Coping

What’s “Adaptive Thinking” and Why Does it = Success During COVID-19?

I couldn’t keep my new research to myself any more. Dealing with COVID-19 is actually the PERFECT time to bring the concept of “Adaptive Thinking” to the world.

If you’re struggling with the new reality of your work, your business, your home life… whatever, Adaptive Thinking is a concrete, constructive way to pivot and find a way to be successful when the world is uncertain.

Yesterday I gave a short presentation on the Adaptive Thinking concept to a group in California, and I realized that with everything that’s going on with COVID-19 and its impacts on the way we’re working and living, I couldn‘t wait any longer to send it out to everybody.

I’ve been learning a LOT over the past 18 months researching how people can develop Adaptive Thinking (and there’s still more to learn!), but here’s a very short introduction into something you can do TODAY to help you start thinking more adaptively and getting your brain primed for survival and success in this new world.

If you’ve got more questions about what Adaptive Thinking is and how it can help you – ask ’em! I’m going to be shooting more videos in the coming days and weeks.

Why is it So Hard to be Happy?

You want to be happy. You want to be less stressed. You want the good times to outweight the bad. So why is it so hard to be happy, even when you want it?

 

For many of us, we’re going about happiness the wrong way. Thanks to our culture, the media, and just plain misunderstanding, we’re looking for happiness in all the wrong places. (And I want to be clear, here: if you struggle with mental health challenges like depression and anxiety, it’s not your fault. You aren’t depressed because you’re looking for happiness incorrectly. For you, it’s hard to be happy because of the chemicals in your brain, not because of your behavior. Keep reading if you want to, or bookmark this for later, but know I’m not talking to you).

 

But for most of us, a better path to happiness is possible. It just requires a few behavior shifts.

 

The Bad Stuff Really Does Outweigh the Good

 

Your brain isn’t your best friend when it comes to happiness. Your brain is wired to be much more sensitive to bad news and threats than it is to good things That makes sense when you think about your caveman ancestors, who needed to be ready to run if they caught even the smallest glimpse of a predator. It’s called negativity bias, and it’s a system that evolved to keep you safe from threats. But in today’s world, you don’t need to run from predators quite so often, yet your brain still pays more attention to negative experiences versus positive ones.

 

Scientists say it takes 5 positive experiences to outweigh 1 negative experience. But the real key isn’t to just have 5 positive experiences, you have to notice that you’re having them! So as you go about your day, take note of the good things that happen. Did someone let you merge on the highway instead of being a jerk? Did your colleague praise your work? Did your kid say “I love you” without being prompted? If you force yourself to pay attention to the good stuff, too, you’ll find it easier to outbalance the bad stuff 5 to 1.

 

The Happy Social Media Effect

 

Social media has its good points. It can help us feel more connected to our networks, which is a strategy that can build happiness. But many people feel more dis-connected when they spend time on social media. The online world allows us to glimpse all the fun, happy times other people are having, and we naturally compare our own lives to what we see on the screen.

 

I love the Anne Lamott quote “Never compare your insides to somebody else’s outsides.” But that’s exactly what we do on social media! We see the bright shiny image that the person on the other side wants us to see, and that’s all. And then we compare that to our own internal worries, doubts, and struggles, and we come up short in comparison. But the person posting on social media has worries, doubts, and struggles, too! They just aren’t posting those moments. If you need to take a social media break, do it. Or at least hide the people who make you feel less-than. Make social media work for you, not the other way around.

 

You Can’t Chase Happiness

 

If you want to be happy, it makes sense that pursuing happiness should be a priority. But that’s the exact wrong way to go about it. In fact, research suggests that pursuing happiness can lead to decreased happiness. Especially in the US, our cultural expectations for pursuing happiness can lead us down the wrong paths, like expecting a big work promotion to make us satisfied.

 

Instead of chasing happiness, it’s more important to chase “meaning.” Meaning is the idea that we know our purpose and are fulfilling our purpose. Meaning isn’t as in-the-moment joyful as happiness might be, but meaning provides the long-term satisfaction and contentment that lasts. To start chasing meaning instead of happiness, think about the moments when you feel like you come alive. Think about serving the greater good. Think about what drives you to keep going. When you tie all those concepts together, you’ll be on the road to finding your meaning. And meaning makes your heart glow for a lifetime, while happiness can be fleeting.

 

It’s not easy to be happy. But it IS possible, if you pay attention to the things that truly matter.

