Unfinished Business

image headI recently attended a fundraising event where I didn’t know a number of people. When it was time to sit down for lunch, I worked my way over to a table of all new faces. I introduced myself to the person on my left and then turned to my right. With a smile on my face, I told my tablemate my name and began to make conversation.


The next thing out of my mouth was the following:

“So what do you do?” With a stern look on her face, and a negative tone to her comment, she replied, “I work really hard”.


I like to think of myself as fairly perceptive when it comes to people and the communication process. However, this time, I was confused. In the next few seconds I attempted to figure out what was going on in the interaction. My tablemate seemed irritated and I knew that I hadn’t said anything out of the ordinary. I searched my memory to see if I was supposed to recognize this woman and I had disappointed her. I came up with nothing. I needed to figure out why she was reacting to me in such a negative manner.


My next move was to agree with her. “I’m sure you do work hard.” Then, it occurred to me that maybe she took offense to the question, “what do you do”. So then I asked her in a light way what she works hard DOING. She began to share how she works at home with her teenage children. After we got over that hump, she began to loosen up. She shared a little about her life and we proceeded to get along just fine.


Apparently, her decision to work from home was colored with much emotion. Of course, I had no idea that I was walking into such a landmine. I had just met her! However, I’m imagining that in her mind, I had a lot of nerve to ask her what she does. In her mind, she feels that people are looking down on her because she isn’t working. In her mind, she’s angry that I had the audacity to ask her that question and act like she doesn’t work hard.


In her mind, she thinks I’m judging her.


Of course you know that’s not the truth. I was innocently trying to make conversation with a tablemate. However, from where she sat, the judging seemed very real.


There have been times that I’ve misinterpreted other’s actions and words because of what I was grappling with in my own head. My negative thoughts misconstrued the actual message that the other person was trying to convey to me. I’m also pretty positive that the same thing has happened to you on more than one occasion. You have had mistakes in thinking fueled by some “unfinished business”. I’m referring to that “stuff” that triggers you to react and respond inaccurately to the sent message. That stuff triggers you to not only misinterpret the message, but also can negatively impact the outcome of the situation. Your behavior at these moments can squelch opportunities for your future.

That unfinished business will continue to haunt you until it gets addressed and dealt with head on.


So, do yourself a favor and deal with what’s clogging up your brain so you can be more effective in your personal and professional life!

Best-Laid Plans

image broken dishOn Labor Day weekend, we had plans to go on a long bike ride. We were going to do a 65-mile route that we had done before, but this time we would reverse our course and be faced with some pretty big hills.


Notice that I said that we had PLANS. That’s the funny thing about plans— they don’t always come to fruition.


It happened at exactly 1.8 miles. I heard a loud pop that sounded like a gunshot. At first, I had no idea what had just happened. Within a few seconds, the source of the noise was apparent. My back tire was flat. As we pulled over to fix the tire, my first thought was, “Well there goes my plan of doing this ride within the allotted amount of hours!” Then, I forced myself to focus on the task at hand— changing the tire. We replaced the inner tube and filled the tire with air once more.


Guess what happened? Again, the tire immediately made the loud popping noise. That’s when we noticed the tire was shredded on the side.


It was clear that we weren’t riding anywhere and I would be walking home 1.8 miles.


My first thought this time was “We can’t go now, our day is ruined!” and my feeling was one of disappointment. This was not what we had planned. Then, my problem solving took over. We discussed how and where I could get another tire. As I walked my bike back to my house, I thought about how I was still going to make this ride happen. You see, I had my whole day planned. I was going to go shopping after my ride but now that wasn’t going to work. So I quickly thought through my new plan.


By the time I got home, I sprang into action. I went shopping and ran some errands while my husband went to buy another tire. After lunch, we were ready to ride again.


On my bike ride, I thought about the earlier experience and how it really wasn’t any different from what happens to most of us everyday. Things happen and our reaction to those things determines our level of stress and unhappiness. As humans, we like to control our world. We feel safe, secure and in control when we have structure, plans and know what to expect in life. However, life can rarely be controlled so tightly. No matter how hard you try to control things, stuff happens that you didn’t count on.


