Overcoming Overload with Balance

balanceLast month’s focus on technology was interesting because I didn’t realize the impact of technology in the details of my life. I didn’t realize how out of balance I truly was regarding my use of technology and my need for almost constant access and information.

I certainly don’t think technology is evil. I love the relationships, the access to information and the freedom to share thoughts and ideas. Yet, I also realize the need to master or be mastered by technology and its incessant call. I understand that I must refuse to follow the crowd and instead choose my own focus. In doing so, I can overcome information overload by focusing on creating balance.

Laying Down the Gauntlet

Just like overload looks different on every person, so does a balanced solution for overload. In Managing Overload with Boundaries, we discussed basic principles as a guide in creating a plan for awareness, prevention and management of overload.

In today’s post, I am issuing a challenge, playing off our focus last month on technology and playing into this month’s focus on balance.

CHALLENGE

The challenge is this: Decide one way you can begin to become the master over technology in your life rather than a slave to it. Think of some change you can make that clearly says, “I refuse to follow the crowd and will decide for myself how to use technology & how to manage the information it constantly presents.”

To help, let’s look at examples of others working to create balance in their lives:

These examples and suggestions hopefully serve to get your creative juices flowing as well as to inspire and motivate.

Choose to Think

With the gauntlet laid down, consider this quote from Rick Dawson of Planned Peasanthood, someone who always hits home with truth…

“God gave us the ability to think – we have to choose to do so, on a minute by minute basis sometimes, if we don’t want to be overwhelmed by the ‘drinking from the firehose’ condition of living in an always on, 24/7/365 world. In its own way? It can set us up for the same sort of response that primitive man had – always afraid, always on guard.”

Choose to get grounded with God, and let Him prioritize your day. Trust God to get you the information and connections you need instead of obsessing over the constant inflow from technology. Find YOUR balance by choosing to think based on the guiding and directing of the Holy Spirit.

While I see the convenience of technology, I simply cannot shake the fact that it never satisfies my deep need for connection. And for that reason, I choose today to pick up the gauntlet.

DISCUSSION: Will you pick up the gauntlet too? If so, how?

5 Crucial Principles for Managing Stress

Manage stressAn interesting progression took place while blogging about stress this past month – I became more stressed. No, writing didn’t negatively stress me. Stress, yes, but the good kind resulting in stretching and growing, the therapy kind.

Do you have any good stress in your life right now?

Maybe the increased awareness of stress in general played a role. For sure, a large part came from an increase in stressors, most through others and out of my control.

My first reaction, my automatic response, is to eliminate stress as much as possible. That’s not always the best option, though. Sometimes my focus must be on recharging and then continuing, letting stress be and not trying to control it. With that, I realize that I must…

Persistently pursue time to recharge and refocus.

Relieve stressIf Jesus needed to do this (Matthew 14:13-34), I definitely need this habit. So, instead of trying to fix everything (which is impossible and only adds to stress), maybe letting it ride, living within it is best. In other words…

Acknowledge the stress, then keep commitments and fulfill responsibilities by simply doing what’s next.

As I’ve learn to keep moving through the stress, I’ve also gotten better at not letting stress constantly eat away at me, at not worrying about what I can’t control. I’ve learned to counteract stress with healthy outlet activities (exercise, reading, talking, etc.), and I’ve learned to pray… a lot… about everything (Philippians 4:6). Do you have healthy outlets for stress relief?

In that, I begin to focus on controlling my attitude and responses during stress. Out of that comes a realization that I need to apply a principle I’ve told my boys many times, namely…

Understand what you can and can’t control, and refuse to dwell in the wrong place.

Prepare for StressWhen I realize what I can and can’t control, I must then focus my energy and effort on that which I can control, even if only slightly. One of the most difficult areas to realize control involves the volume of what we take on, what we commit to and assume responsibility for.

And what I see happening is a lot of people drowning in a perfectly floatable boat simply because they’ve weighed it down by taking on too much. They’re sitting in a sinking boat because they’ve put too much in it, and the only way to keep from drowning is to get rid of some of the stuff. Really, it’s best to never take it on in the first place, but at some point, we must…

Learn to say “no” – even to good – so we can say “yes” to better and best.

