4 Ways to Unplug Negative Thoughts

You stand on the scale and you’ve gained 5 pounds. You think, “Fatso, why did you have that extra chocolate chip cookie?” You avoid setting up the meeting with your boss because you are sure your idea will be shot down. “She doesn’t think I’m smart. She’ll never like my ideas.” You gossip about your co-worker because you know they will never get the promotion they want. “He’s an idiot. There’s no way he’ll get it.” All these thoughts are wearing a super highway of negativity in your brain. The good news is you can change that.

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Your brain is malleable and can be changed–and it doesn’t even involve surgery. The key to disempowering your negative or unwholesome thoughts is to change your pattern of thinking. It takes practice. But when you start creating wholesome thoughts, they beget more wholesome thoughts. Soon, you are a wholesome thought-machine. As Professor Mark Muesse taught in the Great Courses: Practicing Mindfulness, “Unwholesome thoughts break down into three areas: selfish desire (I want my neighbor’s car), hatred (I hate that person because they are different from me) and deluded thoughts (I think I’m the greatest or completely unworthy).”

 

Here are Professor Muesse’s four “R’s” of disempowering thoughts:

 

  1. Simply replace the negative or unwholesome thought with something opposite.  If someone cuts you off in traffic, instead of angrily swearing and tailing them, you should instead think, “I’m sure they are in a rush for a good reason.” I’ve done this when my boss’ door was shut. I would switch my paranoid thinking: “She’s going to fire me” to “She must be working on my raise or a new challenging project.” When I had a four-hour unplanned airport layover a few weeks ago, I replaced my “I hate this airport and this lousy airline” thought (which became my new negative mantra for a few minutes) to “This’ll be a great opportunity to listen to my book and get in 10,000 steps.” I also cultivate compassion by saying, “Just like me.” If someone steals my parking space, I say, “They want to be happy, just like me.” Replace the unwholesome negative thoughts with positive, wholesome ones.

 

  1. Reflecting on results.  Think about the long-term results of this thinking. Contemplate the forward trajectory or consequences of these thoughts. If I believe that I am a nervous speaker, I will become a nervous speaker. If I think that I am financially insecure, I will become financially insecure. Seeing the long-term consequences helps squelch the inner critic. Another way of looking at it is: do you want to be the Grinch? Even Grinch-like folks were small children at some point. It took years of unwholesome, greed-filled thoughts to result in the vengeful person they became. What are you really creating with all those unwholesome thoughts? Your best you?

 

  1. Redirecting attention.  This is where you direct your attention away towards something more wholesome. Like your breath, your toes or your ear lobes. I advise my clients to do this when they get angry and have regressed into their lizard brain (the fight-or-flight part of your brain). When you are hijacked by emotions, it’s important to get out of your head and back into your body. Especially before you say something you might regret. Your best thinking is in your prefrontal cortex but it’s impossible to get there as long as you are in a state of fear or anger. Remember the phrase This too shall pass. Good or bad, everything is impermanent. We just need to accept that it is impermanent. Joy or terror, thoughts pass away, lose power and fade. Bring it all back to the breath.

 

  1. This is all about challenging your assumptions.  It might be that you’ve become jealous of your co-worker’s new convertible sports car. You assume that if you had that car, you would be happy. Examine what you might feel you’re lacking. Maybe you want some freedom. Maybe independence. Look at the underlying assumptions of why you might be envious. You might be envious of your boss’ new smart phone. You want to have the latest technology. But won’t that phone be an out-of-date piece of junk in three years? I recently moved my home office. I thought about a nice chair I wanted for it. I realized that I didn’t want to add any more furniture to my already fully-furnished house. I realized there was a chair and ottoman that was unused in another room. So instead of feeling like I was lacking, I discovered I already had what I needed. Challenge your assumptions.

 

Any type of mindfulness is a practice that takes time and consistency. Habitual thoughts are not easy to break but it can be done with persistence. I personally journal each evening about how I have reframed my thoughts throughout the day. I think the reflection helps me hardwire the new positive, wholesome thoughts. Good luck!

How to Be More Resilient

When Hurricane Matthew didn’t make the predicted hard right turn as it passed over South Carolina back on October 8th, and instead dumped 16 inches of water on our Eastern North Carolina lake-front home, I didn’t think that this experience was going to be a test in resilience. My husband, dog and I have been living at Camp Matthew for over three months now. It’s been uncomfortable. It’s been cramped. It’s tested all of our relationships. But it has made us all more resilient.

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I have the honor of coaching some fantastic clients, two of whom had huge shifts if their lives this week. Those shifts happened because of their remarkable resilience. Just when you think you are at the end of your rope, there is a magical shift. Everything does a 180. If they hadn’t been able to dip into their bucket of resilience, I don’t think they ever would have arrived at their magic turning point.

