Two months ago I was at the top of my career game according to my own definition and upping it daily. After 10+ years nip-tucking myself to fit my narrow ideas of success, worth and value, I left my job, resisted the sticky temptations of other employment offers, and was starting to build a career and life I wanted and loved deeply, coupled with the terrifying-but-necessary start-up investments to do so.
I was living by design versus default, confronting my fears around finances and failing and growing into the person I knew I could be, pursuing a life worth living. I scheduled a few workshops and enrolled a few clients. I was just starting.
Then something happened that brought everything to a screeching halt. At least in how I handled it.
This entirely unpredictable event plunged me, and several members of my family, into a very dark wormhole over a two month period. Two months of constant crisis, with no clear end date or outcome in sight.
I thought I had conquered my demons. But in the words of Ram Dass: If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.
By the end of eight weeks, it was clear I was very far from liberated. The event itself was stressful enough (thankfully, medical miracles occurred and the crisis has abated). But the additional stress of how I acted and interacted with my family cost me far more than was needed.
Through coaching, I came to shift my perspective. More importantly, I began to create a healthier alternative. In my opinion everyone, my family included, is better off for it.
I shifted from believing I was obligated, and at the effect of other people and circumstances, to being the shaper of my own destiny. I had already made this shift in my career trajectory, but the same belief was popping up in lots of places – in casual social interaction and particularly with my family. Without thinking twice about it, I shut off and tucked my emotions and personality away. Unconscious beliefs about my role, power, and worth in the world became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Beliefs are life changers because they shape our actions – how we communicate, work, love, and play. Oftentimes without realizing it we build our lives around deeply held beliefs, which reinforce exactly what they say.
Barring basic survival threats (war, poverty, etc), I am a firm believer that each person reading this has the power to create a work life that is yours, that is YOU, in a very profound way. But quitting your job isn’t enough for sustained freedom. The people I work with typically self-select and stay in careers they’re miserable in due to limiting beliefs. Just as they did with me, these beliefs rear their ugly head in a million different places, including their work lives, unless they deal with them.
Often the best things in life aren’t easy. Taking action and breaking free of limiting beliefs is a golden key.
*This article is posted on Medium.
One of the most common blocks people have in getting what they want is pursuing goals they see as burdens, rather than gifts they would LIKE to have, in their own interest.
It’s easy to see why this is backwards. Assuming you’re an adult with a reasonable degree of freedom, whatever goals you are setting should be for yourself or some extension (a family you love, your belief in giving back to the community, a desire for improvement, etc).
But oftentimes, we don’t see it that way. We believe we “should” or worse, “have to” do something. This kind of thinking is very demotivating in the long run.
People that use this kind of language (have to’s and shoulding) are essentially treating themselves as defiant children, who need to be disciplined and forced into things. They implicitly assume they won’t move forward without tricking themselves or getting a bit of a beating.
What if we could lose the language of obligation and start thinking in terms of choices and possibility? The next time you find yourself thinking you ought or must do something - the motivational equivalent of straightjacketing - take a step back and ask yourself, what could you do, given your desires and the present situation?
This logic extends to goal setting. The next time you set a challenging goal, run a motivational quality check. Ask yourself what’s in it for the home team. Does the outcome seem positive and rewarding, or is there something bigger, or completely different, that you would like to see?
Maybe you’re thinking, that's all well and good, but I have a lot of obligations I take seriously, and there are certain milestones I need to hit. To this I say, I’m glad you’re committed to something.
But assuming we aren’t in danger and have our basic survival needs met, we actually don’t need anything. This isn’t an opinion, it’s a fact. You commit to things because you value them OR because you believe you are somehow insufficient or lacking. There are people who survive and thrive in awful conditions. And you think you need to really wow your stakeholders in your next presentation? You don’t really need anything. Because most people reading this have always had things and suffer from a serious case of loss aversion, it’s difficult to fully understand this. Once we do it is incredibly freeing.
