5 Ways to Build Workplace Relationships

“Teddy Roosevelt once said: ‘Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is to work hard at work worth doing.’ And I would add that what makes work worth doing is getting to do it with people that you love.”  -Leslie Knope, Parks & Recreation

After being in one place consistently for a while, I feel like I have made some great connections with my coworkers. Most of these relationships grew organically, but as I think back I feel like certain things I did helped them grow stronger than they would have on their own. Here is what I have learned works:

1. Give compliments often.

This one might seem simple or awkward depending on how outgoing you are, but once it becomes a habit it is so rewarding.  Ninety-nine percent of the time a simple compliment will make that person’s day. Sometimes we get the urge to make a nice comment but complacency bogs us down. Think about all the times you’ve admired an acquaintance’s outfit in the office kitchen but felt too awkward, shy, or even lazy to say something?

For people I don’t know well I’ll compliment something they’re wearing or their hair/makeup. For closer co-workers I try to make what I say more meaningful, e.g. “You are great at speaking up during meetings,” or, “I wish I was as organized as you.” At the end of the day, we just don’t know what people are going through and our words can have a huge impact. I’m not saying to make up stuff to say, but I am saying to be observant and when you genuinely like something that is within reason, share it.

2. Compliment people behind their back.

I read this somewhere and while I had already been doing it to some extent, seeing it in writing encouraged me to be more intentional about it. Think about the last time someone said something nice to you that had actually come from another person, e.g. “So and so said you did a great job yesterday on the presentation!”

That is an amazing feeling for two reasons. One, the person who shared something about you was giving their genuine, positive feedback not even knowing you would hear it. And two, the person telling you this not only heard the compliment but also agreed enough to share that with you.

Saying nice things about other people is an easy way to pay it forward. Don’t do it to expect something in return or time it to somehow get on their good side. It’s all about making this a habit so that you automatically share good things about your coworkers with others. People are going to gossip and spread information anyway, so give them something good to talk about.

3. Empower the new guy.

I’ve seen this come up countless times already in my young career. Because people are human and bring their insecurities to the workplace, they pick on the new guys. I’m not necessarily talking about out-right bullying or being cliquy. I am more-so referring to the knowledge gap between the new and the old employees, and how the latter reinforce that diachotemy. It’s as if the more seasoned employees feel threatened by a new person rising to the same level as them. They want to feel superior because of the time and energy they spent crawling their way up from the bottom. Why should the new person have it so easy?

But here’s the thing. You have to remember how you felt in that position- lost, frustrated, overwhelmed by all you didn’t know. You were likely searching for a lifeline and either a few kind souls helped you out or you had to muddle your way through. Realizing you are on the same team and that both of you can succeed at the same time makes it much easier to lend a helping hand. Tossing aside your pride and being that person for someone, sharing your knowledge and helping them in the ways no one helped you, is a really gratifying experience.

4. Be honest.

This one is a bit tricky because it goes beyond just being truthful. You don’t want to be too vulnerable and overshare in a professional setting, but you do want to be open enough so you can improve as an employee. Honesty is helpful in a few different scenarios,  but especially with new people and especially with management.

It’s a good policy for new people because it ties in really nicely with my previous point. When a new person is struggling and they hear someone being vulnerable and saying “I also struggled when I was in your shoes,” it is a lifeline to them. I know because I had that exact experience. I remember feeling super overwhelmed and alone, but when a coworker had expressed her similar situation I felt relieved.

Honesty when working with management is also key. Aside from the obvious ethical reasons, being real with your manager helps them help you. If you are struggling or have an issue you need help working through, hiding it is not going to help. Eventually there will be symptoms of your problems that will escalate the situation even further.

If you have too much on your plate for example and don’t say anything, this may lead to mistakes that are brought to your boss’s attention. It’s better to be up front, even if you’re scared of the consequences, then to let things simmer and then quickly come to a boil. I’ve learned that being honest will build trust that bleeds into other areas of your relationship.

5. Remember to follow-up.

I think a big reason we get stuck in the small-talk loop with certain people is because we fail to follow-up on the short conversations we do have. A lightbulb moment I had came as a result of a quick bathroom conversation with an unfamiliar coworker.  We were both drying our hands and sharing our weekend plans. That could have been a forgettable conversation with someone I barely knew, but when I saw her the following Monday, I made a point to ask her if she ended up enjoying the movie she was planning on seeing. That led to a fun conversation that completely broke the ice and made room for future ones.

It’s really as simple as showing someone that you actually listened and cared about what they had to say when you previously spoke. If you don’t make a point to do this, you essentially “start over” when you next see them and it stays in the small-talk loop of “How are you? Good, thanks.” You don’t have to have life-altering conversations with every aquantainces you come in contact with, but it’s always nice to make that connection when you can.

