Saturday, February 18, 2017

Reflections: “Never give in, never give in…”

“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
-          Winston Churchill, October 29, 1941

Warning – this posting will be longer than my usual musings.

At many dark times in my life I have referred to the above quote by Churchill to bring me through ‘sterner days’. There are many and shorter variations of Churchill’s famous quote about never giving up. I wanted to find the original Churchill quote and discovered that this familiar quote was not 29 words long, but rather contained in a speech.

The famous quote was neither at the beginning nor the end, but hidden away in a long paragraph recounting Great Britain’s progress during the first 10 months of World War II. Churchill delivered this speech, which contained the sentence about never giving in, at his old school, Harrow Hall (where as a boy he almost flunked out). The famous words are contained in the following paragraph of the speech:

You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done.
Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination.
But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period—I am addressing myself to the School—surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.
We stood all alone a year ago, and to many countries it seemed that our account was closed, we were finished. All this tradition of ours, our School history, our songs, this part of the history of this country, were gone and finished and liquidated.
I live in New Zealand now but in May 2017 I will travel with my wife to New York City and attend Fordham University’s commencement ceremony in the Bronx and received my undergraduate degree in Organizational Leadership. Earning this degree has been a very long journey for me – 36 years to be exact.

In September 1981, I began my college studies at New York University as an 18-year-old freshman majoring in Finance. I was supposed to graduate in June 1985 but that didn’t happen. I had a great time in college – a little too much of a great time! In 1984 I was barely passing my classes.

During my studies at NYU I started playing on the school’s basketball team during my freshman year and was named captain in my first year with the team. I then became co-captain in my junior year. But at the start of my senior year and would be fourth year with the team I quit to focus on my classes in the hope of graduating on time. At that time in my life, quitting the team and saying goodbye to some of the guys I knew since freshman year was the hardest thing to do. I love those guys that I played with to this day. I felt devastated that I was letting them down. They all said they understood my decision but I could see it in their eyes and on their faces they were surprised I left the team at the beginning of my senior year.

At first quitting the team made sense. I felt at the time it was the responsible decision to make because I was not going to be a professional basketball player. I was tall, 6’6”, but not nearly good enough to get drafted for the NBA. But I came to realize that it was not being on the team that held me back from studying harder but my lack of commitment and discipline to “hit the books”. At that time, I didn’t know it but the guys on the team was the support system I could have utilized to help me with my studies. I was too embarrassed to tell the guys I was almost flunking out of college at the beginning of my senior year.

After leaving the team I floundered even worse with my studies. I moved from living on campus to moving back home with my mother, commuted to NYU for classes and started working a full-time job that was initially part-time. After taking a few classes after 1985 while I was working I decided to stop pursing my undergraduate degree in 1988.

In late 1989 and early 1990 I was disappointed in the direction my life. I had several low paying jobs between 1985 and 1990. I felt that I was not using my full capabilities of what I could do and then I started to think of joining the military. I said the military, “Why not?”. The military could pay for me to go back and finish my degree. I researched what branch of the service I wanted to join and in August 1990 I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.

I completed my six weeks of basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas at the age of 27. Then four months of training at Kessler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi in my Air Force career field, Communications-Computers Systems Planning and Implementation Apprentice.

A medal from the Air Force
From 1990 to 1997, I was a Project Manager for Communications and Computer Systems in the United States Air Force.  I was stationed in at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. While at Kirtland AFB, I was selected 542nd Crew Training Wing Outstanding First Termer of the Year for 1992.  During the last two years of my  enlistment in the Air I was stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Fairborn, Ohio.  During this assignment I was selected to serve on a Source Selection Technical Panel for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. The panel was convened for the procurement of computer systems valued at $55 million. 

 Accepting Outstanding First Termer of the Year  
During my years in the military I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of doing it all; performing outstanding at my military job, going to school, volunteering for additional duties at work and in the community. And to a certain point I did succeed and was recognized during my military career.