Here are my thoughts on how to be more resilient:

  • Label the emotion.  I’ve been using the Whil app for about a year now. Whil has a whole host of teachers who have provided guided meditations and thought-provoking lectures. I listen for about 10 minutes every day. Several of the teachers talk about labeling your feelings. Say if you resent your boss for not returning your call, instead of ruminating, trying to escape, or stifling the feeling, call it out in your own head. Indeed, this is what resentment feels like. Then feel it. Do you find it in your stomach, your shoulders, a tightness in your throat, a heat at your temples? I’ve been feeling “helpless” because some days, there is a beehive of repair on our house followed by days of silence. When I label it and actually “feel” it in my body, instead of trying to escape it, it fades away. It’s difficult to be resilient if you can’t label and feel your emotions.

 

  • Acceptance.  In today’s day and age, nothing is simple. Whether you are in a legal battle, trying to sell your home, being audited or trying to get money to reconstruct your house after a flood. It’s not going to be easy. My clients and I have accepted that most things don’t happen overnight. Whether I need to call some federal agency, the mortgage company, flooring representative or an insurance company, I have come to accept that we are going to have to jump through a few hoops. If you let every one of those hoops devastate you, it will be difficult to have forward progress. Having an attitude of acceptance makes you more resilient.

 

  • Reflect on the progress.  One of the best reasons to have a coach is to reflect on your progress. My coach is the phenomenal Tammi Wheeler. She helps me reflect on the progress I’ve made, rather than dwelling on everything that has gone wrong. Taking stock is huge when you’re living in the land of limbo. So we may be living on top of each other at Camp Matthew, but we finally got a disbursement from the mortgage company. The sheet-rock is finally going up. The toilet is not on our front porch anymore. The attorney finally responded. I’ve turned in all the paperwork for the new mortgage.  Reflect and acknowledge what you have accomplished to bolster your resilience.

 

  • Be a quitter.  Say what, Cathy? What the heck does that have to do with resilience? As Eric Barker wrote for Time, “You can do anything — when you stop trying to do everything.” I can’t be everything to everybody. I used to cook every day at home with a new recipe every night. My husband and I rarely ate out. Now? I buy pre-marinated chicken, open a can of chili or meet my husband for dinner out. Maybe when I get home, I’ll be a gourmet cook again; maybe not. But I’m not going to feel guilty about taking some short cuts. Quitting some things helps you be more resilient with the things that matter now.

 

  • Routine.  I haven’t quit everything, but I have reconfigured my routine. In the days following the flood, I fell out of sync with my routine. I was a stressed out mess. As we regained power and landed in Camp Matthew (our wonderful, generous friends’ in-law unit), I reworked my routine of meditation, yoga and learning Spanish. Once my routine was back in sync, I was able to handle the ebb and flow of the aftermath. I personally credit my meditation practice and turning off television news with my increased resilience. but you need to find what works for you. In a state of constant change, having a routine that bolsters, rather than deflates you, is important for resilience.

 

There are going to be pain points. We are not perfect, nor will we ever be. There was a moment when I actually cussed out a customer service person. I’m not proud of that, but I was also able to accept this lapse in judgment at the moment. When you start going down that hole of negativity, just make sure you can resolve to step out of it and veer back to resilience.

5 Strategies to Optimize Your Strengths

As leaders and managers we seem to spend a lot of time focusing on everyone’s weaknesses or short-comings; very often our own. Performance improvement plans, appraisals, report cards and even weighing yourself can focus on the negative. The area that needs improvement. The areas we or our direct reports fell short. I can focus on the typo my assistant had in an email and totally overlook the project he took on all by himself, flawlessly. It’s always easy to default to picking out what went wrong in order to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Whether it’s the B on the report card with the balance being all A’s, remember the brownie you had yesterday when you weigh a pound more even though you also ran 10 miles or focusing on the budget shortfall when sales are way above expectations. We focus on the weaknesses and try and mitigate them.optimize your strengths
How about focusing and leveraging your or others strengths? I can remember a Marketing Director who was horrible at catching typos. Catching typos is pretty important when it comes to marketing collateral. The director was outstanding at design and implementation but wasn’t that great at details. I can identify with this. I’m horrible at details. Grammar even. So do we send the Marketing Director and me to a course on finding mistakes and typos or do we find someone who “loves” to find all the flaws? They actually find it a challenge to make sure an entire document is flawless. We can send us to courses, school and for an MBA but it’s only going to mitigate the issues. We will never be flawless. It’s best to play to our strengths and find someone else to pick up the slack on our weaknesses.

