Courtney’s Blog

Confession: I’ve Already Broken My Resolution

I ate macaroni and cheese last night.

 

Now, I didn’t specifically make a New Year’s Resolution to only eat green things that grow in the ground (after 39 years on this planet, I know myself better than that!) But I’ve been wanting to make up for scarfing all of my Mother-in-Law’s Christmas cookies, so I’ve been trying to “be good” for the past two weeks.

 

Whoops.

 

Like me, you probably know what it feels like to let a resolution slip by the wayside. Or fail at a goal. A huge majority of resolutions fail.

 

But this isn’t going to be one of those articles about how to be in the 8-or-whatever-% of people who keep their resolutions and stay strong. Just google that stuff if that’s what you’re into – there’s plenty out there about that. This is about how to keep moving forward if you’re one of the mere humans, like most of us, who have already gotten off track and wonder what to do next.

 

Like It Never Happened

You’ve probably heard, like I have, that when you slip up on a goal or make a mistake, you should forgive yourself and just get back at it the next day. That’s kiiiiiiiinda right. You shouldn’t beat yourself up, but you also shouldn’t make some big deal out of needing to forgive yourself. By putting too much focus on forgiving yourself, you could actually slip into “ruminating” and negative self talk, which is a self-defeating behavior. Instead, Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, suggests that you just let it go and pretend it never happened. Just erase that day or that slipup, and proceed forward!

 

Just Stop

Sometimes when a resolution is hard to keep, or a goal seems impossible to hit, that means it isn’t the right resolution. Maybe you set an unrealistic goal, or maybe you just don’t have the structure in place to do what you said you wanted to do. I really like this article about “key dependencies” and how they can sometimes get in the way of our goals. And I don’t think dependencies have to be other people, either! For example, do you have a resolution to work out every day, but you are ALSO a person who wants to spend time with his kids? And volunteer in the community? And cook a home cooked meal every night? AND read a book a week? You might have resolutions that naturally conflict with other goals and resolutions. We assume that if we slip on a resolution, it’s a failure in our willpower. But that’s not always true! Sometimes our goals just bump up against the wall of reality. So just stop, and reevaluate if there’s an external obstacle to your goal that you didn’t realize.

 

Resolution 2.0

Repeat after me: you are NOT a loser if you give up on a goal that isn’t working, revise it, and try again later. That’s literally called LIFE! Whether it happens in January or July, we’re all always setting out to accomplish something, gathering information, and adjusting course accordingly. So if you’ve already discovered that you and your resolution can’t be long-term BFFs, then let it go. In fact, the sooner you let it go, the sooner you can brush it off and move on to evaluating and selecting a better goal. Cut your losses now, because the more you beat yourself up, the longer you keep up the “I’m lazy, I have no willpower, I can’t do it…” self-talk, the more you’re doing damage to the part of your thinking called “self-efficacy.” Stop wasting time, and start getting prepared for the 2nd(or 3rd, or 4th… no judgement here!) version of your resolution.

 

I wish I could give up on the idea of resolutions all together, but even when I don’t CALL them that, there’s something about a fresh year that makes me want to set fresh goals. I’ll always have a plan for my new year, but if I don’t cross everything off the list, oh well. It’s still gonna be a great year.

Caught on Video: My Favorite Moment of 2018

Here’s a personal look at my favorite moment of this past year!

The reason I loved this moment SO MUCH is because I had planned this surprised for months, which triggers a psychological mechanism called “savoring.” When we anticipate an exciting time, it helps us feel enjoyment even before the event happens, giving us double the good feelings!

As you head into the new year, look for ways you can savor and enjoy the things you have planned for 2019. The more you savor, the happier you’ll be.

 

How to Handle Your Kid’s Post-Christmas Meltdown

For many parents, the thought of seeing your kids’ faces light up on Christmas morning has been keeping you going for the past several busy weeks. But now Christmas is over, the gifts are unwrapped, and for many families, the trouble is just beginning.

 

If your family is starting a post-holiday meltdown, and you’re counting down the days until school is back, don’t worry! Here are some ways to combat the most common after-Christmas behaviors in kids.

 

Being Wild

For younger children, the threat of Santa watching can encourage good behavior for several weeks leading up to the big day. But once that red-suited incentive is removed, there’s QUITE a lot of pressure built up in your little ones, just waiting to explode! Instead of being frustrated at what feels like an about-face in their behaviors now that Santa isn’t watching, give them physical outlets to get their sillies out now that the day has passed (yes, even if it’s cold outside!). It’s practically a biological certainty that there’s going to be a rebound effect after prolonged effort to be good, so don’t get caught off guard, and be prepared to intervene with lots of active games to channel the wildness.