As stress ebbs and flows, and as I realize my inability to truly control its existence, I increasingly understand the importance of a habit of consistency regarding stress management. I realize that stress exists mostly as a mental battle, that it’s the atmosphere of my inner self that truly determines whether or not I sink or float. Do you have any consistent habits to help manage your stress?

Psychcentral says “most negative symptoms [of stress] can be corrected if you take action.” My experience with stress – and a crash and burn resulting from not managing it well – supports this fact. With that comes the final principle for managing stress…

Find ways to manage your stress on your own terms before your body forces you to on its terms.

Dealing with stress really isn’t an option. You WILL deal with it one way or another. The question is, will you deal with it by choice or by force?

DISCUSSION: What can you do today to better manage stress? What advice do you have for others?

Additional posts about stress:

Children & Stress

stress boysJonathan, an independent worker, gets easily frustrated, struggles with change, tends to over-analyze, and operates with a lot of “What if…” scenarios. Richard, a very social person, procrastinates, rushes through work, sacrifices quality for completion, and struggles focusing.

At least, when overwhelmed or not managing stress well, these descriptions fit my boys aptly. But when they manage their stress and keep balanced, they are very productive and positive.

I often forget to consider my kids’ stress. They are “just kids” and seem to handle stress way better than I do, after all. But when I see the signs and do nothing, I miss out on a valuable parenting opportunity.

Biblical Parenting_scriptureSpecific Kid-Sources of Stress

Based on the lives of my two boys (age 15 & 13), both their own stress as well as what they describe as stress in their friends’ lives, the top areas of stress for kids include: School (grades, homework, tests, etc.); peer pressure; sports; parent pressures (chores, behavior, attitude, etc.); consequences of stupid choices; wanting to relax; thinking about the future; and divorced parents.

An Immediate Response

Realizing that most kids, and many adults for that matter, tend to react to stress without first thinking, a stress-management approach for kids must be sort of programmed into their brains (in the spirit of Deuteronomy 6:7). Keeping this in mind, I always ask them the following questions when they struggle with a stressful situation:

What can you do about it?
What can’t you do about it?
Who/what can you control/not control?
Who/what can you change/not change?

We also usually address the “fairness” issue, since kids often dwell here. They need to know that life isn’t always fair.

In addition to getting our boys to realize they can only control themselves and their reactions, we also try to provide stress-relieving activities or approaches for managing stress. Those include giving them a venue to talk out what’s on their minds and making sure they have enough physical activity and leisure time. We also make sure to have lots of family time as well as to provide structure that suits the child. And of course, consistency blankets all of these.

A Biblical ResponseTitus 2

Advice on teaching our kids anything lies incomplete and ineffective without integrating what Scripture says about  preventing, managing and eliminating stress for our kids. With that in mind, lets make a somewhat unique application of some very familiar parenting verses.

  1. Don’t exasperate & discourage them. (Colossians 3:21) So often, my kids’ stress comes from or is made worse by my own poor stress management.
  2. Give them skills to deal with their feelings. (Proverbs 1:8-9) Be available to listen & to talk.
  3. Teach them ways to relieve stress. (Proverbs 22:6) Include them in your own stress relievers when possible.
  4. Tell them why managing stress is important. (1 Peter 5:3) Use yourself as an example.
  5. Model positive stress management. (Titus 2:7-8) Make sure what you say matches what you do.

I want my kids to realize that stress is not always bad. In fact, we need stress to grow and thrive. Take the amoeba – the most basic of life forms – for example. Scientists introduced it into a completely stress-free environment in a petri dish. What happened? The amoeba died. But when placed in a “normal” environment with all its challenges, the amoeba multiplied and thrived.

The same happens, essentially, with us. Without stress, we fail to thrive and grow. Plus, a stress-free life isn’t possible anyway.

Doesn’t good parenting, then, involve teaching our kids how to prevent, manage and relieve stress? Aren’t we living out what Scripture says when we train our kids to handle the inevitable in life to allow them to truly be not only productive and positive but to do so in a way that honors God and points others to Him?

Too Overwhelmed to Become Less Overwhelmed

So often, people fail to work on developing a time management and goal-setting system simply because they feel overwhelmed. They feel like they are so far off track and have too many changes needing made that they just don’t know where to start. As a result, they don’t start anywhere and simply maintain the same dysfunctional system that got them to their current state of frustration.

