Category Archives: Psychology

SILENCE THE CRITICS IN YOUR HEAD 3 Pointers

My new article on Maria Shriver’s The Women’s Conference:

Although “Innocent until proven guilty” is the law of the land, I find many women more than willing to judge—and convict– themselves of daily crimes of incompetence, inefficiency and general disorganization without ever hiring a defense counsel to speak on their behalf, much less consulting a jury of their peers.

I will take one of my typical days as a case in point. Even when I wake at five, take the dog to the park, lead a conference call, go to yoga, speak at a luncheon, prospect for new business, coach a client, and meet a friend for a drink, I will still come home and berate myself for not having stayed on top of my email, done the laundry and organized my speaking schedule. And if I’m anywhere near tax season, the holiday season, or bikini season, forget it.

It’s possible you’ve experienced these feelings.

If you’re one of the super women who also manage to commute to work, take your kids to sports practice and/or go on date night with your husband, I mentally—frankly—build an altar to you. I can’t conceive of the opportunities for personal condemnation these would provide for me.

That said, there are a few things I have slowly, painfully learned.

Contentment is a choice. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has said, “There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.” I’ve come to realize contentment is much the same: to accept that there will never be a day when my business is booming, my bills are paid, my hair is highlighted, my family is adoring, etc. One way Thay recommends to cultivate happiness and contentment is to build in pauses to notice what is working: When your alarm goes off, don’t jump up but lie still and take three breaths; When your phone rings, don’t lunge for it but take three breaths. You could even close your eyes and take three breaths right now.

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I DARE YOU To Be Who You Are

Originally published on The Women’s Conference.org:

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.”

This quote from Lucius Annaeus Seneca is one I’ve found repeatedly true, whenever I’ve worked up the courage to dare. But too often that courage has remained elusive.

How, then, can you find the courage to dare?

I’ve discovered the critical factor in this process is recognizing that what you’re nervous about isn’t failing — it’s succeeding. You’ve had an amazing idea, been spurred into action by a cause, or felt an urge to throw yourself headlong into a commitment, and suddenly, your creativity, your idealism, or your passion are on fire — and you’re a bit taken aback by how strong they are.

The fact is that most of us aren’t firing on all cylinders at all times, so when we suddenly kick it into high gear, it can feel a bit like we’re working with rocket fuel. And mucking around with rocket fuel has the potential to end very well, or very badly– and that’s nervous-making.  So, rather than feel nervous, (which is something our culture is intent on removing from our lives– not recognizing its power) we begin to doubt ourselves. We tell ourselves someone else has more to offer—something better.

But in the same way that that your friend Susan’s chocolate chip cookies are absolutely worth blowing your diet for, while your Aunt Ellen’s are not—despite the fact that they’re made with exactly the same ingredients— you have a unique blend of skills, intelligence and insight that will make whatever dream you’re bringing to reality someone’s idea of a heavenly indulgence.

So, what can you do? Is there a way to change this mental habit?

What I’ve found is that it can be easier for me if I work from the outside in. So rather than focusing on changing a mental habit, I try changing a physical habit and see what it does to my mind.

What kinds of physical habits am I talking about?  Well, a few simple things can be, waking up at a different time, or getting my coffee at a new spot, or going to work via an unfamiliar route. All choices force me to remain present and to take in many, many new impressions. I’m forcing neurons to fire, neurons that have been on auto-pilot every other morning…. (And this is just from changing my breakfast routine.)

The critical piece in all this is to recognize that new experiences can be uncomfortable, and uncomfortable things are going to make you anxious, BUT that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re “dangerous” or that you shouldn’t do them. Rather than label emotions such as nervousness or anxiety as “bad,” see them as reminders that you are alive.

Having changed some physical habits, and seen that there were no violent repercussions, you should now find it easier to consider changing some mental habits—particularly the story you’re telling yourself about how someone else has more to contribute.  The fact is that at the end of the day, habit, doubt, and fear are our greatest barriers to success. The more you are able to break free from self doubt and test your perceived limits, the more you will see those limits fall away. And every time you brave, and surmount barriers, your confidence will grow — allowing you to move through the world with a freedom that, until now, has possibly only lived in your imagination.

Because only you can be who you are.

So go ahead—I dare you.

Three Memorable, Easy, Lasting Ways to Inspire Your Team

In this economy, keeping your team motivated can be difficult– with everything from travel to office supply budgets being slashed how can you ensure you keep your team working to their full potential? Following are three suggestions that don’t necessitate scratching around for additional funds. Additionally, each of these tools does more than motivate those involved: ideally they’re inspired by them. Because, let’s face it, too often motivation is like a cup of coffee: it wears off over time. Inspiration, however, provides your team with ideas and tactics that can be used as fuel for years to come.

