Which way do you face when the winds of change blow?

By Denise Hellekson
Clinical Associate at The Village Business Institute 

Change is definitely in the air once again; back to school, busier schedules, less sunlight, cooler temperatures; you can feel the changes coming.

I have been reluctant to let go of the thought and feeling of summer this year. As much as I like the fall season, I just haven’t felt ready for the change. About a week ago, I was in my yard enjoying the warm temperatures, the sunlight and the summer breeze when a neighbor told me one of our other neighbors was going to be moving. My heart dropped.

We live in a nine-unit condominium, and this was the third neighbor in about three months who was leaving.  Most of my neighbors have been here for five-plus years, and it has become familiar, comfortable.

“More changes I’m not ready for,” I thought.

My mind began racing with fears of the unknown; “Who will move in? What if they’re loud or rude? Maybe I should move? Why am I here? How will this work? Not only is summer ending, but now I’ll be stuck with new (translation: bad) neighbors.”

The more irrational my thoughts became, the more I felt myself tensing up from the stress. I felt stuck and powerless, and panic started to set in as I strained to come up with something that would stop the inevitable changes I was dreading. Not so surprisingly, I couldn’t come up with any (hence the word inevitable), which only made me stress more. All I could think was, “I’m not ready! I don’t want my world to change!”

Thankfully, (I think my mindfulness practices are starting to pay off), there was a moment where I could step back and observe my reaction, and I realized this was just fear talking. The moment I became aware of it and could label it, the intensity went away. I felt as if I had been facing into the winds of change and bracing myself against the inevitable, trying not to be knocked-off of my familiar, comfortable place. I realized when I brace myself against the inevitable, I make myself small and close myself off in an effort to cling to what I want (as opposed to what is). I react with sadness, defensiveness and fear to a force that feels much more powerful than me.

By Denise Hellekson, The Village Business Institute

A small voice inside of me said, “What if you just turned around? What if you were open to the changes and the new opportunities/possibilities they bring?”

I started to relax. It was a breezy day, and so I did just that; I turned my back to the breeze, closed my eyes, opened my arms and breathed deeply. It felt good. I felt open, and the fear was replaced with anticipation. I realized if I go with the current, I can see what’s coming; I can participate in the changes instead of being backed into them. I felt lighter. I stayed there for a few minutes, feeling the sun and the breeze on my back, and breathing deeply. The sense of well-being stayed with me the rest of the day, and my stress about new neighbors seems to be gone.

But change being what it is; I’ve had a couple of other occasions since that day where I have begun to tense up and brace myself against the unknown. It has helped to remind myself to turn around, breathe deeply, go with the current, and be open.

Which way do you face when the winds of change begin to blow?

‘Leading Through Change’ webinar Sept. 4

John E. Trombley of The Village Business Institute will offer “Leading Through Change,” a leadership webinar, 11 a.m. – noon, Sept. 4. Click here to register for the webinar.

About the webinar: When we make changes in our organization, we don’t want people to just survive – we want them to thrive. This webinar will help leaders identify things they need to pay attention to for their change initiative to be successful. We will look at the forces impacting people in the change environment and learn ways to harness those forces so people will arrive intact on the far shores of the change process.

About John Trombley: John E. Trombley, MMgt, organization development consultant/trainer with The Village Business Institute.
John Trombley is an Organization Development Consultant and Trainer with The Village Business Institute. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Alaska, Anchorage, and a Master of Management degree from the University of Mary, Fargo. Prior to founding his own organization development company, Trombley served as a Command Pilot, Squadron Commander and senior staff officer in the USAF and Air National Guard, and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel with over 6,200 flying hours.

With over 16 years of experience in providing consulting services and training programs, he has a passion for group process facilitation and corporate training in areas such as leadership development, change management, Leadership Transition processes, managerial coaching and personality assessment workshops among others. Trombley is registered with the Supreme Court of the State of Minnesota as a Qualified Neutral mediator, is trained in Critical Incident Stress Management Group Crisis Intervention, and is certified in Internal Investigations by the Council on Education in Management.

