14 March 2017

Dealing With Regret

Woman covering face thinking about regret

Regret punishes you in two ways. First, you suffer from feeling the regret, which is usually some form of beating yourself up: “I should’ve (fill in the blank).”  But also, while you’re suffering, you’re not fully present to what’s in front of you. That means you’re missing out on opportunities you might otherwise notice and seize: professional opportunities, ways to develop stronger connections with other people, or simply doing your work efficiently and effectively. Instead, you’re locked into a conversation with yourself, in your head, about what you “should have done” (or shouldn’t have done) 20 years ago, or yesterday.  You’re simultaneously getting pummeled and getting locked out of enjoying and making the best use of what’s possible for you today.

Wikipedia describes regret as: “a negative conscious and emotional reaction to personal past acts and behaviors. Regret is often a feeling of sadness, shame, embarrassment, depression, annoyance, or guilt, after one acts in a manner and later wishes not to have done so. . . .”

Here are some thoughts about how to manage regret so that you are not hostage to it.

  1. Awareness. Like other feelings, regret seems to arise randomly, of its own accord. You can’t control that.  But the most important thing we can do is to recognize when we are feeling regret. With practice, we can get very good at this. Part of our consciousness is always witnessing our experience. We can learn to tap into that witness so that we can say, “I’m feeling regret right now. I’m sorry I . . . (didn’t tough it out and go to medical school, didn’t realize I was in love with X and make more time for that relationship, said what I said yesterday to my direct report, ate the whole thing, etc).
  2. Action. Once you’re aware of the feeling, you can ask yourself, if there is anything you can DO NOW, in the present and going forward, to address whatever it is you are regretting.  If so, TAKE ACTION as soon as you possibly can. For example:
    a) If you regret that you consumed half a cheesecake yesterday, you can throw the other half out right now, commit to healthy eating today, join Weight Watchers or get help in some other way.
    b) If you regret what you said to your direct report yesterday, you can think through how to clean it up with that person and then do it.
    c) If you regret that you didn’t go to medical school 20 years ago, don’t just blow it off as “too late” the way you always do. Think through and understand what’s driving these thoughts. Are you longing to have more science in your life? Looking for a way to have a more stable income?  Fascinated with new developments in medical treatment and wish you could be on the front lines? Once you understand your motivations, you can examine what your real options are in the present. You may want to get some help with this. Consulting with a career counselor, career coach, or a friend or colleague who’s capable of objectivity can be extremely helpful.  If you regret that you didn’t pursue a love relationship way back when . . . what changes can you make in your life now that can open possibilities for greater love and connection in your present life?
    As people are living and working longer, many change careers two or three (or more!) times over the course of their lives. Once you understand what’s driving your feelings, you can take action.  I know people who went to law school in their 50s, finished their PhD many years after leaving school, or published their first novel while working as a CPA.  People reinvent themselves in realms outside of career too.
  3. Other action. If there’s nothing you can do now to address the specific thing you regret, there may be ways you can use the new information about yourself (gleaned from your process in step 2) to inform your choices going forward.  Are you hungry to have more art-making in your life even though you’re not going to change careers?  Take a sculpting class at an adult ed program somewhere locally, or find a course at a museum school. Some public libraries have free craft-making evenings where you can bring your own project and work alongside other crafters.

If there is no action for you to take, your task is to turn your focus to something else: something in the present that will take your mind off the regret. Many people find that doing something physically engaging is very helpful — go for a run, get to that Zumba class, do yoga in your living room.  Going to a movie is another great way to change the state of your mind, and take you out of yourself.  What works for you?

Regret is complicated and can be difficult to dislodge. If you find that you are unable to wrestle it to the ground on your own, getting some professional help can be extremely useful, both in reducing your suffering and in making better choices for yourself going forward.  Working with a psychologist or psychotherapist can help you unpack the emotional complexity of your regret, if there is any.  A career, life, or health coach can help you implement whatever practical changes you want to make, if any.

