We know having gratitude is supposed to be good for us, but sometimes it’s just not easy! Here’s why giving thanks can be hard, and what you can do to try and find some gratitude anyway.
“I want a divorce.”
Some words cause your body to go numb. Your ears buzz. You start to float above yourself. In those moments, you’re experiencing so much stress, and your body is being flooded with so much adrenaline, it can be difficult to think straight.
As difficult as it may be, thinking straight is the #1 thing you can do to help yourself when you’re getting terrible news. It’s crucial, in those moments, to keep your wits about you, gather information, and maintain self-control.
So how do you stay calm when you’re in the middle of receiving terrible news?
Take a sip of water.
It’s a tiny action, but taking a sip of water can be a great move when you receive shocking information. First, it gives you a mental break from the tough conversation. You may feel like you need a split second to close your eyes and process the information, and taking a sip of water gives you an excuse for breaking eye contact without looking “weak.” Taking a sip of water also gives you something to do with your hands, to keep them from jittering. Especially if the conversation is with someone like a boss, you want to appear composed and stoic. Having a glass of water as a prop can cover up your nerves.
Stay present in the moment.
It’s human nature, when getting bad news, for your thoughts to start spinning out of control. You can’t help but think about the future, and how this news will shape your life for months or years to come. Instead, keep your thoughts in the moment at hand. When you keep you mind focused, you’ll be better able to process what’s actually happening than if you allow your mind to wander to all the worst case scenarios. As this Forbes article remarks, it’s definitely best to avoid heading down the spiral of “what if…?” When you stay in the moment, you’ll be a better participant in the conversation, and you’ll remember the important information more accurately. Which dovetails perfectly with the next step…
When I found out I had cancer, there were so many questions I wished I had asked the doctor when I was right there in front of him. Because I was so flustered at the news, I sat there in shock instead of asking smart questions. I had to email my concerns to the nurse and wait several days for a response. If you get bad news, don’t hesitate to ask as many questions as you need, rather than assuming the worst. It also helps to take notes. Many times our adrenaline keeps us from recording good memories of these tough conversations, so taking notes will help you not only focus in the moment, but also give you something to jog your memory later.
Remind yourself all the ways it could be worse.
We’ve been taught to believe we should think positive when we get bad news. But last week I had the honor of hearing Sheryl Sandberg, the author and Facebook executive, participate in a Q&A, and she had a different perspective. She recalled that a friend told her, after her husband Dave died, that “it could have been worse. Dave could have been driving the children when his heart gave out.” She realized that she could have lost her entire family in a single moment. By remembering that things could, in fact, be worse, we put our struggles in perspective.
Take a single action.
Getting bad news makes us feel powerless. We can’t control the situation, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything. Figure out the first action you can take to regain control, no matter how small. Through a psychological construct called “self efficacy,” taking even the smallest action helps you feel more competent and powerful. If you’ve been diagnosed with an illness, your fist step could be finding a specialist. If you’re faced with divorced, your first step could be protecting your financial information. If you’ve been let go from your job, it could be brushing up your resume. By doing what you can do, even if it doesn’t feel like much, you’re building your self efficacy for the moments ahead.
Getting bad news can feel like life as you know it is over. But if you keep calm, stay present, gather information, and put the situation in perspective, you’ll be able to move forward as quickly as possible.
Meet the most authentic, honest model on the planet!
Dove Campaign for Real Beauty model Stacy Nadeau tells us all about the hardest day of her career, and the technique she used to move past it. (Spoiler alert: she didn’t do it alone!)
“Hey, girl. Gimme a smile.”
If you’ve ever been hollered at on the street (and if you’re a woman, it’s probably not really if, but when), you know how insulting it can feel when some stranger demands you flash a smile and fake happiness.
The real problem? It’s not just sexist strangers on the street.
We attempt to force happiness on ourselves and others all. the. time. Even when we mean well, we often discourage sadness in our friends and loved ones. “Don’t feel bad,” we say. “It’ll all be okay.” “It could be worse.” Or the ultimate punch in the gut: “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
Happiness is supposed to be a private emotion. But because of a focus on personal development in recent years, happiness has morphed from an internal journey to an external measure of how evolved and successful we are. We’ve somehow come to believe that if someone isn’t happy, there must be something wrong with them. They aren’t trying hard enough to find happiness, or they need to control their stress, or they’re choosing to be sad.
When we think like this, we turn happiness into a weapon. If people don’t meet our definition of happy, society begins to think of them as “weak.”
