Blog Short #54: Relationships That Drain You

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday, I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you. My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!


Photo by dragana991, Courtesy of iStock Photos

Have you had a relationship with someone that regularly takes advantage of you, demands or cajoles you into giving and giving and giving, and gives little to nothing back? People who do this drain you. They’ll take everything you’ve got and still be discontent and complain. They want more.

The problem is they’re never satisfied.

If you meet their demands, they might temporarily seem content, but in no time, they create a new situation that requires another outpouring of attention and care. There’s no end.

Unfortunately, these situations occur most in close relationships. Spouses, adult children, parents, or close friends are the most likely culprits of this kind of behavior.

So what do you do if you find yourself in this place?

There are two parts to this:

  1. Recognize and confirm for yourself that this is happening.
  2. Apply boundaries to see if the relationship is viable, or decide if you need to leave.

Let’s go through them both.

Raise your awareness of what’s happening.

One of the difficulties of being in relationships like this is that you become enclosed and cut off. By that, I mean that you spend most of your time reckoning with the other person’s demands and diminish your access to other people.

The effects of this are that you find yourself questioning your perceptions. You make excuses for the other person. Or maybe you chastise yourself and think you aren’t giving enough. You may go back and forth between feeling guilty and being resentful and angry.

Most people who take advantage in this way know all of this and cash in on it. As long as you feel a sense of responsibility and guilt, the behavior continues.

Ask these questions to help clarify what you likely already know:

  • What do I get from this person that’s of value to me?
  • Is this person concerned about my well-being, my feelings, or my needs?
  • Does this person check in with me about how I’m doing?
  • Do they get angry, or pout, or manipulate if I’m not meeting every demand?
  • Would this person ever take care of me the way I’m taking care of them?
  • Do they make real efforts to take care of their own needs?
  • Do they sabotage themselves (and you) by not taking responsibility for themselves?

In a good relationship, there is reciprocity of concern, and both people have respect for the other and care about the other’s well-being.

Sometimes, one person needs more temporarily, but always the pendulum swings back the other way. You trust that give and take will always be there because you each value the other’s happiness.

With people who drain you, there’s no give and take. They’ll drain you dry and ask for more and make you feel guilty if you can’t find more to give. They’re heavily dependent.

It’s crucial as a first step to truly see what’s going on and know that you’re being taken advantage of, used, and likely manipulated. If you don’t get clear on this, you’ll fall back into feeling guilty and continue on.

It helps to talk to someone you trust who can be objective. A friend is fine if they’re able to let you speak without overriding your feelings with their own. A therapist is always a good option.

Now for the second part.

Do I stay or leave?

There are two things you can do.

  1. The first one is to begin setting boundaries.
  2. The second is to make a decision to leave the relationship.

Let’s start with boundaries.

Setting Boundaries

You may feel that you can’t leave the relationship. For instance, if the problem exists with an adult child, you will likely feel very uncomfortable cutting the relationship off. You may even feel that way with a spouse or other family member.

In this case, setting boundaries is the best option. You want to see if you can salvage the relationship. Sometimes a needy person will change their behavior to avoid the loss.

I would suggest getting a journal for this so you can write out your thoughts and ideas. Start by getting very clear on:

  • What expectations of you are unreasonable?
  • What behaviors on the other person’s part are contributing to the problem and could be changed if they were willing?
  • What behaviors on your part are contributing to the problem?
  • If you could change the relationship to reflect mutual respect and concern, what would that look like? Get very specific. What would it take for you to feel comfortable and “good” in this relationship

Once you have a handle on all of that, have a frank conversation with this person. Calmly spell out your feelings and thoughts about what changes you need to see made and why. Describe in detail what expectations you have in terms of new behaviors and cooperative efforts on both your parts.

Don’t blame or accuse.

Use “I” statements only and speak of what you need and what you won’t allow. If the relationship is viable, the other person will respect what you have to say even if they don’t agree right away. Some people say no before they say yes, and that’s all right as long as the changes come along.

For you, the hard part is to hold the line. You’re battling patterns that have become institutionalized in your relationship and likely come from your history. A good outcome will include negotiation and consideration on both your parts as you seek to make real changes. Again, I would suggest some counseling to help you work through the process.

Leaving the Relationship

Most of the time, we try to salvage the relationship before deciding to leave it. Occasionally, you’re already there and don’t need to think about it, or something happens that pushes you to that point, and you make the decision to leave.

Some relationships are much easier to leave. For example, if you have a friend who has been the taker in the relationship for a long time without giving you much back, you might more easily decide to stop interacting or spending time with this person.

A marriage or family relationship is different and takes more thought. These are harder to navigate, and if you’re struggling, you really should seek some counseling.

Things To Remember

Here are several things to keep in mind that might help:

  1. Real love is holding those dear to you accountable for their behavior.
  2. Self-respect comes from setting boundaries with others against manipulation, being used, or being abused.
  3. Relationships that last are characterized by mutual respect and concern for each other’s well-being. It can’t be a one-way street.
  4. Everyone is ultimately responsible for themselves. It’s up to each of us to do all within our power to take care of ourselves and to consider the feelings and needs of those we love.

That’s all for today. I hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #53: How to Get Your Most Important Work Done

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday, I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you. My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!


Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

I recently finished an online course called Time Genius, created and taught by Marie Forleo. I took the course because I struggle with getting overwhelmed by the many tasks I need to do daily that interfere with working on my most important goals.

The course was packed with loads of valuable tools, and today I want to share one of them with you that’s had a surprisingly significant impact on my productivity while also decreasing feelings of overwhelm. I’m hoping you can try it too and get the same results.

Do the most important work first.

Based on one of the strategies offered in the course, I decided to start scheduling my most demanding and important work first up each day. For me, that’s writing and researching. It’s brain work that requires consistent focus and heavy engagement.

Let me give you one example of how this has worked.

For years, I’ve cooked every Friday morning for 3 or 4 hours to have food ready for the week. Afterward, I usually take a quick lunch break and then write for several hours before closing out the workday.

I decided to flip-flop that day and begin with writing. I blocked out a 4-hour period from 9 am to 1 pm and worked diligently until the time was up. Then I followed with a lunch break and did my cooking in the afternoon.

Surprisingly, I found that I was at least five times more productive writing in that morning block than in the afternoons. No exaggeration! Probably more! Even more surprising, I enjoyed cooking much more later in the day and did it faster, leaving time for answering emails and other busywork.

This one switch has made a massive difference in writing output, and as you can guess, I’m using this strategy on other days of the week as much as possible.