Many times, the stuff that happens is far worse than a little flat tire.


Now think about the last time that your plans were upended? How did you react?


This skill that enables you to ride the waves when your life turns upside down and things don’t go the way you expected is called RESILIENCE. Most of us are not born with this skill but if you work hard, you can definitely develop it over time. Just like me, you’ll always have that first thought that acknowledges your disappointment and initial reaction to the new turn of events. However, the next thought and feeling is pivotal to where you end up. The next thought and feeling determines whether you can change how things turn out.


Stuff is always going to happen. This stuff seems to undermine your plans in life. Learn to weather those changes so you can still find the success you desire in both your personal and professional life!




Taking Control

image taking controlEventually, bad things happen. You’ll lose your job, get passed over for the promotion that you were counting on or botch that humongous deal that was going to change your life.


You will be miserable and think that life is over.


Yes, you will be incredibly disappointed and sad— that’s to be expected. However, your response to this life disappointment will greatly impact what comes next. Your resilience in the face of disaster will determine your success.


The bottom line is that your sense of control in each life event greatly influences the eventual outcome. Do you see life in a reactive mode? Do you feel like things happen to you? Or do you have a strong sense that you can control and manage life in a proactive manner? Do you live your life making things happen? This mind-set makes the difference in your ability to face adversity.


I have developed some questions that might help you take more control in your life and positively change your direction when bad things happen.


Ask Yourself:


  1. How does it serve me to stay where I am right now?


For example, say you just found out that your boss didn’t take responsibility for a mistake, but instead, blamed it on you. You are angry, hurt, devastated and disappointed. You are wondering why this happened to you and why you are so unlucky. However, how does it serve you to stay in these feelings right now? How will you benefit in any way? Sometimes when we’re hit with bad news, we can get stuck in the feelings, and those feelings can spur us on to make some really bad decisions.


  1. What can I control in this situation and what is beyond my control?


This is an important question to ask yourself because it gets you out of a victim mentality and into a more positive, proactive frame of mind. You can’t control what just happened, and you certainly can’t make the whole situation disappear. You have no choice but to accept that this has taken place. Now give some thought as to what you can control. You can control what plays out next in the storyline. You can control what action you decide to take next.


  1. How can I improve the current situation?


Now is the time to brainstorm. I want you to write down all the possible ideas that come to your mind. Don’t leave anything out just because it sounds crazy or not realistic to you. Be creative and write every type of ending you can think of for your storyline. Try not to judge or evaluate these ideas for now— just let your mind run wild and come up with scenarios.


For example, remember the previous situation with your boss? You can have a talk with your boss and calmly ask why. Or, you can confront him and demand answers. Or, you can immediately start looking for another job. There are many, many choices you can conjure up in your mind.


  1. Now evaluate these choices and number them in order of best ideas. Consider the outcomes for each idea. If you are proactively controlling the situation, you will have a number of action steps that you have created on your list.


  1. What have I learned from this experience?


Be sure to not skip this step! Is there something that you would like to do differently next time? There is always a lesson that you can glean from every situation. Do some soul searching and be honest.


Becoming truly resilient is a process. The more you practice, the more resilient you become in riding the waves of life.


Just Relax

image relaxAs I write this, I’m sitting on a porch in Florida, looking out at the ocean. The sandy beach is only a step away from my chair. Earlier, staring at the rhythmic waves almost lulled me to sleep as I struggled to read my book. I feel so happy to be sharing this house with my family, yet somehow, I can’t relax. I can’t truly let go of the feeling that I should be doing or accomplishing some task. I can’t let go of the thought that I must plan and organize what comes next.


Now, normally, my way of thinking enables me to be incredibly productive and successful in life. I’m naturally always thinking ahead and mapping out how I’m going to get the most done in the smallest amount of time available to me. However, this mode of thinking is now my enemy. I am having difficulty turning it off and allowing myself to just enjoy the moment. I’m struggling with just being present and not thinking ahead to what will unfold for the rest of the day.


I constantly know what time it is and I’m often contemplating what that means to me. Everyone has called me on it. I’ve tried to cover it up but apparently, I’m not doing a very good job.


I’ve decided that all the suggestions, inspirational quotes, and advice in the world is not going to help me to become “in the moment”. That is something that must come from a different place.


I must make the DECISION to become present in life.


There’s a lot of reading out there on how to become present in your life. I am told that the ability to be “in the now” is a goal that each one of us should attempt to achieve. When I see young children, I recognize how they’re naturals at this way of life.   However, you and I have learned over time that it is impossible to achieve your goals with this mind-set.


You have learned to fight the intent to become present. You are mapping out what comes next because you must do this in order to keep everything in your life running smoothly. You are constantly anticipating what comes next and what obstacles might stand in your way of achieving your daily goals.


This is ingrained in your brain and it is difficult to retrain this way of thinking. Your brain has learned this overtime and runs this automatic loop without you being mentally aware. You are no longer consciously making a decision. If only being told the statement “Just relax” really worked!


In order to truly change, you must recognize when it is happening. You must listen carefully to the thoughts as they unfold and be able to speak back to them and fight the strong urge to control. You need to constantly remind yourself that it’s OK to just “be”.


The whole concept is difficult— but not impossible.



The Art of Optimism

image glass half fullI have a friend that struggles to stay positive. Whatever happens in her life, she imagines the worst possible scenario. She has difficulty accepting that her situation is often just temporary and that it’s possible for things to turn around and improve. Frankly, she thinks people that who are optimistic are just kidding themselves. Her belief is that in real life, things don’t work out the way you want.


Do you know anyone with this perspective on life?


Elizabeth Tenney, a Professor of Business Management at the University of Utah, was curious about the role that optimism played in the workplace. What she found surprised her. Her research concluded that optimism didn’t help a person improve their performance as much as she had initially thought. However, the research revealed that having optimism helped individuals to stick with an arduous task and persevere. As you can imagine, this would be an important quality to possess in the workplace.


A show of hands please— how many of you would like to spend your workday surrounded by pessimistic colleagues? How about optimistic colleagues? That’s what I thought.


Martin Seligman, who has done vast research surrounding this topic, explains 0ptimism as the ability to always view the positive side of the situation. No matter how dark and discouraging things look, an optimistic individual has the ability to see the upside and know that things will work out. Pessimists have difficulty seeing the upside of any situation that exists in their life. They assume that things will stay bad forever. Optimists, on the other hand, view their current situation as only temporary. Deep down, they believe that things will improve soon and it only takes some patience to wait it out.


In today’s world, the workplace can be stressful. Whether you’re working in a corporate environment, or as an entrepreneur, the expectations and rules to succeed are constantly changing and evolving. Your ability to ride the wave through the good times and bad is essential to your success. Having an optimistic perspective enables you to see the possibilities and be creative in your problem solving.


Your ability to be resilient is the key ingredient to you and your workers achieving your goals.


There are going to be good days and bad days at the job— sometimes you’ll just want to give up. However, you must learn to persevere and drown out the distracting noise around you. Sometimes the most distracting noise is happening right inside your own head. I’m here to tell you that it’s possible to retrain your brain. With practice, you can learn to view these times as temporary setbacks that will soon turn around. If you’re determined to change, you can become a much more optimistic person.


I’m quite optimistic that things can change for you.

Bad Habits

chain bad habitsMy husband recently had business in Virginia for a couple days and I decided to go along with him. I was a bit nervous to take this trip because I had two big projects looming over my head. However, the chance to ride my bike up and down the mountains held great appeal. If I was going to take the time to ride, I had no choice but to be extremely productive all day Friday. I planned on spending the day making progress on my massive to-do list.


I exercised early in the morning, changed my clothes and went downstairs in the lobby of the hotel to find a place to work. I spied the perfect desk away from the activity of the lobby. I unpacked my bag and got organized. And there I sat, for the next 4 hours. Slowly, but surely, I worked my way through two big projects with incredible focus and speed check this. By the time I stopped for lunch, I marveled at what I had accomplished.


I took a 10-minute walk, found a place to eat and continued to work. Two more hours flew by and I couldn’t believe how much progress I had made.


When I got back home, I gave thought as to why I was able to accomplish so much. It truly was amazing. After doing some thinking, I surmised that my unbelievable productivity was due to habits.


Being in a new environment enabled me to break the habits that had become so routine at work.


Let me explain further. According to author Charles Duhigg, the habit loop is a three-part process— a cue, a behavior and a reward. The cue signals your brain to go into the automatic behavior. It triggers the whole process. The routine is the behavior that takes place and the reward is pleasure for your brain, helping it remember the loop. Habits make up 40% of our function during the day. They enable us to take part in these behaviors without much energy and while not being mentally aware. Therefore, many of my usual distractions during the day that drastically decrease my productivity are really just my habits— bad habits.


For example, when I’m working at my desk at home, I get up numerous times to go to the kitchen and get a drink or something to eat. I’m sure you can imagine my reward for this behavior. At home, I also interrupt what I’m doing numerous times to check my email. I get a great rush every time I hear the ding of another message. My reward is the endorphin rush. When I’m working at my desk at home, I interrupt what I’m doing numerous times to go on social media or to check on the dog.


However, I didn’t do any of those things in this new setting. I just worked. In this new environment, my usual routine, which unfolds without much thought, was interrupted and I changed my habits. Actually, I should say that I changed my bad habits.


If you’re struggling with being productive in the workplace, give some thought to some of your daily habits. When we work in the same place every day, we acquire routines. Some of them are positive, but I’m pretty sure that some are also negative and get in the way of you being productive. Of course, being honest with YOU is the first step to making some much-needed changes.

Competing Commitments

image better tug of warHave you ever been frustrated because you can’t seem to accomplish what you want at work or at home? Have you ever struggled to get motivated and fought with yourself about it? If you’ve ever questioned what might be behind this nightmare, maybe I can shed some light. Maybe, just maybe, it’s something called a “competing commitment”.


I remember having these feelings at a company I worked at many years ago. I was always a hard worker and took my responsibilities seriously. My passion was creating new projects, designing new programs and seeing them thru to fruition. The boss recognized this and had come up with the perfect program for me to create. It would utilize my talents and would take energy and hard work to make it happen. Yes, this project was tailor made for me. You see, I was a mover and a doer— I loved creating huge programs and seeing them come alive.


However, something was wrong. Everyday, I came into my work and accomplished all my responsibilities. And then I would spy that folder on my desk. With all my energy, I would will myself to open the folder and try push myself to work. But I just couldn’t.


No matter how hard I tried, I wouldn’t get anything accomplished. After a few minutes of staring through the folder, I would quietly close it and put it back in the stack on my desk. I would then stare at the folder on my desk, puzzled by my own behavior. I was stressed and disappointed in my actions. This would happen time and time again.


Today, I have a better understanding of my strange behavior. I was applying energy toward a hidden competing commitment. Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey define this as a subconscious hidden goal that conflicts with a person’s stated commitments. In my case, this competing commitment was blocking my path to being productive. If I dug a little deeper to understand my puzzling behavior, I would discover what finishing that project would truly mean to me. The key to better understanding my competing commitment? I needed to look at my values and belief system.


There, I would find that I was competing with an important value of mine. I didn’t BELIEVE in the work that I was doing. I didn’t BELIEVE that my work was valued or appreciated by my supervisor. I didn’t BELIEVE that my work made a difference. Therefore, I couldn’t move forward.


You see, it was very important to me to be true to my life values. I valued doing work with purpose for people that appreciated my efforts. Finishing this project was competing with this deep need.


Sometimes people are not productive at work and have no clue as to what’s standing in their way. All the productivity tips from every expert ever are not going to help this person. The answer to the question does not always lie on the surface. Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to figure things out.


Next time you see this type of workplace behavior that seems inexplicable, consider the competing commitment. You just might find your answer.