Why You Beat Yourself Up About Happiness
Weaponized happiness is a new epidemic, where everyone is expected to meet societal standards of joy or else be deemed not tough enough. Of course we all WANT to be happy. But it isn’t always quite so simple. Life can be stressful and difficult. And even if we aren’t in the middle of a crisis, life simply may not always be enjoyable. (And that’s not even accounting for clinical depression, where guilt over not being happy is likely to just make things far worse.)
Everyone else’s life looks shiny and perfect from the outside. Blame it on Instagrammers, but we’ve come to believe that if we aren’t running through a meadow with flowers in our hair and a blissful look on our faces, we must not be truly happy. Happiness doesn’t always look like a shiny blog post. When we judge our happiness but what other people’s lives appear to be, we’re measuring against an unreliable yardstick.
Why You Judge Others’ Happiness
Insisting that others be happy is a bad habit that comes from a good place. When you care about someone, you don’t want them to hurt. You want them to be happy. But when we attempt to shortcut their hurt or sadness, we’re not actually helping them find happiness any faster. In fact, studies show that ignoring feelings of sadness can actually keep you feeling sad for longer.
A life of blissful joy isn’t the best goal. People need a little struggle, a little effort, and a little sadness to appreciate the humanity of being alive. The people who have overcome THAT, and can still find happiness even after sadness, are the ones we should really be looking up to. So when a friend or family member is struggling, don’t judge their sadness. Don’t force them to be happy. Allow them their experience, and then help them move on when they can.
It’s time to stop measuring excellence in others based on how happy they seem. Happiness is not a weapon we use to beat up others. It’s a tool, and it must be a tool we use by ourselves, for ourselves alone.
I thought the fad would be over by now, but it looks like FOMO, the “fear of missing out” that’s gripped society via social media, is still going strong.
Oh, it’s not that I expected us to get over our natural human desire to have it all. We’ve always had it and we probably always will. But it’s so prevalent right now. Everywhere I turn people are talking about feeling that FOMO, that worry that everyone else is doing more, having more, and just being more than you.
But here’s the bottom line: “missing out” isn’t a big threat to your life happiness. You know what is a threat? Burning out. We should all have more FOBO: fear of burning out. Fear of getting so stressed that you just can’t take it anymore.
When it first became a “saying,” we all thought FOMO was a (mostly) positive emotion. If we don’t want to miss out, it spurs us to work harder, go out and spend more time with friends, and have great experiences. FOMO launched many a skydiver, entrepreneur, and Thursday-night whiskey-fueled country line dancer (for better or worse).
But there’s a downside we didn’t see: saying “yes” to everything is exhausting and impossible to sustain. FOMO leads to burnout.
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Burnout?
We should be afraid of burning out. Burnout is characterized by unrelenting stress that leads to disengagement and a loss of excitement. Burnout is a feeling of hopelessness. So why don’t we have more FOBO? We know burnout is bad, but we often don’t take measures to prevent it. We work and work and wait until we’re just so stressed out, until we decide that something needs to change.
If we want to be happier, peaceful, and more resilient to stress, we need to trade our FOMO for FOBO. Burning out is a far bigger threat to our success than missing out on any one opportunity, no matter how good.
Why Burnout Limits Opportunity
When you burn out, you limit your ability to enjoy life. You feel a sense of detaching from your surrounds and the people in your life, even your closest loved ones. If you’re burned out, you’re also hard to get along with at home AND at work, because you’re more likely to be sarcastic and unkind without even realizing it.
Burnout also makes it hard to be successful, because it is often characterized by a sense of exhaustion. If that happens to you, you’ll notice you just start coasting at work, because you’re just too tired to care, even if you’ve been getting plenty of sleep. That’s not a way to get a promotion!
To Do: Ditch FOMO for FOBO
It’s time to let FOMO be a thing of the past. Too much FOMO leads to burnout. For a peaceful life, forget the FOMO and arm yourself with a stronger sense of FOBO.
The voice is coming out of my iPhone, tinny and electronic in the dark room.
“Breathe in and feel the hand on your abdomen rise,” the voice says. I breathe in and out, in time with his commands.
“Keep your eyes shut,” I will myself. “Just for another minute. It’s probably almost over. Keep your eyes shut.” I breathe in and out and try to get in rhythm with the tinny voice.
I’m not very good at meditating. I’d almost always rather be doing something else, like checking something off of my to do list or – like last night – just going straight to sleep after a long day. But I can’t ignore all of the research I’ve done that confirms how good meditation is for you, so I persist. I turn on my meditation app and try to focus my mind, even though my frustrated mind fights me every step of the way.