Deep Work

Writing, or any creative endeavor, or any work that requires intense focus, is called Deep Work. This description comes from Cal Newport in his book of the same title. He defines deep work as:

Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push our cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

This type of engagement requires all of you and demands pulling out everything you’ve got. That’s why we resist it. We know it’s going to be taxing. However, once you get all the way in, you can get into that state of flow, which feels almost effortless. It’s making yourself set aside the time, sit down, and start that’s difficult.

Newport has several ideas about how to get consistent, and I learned more about these in Time Genius. I’m going to briefly list them for you so you can try them yourself.

1) Select a set time block.

Select the time of day that’s your energy sweet spot. It’s when you feel the most clear-minded, fresh, energized, and productive. For most people, it’s morning, but some do best in the afternoon or evening.

Next, create a time block you know you can commit to, and set it on your calendar. Keep in mind that most of us can only engage in 3 to 4 hours of deep work per day, and for some, it’s less. I usually set aside 4 hours if I’ve got the time. If not, I might set aside 2 hours or even an hour and a half if that’s all I have. My best time is morning, so I always set up time blocks in the AM.

2) Plan your work agenda ahead.

It’s imperative to know ahead of time what you’re going to do during your time block. If you don’t know, you’ll waste a good bit of energy and time upfront deciding. You may have different types of deep work you need to do on different days, or you do the same work each time.

The best policy is to write out what you’re going to do during each deep work time block for the week ahead. Establish a standard method of making this list. You can use a journal, a regular to-do list, or whatever works for you. Just be sure it’s the same every week. You’re building an automated habit. I use “Notes” on my iPad and check it every night before bed and review it again in the morning.

3) Remove every possible distraction before you begin.

If you don’t do this one, you won’t succeed. It’s as simple as that.

Distractions create something called attention residue.” It’s the lagging attention that remains on one task as you try to switch to another. This also happens every time you multi-task. It works like this:

You muster up an energy surge to pull away from the first task. Then you use more energy to turn your attention to the other task (or distraction) and engage in that. To get back to where you were, even more power is required to make that u-turn and reengage in your deep work.

Distractions are dings from your phone notifying you of texts or emails, ringing, notifications appearing on your computer desktop, TV, pop-ups, other people conversing, or anything that can pull your attention away for even a moment.

Personally, I like my phone across the room where I can’t see it. Research has shown that just the presence of a phone is distracting. If you must be available for emergency calls, you can program your phone to ring only for specific numbers.

4) Set up your physical environment before starting.

Where do you do your deep work?

Select your best location. Make sure you have everything you need right there. Make it comfortable. If you drink coffee or tea or water, have it ready and sitting on your desk or side table. Get your snack. Have your computer charger ready, so you don’t have to get up and find it and plug it in.

If you’re working at an office, have your desk set up the way you like it and let other people know you’ll be unavailable for the next several hours. Use noise-canceling headphones if you need to block out chatter or other noise.

Do whatever you can to make your space inviting, comfortable, and stocked with what you need so you aren’t distracted before you’re done.

More Thoughts

The big takeaway from focusing on your deep work at the right time of day, consistently scheduling it, and guarding that time, is that you get the reward of feeling momentum toward your goals. You reduce your overwhelm and enjoy doing your other tasks later in the day because you’ve finished the hard stuff already. It doesn’t hang over you or nag you or slip away.

Prioritizing your deep work will get you to your goals a lot faster and leave you feeling satisfied and pleased with your accomplishments.

Let me know how it works! Leave a comment below!

Have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #52: Is perfectionism really a bad thing?

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday, I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you. My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

By Gustavo Frazao – Courtesy of Shutterstock

Have you ever asked yourself why perfectionism gets such a bad rap? I have, and that’s because I lean that way. I like to do things well – very well! I’m not too fond of mediocrity. If we don’t push ourselves to accomplish the ideal, aren’t we settling for second-rate?

Those are the arguments that come up when people defend their perfectionistic tendencies.

But what about the original question – “Is perfectionism really a bad thing?”

YES! And here’s why:

Perfectionism isn’t about how well you do something – it’s a measure of your worth.

What does that mean?

Just this:

Perfectionism is a perpetual mental drum that tells you anything less than perfect isn’t worthy, which translates to “I’m not worthy.” The term “good enough” doesn’t exist in the world of perfection. It’s all or nothing. You’re either perfect or you’re a failure.

The real problem is that you can’t reach “perfect.” The chronic pursuit of it is a black hole that sucks you in and keeps you on the treadmill of reaching but not arriving. It’s painful and relentless.

Brené Brown accurately describes perfectionism as a “defensive move.” It’s an attempt to avoid shame, judgment, or blame. If we do everything perfectly, look perfect, and behave perfectly, then we can stay under the radar of others’ negative scrutiny and disappointment in us.

This burning need to avoid judgment and criticism keeps us in a never-ending cycle of:

Striving to be perfect and not living up to it → feeling unworthy → becoming depressed, anxious, or both → and starting again.

We’re never present, but always focused on our fear of future failure and a relentless effort to ward it off.

That’s perfectionism. It’s a mirage.

“Yeah, so I still want to do things well – really well! What’s wrong with that?”

Striving for Excellence

Nothing’s wrong with that if done with the right mindset.

Striving for excellence is a worthy practice. It honors our desire to do the best we can, succeed, create, perform, and attain mastery.

What it doesn’t define is our worth.

The pleasure in succeeding at something isn’t the result of being perfect.

  1. Pleasure and satisfaction come from effort, learning, gaining insight, trial and error, and expanding and honing one’s skillset.
  2. It’s meeting challenges with a sense of excitement and enthusiasm to figure something out, get better at something, and gain intrinsic satisfaction from doing something well.

Life is a work in progress, and there’s no perfect endpoint. We’re never finished, but growth is continual and has its own rewards regardless of outcomes.

Your motivation to do things well is a particularly human drive that keeps us moving forward and evolving. We want to nurture and make use of this drive to feel fulfilled and grow. Here’s what you can do to make sure you’re on that track.

1) Adopt the Right Mindset

To pursue excellence without undermining your sense of self, you have to adopt the right mindset. Carol Dweck spells this idea out in detail in her book Mindset, and if you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend doing so, especially if you’re plagued by perfectionistic thinking.

She describes two mindsets: The Fixed Mindset and the Growth Mindset. The one you want to adopt is the growth mindset.

The Fixed Mindset

The core belief of the fixed mindset is that you are your performance. Your sense of self, self-esteem, and value rests on what you do and how you perform.

The measures of your worth are your outcomes:

Did you get all As? Were you at the top of the class? Do you have the best track record at your job? Can you do things easily and without much effort because you’re smart? Do you have a high IQ? Are you the one who always knows the answers? Are you successful?