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So here is how to do that:

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1. Inventory. Take an inventory of what you are good at. In Scott Adams’ book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, he suggests recalling what you loved to do when you were 10 years old. What could you spend hours at? I can remember setting up class rooms and pretending to be a teacher or creating plays when I was a kid in our basement. Hmmm. Maybe that’s why I like facilitating and coaching. Another option is to take an assessment like Strengths Finders. If you purchase the book, they give you an access code to take the assessment. My top three strengths are Strategic, Relator and Positivity. It’s good to know. Being a claims adjuster or mortician might be a bad fit. Inventory your strengths.

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2. Delegate. Figure out your weaknesses, and if possible, delegate them. I’m really fortunate that one of the members of “Cathy’s Brain Trust” (folks who give me feedback before I post these posts) is an English Major. Actually, you all are very fortunate that she is an English Major because grammar isn’t my strong suit. I also don’t have a very good handle on Excel. I can do the basics but it’s tedious to me. I have no desire to attend classes to become an Excel wiz. If I can avoid working on a spreadsheet, I delegate. So look at your team. Are you trying to make someone who loves sitting at a computer trouble shooting, try and improve their customer service skills? If they aren’t friendly and accommodating, perhaps there is someone else who is better suited to take phone calls. As any good team coach would say, put your aces in their places. Delegate your weaknesses.

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3. Dedicate. Now dedicate some blocks of time to your strengths and get into the flow. Csíkszentmihályi (the psychologist who coined the idea of flow) described flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” Parlay what you are good at so that you can do your best work. This is much more productive (and enjoyable) instead of trying to fix your weaknesses. It’s also a much more positive experience. Dedicate blocks of time to flow.

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4. Reflect. Takes some time to reflect on your accomplishments. From my years of coaching experience, this is something most of us don’t do. Take a look back on what you accomplished with your strengths. Acknowledge yourself for all that you have contributed to the world. Even small things can add up. Did you just run your fastest time for a 5k? Did you spend a half hour with your aging mother? Did you pay it forward by buying a latte for the car behind you? Did you make a contribution to ALS? Did you make sure you smiled at a stranger at the grocery store? All of these things add up. Take stock and reflect on all that you have accomplished.

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5. Assess. Assess your optimization of your strengths. The strengths that you have are your gifts. Make sure you are using them. Take my biggest strength, Strategic. I’m talented in creating alternative ways to proceed. If there is any given scenario, I quickly spot patterns and issues. When I am coaching or facilitating, I’m open to all options which enhances my students and clients thinking. When I am given a set curriculum that is regimented and unbending, I might as well be in a straight jacket. I suffocate. I make sure that I have an outlet for my strategic strengths. If you were a concert pianist, a toy xylophone would be an insult and unbearable. If someone enjoys people, don’t put them in a window-less office for 8 hours a day. Assess the utilization of your strengths.

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I realize that most of us can’t spend 60 hours a week on just our strengths and delegate taking the trash out for the rest of our lives. I do think you can strike a balance so that you and the folks around you can feel empowered by making sure that their gifts are being utilized on a daily basis.

How to Break Out of the Status Quo. Or are Your Heels Dug in?

Most people don’t embrace change. It can be difficult. It’s so much easier to dig our heels in and be inflexible.  It’s a great offense.  Inflexible people are left alone. They are too difficult to deal with.  Leave Joe alone, he’ll never get on board with this idea.  Pretty soon the world is dancing around Joe because they don’t want to deal with his stubbornness. He’s out of the loop.

Organizations do this as well.   It’s easy to get caught up in “doing it the way we have always done it” mentality. It’s hard to create change.  Especially in long established businesses. Unless there is a business necessity (imperative), it’s so much easier to keep it status quo.  It’s the path of least resistance.  Why do a leadership initiative? Incentive plan? Enter a new market? If it ain’t broke…don’t fix it.

I’ve been traveling this past week.  I live in Eastern North Carolina.  The land of free parking, no sidewalks and a six-mile commute with one red light.  Every time I head to New York City, I need to load up on coins, cash and the capacity to adapt (easily).  In the last six days I’ve been through twenty toll booths.  Some took $.90, others $12.30.  I needed to be flexible.  The GPS was lost half the time because of new construction or, in the case of downtown Trenton, they didn’t have roads on their map.  We needed to just go with the flow.  Or as my son, who was my copilot at the time said, “Read the signs.” What a concept. Read the signs.  If I’d had my heels dug in, I’d still be in Trenton.  Actually, I’d be on an off ramp in Baltimore in the fetal position.
So, how do you embrace change? Break out of the status quo. Here are 6 steps to dig out those heels.

1. Scan. As in scan the environment. Are those around you avoiding you? Have you been invited to be on an ad hoc committee? Are you out of the loop?  Are you still wearing bell bottoms?  Are you stuck in Trenton? Your coworkers are perfectly happy to leave you in the dust if you are not open to change.  Nobody likes to associate with “Debbie Downer”. Take the temperature of your environment and see if you are reading the signs.

