When Brain Fog Descends

Here’s a fun way procrastination can show up:

  • You can’t think clearly,
  • You feel like you’re head is full of fluffy cotton,
  • You’re brain seems like it is set on “slow,”
  • Brain fog.

You know that feeling like you just can’t think, can’t make decisions, can’t get anything done? It’s actually a solution.

Watch the video to find out how brain fog can possibly be a solution to anything—and what to do if it’s not the solution you want anymore.

When you’re ready to clear away your brain fog, stop procrastinating, and create the life you are meant to live, email me. We’ll set up a call to talk about what’s going on with you and see if I can help.

One Very Good Reason You Might Be Sabotaging Your Business

“Elizabeth” had a big block. Lately she had been unintentionally sabotaging her relationships with her big clients She was worried that it was jeopardizing her business, and she was right. She needed to get rid of her block. But her block wasn’t quite what she thought it was.

Elizabeth works hard at everything she does. When her clients say they need something, she always takes on the project immediately no matter how unreasonable the time frame. Then she knocks herself and her staff out getting it done. She has taken that old adage to “underpromise and overdeliver” and thrown away the “underpromise” part. She promises her clients everything they want in record time, struggles to make it happen, and then finds that they don’t appreciate how hard she works. Of course, she rarely tells them how difficult it will be to meet their deadlines, so how could they?

stressed callerShe also overdoes things at home. Despite having a successful business making more than enough money, she does all the cleaning and cooking at home. She manages her seventh grade son’s schedule, personally making sure he gets to all his after school activities, attends his games, and hosts his friends at home at least once a week. And when he started struggling in math, she researched geometry books, got the one with the most recommendations, and tutored him herself. When her husband complained about their outdated kitchen, she hired the general contractor then made all the decisions and dealt with the inevitable problems on her own.

She was stressed out and not sleeping well the few hours she allowed herself to lie down. Her health was deteriorating. The doctors were prescribing Continue reading “One Very Good Reason You Might Be Sabotaging Your Business”

Sleep and Screens

One of the surprises I ran into as I researched sleep problems is that screen time–watching TVs, computers, Kindles, Nooks, smartphones, iPads, etc.–lowers your ability to sleep. This was a surprise to me as I have several friends and relatives who use the TV to wind down at the end of the day and get to sleep.

Apparently that is not a good plan for people with sleep issues. While all light will wake you up, those flickering lights from back-lit screens are the worst. They tell your brain that it is daytime, and time to be awake. One study showed that two hours spent looking at a “self-luminous electronic display” will suppress melatonin by 22 percent. Melatonin regulates your sleep cycle, so you need it to get to sleep.

The experts have a few recommendations to avoid this problem. First, limit your total screen time to lower the effect on your melatonin production. Second, take a break from the screens for two hours before you want to fall asleep. That gives your brain some time to realize it is nighttime, and it might be a good idea to get sleepy. Third, if you have to have a screen on right before bed, dim the light to lower its effect on your melatonin levels.

All of this confirms my recent decision to record most of the sleep program I have been working on in audio format. To be honest, I made that decision when I found out just how much it would take me to do everything in video. I realized I just wasn’t up to the task, despite taking on-line trainings and getting myself familiar with a webcam that is highly recommended for exactly the kind of trainings I have in mind.

So I choose to look at my stepping away from the video-format as a positive for my program. I will do just a couple of videos, and do the rest of the training as audios. That way, people can listen to the program right before bed–or even cue up tapping exercises to use when they wake up in the middle of the night–and it won’t keep them awake.

If you have trouble sleeping, take a look at how much time you stare at screens during the day, and especially in the hours before bedtime. Maybe it’s time to read a book instead!

What Optimism Will Get You

I’m back! I took a few weeks off to follow Stephen Covey’s advice to “sharpen the saw” (and maybe get a little downtime in to increase my creativity), and now I feel ready to get back to work in a big way. While I was away, I spent some time re-reading an oldie but goodie, Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism. In his book, Seligman points to research that shows that, for the most part, pessimists get bad results and optimists get good results in their achievements, mood, health, and (possibly) longer life.