This mindset is a precarious tightrope that gets you up on that pedestal and then creates chronic anxiety to stay there, because when you fall, even a little, you’re a failure.

The Growth Mindset

The growth mindset starts with the belief that you’re intrinsically valuable outside of what you do or how you perform. The goal is to grow, evolve, and actualize, however, it is understood that this is an ongoing process. Your value is always there regardless of where you are on the path.

Emphasis is on effort, process, learning, insight, and challenge. Challenges are approached with enthusiasm because you know that making mistakes or experiencing failures along the way are opportunities to learn and improve. These are acceptable and don’t impact your value. Failures are necessary because they teach us what we need to know.

With the growth mindset, intelligence is not static. It’s something that grows with experience and effort.

What you do is a source of fulfillment rather than a measure of who you are.

2) Ditch the all-or-nothing thinking.

You aren’t either-or, success or failure, good or bad. You’re a person with intrinsic value who’s in the process of experiencing the many shades and variations of life. Explore your interests, use your talents, and hone your skills to expand and improve yourself. It’s a process, not a single point on the horizon.

3) Cultivate living in the present.

Perfectionists live in the future. Every moment is scarfed up with fears and ruminations about future judgment and recrimination.

Live in the present moment and savor your experiences, engagement, and responses to challenges as they come. You can be mindful of where you are while looking forward to where you want to go.

4) View failure as a stepping stone.

Failure is actually the wrong word to use. A better alternative is “setback.” Setbacks are events that signal you need to change your direction or do something different. It might mean going back to the drawing board and rethinking something, or making a pivot in your activities.

Progress is never a straight line. It’s a few steps forward, a few steps backward, re-assessments and recalculations, and steps forward again. Accepting that makes setbacks gifts, not events to lament.

Last Thoughts

Letting go of perfectionism and replacing it with striving for excellence will allow you much greater success in pursuing your goals.

Redirecting your emotional energy away from self-flagellation toward the enjoyment gained in pursuing things you love is both relieving and energizing.

If you’re a perfectionist and have been plagued by trying to remain on that slippery pedestal, step down, join the human race, and enjoy pursuing your aspirations.

That’s all for today! Have a great week!!!

All my best,

Barbara

PS: Three books I recommend if you struggle with perfectionism are The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly, both authored by Brené Brown, and Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist.

 

Blog Short #51: 12 Characteristics of Likable People

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday, I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you. My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

I recently read a book called Social Chemistry by Marissa King that included a chapter about what makes people likable. I thought that would make a good subject for a blog, so I did some additional research to see what I could find out. There’s actually a lot written on the subject!

Today, I’m giving you a composite list of everything I read and learned, along with some thoughts about what it means.

My list consists of twelve characteristics or traits that show up in most of the literature. See if it resonates with you. It does with me. Here we go.

Characteristics of Likable People

1) They listen.

Likable people listen. Really listen. They show interest in you and ask sincere questions. They’re curious and want to understand what you’re saying and how you feel. They’re empathetic and work to see things through your lens. They look you in the eye with openness and invite you to talk. They put their phones away or at least turn them face down. They’re attentive and focused. And if you need help or want some advice to solve a problem, they willingly offer their best. They add value.

2) They’re authentic.

It’s difficult to trust someone who feels fake or who doesn’t reveal much about themselves. Likable people are comfortable in their own skin and aren’t self-conscious while talking or listening. There’s a sense of consistency in their personality and presentation, which helps you trust them. They feel solid and seem secure without being overbearing or narcissistic.

3) They don’t judge.

It’s pretty tricky to go into depth with someone who is judging every word you say. Likable people can listen to an opinion that’s in total opposition to what they think or believe and still be respectful and interested in knowing your point of view. They’re open-minded and approach discussions with curiosity. They’re interested in understanding what you think. They don’t need to be right. They’re comfortable with differences.

4) They don’t compete.

Likable people are secure with themselves and have no need to inflate their egos at your expense. They don’t one-up, interrupt, talk over, or monopolize conversations. They’re on the same side as you and want to connect rather than win.

5) They don’t seek attention.

They’re humble, don’t brag or name-drop, and aren’t focused on boasting about their successes. They’re openly interested in others and don’t need to be center stage.

6) They leave a solid first impression.

According to some studies, “people decide if they like you in the first 7 seconds of meeting you, and then spend the rest of the conversation internally justifying their initial reaction,” (Bradberry). Another study says that people can judge us in a 10th of a second, and in the next two or more seconds, those judgments tend to become more negative (Donna Van Natten). Either way, first impressions often stick.

Likable people use positive body language, which goes a long way toward making an excellent first impression. They face forward, relax their shoulders, keep their arms open rather than folded across their chest, make direct eye contact, have a firm handshake, and above all, smile! They feel genuine.

7) They’re positive.

Likable people are positive overall, but not in a confining way, meaning they don’t enforce positivity to the exclusion of hearing about someone’s real issues or problems. They don’t insist that everyone be happy all the time or put a positive spin on everything. But they exude inward joy and radiate warmth and receptivity. They don’t over complain, and above all, they don’t talk ill of others. They tend to describe others in a positive light and avoid engaging in petty gossip.

8) They follow up.

Following up means you remember previous conversations or information you’ve been told and check up on it later. For example, if your friend was ill a week ago and you ran into her, you would follow up and ask how she’s feeling now. You remember what was said and find it important enough to ask about later.

9) They use touch at the right time.

Touch is a tricky thing in that it needs to be done appropriately. Not all people like to be touched. Likable people generally can read whether someone would be receptive to touch. If so, they use light touches such as a pat on the shoulder or arm, shaking hands, or giving a hug. Touch releases oxytocin in the brain, which is associated with pleasure and positive feelings.

10) They call you by name.

Likable people greet you by name and continue to say your name throughout the interchange without overdoing it. Hearing your name in a conversation creates intimacy and helps forge a connection.

11) They go for deeper conversations.

Chit-chat is all right sometimes, but it can be inane and energy-zapping. Likable people move toward deeper conversations that create real connection. They invite people to talk about themselves and likewise reveal themselves as they converse. Deeper exchanges allow both parties to learn about each other which is intimate and stimulating at the same time.

12) They find similarities.

Research has shown that people gravitate toward those with whom they can find common ground. Mutual interests, hobbies, values, beliefs, experiences, and ideas all help people bond together more easily. In part, it’s because you feel like the other person relates to and understands you. You think to yourself, “We’re alike! He gets me!” It’s a mirroring function which is something that lies deep in our human DNA. It’s the original way Mommy and baby bonded. It satisfies our need to be connected and understood.

