Just relax.

How often have you muttered those words to yourself when you feel under pressure, tense and gnarled in your body, or worse yet, don’t feel like you’re in your body at all?

Just relax. If only it were that easy.

I think of a chat I had with Michelle, a Financial Comptroller who I had the pleasure of coaching earlier this year. Michelle is super smart, ambitious, driven, and yes, intense. Can you please just get her to relax a little? urged Joe, the company’s considerably more relaxed CFO.

I experience you as just a little intense, I volunteer to Michelle in our second meeting.

Yeah, I have heard that before, Michelle says and laughs.

Are you this intense outside of work as well? I inquire. Michelle chuckles again.

My husband and I have this standing joke, Michelle tells me. When we go on vacation together, he starts calling me Vacation Michelle. It’s the only time I ever really stop and unwind.

I ask the obvious question: What would happen if you brought more of Vacation Michelle to work?

I don’t know how to do that, Michelle answers disarmingly.

Michelle picks up this conversational thread the next time we speak. I told my husband about our conversation. He laughed and said I’ll make you a 20-dollar-bet that you can’t do it!

It often is such a fine line between relaxed and not so relaxed, isn’t it? I won’t review the basics like taking a breath or meditating here. Yes, do those things.

If you hold deep trauma or psychological scars, excavate and release them with the help of a professional. Otherwise, consider some of the following behaviors when your situational stakes are high, time is tight, and you want to get stuff done immediately. When a relaxed way of showing up seems to just fly out the window:

Muscle-memorize your most relaxed self.

Muscle memory is a powerful thing. Athletes know. Even on a day when our mind may not feel as sharp as we’d like, our body performs. It remembers. Muscle memory kicks in. So, go and begin to remember what your body feels like when you’re at your most relaxed. Remember your VACATION-SELF. For me, that is when I step out of the pool after I have just had a robust lap swim, when I lounge on my daybed and read, sit on the stool at my kitchen counter and conduct business from there. My job is to show up that relaxed, as often and whenever I can.

Remember. And drop into it.

Stop forcing results.

Notice when you’re pressing just a little too hard for an outcome, for consensus, a resolution. When it is not happening in your ideal timeframe. Notice when others may need a different pace, additional time to reflect, or a pause. Reality is not matching your ideal-outcome storyline. Notice how you’re suddenly driving conversations with an irritated edge, an annoyed tone, a slight petulance.

Notice. And pull back. 

Allow for silence.

Some people go quiet when they’re not relaxed. Most folks go hyper. They talk more. Talk faster. Their talk is likely to sound repetitive. It becomes noise. Allow for silence. Don’t fill every second with chatter. In the silence new wisdom appears. In the silence we better observe what’s really going on. In the silence we hear, and reconnect with, our heartbeat – and the energy that emanates from our hearts.

Shut up for a moment. And settle into silence.

Make it about them.

An I, I, I storyline undercuts relaxation faster than anything else. I have to get this done right. I need to finish these 5 items before 3 o’clock. I know more about these matters than the rest of the team. I would rather work on something else. 

Me, me, me. Whenever possible, direct your attention to the person or persons in front of you, what they are saying, what they may need, and how you can be of service. Shift your focus from you to them. Every moment instantly gets simpler. Suddenly, we’re engaged with what is actually real, in front of us, in this moment, not our random storylines. Exhale.

Focus on others. And feel your body unwind.

Have a little faith.

It is difficult to relax when I believe that every outcome is dependent on my behavior, my actions, my efforts. Whew, what pressure. I don’t advocate for a fatalistic mindset, mind you. I believe in my ability to affect outcomes. I equally believe that if something doesn’t work out just as I wished, that outcome is the outcome that was meant to happen, in that moment. The one that will lead us to the next right outcome. That sort of faith allows me to relax. And this, of course, is the paradox: When I relax, I am able to more potently affect the outcomes I envision and desire. Go figure.

We’re talking relaxation practices here. And we’re talking relaxation consciousness.

Truth be told, Vacation Michelle never fully showed up at work. But a slightly less-driven Michelle who listened a little better did. It starts with muscle memory.

During this time of social unrest and unprecedented workplace disruption, remember your VACATION-SELF. Summon that Self more frequently. It will require some intentional mental prompts. Go prompt. And enjoy.