To sum it up, if your goals or day to day activities involve a lot of “have to’s” and “shoulding,” apply simple rewording. Ask yourself what you would like to do, given the circumstances. In treating goals as gifts, and reminding yourself that you have choices, you will be much more likely to get exactly what you are seeking. No carrots or sticks needed.
I was working the front desk at a local yoga studio* the other day when a young woman entered just as class was about to begin. I glimpsed her lingering outside the studio as class started, but I didn't give it a second thought as I helped some other students and prepared to head out for the day.
As I exited the studio area I was surprised to spot her again. This time she was by the main entry. Minding a foot injury I rushed downstairs as she stepped out onto the street.
I needn't have rushed. She was still lingering. She seemed lost, contemplating the world of potential distractions in her iPhone and the abyss of an hour unexpectedly freed.
“You're not going in?” I asked curiously, breathlessly.
She spoke softly, something about interrupting, that she was late.
Ah, yes, my gut instinct was correct.
Why do so many women hesitate to assert what they want and take up space?
This isn’t just women, obviously. It's also some men, and it's also somewhat “midwesty.” Well-intended courtesy spills into discomfort with confrontation or inconveniencing. Women in particular are fluent in "Sorry." I would know, since I used to apologize compulsively (I still do sometimes actually).
I'm not a huge fan of courtesy when it comes from a place of self-questioning. Which for too many women tends to be the case. If courtesy has generous, empowered intent, great. Inconveniencing others because you're absorbed in your own concerns is aggravating and disruptive, as victims of repeat offenders will attest.
The way this young woman slunk away suggested this wasn't the case. Her body language was small and shrinking.
So I invited her to claim more space with the truth as is my tendency. I acknowledged her for not wanting to inconvenience others, but that they could handle themselves if she came in late. That I used to come late sometimes for yoga classes (super true!), and that everyone was there to support their own wellness, just like her.
It must have moved her because she didn't hesitate. She beelined right back into the studio with the most energy and conviction she had shown that day.
I consider myself to have been very lucky that day. Lucky to cross paths with this young, self-questioning woman. Because I have been there, and while I hope I never lose the compassion in my courteousness, unlike my younger self I will always strive to combine it with confidence in my intent and in my place. For the more sensitive and courteous among us, that is strength.
*I got involved with Vision Yoga & Wellness after losing my regular yoga practice temporarily due to a foot injury. The community and yoga connection has been great.
Setting annual goals and sticking to them are an entirely different matter - especially when we’re mainly accountable to ourselves. There is a lot of evidence that the stickiest goals are specific. Here are some examples to help you improve your resolutions for 2019:
Don't: Start a new career chapter.
DO: Get 3 job offers by March 2019.
Don’t: Get fit.
DO: Run a 7 minute mile by June.
Don’t: Spend more time with family.
DO: Set aside every Sunday.
If you’re familiar with SMART goals this should come as a welcome reminder. You will benefit greatly from getting into the nitty gritty of what a goal looks like when it's accomplished. It’s much easier to leap from pavement than from sand.
Keep in mind that goals are a tool, not a solution. They can be limiting, and our biggest challenges in work and life are not neatly summed up this way. If you’re not quite sure what you want this year or are having trouble defining it, this blog post is for you. One of the most common things people seek from my coaching is clarity.
“Your work is simply to determine what you want.”
The rest will come naturally.
The problem that many of us have in feeling fulfilled, moving our lives in a positive direction, and getting what we want is not that we’re lazy, or lacking in motivation. The fundamental problem is lack of clarity. There is a wealth of evidence from psychology, coaching, and brain studies to suggest that most of us are pretty out of touch with ourselves.
When it comes to pursuing life goals most of us are walking with our eyes closed, bumping into things occasionally. Sometimes the bumps are inconsequential, and sometimes we stub or break our toes. We are especially likely to collide with overlooked realities when we don’t have external standards or authorities in place. For instance what our neighbors are doing, our boss, a milestone we're supposed to reach.