If you’re ever in doubt about how to build lasting ties with coworkers, these five steps are a good start. I have only been in my position for about a year and a half, but having these habits has greatly improved the quality of my relationships. It has made working at the company fun and rewarding for me because I get to do it alongside other people I’m close with. As Leslie Knope says in the last episode of my favorite show, “…what makes work worth doing is getting to do it with people that you love.” 

In Your Season of Uncertainty

Two quotes specifically have become my mantra during my 20’s because they provide such hope and so much to look forward to as I navigate uncertainty. The first is “For everything there is a season,” and the second is “The best is yet to come.”

For everything there is a season is a biblical quote in origin. Ecclesiates 3 says, “To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven…” it goes on to list many contradictory ways of being, illustrating that each of them has their place in our story. This provides me a great comfort during a very unique time in my life where my future is wide open. 

  • I have no idea what my career will look like in five years (I absolutely dread that interview question).
  • I still live at home so my future house or apartment is a giant question mark.
  • And lastly, my future hypothetical wedding is not planned for anytime soon.

The very real temptation is to wallow in the uncertainty of it all. Obsessively try to picture what life will be like even five, ten, twenty years from now. Speculating with limited information about your own life leads to looking to the lives of others. Even worse, scrolling through social media until your thumb is sore and soul is tired from all the comparison.

I know from experience that none of these things will make me feel like I’m on stable ground and know where I’m headed. Instead you’re filling yourself up with the wants/needs/aspirations of others, which can be either a real let down or a huge comparison trap where you never measure up.

When I stop looking to others and just let myself feel uncertain, the future possibilities start to open up. I think about all the wonderful things I have to look forward to, and “the best is yet to come” has so much meaning. Deeper friendships- with people I haven’t even met yet! An awesome career that I love, a husband and kids. Growing more and more confident in my faith. I think C.S. Lewis said it best: “There are far, far better things ahead than what we leave behind.”

I especially know this to be true because I have seen it working in my own life. When I think back to high school only six years ago it almost feels like a hazy dream. An older friend once told me that when you hit a new major event in your life (graduation, getting married, having kids, etc) it feels like your life beforehand never happened. It’s almost impossible to remember exactly how you felt at that time in your life because you are facing a completely new reality that demands all of your attention.

This is exciting to think about because I feel like each stage will help me grow in different ways. Even though my currently reality involves a lot of uncertainty, I will have many future seasons that will be even brighter and more exciting.

Until that happens, I want to completely cherish this time in my life, not resent it. When will I ever have so much agency again? For now I will take joy in a season of singleness, a season to bond with my parents under the same roof, a season of finding my groove in the working world, and of cultivating faith and friendships in the midst of it all.

 

24 Signs You’re Addicted to your Phone

Let’s face it: It’s 2018 and we’re pretty much all addicted to our phones at this point. Even if you think you’re not, you may be surprised to learn that a lot of your daily habits surrounding your phone and social media are pretty unhealthy. Let’s go through a few of them and see if any of these habits seem familiar.

You are probably addicted to your phone if…

  1. You charge your phone next to your bed at night.
  2. Your phone is the first think you grab in the morning,
  3. It is the last think you use at night.
  4. When you can’t sleep, you reach for your phone.
  5. When you go to a restroom, you bring your phone with you.
  6. You bring it with you to meetings at work.
  7. You keep it out on your desk while working, and you don’t need it for your job.
  8. Sometimes you fall asleep later than you anticipated because you were on your phone.
  9. When you’re out with friends, you have your phone out.
  10. You are texting others (besides your mom) while out with friends.
  11. You are scrolling through social media while hanging out with friends.
  12. When you are waiting in line, any line, you whip out your phone to pass the time.
  13. You can’t go an entire elevator ride without giving it a wayward glance.
  14. You sneak a glance at it (or just full out text) while sitting at a red light.
  15. You have a routine of which apps you check first, second, third, etc.
  16. Once you have gone through all of those apps, you start all over again.
  17. You are starting to get numb/tinglyhands/thumbs from holding your phone a certain way.
  18.  Those around you notice changes in your mood that coincide with the time you spend on your phone.
  19. You have trouble keeping focus on anything for any extended period of time.
  20. You can go hours without noticing you have a headache or that your jaws are clenched.
  21. Time seems to randomly fly by when you aren’t doing much of anything.
  22. It makes you feel anxious if you leave the house without it.
  23. You delete apps on your phone only to re-download them days later.
  24. You can’t remember the last time you had a spare few minutes where you just let your mind wander instead of starting at a screen.

