Forced Changes

image railroad tracksI was sitting in a local coffee shop with my tea trying to focus on my work. However, focus was an uphill battle for me. You see, trying to work when something is “going on” around me is quite difficult.


Let me explain.


I believe the way my mind works has a lot to do with my childhood. I have a memory of being with my parents in the car at a stoplight. My mom looks over to the couple next to us and she starts talking.


“It looks like they are not getting along. Look how he is trying to avoid her and she is trying to talk to him. I can tell she is getting very frustrated and this has probably been going on for a while. Why doesn’t he just look at her so that she’ll feel better. I can tell that she is very sad about the situation and is very upset. I bet that they’ve been married for a while and look how uncomfortable the kids look in the back. They look so unhappy. Why can’t parents just realize how it affects their kids”?


Now, I remember thinking:

  1. I can’t understand why she cares about the strangers next to us.
  2. When I look over there I see nothing.
  3. How she can weave a whole complete story in one minute?

Now back to my story. I’m sitting in the coffee shop trying to write a proposal. This is just detail work and not my favorite part of my job. However, I am trudging through it so I can say that I’ve accomplished one more thing. Next to me is a woman and her daughter. When I sat down, I saw the woman wiping her face and for a minute, I thought she was crying.


As I work, I try not to think about her but this is very, very hard. You see, I guess my brain is just wired to pick up on other’s emotion. I try to sneak a glance and I see her wiping her face again. She is talking in hushed tones to her adult daughter. I also notice that she does most of the talking while the daughter listens. I sneak a quick glance at the daughter but I don’t catch much. I can’t really hear the words but the tone is serious.


I force myself to focus on my work and stop being my mom. I hear the words; “I helped you out of debt already.” The other words I hear during the conversation is the following, “ you need to make changes in the way you live your life.” The emotion is all one-sided with daughter being stoic. The last thing I hear before they leave is Mom saying, “I think that I have done too much for you in your life”.


I thought about this for a while after they left. There are times that (to a lesser degree) I am the mother in this scenario. I catch myself wanting the companies that I work with to desperately make CHANGES more than THEY actually want the changes to happen. I find myself wanting coaching clients to make CHANGES more than they actually want to make them happen. I sometimes think that if I keep talking, that the change will happen. Maybe I can WILL it to happen.


But that’s not the way life works.


I think that we are all guilty of this at some point in life and we can waste a lot of energy worrying, persuading and trying to make these CHANGES happen. We do this because we want to control our world and a loss of control is not a good feeling.


I think it’s about time for you and me to accept the fact that we have no control over others desire to change. We have control over just YOU and ME. We can lay it out there for others but the ball is in their court.


So let it go.

Negative Memories




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I was driving down the highway the other day when an old memory popped in my head. I’m sitting in an office with my boss and a powerful employee. Everyone is looking serious and I’m wondering what is about to happen. This employee is a manipulative troublemaker that bullies for sport. Up until that point, I haven’t been her target, but things were about to change.


She starts the conversation by explaining how “everybody” is complaining about me. My first reaction is shock and hurt but I quickly find my footing and remind myself who is “sharing” the information— someone that I don’t trust. I listen to all the negative complaints, not showing any emotion. All in all, I handle the situation perfectly, asking for specific proof for each judgment made about my behavior. I ask, “When did I ever demonstrate that?” She really can’t answer.

Now, back to today. I find myself becoming fixated on the negative statements that she had shared about me that day. I start running through the list and pondering whether they are true or not. I “feel” the emotion that I felt the day it actually happened. I become stuck on these thoughts and as you can imagine, nothing about this experience is productive or helpful.


We all know that it’s not healthy to look back and dwell on the past. In fact, Social Media is covered with quotes telling us not to partake in this particular behavior. For example, “The only time you should ever look back is to see how far you’ve come.” Or, how about this one: “Don’t look back with regret, look forward with hope.” However, no matter how many times I read that quote, it doesn’t help me stop myself from doing this now and then. Telling me to think positively just doesn’t change my behavior.


So why do I do this?