History journey reminds writer of need to nurture connections

By John E. Trombley, MMgt
The Village Business Institute

My wife and I took a much needed vacation to Virginia in May this year, a state with roots deeply planted in our nation’s rich, but relatively young, history. It was just the two of us; no other family members, no obligations, no schedule to follow, and no guilt! In fact, just prior to leaving, I had upgraded my cellphone and messed up connecting my work email to the phone. The serendipity is that I was completely unplugged from work. It was just what the doctor ordered.

For us, we don’t consider trips for weddings, funerals, and family obligations to be in the same category as a true vacation. Not that we have a problem with doing any of those things; it’s just not the same as “getting away from it all.” We just happen to be at a different point in life, I guess, and we have come to realize that the busy-ness of life can easily overwhelm and stifle our ability and desire to be more, well, connected to each other. We’ve come to realize that when we aren’t connected, everything else is affected in the same way.

So there we were in Virginia (“Virginia is for lovers!”) with no relatives in sight and we took time to just be with each other and reconnect those disjointed pieces and parts. Then we began to explore the incredibly rich heritage that was planted by those whose sacrifice made it possible for us to enjoy the splendor and beauty of our nation today. We visited Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello and got a glimpse into what it took to survive and thrive 250 years ago at the time of our nation’s birth. We were blown away not only with the history and grandeur of the place, but also with the complexity of what it took to run a household of that size, and the physical labor (provided by slaves) to make it so magnificent and so functional. Clearly today, we all recognize slavery as the abomination that it was. There is no way to justify it. It is also too easy and too simple, to vilify, judge and condemn the practices and beliefs of a people living in a place and time so different from our experiences today. They did what they did because that is what they knew to do. Still, we found ourselves shaking our heads at that sad history and wondered if we, too, would have been any different in our beliefs and attitudes. I’d like to think so, so it was somewhat gratifying to learn that even though Jefferson was a slave owner, he was not in favor of the practice, but found himself trapped in the grim political and fiduciary realities of the day. As a result, the slaves of Monticello were known to be the best treated and best provided for in the region.

Then we stepped even farther back into history as we visited the still very active archeological site of the first successful British colony in America at Jamestown. With history being re-written there almost daily, I began to reflect on what it must have been like in 1607 for those early settlers in what is now known as “Historic Jamestowne;” to leave all that was familiar in England to eke out a meager existence in a new world, knowing they would never see friends and family again. Many of them met an early demise brought on by disease, starvation, or conflict with the native people of the area. Wholly unprepared for what they would face and what it would take to survive, these first settlers were nonetheless intrepid sojourners upon whose sacrifice a nation would be built.

Imagine: No cell phones; no email; no computers; no social media; no TV; no quick trips to the grocery store to stock up on worthless junk food before the next big storm hits; no racing around trying to fill the day with “stuff” in the hopes of finding meaning and purpose; no planning vacations to get away from it all. Just the slow, steady, unrelenting pursuit of trying to stay alive for one more day on a patch of ground smaller than most people have in average-sized neighborhoods today. And we think we have it tough when the power goes out for a couple of hours or the battery in our cell phone dies and we feel so isolated from the rest of the world.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized how really fortunate I am to have been born in a day and age when I can do just about anything I want, go just about anywhere I want, and eat just about anything I want, just about any time that I want. I would not have fared well as a Jamestown settler.

Not far from Jamestown we stood on the hallowed grounds of the Battle of Yorktown where the final, decisive battle of the Revolutionary War was fought.  It was here that, for three weeks in the fall of 1781, the Continental and French armies engaged in the grinding resolve of battle to defeat British General Lord Charles Cornwallis, an event that struck at the heart of British power and collective psyche. The trenches and revetments are still there today, along with several cannon pieces and the ghosts of the dead on both sides, and suddenly I sensed the connection to those souls through time and space. In a heartbeat I was hurled back in time and reminded that this same battleground saw even more blood spilled between brothers of a fledgling nation. Less than 80 years later it was the sight of bitter, pitched battles between soldiers of the Union Army and the Confederacy as our young nation struggled to define what was good, right, and just for us as a people.

A profound sense of awe and reverence, and a deep sense of gratitude gripped me like a vise in a way I’ve never quite experienced before, and I realized once again how small and how fragile I really am, and I found myself wanting to ensure the connections in my own life are well-attended, healthy, and less self-focused.