Outwardly I had the appearance of success but inwardly I was trying to fill the ‘hole’ of quitting the basketball and not graduating from NYU. While in the military I took college courses at Southern Illinois University and Wilberforce University but never put it all together to complete my undergraduate degree. I didn’t know this until many years later but deep down in my subconscious mind I did not feel worthy of success. I said to myself that my ultimate goal was to complete college but keep making excuses and sabotaging myself.

In December 1997 my enlistment in the military was completed and I didn’t want to re-enlist for another term. After my enlistment, I moved back to NYC and has worked as Adjunct Computer Instructor and Program Operations Specialist at LaGuardia Community College School of Adult 

and Continuing Education from 1998 to 2000.  I left that job because of the self-imposed pressure I put on myself.

After terrorist attacks on NYC at the World Trade Center in 2001 I got a job as an administrative specialist for an architectural & engineering (A&E) firm that was contracted by the U.S. government’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide financial assistance to public applicants. While working at the firm I also collected one of the firms largest overdue accounts receivable.  Through effective negotiation and organizational skills, I was able to collected 100% of the receivable outstanding in the amount of $1.7 million.  I was promoted to Accounting Manager of the NYC office of the firm and was making a good salary but still felt empty because I didn’t have my college degree. I still wanted to complete my degree but was afraid of failing once again and not completing it.

While working as a Accounting Manger I was not taking care of myself. I worked 12 to 15 hours a day and came in on Saturdays and sometimes even on Sunday to prove to myself that I was worty of the position. I “burned out”and I quit the job at the age of 43.

I quit to get rest and reevaluate my life. Instead of reevaluating my life and how I was living, I became depressed. I would not reach out to my family or friends for support and isolated myself. I started to gain weight and ballooned to over 300 lbs and was feeling sorry for myself. I needed help but would not ask for it. My family, through much persistence, said that as a veteran I should go to the Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Manhattan and seek assistance. With the insistence of my family I went to the VA Medical Center in 2007 to ask for help.

I was stubborn and thought I could get myself back together on my own but I was wrong. Again through the persistence and intervention by my family I went back to the VA in 2011 ready to turn my life around. I accepted every assistance the VA offered. I had to climb out of the hole I was in. I lost my apartment, no job and had almost no money in my bank account. I had to humble myself and start over at the age of 48.

I was at the VA almost everyday. Woody Allen has a famous quote “80% of success is showing up”, and apparently the other 20% is completing what you started. I showed up and took advantage of everything the VA offered. The VA has a program called Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) that helps veterans gain the confidence and routine of going back to work. My work was not glamours. I was a housekeeper at the VA Medical Center. I mopped, cleaned bathrooms and hospital room, vacuumed, picked up garbage, and washed walls. I did everything I was asked to do without complaining. As I was doing that work I remembered the following quote from Dr. Martin Luther King:

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.

I continued to show up and one day I was lucky. One definition of luck is “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. A VA social worker saw the work I was doing with the CWT program and recommended me for the opportunity to interview for a full-time VA job. I interviewed for the position of Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Specialist in the Homeless Veterans Supported Employment Program. I was hired for the job. I kept getting lucky. I loved  the job of helping veterans and providing them individual vocational assessment, and job development to help them find employment.

After a couple of years as a VA Employment Specialist I interviewed for another position at the VA as a Transition Advocate. I was hired and began assisting transitioning Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation New Dawn (OND) veterans and their families regarding, eligibility for VA benefits. I felt enormously grateful for what I was doing and how far I had come by not giving up on myself. I did not do it alone. My family and support system “jumped started” me and I had to do the 20% of completing what I started. Maybe I had the “grit” within me all the time but it was covered by a lot of insecurity, negative thinking and past failures. I remembered all my failures but never my success.

While working at the VA in 2013, I enrolled at Fordham University as a part-time student at night to finish my degree. I was ready this time, determined and most importantly equipped with confidence in myself. I had some challenges along the way going back to school, probably like most adult learners but I kept at it.

In 2014, I met a wonderful beautiful woman from New Zealand and fell heads-over-heels in love. I left my job at the VA and moved from NYC and landed in New Zealand on July 4, 2015 to spend the rest of my life with her.  We got married in June 2016 and I could not be happier.