The most important thing is not succumbing to the double suffering of regret!  Help is available, and it doesn’t have to be long term.


11 January 2017

Being Amy Adams

Productivity at work

Photo by Juskteez Vu

If you haven’t already seen the movie “Arrival,” with Amy Adams, go see it. It’s a fantastic and wonderful adventure story. And a gorgeous metaphor for what emerging leaders and other challenged professionals go through all the time.

The Amy Adams character, a top-notch linguist, is tapped for a huge, mind-boggling job that catapults her into a realm of personal growth and challenge like no other. In short, aliens have arrived on earth from outer space, and she is heading up the team to figure out how to communicate with them. Though we know she is the best person for the job, we see the immense personal challenge of it. She experiences profound fear. There is opposition to her approach that she has to push back against.  She has self doubt. She is isolated. She has experiences unlike anything she’s ever known, and she struggles to understand them. The work requires her to expand and grow intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, in a way that . . . as the audience struggles to keep up, we understand . . . challenges her capacity: can I wrap my mind around this? Can I stretch my mental abilities to grasp what’s going on here? Am I reading this right?

Even as other key characters read the situation differently and threaten to violently shut down her work, she has to muster the strength, courage, and confidence to persevere, hold her own, and stay focused on the work.

This is a brilliant and highly entertaining dramatization of what my clients often experience.  My clients are highly capable women and men whose jobs consistently require that they stretch out of their comfort zones, learn new skills, navigate something utterly new to them, while dealing with all manner of feedback, opposition, and setbacks. In a way, this is just how work IS for many people. In “Arrival,” it the project was a time-limited.  In real life, it’s ongoing, and therefore very challenging to sustain.

Does this kind of job sound familiar to you?  Could you use some support in finding ways to make things more sustainable for you? Here are a few strategies that can make a difference:

  1. Acknowledge and appreciate yourself for your heroism in doing this work. I don’t care if you’re designing shoes or eradicating TB, if your work fits the description above, it’s crucial that you appreciate the heroic effort you are putting in.
  2. Make sure you take really really good care of yourself, whatever that means to you, whatever you can mange.
  3. Make sure you’re working as efficiently as possible.  If you’re squandering hours every week due to your own inefficiency, own it and eliminate those leaks of your time, focus, and energy.  Optimize how you work so you can leave work behind sometimes and replenish yourself.
  4. Get more help. Delegate more effectively at work. Get more help outside of work. Have no idea how/where to get help?  Do a single coaching session with me about this!  There are always ways to get help somewhere in your life

This is not an exhaustive list.  It’s a scatter of ideas.  If you want to do some serious, focused work on how these issues play out in your work, contact me for an initial consult at no charge.  Over the course of 3 or 6 months, you can learn how to manage your work in a way that’s more sustainable for you.  You don’t want to burn out.


2 July 2015

Core Workout

In this video, you’ll see why I take part in Insight Seminars, as explained by fellow graduate David Allen.  David Allen is a productivity consultant who is best known as the creator of the time management method known as “Getting Things Done.”

While Insight Seminars’ courses will absolutely contribute to your professional development, they will not do so in the same way that a course focused on leadership development, Java, or taxation will.  An Insight seminar lets you work on your core self — the central part of you that you bring to your professional work and your personal life.  You might learn ways to manage guilt and resentment more effectively, or you may get perspective on how you hold yourself back and how to stop doing that.  You’ll clarify your personal values and goals, and see what parts of your life do and don’t align with them. You might become a better decision-maker, risk-taker, or communicator.  These are just examples of what you might learn — there are so many other possibilities. Working at the core level is powerful — and often results in the kinds of change you have wanted but been unable to create.

Insight is not the only educational program that works at a deep level. The Landmark Forum or the Sterling Institute are options as well.  I’m sure there are others, but these are the ones that I am familiar with.