For me, my phone causes me to feel like I am not in control. Not in control of my time, emotions or thoughts. It can take chunks of time throughout my day to scroll through all the social media sites I habitually check. Now that I work 40-50 hours a week, time is a precious, limited resource that my phone is eating away at.

I feel my emotions change drastically from time spent on my phone. It can make me feel lonely, annoyed and even slightly jealous if I’m already in a funk that day. These sites and using them as a constant distraction also shape my thoughts in ways that do me harm. I start thinking either less of myself or less of other people depending on what they are posting. I stop thinking about goals or what I can do for others, and instead focus on all the inward comparisons and keeping up with random people I haven’t even talked to in years.

Phones were originally meant to be a tool for us to use, but in recent years the script was flipped. Now the people behind these “tools” are trying to find as many ways as possible to keep us glued to our screens. The longer we are on our phones, the more successful they become. But where does that leave you? Have you felt distracted and unfulfilled lately? Have you tried taking break from social media only to find it impossible to stop scrolling? Check out my post about this exact issue.

Your Phone is Changing the Way you Work (and not in a good way)

 It’s 11:37 PM and I can’t sleep because my brain is too busy reliving all the embarrassing things that have ever happened to me. Naturally, I reach for my phone in search of a distraction- anything must be better than reliving the 8th grade. I type  “baby guinea pigs” into my phone, hit the search button and am not disappointed.

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Am I alone in this? Do you ever catch yourself having a stressful thought, and suddenly feel the urge to grab your phone and Google something random? This is a coping mechanism my mind has developed to avoid the subjects I don’t want to deal with, like cringe-y memories I’d rather forget.  

While this coping mechanism is great for when I can’t fall asleep, it’s not so great when there are important things swimming around in my brain that need to be addressed. My smartphone has made it super easy to never have to think deeply about things that are tough. I have to make a real effort when I want to focus on something by putting away these easy distractions.

As a 24 year old in today’s technological age it’s not too surprising that the devices I use have a an impact on my personal life. What I didn’t anticipate was feeling the repercussions of that in my job. I remember the first few days after my formal training ended, I felt the urge to grab my phone every time I felt that panicky, lost feeling.

Luckily I curbed that temptation from the start and kept my phone turned off or in my purse until lunchtime. But this need for distractions has manifested itself in another way that doesn’t directly involve my phone. It has effectively chipped away at my capacity to focus for long periods of time. Let me explain.

My job is fast-paced and requires me to keep a lot of balls in the air at once. Naturally that leads to switching from task to task pretty frequently. I’ll be making changes to an order and the phone will ring, or I’ll be looking through a report and an email will pop up on my screen that needs my attention right then and there. But a good chunk of the day revolves around solving problems; trying to dig into an issue and figure out how I am supposed to do something or how it could be done differently.

When I get stuck, instead of pouring my whole efforts into that one thing I find myself looking for excuses to move onto the next task. There’s something about thinking through an issue that my brain doesn’t like.  Anything that isn’t easy or familiar or quick is seen as a threat, so my focus starts shifting to other things that I could be getting done.

When I let these feelings take over I end up going around in circles- starting a difficult task, stopping, starting again and having to remember where I left off, then feeling overwhelmed all over again and taking a break. Instead of getting through the hard stuff throughout the day, I find myself stuck at 3pm trying to muddle through it all. I’ve finished all the random to-dos and now all that’s left are all those tricky problems I kept avoiding. Talk about overwhelming!

One day as I reflected on these bad habits I was forming, I recalled hearing of studies that prove you have more decision- making power earlier in the day. That made sense, but I was starting to feel like I had no decision-making power at all! Why was my brain so lazy all of the sudden?

I had gotten through college just fine, and that had required a ton of studying and and intense focus for long periods of time. I thought of my tendency to be a perfectionist and how that might make me want to put things off. It can be a huge road-block to only want to do things perfectly the first time, especially when learning something new. But I felt it was more than that- almost like an impulse I was barely aware of.

I realized that over time, I had created bad habits when it came to managing my time. In my personal life, my phone served as that distraction I could pick up in a moment’s notice. It was constantly available and ready to be used in an unhealthy way if I allowed it. Any time I had a thought pop in my head that was upsetting or too much to handle at the moment, I could unlock my screen and begin sifting through tweets.

To make matters worse, the type of job I have provides me with an endless amount of distractions. There are always emails piling up, workflows that need to get done and live orders that require attention. All of these tasks are way easier than some of the problems I need to work through to get my job done. The problem is, like my phone, these tasks will always be there. Always competing for attention no matter what I have on my schedule that day.

When I took a step back and started to see this parallel I realized that my brain, if left to it’s own devices, would never want to think about things that require a lot of brain power. It would always default to the easy stuff and keep putting off the things that were hard. By allowing my phone to distract me in my personal life, I was weakening the brain muscles I needed to tackle things that can be challenging at work.