While I was adjusting to life in New Zealand I continued studying online at Fordham completing my final nine courses for my degree in Organizational Leadership. I now work as a Program Facilitator at the New Zealand Department of Corrections.

I wanted to tell you this story to encourage you to keep preserving and doing the small tasks and strategies as stated in previous blogs everyday and to, "Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never - in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."
My first bungy jump in Taupo, New Zealand
One of my journeys was 36 years in the making
I have a wonderful life, love and now my university degree!
If I can make it so can you!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Be Kind to Yourself

New Zealand is home to more than half of the world's whale species, with 42 species and two subspecies in its waters. Also nearly half of the world's dolphins and porpoises live off the coastline.

In the first week of February of this year, 416 pilot whales had beached themselves overnight at Farewell Spit in Golden Bay at the top of the South Island in New Zealand, with more than 70% dying by the time dawn broke on Friday. Golden Bay is conducive to strandings because of its shallow bay, which made it difficult for whales to swim out once they have entered.

The reasons for whales strandings are still unclear, but it is thought a combination of factors contribute, with old, sick and injured whales being particularly vulnerable. Whales, dolphins and porpoises rely on sound for navigation, foraging, and communication, so military sonar and other human-made sounds can cause whales to beach. Getting trapped in fishing gear or colliding with ships can also injure and disorient whales, extreme weather and getting trapped in low tides can also force them inshore.

But unlike humans, whales have to think about each breath they take. When they are sick or injured they come to shore where they can rest without having to fight to stay at the water's surface. Social species, like pilot whales, work together. They often call out to one another in distress and more come to help, also getting themselves into trouble.

What can we takeaway from this tragedy that we can apply to our own life? Human beings are also social creatures. Most of us like to be around the company of our family, friends, and work colleagues for companionship and emotional support. We have cultivated a support system around us to encourage us, help us when necessary and to tell the truth to us even when we don't want to here it.

You cannot truly support others if you are barely keeping yourself just above water. So remember to take time to care and rejuvenate yourself and be kind to yourself.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Saying No is Good for You

I have to admit that I was a people pleaser for a very long time in my career. I would say yes to just about anything because I thought that was one of the ways to succeed in the workplace. I was all over the place and others priorities become my priorities to the determent of my physical and mental health.

Setting boundaries—is one of the most important skills to master for both personal and professional growth. When you say no to the things that don’t help you, you are, in effect, saying yes to the things that will.

For some of us, saying no is very difficult. I wanted to be like, the go to person, be seen as a team player, I didn’t want to hurt feelings by closing a door or saying no to an opportunity. For some reason I felt guilty if I didn’t say yes or maybe I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it all. I found out the hard way that I could not do it all!

Saying yes to too many things can be overwhelming and against your own self-interest. By saying yes to too many things, we may be saying no to some very important things. If your plate is too full, there’s no room for the unexpected or ideal opportunity.
The thing about saying yes and getting tasks done – without caring for yourself and your needs – is that more people ask you to do stuff, and it is kind of flattering.  You want to be nice but all of a sudden, you realize that 80 percent of your good time is taken up by stuff that is not so good. 
Your happiness and peace of mind will be made up of the choices that you make. If you’re not sure about something, say no to it. If you’re hesitant because you know deep inside your heart that you’re not too thrilled about the idea, say no. 
If it’s not really what you want, say no! 

An Excellent Leader

When I was in the U.S. Air Force stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque during the early 1990s, I had an excellent leader and his name was Joseph Trujillo.

The Communications Squadron commander appointed Mr. Trujillo as the project manager for a large telecommunications installation project. The project’s mission was to transition the military base from an analog telephone switching system to a state-of-art digital telephone switching system. Joe had five core members of his team and many others providing support when needed.

Joe formerly worked at AT&T for many years as a manager before the breakup of the Bell Telephone System was mandated in 1982. Joe accepted the early retirement offered from AT&T and continued working, becoming a civilian employee of the USAF.