I began taking Insight Seminars workshops in the 90’s and recently participated in the first (international) Masters Class, brilliantly designed and facilitated by Mary Ann Somerville and Joey Hubbard.  I think of Mary Ann and Joey as my Master Teachers. Being coached by them, watching them coach others, participating in the powerful 3-month Masters Class they created, experiencing their transformational facilitation . . . I am so grateful for the whole experience.  I learned a lot about being more effective at this stage in my life, I got clearer about what I’m doing, and I reached a deeper level of self-acceptance.

During the Masters Class, there were many references to principles covered in the Insight I, the first class in the seminar series.  I realized I have forgotten much of it and I decided to take it again. The course has only gotten better since I took it, and I’m a different person now than I was 20 years ago.  I want to get the value from it that will be available to me now, at this stage in my life.  So I’m planning to take it again in October.

The Insight seminars I took in the 90’s helped me navigate my life more effectively overall.  They also helped me find my way to the career of coaching, which has been my work since 1995.

When I took Insight I in the 90’s,  it introduced me to a body of wisdom and information and a way of learning I had never encountered before.  I found the material extremely compelling and USEFUL, incredibly useful.  (One of the comments frequently heard from graduating Insight participants: “Why isn’t this taught in school?  I wish I’d learned this years ago — it is so practical and helpful.”)

Will you join me at the Insight I in October in Boston?* I can assure you, it will be a remarkable learning experience, wherever you are in your life, and a great core workout!


* Insight Seminars are offered in several US cities and around the world.


5 February 2015

Mentally Preparing for Valentine’s Day


Valentine’s Day can be a lovely experience, whether or not you are in a relationship, and if so, whether or not it’s perfect. Here are some tips to help you enjoy Valentines Day:

  • Be good to yourself, and appreciate all that you have to give.
    Yes, it’s great to be in love, to be loved by that special someone who always knows exactly what you need and gives it unstintingly to you at the exactly optimum moment, and who always gives you the perfect Valentine’s Day gift. But that may not be your situation.  And even if it is . . . the first person we all need to love well and fully is ourselves. So make Valentine’s day a day of loving yourself.  In the right way, of course. I’m not talking about narcissistic self-obsession. I’m talking about mature, kind, self-awareness and acceptance about what makes you…you.  There are two essential elements to this.  First, turn off the self-critical voices — this is essential.  Then you can turn to the second element of this, which is to appreciate what makes you special, unique and loveable. The more you understand what makes you special, the more you can share this with people in your life. The more you give and love, the more love comes back to you.


  • Be grateful for the people in your life that you love, and let them know how you feel about them.
    You might not know it to see all the hype about this holiday, but there’s more to love than just romantic love. There’s also friendly love, family love, neighborly love, pet love, colleague love, job love, neighborhood love, love of children and grandchildren, love of life and many more. Love makes your life richer. Let Valentine’s Day be a reason to reach out to everyone you love and let them know how much you care. I know someone who uses Valentine’s Day to write a handwritten note to each of her closest friends, expressing what she appreciates about them. I know someone else who always takes a small subset of her women friends out for dinner that night. I don’t mention these examples to make you feel guilty about one more thing you don’t do, but rather to illustrate a whole other approach to the holiday.


  • Don’t let the media, advertising, and the retail industries impact your feelings of well-being and self-worth.  Hallmark Valentine’s Day cards. TV ads. Radio ads. Boxes of chocolates. Romantic music and images of stargazing couples exchanging gifts.  Ads for diamonds.  These are some of the ways Valentine’s Day is interpreted in our culture. It’s become a holiday for everyone who makes money from our need to feel connected, romantic, or loved.  Don’t be hijacked by all the hype.  You can define how you choose to observe the holiday.  Or whether to observe it at all.

One way or another, make it a great day for yourself.

And if you like chocolate?  Have some!


29 October 2014

Seeing Old Friends


cropped homies

This month I hosted a 5-day gathering at my home with my three closest high school friends (Cass Tech, Detroit, MI).  We’ve been getting together once a year at one of our homes for the last few years.  We live in 4 different cities, 2 different countries.  Here we are in the photo, posed in front of Orchard House, the home of Louisa May Alcott, in Concord MA, on a gorgeous New England Fall day.

