Being busy is not the problem

Being busy is not the same as being stressed. You can be very busy and not stressed or conversely you can be very stressed but not that busy. Stress is not related to how much you have on your plate but how you deal with it.

I am a very busy person. I love being busy and having many projects on the go at the same time.  I used to run on stress, feeling like I was always overwhelmed and under pressure and I was making myself sick from it. But I have now learnt that there is a difference between being busy and being stressed. It is possible to very busy and NOT stressed. It is not how much you are doing but how you deal with what you are doing. Now I do more than I did before but have significantly less stress in my life.

Stress comes from feeling like you have no control and can not cope.  When you feel like your life is running away from you and you are chasing it, running as fast as you can but you are out of breathe and always behind, never catching up. Stress from unmanageable and unrealistic work loads or expectations or the responsibilities placed on your shoulders that you carry alone and struggle under the weight. Situations that are uncertain or unfamiliar can cause stress too. So how do you regain control of your life?

Firstly realise that no matter the situation, personal or in your work, you have choices. You might not have full control over a situation and you can not control what other people do but you always have control over yourself.  You have control over your expectations, your words, your attitude, your thoughts and feelings, your behaviour, what you will accept and put up with, when you say yes and when you say no, your schedule and your priorities.  It might not feel like you do, but in reality you have so much more choice that you realise.  Stop telling yourself how stressed and overwhelmed you are, instead fill your mind with positive, empowering and encouraging words. Exercise your control, make healthy choices.

Secondly where do you get your strength from?  Are you trying to do everything under your own strength?  Jesus said

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus has already offered the solution for stress and worry. The exchange Jesus offers is incredible, he will carry your burdens, so you can live light.  It does not mean there will not be work to do, you might even be called to do more, but Jesus will carry the weight of it and will provide peace and joy when you work under Jesus. I know that when I work under the strength and guidance of Jesus, my stress and anxiety are lifted and I can cope with far more than my natural abilities and capabilities allow.

Thirdly, what practical things can you do?

  • Prayer is the antidote to stress. In prayer, you hand over your burdens, release the things you can not control and ask God to guide you in the areas where you have choices. So many times I have been feeling stressed about a problem I can not find the answer too and then remember to take it to God in prayer and immediately the answer pops into my head or I get a call or email with the solution. God cares about our worries and wants to help, we just need to seek Him.

  • Ask for help. We are not designed to do life alone and we can not cope by ourselves. We need each other and we need to ask for help. Do not be a martyr and struggle through alone, bring people into your life and let them work with you. It is not failure to need help or to ask for help, we all do at times. Today you need help and tomorrow you help someone else. In community we can achieve so much more than alone.

  • Lists, I love lists. Whatever is running through your head and overwhelming you, write it down. Get it out of your head and on to paper so you arrange your day, plan your time and your priorities. Be intentional in spending time on what it important to you. Take control of your time and take control of your life.

I Would Love to, But … I Can’t Do That

Extract from ‘I would love to, but…’ by Staci McLean

… I don’t know how to do that.

… I could never be brave enough to do that.

… I don’t have the skills to do that.

… I don’t even know where to start.

Excuse or Obstacle?

At intermediate school, I had a teacher who taught aerobics at the Christchurch Les Mills Gym in the evenings. One day at school, she ran a competition and the kids who did the best in the task would go on a field trip with her after school to the gym to attend a Les Mills aerobics class. I don’t remember what the particular assignment was, but I was determined to win. A friend and I did win, and we got to go on the trip. The gym it was exciting, with loud music pumping through the sound system and everyone wearing the brightly coloured lycra workout clothing that was popular in the 80s.

The exercise class was high energy, dancing around with the music. I watched the instructors with amazement. They looked like they were having so much fun, as though they enjoyed teaching the class.

I remember thinking I would love to do that when I grew up, but I could never do that. It seemed so far out of my experience. I had never been to a gym before. I was twelve years old and self-conscious, my developing body scared me. Anyway, I didn’t look like those instructors, so I thought it wasn’t an option for me. I put the dream aside.

The ‘I can’t do that’ statement covers so many versions of the same excuse.

  • I don’t know how to do it.
  • I have no talent.
  • I’ll have to start at the beginning.
  • If I’m not going to be the best at the start, then why bother starting at all?

