. Then transfer that amount of cash from a spending envelope into a checking account deposit envelop to cover the charge when it comes through.

Finally, imagine a world where generosity is valued more than materialism. People literally giving the money they’d otherwise spend to someone who needs it. Or being more generous in spirit: volunteering, taking time to listen to someone who needs to be heard, or visiting a lonely neighbor.

These idealized, if not always actual, frugal American values could have avoided this financial mess. They can still get us back to basics reminding us of what’s really important in life. And it isn’t stuff.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of Inter Action Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Positive life values can ease demands on time, energy
Stress for Success
December 23, 2008

During the holiday season it’s easy to be in a constant rush: to shop, cook, clean, attend parties, not to mention work. The barrage of ads for a multitude of gifts and holiday preparations becomes a blur. The jam-packed weeks exhaust you.

To more easily navigate these conflicting demands for your time and energy it’s important to be strongly steeped in your positive life values.

Your values, your ideas about what’s right and wrong, are well established during your 20s and serve as your decision-making and problem-solving compass. Having them guide your choices makes life far less stressful than allowing the prevailing wind to dictate your actions. They help you plot a course through your stressful world with greater clarity and purpose that’s in alignment with your authentic self.

Your values also determine your character and affect everything you do and everything you are. For example, a store clerk gives you too much change. If you value honesty over money you'll return it.

To reduce your stress you need to have not only a clear set of values but also an unwavering commitment to them. According to the authors of "Stress: Living and Working in a Changing World," by Manning, Curtis and McMillan, to live authentically you must:
* know what your values are
* cherish them
* declare them
* act on them
* act habitually on them

They believe that "arrested development" occurs when you fail to complete any of these five requirements.

So consciously choose which of your values to let predominate. Here’s a sampling of some to consider:
Acceptance of others as they are Achievement Appearance
Arts Career Creativity
Education Enjoyment Environment
Fairness Family Fitness
Honesty Leisure Love
Loyalty Quiet time Money
Nature Personal growth Physical health
Personal power Privacy Recognition
Respect for self/others Relationships Risk taking

For example, if you typically value quiet time but have a house full of guests for Christmas perhaps you can consciously allow yourself to let the values of family and relationships prevail while your guests are with you. It’s not that you toss out your other value; it’s simply a choice of which values to accentuate.

Or ahead of any potentially stressful event, identify which values you want to honor. For instance, you know you and your nemesis will attend the same Christmas party and your typical reaction to each other is competitive and defensive. By repeating a mantra to yourself over and over affirming the values you want to display you can handle the encounter more as you want vs. reacting defensively. “I respect him and accept him as he is.” The more you recite this to yourself before and during the party the more you’ll act in accordance with these values.

So look ahead to the stressful challenges that await you. Consciously choose the positive values you’d like to guide you through each and program yourself to exhibit these. The more you do this the more your behavior aligns with your values; the more you’ll live authentically.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of Inter Action Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Learn to be an efficient worrier over financial stress
Stress for Success
December 16, 2008

Financial stress triggers basic survival fears so it’s normal to worry excessively and experience symptoms like:
* insomnia
* digestive problems
* increased alcohol/drug consumption, etc.

The mind is absolutely connected to the body. So, to limit these and other negative consequences you must control your mind.

Become an efficient worrier by not worrying about what’s beyond your control. For instance, I still look at our monthly investment statements but if I start stewing about the state of our retirement funds I’ll stop. Wall Street's ups and downs are beyond my control so why obsess about them?

Or worrying about your mate’s stressful sleeping habits is also beyond your control, so don’t go there.

Instead, try these ideas to stop invasive and anxious thoughts. These only work if you use them habitually.

Redirect your thinking:
* Thought stopping: when you hear the rumblings of stressful thoughts think or say out loud, “Stop!” Repeat it over and over until you successfully stop the undesired thoughts.
* Affirmations: replace stressful ruminations with thoughts that carry you toward your positive goal. For example, for the goal of finding additional income think, “I’m finding financial opportunities.” Habitually replacing stressful thoughts with affirmations, over time, gives you more personal control, while directing your mind to look for (and find) those opportunities.

Redirect your emotions:
When stressed you’ll always react emotionally. Anger and fear, Mother Nature’s survival emotions (and “sub-emotions” like irritation, loneliness, etc.,) are present to the degree you’re stressed. They mostly operate out of the amygdala region of your brain, which also triggers your physical fight/flight response putting strain on your body and emotions. This explains the above symptoms.

Medical scientist Dr. Nick Hall reports that discomfort with negative emotions, especially anger, correlates with increased susceptibility to some cancers and immune system dysfunction like rheumatoid arthritis. He advises stopping the “chemical pinball game in the brain areas that are engaged in emotions,” by shifting your focus away from your feelings at the moment of their escalation. For example, if you’re stressed by job losses where you work he recommends finishing this incomplete statement three times in context of what’s upsetting you: “I am glad that …”
* “… I still have my job”
* “… my spouse still has hers”
* “… I still have an opportunity to be useful to my employer.”

Noting what you’re glad about in the very situation that’s driving you to the edge gives you more power and the stressor less.