What can we take from this?

Several things come to mind when you read through this list.

First, there’s no reference to how people look, their age, or their personality types. These things aren’t important. What is important are their internal qualities.

Secondly, likable people are emotionally intelligent. If you go back over the list, the following characteristics stand out:

  • Capacity to empathize
  • Authenticity
  • Open-mindedness
  • Connectedness
  • Respect
  • Humility
  • Depth
  • Positivity

People who are well-developed psychologically and emotionally can attend to others with genuine interest and understanding. That’s a big part of what makes them likable. We all want to be valued and understood, and those who make us feel that way get our respect and positive regard.

Last, likability comes from someone’s capacity to be “other” focused. It’s being warm, caring, and serving as an attentive witness to someone else’s life.

That’s all for today! I hope you have a wonderful week! Please leave a comment below!

All my best,

Barbara


Bradberry, T.  2009). Emotional intelligence 2.0. Talent Smart.

Bradberry, T. (2015, January 27). 13 habits of exceptionally likable people. Forbes.

Huang, K., Yeomans, M., Brooks, A. W., Minson, J., & Gino, F. (2017). It doesn’t hurt to ask: Question-asking increases liking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 113(3), 430–452.
https://doi.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fpspi0000097

Joseph, S. (2016). Authentic: how to be yourself & why it matters. Piatkus.

Kashdan, T. B., McKnight, P. E., Fincham, F. D., & Rose, P. (2011). When curiosity breeds intimacy: Taking advantage of intimacy opportunities and transforming boring conversations. Journal of Personality. 79(6), 1369-402. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-6494.2010.00697.x

King, M. (2020). Social chemistry: decoding the patterns of human connection. Dutton.

Mae, L., Carlston, D. E., & Skowronski, J. J. (1999). Spontaneous trait transference to familiar communications: Is a little knowledge a dangerous thing? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(2), 233–246. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.77.2.233

Suttie, J. (2017, May 31). Why curious people have better relationships. Greater Good Science Center. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_curious_people_have_better_relationships?

Tenney, E R.., Turkheimer, E., & Oltmanns, T. F. (2009). Being liked is more than having a good personality: The role of matching. Journal of Research in Personality, 43(4), 579-585.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2862496/

Turkle, S. (2015). Reclaiming conversation: the power of talk in a digital age. Penguin Books.

Blog Short #50: Part 3 – How to Avoid Overreacting When Your Buttons are Pushed

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday, I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you. My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Today finishes up our 3-part series on what to do when you get provoked by someone. In Part 1, we identified the five primary motives behind provoking. In Part 2, I gave you some ideas and strategies to use when it occurs. Today we’re going deeper and talking about what to do when someone pushes your buttons.

But before we get to that, let’s talk about where your buttons come from. Then, what to do will make more sense.

What are “buttons” and where do they come from?

Buttons are emotional soft spots, or raw emotional scars, that simmer beneath the surface and flare up when provoked. When someone pushes them, it feels personal and attacking.

For example, someone who grew up with a repetitively critical parent may respond excessively to the mere hint of criticism as an adult.

Your partner asks you in passing if you had time to call the plumber today about a needed repair, and you fly off the handle and yell,

“I’m not your employee! I have enough on my plate!”

In actuality, he wasn’t worried about whether it was done yet but was trying to find out if you needed help with it. Because of your history – in this case, a very critical mother – you interpreted it as a wholesale criticism of you as someone who’s irresponsible and doesn’t stay on top of things.

Soft spots that take up permanent residence as “buttons” come from repetitive experiences in our past that chip away at our sense of self, and were emotionally charged. They felt dangerous.

As adults, remain overly sensitive to any stimulus that feels similar.

Reactions to Button-Pushing

When someone pushes our buttons, our reactions are fast and out of control, and we experience what’s called emotional hijacking.

The stimulus (the button-pushing) sounds an alarm to our emotional brain, and we react without the benefit of our thinking brain. It’s a knee-jerk reaction.

In part, this is because the pattern that’s being stirred up was developed in childhood when our emotional brains were in charge and before we had the full benefit of our cognition.

Our reactions, even as adults, to that same behavior pattern thrown at us is still the reaction of our younger selves. That’s why people often say,

“When he pushes my buttons, I go crazy! I’m in a fury in seconds!”

It’s true, and you feel as small and powerless as you did when that button was created.

What do we do about them?

All of this means that responding differently to having our buttons pushed is not so easy. We can’t just think our way out of it because our reactions happen fast and automatically before we have a chance to think them through.

The key is to strategize before they get pushed. We have to plan ahead.

There are five parts to doing this.

1) Identify

The first step is to identify your buttons. These are the behaviors that trigger those intense reactions. Some examples are:

  • Being guilted, demeaned, made fun of, devalued, shamed, humiliated, unappreciated, taken advantage of, made to feel stupid or weak, scolded, or powerless.
  • Being nagged, invaded, crowded, abused, scorned, or used.
  • Made to believe you’re unlovable or not good enough.

Start by making a list of your soft spots. What behaviors trigger you into overreacting emotionally and defensively? What brings on an immediate reaction you can’t control?

2) Redefine

This next step is the hardest one.

  • Take your list of soft spots and objectively think about them. When and how were they developed and under what circumstances? With whom do you associate them?
  • Write your answers out. For example, if “criticism” was one of them, write down who was critical of you, when it happened, and for what kinds of things. How does criticism make you feel about yourself, and how do you react to it emotionally?
  • Next, write out a corrected version. What was untrue or unfair? What was exaggerated? How realistic were the expectations of you? Looking at it through the eyes of your adult self, what perceptions need to be corrected?

Buttons are products of your past, so you have to bring them into the present and re-examine them for accuracy using your adult thinking. If you don’t do that consciously, they continue to operate in the same manner in which they were developed, and continue to have power over you.

3) Plan Ahead

Now it’s time to plan ahead how you’re going to react the next time someone pushes one of your buttons.

Some options are:

  1. Say you need a moment and remove yourself until you’re calm. “I’m feeling quite reactive to what you just said, and I need a few moments to calm down and get my bearings. Give me 20 minutes.”
  2. You can ask the other person questions to better understand what’s bothering them. “I’m not clear on what you’re saying. Can you explain it a little more?” You buy yourself some time this way while getting a clearer picture of the problem from the perspective of your thinking brain.
  3. If the person who pushes the button is someone you know well and trust, you can tell them what you’re experiencing and let them help you distinguish what they’ve said from your “soft spot” interpretation. “I’m really sensitive to being criticized. You may not have meant to criticize me, but it feels that way. Can you help me understand what you mean?”
  4. If the person pushing your button is doing it on purpose or is trying to provoke you, you don’t need to respond at all. You can be silent or remove yourself, or tell them you’ll listen when they can speak to you honestly and directly without attacking.

