How do you tell your boss that you’re stressed, without seeming like you’re whining? The key lies in understanding the difference between problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping. Your boss cares more about the bottom line than about your stress, so use what your boss DOES care about to get your stress level and your workload under control.
Life is all about give and take. Or so it SHOULD be. But some people are all “gimme, gimme, gimme,” and they take more than their fair share.
In his landmark book Give and Take, Wharton professor Adam Grant zeroes in on how the “Taker” personality type – whose mission is to gain as much as possible without helping others – can be difficult to live and work with because of a selfish nature.
How do you know if you’re dealing with a Taker?
Warning Sign #1: The Case of the Missing Gratitude Chip
Most of us have been taught that gratitude – feeling thankful when good things happen to us – is a positive trait. But Takers don’t feel gratitutde, bcause they believe they deserve everything they get. They don’t feel a need to say “thank you,” because they believe they were entitlted to whatever they took in the first place.
Warning Sign #2: People Aren’t People, They’re Tools
Takers see other people as opportunities, more than they see them as individuals. Other people, to a Taker, are valuable bin direct proportion to how much they can do for the Taker. If what you can offer the Taker diminishes, the Taker won’t care as much about the relationship. Takers are the type you see at a networking event who are in one conversation, but leave mid-sentence because they spotted someone more important.
Warning Sign #3: Turnabout Is Not Fair Play
Takers don’t like an equal playing field. They freak out at the slightest sign of someone else taking from THEM, or getting ahead. And if you DO take something from a Taker, don’t expect to be forgiven. Takers expect everyone else to forgive them, but they aren’t very good at forgiving other people for the exact same behavior.
What can you do if you have a Taker in your life?
If the Taker is an adult, there might not be much you can do to change them. You can model good behavior, but the best thing you can do is protect yourself and not give more to them than they deserve. According to Grant’s research, the healthiest pattern is to be a “Matcher,” someone who is happy to give, as long as there is a sense of fairness and balance to what they get in return. Remind yourself that the Taker in your life isn’t going to give you very much, so don’t give very much in return. Takers don’t like boundaries, but by protecting yourself, you’ll be mentally healthier in the long run.
If your child is a Taker, it’s not too late to intervene. Most children ARE Takers, at least in the early years. When you teach them to share their toys in order to get friends to play with them in the sandbox, you’re teaching them how to be Matchers. Both kids get something in return! Find opportunities to point out examples to your child where more than one person can succeed – like passing the ball to a teammate who has a better shot so the team can win the championship.
You don’t have to let a Taker take over your life. Watch the warning signs, protect yourself, and be generous to the people who deserve it.
Is it time to stop feeling sorry for yourself? When life is tough, self pity is totally normal. But it keeps you stuck. Here’s how to stop feeling sorry for yourself and move from self-pity to a new mindset called “self-efficacy” in 15 minutes (or less!) It’s all about refocusing your perspective!
Here’s some bad news: you can actually be too “good” for your own good.
So many of the cultural behaviors we think are good – like always maintaining a positive attitude, or being a hard worker – aren’t always so good for us. These expectations we place on ourselves may in fact drain our strength and our mental energy, so that we aren’t able to be resilient when it really matters.
Here are 9 habits that get a bad rap, and why you should reconsider adding them back into your daily routine:
#1 – Complain
The world gives bonus points to happy people who don’t gripe, but sharing our struggles with the people around us can be beneficial. It helps us bond, and puts our problems in perspective. The key is to communicate your stress but not dwell TOO long on the problem before moving on to a solution, or else it turns into repetitive venting. In small doses and to the right people, complaining can help you feel supported, understood, and ready to move forward.
#2 – Daydream
Thinking about the future is critical for surviving stressful times. Studies of children from difficult backgrounds showed that the children who succeeded despite the odds had something called a “future-orientation.” When you shift your focus toward the future and start making plans, your brain starts to make meaning out of your current struggle, and use it as fuel to get you where you want to go.