My job would be easier if I just took an issue by the reigns, set timer for 20 minutes and forced myself to work through it. Even if it meant I still didn’t have an answer when the time was up, but I had something concrete I can send on to a manager or coworker, I would have accomplished something. Instead of putting off all of my difficult tasks until the end of the day, I should sprinkle them throughout and let my brain chew on easier things in between.

To build that focus muscle I need to work on this in my personal life too. This means taking time out during the day where my phone is turned off completely and I can focus on the things that matter. Whether it’s ways I can improve myself, goals I want to work on, quiet time with God; I need to re-learn the art of stretching my attention span for as long as possible. I don’t want to spend my days spinning my wheels. If I don’t work on this I’ll end up not accomplishing anything meaningful on a daily basis or even in the next few years.

I haven’t seen any studies on how bad phone habits can impact your work even when your phone is off, but I know it rings true in my own life. Leave a comment below if you’ve experienced something similar and how you are working on it. Also, do your own search on baby guinea pigs, I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Why You Can’t Stop Scrolling

We’ve all seen the articles and research supporting the idea that social media consumption can lead to depression and anxiety. I think most of us understand that social media in of itself isn’t evil. It’s the way we use it (in excess) that causes us trouble. It’s one thing to check it every now and again, but not being able to fall asleep because you are scrolling endlessly through pointless information is a sign of an addiction.

It’s no surprise that younger generations are becoming addicted and spending hours of their day glued to screens. With the prevalence of smart phones, it’s easier than ever to pick up your phone during the idle moments of life and start scrolling through your Instagram feed. Sometimes I catch myself doing this before I even realize it’s happening.

You know it’s bad for you, and you may have even tried limiting the amount of time you spend on these sites. But have you ever stopped to think why it’s so hard to stop scrolling once you start? Turns out, there’s actually a scientific reason for this habit. It’s the absence of “stopping cues” on almost any social media platform these days.

What is a stopping cue?

A stopping cue is basically what it sounds like. A cue that tells your brain to stop. It’s almost like little alarm bell going off in your head telling you that it’s time to move on to something else. These cues can be very obvious and natural. When eating, for example, you stomach tells your brain that it’s full so you know to stop. Your body could also tell you to stop exercising if you’ve done too much by having a body part scream out in pain.

There are also stopping cues in the way we consume literature. While reading a book, each chapter can serve as a way to break up the material and let you choose to come back later if you’d like. Newspapers are broken down into stories, magazines into two-page spreads, etc. Even newer media channels have these cues sprinkled throughout. TV shows break for commercials (which is why they often try to leave the segment with a cliff-hanger so you come back), and are broken down into 30-60 minutes segments. Once your TV show has aired for the week, it’s time to stop until next week.

Social media sites are not like normal websites. They don’t have a finite ending, where you can have the satisfaction of scrolling to the bottom of the page and knowing you’ve read everything. Or going to the menu and picking a topic to focus on. Instead, each site is engineered in such a way that there is no “end.” Your newsfeed is essentially a bottomless pit. The closest you can get to an “ending” on one of these platforms is to scroll all the way to where you ended the last time you were on the site.

The people who make these sites know this and use it to their advantage. They try to suggest more friends to add so that you’ll have more statuses, tweets, pictures, etc to comb through. In order to keep you on even longer, I’ve noticed changes in the algorithms in recent years on Facebook and Instagram that make it even harder to see where you left off last.

Instead of keeping the posts in chronological order they change it around so you essentially can’t mark the last post you read and stop there. If you could do that, you wouldn’t be stuck in the black hole of Twitter for quite as long because seeing a post you’ve already read would essentially serve as a stopping cue.

Even Netflix is trying to get rid of ways you can escape it’s platform. It encourages a new trend in TV consumption called “binging” where you watch 3, 4, 5 or 10 episodes all in one run, depending on how long they are and how much time you are willing to burn. Most of the time the next episode starts almost immediately, and you have to catch it and press pause in order to prevent this. But if you’re like me and you’ve had trouble with social media and/or Netflix in the past, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Why do we need cues?

Newton’s first law of motion ties in nicely with this concept. Objects in motion will stay in motion, and objects at rest will stay at rest. Our brain is a tired, lazy beast that looks for the easy way out most of the time. It does this to prevent burnout and keep you sane, but it can be tricky when you aren’t aware of the shortcuts it’s taking.

A more familiar example of this concept is if you have an already existing habit of hitting the snooze button every morning, the day you try to avoid this will be agony. You will immediately think of a million reasons why you should stay in bed. This is your brain trying it’s best to get you to do what is easy and familiar. A person at rest will stay at rest if your brain can help it.