 

Being Lazy

On the opposite end of the spectrum, some kids get ridiculously lazy after Christmas has passed. This can happen for one of two reasons: First, many humans (of all ages) experience a health dip after big events. Don’t you remember those days when you managed to power through college finals but then get the flu break? Our bodies sometimes just give out on us once it’s “safe.” The second thing that could be happening is a bit of situational depression, where your child may be experiencing a “let-down” now that Christmas is over. If your kid is channeling a sloth, it’s best not to take it too personally. Chores have to get done and showers must be taken, but what’s wrong with a little rest time (other than how jealous it makes you!) Just keep an eye to make sure that seasonal or situational depression doesn’t linger any longer than that.

 

Being Sassy

Cookies aren’t the only thing left over after Christmas. You may find that the holidays have left behind a seriously smart mouth on one or more of your kiddos. Older children may not have been behaving nicely because of the threat of Santa, but they likely DID feel the pressure to get along and be sweet, because “that’s what Christmas is all about.” Kids see and internalize that societal pressure for family harmony at the holidays. Once Christmas is over, then, there can be a rebound effect. You don’t have to accept rude treatment ANY time of the year, so ignore the proximity to the holidays and just address the behaviors the way you would any other time of year, without adding in any extra “but it’s Christmastime” guilt. Kids who internalize that everyone has to get along at Christmas just because can grow up into adults who make themselves crazy at the holidays trying to make everything perfect.

 

Christmas can be an amazing time to look at the world through the eyes of a child. But December 26th can be meltdown city, so be prepared in advance with strategies to head off these common post-Christmas behaviors.

How to Survive Holiday Stress

It’s the Christmas home stretch!

… sooooo… you’re probably feeling major stress to get everything done.

If you’d rather be feeling the holiday spirit than feeling so much stress, I have 3 really simple tips you can try, that will keep holiday stress at a minumum.

The first thing you can do is be more realistic!

Try these 3 steps over the next few days and see how much better you’ll be at keeping the holiday hoopla in perspective.

How to Set Career Goals that Inspire You

You could plod along a career path, taking whatever promotion comes your way, or you could set clear goals and get on a path to achievement. Which one sounds better? Probably the latter! Setting career goals is a great way to make sure you have the success and fulfillment we all hope for.

 

But the process of goal setting doesn’t begin the way you think it does. If you think goal setting is as simple as deciding what future job you want, listen up! The correct way to set career goals involves a 4-step process that has you working toward something that’s about achievement and inspiration.

 

First, Think Back…

When people think about setting goals, they usually think about the future. That makes sense, because that’s when your goals will be achieved! But by thinking backwards, first, you’re giving yourself an extra perspective on your goals. Start by reflecting: how long has this been your goal? What led you down this path? Are you currently in the place you imagined, when you started? Have you reached the prior goals you’ve set? Did you get to where you currently are by achieving prior goals, or more by accident?

 

Taking time to reflect on the past accomplishes several things: you can evaluate your experience with these goals, and you can also evaluate your relationship to goals in general (some people are great at goal-setting, and others struggle with it, so it’s good to know where you fall on the spectrum before you get any further into the process). It’s also an important reminder of how far you’ve come! It’s easy to just focus on moving forward, but getting perspective on how far you’ve come is great fuel for those days you get frustrated.

 

…THEN Think Forward

After you’ve reflected back, it’s time to fire up your imagination and think forward. Studies have shown that orienting our thoughts toward the future can be a powerful driver for success. In fact, having what psychologists call a “future orientation” can help you move through stressful and challenging situations more easily. That’s the reason dentists give kids candy after a teeth cleaning! When you have something to look forward to, it makes even difficult tasks go more smoothly. So what do YOU have to look forward to? What goals would thrill you to accomplish? When you keep those in mind, the day-to-day of work becomes much more enjoyable.

 

Think Big Picture…

As you’re thinking forward, start to broaden out your goals and think about how your career goals will impact your life moving forward. Can you picture what your existence will look like once you’ve achieved those goals? Do your current goals conflict with any other goals, like family goals? Make sure that you’re making room in your personal and social life for the achievement you’re planning. What would come next, after you’ve achieved your goals?