It is overwhelming to start something new and there will be things to learn.

The Brutal Truth

You say, ‘I can’t do that’, but the truth is you can’t do it at this present moment. Just because you can’t do something at this time doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to do it.

Who came out of their mother’s womb able to do anything?

Everything we do in our lives we had to learn, step by step. You learned to walk, to talk, to tie your shoelaces. You are reading this book, so you had to learn to do that. Then you learned how to do your job. So why, as adults, do we think we should automatically know how to do something?

I’m sure that we fell when we started learning to walk—I know my children did. But we didn’t stop learning to walk. Our parents didn’t say, ‘Look, he fell down. He’s no good at walking. He obviously can’t walk, so let’s stop teaching. He can just crawl everywhere for the rest of his life’.

Or, if you’re starting a new job, they don’t expect you to know all the systems and processes of your new company on the first day (well, they shouldn’t!). No, there is (or should be) an induction or training programme to teach you how to do the job.

When I was training for a marathon, people often said to me, ‘I’d love to do a fun run, but I can’t even run to the end of the street’. That is the most a ridiculous excuse. No normal person I have ever met or read about got up one day and ran five kilometres, let alone a marathon. There are probably some super athletes who could, but they are not the norm.

Every single runner started at the beginning. I didn’t decide to run a marathon one day and run the race the following week. It took years of build-up and training. When I started running, I could only run for thirty seconds. I slowly built up to running longer distances and times.

Overcoming the Obstacle

If you don’t know where to start, find someone who is already doing the thing you want to do, and ask them. Meet other people and learn from them. We live in an information-saturated world. Whatever you want to do, there will be blogs, Facebook pages, YouTube clips, support groups, organisations, books, classes, or workshops to inspire you or teach you.

When you start, accept that you’re not going to get it right the first time. You’ll need to learn as you go, and a great way to learn is through making mistakes. If you’re not making mistakes when you’re trying to learn something new, you’re probably not pushing yourself enough. Get out of your comfort zone! Making mistakes helps you learn faster and become competent quicker.

Remember my story of me as a twelve-year-old girl dreaming of being an aerobics instructor? It took a while, but I discovered Ezymovez dance fitness in my forties. I trained as an instructor and now teach my own class. Yes, it turned out I could do it after all.

All the same old insecurities I had when I was twelve were still present now, as well as quite a few new ones. There were the additional pressures of work and family, but I took it step by step, gained more confidence, and learned new skills.

As an EZYMovez dance fitness instructor I talk to students who say they don’t know what they are doing. Or I talk to would-be students who say they have two left feet and can’t do it before they even attend a class. But many of the instructors started as the nervous student hiding in the back of the class nervous, struggling to move in the right direction. It doesn’t come in just one class. It takes practice and training to get better.

You can’t do it now, but you can learn. You can grow, and you can do it eventually. If it turns out in the end that you actually can’t do it, I guarantee you will have had fun trying, and learned other skills you never knew you could learn.

No lesson in life is wasted as long as you learn something. So have a go.

Freedom at all costs

Have you seen the movie ‘Harriet?’

It is about Harriet Tubman, an incredible woman who was born into slavery, escaped and then led many missions to rescue slaves and led them to freedom. It is a true story and a compelling movie for many reasons. 

Harriet had suffered a head injury as a child and as a result she had headaches and dreamlike trances.  She believed her trances and visions were God’s revelations.  Because of her strong faith she listened carefully to God and she would only go where she felt God was leading her.  She had extraordinarily success on her missions despite the unfavourable odds against her and the real danger to her life and she lived to over 90 years old.  A truly inspirational story.

In the movie there is one scene which impacted me as I felt like she was speaking directly to this current generation.  In this scene Harriet is meeting with a group of prominent and important politicians and those working to abolish slavery and they tell her that further rescue missions are too dangerous and impossible.

Harriet replies to them, ‘Many of you don’t know slavery first-hand. You were born free, or maybe you have been free so long, you forgot what it’s like. You got comfortable and important’.   (paraphrased)

It made me think about my freedom in Christ.  There was a time when I was a slave to addiction, to brokenness, to sin and to pain. I was made free by Jesus over 20 year ago and I fight with myself all the time to not to get too comfortable and forget what it was like to live under the slavery of world.  There are people in our communities and all over the world living under oppression, captivity, and hopelessness, who need us not to forget or to get comfortable in our lives.  They need us to stand up, to fight for them, to make it our mission to find them and led them to Jesus to be set free.