The problem with relying exclusively on external references is that a) they’re gone when they’re gone, or no longer relevant and b) they can cloud our underlying hopes and intent. In some cases they're not in our best interests period.
By getting better at tuning in to what’s inside of us, we don’t have to rely on the world around us to make our way. Instead of wanting aimlessly, we start allowing, in the following ways:
Allowing for dreams
“Dreaming” may sound fluffy, especially if you have unhealed battle wounds or are prone to doubting. But very often the reason we’re not clear on what we want is that we're protecting ourselves (see Allowing for fear, below). The Catch 22 is that you are very unlikely to make a real effort unless you truly believe it can happen, and this creates a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Allowing for fear
Dreams are based on basic desires and drives, and desire and fear are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other so if you haven’t yet, it is time to make friends. If you don't "go towards the fear" at some point, you'll only end up smaller.
Allowing for our experiences
People from achievement-oriented cultures tend to get stuck in their heads, coming up with endless lists of goals and to do's. These tools can be useful, but the weaker your grasp on their origin, meaning, and impact, the more likely you are to lose steam or go off course in a major way. Reflecting and tuning in regularly grounds and energizes.
If you can’t figure out what you want, it’s very likely you aren’t allowing for one of these things. It’s usually not obvious or easy, and you may need help along the way. But if you can do it well for one major challenge or dilemma, it becomes much easier for the next. You’ll have the clarity and energy to achieve what you want, naturally. You won’t hem and haw and doubt your decisions constantly. You will be free.
It's officially holiday season, and if you're like me the idea of reuniting with certain relatives goes something like:
"They're crazy, out of touch."
"We have nothing in common, we're not on the same page."
"It's impossible to have a meaningful conversation."
"I'll make an escape with spiked eggnog, television, or hiding in the kitchen."
Forever and ever, amen.
Relatives, both in-laws and family we grew up with, have their own special way of getting under our skin.
Looking for a more pleasant alternative? Try some curiosity for a change.
Curiosity can be applied to:
Of course this technique requires some humility and honest introspection. Your relatives may indeed be aliens, crazy, toxic even, but you're going to see them anyways and relating is a two way street. Curiosity will help make those who seem completely opposed to your values, interests, and way of thinking more tolerable, sympathetic, and human.
By the way, since everyone likes to be seen and understood, this strategy can go a long way toward gaining others' respect and smoothing over conflicts in the long run. Carnegie's classic How to Make Friends and Influence People didn't focus on genuine interest in others for nothing. Not to mention it will give you information you were previously overlooking. Applications for improved relationships and influence with just about anyone - bosses, coworkers, stakeholders at work, children, significant others - are a stone's throw away.
Unlike those with whom you have frequent contact, it's pretty unlikely that you'll get your crazy cousins to see things your way over the course of one conversation, but you can definitely create more holiday cheer this way.
Happy holidays to you AND your crazy cousins. I hope you have some curious conversations today.
I am a big fan and longtime practitioner of mindfulness. There is strong evidence that this age-old practice improves our stress levels, overall well-being, emotional intelligence, and a host of different things. But I will be the first to admit that tapping into the present moment when I’m knee deep in to do’s and riding the emotional rollercoaster of entrepreneurship can be challenging.
Mindfulness meditation is a bit like high altitude athletic training, where you stretch your skills and capacity to the max in a specific environment, while day-to-day life represents a stroll (or a harried pushing and shoving) through the market stalls and crowds below.
You have the natural capacity to be mindful (receptively aware) anytime, anyplace, but sometimes we need a little extra support or intention to apply this skill to new situations.
Simple Ways to Tune In
To cultivate more inner zen throughout the day, IN your day (no lotus pose, yoga mat, or 15 minute break required) try this simple quick check: One to three times each day, ask yourself, with genuine curiosity, “How am I?”