How does this relate to social media? Most of us by now have a habit of scrolling. We do it in the car, during our breaks at work, when we first wake up in the morning and before we go to bed. it’s something our brain has been programmed to do long ago and is happy to go along with because it requires almost zero brain power. But purposely stopping and doing something else takes work. I have a hard time thinking about something that would be easier for my brain to chew on than social media and Netflix.

Do you catch yourself thinking that you should probably stop scrolling, only to have the voice in your head say, “Oh, but just a few more minutes.” Or, my personal favorite, planning on stopping to do something productive at 8:00 pm, but looking up at 8:05 to see you missed your imaginary deadline…so you think, “Okay, no problem, I will just start at 9:00!” Your brain’s will to stop an activity on it’s own is very limited.

Creating your own cues

Stopping certain activities is a habit that you need to take time to cultivate if you are ever going to get anywhere. All you need to do is create your own stopping cues that force your brain to move on. It could mean turning your phone off an hour before bed so you don’t have the option to scroll all night. Or arranging a time to call your friend at 7:00 pm when you start watching Netflix at 6:00, so you’ll only have time for one episode.

If I am actually trying to get something done but can’t stop scrolling, I go for the pomodoro technique. This method is simply working for 25 minutes with zero distractions and then allowing yourself 5 minutes at the end to relax and browse through Pinterest if you’d like. There are a few free apps you can download that set these 25/5 minute timers for you to make it even more efficient.

When you want to limit the time you spend scrolling on your laptop specifically, there are tools built into your web browser that you can use to block yourself from distracting sites. Remember that these are just suggestions- you know best what your weaknesses are and what roadblocks you can put in the way to keep your brain from scrolling.

Because the creators of these websites know every trick in the book to keep you interested, your efforts to stop will be going against the grain. It will always be an upward battle. But once you start getting more of your free-time back and begin to feel more self aware after some time off from social media, you will never want to go back.

I will help you get started. Right here is your stopping cue: leave a quick comment on this post, then turn off your phone or close your laptop (right this moment) and get out there! 

By Grace, I Made it Here

“A year ago you did not know today. You did not know how you’d make it here. But you made it here. By grace, you made it here.”

I have to take a deep breath when I think about where I was a year ago. To put it lightly, it was not the best of times. I had just felt the sting of a potential job I was crazy about slipping through my fingers. Two weeks prior, I had received an email from the company letting me know that I was their top candidate and to expect a formal offer within a week. They were waiting for budgets to be finalized before they could present it. Two weeks passed and my would-be-manager reached out with a long, apologetic email breaking the news that they had lost funding.

I was crushed. Even to this day thinking about it makes my stomach tighten. I had envisioned being in this job so clearly that I convinced myself it was my big break; My ticket to a stable career path. I was more than ready to be whisked away from the uncertainty of job hunting. So clueless was I about the possibility of the job falling through that I already bought my first ($1500) Mac. A fitting reward for the amazing new writing career I was about to embark on.

That wasn’t the first time I dealt with disappointment with my job search. After graduation the previous year, I had landed in a full-time job at my alma mater; an exciting find at the time as I thought my calling was in Higher Education. Since I loved my campus jobs as a student, I figured what better place to start a career than the campus I had grown to love?

Lots of places, it turns out. I learned the hard way that anything can feel like it’s meant to be if it’s easy. And that is exactly the type of job it turned out to be: Easy. Safe. In every concievable way. I took the same route to work that I had taken for the past four years. Worked with the same campus administrators I already had relationships with. Hung out with the same group of friends I had in college because they studied down the hall from my cube (not a bad thing, but safe nonetheless). The kitchen staff even called my personal line on the rare occasions that they made macaroni and cheese pizza because they knew it was my favorite. Everything about the job was nestled deep inside my comfort zone. A place that soon started to feel stuffy and cramped.

Only six months in I found myself wanting something new; something challenging. It didn’t add up that my part time jobs I held in college had more room for growth than this full-time one. As terrifying as it was to look beyond my familiar campus, I knew it was necessary if I wanted to avoid that messy quarter-life crisis no-one talks about.

Flash forward to quitting that job only to have my dream one slip between my fingers. I was forced to face the daunting reality of being out of a job and searching for work full-time. Every interview felt like a lifeline and each rejection like a severed rope, sending me coldly back into uncertain waters. The hardest part was never knowing when the next raft would come along.

This desperate time pushed me to apply to some interesting places. Finding jobs was so difficult that when I did see one I qualified for, I would immediately begin drafting a cover letter without so much of a glance at company reviews. I got into such a routine of scanning job descriptions that I barely paid attention to the places I was applying to.