Joe created the culture for the team, developed team members and fostered productivity by:

·      Modeling Behavior - Joe created an atmosphere of working hard and being professional but also wanted the team to be loose and have fun doing such an important project. Joe was the first one in the office and would have the coffee ready. He modeled the behavior he wanted us to exhibit with internal and external stakeholders, customers and, engineers, senior leaders and work crews. Joe rarely showed the pressure he was under to have a flawless cut-over of the telephone switching system and his demeanor was followed by the entire project team.

·      Being Present and Visible – Joe did not separate himself from the team. In the beginning stages of the team Joe commandeered a large open office space. Each team member was provided a desk and Joe’s desk was not larger than anyone else’s desk. There were no partitions and we were encouraged to communicate directly with him and others on the team. Joe made us all feel that our individual contribution was important to the overall success of the project. 

·      Allowing New Approaches – Joe allowed me to come up with a unique way to dispose of the old telephone switching system. The usual process of disposing of old communications equipment was to just send it to the military base scrap yard. I suggested to Joe another alternative. I suggested that that we sell the switching equipment instead of just throwing it away. I figured that some organization would be able to cannibalize old parts for possible replacements parts. Joe was on-board with the idea straight away but it took me time to convince others of the idea. Joe delegated the entire process to me and I in coordinated the selling of the old switch. We were able earn U.S. taxpayers $34,000 from selling the old switch. I’m very proud of that accomplishment and all because Joe was willing to listen and take a different approach because of suggestions from one of his team members.

The new telephone switching system was installed on time, resources were wisely managed and the cut-over was seamless. It has been 20 years since I separated from them military in 1997 but I will always remember Joe – he was the best manager I ever had and an excellent leader.

Don’t Have a Plan B

Apparently in a research study (How backup plans can harm goal pursuits: The unexpected downside of being prepared for failure) by Jihae Shin and Katherine L. Milkman published in the journal of Organizational Behavior and Decision Process, having a Plan B may not help you succeed.

Before I discuss why a Plan B may not be a good idea for achieving your goals let’s review what Plan A is. The Cambridge Dictionary defines Plan A as, “an action or set of actions for doing or achieving something that is preferred to other methods”. Shin and Milkman determined that once you begin thinking about a fall back plan, your desire to achieve your goal decreases. When I heard about this research conclusion, I say, “What?”. I learned from my mother and I always thought that I should always have a back-up plan – just in case!

The researchers found that those who were encouraged to develop a Plan B were less likely to achieve their goal than those who did not receive these instructions. The Plan B participants were not only less successful accomplishing their goals, their interest in reaching their original goal decreased.

Sun Tzu was a Chinese general (born 544 BCE). He was excellent military strategist, and philosopher who lived in ancient China. The book, The Art of War, is traditionally credited to Sun Tzu and acknowledged as a work of genius on strategy. The book describes a philosophy of war, managing conflicts, and winning battles. Many quotes in the book have famous, one of these quotes is the following,

“When your army has crossed the border, you should burn your boats and bridges, in order to make it clear to everybody that you have no hankering after home”.

A long time ago Tzu crystallized what the researchers found – not having a Plan B focuses the mind and body on one thing – your ultimate goal. With Tzu there was no going back home.

This research made me stop and rethink that it could be to our advantage not to have a Plan B. If you proceed with a goal with an escape plan or doubting that you can achieve your goal, you’ve already begun to sabotage the outcome. Believe it or not on the unconscious level your self-talk is giving you permission to fail.

Remind yourself that you can succeed and if don’t have the tools and skills necessary – go get those tools. Don’t build a space in your mind for self-sabotaging beliefs.

How Does One Midwife Communicate Effectively

I have always been interested how different individuals communicate to be more effective in their career. I moved from NYC to New Zealand in July 2015 and one of the big difference I noticed here from the United States is that midwives deliver babies instead of doctors.

I interviewed Jo Toma, midwife and Lead Maternity Carer (LMC) practicing in two towns, Taupo and Turangi, located in the central North Island of New Zealand. Ms. Toma has been practicing midwifery since 2006 and in November 2015 delivered her 500th child in the world and she always says to expecting mothers when they are about to deliver, “Are you ready to meet your baby?”