Where to Start3-14-13 Where to start

Often, the answer is to simply just start. Just take a step forward. Yet, too often, the weight of perfectionism, too many choices or both prevents even that first step. Sometimes, setting big goals and getting your life organized simply seems insurmountable. When you feel this way, start the process of change by focusing on small changes that added together will make a huge difference over time.

The following tips can help you to start this small change process.

  1. Consider the extremes. Ask yourself what’s working well and what’s not working at all. Then look for ways to tweak what’s already working and to change with what is absolutely not working. Don’t worry about what falls in between.
  2. Get and stay teachable. This point has far reaching implications. Being teachable, or having the willingness to always learn and grow, is essential to a productive life. Within the context of goal setting and time management, being teachable involves a willingness to try different things. It means knowing that you can tweak what works and toss what doesn’t.
  3. Stick with what works. Or, at least with what kind of works. Really, something has to be working at least partly, or you’d be dead. You’ve got to be doing at least one thing right. When you’re already overwhelmed, trying to change everything at once just makes matters worse. Some changes can wait.
  4. Take the plunge. This means diving in with a new approach or method and being willing to experience failures. It means taking chances and continuing to do so until you find what works. Failure can be the greatest teacher, but we never know what will or won’t work until we give it a shot.
  5. Struggle through. Life will never be free from struggle. Not giving in, not being apathetic or complacent, not settling… that’s where the value in continuing to struggle exists.

If you make no other commitment today, commit to making your life a process of small change. Some days may involve huge leaps, while others will simply be successful when you don’t go backwards. Simply committing to lifting up your foot and taking a step starts the process of change.

When to Start

3-14-13 Start

Some people struggle with starting something new until every condition is perfect. Experience tells me this results in never starting. So, the perfect time to start is right now. Just one small step forward. Something. Anything. In order for small things to add up over time to make a huge difference, you have to be doing some small things. Choose one and start right now!

A Final Note

Know that person who seems to have it all together? She’s organized, in shape, and eats healthy. Her kids and husband seem content. You want to be just like her, right? Well, first realize that rarely are things as they appear. Secondly, know that being like her is impossible simply because you’re not her.

In other words, be you. Figure out the systems and approaches that work for you. Yes, they’ll be a combination of the approaches of others, but no two people have the exact same system for managing time and reaching goals.

For more on this, check out my guest post entitled The Big Picture: My Own Life Plan Method and its sequel Living in the Details: My Daily Plan at Christian Faith at Work. Then, check out Chris Patton’s articles entitled 3 Keys to Creating New Habits and The Daily Game Plan: A Must Use Tool! Not only will these give you some very different perspectives on goal setting and time management, they’ll help you more fully understand how we truly are all unique in our approaches to life.

 Subscribe to Struggle to Victory by Email or Subscribe in a reader

Guest Post – Making the Most of Every Opportunity

Two exciting events are taking place today on Struggle to Victory.

First, the first guest post on this blog appears below and comes to us from Loren Pinilis at Life of a Steward. The mission of Life of a Steward is equipping God’s people to be good stewards of their time so that they may advance the kingdom of Jesus Christ and bring Him glory.” As this mission statement indicates, Life of a Steward focuses on Christian time management, and I encourage you to check out his blog posts and podcasts.

If you would like to guest post on Struggle to Victory, please read Recommendations and Guest Posts.

The second exciting event, is that this is the 100th POST on Struggle to Victory. The fact that Loren’s guest post happened to be the 100th post (and I did not schedule it that way… pure coincidence, if you believe in that sort of thing) is what I call a “God thing” because Loren truly got at why Struggle to Victory exists.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What images come to mind when you think about properly managing your time? How should a Christian view their time – and how should we live based on that view?

The scriptures speak of “redeeming the time” or, as other translations say, “making the most of every opportunity.”

It’s a familiar scriptural concept, taken from Ephesians 5:15-16: “Be very careful, then, how you live —not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

I wonder, though, if our modern culture misses much of what this verse is saying.

Our Thoughts

The popular view of time management is one of maximizing those precious seconds. It’s about prioritizing and planning. It’s about focusing and avoiding distractions. It’s about efficiency, effectiveness, and ultimately cramming as much into our day as possible.