 

…Then Think Small Details

Finally, flip that big picture thinking around and look critically at the goals. Do you know sacrifices you’re likely to have to make, and are you okay with that? Do you really have the time and the desire to work toward the goals you’ve set? Or are they the goals someone else thinks should be next for you? Make sure the goals you are setting are YOUR goals, and not just what society, or your dad, or your best friend, thinks you should want.

 

I faced this decision when I was running my small nonprofit. I loved our mission, and I loved getting to sit at the head of a small startup community group. When I started thinking about moving on, my friends and colleagues couldn’t believe it. “But.. you’re winning awards!” “You’re on the front page of the newspaper!” I loved what I was doing and I was getting recognition for it, but I had seen how many nonprofits failed to thrive when their founder stayed in place for too long. I knew I needed to help it grow by getting out. It didn’t make immediate sense to the rest of the world, but that didn’t matter. It was MY goal.

 

Your exact goal doesn’t matter. But having a goal matters, and setting yourself up properly to achieve your goal matters a lot. Follow these 4 steps to be successful, strategic, and inspired.

How to Handle Grief During the Holiday Season

The holiday season is SUPPOSED to be full of cheer.

But if you’re grieving a death, a loss, or a major change, you may not feel “up” for the falalala hoopla.

There are two strategies that have been shown to be very successful at navigating grief during this time of year, and using one or both can help you cope when everyone else around you is in the holiday spirit.

What To Do When You Want to Quit But Can’t

If you’ve ever had one of those moments where you just wanted to scream “I quit!” and clean out your desk, then you know what I’m talking about.

 

I recently got a LinkedIn connection request from the worst manager I ever had. He refused to stick up for me (or any of my colleagues) when we were being undermined, bullied, harassed, and prevented from doing our jobs by the manager of another department. Employee after employee asked for his help getting this other manager out of our way. Employee after employee begged him to intervene. Employee after employee quit.

 

There were so many times during this job that I just wanted to pack my stuff up and go home. The problem? I LOVED what I was doing. Everything besides the toxic leadership at this job was amazing. The work was great, my other colleagues were great… and of course I needed the paycheck.

 

During those long months before I finally handed in my resignation letter, I came up with a plan to make staying survivable. Here’s what I did when I wanted to quit, but couldn’t:

 

Start In Two Places At The Same Time

 

When you’re facing a frustrating situation, our brains tend to recognize two ways we can help ourselves feel better: fixing the problem, or soothing our emotions. Psychologists call these two strategies Problem-Focused Coping and Emotion-Focused Coping. Research shows that using coping techniques that fall into not one but both categories – simultaneously – gets us the best results. (So if you were one of those people who learned that successful people only use Problem-Focused Coping, it’s time to un-learn that bad habit!)

 

The Heart of the Matter

 

Emotion-Focused Coping in the middle of a bad job experience can be things like finding a friend or mental health professional to talk to about the stress. Leaning on other people for support is a coping mechanism that most of us take for granted, but it’s one of the strongest ones we can use. The only catch is that sometimes we may find ourselves “venting” instead of actually processing. Venting is when we just rehash our anger over and over, always staying at the boiling point. In a healthy conversation, you’ll want to use your listener as support to help you feel better and maybe even find some new coping ideas.

 

Another option is volunteering. When I was researching my book The Giving Prescription, I found that giving back to others is one of the best ways to help you get perspective even when life is challenging or frustrating. All through my initial cancer diagnosis, I was volunteering every week at a nursing home, doing singing and dancing performances with a group of other young women. I was scared and struggling, but two things happened during those evening performances: I could see I wasn’t the only one struggling in life, and I also recognized that despite my illness, I had the ability to bring joy to people’s lives.

 

Taking Baby Steps

 

Problem-Focused Coping is using strategies and taking action that will hopefully solve the root cause of the issue. Interestingly, though, studies show that just taking any action might be enough to help you feel better, even if the action doesn’t have a direct result, because action-taking helps us feel more in control.

 

When it comes to staying in a job where you want to quit but can’t, Problem-Focused Coping might look like coming up with ways to keep your boss happy and conflict at a minimum. In my job with the poor manager who let the other manager harass us, I started anticipating ways the other manager was going to “accidentally” sabotage my programs, and building in safeguards to make it more difficult for that to happen.