2. Survey.  Take a poll.  What do your closest friends think?  Ask your boss.  Ask your husband.  Ask your mother (OK…I know I’m pushing it a little far).   “Do I seem open to new ideas?” Perception is reality.  If you are perceived as a stick in the mud, you probably are a stick in the mud.

3. Listen.  When you survey, you need to be open enough to listen.  If you ask the question, you need to be able to listen to the answer.  In fact, if you aren’t willing to listen, don’t even ask.  One of the most counter-productive exercises is for an organization to do an employee survey and then do nothing.

4. Plan.  So what can you do about the perception?  You’re going to need to take a hard look at yourself and start paying attention to the “signs.” Maybe you need to work on not interrupting or your need to be right all the time.  Maybe you’re going to need to back off from being in control all the time.  Maybe you just need to buy some new clothes.  Yeah.  Seersucker is dead and so are bell bottoms.

5. Start digging out.  One shovel at a time.  There is no magic pill.  This is going to take work and all you can do is start.  One interaction at a time.  I remember that when I first started working on showing more appreciation, I missed the boat several times.  I’d forget to thank my assistant for getting the report done so quickly or my husband for taking out the trash.  But at least I started somewhere and I can tell you that now I am much more consistent about showing appreciation.  But I had to take that first step.

6. Reflect.  You can do this in any form you like. Maybe in a journal, meditating or brushing your teeth.  How are you doing?  Do you feel like you are making strides?  Are you getting positive feedback?  Are you getting less negative feedback?  Maybe you were selected for the next ad hoc committee. Maybe you didn’t overreact when you ended up getting off at the wrong exit.  Congratulate yourself.  You are on your way.

How do you break out of the status quo?

S.P.E.L.L. it Out. 6 Ways to Set Expectations.

Spelling out expectations is so critical in all aspects of life; like when you have a new employee, when your child cleans their room and, even when we start on a new project.  If you don’t spell out the expectations, it will, at the very least be frustrating and at its worst, an epic fail.  I see this step being skipped constantly.  Why bother?  Shouldn’t your child know what the expectations for a clean room are?  Didn’t we hire that employee because they were the most qualified for the job?  Haven’t you accomplished other projects?  You will be doomed for disappointment without clarifying expectations.

I can imagine that if we did a poll of one hundred parents about their expectations for room cleanliness that we would find at least 80 different sets of expectations (this assumes that some of those poled are married and have already had a few grumbles about room cleanliness and, therefore, have the same expectations).  The point is, you cannot assume that we would all agree about what a clean bedroom is.  And we certainly cannot assume that your child has the same standards.

Your child gets grounded because they didn’t realize that stuffing all the toys under the bed does not mean “clean”.  You’re disappointed in the home improvement project because you didn’t realize that fixtures you really wanted were five times more expensive.

So how do you avoid the tendency to think that everyone knows your expectations through osmosis and get down to the nitty gritty before you send that new employee off into battlefield of ambiguous work standards?  Here are a few steps.

1. Reflect. What do you want?  What does the perfect outcome look like?  You need to be clear with yourself and/or the team before you set your new employee a drift.  Why did we have to hire someone new?  Did the last customer service rep go down in flames because he didn’t know that the schedule was completely inflexible?    As they say, history tends to repeat, so reflect on what went wrong (or right) the last time.

2. Anticipate. When I send my husband to the grocery store for milk, you might think that is a very basic, simple item for him to purchase.  Well, it isn’t.  I need to anticipate who will be opening that refrigerator door for the next seven days.  If it’s my daughter, it better be soy milk.  If it’s my son, it better be organic skim milk.  If my husband is the intended user, it better be 2% lactose free milk.  Simple item.  Complex expectations.

3. List. It’s a good idea to have a list; whether it be a written checklist, employee manual or just a short mental checklist. “Benson”, that’s my son, “a clean room means clean clothes hung up or folded and put away, the bed being made and no items on the floor”.  In my days as a Sizzler restaurant owner, we had a pre-meal checklist for each meal period.  It was important that even the temperature ranges for the food was spelled out.  Soup < 145 degrees.

4. Engage.  Have a conversation.  It might even be a lecture.  But explain your list.  As in, the soup needs to be over 145 degrees because we don’t want anyone getting sick.  The bed needs to be made because we are having visitors this weekend.  We need personal phone calls kept to a minimum because we have a limited amount of incoming phone lines.  Explain the rationale.  It makes for more buy in.

5. Clarify.  There may be a deadline.  There might be a budget.  There may be other resources.  If the grandparents are arriving at 6 PM, this might be important information when my husband heads out for milk at 5 PM.  The new employee might want to know who else on the team has done this job so they have them as a crutch.  S.P.E.L.L. it all out.