How to Avoid End-of-the-Year Work Burnout (Part 2)

Tidings of comfort and joy may be what the popular song calls for, but they can be pretty hard to find during the stress-filled holiday season. Here are a few resilience exercises to calm the storm and get through the end of the year in peace. Missed Part 1 of this series? Check it out here!

 

Step 3 – Make Time For the Truly Important Things, And Ditch the Should-Be-Important Things

Along with setting realistic expectations, the holidays can also cause us to think we have to celebrate in a certain way.  Maybe because family tradition dictates it. Maybe because we saw a beautiful layout in a magazine. Maybe because we used to work somewhere that had an awesome Christmas party and wicked Secret Santa exchange, and we wish our new boss did that.

In your home life, sit down and make a list of the things that are the most important to you and your loved ones, and prioritize those things.  By making space for them, instead of cramming the holidays full, you will actually be able to enjoy them more and stress less.

At work, think through the most important, big picture pieces of what needs to be accomplished before year-end in order to start the next year strong. When I’m thinking of my to-dos, I like to picture a target. The outer rings aren’t worth nothing, but I get the most points for aiming toward the middle. What’s the middle of the target? What’s the highest value activity that will set you up for success moving into the new year?

There are only so many hours in the holiday season.  Trying to incorporate every single possible activity, tradition, and to-do into a few short weeks isn’t enjoyable, it’s stressful.

Step 4 – Seek Moderation

For years we’ve been hearing health professionals tell us that the holidays shouldn’t be an excuse to indulge. Whether it’s food, wine, shopping, or anything else, the end of the year doesn’t need to be a free-for-all, because having a “feast or famine” type attitude to indulgences means you’ll only rebound harder when the celebratory season is over.

That same attitude holds true at work. Don’t get distracted and let off the gas, or spend work time online shopping. But on the other hand, December isn’t the time to panic and try to get everything finished. You may be trying to show off before a December review or a January bonus, but the odds are good that the impression you made the other 11 months of the year is what really matters.

Just like your pumpkin pie intake, try to balance the last month of the year with work and play. Think “consistency” instead of “get it all done.”

By the end of the year, most of us are running on an empty gas tank.  But these four techniques for powering through December will have you avoiding stress and burnout, and feeling like celebrating by the time you ring in the New Year.

How to Avoid End-of-the-Year Work Burnout (Part 1)

The final few weeks before the winter holidays can be full of stress. That makes it peak time for burnout. If burnout is creeping in for you or your team, practicing a few resilience techniques can mean the difference between losing your cool and feeling peace on Earth.

Step 1 – Breathe and Break

The end of the year brings with it stressors that no other time of year seems to. At work there is often budgeting, fitting in last-minute meetings, and strategic planning for the next year.  At home there is frantic shopping, too much baking, and a whirlwind of parties you are expected to make room for in the busy calendar.

When we’re stressed, our brains produce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. When we add these stress hormones into the mix, our brains become worse at higher-order processing, the very skill we need to perform most jobs. So when we’re frantically crossing things off our to-do list, we probably aren’t completing those tasks at a very high level. To be at our best, we have to stop and breathe. We have to take a moment to let the adrenaline and cortisol clear out of our systems.

School teachers have known for years that the weeks leading up to the holidays are the exact wrong time to try to cram in last-minute work.  So take a cue from their playbook and schedule your day with fewer tasks and more breaks, getting done the very most important things and letting the others slide.  Find time to stop and take deep breaths in the middle of the chaos. The pile in your inbox will still be there the first week in January.

Step 2 – Set Realistic Expectations

We have a rosy picture of how the holiday season is supposed to go.  When it doesn’t meet our expectations, we’re filled with frustration.  But that frustration is of our own making, so being realistic on the front end can curb that freak-out feeling on the back end.

A large chunk of holiday stress comes from the mistaken belief that this time of year is going to be magically perfect and everyone should be happy. But people can’t be happy when they’re held to unrealistic standards – including you!

No, your toddler twins might not sit still for a greeting card picture, so don’t expect them to.  Your grandmother’s holiday roast recipe might not turn out as juicy as you remember it.  And your extended family might squabble from the stress of sharing one bathroom. If you prepare for reality to be… well… real in advance, and leave room for humans to be humans, and traffic to be traffic, and work to be work, and life to be life, you may find that some of the holiday screwups lead to the best stories that you’ll laugh at for years to come.

Check back after Thanksgiving for 2 more strategies to sidestep end-of-the-year work burnout!