The idea is to come up with a plan. You can create mantras for yourself that you say to prevent an automatic verbal reaction. You can use the ideas above. Or you can be quiet.

The goal is to avoid that knee-jerk emotional reaction while accessing your thinking brain.

4) Practice

“Practice” means exactly what it says. Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t successful right away. The more you work at planning ahead and trying different strategies, the more you’ll succeed. When you fail, use it to regroup and try something different.

Practice and tweak. Practice and tweak.

5) Neutralize

The final goal is to neutralize the trigger so it loses its power. When you practice and tweak, you eventually become desensitized to it.

You’ll also begin to let go of emotional attachments to those early experiences that impacted you so significantly. You won’t forget them, but you’ll be able to look at them without reliving the feelings they brought on at the time. You may even feel differently about the people involved in creating them.

That was a lot for today. I hope you found it helpful!

Have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #49: Part 2 – What do you do when someone provokes you?

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday, I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you. My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!


By fizkes Courtesy of Shutterstock

Today’s blog is Part 2 of a three-part series on what to do when someone tries to provoke you.

In Part 1, we covered the five reasons behind most provocations, and also described the “evocative communication style,” which is the style used in most of these instances. If you haven’t read Part 1, you can access it here.

In Part 2, we’re going to cover strategies you can use to deal with a provocation. Here we go!

The Choice

The first consideration is to make this choice:

  1. You can either stay and attend to the conversation, or
  2. You can decide not to engage and leave the conversation without responding.

The choice will likely depend on several things, including how close your relationship is with the person involved, the type of provocation used, and how reactive you feel to what you’re hearing.

Let’s begin with making the decision not to engage.

Stepping out of the conversation.

Here are three possible situations where you might choose to opt out:

1) Personal Attack

The person speaking is launching a full-on personal attack that’s disrespectful, hostile, demeaning, scornful, and in general just nasty!

If someone is this riled up and intends to hurt you, then the best response is silence.

It’s perfectly fine to get up and leave the scene without responding. Doing this sets a firm boundary that being mean and hurtful is unacceptable to you regardless of how or why the other person is upset.

If you do decide to stay and respond, you’ll likely set yourself up for more of the same – not to mention that it’s challenging to keep your cool when someone is attacking you with this degree of animosity.

2) The Nature of the Relationship

The closer or more involved with someone you are, the more critical it is to resolve a conflict or work through an issue. If an acquaintance you barely know says something provocative to you, you’re less likely to be as bothered than if it comes from someone you care about or know well.

If the provocation gets under your skin quickly and you’re starting to lose it emotionally, you can opt out temporarily.

You could excuse yourself and say you need some time to cool down before continuing, which in most cases is a good idea. Then come back when you’ve had time to sort through what you heard, and you’re able to think clearly.

3) You Feel Vulnerable

You’re in the wrong state of mind when the provocation is launched.

If you’re tired, stressed, overwhelmed, or already feeling on edge, then this is probably not the time to get involved in working through messy, unclear messages.

Sorting out evocative communications takes calmness, presence of mind, rational thinking, and emotional energy.

Most arguments get out of hand because one or both people involved are stressed before they begin. Stress of any kind leads to emotional regression and puts us in a precarious position to think and see things logically.

One particular rule to follow is, never respond to a provocation if either you or the other person or both of you have been drinking. It won’t go well.

Now let’s move on to what to do when you feel up to dealing with the provocation.

4 Steps to Follow

Step 1:

The first step is to figure out the intent of the statement(s).

Which of the five categories that we went over last week does the current communication fall under? Quickly, the five categories are:

  1. Discharging an emotion by passing it on to you
  2. One-upping you
  3. Avoiding dealing with some other issue by distracting you
  4. Displacing a reaction from a previous event onto you
  5. Finding an excuse to be mean or start a fight.

What’s the purpose? If you know that, it’s easier to figure out how to respond.

Step 2:

Respond verbally to the emotions you perceive rather than the exact content of the messages.

Remember that most attempts to provoke use the “evocative communication” style. This style muddies the waters. You hear the words, but you sense there’s more to it. Something’s off.

Your best bet is to go straight for the feeling coming from the speaker rather than respond to the content.

“You seem upset about something. Are you?” “I’m detecting some disappointment (or some anger, resentment, etc.). Is that true?”

Name the feeling as best you can and ask if you’re right. If you are, the conversation will likely take a turn and become more manageable. You’ll diffuse the intensity of the attack, and the other person will open up and tell you what’s really bothering them.

If you’re wrong, they’ll most likely correct you and give you the right emotion.

If there’s a wholesale denial of any negative emotions even though you know they’re there, go directly to number three.

Step 3:

Ask what the intent of the statement is and what the person is hoping to accomplish by saying it.

This works well to change the momentum of the conversation back toward the speaker and away from you.

Instead of the speaker waiting for you to respond or defend, they’re forced to think about their motives and either reword what they’ve said in a way that’s clearer and less provocative, or show their hand and own the emotions they’re trying to project your way.

It works best if you deliver your question calmly and with authentic curiosity. It inserts rationality into the equation and feels empathetic.

Step 4:

Restate what the real issue is based on what the speaker tells you about their intent.

As you listen to answers to your questions above, you can restate the real problem in a conciliatory and empathetic way. This gets you both on the same page. You might say something like,

“I get it – you had a rough day at work, and you’re feeling frustrated and angry. I don’t blame you at all.”

You might also find out there’s an issue you’ve been avoiding and need to approach, in which case you can own up to it and offer some ideas about how to resolve it. Your job is to be open to what you hear and respond accordingly.

Whatever the case, getting to the actual intent of the provocation helps get you both on the same side and eliminates confusion.

If the provoker dodges dealing with your questions and continues to be negative and attacking, opt-out. You can either say you’ll listen when he’s willing to be honest about what’s happening, or respond with silence and remove yourself, or all three.

There you have it. Next week we’ll talk about what to do when your buttons are pushed. It’s a little more complex than what we covered today and requires some different actions.

Hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #48: Part 1 – What makes people provoke others?

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday, I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you. My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Today we’re going to talk about provocative communication. It’s a big subject, so I’m dividing it into three parts. Part 1 will cover:

  1. Why someone tries to provoke you
  2. The style of communication used when provoking
  3. How you can immediately detect the intent to provoke

Part 2, which I’ll give you next week, will provide some techniques you can use to handle provocative communication successfully. Part 3 will get a little more personal and talk about what to do when someone pushes your buttons.