It takes a life-long process of engagement to nurture those relationships that we often take so easily for granted. The busy-ness of life and the mindless running around that we tend to believe is so important to our finding happiness pales when we take the time to listen to the sound of the breeze in the trees, the bird’s song as it flies by, children laughing and squealing with delight, and playing as children do, and, indeed, the sound of our own heartbeat when the silence finally creeps in between our cluttered thoughts and “to do” lists.

Take time today to tell someone you care. Thank someone today for doing what they normally do because you notice it and it makes a difference no matter how great or small. Slow down today to reprioritize your values and connect with people by focusing on them for a change—even if it’s only for a few minutes. Today, breathe in the deep sense of awe, admiration and gratitude for those who have gone before you in nameless, faceless ranks marching off into history – both recent and distant – so that you can have what you have today.

And then today, determine to create a legacy of your own so that others may one day enjoy their lives with a deeper appreciation and sense of wholeness as well. None of us are promised tomorrow. Live life with purpose and passion today; leave nothing to chance!

Visit The Village Business Institute for information on resources for your business and employees. 

Minimize your focus to maximize your time at work

By Dawn Kaiser, Village Business Institute

Tell the truth: Do you answer your emails while talking to others on the phone or even during conference calls? Do you try to eat and work at your desk at the same time? Do you bring your laptop with you to training sessions and then pretend to take notes while you surf the net or work on other documents?

It’s not surprising that we are feeling overwhelmed and burned out because we are not mastering our time. Instead we are spending too many hours juggling too many things all at once for an extended period of time, which adds stress to our levels.

When you try to do too many things at one time, we actually drain our energy level over the course of the day. The best way for you to re-energize and refuel yourself is to actually do the opposite of what most individuals do and that is to minimize your focus in order to maximize your time. I know this from my own experience both in and outside of work. When I focus without interruption and concentrate on doing one thing at a time I get two to three times more work accomplished. This also allows me to then take a break and step away from desk in order to find a sense of real renewal. This isn’t an easy discipline to practice because our culture lifts up the multi-taskers, but truly when you start to look at the time management of highly successful people we find that they are able to set boundaries when it comes to their time that allow them to focus and bring their best to the table.

Here are a couple behaviors that are worthwhile disciplines to establish in your daily routines.

  1. Focus on getting information out before taking in. Julie Morgenstern, author of Organizing from the Inside Out, encourages folks to work on an important project for 60-90 minutes before they check their email in the morning. Spend that time distraction free and then, once done, take a quick break and notice the difference in your energy.
  2. Identify your ONE Thing. Last year I came across a question from Gary Keller, the co-founder of the Keller Williams Realty. It changed how I tackled my day. He challenges individuals to ask “what’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” Instead of worrying about a laundry list of tasks, you prioritize each activity and take them one at a time in order to move forward.
  3. Set aside thinking/quiet time. Each day create at least one time during the day when you stop working and spend time thinking or being quiet. Let your mind unwind and process all the information that has come in both directly and indirectly. Some of my best ideas come when I am the most still, which is not to say this is an easy discipline but it definitely helps me to get re-energized and be creative.

Stop living your life trying to do multiple things at once. We need to slow down in order to be our best selves and, rather than allow the time to master us, master our time.

For more tips and tricks on how to maximize your time, sign up for Dawn’s “Time Mastery” webinar at thevbistore.com.

Author Bio
Dawn Kaiser is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) trainer with The Village Business Institute. More about Dawn here.

The Village Business Institute’s unique team of professionals improve individual and organizational performance through business and organizational solutions. We serve both public and private organizations

VBI solutions include an employee assistance program, coaching, organizational development and strategic planning, workplace mediation, human resource consultation, critical incident stress management, management and employee training, career transition and outplacement services, and specialized services for nonprofits.


High-tech communication isn’t always best … even at a high-tech company

By Darrin Tonsfeldt
Division Director
The Village Business Institute

I recently had the opportunity to tour Menlo Innovations and hear its CEO, Richard Sheridan, speak on the way they work. The company is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan and does software design and development. It’s the kind of business you would expect to have a very high-tech work environment. Well… there is high-end software design going on but their approach to process and teamwork is downright old fashioned. Not what I had expected.

One of the first things you notice as you walk into the facility is a relaxed, casual, open work environment. Work stations, with computers, are surrounded by people who are actually talking with each other. And it quickly becomes clear they are not just chit chatting; they are working.