Having this time with my old friends is a great treasure.  I experience with them a level of unconditional acceptance and being deeply known that I don’t really have with my current friends to the same extent.  We knew each other when we were 15, we knew each others’ parents, and we can see the 15-year-olds in the women we’ve become and appreciate how that 15-year-old is (and isn’t) still alive in the current version of the person.  There is a lot of laughing when we get together —  a lot of lightness and fun like we used to have together in high school days.  We did that well back then, and it comes back when we get together.  We don’t take it for granted.  After everyone left, one of them wrote, “Unconditional love and support.  It’s . . . mystical, spiritual, and yummy.”  And this from someone who’s not typically new-agey in her expression or beliefs.

As this blog post from Scientific American notes, research shows that “connecting with friends can lessen stress” in a person’s life. In fact, “social connection doesn’t just help us survive health problems: the lack of it causes them.”

Research documented by the Mayo Clinic corroborates this finding.    “Having close friends and family has far-reaching benefits for your health. . . .  A strong social support network can be critical to help you through the stress of tough times, whether you’ve had a bad day at work or a year filled with loss or chronic illness. Since your supportive family, friends, and co-workers are such an important part of your life, it’s never too soon to cultivate these important relationships.”

This week I happened to see some amazing footage of reunions of cross-species old friends, each one moving and remarkable.  In this one  a man who raised a gorilla he later released  into the West African wild goes to see him after 5 years.   If you’re hungry for more of this, check out this reunion of a lion with the couple who raised him as a cub; their re-connection after 1 year is amazing to witness.  And finally, here’s one of a different lion and the woman who rescued him when he was injured, abandoned, and dying, and nursed him back to health.

The third video ends with this advice: “True friendships last a lifetime. Get in touch with someone. You’ll be glad you did.”

I want to second that recommendation and suggest that seeing any of your friends, old or new, can re-charge your personal batteries in profound ways.  Of course this is not NEWS to to any of us — it’s something we know intuitively, and there’s lots of research that supports it.  But I’ve seen that spending time with friends is one of the first things that people jettison when they’re stressed by a relentless schedule.  And yet even small amounts of time with a friend can nourish and hydrate a person very deeply.  Friends give you a lot of bang for your buck.

A recent Forbes article reports that connection to friends might even save your life.



27 March 2014

How Can You Make an Effective Apology?

One way to keep your business and personal relationships in good repair is to apologize promptly when you’re wrong. But can you overdo it? Can you apologize so often or glibly that your words have no effect or even backfire, causing people to question your motives more than they did before you tried to make amends?

Andrew Ross Sorkin, the editor at large of the New York Times’ DealBook column, thinks so. In his recent post “Too Many Sorry Excuses for an Apology,” he noted that these days, everyone seems to be apologizing for something — politicians, chief executives, other prominent figures. And the mea culpas have often sounded hollow, because they haven’t been backed up by action that might have eased or undone damage the speakers said they regretted.

So here’s a tip from Dov Seidman, the author of How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything, whom Sorkin interviewed for his column. “We must recognize that we don’t apologize to get out of something, but rather to get into a new mode of thought and behavior,” Seidman said. “It’s a beginning, not an end.”

When you apologize, think about whether you could also make a gesture to show that you sincerely regret what happened — even if it’s just sending a handwritten follow-up note to reaffirm what you’ve said face-to-face. Don’t assume that saying “I’m sorry” is enough. Ask the person to whom you’ve apologized if you could do more to make amends and show how much you value your relationship. The answer may be “no,” or you may not have the power to do what he or she wants. But by asking the question, you’ve acknowledged that — as essential as it is to say “I’m sorry” – some relationships are too important for just two words.