Now let’s go through some of the reasons someone might try to provoke you.

5 Reasons Someone Tries to Provoke You

1) Get rid of a negative feeling that’s uncomfortable.

In this case scenario, the goal is to discharge a negative feeling by passing it on to someone else and making them feel it. Kids do this to their parents all the time. Instead of saying “I’m feeling angry!” or “I’m in a bad mood!” they do something that will bring on an angry reaction from their parent. They misbehave or say something that provokes mom into yelling or spouting off. Then they calm down as they watch mom turn into Godzilla with two heads.

Adults do similar things, although they’re more sophisticated about it. They might drop a comment they know will bring on a big reaction or passive-aggressively do something that pushes your buttons. The intent is to get you to feel their emotions and discharge them, thereby providing them relief. It’s a game of “hot potato.”

2) Feel better about yourself.

The intent here is to one-up. If I can get you to regress and react childishly or inappropriately, then I can feel better than you.

“I’ve got it together – you obviously don’t!”

Narcissistic people are famous for this one. They say things that are highly provocative and then sit back and wait for the fireworks. I’m sure you can think of many examples in your own life where you’ve been the recipient of this type of behavior.

3) Avoid a problem.

Mary’s been fretting about having to talk to her husband about overspending on their credit card. The credit card bill came in the mail today, and she knows he’ll see it. So as soon as he comes in the door from work, she provokes him into fighting with her about his not picking up after himself that morning before leaving the house.

She might be upset about that, but what she’s most upset about is worrying how he’s going to react to finding out about her overspending. Instead of telling him about it and dealing with the problem upfront, she avoids it by distracting him and putting him on the defensive.

4) Displace anger or frustration.

We’ve already talked about getting rid of uncomfortable negative emotions by making someone else feel and discharge them for us. This one follows along with that but is a bit more specific.

In this scenario, someone gets chewed out by the boss at work and comes home and chews out his wife or one of the kids. The anger or frustration coming from one source gets displaced on someone else.

We all do this to some degree. You get upset about something and speak to the next person you see in a clipped manner. It’s as though the negative feeling boils over into another container.

5) Launch a targeted attack.

There are times when someone purposely provokes you by directly launching a personal attack. The underlying reasons might be anger, retaliation, or, at worst, pure meanness. Most often, this occurs when there is built-up anger that’s been simmering for a long time.

Some minor incident triggers a release that rolls out more like a freight train. Sometimes the person explodes.

The stored up emotions may be directly related to the person receiving the attack or may result from an unresolved trigger dating back to previous experiences. We’ll talk about this more in Part 3 when we discuss pushing buttons.

The question is,

How do I know when someone’s trying to provoke me?

There are several reactions you might have that clue you in.

  • You feel hostility coming from the other person. Sometimes it’s very subtle and sometimes quite obvious.
  • You feel a fight coming on even though you weren’t looking for one and don’t want it.
  • You feel attacked or demeaned.
  • The emotions coming from the other person seem irrational or unreasonable and often excessive for the situation.
  • The communication moves fast – 0 to 60 in seconds or minutes.
  • The transmission is combative, adversarial, or competitive.

It’s kind of like having the hair on the back of your neck standing up. You have a sense of wariness, even if the communication is seemingly innocuous.

Some provocations are straight up and direct. You know it’s happening. Yet, you may still have difficulty getting a handle on the exact problem or issue and feel like you’re sinking in quicksand. When you experience that, you’re on the receiving end of what’s called “evocative communication.”

Let’s go over that briefly, and that will finish us up for today.

Evocative Communication

The hallmark of this style of communication is hidden agendas.

Someone says something, yet you sense that there’s some underlying motive they aren’t revealing. Words are used to evoke some feeling in you rather than to communicate and connect.

The goal is not mutual understanding but rather getting something from you or subtly shooting darts in your direction. Sometimes both things happen simultaneously, which is highly confusing.

The most common characteristics of this style are:

  • The intent is unclear.
  • You’re not sure exactly what the speaker is trying to communicate or where the emotions are coming from.
  • The emotions are disconnected, meaning they seem to be all over the place, or don’t match the situation or content spoken.
  • Body language, tone of voice, and intention don’t match. Someone launches a backhanded shot while smiling and speaking in a soft voice.
  • You feel attacked, criticized, blamed, or scorned.
  • You feel defensive and manipulated.

When you feel provoked emotionally and the intent is unclear, you’re likely on the receiving end of an evocative communication. Not always – sometimes provocations are pretty direct. The person makes it clear they’re upset and trying to provoke you. However, that’s less common. Most of the time, evocative communication is at play.

Where do we go from here?

As stated at the beginning, next week I’ll give you some strategies you can use to effectively deal with attempts to provoke you. Then the following week, we’ll talk more about what to do when someone pushes your buttons. Provocations directed at your weak spots are more difficult to field successfully.

That’s all for today!

I hope you have a fabulous week!

All my best,

Barbara

 

Blog Short #47: Dealing with Loss

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday, I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you. My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!


Photo by Paola Chaaya on Unsplash

Today’s blog is a bit of a departure from my usual focus on problem-solving. It’s more from the heart as it hits close to home for me, and maybe it will for you too. The subject is loss.

As we all know, loss is a part of life that can’t be sidestepped. But there is much we can learn from it if we allow ourselves to deal with it honestly when it occurs.

Losing someone you love, whether a partner, child, friend, extended family member, or beloved pet, is painful – most often, very painful. There’s no way around that.

The choice we do have is in how we deal with it. When we allow ourselves to feel our way through it, we eventually find acceptance and resolution.

That doesn’t mean that things go back to the way they were. That never happens because when you lose someone, your personal landscape is forever altered. The goal is to come to terms with that and find peace as you move forward with your life.

Let’s start with what to do right after a loss occurs.

The Days After

Very often, the first reaction is to feel numb, shocked, or disbelieving even though you know it’s happened. This is normal, especially if the loss was unexpected. If you knew it was coming, you might have been able to prepare some, yet when it actually happens, you might still feel some shock or numbness.

Over days or even weeks and months, other feelings will surface, such as sadness and a gnawing emptiness that you might try to alleviate with manic activity or other distractions.

The best approach is to allow the feelings to surface whatever they are, and do your best not to avoid or deny them. You need to go through them. You can’t go around. If you avoid them, you won’t resolve and find a place for them. They’ll pop up in other ways and negatively affect both your future happiness and capacity to reengage in your life.