In the movie Harriet goes on to say What those still enslaved are going through right now! I have heard their groans and sighs, and seen their tears, and I would give every drop of blood in my veins to free them! (paraphrased)

We need fresh eyes to see the pain all around us and fresh ears to hear the groans and a fresh spirit of a warrior to take action, to not allow comfort or the busyness of our modern lives or our lack of confidence to stop us from stepping on to the battlefield. We can play our part in the plan, we can see Jesus change lives and set free the captives. When we listen to the voice of God, go where we are called and go where we are led by God just like Harriet Tubman.

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world. 

Harriet Tubman
‘Harriet’ the film

Round one goes to…

I am learning to celebrate the victories and a job well done.

I have a great job; I get to share my stories with people, through what I write and speaking at events and workshops. I love what I do.  I do not love the day after an event, or after my work has gone out public. 

I find it extremely easy to focus on the little mistakes I made, sometimes real but mostly imagined.  No matter how well an event has gone or the great feedback I get, I go through this process of tearing it all apart and beating myself up for not doing better.  It is a boxing match with many rounds as I try to dodge punches from myself.  I am the meanest and toughest opponent I will ever face in a fight, because I will always go for the low blows, pulling out all the insults and old baggage to use against myself.

The joy of a doing a good job, of seeing all the hard work in planning and preparation come together is stolen through self-doubt and self-criticism. 

Yes, it is always worth reviewing your work and getting feedback so you can learn and grow for next time.  A healthy debrief is vital in improving our performance and services but a personal attack on ourselves for perceived failure or obsessing over it, is not healthy or helpful and destroys confidence and joy.

So, what do we do instead?

What has worked for me is to stop focussing on myself, but instead focus outwards.  Self-doubt, self-criticism, and self-reproach have one thing in common: SELF.  These destructive thoughts are all directed internally.  Too much time spent dwelling in the negative or when we became too absorbed thinking about ourselves is damaging.

To change your focus from your inner critic to the outside world, change the direction of your thoughts.  For me instead of thinking about all the things I might or might not have done right, I think about the people I met or talked to. I pray for the people who heard me speak or brought my book.  Praying for other people shifts your focus.  Do not stay stuck in your own boxing match, fighting against the nastier and meaner version of yourself.  Take off the gloves and step out of the ring. 

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Philippians 2:3-5

Avoid the rear vision mirror

Today as I was driving my car, the car behind me stopped suddenly in the middle of the road, it was usual behaviour so I kept looking in the rear vision mirror as to what was going on. I quickly realised how dangerous it was to get sidetracked by what is in the rear vision and not focusing on where I was driving. It made me think, how often in life do we get so concerned with what has happened in the past and behind us that we do not see the obstacles and interesting view in front of us.

When you learn to drive, you are taught to take quick looks behind you to check there are no vehicles about to overtake you or in your way when you shift lanes. But only a quick view. Most of the time you need to look forward, surveying for possible hazards and navigating to your destination. Taking your eyes off the road even for a minute can have life changing results.

In our lives it can be tempting to take a peak in the rear vision mirror a bit too often. Either to remember better times or rehash old wounds. It is fine to take a quick peak every now and to watch for previous struggles reemerging from behind you, but not to linger there.

Look ahead and watch for what could be a hazard ahead of you and look ahead to admire the amazing view and enjoy the journey. The view is not in the rear vision. The best view is in front of you.

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-14

Eliminating the What ifs

Extract from ‘The Unburdened Warrior’ by Staci McLean

The answer to control is surrender. Surrender to God, who is the only one in control. You can control some things in your life—your behaviour, your thoughts, your emotions. You have control over yourself, and you can choose to surrender that control to God knowing He can do a better job of managing your life than you can. He knows everything, He wants the best for you, He loves you and cares for you.