6. Rinse and Repeat. Unfortunately, this is not a one shot deal.  It can be time consuming and tedious.  It was obvious which Sizzler restaurant was not using its pre-meal checklist.  And it usually translated into lower sales.  The customers had expectations.

Take the time and energy to S.P.E.L.L. out your expectations.  It will save you frustration, time and energy.  It will also keep your relationships on a higher plane.  Those around you will appreciate knowing what to expect.

What would you do?

My Boss Doesn’t Listen to Me

You probably consider yourself to be an excellent employee, student, contributor or active participant in your life but there still may be one area you’ve overlooked.my boss doesn't listen to me

Listening is an art that starts with you.  It’s ironic but actually true. Be a good listener first; they will follow.  I know sounds counter-intuitive but if you just shut up and listen…I mean really listen… you will end up with followers.  So you want to lead by example; listen by example.

So you’re in the staff meeting and have a brilliant idea on how to address the revenue short fall.   Or your boss is unloading on you about the operations manager from the plant in Detroit.  You probably want to stand on the conference table and get everyone’s attention- bad idea.  Frequently it is just best to bite your tongue and do nothing.  We’ve all worked with the “someone” who constantly interrupts, who has to have the last word, who just can’t let a topic, an argument or really anything go.  Don’t be that person.  Be the listener and they will follow.

Here are the 6 steps to being a better and active listener:

1. Seek first to understand.  If you focus on understanding (instead of your rebuttal), you will be much more engaged with what is being said.  As David Rock writes in “Quiet Leadership”, listen for potential.  Ask questions to expand on your boss’ ideas.  Help her gain insight. She’ll appreciate the space to develop ideas.  I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to vent, merely vent about a work situation and my husband jumped to give me advice. I just wanted someone to vent to; someone to understand.

2. Don’t drift.  If you are thinking about your grocery list or if you forgot to record American Idol – You.Are.Not.Engaged.In.Listening.  Turn off your cell notifications. Put your technology away.   Be in the moment and just listen.  And if you find yourself drifting; ask a clarifying question.  Apologize and say you were preoccupied for a moment and get back into the listening mode.

3. Let there be silence.  It’s amazing how we all feel obligated to fill space up with the sound of our voice.  Let there be an awkward silence.  There is power in silence and more importantly time to reflect and understand (refer to #1).  In fact, those who prefer introversion will appreciate the time to reflect.  Don’t drive the bus over someone’s time to reflect; be comfortable with the silence.

4. Reflect.  Ask questions to expound on your boss’ ideas.  Seek clarity.  Is there something you don’t understand?  Do you really understand the rationale? “So what I hear you saying is that we need to make some difficult cuts and you’re not completely sure where to make them.   How much time do we have to make the decision?”  Reflecting keeps you in the present.

5. Check assumptions.  It is amazing how quickly our mind works and how our internal dialogue will immediately jump to the worst-case scenario.  Like “yeah…this idea will never work.  Last time we did this it was an epic fail”…meanwhile we are smiling and nodding.  Or we immediately discount someone’s ideas, “Nah, tequila shots for lunch is a horrible idea.” Yes, this is a bad idea, just don’t say it and shut down the idea machine.  “tequila shots…OK, what else….” Check your assumptions to stop your inner dictator from running its mouth; and killing the idea before it ever gets launched.

6. Don’t interrupt.  If you are interrupting, you are not listening.  You just put your agenda first.  You just shut the other person down and basically said…”my idea is way better than yours so shut up”.   Your boss’ idea, your partner’s idea, your child’s idea….are all the best ideas, because they own it.  They will see it through. Your idea? Not so much.  Interrupting stops your boss from finding insight.

Full disclosure.  I’ve been working on this for years and it’s not easy.  It won’t happen overnight but if you keep this at the forefront with every interaction you have, you will improve and others, including your boss, will start to follow.

Setting Expectations

Last week’s post was looking back over the past year to craft an annual performance review; perhaps even more critical than that is setting expectations for the coming year.  This may be for yourself (I’m finally going to pay off that credit card), for your assistant (he’s going to be an Excel ninja by May) or for your family (Disney in 2013 or bust!).  These can be called development plans, business plans, goals, intentions, metrics, departmental vision statements…it’s all pretty much the same thing.  We all need a plan. images 6

Your family isn’t going to get to Disney unless you’ve outlined a few things.  When can you go?  How are we going to get there?  How much do we want to spend?  How much can we afford to spend? What do we want to see when we get there?  All of this requires research, discussion, cooperation and planning.  Your family can’t decide today to go to Disney tomorrow.  It’s going to take a plan.  The same is true in getting your assistant to be an Excel ninja by May.