Things you can do to help with the pain are:

  1. Watch the feelings as you have them. That doesn’t mean not feeling them, but rather having some compassion for yourself as they arise. It helps you to brave them without retreating. Allow yourself to be vulnerable.
  2. Remember that the intensity of your emotions won’t remain the same over time. It will eventually shift and let up, and you’ll be able to look at things differently.
  3. Talk to people who love you and will allow you to share your sadness. Talking helps you release the emotions so that they don’t build up and remain inside.

Over Time

As time extends out, other feelings may arise, such as anger and disappointment. You might alternate between sadness and anger. If the relationship was complicated or unresolved issues were left over, you might feel cheated, frustrated, or have regrets.

Let yourself feel all of it. No censoring. Talk it out when you can, and approach yourself with care and compassion, even if you have things you feel ashamed of or regret doing (or not doing).

The goal is to feel your grief, forgive yourself or the other person if that applies, and eventually move forward feeling whole with interest in the future.

A second goal is to feel peace and resolution when you think of the one you’ve lost.

Now, there’s one more piece to dealing with loss, and it’s actually a gift.

The Gift

Loss is an experience that that allows us an opportunity to take stock of ourselves.

If we lose a partner, we might question whether we loved that person enough or did right by them. We might be angry that we never got the love we truly wanted. We might have regrets about some of the ways we behaved or regrets about decisions made.

Looking back is natural when we lose someone, and questioning things we might have done differently often comes up. Sometimes we don’t have regrets, but just intensely miss our loved one. Often both things occur simultaneously.

As you work through the loss, it’s helpful to review any regrets or unresolved issues. You can’t address them directly at this point, but you can learn from them yourself.

Loss is an opportunity for growth, even if you’re older and feel like you’re coming nearer to the end of your own life. We evolve until we die – if we want to. And loss helps us do that.

Questions you might ask are:

  • What did I gain from the relationship? What do I appreciate? What are my best memories?
  • What have I learned about myself? Is there anything I want to change going forward?
  • What shifts in my sense of self are occurring as I have more time alone?
  • Do I want to change any of my current relationships? With other family members? With friends? If so, in what way? What actions can I take?
  • What might I have done differently if I could do it over?
  • Are there things I need to forgive? Of the other person? Of myself?

Transitioning from Two to One

Depending on the length and depth of the relationship, part of the process of working through the loss is to recreate a sense of yourself without the habitual interactions and spoken communications with the person you loved.

At first and for a time, you find yourself automatically thinking as though they’re still around, and then your catch yourself and have to recognize all over again they’re not.

Eventually, this subsides, but it reflects a process of psychically withdrawing yourself from the merged you (in that relationship) to just you. You take the person with you in the form of memories and feelings, but you see yourself as being on your own again.

This is why some people say things like “I feel like my heart’s breaking,” or “This pain is so gut-wrenching,” or “I feel shattered.” Emotional and physical pain activate the same areas of the brain.

The physical pain you feel is real in a sense and represents the psychic withdrawal of yourself from the other person in their absence.

Using the questions above helps you work through that pain while feeling whole and keeping your loved one with you.

What You Can Do Right Now

The best approach to loss is to examine your relationships before a loss occurs. You can do that by imagining how you would feel if you were to lose that loved person. Ask yourself,

“What needs resolving, what’s most important, what do I appreciate?”

Right now, you have an opportunity to answer those questions and act on them.

By doing so, you’ll find yourself being more tolerant and kind. That doesn’t mean you’ll cave to things you object to, but you’ll sharpen your feelings of love and engage in the relationship on a deeper level.

That’s all for today.

As always, I hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #46: The Weekly Reset: A Strategy to Get More Control Over Your Life

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday, I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you. My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Photo by marekuliasz courtesy of Shutterstock

My electricity went off the other night for about a half-hour. When it came back on, my alarm system was sending out alerts because it had been interrupted. I had to find the reset button to get things restarted.

It reminded me of a practice I use called my “weekly reset.” I thought I’d share it with you today, and hopefully, you’ll find it as helpful as I do.

Before I tell you how to do it, let me explain what it is and why you should use it.

What It Is

In short, the weekly reset is a strategy to help you increase your self-awareness and monitor your experiences to gain greater control over the direction of your life. The goal is to increase your happiness, decrease your stress, and find more fulfillment.

To do it, set aside a regular time once a week to review the following:

  1. What was your emotional temperature this week? Were you generally content, anxious, depressed, just so-so, stressed, bored? What was the overall tone of your emotions? What events affected you most and how did they impact you emotionally?
  2. What did you accomplish or not accomplish that you had on your to-do list? Did you have some goals for this week, and if so, how did you do? What’s leftover that needs to go on next week’s list? Do you need to change some of those goals or tweak them or delete them?
  3. How did you do with your most important relationships? How did things go with your partner, kids, co-workers or bosses, friends, or other family members? Were there issues that arose? Are you pleased with your interactions, and if not, what needs to be addressed?
  4. How did you do with self-care? It’s easy to leave this one off the list or put it last because all the other stuff takes precedence. However, this is an important one. The questions to ask are: How was your diet, did you get any exercise, and did you get enough sleep? If not, what got in the way?

How to Set It Up

To make your “weekly reset” productive, select a regular time and place to do it each week. It can be any time you choose – there are no rules about that. Most people choose either the beginning or end of the week, but if you like mid-week, then go for it. I do my resets on Sundays so that I have things set up for the week ahead.

You can do it any way you like, but I’d suggest these guidelines to get the most out of it.

1) Set the scene.

Select a time you can be quiet and won’t be interrupted. If you have young children, you might have to snatch a time when they’re either asleep or being entertained by someone other than you.

2) Track it.

Journal your reset if you like to write, or make lists if you’re a list maker. If writing’s not your thing, then think about the answers to the questions and at the end of the session, jot down what you’re going to work on in the week ahead. Remember, this isn’t so much about accomplishing work goals (although you can include them in your reset) – it’s mostly about monitoring your emotional life and your weekly experiences. It’s also about managing your stress.

3) Time it.

Confine your reset to a specific time. You might do it in 30 minutes, an hour, an hour and a half, or whatever works for you. You know how much time you have or don’t have, so make it work within that framework. A set time will help you stay regular with it.

The Why of It

If you’ve read anything about emotional intelligence, then you know that one of the pillars of EI is “self-awareness.” Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, defines self-awareness most succinctly as “awareness of one’s own feelings as they occur.”

In other words, it’s being aware of how we’re feeling on a moment-to-moment basis, and also being aware of how we’re thinking about or interpreting those feelings or moods.

This kind of self-awareness is vital because recognition of our moods compels us to change them or work with them if we don’t like where we are. The more awareness we have, the more desire we have to evolve and self-actualize to reach greater levels of happiness and satisfaction.