As an introduction, Richard gave us an overview of the company and how they organize work. They use great big bulletin boards with cards listing projects and time estimates; with color-coded sticky dots to indicate the stage of the project. Richard made it clear they do not use project management software; their approach is high-touch and high-communication both with employees and customers. When asked why, Richard said it’s because direct communication, face-to-face, is far more efficient and effective. This is coming from an engineer who builds software.

Many of the employees at Menlo appeared to be of the millennial generation, folks we typically assume to be most comfortable with electronic communications. When asked how this generation has adapted to the Menlo culture, Richard said that team members understand programming takes place on the computers, while resolving problems and communicating with team members takes place by talking and interacting with each other. He said they not only get it—but they thrive in and enjoy this kind of work culture.

The takeaway, for me, from the tour at Menlo Innovations was to not get too carried away with e-mail, being paperless, web-based meetings, etc. The best solution to having a productive and fun work environment may just be having a culture that encourages people to talk to each other as they work together on project planning and completion. Richard Sheridan’s book “Joy, Inc.” is definitely on the top of my reading list.

If you want to talk about the culture in your workplace, call us at The Village Business Institute. We can help you explore how you can make your organization the kind of place where people want to work. Contact The Village Business Institute at 1-800-627-8220 or www.TheVBI.com.

Grief and Loss in the Workplace

By Denise Hellekson
Clinical Associate, Village Business Institute

When I sit down to write a blog post, I always ask myself a couple questions. “What seems relevant?” “What have I been seeing and experiencing in the workplace?” This month the answer that came to me was grief and loss. I have watched friends and clients experiencing the loss of loved ones, health, relationships, and jobs. I have visited companies that have lost valued employees, I have read in the paper and seen on the nightly news, stories of loss impacting organizations and individuals alike, and I have struggled with my own loss experiences.

Grief and loss aren’t the first things that come to mind when we think of work. But loss is an inevitable part of life, and we feel its effects wherever we go. Considering how much of our time we spend at work and the close bonds that develop when we are working together toward the same goals, it makes sense that grief impacts our work life as well as our personal life.

When we are experiencing challenging times of loss, it can be easy to forget how grief affects us or what to expect. So, for those of you that might be struggling, let me help you remember in hopes of easing your worries and helping you cope.

When we experience loss, it’s easy to forget how grief affects us and what to expect. Here are a few reminders I hope will ease your worries and help you cope.

Grief is a normal, natural response to all losses in life. While understanding grief doesn’t make the pain go away, it may be helpful to know that deep, sometimes frightening reactions, are not unusual. As difficult as it may seem, we need to grieve—it is important to experience the pain and to express our emotions after a loss. When we avoid or deny the pain, we stop the healing process and leave ourselves vulnerable to physical and emotional distress.

Grief triggers grief. It is not unusual to have memories or flashbacks of other losses in our life when we are grieving a current loss. It doesn’t mean we haven’t worked through the other loss. Allow yourself to express and release the emotions that come up, and to honor the feelings without judgment.

Most of us have heard of the five stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Knowing about the stages can be helpful in normalizing an experience that doesn’t feel normal. Most of us don’t feel “like ourselves” when we are grieving. We can feel like we are not in control of our emotions, and we can be shaken by the quickly changing and intense emotions that come up.

Remembering the typical stages of grief can help us to move through the process with less fear. However, keep in mind that these stages are not necessarily linear or chronological (“I’ve been really angry this week so I should be in bargaining mode next week”). They are fluid; you may experience all of the stages or just some of them, and they last as long as they last. Do not add additional pressure and false expectations by giving yourself a timeline to grieve. There is no statute of limitations on grief, so be in the moment and know you will feel better when you feel better.

Along with the stages of grief there are also common symptoms such as shock and denial, sadness, guilt, anger, and fear. Physical symptoms may include muscle tension, sleep disturbances, and loss of appetite. Again, allow yourself to feel what you are feeling without judgment. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, it depends on many factors. Listen to yourself and trust what you feel compelled to do.

I remember recently when I was processing my own grief, I felt compelled to stay home, turn on soothing music, and make soup; lots of it. I didn’t want to eat it (I gave a lot away to friends and family) but it was the act of preparing something that brought me back to times when I felt nurtured and taken care of; it was an act of nurturing myself and creating a safe place to feel my vulnerability.