How are you in that moment – physically, mentally, emotionally, or energy-wise? You can try it now. There’s no need to analyze it. Keep it simple. What is the experience/sensation that most stands out? It might be subtle, but you might just be surprised by its obviousness when just a moment earlier you were completely unaware.
To implement this regularly it’s often helpful to use a specific cue (e.g., beginning and end of meetings) or a technology-based alert to remind yourself. The cue can also be a particular emotion or type of situation. For example during a difficult or unpleasant encounter you might notice you’re clenching your fists or feeling a lump in your throat.
Additional techniques for tuning in during your 9-to-5 include:
Unless you’re on a traditional Vipassana meditation retreat, mindfulness will not look like meditating in a pretzel-like pose for 8 hours a day. And it doesn’t have to. While mindfulness focuses on our being, it’s not mutually exclusive with doing. It’s how we are in the doing that is key.
I love sharing my love of mindfulness and offer corporate wellness workshops on basic concepts and practices applicable to the workplace. If you or your company is interested in learning more please contact me.
Over the course of my career I have equated success with "faking" or selling out in some way.
I made the assumption that if I wanted to be "successful," socially, financially, occupationally, in other words for anyone to possibly value me and what I could offer, I would need to do serious self-sculpting. The alternative to "success," in my mind, was to drop out and become a hippie. In fact when I decided to live a few months in a yoga-centric town in India this was my greatest fear.
Over the years my equation of success with selling out has manifested in workaholism, career decisions that felt like compromises, and difficulties with authenticity, among other things.
There's nothing wrong with honing yourself and adapting to circumstances, of course, except when it's mostly a form of hiding and a complete dismissal of your gut instincts.
You might be selling out if:
If you meet these criteria and aren't satisfied with the results, the good news is that there are lots of ways to get back in the driver's seat and achieve the outcomes you really long for in your own way.
Selling out is not a given, but shifting from an outside-in to an inside-out existence is going to require perspective, soul searching, and unconditional support along the way. Because the fact is, finding your own way is scary, and many of us substitute social norms and others' often well-intentioned suggestions for the deeper truths inside of us. Social proof feels more foolproof, and faking it becomes easy.
There is a place for tactical moves and managing impressions, of course, but 360 degree success and selling out are incompatible, at the end of the day. Ultimately you'll only reap the bounties of your internal drives and abilities if you make the space for them. What will stop you from making that space today?
Psychological assessments are all the rage these days - there are assessments of personality, strengths, motivation, leadership style. Whatever the “trait,” there’s sure to be a measure. Including traits that quite frankly, don’t exist.
I have to admit, I have an axe to grind with assessment. Because as human beings we have so much more potential and potential to change than our results might suggest. The truth of the matter is, many if not most “personality” assessments reflect our beliefs and habitual ways of responding to our environments, formed and reinforced over time.
It’s a little bit like measuring your height when you’re a kid. You’re this tall now, and it’s reasonable to assume you will grow.
Don’t get me wrong, some traits are pretty stable. For example values, how introverted you are, or your appetite for novelty. But there are introverts who enjoy parties, and nervous nellies who relish entrepreneuring. Security driven types can become mission driven. These things are all true of me, so I would know.
According to the science on this topic, when it comes to our BEHAVIOR and EXPERIENCE in any situation, there’s actually not much set in stone. We ASSUME there is, because we are biologically wired for survival, and therefore automaticity. In failing to apply our innate capacity for wisdom, and insight, we tend to fall back on old behaviors and ways of thinking. We see the world and ourselves with blinders, and balls and chains. In actuality, within any given situation we have a startling degree of choice and possibility.
Once again, I KNOW this is true. It’s science, after all.
Once you get this - really get it, moment to moment and not just in an intellectual sense - it’s life changing. Imagine what it would mean to choose differently, in any given moment and in a longstanding, personally transformative way. If you’re only willing to try, and on some level, you believe.