So how do we go about planning and setting expectations? Here are a few ideas:

1. Reflection.  Take some time to reflect.  This might sound crazy when you have technology and commitments fire hosing you all day.  It’s hard to make a plan if you don’t close the door, turn off your notifications, take a deep breath and reflect. The stage of your prefrontal cortex is so full of actors, it’s important to sweep the stage, send the actors to lunch and let your grey matter get some breathing room.

2. Storm.  Brainstorm some ideas.  Dump it all on paper. Disney. Sea World. Busch Gardens. Grand Canyon.  Las Vegas. The Moon.  There are no bad ideas.  You can eliminate ideas after the fact.  Afraid of heights? Grand Canyon. Allergic to fish? Sea World. You get the idea.  Dump first and then eliminate.  What about your direct report? Excel training, Powerpoint class, karate retreat, Outlook seminar.  Get a manageable list of options and then move on to the next step.

3. Collaborate.  Sit down with the family, the direct report or your partner.  Go over your list of ideas.  Get some feedback.  Ask for help.  Get on the same page.  If your spouse hates gambling, nix Vegas.  Your kids have been to Disney twice and want to try out their Spanish, add Cozumel to the list.  If your assistant really wants to try their hand at Access instead of Excel; on the list it goes.

4. Align.  Now we have to figure out what aligns with the family budget, the corporate mission or your long term plan.  If the corporate plan is to move to a different platform from Access, we may need to investigate other platforms.  If we really want to be able to purchase a new home this year and need to keep costs to a minimum, we may just want to drive to Miami, stay at a friends place and test our Spanish out on South Beach.  Make sure the expectations align with the long term goals.

5. Resources.  What’s available to make this happen?  Do you have an internal expert on Access?  Did your colleague just send their assistant to Access training last year?  Do some research on best practices.  If you want to increase customer satisfaction by year end, what do you measure now that you can use for a baseline for next year.  Or what can you create.  Is your car going to make it Miami?  Does your swimsuit still fit?  Sometimes the investment into a different, seemingly less expensive goal can out weigh the original goal.  Make sure you know the resources available.

6. Memorialize.  Put pen to paper.  Write down what you have agreed to and how you are going to measure success.  Need to have $2,000 saved by June for the trip in August.  Your assistant needs to select an Access class to take by March 15th and to complete it by June 15th.  Spell out what the plan is.  Make sure we all have a copy.  Writing it down creates a greater commitment.

7. Check points.  I frequently drive to Charlotte, NC.  I know that there is a rest area right outside of Greensboro which is about half way.  It’s my checkpoint.  My feedback.  Even if I don’t need the facilities, it’s a mental checkpoint of my progress.  When working on performance goals or planning the family trip, make sure you check in with each other to see how progress is.  Hotel reservations? Budget on track?  Class signed up for? Customer service scores going up?  Project started?  Don’t set up a plan and leave everyone in the dark.  Set up some check points.

Arriving at your final destination is what it’s all about.  If you want to get from Point A to Point B, you’re going to need a plan.  If you don’t have a business plan, or don’t have buy in from your assistant, or haven’t collaborated with your family, it’s likely to fall flat.  Don’t head out aimlessly, make sure you have planned your goal and communicated your expectations.

Soothe your Inner Dictator

It’s difficult to control our inner dictator.  Most of us are trying to work on something.  Exercising more, spending less money, eating more fruits and vegetable, stopping procrastination…pick your poison.  The minute we derail, we beat ourselves up.  “Cathy, you lazy wench, why did you sleep in and not go for a run this morning?”, “Why did you go out to dinner when you said you would save money this month?”, “Dummy, you spent 2 hours on Facebook when you could have been doing homework.” “What is wrong with you?” Sound familiar?  Your dictator has taken over.

According to Dr. Kelly McGonigal and her book “The Willpower Instinct,” carrying around this guilt and reprimanding ourselves with this self talk is actually going to encourage more self defeating behaviors.  What?  Is she crazy?  I would be completely out of control if I didn’t reprimand myself.  My dictator is doing a great job of keeping me under wraps.  Really?

One of the studies in the book took place at Carlton University in Ottawa, Canada.  They tracked the procrastination habits of students over the course of the semester.  The ones who were self critical for the way they performed on the first exam were much more likely to make it a habit and procrastinate on subsequent exams.  Those who forgave themselves for procrastinating on the first exam, did far better and  improved their study habits.  Doesn’t it seem so much easier to have some self compassion and to soothe your inner dictator?

Here are some ways to calm your dictator:

1. Forgive.  Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”  Let go of your grudges towards others.  If you can’t forgive them and their failures, how can you possible forgive yourself.  I was tormented by resentment of an ex for years.  It got me nowhere but more stressed out, paranoid and resentful (as I recounted all his sins against me and mankind).  It wasn’t hurting him, it was hurting me.  Release it and move on.