The bottom line is, while there are typical stages and common symptoms to the process, grief is unique to the person experiencing it. Honor your own process. Remember, too, that you may have a different grief reaction with each loss because you are reacting to a new and different loss.

Other Self Care Tips:

  • Take care of yourself. Grief is hard work, so try to get sufficient sleep, eat nutritious foods, and practice stress management.
  • Avoid being self-critical.
  • Don’t buy into other’s expectations of how you should grieve. Trust yourself and do what feels right for you.
  • Don’t isolate yourself. Use your support systems and access additional community support as needed (support groups; counseling; etc.).
  • Find healthy ways to express your emotions. Cry, journal, talk to people you trust, use creative outlets, engage in physical activity to work through anger, etc.

Support for Co-Worker’s:

  • Keep in mind we each have our own unique experience when grieving.
  • Don’t compare your grief reactions to those of your co-workers; there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
  • Don’t take it personally if co-workers are acting differently.
  • Communicate! Eliminate the stress of the unknown as much as possible. Let others know where you are at when it is appropriate, “I don’t think I’ll join you for lunch today. I’m feeling really sad and just need some time to myself. Let’s do lunch later this week.”
  • Be supportive. When you see others who seem to be having a difficult day, ask rather than assume. “You seem to be having a tough time this morning, is there anything I can do to help?” Grief can feel very isolating because it is so unique to each of us. Support and encouragement can go a long way in helping us heal.

One more thing to keep in mind for those of you who are experiencing the loss of someone you care about—as you move through the stages of grief (and you will), remember that your loved one is not connected to your mourning; your loved one is connected to you. As you begin to feel the light come back into your world, let it. Don’t be afraid that you are letting go of the person you care about by letting go of the pain. As Helen Keller once said, “Those we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose…for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

The Village Business Institute’s unique team of professionals improve individual and organizational performance through business and organizational solutions. We serve both public and private organizations

VBI solutions include an employee assistance program, coaching, organizational development and strategic planning, workplace mediation, human resource consultation, critical incident stress management, management and employee training, career transition and outplacement services, and specialized services for nonprofits.

Providing great business service: Put the ‘extra’ in extraordinary

When is the last time you were wowed by a customer service experience? For many of us the answers might be “I can’t remember the last time” or “I have never experienced that.” In our world today, our true competitive advantage is how we treat our customers. That is why it is extremely important that we provide not just ordinary customer service but extraordinary customer service. As someone once said, “if you don’t take care of your customers, somebody else is waiting, ready and willing to do it.”

The difference between ordinary service and extraordinary service really comes down to the five additional letters, “e.x.t.r.a.” Ask yourself how can you do extra for your customers? Author and speaker Barbara Glanz challenges us to “put our personal signatures on the job.” It is the little extra touches that matter, like when my car rental place has my car warmed up and running for me especially during our cold winters. Or the place you bank at offers you fresh baked cookies. Or when you walk into a place and they call you by name. (Of course it needs to be the right name.) Think about how you could surprise and delight your customers and then begin to try your ideas out and watch the reactions you get from your customers.

Another thing you can do to add “extra” to your service is to work from the heart. Have you ever visited a restaurant and you could immediately tell if your waiter or waitress really wants to provide you with service? I know I can. Well, your customers are no different. They can tell if your heart is in it. Stop looking at your job as a title or job description, and, instead, focus on how you make a difference in someone’s life. How can you make your customers feel special? How can you make their lives a little better today? It might be through a simple smile, talk in positive tones and words, asking a question to get to know your customers more.

It is important to realize that “We do not remember days. We remember moments in our lives.” Determine that each day you are going to wow your customers and provide that little extra that is going to leave a memory with them that they can’t wait to tell the whole world about. Please feel free to share in the comments section of this blog some examples of extraordinary service you have experienced. I would love to hear your stories.

Author Bio
As an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Trainer with The Village Business Institute, Dawn Kaiser lives her passion to energize, encourage and equip individuals to live stronger. She is an inspirational educator, writer, blogger, speaker, leader and positive-thinker extraordinaire. Dawn draws on more than twelve years of experience in the Human Resource/Organizational Development field and has a Bachelor’s of Business Administration and a Master of Education. She is also a certified HR Professional. Dawn specializes in communication, leadership, high performance teams and personal development. Dawn also enjoys unleashing hope in her community and around the world through her speaking, writing and volunteer opportunities.