Ray Williams, an executive coach and author says, “In our brains, there are two different systems for negative and positive stimuli. The amygdala uses approximately 2/3 of its neurons to detect negative experiences. Once the brain starts looking for bad news, it is stored in long-term memory quickly. Positive experiences have to be held in awareness for more than 12 seconds in order for the transfer from short-term to long-term memory.”


Our brains like to hold on to negative experiences more than positive ones.


Not to mention the fact that from the earliest times, being aware of and avoiding danger has been an important survival skill. That ability for your brain to instinctively jump to “what’s wrong” instead of “what’s right” is wired inside all of us.



So what are you going to do about it?


Well, one thing that you can do is force yourself to acknowledge your own behavior. “Yes, I’m focusing on the negative. Yes, I know why my brain is doing this repeatedly. Yes, I feel the anger, hurt, frustration that I originally felt when it happened.


However, NOW I CHOOSE to think about something else.“


When you try too hard to not think about that negative thought or memory, you will accomplish the opposite— your brain will never let go. So instead, acknowledge your feelings and thoughts and then make a decision to think about something else.


For example, you can say, “I CHOOSE to think about what I’m going to make for dinner tonight”.


Accept that you will always have past negative memories and thoughts that pop up into your present life. However, you can learn to control your thinking by understanding why you take part in this behavior, acknowledging your emotions in the situation and working hard to distract your thinking.

Running on Autopilot

image autopilotIt really isn’t that hard to believe that it happened if you understand the logic behind habits. There I was, struggling as usual to get out of the gym and make it back to my house in time. I knew that I had about 20 minutes to get completely ready to leave for an appointment. Deep in thought about my next appointment, I grabbed my keys that were in the cubby above my jacket and picked up my phone. Doing what I always do when I get in the car, I put my foot on the brake, hit the button to start the engine, and dropped the keys into my purse.


Four days later, I was searching my purse for something, when I found a set of strange keys. I stared at them for a while, trying to think up a logical reason as to why they would be in my purse. I came up empty.


Terrified that I had taken them from someone at the last store I had visited, I ran back to talk to them. They had never seen the keys. I imagined someone, somewhere, was being held captive without his or her keys. I traced and retraced my steps to try to solve the problem, but I just didn’t have the answers.


The next day, I went to the gym early in the morning, as I do every Monday. I mentioned to the worker that I had a strange set of keys in my purse and I sensed they belonged to someone here. I could tell from the look on his face that I had solved the mystery. Apparently, someone went to grab their own keys and found they were missing.


Now, when I do something stupid like this (and it truly was dumb), I have this need to dig down deep and figure out why. How did I not recognize that I was holding someone else’s keys? Why don’t I even remember reaching for the keys in the cubby and leaving the gym?


The answer lies in habits and patterns that we form in our life. In the book, Mindgym, Octavius Black and Sebastian Bailey explain that there are four different states of mind: thinking and critical, which are internal, and engaged and autopilot, which are external. Thinking and engaged are helpful states that allow you to navigate your life, while critical, negative thinking and autopilot states are harmful and stand in the way of you being successful.


Suffice it to say, I was in autopilot when I grabbed keys that didn’t belong to me. I was in autopilot when I dropped them in my purse without looking at them.


You depend on habits for 40% of the actions that you have throughout your day. Habits enable you to perform numerous tasks without exerting as much brainpower. Habits also are the reason that change is so difficult for you. They are deeply ingrained patterns that you do without giving it much thought.


However, in a week where I lost my umbrella, left my sweater at a restaurant AND took someone elses keys, maybe it’s time to rethink my autopilot habits and become more engaged in my surroundings. It is very possible that you might need to give thought to the patterns in your life as well.







image clockI go for a long bike ride with my husband every Sunday— weather permitting. At this point in the season, we’re now up to about 65 miles each time we ride. We don’t always leave at the same time, but we do follow the same route on the bike trail each week. When we get past the turn-off and to the overhead pass, I always search for Tennis Man.


Every week on our route, there’s a man that volleys against a concrete wall. In fact, I’ve gotten to the point where I search for Tennis Man as soon as I turn the curve. No matter the time, he never lets me down. He must be practicing for hours.