The book is full of great information that you can use to improve many areas of your life. I’m just going to focus here on how you can use his research to improve your work, but feel free to get your own copy of his book to get all the benefits his approach offers. Since this is important, and Seligman has a lot to say, I’m going to describe it over several articles.

Is the glass half full, or half empty?In this post we’ll look at what optimism can do for you, when you should use an optimistic approach and when you should choose a more cautious, pessimistic style. Optimism can be very powerful and overcome a lot of self-imposed blocks to your success, but you wouldn’t want to use it in every situation. Sometimes a touch of pessimism is called for.

First, What an Optimistic Approach Can Do For You

When a negative event happens, big or small—maybe the boss frowns at you, a client ends the relationship, you get fired—everyone feels at least momentarily helpless. For someone with an optimistic explanatory style, it hurts, but the feeling goes away relatively quickly and they can get on with creating the life and work they want. For someone with a more pessimistic explanatory style, that helpless feeling can go on a long time, leaving them stuck right where they are. So how we  explain what happens to us determines how helpless or energized we become, which affects what we do, which in turn affects what we achieve.

Let’s see how this works. Imagine your boss tells you that your work on that last report was not up to her expectations. If you are a pessimist, you think things like “I’m no good at this,” or “Bosses always shoot you down,” or “I never get anything right.” This way of thinking saps your energy, leaving you with a feeling of Why Bother. If you are no good, you never get anything right, and your boss will always shoot down your efforts, there is no point to even trying. So you lose motivation, put in less effort at work and the next thing you know your reviews go downhill and you’re stuck in a dead-end job (or are out of work!).

Now let’s look at what happens if you use a more optimistic explanation for what happened. You feel bad, of course, but soon you start telling yourself things like “I’ve been worrying about Mom’s health lately, so I probably wasn’t as focused as I could have been,” or “This project was really rushed and I just didn’t have time to do it right,” or “I really didn’t understand what my role was and so I screwed it up.” With explanations like that, you shake off the pain of the moment and start making plans to do better next time, tell your boss what you need to fix the situation, or find a new job that is a better fit for you. You don’t feel helpless for long, and you have the energy you need to take action to succeed.

So the optimists go on to clear things up with their bosses, do better on the next project, learn new skills, apply for that interesting job, and get promoted. The pessimists sit back and tell themselves there’s no point, so those positive career moves elude them. Another way of saying this is that the optimist persists in the face of challenges; the pessimist doesn’t. This means that pessimists fail more often, even when they could have succeeded.

You can see how an optimistic style could also propel a small business owner beyond her more pessimistic competitor. Say they both lose an important customer. Ms. Optimist thinks “I didn’t give him enough attention over the past month,” or  “The local economy took a hit that made it hard for him to buy from me now, but I just have to find a way to hang on until the upswing happens and clients like him can come back,” or “Sometimes I lose one for reasons I can’t control, but what I provide is useful so I can always bring in more customers.”

Compare her motivation and energy level after the loss of her customer to Mr. Pessimist, who says “I’m such a loser,” or “The economy is in the tank and there’s nothing I can do about it.” Ms. O looks for ways to improve what she offers and how she gets the message out to potential customers; Mr. P hunkers down and waits for the ax to fall. Who’s going to succeed?

The Value of Pessimism

This is not to say that pessimism doesn’t have it’s place. There are definitely advantages to using pessimism in certain situations. It would seem that pessimists tend to have a better grasp on reality. Optimists see what could be; pessimists see what is. Therefore, pessimists are by and large more accurate, particularly in situations where there are unexpected and frequent disasters.

Pessimists also tend to be more cautious. While an optimist thinks that things will work out, the pessimist buys insurance just in case. Pessimists save more money for a rainy day. They avoid danger.

So a touch of pessimism belongs in every career and every life at times. The trick is figuring out when to use a pessimistic approach and when to use an optimistic one.

When to Use Optimism versus Pessimism

Here are some guidelines for when to use an optimistic approach and when to be more pessimistic in your work.

