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book excerpt

Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative by Scott Eblin.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative by Scott Eblin. Copyright 2014 by Scott Eblin.

In almost 15 years of leadership coaching and education, I've learned a lot about what works and what doesn't work when it comes to making meaningful personal change. As you consider, choose, and follow the routines that will work best for you, here are seven principles that have proved useful to my clients and students.

1. Strive for rhythm, not balance.

One of the most popular and commented upon posts that I've ever written for my blog was titled, "Why I Don't Believe in Work-Life Balance." As I wrote then, if you're an executive, manager, or professional with a demanding job, you're about as likely to find balance as you are to be a purple unicorn. The reason is that the world and life are both fast moving and ever changing. In that environment, balance, at best, is a temporary and fleeting state.

Instead of seeking balance, try finding a rhythm instead. By focusing on rhythm, you acknowledge there are times when your pace is going to be much more oriented to work, home, or community and there are times when the counterpoints of the other aspects of your life come to the fore. Shifting from the mind-set of balance to the mind-set of rhythm allows you to take the pressure off yourself. You have permission to quit seeking that holy grail of perfect balance. That applies to your routines as well. Some days you'll be able to spend an hour or more on those healthy routines; some days, 15 minutes or less. There may even be days when you miss them completely.

On those days, take heart. One day does not a rhythm make.

2. Start where you are.

Your routines have to work for only one person–you. As you choose your routines, be okay with starting where you are. (Where else would you start, after all?) Don't compare yourself to where others are on their journey. The important thing is to start.

3. Feed your sweet spot.

Look for routines that help you keep the strengths that represent you at your best in the sweet spot. The goal is not to underserve or overserve your strengths but to keep them in an optimal state. For example, if, when at your best, you are really energetic, you may want to incorporate some routines that also help calm you down a little bit. After all, energetic when dialed too far to the right can look like mania. Ideally, your routines will help you dial in your at your best strengths at the sweet spot.

4. Choose what is easy to do and likely to make a difference.

As you choose your routines, think of an x-y graph where the vertical axis is labeled "easy to do" and the horizontal axis is labeled "likely to make a difference." You want to choose routines that are in the upper right-hand corner of that graph–relatively easy to do and likely to make a difference. There are plenty of really hard to do routines that you could choose that might make a difference. The problem is they probably won't because it will be too hard for you to stick with them. Start with the easy ones. You'll master those soon enough, and the ones that were more challenging will seem easier at that point.

5. Ditch the dogma.

There are best practices and then there's dogma.

Pay attention to the best practices, and ditch the dogma. You'll know the best practices because they're backed up by research and proven results. You'll recognize the dogma when you pick up on a rigid or condescending attitude about how you're doing things.

Dogmatism is an energy drainer. Ditch it.

6. Take baby steps.

Through the experience of coaching others and observing myself, I've learned that baby steps are cool. You don't have to take my word for it, though. The Japanese manufacturing process that changed global manufacturing is called kaizen and is based on the same idea–continuous improvement through small steps. Sometimes the progress that comes from those small baby steps is so slow and incremental that it's indiscernible. And then, suddenly and without warning, one day you're doing it. It's all those baby steps that get you there. Keep taking them.

7. Remember that less is more.

There might be 10 new routines you want to incorporate into your life. Ignore eight or nine of them– at least for now. It's far better to go deep on one or two new routines that groove themselves into your life than it is to go broad and have them skip through your life like a flat stone on a pond.

By choosing only one or two new routines to start with, you raise your chance of success and the motivation to keep going. You'll also be surprised at how much of an impact those few routines have on many different aspects of your life. As long as those few new routines are relatively easy to do and likely to make a difference, it almost doesn't matter which ones you start with.

They're all good.

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