Last week, I noticed that he started waving to us as we approached. He yelled hello and commented on how long we had been seeing each other. I hadn’t realized that he looked for us as much as we look for him.


Passing Tennis man had become one of the things that we counted on. We knew that once we passed him, we had a certain many miles to go to get to the next landmark. Seeing him always gave me a sense of comfort— something that I could count on. In fact, when Tennis Man was missing, things just didn’t seem right.


Seeing Tennis man had definitely become a part of our weekly routine.


That’s exactly the role that having routines can play in your life. They become something that you count on, something that actually gives you a sense of comfort. In fact, when you change that routine, you can feel like something important is missing. The problem is that often we carry routines in our work and private life beyond their expiration date.


What do I mean by that? I am referring to those routines that are mainstays in your lives, but no longer serve any sort of purpose. You simply continue to do them because you always did them. You keep them because they give you continuity in your life. On top of that, having them makes you feel good.


However, they can sometimes hold us back from our goals and finding success.


Maybe you have a routine of getting up in the morning and sitting in front of the computer to mindlessly check your social media. Maybe you have a routine of going out with the same group of friends every Saturday night. Maybe one of your routines is coming home and turning on the television after a long day of work. Or maybe, your routine is eating the same lunch at your desk every single day at work.


Some of your daily routines have been a part of your life forever and you don’t give much thought to changing them. The point is that some of your routines are positive actions in your life and move you toward success. However, some of your routines stand in the way of you achieving the very goals you are working toward. That knowledge doesn’t occur to you on a daily basis but if you took a birds eye view of your life, that is what you might see.


I am asking you to take that step back, and do an inventory of your daily life. Make a list of what your typical day consists of— work and play, and honestly decide whether your routines are pushing you closer or farther from your goals.


Make sure that you daily actions align with what you strive to achieve in life.

Competing Commitments

image better tug of warHave you ever been frustrated because you can’t seem to accomplish what you want at work or at home? Have you ever struggled to get motivated and fought with yourself about it? If you’ve ever questioned what might be behind this nightmare, maybe I can shed some light. Maybe, just maybe, it’s something called a “competing commitment”.


I remember having these feelings at a company I worked at many years ago. I was always a hard worker and took my responsibilities seriously. My passion was creating new projects, designing new programs and seeing them thru to fruition. The boss recognized this and had come up with the perfect program for me to create. It would utilize my talents and would take energy and hard work to make it happen. Yes, this project was tailor made for me. You see, I was a mover and a doer— I loved creating huge programs and seeing them come alive.


However, something was wrong. Everyday, I came into my work and accomplished all my responsibilities. And then I would spy that folder on my desk. With all my energy, I would will myself to open the folder and try push myself to work. But I just couldn’t.


No matter how hard I tried, I wouldn’t get anything accomplished. After a few minutes of staring through the folder, I would quietly close it and put it back in the stack on my desk. I would then stare at the folder on my desk, puzzled by my own behavior. I was stressed and disappointed in my actions. This would happen time and time again.


Today, I have a better understanding of my strange behavior. I was applying energy toward a hidden competing commitment. Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey define this as a subconscious hidden goal that conflicts with a person’s stated commitments. In my case, this competing commitment was blocking my path to being productive. If I dug a little deeper to understand my puzzling behavior, I would discover what finishing that project would truly mean to me. The key to better understanding my competing commitment? I needed to look at my values and belief system.


There, I would find that I was competing with an important value of mine. I didn’t BELIEVE in the work that I was doing. I didn’t BELIEVE that my work was valued or appreciated by my supervisor. I didn’t BELIEVE that my work made a difference. Therefore, I couldn’t move forward.


You see, it was very important to me to be true to my life values. I valued doing work with purpose for people that appreciated my efforts. Finishing this project was competing with this deep need.


Sometimes people are not productive at work and have no clue as to what’s standing in their way. All the productivity tips from every expert ever are not going to help this person. The answer to the question does not always lie on the surface. Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to figure things out.


Next time you see this type of workplace behavior that seems inexplicable, consider the competing commitment. You just might find your answer.