2. Self Compassion.  Once you have forgiven others, it should be easier to forgive yourself and your failures.  Try to imagine if you would say any of the things that you say to yourself, to a close friend or your child.  Imagine your best friend getting on a scale and you say to them “Hey fatso, that’s what you get for eating all that cake last night.”  Why would you talk to yourself with any less compassion as you would a friend.  Forgive yourself.

3. Escape.  Anticipate the feeling of giving in when you are stressed out and plan your escape.  So if I’m used to grabbing a glass of wine when I get home from a stressed out day at work, have an alternative escape plan.  A healthier option.  A walk, some yoga, praying, crotchet, reading, gardening, P90X.  What ever you enjoy that is counter to your normal unhealthy default escape. This will trip up your inner dictator.

4. Envision.  Envision being successful with a few bumps along the way.  This is what kills most New Year’s resolutions.  You join a gym and say you will go every day and then when the first bump in the road comes along (such as I couldn’t get a babysitter) you abandon the plan.  Resolution over.  Realize you are going to have set backs and keep on keeping on.  In the story of the tortoise and the hare, the tortoise always wins.

5. Awareness.  Watch how you talk about yourself to others.  I know several colleagues who constantly put themselves down or are down on life.  “I’m having a bad hair day.” “I’m overloaded.” “I’m tired.” “I’m sick.” First of all, do you want to be around someone who is such a downer?  Second, how can you possible have a good day when you are saying this out loud?  If you are feeling a little tired, say “I’m feeling great.” And add a smile.  It will turn your day around and others will be attracted to your energy.

This is a difficult process and it isn’t easily changed over night.  Your dictator has been in control for a long time so don’t plan a coup d’état.  Slowly but surely pacify your dictator’s power by reflecting on how you are viewing things and what you are letting your dictator control (and say).  Soothe your inner dictator.

What is your dictator saying?

Lawnmower Fairies

Human Resource professionals have experienced this and are usually on the losing end of the stick.  Here’s the situation:  The manager has an employee with a  performance issue but they continually overlook their shortcomings. They figure it will just go away.  So whatever the behavior – it is ignored.  Normally, Human Resources gets brought in when the manager is fed up and wants to take action.  Usually the employee is oblivious because they’ve not known there was a problem. This is a losing battle.   IT WON’T WORK.

Stalling or waiting for something to turn around is like hoping the grass will get cut on its own.  There aren’t little fairies that will come in the middle of the night with a weed whacker.  You’re going to need to get out the lawn mower.  Um.  (Not literally for the employee – that would be a different HR nightmare).

When you have an employee, client or child who is consistently late – stalling is going to exacerbate the problem.   When someone’s task or functionality is wrong, incomplete or insufficient; stalling will not correct the issue. Nine times out of ten, when you are sitting in your office, sofa or car rolling your eyes because you are not happy with the outcome, yet keeping silent;  you are stalling.  And.  IT WON’T WORK.

So if you are ready to get out the lawn mower and stop believing in lawn fairies, this is what you need to do:

1.  Grip.  As in, “Get a grip.”  You are going to need to address this.  You need to wake up and realize that putting it off is not the solution.  You are assuming that the offender knows what they have done.  Odds are they don’t.  They don’t have x-ray vision and are not clairvoyant.  You think they should know.  Isn’t it obvious that they have been late for the last three weeks?  If you haven’t said anything, they don’t know.

2. Facts.  Gather the facts at hand.  Did you say they needed to turn in the weekly report by Friday?  How many times have they missed the deadline?  Go through your email, your inbox, your files and figure out when they were late or incomplete.  Get your facts together.  Write it up.

3. Review.  Was there a reason they were late?  Look at the calendar.  Were they sick, on vacation or working on a last minute project?  Why are they always late with this particular report?  Is there a valid reason?  Make sure it makes sense and that your expectations are reasonable.  If you expect your son to cut the lawn and he’s been at camp for the last six weeks – this would not be a reasonable expectation

4. Craft.  Craft your expectations into a reasonable non-threatening sentence or two.  If you can’t describe the issue in less than two sentences – you are trying to tackle too many problems.  You should not be trying to decimate someone’s self esteem.  You are trying to resolve an issue.  Pick the one that is bugging you the most and craft your two sentences.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Don’t bite off too much.  Zero in on THE issue.  If you tell your son he hasn’t adequately cleaned his room, is late doing the dishes, did a lousy job at mowing the lawn, and still hasn’t called his grandmother, he will be lost and dejected.

5. Jump.  Go for it.  Find the right time and place(see my post on Unresolved Conflict) and then address the issue.  It might just be as simple as, “I’ve notice you’ve been late three times this week and four times last week.  It’s important that we are on time because our customers are depending on us.”  Or, “Your reports have been on time but weren’t as complete as I expected.  There weren’t any notes on productivity or quality parameters in the last four reports.”  This works much more efficiently than shooting from the hip.  You’ve got your facts, you verified that they are reasonable and you have zeroed in on what it important. Whew.