This is the only way I can explain my genuine shock at getting a call from a plumbing manufacturer for a phone interview. I racked my brain as I listened to the voicemail from a bubbly HR employee inviting me to give her a call back. I couldn’t help but wonder if I actually applied for this job or if they were those spammy companies that try random phone numbers they find on Indeed. I searched my Desktop for a cover letter addressed to this place and sure enough it was there. Written as if it would be nothing short of a dream-come-true to work for them. “Of course they called,” I couldn’t help but think. “I’m not getting traction from anyone except this random plumbing place.”

I just knew that this was going to be a boring job at a weird place and it would be disappointing if I actually got it because instead of a great writing career I would have a career in plumbing, of all things. But I did what you do when you have no other options and it’s your third month without a job: I called them back. And boy, I’m glad I did.

A year ago I could not have guessed where I would be today. I wouldn’t be able to tell you how or when I’d secure the job I was so desperately searching for. I would never have guessed that getting a call from a manufacturer would lead me down an exciting path of account management. I wish I could tell June, 2017 Kristy that things would turn out way different than I imagined, but that they would still be great. That despite missing out on what I thought was the start of my writing career, I instead ended up at a job that challenges me in a million different ways. One that allows me to write a blog I’m passionate about in my spare time.

A year ago I did not know today. But I made it here. By grace, I made it here.

 

Why Every College Student should Brain Dump

If you had approached me in college and said I need to “dump my brain,” I probably would have thought you misspoke. I’d think, “What kind of psycho believes it’s okay to let things leak out of their brain during finals? The goal of this place is to literally stuff your brain with as much as it can handle, and then some. Do they not understand how college works?”

Yeah, I was a hot mess during finals week. I’m usually a lot nicer than that, but having your thoughts, worries and to-dos swimming around in a constant swirl during two weeks can do a lot to a person. However, Brain Dumping really can change that. It is an activity that will help you keep everything intact, while also giving your brain a breather and making things more organized. Lucky for me I was open to this weird idea and it is largely credited for keeping me sane during college.

I’m not going to pretend to know the science behind why it works, but let’s just say that “brain dumping” often can help you store more information over time- just in a more efficient way. The object of the activity is to clear your mind of all the to-dos and random information you have floating around and to jot them on paper. It renews your focus, gives your brain a break and allows you to start fresh.

This is a great exercise to do when feeling anxious, stressed or scatter-brained (a feeling that may be vaguely familiar to college students). Honestly, I think it’s a good practice to set in place once a week regardless. Even if you are not going through a stressful time in your life, it’s interesting to see what your brain throws on the paper.

How does it work?

Brain Dumping is as easy and as hard as jotting down every single thought that comes to mind for a span of ten minutes.

Every. Little. Thing.

Think this won’t take ten minutes? You will be surprised to find your hand cramping up when you really get going. Some find it challenging to get started in the beginning, especially if you are not used to journaling or throwing your thoughts on paper. But like anything else, practice makes perfect.

Keep in mind that you are not aiming for full sentences or even a logical order of ideas. I don’t recommend doing this in a neat, journal-y way at all. I typically go for bullet points because I’m trying to jot as many things down as possible within ten minutes. Nothing has to make sense or flow together, it just has to make it’s way onto the sheet. No one else is going to see this paper so it doesn’t need to be pretty by any means, just neat enough for you to read it.

Once your ten minutes are up and you’ve jotted down all you can, you do not have to go any further with this exercise if you choose. Especially if you are pressed for time, the Brain Dump in of itself will provide you with the benefits mentioned above. However, I have found adding a few extra steps makes me feel more at ease and in control.

What comes next?

It helps if after you jot everything down you can forget about the paper for a little while. Let your brain enjoy the heavy load being lifted and go for a quick walk around the block. if you want to give meditating a go this would be the perfect time. The difficult task of clearing you mind has already been done for you!

When I come back to my paper I like to re-read everything I wrote down, looking for any themes in my thoughts. Perhaps you have an exam coming up so a lot of your thoughts are surrounding your fears and to-dos regarding it. Maybe there is a theme or two on the list that surprised you. I know I’ve been caught off guard by things I’ve written down- almost as if I’m unaware of what my brain has been chewing on lately.

Practical uses

For example, maybe I wrote a lot about my prayer life and how I don’t feel I’ve been measuring up lately. What can I do today, however small, to get myself back on track with this? Since I am a journal-er by nature, maybe I need to set aside some time to flesh out these thoughts in a journal entry, or talk about it with a friend.

It’s likely you will find a lot of little tasks that need to be done that found their way onto the paper. Now is a great time to get a formal to-do list started on another sheet of paper. There’s no need for your brain to have to remember it all! This whole process is just about making things simpler for you. We’ve just taken this huge burden off of our brain, let’s not just dump it all back in!