How avoiding “Why?” can improve your business communication

By John E. Trombley, MMgt
The Village Business Institute

In my last blog post, “A better question to ask,” I explored the metamorphosis I experienced when I learned to ask myself the question, “What?” versus “Why?” Today, I want to visit with you about the difference in those two simple questions as they apply to what we ask other people.

We’re not talking rocket science here, but as I am fond of saying—the really important things in life are simple, but the simple things are hard to do because they require us to discipline ourselves to make a change. In this case, what I am suggesting is making a minor adjustment—flipping a switch—in the way we talk to other people.

The impact of changing how we ask a question of the people around us is no less profound than when we changed the questions we asked ourselves. Let me give you an example. You’re working on a project with a few co-workers and you meet once a week to compare individual progress. One coworker has taken an unorthodox approach to the project, which you find both intriguing and provocative. You’re excited about the possibilities, so naturally you are curious to learn more about what this person is thinking and how they came to take this particular approach. So you simply ask, “Why did you do it that way, Charlie?” The next thing you know, Charlie goes on the defense and the climate in the room quickly turns from collegial to adversarial. You find yourself trying to back pedal out of a very uncomfortable conversation without really understanding how you got there.

So what happened? Think about the last time someone asked you why you did something. How did it make you feel? Did you feel as though you were being challenged to defend your work? To many people, that is exactly what it feels like. It’s as though what they did wasn’t good enough or was wrong in some way, when often times the person asking the question just wants to learn more. Now, you can blow this off by thinking that some people just need to get thicker skin, but if you really care about how you come across to other people and you recognize the power of building respectful relationships, you might try asking a slightly different question: one that will open the other person up rather than shut them down.

The next time you find yourself about to ask why someone did something, try asking something like this: “Did you get the results you were hoping for?” How we say what we say is just as important as what we say – and maybe even more important! Before you ask a question, think about what you are trying to accomplish or learn in the course of the conversation and consider if your question will produce the desired response. You just might find yourself engaging in a more profitable conversation.

Visit The Village Business Institute for information on resources for your business and employees. 

‘What?’ instead of ‘Why?’ A better question to ask

By John E. Trombley, MMgt
The Village Business Institute

Every once in a while I find myself staring in the mirror trying to comprehend what has just transpired, attempting to make sense of it all. Sometimes the answer is painfully clear while other times the answer remains clouded in mystery. When those times of self-doubt or introspection come about, I am often transported to a place in time when I was challenged to ask a different question from what I had usually asked before.

I’d like to say that I figured it out on my own, that somehow I was so in-tune with myself and so astute that outside intervention was not necessary, but then I wouldn’t be fooling anybody. I can’t remember who is responsible for my sudden surge of wisdom, but I am grateful for the encounter and would sing that person’s praises from the rooftops if I could. For me, it was that big of a deal though I realize that for others, it will not be. And that’s okay with me.

So what was this great and powerful new question I was encouraged to ask of myself? Before I answer that, it might be helpful to share what I usually asked when things would happen that were often unforeseen and unpleasant. The question was, “Why?” as in, “Why did this happen to me?” (which kind of sounds like, “Poor me, it isn’t fair and I don’t deserve this, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah”. Yep; that’s five ‘blahs’).

Sometimes the answer was obvious, but other times I found myself being held hostage to the situation and without realizing it, asking the “Why?” question would often be the beginning of a death spiral. Then one day someone suggested I ask the question, “What?” as in “What am I supposed to learn from this? What can I do differently next time to produce a different, more desirable result?” Asking “What?” put me on a path to discovery and freedom. It put me in charge of determining my destination rather than being a victim of the circumstances that were often of my own making. Victor versus Victim. Not a bad change for deciding to ask a little different question, I’d say.

Here’s the 30-day challenge, then: Resolve to ask yourself “What?” the next time you find yourself in one of those situations when you are unpleasantly surprised, frustrated, overwhelmed or perplexed. Then write down the answers to the question, reflecting on those things even if they seem intrinsically obvious to you. Finally, pay attention to how it makes you feel and where the answers lead you.

Best wishes on your journey of discovery and good riddance to death spirals!