 

It might also mean starting to make a plan for when you can look for a new job. An important element that helps internal resilience is something called “future orientation.” When we make plans for the future, it helps us keep our drive up, even in tough situations. So tell yourself “I can’t quit now. But I can start job hunting in six months.” And then work backwards from there. “So I’ll need to start brushing up my resume in five months. Maybe I’ll hire a career counselor in four months to help rewrite the resume. So starting next month, I can start putting some money aside for that career coach…” And all of a sudden you’ve got something you can do right now to help plan for the future.

 

It’s More In Your Hands Than You Think

 

When you want to quit but can’t, it’s easy to feel stuck. But even if you can’t make the final move right now, you can set yourself up – both emotionally and tactically – so you’ll be ready to move on and be successful as soon as possible.

The Parable of The Whipped Cream

I had this realization about Thanksgiving, and it’s kind of a metaphor for SO MUCH!

Have you ever had one of those times where you just have to push and get through, in order to get to the reward at the end? Well, that’s what I’m talking about! (for me, it’s kind of like how I feel about the Thanksgiving meal).

How to Feel Motivated By Doing ANYTHING

What do you do when you don’t feel motivated to do something?

 

It’s election day, and some people feel like their vote doesn’t matter. That reminds me of the story of the psychologists who did an experiment with three sets of dogs, and learned a lot about “learned helplessness.”

 

If you’re having trouble with your mindset and not feeling motivated, here’s why doing something, ANYTHING, is good for your mental health.

You Don’t Have to be Hopeless. Here’s What Helps When the World Feels Horrible.

In the wake of another mass shooting, I’ve been finding myself struggling with writing a blog post. Events like this don’t make it very easy to feel resilient, positive, or hopeful. I want to say the perfect thing, but there is no perfect thing.

 

So without any perfect words, I realized that what I could share is what I know about the science of coping during difficult times, in the hopes that perhaps it’ll make you think of something you can do to feel less vulnerable, frustrated, or angry about things going on in the world or in your own little corner of it.

 

There are two types of coping strategies. Most of us only rely on one, whichever one comes more naturally to us. And heck – one is better than none! But that gets us only about half as far as we need to go. I learned about these strategies when researching my second book, The Successful Struggle, and now I’m better about reminding myself to use both.

 

The two types of strategies are Problem-Focused Coping and Emotion-Focused Coping.

 

Problem-Focused Coping

 

This week, feeling like there was a whole lot of intolerance in the world, I set out to take some action. The first thing I did was early vote in the midterm elections. That’s a very concrete action that obviously isn’t usually available to us, but it just so happened to be good timing. I’m also working on a volunteer project called KICS through the Junior League of Austin, where we’re delivering athletic sneakers to children in need. Studies show that well-fitting, seasonally appropriate shoes help kids stay not only healthy and active, but also improve self-esteem and even school attendance.

 

When we went to deliver the shoes to the first KICS school, the kids were saying things like “this is so awesome! I’ve never had a new pair of shoes before!” and “my last shoes broke and I had to hold them together with tape. How did you know I really needed these?” When you watch a child jump up and down and yell with joy over something as simple as their first brand-new pair of sneakers, those feelings of powerlessness over the world’s problems start to seem smaller.

 

Emotion-Focused Coping

 

The other kind of coping deals with addressing your emotions. When I looked at the research, some psychologists expected that Problem-Focused Coping would be more successful at helping people feel better because it addressed the root cause. But Emotion-Focused Coping turned out to be equally important. We need more than just action items to accomplish in our lives – we need hope. For me, a perfect example is a baby announcement that I just got that’s sitting on my kitchen island. I met this baby boy’s parents almost 10 years ago, when they came to volunteer at the little nonprofit that I had started. Thinking about these single young adults, giving generously of their time all those years ago, and now they’re a family, makes me proud and happy.

 

And that’s not the only family making me happy this week… I also helped some friends find a puppy to adopt! (If you’re even thinking about adopting a pet, don’t mention it to me because I will find you a new family member – it’s like my super power.) In fact, my friend Terri is doing amazing things in this world supporting the leaders of movements (check out her website!), so helping her bring a little joy into her life, when she brings joy to so many other people, is extra-fulfilling. Time spent with friends and loved ones in your life is a great Emotion-Focused Coping strategy.

 

Using strong coping strategies – even when you use them in tandem – won’t make the stressors of the world go away. But when you arm yourself with smart strategies, you’ll be better able to push forward without feeling defeated by how small you feel in the face of the things that challenge you.