“Tell me more.”

We often approach our goals with our minds already made up about our desired outcomes. The tricky thing about this is that it doesn’t leave room for our team to contribute-and when there’s no room for them to contribute, they lose motivation. How, then, can you ensure you offer them the input-opportunity they require, but still stay on track? With the magic phrase, “Tell me more.” The beauty of “Tell me more,” is that it doesn’t commit you to actually incorporating each suggestion you receive. It does, however, give each speaker a platform for offering an opinion. If you like their idea, then, excellent! You can incorporate it. If not, look for a piece of their idea that can be included.

How do I recommend you finesse this? With the phrase, “I think there’s some strong DNA in your thinking— let’s take a piece of it and add it to what we’ve got.”

If it isn’t possible to incorporate their contribution, “Tell me more,” is also a great path to a conversation about the “because” behind some of your choices-and giving people the “because” behind why something is being done increases the possibility of cooperation from 60 to 94%. (Social Psychologist Ellen Langer Study).

Mix and Match Your Experts

In sports we idolize the players who know how to leverage time and room (T& R) whether it be in basketball, football, lacrosse. In life, however, we rarely give the same kudos to the unsung heroes whose expertise offers us the time and room we need to maneuver when we go in to make our pitch, sell our product, or ask for the deal: our teammates in Research and Development (R & D). With this in mind, I strongly recommend glorifying your R & D members whenever possible.  What’s another way to motivate? Create an occasion for Research and Development to mix with Sales and Marketing, as you may be surprised by what might comes out of such an encounter.  Why? Well, Sales and Marketing tend to focus on “listening to the customer”, but as Henry Ford once said, if he had listened to the customer he would simply built better horse carriages! It was R & D that showed him cars were the way of the future.

Mixing, matching, and cheering on your teams builds the camaraderie that will give all of you the time and room you need to relax and celebrate when you win the contract, make the deal, or take home the honors.

Operation Inspiration

While many of us have the tendency to flip past the five o’clock news, preferring our favorite talking head on CNN, MSNBC, Fox etc, one thing we can take away (that’s shared by NASA, the US Military, etc) is the tendency to give special projects special names. Why do they do this?  Well one of the roles of a leader is to narrate the macro events in our lives, thus making sense of them. What these institutions recognized is that there’s a significant difference between hearing, “Today’s conflict was marked by casualties in “Operation GT7, Sector Four,”” and “Today’s conflict was marked by casualties in Operation “Enduring Freedom””.

History’s best leaders have always been storytellers, and the valorization of unavoidable hardship will always be stirring. Shakespeare himself recognized this as he showed us in Henry V when Henry’s comrades are reminded they are, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” Henry V video on youtube.com. Despite being exhausted and outnumbered, Henry’s men rode into battle gladly having been told they would consequently, and forevermore, be remembered by the rest of the world– and we do.

Your team can do the same, and-with your inclusion of their ideas, acknowledgement of their hard work, and celebration of their willingness to ‘take one for the team’ -they will.

Victimhood is Powerful- but it Doesn’t Wow

This past weekend, some young chums of mine (10 and 7) took part in a lifeguarding clinic. One of the elements practiced was how to signal to a guard that you were in need of assistance. To do this, they were instructed to tread water, wave their arms over their heads, and yell, “Help!”

After this correct “form” had been demonstrated, the kids were asked,

“Who wants to be a victim?”

This was greeted by a chorus of, “Me, me me!”

The result? These self-appointed “victims” had a chance to be rescued by numerous hunky lifeguards, running toward them in true “Baywatch” style– hair blowing in the breeze, whistles blowing, lifesaving torpedoes at the ready….

It was easy to see the seduction of the choice.

I’m sure many of you know someone who has a similar response to situations in their life– someone who eagerly signs up to be saved; who wants nothing more than to cling to the torpedo, be dragged to safety– and perhaps even given mouth to mouth…

Because, let’s face it: victimhood is powerful.

That said, I maintain it does not wow.

And beyond the non-wowing of others, ultimately it doesn’t wow those who make the choice– because if you’re always being saved by someone else, you never have the chance to actually build self-esteem.

You never have the satisfaction of saving yourself.

Now, I am not saying that when you find yourself in over your head, it isn’t OK to ask for help.

I am also not saying that having a safety plan in place isn’t smart.

(In fact, I recommend both of these things– I’m an advice-asking, safety-first kind of girl.)

What I’m talking about is people who wave and holler before they’ve even braved the water.

Because, as those of you know who have had the good fortune to safely navigate the personal riptides of your life, there is enormous confidence to be gained from learning to navigate using your own wit and wisdom.