On April 24, 2016, Toma was featured on a Māori community affairs television show, The Hui, on Channel 3 in New Zealand, for her caring work with pregnant Māori women and their families. Māori are indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand and make up roughly 15% of the nation’s 4.5 million population.

I believe Toma is an outstanding communicator in her practice with clients, medical professional colleagues, social workers, court and law enforcement officials, and governmental agencies because she listens respectfully, respect views other than her own, and is very clear, unambiguous and straight forward in her professional communications. But she also has the ability to look for common ground that can be built upon. I would say she utilizes a communications style that anticipates and prevents problems by clarifying situations to the benefit of all individuals involved in her profession.

Midwifery in New Zealand regained its status as an autonomous profession in 1990. The Nurses Amendment Act of that year restored the professional and legal separation of midwifery from nursing, and established midwifery, and nursing in New Zealand as separate and distinct professions. Midwives work in many ways to provide maternity services to women and their whanau (a Māori word for family).

I interviewed Toma and asked her a few questions about her professional communication style, her communications with clients, and communications with professional colleagues.

Below are some of the questions asked, and summaries of her responses.

Q: Have you taken any communications courses. If yes, how have you applied what you have learned to assist you in communicating more effectively.

Jo: I have taken a 1-day course which is called, SBARR. SBARR is an acronym for Situation (What is happening?), Background (What is the relevant clinical history?), Assessment (What do I think the problem is?), Recommendation (What would I do to correct the problem?), and Response (Is the response appropriate? What will I do?). This communications tool is designed to give all medical information concisely and quickly. So we use it in acute situations to quickly communicate critical care information. It has improved my communications when you need a formal way of communicating with medical staff.

Q: How do you like to be communicated with professionally?

Jo: Clear and concise for all communications, written and verbal. No waffling or going over and over points again and again. I want clear and concise information, quickly with minimum chatter in a business/clinical sense. I hate waffling.

Q: How has your communications style change (if it has) over your career?

Jo: Absolutely! More concise now. I gave the facts that are needed as opposed to my opinion. I cut out the waffle because I know how I appreciate clear and concise communications.

Aaron: What happens if the communications are not direct, what do you do?

Jo: I redirect. I stop them and ask questions. What’s the situation, what’s the background, what’s the assessment, what’s the response, and so give it to me in that format. All professional staff talk in the SBARR format. That’s the gold standard in communicating in medicine.

Q: What was the best advice you received about communicating with others in a business environment?

Jo: Communicating your business and clinical duties is not a friendly chat. It’s getting information across and receiving information. It’s different that chatting with your friends. One line that I draw is about transferring of information. I want it really clear and really concise. I want one word answers/two word answers. Yes, no, I did it here.

Aaron: Are there times when you need to be social or just warm-up to a professional colleague you just met?

Jo: The first time we spend together, lots of background information on both of us, lots of sharing of stories. We talk about that in our medical environment – ‘the sharing of stories’ versus ‘the gathering of information’. We share stories for the human to human friendly side then we go into the business side - concise communications.

Q: Do you use humor as a communications strategy?

Jo: With my clients, absolutely – with my colleagues never.

Aaron: Why with your clients?

Jo: Because I work with a lot of teenage girls who are lower socioeconomic status and I don’t want to not have the barrier of being professional with these women. Working with clients is about working with them on a personal level. You are still trying to gain information but they often don’t have very effective communications skills and so you are trying to tease it out in a caring or humorous way or a motherly role for some of the young girls. Trying to get the pertinent points out of their story. I always, always paraphrase the girls because I need to know that I’ve understood exactly what they have said. I paraphrase with humor or empathy to make sure that I have understood and to make the women feel comfortable. You have to work with what every communication style they are using...a lot of what you learn about a woman having a baby in nonverbal. How she is sitting, her eye contact, all of the other styles of communicating that you pick up.

Q: What are the most difficult conversations you have in your job?

Jo: One is where we have to give the woman bad news about her unborn baby and counsel her on what her options are. I try to keep it very, very clinical but it’s always emotional. You cannot be but emotional but giving clear, concise direct information is important.

Aaron: How do you show empathy in those situations?

Jo: More non-verbal, body language and silence. Just giving them time to digest the information. Silence in those instances are a big communicator.