Goleman describes the self-aware person thus:

Aware of their moods as they are having them, these people understandably have some sophistication about their emotional lives. Their clarity about emotions may undergird other personality traits: they are autonomous and sure of their own boundaries, are in good psychological health, and tend to have a positive outlook on life. When they get into a bad mood, they don’t ruminate and obsess about it, and are able to get out of it sooner. In short, their mindfulness helps them manage their emotions.

Managing our emotions, or self-regulation, is an essential skill for navigating life. The degree to which we can do it is directly related to our sense of peace and happiness. It follows that we need to engage in regular strategies to improve on it.

The Weekly Reset is one of those strategies. By making it a habit, you’ll find that you build an intuitive awareness of your emotional life as you experience it. You become “mindful” of where you are, and in effect, narrate it to yourself. This insight gives you the information you need to regulate and take control of your emotional life and guide it in the direction you desire.

It’s operating from a proactive rather than reactive mindset, but in a very pragmatic manner.

Final Thoughts

You know the old saying, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you?” It’s a lie. What you don’t know often has control over you. Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to self-knowledge. Spending just a small amount of time each week increasing your self-awareness and witnessing your life will put you in the driver’s seat and is worth more than all the time spent on external pursuits.

Water the roots, and the plant will blossom!

That’s all for today.

Hope you have a great week and try your first weekly reset!!

All my best,

Barbara


Goleman, Daniel (2005). Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Random House Publishing Group.

Blog Short #45: 4 Ways to Make Your Work Feel Effortless

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday, I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you. My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!


Photo by Michail Petrov

I recently read the book Effortless by Greg McKeown. I loved it, as I did his first book, Essentialism. Throughout both books, his primary messages are to simplify what you do, focus on the most essential, let go of superfluous activity, and adopt strategies that make things seem effortless.

I was particularly enamored with McKeown’s four steps to “effortless action” that he describes in Part II of Effortless (p. 93). I found these ideas extremely helpful and different from the usual advice for overcoming procrastination or managing your time, so I want to share them with you.

But before we get to them, let’s go over his definition of “effortless action.”

Effortless Action

McKeown defines “effortless action” as,

“Trying without trying. Action without action. Effortless doing.”

Have you had the experience of engaging in an activity and becoming so absorbed that you’re no longer exerting effort?

It’s called being in a state of “flow.” You, your mind, and the action are all in sync. You find yourself doing without straining and operating at what’s called peak performance. This is “effortless action.”

It’s not always possible to get into a “flow” state when doing something, but the closer you get, the better.

One thing that usually interferes is trying to act when you’re already overdone. You’ve pushed yourself too far. You’re tired, can’t think anymore, and any further activity feels like an uphill battle.

Several weeks ago, I talked about the “law of diminishing returns.” If you’ll remember, it means:

“After a certain point, each extra unit of input produces a decreasing rate of output. So past a certain point, more effort doesn’t produce better performance. It sabotages our performance.”

Putting these things together, it becomes clear that you’ll do your best work when:

  1. You’re not already wiped out and have mental space and energy to think, and
  2. You can access a state of flow.

Now let’s go to the four practices McKeown suggests that will help you do that.

1) Define done.

Before you start working, get a clear picture in your head of what “done” will look like. That means:

  1. Being very specific about what you’re going to accomplish, and
  2. Making sure it’s within reach.

For example:

Read 10 pages a day for two weeks instead of “reading more books.”

Have two vegetables for dinner every night for the next month instead of “eat more veggies.”

Clean out the hall closet from top to bottom instead of “get the house more organized.”

In each situation, “done” is spelled out with a concrete and doable goal. It’s easy to figure out the specific tasks you’ll need to perform to get “done.” Once you’re finished, you can define your next “done.”

2) Identify the first obvious action.

Starting is often difficult.

To get around that, identify your first step. Make this an effortless act like picking up the phone to make a call, getting your pad and pencil out if you’re going to write, or pulling the pan out of the kitchen cabinet to start cooking.

We tend to think of the whole job all at once, which is overwhelming, and then sit paralyzed, unable to begin.

It’s good to have a general idea of where you’re going, but focus on the early steps and keep defining your next steps as you go. Keep your focus on what’s right in front of you and block out ruminating about the future.

3) Make use of “microbursts.”

I love this one because it bypasses our resistance radars. A microburst is,

“A 10-minute surge of focused activity that can have an immediate effect on our essential project.”

For example:

You load the dishwasher instead of clean the kitchen.

Fold one load of clothes instead of sort everything in the laundry room.

Write one or two paragraphs instead of a whole paper.

Exercise as hard as you can for 10 minutes instead of doing a complete workout.

Microbursts are effective because they get you moving. When you know you’re going to spend no more than 10 minutes, you’re much less likely to resist “the doing” part. And as we all know, once you get started, you sometimes don’t mind continuing.

The key, however, is to tell yourself you only need to do that 10-minute thing, and no more. And if that’s all you do, great!

4) Simplify.

The idea behind this one is “don’t make things too complicated.” In other words, approach activity from a minimalist point of view. The question is:

What are the minimum steps necessary to get to “done?”

To effectively answer this question, McKeown uses what he calls the “Start with Zero” rule.

Start from zero and build up only to what’s absolutely necessary. Don’t add in steps you don’t need. Keep your eye on the endpoint you’ve defined as “done” and avoid side roads or excursions.

We have a tendency to do just the opposite. We brainstorm every possibility, play out all the alternatives, and create a comprehensive list of choices. Then we move backward and pare down.

For example, if you were going to prepare a presentation for work, you might create a PowerPoint, handouts, video footage, and a live demonstration. Truth is, you don’t need all that, and people would be overwhelmed by having to sit through it all. They’d get antsy about halfway through, if not before. Not to mention it would take you tons of time to put it all together.

The better approach is to decide on the crucial information you need to impart and choose the most direct way to get that across while keeping everyone’s interest. Less elaborate, more pointed, and engaging all at the same time.

Zero, in this case, would mean starting with the essential things you want people to know or learn and build from there. A PowerPoint and handout might be all you need! The best part is that you would greatly reduce your time and energy consumption.

How to use this info?

The best tactic for using this information is to select one thing you want to get done and use all four of these steps to approach it. Every step doesn’t apply every time. Choose those you need. My two favorites are “defining done” and “simplify.” See what works for you!

That’s all for today.

Hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Sign up!

Sign up to get weekly Blog Shorts, Articles, and a free e-Book entitled “How to Stop Being Defensive."

    © 2020 - REDZERO, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED