20 May 2013

Stress Management 101: Focus on Solutions

I met with a prospective client recently for an initial consultation.  She wanted help addressing her uneven professional performance: she used to do A+ work all the time, now she finds herself doing “so-so” work some of the time for no apparent reason.  She wants to go back to A+ all the time but sheer will, intention, and “positive thinking” aren’t making it happen, and it’s stressing her out. 

I asked her several questions, including, “What else is going on for you on the so-so days?”  That turned out to be the key to what needed to happen next.  She hadn’t ever really looked at that.  She decided to hire me as her coach, and her first assignment was to notice what else is going on for her on the so-so days.

[Shameless plug: a coach can ask questions that approach the problem from a wholly different perspective from the individual’s, and THAT can get things moving again.  To paraphrase a quote from Albert Einstein: We can’t solve problems using the same mindset from which the problems arose.]

The “what else” that might be going on for you in your off days can be on any level, and if you experience a similar unevenness in your work, looking at the list below might be useful to you as well.  Here are some micro-questions for looking at “what else.”  If you have other good questions to add, please leave them as a comment.

  1. What’s the content you are working when doing so-so work, and is it different from the content you’re addressing at more effective times? 
  2. What’s the process you’re engaged in, and is it different from your process on better days (or hours)?  For example, are you doing a lot of writing today, or is it a day of interacting with other people?  Is it a day with 4,672 interruptions?
  3. Who are you interacting with today?
  4. What are you wearing?  I once worked with a woman who (it turned out) had a bad day every time she wore a certain pair of shoes. She hated the shoes because she thought they made her look matronly and sexless, so she felt bad about herself the whole day. But she’d paid a lot of money for them and made herself wear them.  [When she saw how much it was costing her (in the quality of her day and her output) to wear them, she got rid of them replaced them with a new pair that she loved. Problem solved.  I kid you not.  Alas, it’s not always this simple.]
  5. A total aside: my father was a primary care physician and ace diagnostician.  Once, he cured a patient’s daily headaches by having him get all new underwear that was looser.
  6. What took place prior to your noticing your meh performance — consider everything, including what you were thinking about. Did you have a conversation earlier in the day with your spouse (or child, nanny, colleague, boss, client, doctor’s office, etc)  that’s distracting you? Are you beating yourself up for not having finished the annual report?  Are you comparing yourself with a colleague or with Marissa Meyer or Naomi Watts and coming up short? Are you worried about an upcoming interview?  Are you worrying about something else?

Having a next step to take toward solving a nagging problem can be a huge relief.  My new client was so happy to have an assignment that would move things forward, knowing we would talk about her observations in next week’s coaching call. I don’t know what she’ll observe in the coming week, but we’ll look at it together and I’m confident something useful and actionable will come out of it. 

Effective people don’t stay stuck.  For more on this, see another recent post

Feel free to add to this topic with a comment here.