The last step, however optional, is by far my favorite. Once I have gleaned all the information and insights I can out of my Brain Dump, I take the paper and crumble it up (or tear it apart, whichever is more satisfying at the time) and I throw it away. There is nothing more freeing than disposing of all your worries and moving on. Now you have a clear mind, an action plan for any concerns that came up and a single sheet with all of your to-dos. Hear that? it’s your brain breathing a sigh of relief.

 

Knit Together in Love

Community is heavily emphasized in the book of Colossians through the use of powerful imagery. Paul says in Colossians 2:2, “…that their hearts might be encouraged, being knit together in love…”

I don’t know much about knitting, but I have a close friend who does. She spends all year working on hats, scarves and blankets for those she loves. After all that labor she ends up with a wonderful gift that someone can enjoy and be warmed by for years to come.

What I have learned from her is that knitting is a slow, purpose-filled process. It costs time, energy and devotion to see it through to the end. Despite the process being slow and having to deal with a few snags here and there, it is one that she takes great joy in.

The bible says that God is the potter and we are the clay. But can’t that analogy also be applied to knitting? Aren’t our congregations, our Christian communities, being slowly knit together in love by God when we surrender our lives to Him?

By devoting ourselves to attending worship, bible studies, sharing prayer requests, providing encouragement, are we not sharing our lives with one another? The softening of our hearts and our willingness to be real with one another allows God to intertwine our hopes and prayers and experiences so that we are united in love.

Imagine God’s joy as He watches His people come together to worship Him and be close with one another? I image He takes great pleasure in making our bonds stronger so that we are one big blanket that provides warmth and security to one another and those around us.

How much warmth can be spread by a blanket? How much more by entering a congregation of God’s people knit together in love?

Fire Alarms are Not Real (and other adult things I’m learning)

Today something weird happened. I don’t know if it symbolizes my initiation into adulthood or if I just learned the wrong thing in elementary school, but here’s what went down: I was minding my own business in my plain, color-stripped cubicle when suddenly my eardrums were assaulted by the sound of a fire alarm.

I stood up at my desk, frozen for a second trying to gauge how fast I should walk out so I wouldn’t look like an idiot. Then I saw one of the “higher-ups” briskly walking past and a wave of calm washed over me. I didn’t have to gauge the situation since everybody knows he had just signaled the universal cue to calmly-exit-a-building-that-could-possibly-be-on-fire. He was no longer a director but now a teacher routinely leading the classroom out of the building for the third fire drill of the year. So I grabbed my purse and keys and tried to make my power walk casual as I stepped into the hallway.

But when I walked out, expecting to be met by a flow of people reaching for the exit, I stopped dead in my tracks. No one had budged. Everyone was still working with their eyes glued to their screens. As I scanned each person for a reaction, there seemed to be no cause for alarm whatsoever- if you didn’t count the overwhelming buzzing noise that made it impossible to think straight. I didn’t go through a million fire drills in school for this to not count, I thought stubbornly. After standing there for a good ten seconds I realized that I had just made a brisk exit out of my cubicle with my keys in one hand and my purse strapped over my shoulder. I couldn’t just turn back around like nothing had happened. So I timidly leaned over and quietly asked one of my co-workers if we were “supposed to go somewhere” with the maturity of a seven year old.

It took a second for him to tear his eyes away from the computer screen. Because yes, I’m sure having a blaring alarm in the background equates to top-notch focusing abilities. But when I finally won over his attention he briefly looked around, as if he had just thought to do so, and simply concluded, “No one seems to be moving so…”

What? Okay so there is a chance he was thinking this was a drill or maybe some weird routine alarm thingy that happens sometimes and it’s totally-cool-so-don’t-worry-about-it.  But it’s not like my coworker was suggesting that to be a possibility. He seemed to have no idea what was happening either, he just looked to see what others were doing and followed suit like he could care less if his eardrums exploded.

His reaction made me think back to the last fire alarm I had experienced. Since everyone knows you’re not really a college student until you blow up a microwave, someone had decided they wanted their pizza rolls extra crispy and set the fire alarm off in one of our main buildings on campus. I was in a lounge at one of the computers with about four other students scattered throughout the room. When the alarm started blaring, I slowly turned around to see everyone cautiously frozen, as if we were playing chicken and waiting to see who would be the first loser move. Cause ya know, fire safety is just the dorkiest thing on the planet. After what seemed like a long 30 seconds I took charge, awkwardly addressing the room of people I barely knew and had no authority over. I blurted out, “Shouldn’t we leave or something?”

Everyone looked at each other and then grumbled while reluctantly packing up their stuff. I remember thinking that we had all probably endured at least a 100 planned fire drills throughout our lives since our first day of kindergarten.  So why were we so defiant? You would think the behavior would be automatic, but all the alarm caused was a mild uneasiness that, when paired with other people also ignoring it, went away within seconds.

