Working Smarter

The 6 Skills You Can't Live Without

Posted by Joe Robinson

dance class

Despite all the classes we take, degrees we get, documentaries we watch, many of us never get the word about a remedy as key to health and happiness as watching cholesterol or eating the right food. It's the invisible cure for a host of our problems, from stress to obesity to loneliness: leisure skills.

What's that? Microwave popcorn popping? Isometric finger exercises for the remote? Actually, what we do with our time off-the-clock has a lot to do with our satisfaction with life and work, too, since life is the engine of our energy, creativity, and productivity. Knowing how to participate in engaged recreational activities is also one of the best stress management tools and guarantees that we have work-life balance in our lives.

When we don't have leisure skills, what do we do? Flip on the TV. The average state of someone watching TV, though, is a mild depression, reports Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, author of Finding Flow and the pioneering authority on optimal experience. Considering what's on the tube -- Dog the Bounty Hunter, Worst Tattoos -- that's no bulletin.


A sedentary lifestyle is a major risk factor for heart disease and other serious health problems. A recent study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise reported that men who spend 23 or more hours a week sitting, watching TV or glued to car seats had a 64% greater chance of fatal heart disease than those who only logged 11 hours or less per week in seated mode.

That could well be a bigger problem, since some 78 percent of Americans over age 30 don't get any exercise, according to Census Bureau statistics and Seppo Iso-Ahola of the University of Maryland.

The root of the problem? Missing leisure skills, something we don't know we need. The assumption is that leisure is a vegetative condition, and therefore there are no requirements aside from batteries for the remote. But it's actually the exact opposite. As Aristotle saw it, the non-work arena is a realm of engagement, of self-fulfillment and learning. 

In one of the not-so-great ironies of the modern world, we are trained to make a living, but not how to do the living we're making. We wind up without the skills to do what is essential for physical and mental health -- participate in our lives through engaged experiences.


The link between active leisure and health is plenty clear to researchers. Leisure experiences have been found to reduce stress by buffering setbacks and building coping mechanisms. They also build self-esteem and confidence and improve mood through increased self-control and social support.

Aerobic exercise and vacations have both been shown to reduce depression. The more active leisure life you have, the higher your life satisfaction, says Iso Ahola.

Passions and the active leisure skills that create them work wonders for your health and outlook because they satisfy core psychological needs for autonomy, competence and connection with others. Yet this power of this health resource doesn't filter down to us because we are using the wrong skill-set to access it.


You can’t play hopscotch with a flowchart. The work skill-set is the opposite of what’s needed to activate your life. On the work side, the objective is results, output. On the life side, it’s about the experience itself, not where it’s going. On the work side, it’s about control and micromanaging; on the life side, risk-taking. On the work side, it’s about the familiar; on the life side novelty and challenge.

It takes another skill-set to create a fulfilling life outside the professional world. Here are some of the key leisure skills that get your life going:

1. Intrinsic motivation. Pursuing and enjoying experiences off the clock takes a different motivation: intrinsic motivation. You do it for the inherent interest, fun, learning or challenge. Research shows we enjoy what we're doing more when the goal is intrinsic. Expect no payoff, and you get a big one, internal gratification.

2. Initiating. We have to break out of spectator mode and self-determine our lives to feel gratified. We need to research and plan activities, seek out and try new things, invite others to get out and participate -- and if they don't reciprocate, go alone.

3. Risk-taking. The real risk is not risking. Security is a red flag for the brain, which is built to seek out novelty and challenge. Make the risk intrinsic (the result doesn't matter), and you're able to venture much more because, instead of having anything on the line, you're just exploring.

4. Pursuit of competence. Since competence is one of your core needs, it's a handy thing to build and sublime to feel. The idea here is that you want to get better at something -- not to show off, not for anyone else but for your own gratification and mastery need. Pursuing competence leads you to build your skills at an activity to the point where it can become a passion. It's a fabulous happiness-building skill. Having a passion can add eight hours of joy to your week.

5. Attention-directing and absorption. The key to optimal experiences is being 100 percent engaged in what you're doing now. That means losing the electronic devices and distractions and putting all your concentration on the activity at hand. The more absorbed you are, the more your thoughts and deeds are the same, and the happier you are.

6. Going for the experience. Observation and hanging back don't satisfy the engagement mandate of your brain neurons. To activate a fulfilling life, we have to participate in the 40 percent of our potential happiness  we can actually do something about -- intentional activities. That's the realm of experience. Experiences make us happier than material things because they can't be compared with anyone else's experience. They don't lose value through social comparison. They are personal events that engage our self-determination needs.

These skills take us inside the participant dynamic essential to a healthy and extraordinary life. They show us that the good life comes from a place quite a bit different than we thought, and only we can make it happen, nobody else. Life's out there, if you are.


Tags: happiness, fulfilling life, life satisfaction, life coach, life skills, happiness speakers, happier life, work to live, work life balance programs, work life balance

How Coaching Cures Work, Life Obstacles

Posted by Joe Robinson

 Coaching can provide a new lease on work and life

Maybe it happened on a flight, when you got into a deep conversation with the person sitting next to you. Or maybe on vacation, you met a fellow traveler and struck up an instant rapport, getting to know the person better in an hour than people you’ve worked with for years.