It made me wonder – how many times during the course of a single day do we think “I wish this was over already?” Here’s my personal list:
- When I’m working out in the morning
- Sitting in traffic on the way to a meeting
- Making sales calls to build my business
- Doing the dishes after dinner
- Arguing with my husband over whose turn it is to do the dishes after dinner 😉
- Waiting for my slowest dog to do her business already
- Meditating in the evening
What does yours look like? Arguing with a toddler over what they’re going to wear? Sitting in a daily staff meeting that sounds just like yesterday’s? Making dinner for someone who doesn’t appreciate it?
Time Traveling to the Future
Of course it’s natural to wish the boring or frustrating moments were finished and over with. But if we put our attention on the annoyance, we’re giving our mind permission to be miserable. Instead, studies show that the most successful people have something called a “future orientation.” Future orientation is an ability to focus on what’s coming and what’s possible, instead of current circumstances. It offers us an ability to be hopeful, instead of frustrated.
What does that look like? Well, for me it means thinking of how strong I’m going to be instead of how my quads burn right now. Or how much more peaceful I’ll feel once the dishes are done. Or how accomplished I’ll feel once I make a sale. Or how that meeting is going to move my business forward, once I get through the traffic.
We say to ourselves, “I wish this was over already.” But it will be over soon enough, and wishing won’t really make it happen any faster. Life will never be empty of daily frustrations and stress. But if we can shift our focus to future orientation instead of the annoyances of the present, it makes the struggle feel worth it.
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 some people get burned out? It DOESN’T happen just because you are stressed out, overwhelmed, or too busy. Learn the secret ingredients (besides just being busy) that lead to burnout, before you put yourself at risk.
Work burnout is a scary thing – it takes dedicated, passionate employees and turns them into frustrated, detached time bombs. Burnout is a key component of employee turnover, and turnover has high costs both fiscally and for morale.
So it should go without saying that burnout is to be avoided at all costs. But do you always know when you’re at risk of burning out at work? Here’s a short test to help you find out…
1. How do you feel at the beginning of the workday?
c. raring to go
You probably guessed that “c” is a great answer to give. But if you think that option “b” is the prime indicator of burnout, you’re wrong. Feeling frazzled at work, especially at the beginning of the day, isn’t great news, but actual burnout results in a feeling of exhaustion before you even start. The reality is that you can be busy without being burned out. So just because you have a lot on your plate doesn’t automatically mean you’re at risk of burnout. It can lead to future burnout, so be careful. But don’t assume burnout just because you’re busy. It’s when you feel tired even when there’s a stack of work to be done that you’re at greatest risk. This element of burnout is called emotional exhaustion, and it’s one of the first indicators of burnout we might notice.
2. If you have to talk to your boss about something critical, what do you do to prepare?
a. I don’t bother preparing, because my boss trusts my judgement and will do what I recommend
b. I don’t bother preparing, because my boss isn’t likely to listen to my ideas anyway
c. I over-prepared, because my boss can be critical of my work
d. I bring a few supporting documents to back up my recommendation
This question is testing your depersonalization, another element of burnout. It might seem like “c” is the answer most common in burnout. But (like the question above) while “c” might be an indicator of a poor workplace culture, it’s actually not a burnout indicator. The burnout indicator is “b,” because it suggests that you don’t even need to try because whatever you say to your boss will be ignored. When a conflict or struggle goes on for so long that you have depersonalized the other person (see this prior blog post for more examples of risky workplace conflict), you’re at risk of burnout.
3. If you were invited to go to an Elementary School for career day, what would you say is the most worthwhile part of your job?
a. The paycheck
b. Helping people
c. Using my skills/smarts/strengths
No big surprise, here: the burnout indicator is “a.” Answer “a” suggests reduced personal accomplishment, the final burnout indicator. We can stand long hours, poor pay, silly uniforms, even rude customers, as long as we feel that the work we’re doing is worthwhile. For many years I worked in the nonprofit sector, where I often faced aaaaaallllll of the above indignities, but my job had purpose and that fueled my fire even when the days were long and the pay was piddling. If you lose the feeling of pride in your work, then the slightest struggle will cause you to lose your motivation and be at risk of burning out.
Want to know more about the burnout indicators? Check out this article in Workplace Psychology.
Burnout doesn’t just come from being too busy. You can absolutely be busy without burning out, so don’t fret just because you have a long to-do list. Pay attention to your emotional exhaustion, your feelings of engagement with your colleagues, and your sense of accomplishment and pride in your work. Those are the three factors that will let you know if you’re at risk of flaming out. Catch them fast, and don’t let burnout get to you!