#3 – Procrastinate
Some deadlines can’t be missed, but others are self-imposed out of some idea of what “successful people” do. In my own business, I often set an artificial timeline on when something “has” to be done, and then I beat myself up when I miss it. But I was busy doing things that were truly more important to my business. It’s 100% okay, and even smart, to move deadlines that don’t make sense anymore.
#4 – Say No
I like to think of myself as a nice, helpful person. I hate saying no. As a result, I’ve often spent my days completely overcommitted and overwhelmed. Then a smart friend passed on this bit of advice: “Every yes is a no to something else.” When you say no to something just to be nice, or because you think you should, you’re taking up time for a future activity or opportunity that would be more meaningful to you.
#5 – Goof off
When your stress level is high, it might seem like goofing off is the last thing you should do. But when you’re under extreme stress, your brain floods your body with adrenaline and cortisol, sending you into a biological panic mode. While you’re under the influence of adrenaline and cortisol, you aren’t capable of getting high-level work done, because your prehistoric survival brain has taken over. Take time to not just clear your head, but release the adrenaline and cortisol from your body. By goofing off and doing something enjoyable, like laughing at an internet video, you move your brain out of stress mode and into high-performance mode.
#6 – Be weak
There’s a common belief that tough people survive traumatic events with grace and poise, never wavering or having a moment’s doubt. I know from experience that’s a lie. Every one of us who struggles, even those who feel deeply that it will all be okay in the end, have moments where we just can’t stand the suffering. If we all suffer in silence – because we don’t want to appear pathetic or we don’t want to burden anyone else – then each one of us believes that WE are the only one who is weak. Instead, be honest about your fears and doubts. You’re sure to find that you’re in good company.
#7 – Be Selfish
A lot of the narrative about “good people” includes the belief that good people spend their time and resources on other people. A “good mom” is there for her kids 24 hours a day. A “good employee” works late and on weekends. A “good husband”, a “good friend”, a “good boss”… most of these designations involve some form of selflessness. But being 100% selfless is physically and emotionally draining, and is completely unsustainable over the long term. If being “good” means giving everything you have to others, you’re likely to snap at some point. Prioritizing your own needs can actually be a kindness to other people in your life, because it allows you to do good work, behave with patience, and enjoy the world around you.
#8 – Get distracted
As humans, we want to avoid the sting of rejection. Whether we don’t get the promotion we were hoping for, or we get dumped by a love interest, rejection is a fact of life. One of the best strategies for coping with a feeling of rejection is to distract yourself. Focus on something else. In a study of sales people who struggle with fear of rejection on sales calls, even something as simple as snapping a rubber band on their wrist helped them distract their mind from the rejection. You may not want to get too distracted in everyday life (like commuting to work!), but if you’re feeling neglected or rejected, find somewhere else to channel your energy and focus, so you can keep moving forward.
#9 – Ignore Advice
One of the most common rules for success is “Find a Mentor.” Receiving advice from others, we’re told, is a great way to shorten the learning curve and avoid the mistakes that other people have made. There’s one problem with that plan, though: thanks to a common judgement error called the “Peak-End Rule,” most people don’t remember enough details of their path to success to give very good advice. Because of the limitations of human memory, a mentor or coach can give you some good ideas, but they can’t help you reverse-engineer your way to where you’re trying to go. If you take someone else’s advice and – likely – don’t get the same results, you may start to beat yourself up or think you’re a failure. Instead of taking any advice as gospel, gather suggestions from multiple places, and be your own best guide as you consider what will work for you.
Throw away the rulebook: these bad habits will help you build more resilience and find greater happiness. As with everything, these bad habits should be taken in moderation. But by resetting your expectation of what is “good,” you’ll find yourself doing a lot more things that are good FOR you.
Happy National Compliment Day!
Everyone loves a compliment, but some praise means more than others. Here’s how to craft the perfect compliment that will have ANYONE (your kids, your colleagues, even your UPS delivery driver) feeling inspired to be their best!
Being in charge has benefits. When you’re in charge, you can set the priorities. You can boss people around. You can do what you want.