Get Somewhat Happy

image emotionsIf I had a dollar for every time someone has said that they’re “depressed”, I’d be rich by now. You see, being a Mental Health therapist, it’s hard to ignore someone that says that to you. I take it seriously— very seriously. Hearing that word compels me to ask a myriad of questions to get to the heart of the situation. Hearing that word puts me on high alert to closely evaluate the true meaning of their statement.


In today’s world, “I’m depressed” can take on a whole different meaning. Often, they’re trying to say, “I’m sad”, or “I’m very unhappy”. That’s vastly different from “I’m depressed”. Feeling sad is a pretty normal emotion over a lifetime. It’s a given that people will experience situations that will make them sad. However, for many people, the minute that they feel a negative, uncomfortable emotion, they don’t quite know what to do with it. It seems as if having any tolerance for uncomfortable emotions has been drastically reduced for many of us. Our ability to ride the waves— a sign of resilience, has diminished.


Our culture is filled with messages that tell us that life’s expectation is to be blissfully happy. We should strive to find happiness in our careers, our relationships and beyond. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Personally, I want to be happy too. However, I realize that life is filled with normal ups and downs. Not every minute of your life is going to be filled with the good stuff. This belief has become deeply ingrained in our culture, which leaves many of us to feel that we’re losing out on the good life.


The truth is that feeling sad, angry, and hurt does serve a purpose. In fact, it can be very good for you.


Negative emotions spur us on to change our lives. They give us the strength and push to go after that new position we want in our career, or finally take that leap in our business. It’s the impetus for us to sever a bad relationship or finally move out on our own. It protects us from staying in dangerous situations where we can be hurt. It encourages us to have that “aha!” moment in our careers.


The truth is that we need our negative emotions to help us become the best version of ourselves.


Instead of trying to numb our feelings when we’re down or sad, maybe we should search within to discover how we can grow from the experience. Ask yourself this question:


What is my sadness and pain trying to tell me? What do I need to change?

I believe each one of us needs to reset our “happiness meter” a bit. We should consider that being content is a good goal as we ride the waves of life. Emotions are the barometer that helps us gauge what CHANGES we need to make in our life. Learn to walk through your sad feelings and you’ll find that you like what’s waiting on the other side.

















Just Listen

image listenIt happened about a month ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was attending an event and had worked my way over to this gentleman that I really wanted to meet. Bob (not his real name) and I had been having a wonderful conversation for about 4 minutes when a third person joined us.


Neither Bob nor myself had ever met this third individual. She interrupted our conversation and immediately started sharing her story. This story went on and on and on. I patiently waited for her to finish, but that didn’t happen. The story continued as she gave minute details, oblivious to the cues around her. She left no space for the gentleman or myself to say even a word. I hung in there waiting for a turn for at least 10 minutes before it became clear that she was not going to give up control of the situation. I desperately wanted to finish my train of thought with Bob since the interruption had come at a crucial part of our conversation.


Seeing no other choice, I finally mouthed to him that I would be contacting him and he smiled back, trying to make the best of the situation. When I was walking away, I heard her sharing all the big accounts that she had landed- not that this gentleman was in the least bit interested. As I walked out to the car, I pondered why she would have been so blind as to not notice that she had rudely interrupted us. I’m certain that in her mind she was having a conversation. From our perspective, it wasn’t a conversation– it was more like a monologue.


After giving it some thought, I realized that she was so intent on sharing her information that it never occurred to her that it might serve her to do some listening. She might benefit by noticing the subtle cues of the others and attempting to engage them in her conversation. If she allowed others to talk, she might learn a thing or two. In this case, the end result was one where the gentleman felt as if he was being held hostage, waiting for the chance to be released from his imprisonment. If this was an effort to score a client, I can assure you that her attempt was an epic fail.


I know this is an extreme example, but I see many individuals daily in my work that fail to make the grade on their listening skills. They are so intent on relaying their own important message that they forget to actually listen. They fail to remember that focused listening is the key to effective communication. From this, relationships are built.


Listening skills matter in your personal AND professional life. Many successful leaders today attribute their ability to listen as the secret to their success. People want to engage in a conversation, not be on the other end of a monologue. So, when in doubt, be quiet and LISTEN.