Visit The Village Business Institute for information on resources for your business and employees. 


Give Yourself the Gift of Presence This Holiday Season

By Denise Hellekson, Clinical Associate, The Village Business Institute

Well, Thanksgiving is over, Black Friday has come and gone, and the beginning of the holiday season is upon us. I love the holiday season. Bing, Andy and Nat serenading me with the Christmas songs that shape my memories. Christmas decorations adding a warm glow to the cold, dark December nights. Holiday movies like old friends reminding me of the magic and miracles and goodness of the season. Gathering with friends and family to bake cookies, decorate the tree, and celebrate with those I love. What’s not to love?

But I can become overwhelmed with the lists of things to be done before December 24. I have been known to become a servant to the almighty “To Do” list in an effort to buy the perfect gifts, and fulfill the commitments that come with the season. At the height of trying to do all things/be all places/for all those I care about, I can remember flopping onto the couch one Christmas Day to catch my breath. I finally had time to sit down and take in the moment, only to discover 90% of it had already passed. The presents had been opened, the feast eaten, boxes and paper strewn everywhere. By the time I was fully present to Christmas, it was almost gone. In my quest to conquer my many lists, I’d lost sight of the reason behind all the activity. I was so caught up in getting to the finish line that I missed out on the experiences that make the season so special.

Since that time, I’ve been working on giving myself the gift of being more present to the season. It’s a work in progress, but here are some simple, quick, low demand tips to help set the stage for a happier, more present holiday experience.

  1. Before you start making your “To Do” list, which is all about the “what” of the holiday season, define for yourself the purpose and overall goal, which gets to the “why.” Set your intention for the Holiday season. How do you want to feel? What do you want to experience? What do you want to remember? Identifying your “why” not only helps you determine what you really need to include on your list, but it also takes it from an obligation to a choice. Your list becomes a tool to help you get to your overall goal, rather than a task master that controls your days and eats away at your peace of mind.Some other questions to ask yourself as you’re planning your day—What kind of a day do you want to have? How can you bring a sense of fun and enjoyment to the day? What do you need to NOT DO in order to have a good day?
  2. When you wake up in the morning, instead of flying out of bed playing “beat the clock,” set your alarm for 5-10 minutes earlier and start the day with “Thank you.” Make a mental list of the things you are grateful for and the things you are looking forward to. Set your intention to have a good day–“I have all the time I need to do the things I need to today,” “I am calm and relaxed and looking forward to a great day,” “I am present and open to the goodness of the season.”) “Thank you” can be a great way to end the day as well, and helps you to fall asleep remembering the successes and unexpected joys of the day.
  3. Be selective. What do you need to cut back on in order to appreciate and enjoy the engagements that matter to you? Is it really about doing it all, or doing what matters most to you and your family? Give yourself permission to be selective, to slow it down a little and to choose. Maybe taking an evening to slip into your pj’s, read the Christmas Carol, and enjoy your tree will be the perfect gift to yourself instead of rushing out to another engagement when you are tired and worn and your nerves are wearing thin. You get to decide; choose wisely!
  4. As you go about your day, take time to stop, breathe, and take in the sights, smells, and sounds around you. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now? What do I need to do to take care of myself?”
  5. Recharge your battery! Eat food that gives you the nutrition you need to stay energized. Pack healthy snacks to graze on throughout the day. Get adequate sleep.
  6. Spread a little cheer throughout the day. A lot of stressed people are running around this time of year. You can either be the catalyst that snaps their last nerve, or the balm that offers kindness and connection in a busy world. It doesn’t take much; a friendly smile, a little patience, common courtesies like holding a door open, or saying thank you; simple gestures that can extend the hand of friendship to those around us.

By being more present, we not only have the opportunity to embrace the season more fully for ourselves, but we are also more available to share the gift of our presence with others.

Wishing you simple pleasures, happy moments with those you love, and a heart filled with the goodness of the season.

About the blogger
Denise Hellekson provides EAP counseling, training, consulting, and crisis response services for The Village Business Institute. She has a master’s degree in Community and Rehabilitation Counseling from St. Cloud State University; and is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and a Qualified Neutral under Rule 114 of the Minnesota General Rules of Practice (Mediator). Hellekson has many years of experience in counseling, advocacy, and consulting services.