We love being in control. Our brains are actually wired to equate an increase in control with a better outcome. We think that when we’re in charge, we’re more likely to get what we want. And if we’re not able to call the shots, we probably WON’T get the outcome we’re hoping for.
So when you’re not in control, then what? Should you just give up? Let it go and hope for the best?
That all sounds very zen and mature, but most of us aren’t really able to do that. We like that feeling of control too much. So what can we do to get what we want when we aren’t in control?
You Can’t Stop It from Raining
First, make sure you’re focusing on a problem that’s actually fixable. As Bill Burnett says in the book Designing Your Life, “If it’s not actionable, it’s not a problem. It’s a situation, a circumstance, a fact of life.”
When I was 26 years old, I was diagnosed with cancer. For the first several days, I walked around in a fog. What should I do? Was I going to survive? Would I need surgery? Would I need chemo? How much was all of this going to cost? How was I going to tell my loved ones? Who would break the news to my baby sister, who adored me? On the third day, the fog lifted. I knew exactly what to do. I needed to find the best surgeon in the state.
I realized that my problem wasn’t that I had cancer. I mean, having cancer is problematic, for sure! But I didn’t have the ability to cure my cancer, so I couldn’t make that the problem I focused on. Instead, I made my problem “How do I survive cancer?” With that problem in my mind, I started my research. I found the best surgeon in the state, we agreed on a plan of action, and treated my cancer.
Do you see the difference between “I have cancer,” and “How do I survive cancer?” It may seem like a small difference, but by focusing on something actionable, I gave myself back control in a situation where I could have just felt sorry for myself without any power.
If You Can’t Call The Shots, Send a Text
When you focus on something actionable, you’re doing something else – you’re taking a small step toward a goal. Have you ever heard the riddle “how do you eat an elephant?” One bite at a time! The only way to get overwhelming tasks done is to start small. When you aren’t in control, they only way you can start is by starting small, because you don’t have the power to do anything big.
That may sound frustrating, to only be able to take baby steps. But there’s a reason why it’s actually a really good idea. Doing something, doing anything, helps build up our sense of personal power. It’s a process called “self efficacy,” where we slowly build up a belief that we have the ability to play an active role in our destiny. By choosing a surgeon, I took control over something having to do with my cancer. I can’t control cancer, but I can control that tiny piece of it.
Come and Get It
If you’re in a situation where you’re not in control, start by noticing the real, actionable problem you’re facing. What can you actually do something about? Not just what’s frustrating or annoying or scary. But what’s fixable?
After you’ve identified the problem you can actually influence, break it apart into small chunks. What’s the first small thing you can control? Accomplish that, and then the next small thing, until the path in front of you is clear.
It may be uncomfortable, but you should be in situations where you don’t have all the control. If you’re only ever playing in sandboxes where you’re the boss, then you’re playing too small. Get out of the tiny sandbox, head to the beach, and use these techniques to help you get what you’re going for, no matter what stands in your way.
Some people feel a burst of energy at the beginning of the new year, but others just feel blah and lazy after bingeing on TV movies and sugar cookies. If you aren’t the New Year’s resolution, vision board type, don’t worry.
How do you get re-motivated after the long holiday break? “Post-Holiday Inertia” can be tough, but there are proven ways to increase your energy and get your work accomplished.
If you’re planning to make some new year’s resolutions this week, you probably expect to stick to them. Resolutions can be motivating and help you reach your goals. But there’s one big mistake I’ve seen lots of people make when it comes to setting new year’s resolutions, and it means your resolution is definitely going to fail.
You Don’t Become Someone Else On January 1st
One of my dear friends loves picking up new hobbies. Every year or so she learns another skills or takes up a hobby with plans to become a master. One year, she set her sights on yoga.
“I’ve been so stressed,” she said. “I’ve done some yoga, and it makes me feel more peaceful. I think I should take yoga teacher training and become a full-time yogi. If I did that, then I’ll be able to live a more peaceful life.”
I call it the Fairy Godmother Fantasy – the hope that you could wave a magic wand and turn into someone else. Often when we set our new year’s resolutions, we’re really wishing we could just become someone else. If I could just lose the weight, then I would be a healthy person. If I could just finish my degree, then I would be a confident person.