Getting Your Priorities Straight

Maybe you constantly struggle with what to prioritize. You wonder how to get your priorities straight.

I do, too. ESPECIALLY this year.

See, my health hasn’t been great this year. But instead of one major health problem, like it usually is, it’s been a ton of medium health problems. Juggling running a business and having a life, plus multiple doctor’s appointments each week… I’ve had moments where I feel like I’m underwater.

So I threw out the old wisdom about keeping my priorities straight, and I’m trying a new technique. I’m not setting my priorities in STONE, I’m just setting my priorities for 48 hours.

Check out what I’ve been doing and see if it’ll keep you sane during the last few crazy weeks of the year.

Do You Have a Bad Attitude at Work? 8 Signs YOU’RE the Toxic Coworker (yes, #3 is real!)

Everybody gets stressed out by work. But regularly having a negative attitude at work can cause everyone to suffer: your coworkers, for having to put up with your negativity, and you, because you’ll miss opportunities and promotions in favor of people with good attitudes.

#1 – You gossip or complain to coworkers

This is the classic sign of someone with a bad attitude. Venting and gossiping at work is a telltale behavior of an employee who is feeling toxic and doesn’t care about bringing other people down with them. Venting feels good in the moment, but it’s been proven to be a poor strategy for relieving stress, because it fails to address the root problem.

#2 – You shoot down your colleagues’ ideas in early stages

If you find yourself rejecting someone else’s idea before you’ve followed the thought process through and really considered it, odds are good your colleagues are frustrated with you. It’s healthy for colleagues to question and test one another’s ideas. But if you shoot something down by saying “that’ll never work,” before the group has had time to really turn the idea over, you’ll be blocking conversation that can lead to good solutions.

#3 – You feel tired most of the day

Feeling that 3pm slump is normal. Feeling tired all day isn’t normal, and it’s a sign that you could be really disengaged at work. When I work with companies to help their teams build resilience, I remind them that burnout isn’t just about being busy – it’s about being busy plus having a lack of meaning and purpose in their work. If you feel like what you’re contributing doesn’t matter, then it may be hard for you to feel awake and excited to do your job.

#4 – You aren’t respectful to the people lower on the company hierarchy

I once worked with a guy who said “it’s not worth my time to care about Jan (at the front desk.) She doesn’t sign my checks!” What this guy didn’t know is that Jan often made decisions about which salesperson to transfer new callers to! Not to mention she ordered the company supplies, and could “rush” things if she wanted to. She was a good ally to have in your corner… but that guy didn’t know it. If you think it’s only worth kissing up to the higher-ups, your attitude could be harming your career more than you know. People notice, and people talk. Being respectful takes no more time than being rude, so make it a point to show respect to everyone.

#5 – You don’t pay attention during meetings or conversations

I get it: team meetings can interrupt your day and be a source of frustration. But tuning out isn’t the right solution. If a line of conversation doesn’t directly involve you, it’s a good idea to still listen, because it’s likely that somebody is going to get pulled into the conversation to answer a question or solve a problem. And if it’s you, you’re going to look silly if you were checking your phone or daydreaming about your fantasy football team.

#6 – You have large responses to small annoyances

My therapist calls this “turning a 2 into a 10.” Do you find yourself getting aggravated with everyday frustrations like somebody taking your sticky note pad? Or replying “thanks!” to an email chain that they could have just let drop? Sometimes we feel like life is frustrating, but it’s really our own reactions that are making us experience more frustration than we need to.

#7 – You don’t care or seem invested in critical workplace issues

When everyone else on your team is jumping to solve an important problem, are you hanging back? Being checked out at work can be particularly noticeable during a crunch time, when other people are spitballing ideas and getting creative. If you’ve lost your passion for your work, as we talked about in #3, then it’s hard to get invested in problem-solving.

#8 – You respond to simple corrections by correcting the other person back

Nobody likes being corrected. But watch your reaction next time somebody makes a small correction to your work. Do you find yourself wanting to correct a mistake of theirs? Or tell them why, in fact, your original version was right? It’s human nature to not enjoy being corrected, but successful companies are made up of employees with different backgrounds and strengths for a reason. The more eyes and hands on a project, the better the end result will be. Just take the direction, because we all need to get and give corrections sometimes.

 

These 8 behaviors don’t have to mean you’re a bad employee – they could mean that you’re a good employee who’s on the verge of burning out. But whether it’s your innate attitude or unaddressed burnout, it’s critical to take action and curb these behaviors before they impact your work any more.