Finally, in this same vein, list your “I’m gratefuls” each morning upon awakening. Given this financial mess you could be grateful for:
* Your health
* Your strong relationships
* The beautiful weather
* No hurricanes this year

The economy will do what it’s going to do. It’s certainly beyond your control. How you handle it is within your control. Even though these ideas change nothing in the tangible world, they change your internal world, which will determine how you handle this crisis, therefore its possible consequences.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of Inter Action Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

There’s general unease and growing chronic stress in America
Stress for Success
December 9,2008

The distress around America over our collective financial future is palpable. Even if you aren’t personally suffering from our economic ills you almost certainly know others who are.

Here are three ideas to help manage your anxiety while navigating these uncertain times.

First, with the ongoing nature of this fiscal unraveling those who are most affected are experiencing chronic stress (elevated stress that lasts for months), which places significantly more physical and emotional strain on them. If this goes on too long they can expect more illness and even possibly disease development, which they’d largely be unaware of. So it's vital to take better care of yourself to mitigate the damages of stress.

For example, if you've lost income and find yourself with extra time it's far wiser to invest your energy into not only looking for new income but also into health-enhancing activities like exercising, spending more time with your family and volunteering vs. channel surfing with depressed thoughts rumbling around your brain. (The latter is almost impossible to eliminate but can be controlled by spending far more time on healthy pursuits; more on other ways to limit your worrying next week.) See this as an opportunity to accomplish things you’ve been meaning to.

Secondly, much of stress reduction, regardless of the source of your stress, is to focus on what's within your control and to cope with what's beyond, a subject I’ve addressed many times in the five years of this column.

Regarding the state of the world economy and your place in it, make your first stress reduction step to identify what’s within and beyond your control.

What’s beyond your control includes:
* the direction and the duration of the financial pain, including what happens with the stock market
* the government's, your employer’s and anyone else’s response to it
* job losses
* etc.

Divert your focus away from the above and onto what’s within your control including your:
* reaction to all of the above, which includes your spending and saving habits, how aggressively or not you look for new work, how you spend newly found time
* worrying and possible resulting illness or stress symptoms like insomnia
* reaction to a probable increased workload if you still have your job
* etc.

Problem-solve on what’s within your control by identifying your options and choosing a strategy to address your issues.

Lastly, what can you learn to avoid such monetary stress in the future? If you had too big a mortgage you’ve learned (hopefully) that you need to live below not above your means, to save more money, and/or to cut your credit card use. What will you do differently to avoid being in this position again?

Who knows, we may look back on this meltdown as ultimately good for us. It may get us back to basics – like spending less that we make! In the meantime, protect yourself from the ravages of chronic stress by taking better care of yourself than you normally do.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of Inter Action Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Be assertive, but think first
Stress for Success
December 2, 2008

To be assertive or not to be assertive, that’s often the question.

Too frequently those who’ve been historically passive go from challenging virtually nothing to confronting almost everything. But it’s important to pick and choose your battles. Some aren’t worth fighting. Consider the dilemma over whether or not to speak up during political conversations.

It’s certainly possible to carry on respectful political dialogue; it's just difficult with many people. When you’re with others who are voicing their political views determine if it’s worth it for you to counter with your own different opinions by identifying your goal. Depending upon the circumstances, you may choose to remain quiet or to speak up. Let your goal guide you.

If your objective is to present an opposing belief, then jump in. To do this assertively you must respect the others’ rights to believe as they do. Listening well communicates this respect. If your intent is to convince the other person how wrong they are and how right you are, good luck.

No matter the situation, to assert yourself use assertive formulas to help you think before you speak. They’re clumsy at first but once you become proficient they become effortless to use.

To request behavior change:
1. Describe the other person' s unacceptable behavior
2. Explain the negative consequences of it
3. Request behavior change for the future

E.g., You have employees arguing over politics and your goal is for them to keep it out of the office:
When you discuss politics in the office and disagree your voices get louder attracting customers' attention (step one.) This can be uncomfortable for them, which is unacceptable to me (step two.) Please keep your political conversations outside of the office and on your own time (step three.)

Surface manipulation:
1. Describe what you perceive as manipulative behavior
2. State your interpretation of it
3. Ask if you're correct

E.g., You’ve stated a political view and your conversational partner looks at another person and rolls her eyes with a slight nod in your direction. Your interpretation is that she’s communicating, “How ignorant is he?” You could say:
Sue, I just noticed you rolling your eyes after I stated my opinion. It seems to me that you may think that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Am I right? (If you ask you’d better be ready for her response!)

When you expose someone’s manipulation they’re less likely to try it again with you.

Here’s a modified example for this formula. Your customer seems to be complaining in a manipulative way by saying, “You’re employees were here cleaning yesterday and they actually vacuumed behind the doors.” Your response could be, “It sounds like what you’re really saying is that they usually don’t. Is that right?”

Assertiveness training is full of formulas that help you think before you speak. At first they take a minute or more to fill out, which suggests that you should take at least that much time to think before you speak up, especially in potentially sensitive discussions.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of Inter Action Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization