16 January 2018

Treat the Physiology

Treat the Physiology - Frustrated Woman

Twenty-five years ago, when I was a database developer, I was completely blindsided in a meeting. I was accused by people on the client’s team of not knowing what I was doing. It was so unexpected it took me a minute or two to grasp what was happening — it was as if my mind slowed down as my jaw dropped. I have no memory of the rest of the meeting, but I remember walking out of it with my manager and standing at the elevator when she said, “I know what you’re doing right now — you’re blaming yourself. Stop doing that. You did nothing wrong. This is not about you — this is entirely political. They never wanted us doing this job and that’s what this is all about. Don’t blame yourself, and let’s hope this kind of thing is easier for our daughters.” I was deeply grateful to her, but I continued to blame myself until eventually finishing the project and moving on.

What happened for me in that meeting was a stress response. Once I was “attacked,” my physiology changed. My body was flooded with the stress hormone cortisol, and my brain went into freeze mode (my apparent choice from the cortisol-inspired menu of fight, flight, or freeze). Has this ever happened to you? You’re going about the daily business of your life when some event triggers a stress response?  You flip into survival mode, which is utterly different from your usual way of functioning.

Or perhaps a situation triggers your anger.  In response you draft an email dripping in fury and sarcasm, and maybe have the presence of mind not to immediately send it.  Once things have calmed down and you’ve reclaimed your rational and strategic self, you can revisit the letter and edit or delete it.

Or, something is said that sends you into a full tailspin. You imagine a variety of scenarios that could possibly happen and put these scenarios on rerun all weekend.  On Monday, when you bring up what was said, you find out it was not a referendum on your worthiness after all.  Instead, simply a disappointment in the way things transpired, not a reflection of your performance.  Wouldn’t it have been nice to have spared yourself the weekend of suffering?

Knowing how to calm yourself down from an emotional response is a highly important skill to have. Your effectiveness and well-being depend on it.  I’m not suggesting you ignore whatever triggered your response — quite the contrary — those triggering events very often need to be addressed.

But to address them most effectively, you need to come down from the intensity of the reaction, so that you are back in your “right mind” and can use the considerable resources of your whole brain to respond. Typically, we can’t “talk ourselves down” from the upset because it’s not a cognitive recovery.  But if we recognize what’s going on we can treat the physiology and in doing so stage a recovery.  Once returned to our normal physiology, we can be smart about how to respond to the situation.

Are there specific ways to help our physiology return to its usual state or equilibrium?  Yes.  Here are some ideas.

  • Learn to identify when this is happening to you. Often there’s a physical cue you can learn to recognize when your emotional blood pressure is rising or you’re feeling attacked, possibly one of these:
    • you can feel your face get hot or flushed
    • you feel as if you were socked in your solar plexus
    • your mind goes blank
    • time slows down
    • you forget to breathe
  • Once you recognize what’s going on, you can deploy one of many methods for treating the physiology of your own extreme agitation. Learn which methods work for you.  Here are some examples:
    • In the moment you can:
      • Do things that help you feel physically grounded, such as sensing your feet on the floor, your bottom on the chair, your lungs and ribs expanding and contracting as you breathe, the sensation of your inhales and your exhales.
      • Be sure that you are breathing — some people hold their breath when the world seems to be crashing down.
      • Tell yourself that this feels like a disaster (outrage, etc) but it probably actually isn’t as bad as it seems/feels, that you’ll survive this moment and have a chance to revisit it later.
    • Later, when you’re alone, or away from your workplace, you can do things that use your brain or body in a different but engaging way:
      • Run or walk briskly outside, dance, lift weights, or do anything physical that gets you breathing rhythmically, actively, or even strenuously.
      • Practice a breathing technique, such as the ones taught in yoga classes, including ujayi breath, pranayama breath, or left-nostril breathing.
      • Sing: along with your car radio, with friends, alone in your home or in the shower.  When we sing we become a musical instrument, and in using our body and breathing for this purpose, we subvert the obsessing mind.
      • Play a game that engages your mind in some kind of problem-solving, such as: word puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, or Tetris-like games.
      • Do a low-skill physical activity unrelated to the triggering event. I find that chopping vegetables (dinner prep) is often just the thing for me, and sometimes a real option because I work from home

There’s nothing inherently wrong with having the response or feeling the emotion. But being in the emotion isn’t the best place to respond to the situation from.

Allow yourself to have a learning curve with this whole topic. It’s new for a lot of us, and it holds a lot of promise.


12 September 2017

You and Your Lizard Brain

When under stress your lizard brain takes over

Some situations can’t be resolved from within them. If you’re having cortisol-fueled stress response to some trigger, you’re not going to be able to simply talk yourself through it. You have to change your state of mind in order to get perspective and regain your equanimity. Then you can address what needs to be addressed. This is a key factor in stress management.

Say you’re in a downward spiral set off by an event: your great idea was publicly shot down during a meeting today, in a way that felt dismissive and mean-spirited, and you’ve been reeling from it every since. Your primitive fight-or-flight-or-freeze stress response got triggered, and your brain and body are suffused with cortisol, the stress hormone.  You are not in your “right mind.”  Your lizard brain is in charge.  And your lizard brain isn’t up to the task of helping you recover from the emotional hit you took today.

In this cortisol-laced state, you just can’t access to the range of internal resources you’re used to accessing. Your physiological response to the upsetting event is the same response your long-ago ancestors had when they encountered a sabre-toothed tiger: everything in your brain shuts down except the sense of immediate threat, and you focus on whatever you can do to save your own life. At that moment, your ancestor didn’t need sensitive, nuanced thinking — he just needed to get away from the tiger. So that’s the response that evolved: our more primitive, “lizard-brain” takes over.

The lizard brain stays in charge until your brain state changes, until you’re no longer engaged in fight-or-flight energy. But as 21st century sophisticates, we think we can effectively respond to the stress spiral by “talking ourselves down” from it.  But the reality is we don’t have the resources at that moment to do so.  Our brain and body are suffused in a cortisol bath: a physiological state unlike any other. We won’t be effective working with ourselves the way we can in a more normal state.

THIS state, the state of the lizard brain, requires something different.  First and foremost, we need to recognize it for what it is.  If some situation has flipped you out of your normal state of mind into a paroxysm of humiliation, shame, fear, anger, or other such intensely negative emotions — that’s a good indication that you’re in cortisol-land.  Once you recognize what’s going on, you can help yourself out of it.

How can you help yourself out of it? By resisting your powerful urge to do what you always do and instead choose the solution of using your brain in a completely different way. I have a friend who loves crossword puzzles and other word games. When she needs to deactivate her lizard brain, she goes to her puzzles. Working the puzzles uses her brain in ways that result in the creation of a different chemical bath, which translates into a different felt experience. Or maybe it goes the other way: working puzzles makes her happy again, and the happy brain cranks out serotonin or oxytocin, or some other happy chemical we love.  As she migrates into a calmer, clearer brain state, she becomes able to more effectively process the precipitating event from earlier in the day. And meanwhile, she’s had a break from it. She’s recovered from the physiological impact.  Now she can deal with the rest.

I learned by chance that I get relief from chopping vegetables. When in a downward spiral I would sometimes conclude that since I couldn’t get any work in that state, I might as well make dinner. And by the time I’ve finished chopping the onion and setting it to brown slowly in some olive oil in my good non-stick pan, my mood has begun to shift. And once the carrots and celery are cleaned and chopped and added to the pan — I feel OK again, even happy.  I now have perspective on what happened earlier and can figure out what action I should take, if any.

Can’t do word puzzles or chop vegetables at the office? Try leaving the building and getting outdoors for a brisk enough walk that your breathing changes. Focus on your breathing or the muscles that are firing as you walk.

Talking with a trusted person can also be a lifesaver at times like these, but it has to be a good enough friend who really understands what’s going on and what you need. You need to have some shared language and understanding, established long before the crisis.

As I’ve written in a recent post, there are many ways to change your brain state and in doing so, change the particular Kool-Aid your brain is sloshing around in, which eventually stops the downward spiral of the profoundly negative experience.

The best way to try this yourself is to come up with a real-world short list of tactics that might work for you, and plan to try them out when you recognize that your lizard brain has been triggered. See what works for you.

Does this sound new or interesting to you? Would you like some help recovering more quickly from injuries sustained in the hardball game played in your profession?  Or the interpersonal jungle that is your life?  Let’s talk.  My initial consultation is a no-fee meeting.


13 September 2016

Imposter Syndrome: Feeling Like a Fraud

Imposter Syndrome: Feeling Like a Fraud


Do you secretly fear that one of these days the people you work with will realize that you’re not really as good at what you do as they currently think you are?  Do you suspect that the people you work with already know that you’re not as effective as they once thought?  Do you worry that you’re in a higher-level job than you’re really capable of?  Does this type of concern sound familiar?

There are many highly effective people who suffer from some form of imposter syndrome. The key word here is “suffer.” If this is regularly causing you pain, stressing you out, or otherwise using up some of your bandwidth, I strongly recommend that you address it head on and get yourself some relief.

Every person’s fraud syndrome is unique, so there is no single one-size-fits-all solution for it. But here are some strategies that seem to apply broadly.

  1. It is the nature of high-level work that you do not always feel completely on top of it.  Whether it’s the sheer volume of work you’re managing, the weight of the responsibility, the complexity involved, or the massive replica of it that you keep in your head — if you are working to capacity, you will sometimes feel “in over your head.”  Learn to be OKAY with that feeling. It’s part of the landscape you now inhabit.
  2. Trust the sequence of events that led you to doing this work at this level. Think about all the people who believed in you along the way, maybe including teachers from your early years.  Think about the hard work you’ve done in your life so far,  the personal challenges you’ve come through, and the many things you have learned. It is no accident you are where you are.
  3. Take a look at what your imposter syndrome protects you from. What is the payoff for stressing about this? For some people, it is a distraction from something else that’s going on. I experienced it at full throttle when I was a systems analyst. Stressing about my competence was actually more bearable than the underlying truth I eventually had to confront: I didn’t want to do technical systems work any more — and I had no idea what else I would do. Feeling overwhelmed by all the new software I had to learn was unpleasant, but facing my unknown future was absolutely terrifying.  Eventually, I mustered the courage to make a career change.  What’s your imposter syndrome protecting you from?
  4. Do you have anxiety about your work performance?  If so, ask yourself if that anxiety comes from a dawning realization that you need to learn some new skill or develop expertise in a new area.  If so, just bite the bullet and learn the new thing: take a course, get mentored by an expert, muscle through it on your own if that’s your style.  Whatever it takes, just do it.  Your stress level will decline and you will experience enormous relief.  Your imposter syndrome may even disappear for a while!
  5. Remember that you always, always, always have choice. If the stress of being in this field at this level is not sustainable for you at this time in your life, figure out what needs to change, and change it. Take a job at another level, renegotiate your workload, or change fields. I don’t mean to be casual about these kinds of changes — they are huge, difficult, life-changing transitions. But isn’t that perhaps just what is called for? And if you don’t want to leave the field, commit to learning how to do the work in a more sustainable way. You may need help to do this, but trust me, it is much easier to learn how to do your work sustainably than it was to learn how to do your work.
  6. Be sure you have other things in your life to counterbalance the stressors.  Find ways to keep your batteries charged.
  7. Get help if you need it.  Many people have blind spots in this area, and getting help from a coach, therapist, or mentor can expedite your process enormously.

If you’d like to explore working with me on this, contact me for an initial consult at no charge.  During the consult, you can get your questions answered, get a sense of what it would be like to work with me, and we can see if we are a good fit to work together.  You will get no pressure from me — you have enough pressure elsewhere in your life.


6 August 2014

Low-Stress Networking for Introverts

A lot of situations can be challenging for introverts, from public speaking to going to New Year’s Eve parties. But perhaps the most common is dealing with the relentless pressure to engage in business networking — to attend any event that might benefit your career, from a Rotary Club breakfast to the opening reception at a trade show or sales conference. Extroverts may thrive on opportunities to work the room and collect handfuls of business cards. But if you’re an introvert, you may spend the entire time wishing you were at home reading a book or doing yoga.

Is there a way to have your career and a little peace and quiet, too? Yes, says Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Here are three tips from her book and from media interviews she’s given about it:

1.  Reframe how you view networking. “Don’t think of it as networking; think of it as seeking out kindred spirits,” Cain told the web TV host Marie Forleo. Cain says that she avoids even using the term “networking” because it tends to sound calculating. She prefers to view business events as opportunities to meet one or two kindred spirits whom she might enjoy getting to know.

2. Follow the rule of one. “Here’s a rule of thumb for networking events: one new honest-to-goodness relationship is worth ten fistfuls of business cards,” Cain writes in Quiet. If a big cocktail party has drained your energy, don’t head immediately for a second if you can help it: “Rush home afterward and kick back on your sofa.” Or, if you’re at a sales conference far from the home office, retreat to your hotel room.

3. Have a quota for networking events. If you dislike networking but need to do some of it to keep moving forward professionally, set a realistic quota for how many events you want to attend. Depending on where you are in your career — and whether or not you’re hoping to change jobs — you might plan to attend one event every week or month. If you’ll be attending a trade show, go through the schedule in advance and identify the three or four social events you most want to attend — and see how you feel afterward — instead of trying to fit in as many as you can.

For more tips on thriving as an introvert, read Susan Cain’s Quiet.


This is the second of two posts on succeeding as an introvert in an extroverted world. You can read the first here.






9 July 2014

Surviving as an Introvert in an Extroverted Workplace

 It’s a tough time to be an introvert, or someone who prefers “environments that are not overstimulating,” as Susan Cain puts it in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Virtually all American workers now spend time on teams, and about 70 percent do their tasks in open-plan offices in which no one has a truly private space, Cain wrote in a related New York Times article. Since the 1970s, the average amount of space given to each employee has shrunk from 500 to 200 square feet. And the noise level in some workplaces has increased so much that it’s becoming harder and harder to hear ourselves think.

That’s a shame, Cain says, because research has shown that solitude fosters learning and creativity. And hyperactive offices can be especially frustrating for introverts whose workplaces often seem to require them to act, against their natural instincts, like extroverts.

One way to cope, Cain says, is to take a cue from Brian Little, director of the Social Ecology Research Group in the Department of Psychology at Cambridge University. Little believes that introverts who work in extroverted settings can benefit from creating what he calls “restorative niches.” A “restorative niche,” Cain says, is “the place you go when you want to return to your true self.” Your niche might be a physical place, such a nearby park or garden that you visit when you’re feeling overstimulated. Or it might involve giving yourself a brief mental rest, such as taking a break between sales calls or interviews: “It can mean cancelling your social plans on the weekend before a big meeting at work, practicing yoga or meditation, or choosing e-mail over an in-person meeting.” Cain adds:

“You can choose a restorative niche when you close the door to your private office (if you’re lucky enough to have one) in between meetings. You can even create a restorative niche during a meeting, by carefully selecting where you sit, and when and how you participate.”

Even if you’re an extrovert or ambivert (a cross between the two personality types), you may benefit from having a dependable escape hatch at work. And summer offers an easy test of whether you would: If you feel much more relaxed on vacation than you ever do at the office, you might look for ways to create mini-vacations — even if they’re just a few minutes long — when you’re back on the job.

This is the first of two posts on thriving as introvert in an extroverted world.  The next post will be in August.


17 April 2014

There is an Active Incident Going On

Here in the Boston area, we are hyper-aware of the approaching Boston Marathon. Because of the bombing last year, the anticipation is more intense than it usually is.

I live in Watertown, MA, where the two Marathon bombers ended up. One died in a gunfight, and the other was eventually found hiding in a boat in someone’s back yard after a long manhunt and lockdown.  Here’s the story from the perspective of two Boston Globe journalists.

The lockdown was announced to people in my town by a 2 a.m. robocall from the Watertown Police. The recording said, “There is an active incident going on,” and asked us to stay in our homes until further notice. It didn’t say what the active incident was, but all you had to do was turn on the TV to find out – or look out the window. 

Armored trucks thudded up my street, the news showed SWAT teams hunkering down in the Mall parking lot, and you could hear an almost constant hum of helicopters. Convoys of law enforcement vehicles from across New England, FBI tactical units, ambulances and fire engines were converging on our little town. A door-to-door search had begun a neighborhood away from mine. This was the closest thing to martial law we’d ever experienced. 

This was 4 days after the bombing, which we were still reeling from. Our hearts went out to the families of those who died, and to the people who’d lost limbs and sustained other injuries, and their families. 

I work from home. I’m a life and career coach. My clients either come to my home office or we meet by phone. I had only 4 clients scheduled for that day. I contacted the two who would have come to my office to re-schedule or arrange to do a phone session. My other scheduled clients were by phone. I would pretty much have a “regular” work day. 

Except try having a regular workday with all of this going on.

I’ve had clients who were trying unsuccessfully to focus on their job when they had the equivalent of “an active incident going on” in another part of their lives.

Perhaps you, too, have experienced this. You’re trying to stay focused on the work at hand, but you are distracted or overwhelmed by something going on elsewhere your life. For example:  

  • You MOVED over the weekend and your new home is utter chaos – a jumble of unpacked boxes that you dread going home to. You can’t imagine when you’ll ever have time to unpack. 
  • The stomach pain that you started feeling a few days ago has gradually increased, and last night it kept you up much of the night. You know you should see a doctor, but you’re afraid of what you’ll find out, and you keep putting off the inevitable phone call.  
  • You’ve accepted the job offer of your dreams – you are over the moon with excitement! You’ve let people at your current job know, and you are currently trying to get your many work projects into shape to hand off to colleagues – but all you can think about is your new work.
  • You’re back to work after an exhausting but blissful maternity leave. You are almost paralyzed by the intensity of your feelings of guilt for leaving your baby with a sitter every day.

The core problem in situations like this is expecting yourself to do your usual A+ work at your usual A+ pace. The key is to manage your own expectations of yourself. Managing others’ expectations will follow. 

What’s required is that you accept that you are not at your best right then – you will be back at your best again some other time, don’t worry about that – but right now you really need to cut yourself some slack. The very real challenge you’re facing doesn’t need to be exacerbated by a barrage of self-criticism for not performing up to par. The self-talk needs to sound more like, “Do the best you can right now. Keep breathing and take one step at a time. Do what’s do-able.  Acknowledge progress as you achieve it, however small the steps are. Just keep moving in the right direction.”

During the lockdown last year, I kept my client appointments (which, to be honest, are always very engaging for me), but as far as all the other work scheduled for that day (marketing, writing, bookkeeping), I eventually just stopped trying to do it. When I wasn’t meeting with a client, I watched news coverage of what was happening, or I responded to the many emails coming in from out-of-state friends and family, asking if we were OK. I stopped trying to have a normal day. 

You might think that the way to handle a huge distraction is to banish it from your thoughts and focus on what’s in front of you. You might view it as a time for self-discipline and focus – a time to tune out the distraction because there’s nothing you can do about it now, so just focus on your job and your immediate family life. While this may be a tactic you can deploy for short bursts, it doesn’t work as a long term strategy. Your “active incident going on” is taking up bandwidth whether you acknowledge it or not, so you might as well make the space for it and adjust your expectations accordingly. Then at least you have a shot at being as productive as you can be.




11 March 2014

Success and the Culture of Fame and Fortune

In our culture, success is often equated with wealth and fame.  If you were a smart kid who did well in school you might have grown up thinking you would become a successful adult, which you took to mean that you would be rich and famous.  Your experience in college and early professional work may have further enhanced your expectation of your eventual fame and fortune. 

But what if you’re beginning to see that fame and fortune may never be yours, even though you are just as smart as you ever were and do really good work?  What if you look to your left and right and see other people getting promotions and opportunities you want?

