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.
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.
Want to know what books to read to be more resilient, happier, and healthier? Want to get a great reading list started for next year?
I’m starting the “Read My Library” Giveaway!
Every few weeks, I’ll pick a favorite book off my shelf and send my copy to a lucky winner. The first book will be Option B, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. To enter, make sure you’re on my list of readers – join by going to http://www.CourtneyClark.com/timetool and entering your email address. You’ll get some free tools on beating stress AND suggestions of other books I love.
The winner of Option B will be drawn at random before December 21st!
Are you looking for a motivational speaker for your conference or event? Not all motivational speakers are created equal!
If you’re planning a meeting, you may think you have to decide between hard-hitting content, or uplifting motivation. But you don’t. Courtney Clark provides something she calls “content-based motivation,” where she blends research and strategies with stories, humor, and hit-you-where-it-counts inspiration. The reality is that we all learn in different ways. Some people like to hear the personal experiences, while others just say “give me the tactics!”
Courtney’s blend of inspiration and information resonate with groups from nurses to IT leadership. There’s something for every audience member in one of Courtney’s motivational keynote presentations.
If you’re planning a meeting and looking for a speaker, think about bringing content-based motivation to your event, for maximum impact.
Do you wish someone would give you a leg up and help you get where you deserve? Well, here’s how you find that person! My friend Rami told me an incredible story about the moment that led to his success, and it’s a great lesson in being collaborative instead of competitive.
You’ve seen the cultural obsession with being busy: people who greet one another with “How are you?” “Sooooooo busy!” Or texts that read “Sorry I never got back to you, I’ve been slammed.” We equate busy with being important, so we flaunt our busy-ness like a badge of honor.
But all that busy could be getting in the way of something truly important.
When we’re so overwhelmed, we may be missing opportunities for excellence. It’s difficult to do our best work when we’re stressed out and busy. If you want to be truly great – at your job, parenting, being a friend, your hobbies, anything – it pays to be less busy and more focused. Here’s why…
This Is Your Brain On Stress
When you get stressed out, your brain floods your body with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Those hormones are great if you’re in battle or fleeing from a predator, but they aren’t so great if you’re just sitting at your desk.
With adrenaline and cortisol flooding through your system, you aren’t very good at higher-order decision making or critical thinking. Unless your career is prehistoric hunter, you probably need higher-order decision-making and critical thinking at your job. When you are busy and stressed, you aren’t capable of making smart decisions, or doing very good work. You may think “I’ll just push through and get this project done, so then I’ll be less stressed.” But if you do a mediocre job, that’s not great for your future career prospects, is it? To be at your smartest and best, get the stress under control.
Are You Even Aiming?
My friend Ruben knew a lot about getting what he wanted in life. Diagnosed with cancer in college, the doctors tried every known cure but couldn’t make his tumor go away. When I met him, he had lived with his cancer for 8 years. With the threat of cancer hanging over his head all that time, he didn’t have your typical 50 item list of priorities he wanted to accomplish in life. He only wanted one thing: to fall in love and get married. Spoiler alert: he did it!
Truly great people aren’t just busy. They’re focused.
Ruben knew something smart: you only hit what you’re aiming for. So often in life, we spend our time, energy and focus on little things, then we’re frustrated when we don’t get the big things we claim we truly desired. But we weren’t working toward them! You can’t aim at 45 different targets at the same time. Do you know what you’re aiming for? Is it what you really want? Or are you spending your precious time on busy work?
Spend time thinking about what motivates you in the “big buckets” of your life: your family, career, etc. If you find yourself overwhelmed and frustrated by a massive To Do List, do what I do! I threw out my regular list and created something for myself called “The Time Targeter,” where I can organize my To Dos based on what’s really important, not just urgent. The Time Targeter helps me fit more into my day without feeling more stressed.
Click here if you’d like a blank copy of the Time Targeter and a free guide to get started using it.
Whatever you do, don’t forget to aim in the right direction.
We may equate busy-ness with importance, but truly great people aren’t just busy. They’re focused. They spend their energy where it matters most. When you’re scattered, stressed, and filled with adrenaline and cortisol, you’ll never reach your full potential. To join the ranks of the truly great, don’t just do more. Do more of what matters.
What does it take to be successful? You’re probably forgetting this one critical thing – down time. Here’s what successful people know about how to take a break and still achieve a great life.
It’s time to fix the culture of busy-ness and no time for breaks!
Why do we still set New Year’s resolutions when we know they don’t really work?
We do it because it feels good. The end of one year and the beginning of another is a time of reflection on the past and hopefulness for the future. It’s common to want to make goals and fantasize about plans for the future. But for years now, we’ve been hearing that New Year’s resolutions don’t work. Studies show most of us can only keep our resolutions going for a few weeks into the new year!
The reason for that is that on January 1st you have rose colored glasses. You’ve spent several weeks filled with the bliss of the holiday season. Now you’re looking ahead to the new year and all the possibilities it offers. Don’t’ get me wrong – I love the hopefulness, motivation, and clean-slate feeling that comes with a new year. But that “anything is possible” feeling, while it helps you in some ways, can hinder you in others.
Who’s better at setting goals? Optimists or pessimists?
When you set your goals for the year on January 1st, you may not be very realistic. The happiness and hopefulness of the holidays and new year could “trick” you into goals that don’t serve you. Research shows that pessimists, those who believe negative outcomes are likely, may be more accurate in their predictions of the world. That sounds like a good case for being pessimistic. But follow-up research revealed that even though pessimists were more realistic, optimists were still more successful in life, despite their inaccurate guesses about how well circumstances were going to turn out. This suggests that we’d all be better off if we had a nice balance of optimism and pessimism in our lives when we plan ahead and think about the future.
To maximize this optimism-pessimism balance, don’t do your annual goal setting or planning on January 1st. Instead, do your planning for the year now. We’re halfway through the year. You have a pretty good idea of how things are going and what direction they’re heading. You have a realistic opinion of how much time you have on a weekly basis to achieve your big goals. You have an accurate assessment of how much money you have in the bank and how much you need to accomplish your plans.
We’re now officially halfway through the year. The rose-colored glasses you were wearing on January 1st are off, and you can take a realistic assessment of your year so far. In fact, a little bit of pessimism can make you more motivated and successful, because you want to avoid the worst-case scenario. I’m all for optimism, but it has to be based in reality. For the best, most realistic shot at setting and achieving goals, do it now, not six months from now.