As a business psychologist, coach, culture chameleon, and someone who has been in the trenches and reinvented myself several times, I will repeat: There are few things about you that are hardwired. The vast majority, you get to say.
You ARE a creative, resourceful, brilliantly adaptable entity. You are NOT your assessment results, or even your past or present choices. I’m not saying these things are meaningless or completely unfruitful to look at. But trying to “find yourself” anywhere in clues scattered outside - particularly when something feels off or lacking - is the psychological equivalent of chasing your own tail.
Assess yourself, sure. Heck I can do it for you. A well-designed assessment can be a good jumping off point and provides a rough sketch of current realities. But at the end of the day, taking stock of the goods (and not-so-goods) you’ve accumulated is not enough to fulfill you or move you forward. There’s a leadership saying that what got you here, won’t get you there. Starting with now, you and your life are created. Who and what are you building today?
Racing thoughts, sleepless nights, days fueled by a mixture of panic and coffee... Until we crash, burn, and do it all over again. The extremity varies but work stress is real and can have a big impact on our health and effectiveness, especially in the long run.
Some argue that stress is one of the greatest health epidemics of the 21st century. Chronic stress has been linked to a host of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and risk for mental illness. One study of 30,000 adults showed that those who reported high stress had 43% increased risk of dying.
The statistics are alarming, but there is good news from the research which may seem obvious upon reading (far less so when you are actively stressing out): Stress is always 1 part stimulus, 1 part reaction. We are wired for survival and this is to our biological benefit - when we are faced with life and death situations, at least. But you simply cannot “feel stressed” if you don’t interpret something in your environment as a threat.
This means that training your brain to re-interpret the environment – and the immediate experience of stress itself – will dramatically reduce its negative effects. In the above study, high stress only led to reduced lifespan when individuals believed that stress negatively impacts health.
Let me back up here and clarify my meaning. The solution to your stress is NOT to simply "toughen up." This is a very, very flawed solution for reasons well beyond the scope of this writing. You have every right and capability to do more than merely surviving, and while the "buck up" mentality has its upsides you probably won't reach peak potential that way.
If you want to solve your stress problem, you have three options:
1. Remove the stressor/threat
2. Change it
In practice these options naturally overlap, by the way. But let's assume for the moment that you can't or don't want to exit or change the situation. You still have #3. And #3 is GOLDEN. In fact many times #3 is needed to make #1 and #2 viable options.
So how does you actually DO this? How can you re-interpret what's happening in a way that serves you - and your health and effectiveness, in the long-run? In other words how can you start to believe what you don't already? This is a BIG question. Because no two people will look quite the same.
I can't solve all your stress problems in the span of two written pages, but while I have your attention I'll offer a simple stress hack you can do on your own. This week, do your mind and body good with the following stress relabeling activity:
STEP ONE: Select a Stressful Situation
What tends to stress you out? Select one very specific, predictably stressful situation you know will come up. For this activity pick something that's actually going to happen - situations that you're getting chewed up about from the past or hypothetical future will require a different approach.
STEP TWO: Take Stock Internally
When the stressful situation comes up, notice yourself, as if you were from the outside looking in. What are your thoughts, physical sensations, how does the quality and level of your energy seem to change? A quick list of stress symptoms can help clue you in, but everyone experiences stress differently. Be curious, observant, a scientist of your own experience.
STEP THREE: Pay Your Stress Respects
Repeat the following: My stress response is preparing me to overcome. Say it in your head, or for even more oomph you can say it out loud. This might feel like a pumping up, or it can have a tone of respect and appreciation.
If you’re like me, this may feel a little silly at first. It’s not a complete solution, and it's not appropriate if you have an anxiety disorder or are otherwise sweating bullets most of the day. But if you can start to see stress as a well-intentioned survival mechanism and commit to this simple practice in earnest, you will feel the difference, in a tangible way.
For more on the science, check out Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk on How to Make Stress Your Friend.