There are two kinds of major course corrections that I have seen people in this situation make that bring about big, positive change: the Re-Frame and the Behavior Modification.

The Re-Frame
The re-frame is the most appropriate course correction for many people and situations.  It goes like this:

    • Let’s say you’re a research biochemist at a big pharmaceutical company. You’re plugging away at your job, you get good reviews, things seem to be going well, but then you start seeing that some of your colleagues who started at the same time and same level as you are advancing more quickly than you are.  You ask yourself, “Where’s my promotion?” You wonder if you are failing.  You feel jealous.
    • The re-frame makes you stop looking at your colleagues and start looking at your own successes. Once you shift your focus to your own trajectory, where you’re coming from, you see that during this same period of time your company paid for your graduate degree and gave you reduced hours (at full pay) to pursue it, you took a leave when your mother was dying so that you could care for her, and then your company agreed to the job share that you and a colleague proposed, so you now work half time and have half time with your child.  (Your colleagues who got promoted did none of these things.) You have a really interesting job with people you like and respect, who appreciate and respect you. You have a wonderful family life. You’re actually a fulfilled and happy person. You’re living your life in alignment with your genuine values and priorities. THIS IS ANOTHER WAY THAT SUCCESS CAN LOOK.    
    • When you see this you realize that international fame and vast financial fortune aren’t the only markers of success, and neither are these particular promotions you’ve seen others get.
    • Can’t relate to the biochemist example?  Look at all the things in your life that you are grateful for.  Every day for a month, write down 5 things you are grateful for, any 5.  This will bring about your re-frame.

The wonderful truth is that as you begin to more fully recognize, appreciate and enjoy the life you actually already have, and as you let go of comparing yourself unfavorably with other people, you become more and more of your best self.  As you move into more fully living your best life, you will probably continue to be be very successful on all levels, including getting promotions.

The Behavior-Modification
The behavior modification is the most appropriate course correction for other people and situations.  It goes like this:

  • You’re the same research biochemist at the same big pharmaceutical company, seeing the same colleagues get promoted before you.
  • In this scenario, you go to your boss, and ask what you can do differently to qualify for promotions.  And then you listen very hard to what your boss says to you.  You don’t argue or disagree.  You just take it in.  You may need to think about it and come back with questions; this may be an ongoing conversation.  When you’ve heard what your boss tells you, and when you’ve digested it, you can either choose to pursue it or not.
  • If you choose to pursue the changes that your boss suggests, you may need to go back to her for help in making the changes.  For example, your boss might say you’re an excellent bench scientist but to advance here you really need to develop your leadership skills.  Or become a more assertive champion for your ideas.  Or a better team player.  If you have no idea how to translate those ideas into different behavior, you may need to ask for help.  There may be courses you can take, or mentors you can attach yourself to, or books to read.  There may be performance objectives that you and your boss can come up with that will move you in that direction.  There may be lots of help available to you if you seek it
  • Don’t have that kind of boss?  Seek out this information anywhere you can find it.  From another senior person in your organization.  From a coach.  From a colleague or mentor.  From books.

These two types of course corrections can be used one after the other, or at the same time.  You may move from one to the other and back again for years.  And of course there are many other ways to fine tune both your understanding of what success means to you, and your strategy for getting there.  These tools can help you resist the temptation to feel bad about yourself when you compare yourself with others or to feel like a failure because you haven’t created the fame and fortune you imagined you would have by now.






16 October 2013

Dealing With Difficult People

Whether it’s an uncooperative co-worker, a short-tempered boss, an unmotivated assistant, or an in-law who won’t stop telling you how to improve your life, difficult people are everywhere.

But there are strategies for dealing with challenging people.  One excellent collection of them is Mark I. Rosen’s book, Thank You for Being Such a Pain: Spiritual Guidance for Dealing With Difficult People.  He offers down-to-earth tactics for engaging more effectively with the difficult person, offers ways to manage yourself in the process, and suggests that difficult situations can actually be a good thing (!) in the long run.