14 January 2014

How Your Routines Can Make You Happier



 A fascinating study of happiness reached a conclusion that might sound counter-intuitive: Too many choices make people less happy. How can this be true? In the United States, we tend to assume that the more options we have, the better, because the abundance will give us more control over our lives. An op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal explained why the idea isn’t always true:

“Barry Schwartz, a social scientist at Swarthmore, makes the case in his book The Paradox of Choice that that unlimited choice produces genuine suffering. The more choices we have to make, the less certainty we seem to have. When we have 285 kinds of cookies to choose from in the grocery store, how can we be sure we’ve picked the right one? And that’s just cookies. When faced with seemingly unlimited choices that have significant consequences like which stocks to invest in, which career to pursue or even which person to marry, many people become what Professor Schwartz calls ‘maximizers’: people who relentlessly search for the best option. These people spend a great deal of time and energy on choices that will never satisfy them.”

The paradox of choice also applies to how we use our time on a day-to-day basis. Let’s say you’d like to exercise more often. You’re more likely to achieve your goal if you pick a physical activity — and develop a routine for doing it — than if you keep all of your options open, all the time, so that you have to make decisions continually: Should I walk, swim or go to the gym? How much time should I spend exercising? Have I chosen the best activity for me? In such cases, having a routine that limits your options is freeing, not confining, because it enables you to exercise without having to negotiate with yourself each time. And it helps you get to a point at which physical activity isn’t an issue — it’s a pleasure that’s built into your life.

You can apply the same principle to many other areas of your life. Do you accomplish too little at work because you’re dealing with email all day long? Try developing a routine for checking your email three times a day — when you arrive at work, at noon and at the end of the day.  Do you never seem to find the time for a long chat on the phone with an older relative? Think about whether you could make quick check-in calls on the same day of each week or month. Do you go for long periods of time without seeing friends who matter to you? Give an annual party linked to the same holiday or event, whether it’s the Super Bowl or Valentine’s Day, so you’ll have a regular opportunity to connect.  

In most cases, the specific routine you choose isn’t important. What’s important is having a routine at all. As Schwartz’s research suggests, if you don’t, you may feel so overwhelmed by your options that you never get around to doing the things that matter most to you. 

What are the routines in your life that keep you happy? 



23 October 2013

Have You Put Your Halloween Dreams on Hold?

 What was your favorite Halloween costume as a child? Did you love dressing up as a pirate, a ballerina, a doctor, or Princess Leia in Star Wars?

 Some of the costumes you cherish may relate to passing interests that you outgrew quickly. But others may have had more meaning for you. Halloween is the one day of the year when most of us give ourselves permission not just to dream about what we’d like to be – but to put on the clothes that come with the role.

 So if you’re feeling stuck, you might spend a few minutes this week thinking about why certain costumes appealed to you. Did you love that red Little Orphan Annie dress because you admired the upbeat spirit of the heroine who inspired it? Because you liked to sing and it gave you an excuse to to belt out “Tomorrow” for your friends and family? Or because your mother made the dress and you enjoyed helping her with the project?

Your answer may give you clues to what’s missing from your life or work. Even if you outgrew that Wonder Woman costume years ago, you may not have outgrown — or need to give up — a dream it represented.


17 September 2013

Turning Regret into Opportunity

We all have a few regrets, some to do with family or personal choices, and others that have affected our education and careers. Some people learn from their regrets and move on, while others dwell on them, sometimes to the point of being consumed by regret.   

Psychologists, sociologists and even neuroscientists have studied regret and found that people most regret lost opportunities. When you regret that you failed to attend an important meeting, you know you can’t go back in time and ask for a “do-over.” The meeting happened, you weren’t there, and a colleague received the plum assignment you coveted.

A recent study using functional MRI (fMRI) scanned the brains of young people averaging age 25, healthy people around age 66, and depressed people averaging age 66. The researchers watched in real time as participants played a computer game that had participants opening virtual boxes containing money or an emblem that represented a loss of all money won in the game to that point.  The study subjects were also shown how much more they could have won if they had played the game differently.