Q: Who do you admire as an effective business communicator and why?

Jo: Richard Branson because his whole style of management is about empowering people rather than disempowering. He has a great management style for his employees. He has an open-door policy. He is open to all parts of his employees’ life because he understands that their family life does impact on their ability to perform on their job. He has an open style of communications with his staff which I think is great.

Aaron: What does empowering employees mean to you?

Jo: I think the powerful quote Branson says as a CEO is, “It’s not my job to look after the clients, my job is to look after the staff to enable them to look after the client.” So he knows that top level of management should not be concerned with customer service. They should be concerned with employee relations because if you have happy staff, you will have happy customers. It shows that the staff is respected and they are valued members of his team and everybody likes to know that they are contributing. It’s a basic human need to feel valued – that your contribution to this planet is important and he communicates that to his staff really well. His staff turnover rates are low; employee feedback is positive. Most people have a wish for working at Virgin.

Q: What effective communication strategies have you used in working with Māori individuals?

Jo: Using native language when you are able to. Even if it’s not fluent and you are interspersing some Māori words it’s important because it gives cultural identity to your communications. The feedback from clients is that they really appreciate it because you made an effort to acknowledge who they are.

Interviewing Ms. Toma reminded me each profession communicates differently depending on the situation. But there are common communications skills that transverse across occupations like active listening, respect, non-verbal cues, telling stories to connect with others, and confirming that the person you are speaking with understands you and you understanding them.

All the best with your communications.

Friday, February 10, 2017

One Way to Relaxation - PMR

I learned about Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) while I served in the U.S. Air Force in the early 1990s. My job in the military as a communications and computers project manager was not particularly stressful but a few other things were going on in my life at the time that I noticed that I was getting stressed about life. PMR helped me relax and take a timeout and let things go.

PMR is an exercise that, if practiced regularly, can help individuals achieve an overall sense of relaxation. This skill involves systematically working through the major muscle groups in the body and recognizing what it feels to have tension in each area and then letting that tension go.

Below are some instructions to help with your practice:

First get into a comfortable position – sitting or lying down. You will progress your way through the muscle groups in your body – tensing and then relaxing as you go. As you tense, take a deep breath and hold the muscle tense for five to seven seconds. Focus on the muscle. As you breathe out, say “relax” to yourself and let the tension go. Focus on the muscle as it relaxes. Rest quietly for about 45 seconds, still concentrating on that muscle before you shift on to the next muscle group.

Repeat in the following order:

Ø  Start with your right hand. Stretch your right hand and fingers out as hard as you can.
Ø  Tense your right biceps by pressing your right elbow down or against its support.
Ø  Stretch your left hand and fingers.
Ø  Tense your left bicep by pressing down on what is supporting you.
Ø  Raise your eyebrows (as tight as possible to tighten your upper face).
Ø  Screw your eyes tight and wrinkle up your nose (to tense the center of your face).
Ø  Clench your jaw.
Ø  Tense your neck by stretching and raising your head.
Ø  Pull your shoulders back and together to tension your chest.
Ø  Tighten and brace your stomach muscles.
Ø  Tense up the muscles in your right thigh.
Ø  Pull the toes of your right foot in and curl your foot inward.
Ø  Stretch the toes of your right foot out and curl them upward toward your head.
Ø  Tense up the muscles in your left thigh.
Ø  Pull the toes of our left foot in and curl your foot inward.
Ø  Stretch the toes of your left foot out and curl them upward toward your head.

When you are finished, stay sitting or lying quietly for another minute or two. Notice how you feel. Relax. Note the areas of your body where tenseness persists. Breathe quietly and steadily.

One thing that may help you in this exercise is to make a recording (very easy to do with cellular phones these days) progressing through each stage and reminding yourself to breath. At first you may not like the sound of your voice but I recorded me going through this exercise and it freed my mind to just listen and focus on tensing my muscles and then relaxing.
I had to learn the hard way to take timeout for myself. PMR helped me be deliberate and take timeout and use this relaxation technique to let go! I hope it works for you. Let me know how it goes:-)