 Here are four lessons from the book:

1.  Nothing in your life happens randomly.  Your people-challenges have a deeper purpose.
Whether or not you share Mark’s belief that what appear to be random occurrences are guided by a higher power, there are long term benefits to having difficult people in your life.  They bring opportunities,  including:  

  • the chance to demonstrate your ability to rise to the occasion
  • they often force you to improve your communication skills
  • in rare circumstances, you can actually help the person become less difficult. 
  • They help us appreciate the people in our lives who are not difficult

 2. Frustration and emotional pain are necessary for personal and spiritual growth.
Facing adversity or challenge expands our repertoire of problem-solving skills.  Think about your first job.  There must have been many difficulties you had to overcome, which helped in your next job and so forth. In fact, a classic job interview question is about the challenges the applicant faced and how they dealt with them. Also, having experience with difficult people can help you avoid hiring or promoting difficult people in the future: your ability to recognize red flags will be sharpened!

 3.  Transforming enmity and antagonism may be the most important skills you can acquire in life.
Here are some tactics that can help:

  • Try to get her/him to modify their behavior.  You are unlikely to be successful but sometimes it’s worth a try. 
  • Re-frame how you think about them.  How important is this difficult person to achieving your goals? The chances that one person holds your future in their hands is low, and if the person is not essential to your ultimate goal, realizing that can reduce the emotional charge of interacting with them.
  • Notice your internal responses before you react.  Your internal response my be emotional, but what you say can be neutral and clear.    

4.       When you make the effort to work on yourself, your relationships with other people in your life (not just the difficult ones) are likely to get better.
If certain characteristics in other people are especially irritating, it can say something about you. For example, if your difficult person talks too much for your liking, it could be that you see that quality in yourself and seeing someone else do it is extra irksome. Or it could be that you talk too little and envy the ability to converse freely.  Make the effort to examine what buttons of yours get pushed by this person.  What does that tell you about how you might need to grow, develop, and expand?  Find ways to do exactly that.  It will not only help you in dealing with this person, but it’s likely to make a positive difference in other relationships as well. 

 Ultimately, it’s important that you not let the challenging people in your life drain your energy and poison your outlook.  Get help if you need it.


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.


19 March 2013

Keep Your Self-Confidence Intact During a Job Search

The key to job hunting in the current environment is to view it as an endurance event which requires that you stay nourished and hydrated for the long haul.  One of the key ways for you to stay nourished and hydrated is to pay attention to and take very good care of your self-confidence.  The resume process, which forces you to revisit the professional work you’ve done and allows you to take more detailed and robust ownership of all of it, should help a lot.   

I recommend spending time with a voice recorder, a trusted friend, or a coach or career counselor where one job at a time, you explain ALL the ways you made a difference, all that you brought to the table and DID in the jobs you’ve had, how it made a difference for the clients you’ve served,the companies where you worked, and so forth. A coach or career counselor or perhaps a trusted friend will prompt you for details, and ask questions that will help you go deeper.  It’s extremely confidence-building and useful to have that fuller sense of yourself and your effectiveness with you every day as you do the humble endurance work of looking for work, which provides almost no validation, encouragement, or acknowledgement of your value.  

If you’re unemployed and looking for a job, it can be extremely helpful to find SOME way to be engaged in the work you want to do, on a part-time or short-term basis, whether it’s pro-bono or otherwise.  Why?  It will remind you, every time you do it, that you are good at it, HOW you are good at it, that you work well with others, that you are effective, personable, reliable, collegial, that you communicate well and really have some affinity for the work.  It might remind you that you have a good sense of humor, that people like you, that you have high standards, and that you can work quickly. 

All of this validation happens in real time as you do the work, and you absorb it, which keeps your self-confidence healthy. It’s hard to sustain self-confidence in a vacuum.   It might look like you don’t have time to be  job-hunting AND doing some kind of volunteer work, but for many people the benefits that come from the volunteer (or project) work actually give them energy and actually expand their bandwidth.    

Have you been able to sustain your self-confidence during a job search or other potentially draining process?  What worked (or is working) for you?  Please share your thoughts, strategies, and tools in a comment.