If your new years resolution doesn’t bear any resemblance to who you are right now, it’s not a good resolution. It’s probably going to leave you frustrated.
If Cancer Can’t Do It, New Year’s Day Can’t, Either
I thought cancer might make me a different person. But it didn’t. Neither did a brain aneurysm. I have a greater appreciation for life, sure. But I’m still the same person I was before. If I’M still the same person at my core, even after writing my own funeral service and sealing it in an envelope in my bedside table, just in case, then the calendar turning over to January 1st isn’t probably going to magically make you a different person, either.
And in reality, it shouldn’t. In many of the conversations I’ve had with my friends in the cancer world, we’ve talked a lot about whether cancer has changed us. Even my friends who found out their cancer was terminal reported that the news didn’t completely change who they were.
Becky said it best:
“Heck, I’m already getting a lot less time than I wanted, to be me on this planet. Why would I want to stop being me any sooner than I have to?”
“You-but-better” is a cliché you’re probably sick of hearing. Sadly, you-but-better is probably the right path forward. You can’t wave a magic wand and become a different person on January 1st. You can’t immediately become a more peaceful person just by taking up yoga. You can’t become a naturally healthy person by dropping a few pounds or quitting smoking. You can change your habits, but no habit-change will make your life completely different. By setting realistic expectations, you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration come April.
This January 1st, listen to Becky. Don’t spend your time on this planet trying to be someone else.
The first holiday after you’ve lost a loved one is tough. How do you make it through a time of joy and family when you’re grieving? Here are 3 practical steps to navigating the holiday season after someone you love has died.
There’s nothing really wrong. Things are mostly going pretty well. So why can’t you just… be happy?
Seriously, it’s not that hard.
Except… it is. Just “being happy” turns out to be a lot more complicated than it sounds. For starters, some people’s brains just don’t naturally cooperate with society’s expectations of happiness, because of depression or anxiety. For other people, we anticipate we’ll be happy when we reach a certain goal, or have a certain experience, but it doesn’t happen automatically.
Admit It: The Holidays Sometimes Stink
For a perfect example, just look at the holidays. This time of year, we’re expected to be happy. We should either be basking peacefully in the glow of the reason for the season, or bouncing joyfully between friends and parties and glitter-covered wrapping paper. But what we get instead is stress, overwhelm, and disappointment.
See, expectations of happiness often ruin actual happiness. If we feel like happiness is REQUIRED, or else we must be broken, we put so much pressure on ourselves that happiness becomes nearly impossible. Who can be happy on demand? Probably not you.
Who Needs Happiness, Anyway?
In fact, studies have shown that the things that make us ACTUALLY happy are pretty hard to predict. Happiness doesn’t always come from the things we think it comes from, because a greater sense of overall joy in life comes from feelings like “meaning” and “significance.” Happiness and meaning are similar, but different, according to research out of Stanford. If you’re looking for happiness that’s longer-lasting, go for meaning, not contentedness.
But I Just Want A Little Joy
Just because it’s not so easy, that doesn’t mean you should give up on being happy. It just means you won’t find it in any of the presents under the Christmas tree. For a deeper, longer-lasting happy, try these strategies:
- Don’t Do So Much. We’re so convinced that activities and experiences are going to make us happy that we cram our lives full and end up stressed out and miserable. Instead, focus on what matters most. For a way to fit more into your life without feeling MORE stressed, you can download my free Time Targeter, a tool for helping you figure out where you ought to be spending your time for maximum life satisfaction and success.
- But DO Do Something For Someone Else. It’s the giving time of year, after all! When we give back to other people, we get a boost in so many of the elements that factor into happiness, like connections to other people and a boost in our own personal sense of power and accomplishment. Helping someone else is also one of the best possible ways to make life feel meaningful (which you now know is more important than plain happiness, anyway!)
Don’t let happiness and the actions that bring true happiness end up buried at the bottom of your to do list in your busy life. Find what matters most and bring some meaning to your days.