So we often think of redeeming the time in the same context. We think that redeeming the time is to take full advantage of calendars, schedules, and productivity apps in order to not waste a precious second of our lives.

To many, redeeming the time is about battling the clock.

Kairos and Chronos

That concept isn’t necessarily bad, but that’s not really what Paul has in mind in Ephesians 5.

The Greek language has two words for time – chronos and kairos. Chronos is what we think of when we tend to talk about time – measurable time divided up into minutes and seconds.

Kairos, on the other hand, was not about the quantity of time – it was about the right time, the appointed time, the opportune time.

“How much time is in a day?” uses the chronos concept of time. “Is now the time to celebrate?” uses the kairos concept.

Paul’s Words

When Paul speaks of redeeming our time in Ephesians 5, he uses the word kairos.

So Paul is not necessarily asking us to measure our minutes and seconds and maximize them. He’s telling us to be on the lookout for opportunities – and to make the best use of those.

Modern society says the way to manage your time is to get away from distractions and focus. Think of your goals and your passions – and then put your head down and work, work, work.

Paul says that the way we should manage our time is to be alert. Be conscious of the opportunities that you have right now – and don’t let those go to waste.

Seeing the Opportunities

It may sound like a subtle difference, but what if we thought like Paul instead of buying in to what our culture tells us?

If you have children at home, you have a unique opportunity today to raise them. They’re growing day by day, and this window of time will eventually pass you by. Are you making the most of that opportunity?

Do you have the opportunity right now to encourage your brothers and sisters in Christ? They may need it.

Do you have the opportunity to love your spouse?

To spend time with neighbors?

Do you have the opportunity to evangelize to a lost person?

To teach and disciple?

To feed the hungry or clothe the poor?

To visit the widows and protect the orphans?

Do you have the opportunity when you’re younger to exercise, eat right, and care for your body?

To read and grow?

To pray and fast?

DISCUSSION: What would happen to your life if you shifted your perspective from minutes and seconds to opportunities?

 

Subscribe to Struggle to Victory by Email or Subscribe in a reader

Creating a Relatively Simply Life

Relative simplicity is dictated and defined to a great extent by personality and temperament. Introverts tend to need simpler (slower-paced) lives than do extroverts. Neither is good or bad as long as life is lived in the gifts and passions possessed rather than having life simply happen to or around you. Realize too that just because someone else finds an activity relaxing, others may not find it to be so and may even discover that it adds a level of complexity that works to undermine our ability to Pursue Simplicity.

For example, I tried scrapbooking once but found the process too complicated with too many decisions to make and supplies to buy. My mind feels much more content with a simple photo album with dates of events written in the margin. For me, scrapbooking made life more complicated. For others, it’s a relaxing pastime.

Clothing is another example. I found myself constantly frustrated with trying to decide what to wear each day, and then I noticed I only wore about 20% of the clothing that I owned anyway. So, I systematically whittled my wardrobe down by over 40%. Yet I have friends who love to try new trends and constantly mix up their wardrobes. They like to express themselves through their clothing. I just like to be comfortable.

Simplifying my life in these ways has been very freeing for me.

Simplicity also pursues each individual in unique ways. For instance, add to my deliberate activities toward simplification the fact that recent foot (nerve entrapment) and back (slipped discs and spinal stenosis) problems along with Piriformis Syndrome have limited my shoe options to only a few pair for an indefinite time.

It’s not even that I’m just being obedient to the doctor and wearing only what he says I can; unfortunately, my severe foot and ankle pain give me the option of either wearing only those few pairs of shoes or not being able to walk. This is not a simplicity I had planned on or in any way pursued, but it definitely found me.

These examples may seem like small and perhaps even meaningless, but one principle of simplicity that seems inherently true is that small things done consistently over time add up to make a huge difference. In other words, simplicity has not come into my life through any one major event. Rather, there exist a multitude of small changes and adjustments that together make my life immensely simpler.

I also realize and acknowledge that the changes I made toward a simpler life seem meaningless to some and stupid to others. What I’ve chosen to do exists as essential to some people with many of the adjustments I’ve made seeming obvious and something I should have been doing all along. The combination of elements that create my simple life will look like no one else’s, yet the results are essentially the same… a relatively simple life.

DISCUSSION: How does your definition of simplicity differ from that of those closest to you? (Spouse, friends, kids, etc.)