How to Deal With Things Out of Your Control

Feeling out-of-control is so frustrating. I’ll be honest… a LOT of things have felt out-of-control this year. I’m moving, packing, and budgeting for a major home renovation, while dealing with some health issues.

I’ve been relying on some of the coping skills I’ve researched, like “locus of control,” but ALSO adding some new ones of my own that seem to be working for me.

Are you feeling stressed or frustrated at things that are out of your control? Check out what I’m doing and see if it’ll work for you, too.

And comment below about what’s keeping you up at night, so we’ll all be in it together!!!

What NOT To Say When Someone is Struggling

I hate to tell you this…but at some point in your life, you’ve probably said the #1 thing NOT to say to a loved one who is struggling.

I’VE done it. We’ve all done it. It’s almost like a habit. But these common platitudes we offer people who are suffering through a difficult time… they don’t help. And they can actually HURT.

Here’s what to say to your friend or family member who is struggling, INSTEAD of one of these platitudes, and why it’s more likely to help them feel better (and probably cement your relationship with them, too).

How To Use Humor in a Crisis

One of the fastest ways to stop freaking out when life is stressful is to use humor. But do you know how to tap into the funny stuff in life, even when things stink?

Well, thanks to a broken rib, I’ve had a crummy week. But it reminded me of how to laugh my way through the difficult moments. Here’s what you can do, even BEFORE things get stressful, to help you survive the tough times with a little humor.

How to Tell Your Boss You’re Feeling Burnout

With all the hours you spend at your job, it’s normal if you feel stressed at work (and yeah, I say “if” knowing full well that you ARE stressed at work a lot of the time, if the numbers are right.) And if you’re TOO stressed, you’re at risk of burnout.

Burnout is a leading cause of unnecessary job turnover, and yet it keeps happening because no one seems to know exactly how to handle it. Companies have few official resources for employees at risk of burning out, bosses don’t know how to address it, and employees worry that if they bring up their stress levels, they’ll be labeled “incapable” or “whiny.” Until we can address the ways our society has glorified stress as being a symbol of importance (I’m working on it, I promise!), it will be up to individuals to speak up for ourselves in a way that doesn’t risk our career success.

So how do you say “I’m about to burnout!” to your boss without committing career suicide?

Be Clear About What You Mean

It might be best to not even say the word burnout to your boss. If you think your boss might judge you for being stressed, or be the kind of manager who doesn’t care about your mindset as long as work gets done, then you can have this conversation without ever saying “burnout.” Instead, bring up specific challenges you’re facing that are getting in the way of your success, like being interrupted too much, not having the information you need, etc.

And did you know there are different kinds of burnout? Psychologists say there are 3 burnout subtypes: “frenetic,” “underchallenged,” and “worn out.” So even if you say “burnout” or “stress,” your boss’s idea of what that means might be different from yours. So clearly articulate whether you need more help from colleagues, more time on deadlines, or whatever it is that will actually help you manage the situation.

Be Solution-Oriented

In this video about telling your boss you’re stressed without seeming whiny, I go over the two types of coping: problem-focused and emotion-focused. In the workplace, most bosses prefer problem-focused coping. So before you talk to your boss, prepare at least three possible ideas for making the situation better. 

By coming to the meeting with ideas already ready, your boss will see that you aren’t just looking for an excuse or a reason to complain, but that you’re actually looking for help at doing the best possible job. Your boss may have more suggestions for you, or be able to help you help you find the resources you need to implement your ideas. But by showing up with a plan, you’re showing positivity and a willingness to fix the situation.

Be Laser-Focused

The odds are good that there are many issues causing you stress that are leading to your feelings of burned out. And it can be tempting to want to address ALL of them in this meeting. But when you’re on the verge of burnout, be aware that your brain isn’t operating at its best. If you try to address every single outstanding issue at your organization all at once, you might get distracted and fall down the rabbit hole, amping up your own irritation in the meantime. Stick to one or two main issues that are leading to your feelings of burnout. Issues that – if resolved – will clear up the majority of your frustration. Refer back to the list you made above, and your boss will hopefully get on board.


Don’t let the risk of burnout drive you away from a job you enjoy. It’s possible to work hard without being burned out, so if you think you’re on the verge, talk to your boss sooner rather than later and make a plan that will keep you productive and successful.

Courtney Clark first name signature keynote speaker
First name signature for resilience speaker Courtney Clark