I guess we ultimately knew what we had to do because we all got up to leave. Good thing, too. Because what we assumed to be a fire drill was actually the real thing and as soon as we reached the main hallway we were met with dozens of our classmates, all following the rule that had been drilled into us since we first set foot in a classroom.

But today at my big-girl job was different. When I stepped out of the cubicle to see if anyone had moved, no one was looking around to look for cues on how to behave. They were just going on with their daily tasks as if they didn’t hear the screeching noise blaring rhythmically out of the speakers.

It was startling to have this instinct where I knew I was supposed to immediately leave a building and no one else was budging.  Do we become desensitized to these sorts of things when we get older? Will there be a day in which I, an accomplished businesswoman, will be sitting up straight and confident at my desk typing away as an ear-piercing alarm goes off and a frazzled intern asks me what’s going on? I’m not sure I can see that happening.

And yes, I know what you’re thinking. I did check my email this morning. If this was planned, I wasn’t told. But the comical situation got me thinking, what would it take for these people to get up and leave? For a child, it doesn’t take much. Even the slightest sign of alarm can send a child running. But an adult? Psh. Who cares, right? “I don’t have time for fire alarms darling, I haven’t made a proper dent in my inbox yet!”

I guess I’ll just have to wait for the day when my instinct melts away and I become calm and collected, completely unabashed by fire alarms. But until then, I think I’ll continue to the be the voice of reason. Just in case somehow the alarms start getting connected to actual fires. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

Finals, Jaw Pain and Negatvity

As I pull into the driveway, my mind races with all of the things I need to do in the next 24 hours. It’s the dreaded finals week and there are simply too many things, I decide.

It’s not until several minutes later when I’m sitting upright on my bed with papers strewn everywhere and my laptop heating up when I notice it- I’m starting to get a headache. While I’m usually stubborn enough to try and “wait it out,” this time I instantly walk to the kitchen and reach for the Tylenol. There is  no way I’m going to let a headache keep me from acing this exam tomorrow, I thought. But when I opened my jaw to take the pills, I was met with pain much worse than my newly discovered headache.

I soon realized that my teeth had been clenched shut so hard and for so long that I no longer realized it was happening and it was now causing me a headache. I tried an old trick that i had learned to see how bad the situation was, “curve your fingers and try to stack three knuckles vertically into your mouth. If you can’t do that, you’ve got a problem,” the Youtuber had said.

My face reddened with pain and embarrassment when my mom walked in right at that moment. It felt like I was trying to beat the Guinness world record for “Number of Fingers Forced Into Mouth” (the record is 30 fingers as of 2011, so close). The strain it was causing was painful and I couldn’t believe that I had led to my own demise by simply clenching my teeth all day.

I took a break from my studies and started to search the web for how to un-clench my jaw and get rid of all this soreness. I found one boring, long, but incredibly helpful video. Luckily, by the end of the video my jaw felt relaxed and I was no longer clenching my teeth.

It dawned on me long after finals week that TMJ pain (which is what the internet had informed me I was experiencing) is similar to despair one can feel after feeding on negative thoughts all day. Paul encourages us to focus on the positive: things that are good, true, etc., but how often do we really do that when we let our thoughts take the driver’s seat for a while?

I know I find myself repeating negative thoughts when I let my mind wander. These thoughts pile up during the day so that by the time I get home from work or class it’s almost impossible to climb out of the stress-filled pit  I’ve dug for myself.

One technique I am using to combat these thoughts can be found in “The Power of Habit” and it is a pair of terms called “awareness training” and “competing response.” Awareness training involves just what you might assume, training yourself to be aware when you are doing an unwanted activity. So whenever I say something negative to myself, I mark a notch on a notecard. At the end of the day, I’ll be able to see how often it happens and I’ll have a better idea of what triggers it because I am paying closer attention.

Competing response is where I replace negative thinking with something else. For me, I am going to try to memorize as much scripture as I can. For now, I will meditate on what Paul says in Philippians 4:8.

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

The second I start to think something negative, the thought will be replaced by these words and positive thoughts until eventually, positivity will be the norm.

But just like TMJ pain, realizing my jaw is clenched during the day only gets me so far. At the end of the day I have to do certain exercises that loosen my jaw so that I don’t clench harder when I’m sleeping or when I’m not paying attention. The same goes for negative thinking. Reading a few bible verses here and there is only good for the short term.  I need to devote time to prayer and bible study that goes beyond just skimming the surface. Once I have done that, my relationship with God will help me make positivity and hope a lifestyle and negativity a healthy exception to the norm.