6. Listen. Let them vent, explain, bitch or cry.  Now it’s all about them.  Let them fix the problem.  You can add your two cents but let them work out how they want to resolve it.  Don’t take the monkey back and don’t tell them how to resolve it. This is their issue and if they don’t decide how to resolve it – they will not have buy in.  Advice giving is a buzz kill.  You need to just be there for the brain storming.  The monkey is now officially on their back.

7. Faith.  Make sure you have let them know that you believe in them.  This might be difficult when you are exasperated but it’s important.  People want to live up to your expectations but they can’t give what you want unless you give them the latitude and faith.  “I know you can be on time going forward Suzie.”  “I can’t wait to see the next report because I believe we have resolved the issues.”  “I’ve seen you to a great job on the lawn before and I trust you to do it right the next time.”  End of discussion.  Pat them on the back and you are on your way.

Communicating is always a work in progress.  Don’t get discouraged if it’s messy the first few times around.  Just make sure you take that step.  Quit rolling your eyes in disgust and start addressing those issues that are bugging you.  There are no lawnmower fairies.

What would you do?

Heels dug in.

Most people don’t embrace change. It can be difficult. It’s so much easier to dig our heels in and be inflexible.  It’s a great offense.  Inflexible people are left alone. They are too difficult to deal with.  Leave Joe alone, he’ll never get on board with this idea.  Pretty soon the world is dancing around Joe because they don’t want to deal with his stubbornness. He’s out of the loop.

Organizations do this as well.   It’s easy to get caught up in “doing it the way we have always done it” mentality. It’s hard to create change.  Especially in long established businesses. Unless there is a business necessity (imperative), it’s so much easier to keep it status quo.  It’s the path of least resistance.  Why do a leadership initiative? Incentive plan? Enter a new market? If it ain’t broke…don’t fix it.

I’ve been traveling this past week.  I live in Eastern North Carolina.  The land of free parking, no sidewalks and a six-mile commute with one red light.  Every time I head to New York City, I need to load up on coins, cash and the capacity to adapt (easily).  In the last six days I’ve been through twenty toll booths.  Some took $.90, others $12.30.  I needed to be flexible.  The GPS was lost half the time because of new construction or, in the case of downtown Trenton, they didn’t have roads on their map.  We needed to just go with the flow.  Or as my son, who was my copilot at the time said, “Read the signs.” What a concept. Read the signs.  If I’d had my heels dug in, I’d still be in Trenton.  Actually, I’d be on an off ramp in Baltimore in the fetal position.
So, how do you embrace change? Break out of the status quo. Here are 6 steps to dig out those heels.

1. Scan. As in scan the environment. Are those around you avoiding you? Have you been invited to be on an ad hoc committee? Are you out of the loop?  Are you still wearing bell bottoms?  Are you stuck in Trenton? Your coworkers are perfectly happy to leave you in the dust if you are not open to change.  Nobody likes to associate with “Debbie Downer”. Take the temperature of your environment and see if you are reading the signs.

2. Survey.  Take a poll.  What do your closest friends think?  Ask your boss.  Ask your husband.  Ask your mother (OK…I know I’m pushing it a little far).   “Do I seem open to new ideas?” Perception is reality.  If you are perceived as a stick in the mud, you probably are a stick in the mud.

3. Listen.  When you survey, you need to be open enough to listen.  If you ask the question, you need to be able to listen to the answer.  In fact, if you aren’t willing to listen, don’t even ask.  One of the most counter-productive exercises is for an organization to do an employee survey and then do nothing.

4. Plan.  So what can you do about the perception?  You’re going to need to take a hard look at yourself and start paying attention to the “signs.” Maybe you need to work on not interrupting or your need to be right all the time.  Maybe you’re going to need to back off from being in control all the time.  Maybe you just need to buy some new clothes.  Yeah.  Seersucker is dead and so are bell bottoms.

5. Start digging out.  One shovel at a time.  There is no magic pill.  This is going to take work and all you can do is start.  One interaction at a time.  I remember that when I first started working on showing more appreciation, I missed the boat several times.  I’d forget to thank my assistant for getting the report done so quickly or my husband for taking out the trash.  But at least I started somewhere and I can tell you that now I am much more consistent about showing appreciation.  But I had to take that first step.

6. Reflect.  You can do this in any form you like. Maybe in a journal, meditating or brushing your teeth.  How are you doing?  Do you feel like you are making strides?  Are you getting positive feedback?  Are you getting less negative feedback?  Maybe you were selected for the next ad hoc committee. Maybe you didn’t overreact when you ended up getting off at the wrong exit.  Congratulate yourself.  You are on your way.

What would you do?