You can’t control everything. You can’t control how other people will act, although you can influence their choices. You can choose who you have in your life and what behaviour you will accept from them, but you can’t control them. For that, we have prayer, faith and trust. God is in control when we can’t be. He knows better than us, as He can see the whole picture at once. We cannot.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:7

Peace and freedom come from accepting that we can’t control everything and neither do we want to. So many of life’s amazing experiences come out of the blue. God has incredible plans for you, amazing experiences for you, and opportunities for growth which will help you learn and become a stronger and better person. Don’t miss out because you’re holding on too tight, trying to control the world around you, not leaving space for mistakes or surprises.

The peace of God from surrender, trust, and faith doesn’t magically make the problems (the real problems) go away, although God can and will do miracles in your life when you let Him in. The peace of God is there despite your problems. It is a peace we have in the middle of the storm. It is not an easy life, but a light one.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6–7

Do you doubt yourself?

I have been working through a lot of self-doubt lately. It often pops up at the beginning of a new year, when I look at the plans and projects ahead of me that I believe God has called me for.  And I wonder…. Can I really do it?

My doubt is focused on MY skills, experience, and ability to do the task set before me.  That is the problem with self-doubt, it is totally self-focused.  

Our self-doubt arises because we look at the natural world and assess that we do not have what it takes to accomplish what God wants us to do.  We think God must have overestimate our ability, we doubt that we heard God correctly or we doubt God.

Self-Doubt robs us of faith, of trust and the blessing of seeing something that cannot be done be done.  Miracles are waiting for us.

We need to have refreshed eyes to see God working.  We don’t need skills, experience, talent, or abilities for what we are called to do, we just need a willing heart to obey and to learn.  God will supply the lessons to learn, the training, the resources, and the supernatural power to see his plans come to pass.

Jesus walks on water even when we stay sitting in the boat.  We might doubt we can do the impossible, but just like Peter we can walk on water with Jesus beside us – but we must get out of the boat and stop doubting.

 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
 “Come,” he said.
 Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” 
Matthew 14:27-33

When Peter took his eyes off Jesus and looked to the natural world around him, the water, and the wind, he began to doubt the miracle he was in the middle of and he started to sink.  To overcome self-doubt, stop looking within and stop looking around you but look towards Jesus and do not take your eyes off him.  He will always reach out his hand to catch us.

You do not need to believe in yourself more or have more self confidence to overcome self-doubt but instead place your belief in Jesus and place your confidence in his victory.

Life is like a camera

I love taking photos with my phone.  The settings on my phone camera has an adjustable focus option.  I can make the lens focus on a particular object, the foreground or on the background.  This causes all the rest of the photo to became out of focus or blurry.  The purpose of adjustable focus is to draw the eye to a specific area of the photo that the photographer wants to highlight.  Our minds will naturally try to make sense of what we are seeing and be drawn to what it sees is in focus.

This such a great metaphor for our lives to.  What we focus on and what we choose to highlight in our worlds is what our mind will be drawn to and what it will ‘see’.  We know this is true, as we have all had that experience like if you decided to buy a red Honda and you would start to see red Hondas everywhere, when before you saw none.  It is not that there is suddenly more red Hondas on the road coincidentally at the same time you purchased one. It is now you are aware of red Hondas and you are focused on them, your mind now sees them.  They were always there, but now they are your focus.

It is the same with our feelings as well.  Have you ever had one of those days when everything went wrong?  Really, did everything go wrong or were you choosing to focus on the negative parts of the day, so it just seemed like everything went wrong.  In fact, there would have been good things that happened but because you where only focusing on the negative, the good became blurry and out of focus. 

Alternatively, we all know people who are focused on the positive all the time and they could have a car accident and be happy about it because they made a new friend.  They have trained the lens in their brain to only focus on the positive in every situation.

This is not just positive thinking or manufacturing positive experiences, instead this is choosing to focus on what is already good in your life and what is important.  Let the negative and unimportant became out of focus and blurry and it will have less impact on you.  The Bible encourages us to focus on what is righteous, good, and true and the dwell on these things and not let our minds wander into unhelpful and hopeless areas. 

To be happy, to be productive and free, we need to choose to focus on what is true and helpful.  Set your lens to focus on the good and let the rest blur out and your experience of life will be quite different.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

Love Workouts

I have signed up to do a half marathon in March.  I have done a few in the past but not for 2 or 3 years so I definitely need to train for it.