The study revealed that for the 25-year-olds and depressed seniors, regret (about how they had played) resulted in a stress response that lasted longer than it did with the healthy seniors.  The longer stress response caused them to use worse judgment as they continued playing the game, whereas the healthy seniors used the information to actually play the game differently and increase their winnings.  The healthy seniors’ brains were  “actively working to successfully regulate the pain of regret” and put it to good use.

Other studies have shown that on average, older people have less intense negative or stress-related emotions, much like the group in the fMRI study who did not process regret negatively, which tells us that we can learn to have more constructive responses to regret.  And middle-aged adults who focus on future consequences, or how to avoid a negative outcome, experience less intense regret after a negative experience. In other words, they learn from their mistakes.

Keeping all of this in mind, here are a few tips for making regret work for, rather than against, you (with my personal favorites in bold):

1.  Don’t knock or ignore regret; it has its place. Regret can motivate action, whether it’s corrective or a new opportunity you’re determined not to miss this time around.

2.  Having said that, dwelling on mistakes made or actions not taken is unhealthy and can lead to professional inertia, chronic stress, or even depression and poor physical health.

3.   Some studies show that regrets to do with lost loves and missed personal opportunities can weigh more heavily than can career and educational regrets. If you’ve experienced both, you might need help sorting out your reactions. Sometimes, people compensate in one area of their life to make up for a regret that’s really about something else altogether. For example, you might drive yourself crazy searching for the perfect partner or relationship because you feel you shorted yourself professionally.

4.   Learn from others too. Mentors, parents and peers have different experiences, regrets and reactions. Many professionals mention regrets such as choosing pay over satisfaction in their careers, for example. Absorb all you can about what others around you have learned.

What regret-handling tactics have made a difference for you? 


29 May 2013

Genius Moments

Have you ever witnessed a genius moment?  It’s a moment when you experience someone (other than yourself) taking an action that is so inspired and totally RIGHT for this very situation and moment, that it takes your breath away.  Genius can come from anywhere and anybody.  We all have it sometimes.  And I believe we all see it from time to time.

I witnessed a genius moment once in the office of a middle school principal. My daughter was a student in that school.  Though she was an excellent student and a “nice girl” (i.e. not a troublemaker), she was often late to school.  In fact, she had racked up so many “tardies” that she and her parents were summoned to the principal’s office to address this problem.

He started off our meeting by framing the issue and summarizing Sarah’s morning arrival statistics.  He asked Sarah if she had any ideas how to resolve this. She didn’t. He looked once again at her record, which included her address, and the genius moment was born.

He said, “Say, I see you live right down at the end of Irving Street, don’t you?  Well, wouldn’t you know it, on my way into school every day, I stop at the Dunkin Donuts at the other end of your street.  I could come and pick you up and take you to school every morning!  That would certainly get you to school on time.  How about if I did that?”

I don’t know if you remember your own middle school experience, or if you know a middle school-aged child, but the last thing any middle school child needs is to be driven to school by the principal.  It’s embarrassing enough to have parents you are seen with from time to time.  But to arrive daily with the principal?  Utter demolition of whatever tenuous social standing you might have in the middle school jungle.  An unrecoverable embarrassment.

After a moment of silence, Sarah said she did not think that would be necessary and she did not think there would be a problem going forward.   And by and large there wasn’t.

As her parents, we had tried everything we could think of, ranging from being understanding and trying to find out what the underlying problem was, to structural approaches such as giving her an earlier bedtime and having her set out her clothes and pack her backpack the night before, to setting up consequences.  But we hadn’t come up with consequences dire enough to matter to her.

Mr. Burns just nailed it.

Where have you witnessed a genius moment? Or an inspired action? I invite you to share it in a comment.

If you are a parent actively dealing with a chronic challenge of any sort with your child, know that you are not alone.  Make sure you have the support you need, whether the support of other parents, of a professional, or whatever else might be useful to you and your child.  Because an ongoing challenge with a child can be very depleting for the parent, it can be extremely helpful to supplement your usual ways of keeping your own batteries charged. Get help if you need it!