It’s an exhilarating experience that almost never occurs at home. It’s known as the “stranger on the train effect,” a phenomenon that occurs when strangers open up about their lives without the usual inhibitions. 

It’s a specialty of travel, a nonjudgmental realm where people tend to take each other at face value. Time is limited, and what you say can’t trip you up later, since you’ll never see the person again. 

That’s not the way it goes at work, where we tightly guard what we say to whom, because it can come back to haunt you. In the competitive arena of the workplace, discretion is thought to be the better part of valor. There’s little communication on issues that are critical to work and life, from conflicts with colleagues or managers, to stress, to lack of time and resources.


That leaves millions of people without an ear to turn to for advice on issues crucial to success, health, and growth. When challenges aren’t addressed, stress grows, as well as the potential for serious medical problems. More than two dozen studies show the connection between heart disease and job stress. There’s also no progress on professional goals when the default position is the status quo. It’s a treadmill to nowhere you want to go.

There is a place to turn to, though, to tackle work issues as they come up: coaching. Just as it is for tennis or yoga, a coach or teacher for your professional side can dramatically improve performance and skills. 

Outside advocates—whether you call them executive coaches or life coaches—can cut through the emotions and entrenched behaviors and provide fresh solutions. The best coaches are extremely effective at cutting stress, managing competing demands and difficult bosses, and improving time management.

I’ve worked with thousands of professionals, from frontline staff to CEO’s, and I can tell you that having a coach on your side can be the difference between burnout and a healthy life, between hours without end and boundaries, between speaking up about workload and being saddled with more than you can do well, between stagnation and growth. 

Whether your issues are burnout, overwhelm, prickly colleagues, poor management, or something else, the fact is, everyone could use some guidance, since we are never taught the skills of sustainable working. We get the tools of our trade, but not what we need to work in the most effective way, based on what the science actually says. So the tendency is to default to retaliatory mode, reacting to devices and others, instead of managing them, which drives stress, crisis mentality, and exhaustion.


So what is coaching, anyway, and what can it do for you? At its most basic, coaching is a process that identifies what’s not working in your work-life and then provides custom adjustments to turn it around. Human nature is averse to change, even change that’s good for us, so it’s difficult to embark on the right path on your own. Coaching provides an advocate dedicated to helping you solve the challenges holding back progress and satisfaction.

A good coaching program should begin with goals and questions. Where do you want to go? What is standing in the way of those goals and progress? What needs to change? What should you be doing less of? What should you be doing differently? What’s making work and life difficult? What kind of work-life balance do I need? Balance means the important things in your life are not being neglected in a single-minded pursuit of the task side of your life.

It’s easy to get so caught up in head-down mode that we wind up well off course from where we want to be. Coaching is an opportunity to pause, question what’s not working, and return armed with better strategies, instead of continuing with the default position that can threaten health or career.

I see coaching as part-conversation and part-seminar, providing listening, instruction, exercises, and a road map to job and life satisfaction. Proven strategies are tailored to the specific circumstances of the work culture and team. There is a wealth of research to point us in the right direction when it comes to working in the most sustainable way.


Like many people today, one of my clients was having a serious problem with insomnia, unable to sleep for more than a couple hours at a time. We dug deeper and discovered the source of the stress and panic attacks that triggered the cycle of sleeplessness. She was taught several stress reduction techniques, and how to speak up and communicate better with her manager. 

People with severe overload and stress/burnout issues often feel they can’t possibly speak up about it, or they’ll get fired, so the problem gets worse. These people are often the most conscientious and hard-working people on the staff, so the manager is usually more than willing to make adjustments. Often the person is doing well more than the manager expects or even wants.


We’re all raised to take a licking and keep on ticking, but, unlike for watches, that’s a mistake for humans, particularly when it comes to job stress and counterproductive behaviors that are a threat to health. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve spoken to at workshops I’ve conducted who tick off a litany of meds they’re using to treat job stress-related disorders that a good coaching program could resolve.

Others cite heart attacks. I've heard about colleagues who have died from heart attacks on the job. They didn't seek help. Reaching out isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength. You are taking back control of your life when you have the knowledge and tools to work in a sustainable way.

Maybe you would just like to be more productive and organized. Coaching can help you there as well. You learn the difference between urgent and important, and reduce a lot of stress in the process.

If you’re not happy with your work-life, if dysfunction, restructurings, workloads, or conflicts are showing up in the form of insomnia, digestion problems, or chronic stress, reach out today for a free consultation. The cost of coaching is a lot less than you think and most people are able to resolve even the most intractable issues in three one-hour sessions via phone or Skype.

If you’d like more information and a price quote for my one-on-one coaching sessions, please click the button below.

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Tags: business coach, executive coaching, life coach, life coaching, career coach, personal coaching, work life balance coaching, work-life coach

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