Training for a half marathon generally involves 4 types of workouts – speed, hills, long and easy.  Speed workouts are shorter and faster to increase your pace.  Hills increase your endurance and fitness.  Long slow workouts help you be ready to cover the distance of a half marathon and easy is a workout but comfortable and enjoyable.  Each training workout is designed to develop different skills and abilities. All together they make doing a challenge like a half marathon possible, not just to finish but to enjoy the journey and finish well.

Similarity in our lives if we want to develop perseverance, stamina, strength and tenacity, there are challenges that we must face to build these skills.  Just like the workouts, we need different type of experiences to develop a variety of important life skills.

We will face speed challenges, those situations that require us to react quickly and respond immediately. It might be a highly stressful situation which does not last awfully long but requires all our energy and attention at the times. 

And we will face the hills, the ups and downs of life.  Sometimes we cruise downhill and then we need to put our heads down and give it a burst of energy as we face an uphill battle.

And there will be times when we are in for the long slow challenge.  Those projects, dreams, or situations when we need to persevere and pace ourselves during periods of extended challenge or struggle.  We are in for the long stretch and slow and steady wins this race.

And then in between we will have times when it is easy. Times when life is in cruise mode, breathing space.  We can take a moment to enjoy and be grateful for all that we have.

All these different seasons and experiences we have in our live create our character and develop our resistance.  God gives us opportunities to grow and learn for our benefit, these challenges and trials might seem like a bad thing, but they are not.  They give us the ability to grow stronger and be ready for the future.  Love the workouts.

Why I never make New Year Resolutions

I am a very goal focused person and always have something I am working on or working towards, but I never make New Year Resolutions.  I have a few reasons

Studies have shown that less than 25% of people stay committed to their resolutions after just 30 days, and only 8% accomplish them.  The chances of your sticking to a New year’s resolution is very low.

New Years Resolutions tend to focus on what you want to do or not do.  They are performance-based goals.  Making goals like this when you are on holiday, sets you up for failure.  Either because you can not start until you get home, or it is easy to do on holiday but difficult to incorporate into everyday life.

It is easy to get carried away on New Years Eve and make wide, sweeping declarations which are not realistic or achievable.  I will NEVER eat chocolate again or this year I will exercise EVERYDAY. 

Instead of New Years Resolutions I like to focus on what do I want to BE or what do I want MORE of in my life.   What I want to BE is to what God created me to be.  Every year I want to be more my true self, the person God made me to be and I want MORE of God in my life.  That is all.  I want to be more me, and I want more of God each and every year.

All my goals, achievements and aspirations flow from that.  Every step I choose in the new year take me closer to God and closer to the person God created me to be, my best, authentic self.

Many years ago I listened to a great audio book called ‘My One Word – Change your life with Just one word’ by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen. I love this book and it changed the way I look at a new year.  In this book, the authors suggest finding one word to govern your year, kind of like a theme for the year.  So instead of setting resolutions use one word to direct your bible reading, your prayer life, the skills you seek and your development.  I have followed this for about 10 years, and I love the process of God revealing my word to me and watching as God breaks down and teaches me all the aspects and variations of this one word.  Words I have had in the past have been revolution, restoration, healing, freedom, soaring and surrender.  The word for 2020 was CLARITY. During the year I sort to clarify who I was, what I believe and clarifying my purpose.  Although many unexpected things happened in 2020, my word and my mission of pursuing Clarity did not change, and God revealed so much of my character, His character and our relationship in that one word. 

When considering your word for 2021, reflect on these questions…

  • What kind of person do you want to become this year?
  • What drives your desire to be this kind of person?
  • Describe the characteristics of this kind of person. Make a list of words based on this description.
  • Reduce your list to ten words or less and research those words. Use the dictionary and your Bible, perhaps a thesaurus.
  • Choose one word from your list to be your one word for this year.
  • Also choose a Bible verse that speaks to you about your chosen word and memorize it. This will provide a foundation of truth you can continually return to and will fuel your hope to change.
  • What initial expectations do you have regarding the impact of your word?

“My One Word provides us with a lens, with a new way of seeing. It’s a tool to train our eyes. It helps us frame the way we process the world around us and what happens to us.

Mike Ashcraft