Choose optimism:

  • In a situation where you want to achieve, like selling, getting a promotion, or being chosen to work on a high profile project.
  • If you need to keep up your morale, like cold calling or networking.
  • Where you want to lead or inspire people.
  • Where creativity is needed.
  • Where the cost of failure is low, like applying for a job.

Choose pessimism:

  • If you are planning for a risky or uncertain future.
  • When counseling others whose future is not rosy, say, in a yearly review with an underperformer.
  • Where physical safety is at issue.
  • Where the cost of failure is high.

Let’s look at that last bullet-point more closely, because it is really the crux of your decision. If the cost of failure is high, you should use a pessimistic approach. Seligman gives examples of the pilot deciding whether to de-ice the plane again or the partygoer who needs to decide whether to drive or take a taxi home. Accidents and death are high costs to pay for failure. Choose caution and pessimism in those situations.

There are many situations where the costs of failure may feel high, but in fact are quite low. Consider the salesman who has to decide whether to make another call where he may be rejected; the independent professional who is considering offering a new service; the executive who has hit a ceiling at her current employer who is thinking about using (or building) her network to look for a new position. While rejection feels bad, it doesn’t really kill you. For that reason, all of the people in these and similar situations should choose an optimistic approach.

Seligman also lists jobs that require an optimistic approach and those that need a more pessimistic one. Here they are. Only optimists need apply for:

  • Sales
  • Brokering
  • Public relations
  • Presenting and Acting
  • Fund-raising
  • Creative jobs
  • Highly competitive jobs
  • High-burnout jobs.

Mild pessimists, or cautious types with a keen sense of reality, do well in “‘low-defeat jobs, jobs with low turnover, jobs that call for specific technical skills in low-pressure settings.” Seligman’s examples are:

  • Design and safety engineering
  • Technical and cost estimating
  • Contract negotiation
  • Financial control and accounting
  • Law (but not litigation)
  • Business administration
  • Statistics
  • Technical writing
  • Quality control
  • Personnel and industrial-relations management.

Of course, even a job that calls for a realistic approach will have times where an optimistic approach is called for. Think of an accountant. He needs to be a realist with the numbers but use a positive approach when motivating his team. Or when he needs to bring in new clients. So even if your career falls squarely into the pessimist camp, realize that there are times to be optimistic. Flexibility will be your friend.

Here’s the best news of all. You don’t have to be born an optimist to get the benefits of an optimistic approach. You can learn how to use an optimistic explanatory style, then apply it whenever you choose.

In my next article I’ll detail the elements that go into an optimistic explanatory style. It’s not just putting on rose-colored glasses! There are three specific ways of looking at events, particularly negative events, that help you move forward with energy and motivation. Next week I’ll explain what those three ways are. After that I’ll show you Seligman’s specific techniques for changing a pessimistic explanatory style to an optimistic style.

Nancy Linnerooth

About Nancy

Nancy Linnerooth has been helping professionals, executives and business owners for well over a decade to get rid of their internal blocks so they can meet their career and business goals.

These internal blocks often show up as repeating patterns of behavior that undercut what they’re trying to accomplish, like procrastinating; avoiding public speaking, cold calling and networking; choking in interviews; and becoming overwhelmed and losing focus.

Nancy comes to the world of coaching with a diverse background as a practicing psychotherapist of many years and a recovering attorney who got her JD from Harvard Law School. So she understands the demands of working in a high-pressured, high-stakes world.

Contact Nancy at nancy@unblockresults.com.

Subscribe to the Unblock Results Newsletter, which comes out every week or two.

Get More Done—Take a Break!

Time for a confession: I get blocked, too. In fact, I had some serious internal blocks to marketing my business in the past, and I had to work very hard to figure out what they were and root them out. As I worked on my own blocks, I found it easier and easier to do things like write my newsletter, talk to others about what I do, take on more clients—all the things I had been planning to do but dragging my feet on.

Since getting rid of these blocks, I even thought of a plan to share what I do to help clients with sleep problems with a lot more people. I was very excited about creating my manual with supporting video and audio aids. I got off to a good start outlining what would go where and making a start on the manual. Then I stalled out. Whenever I thought, “I should do another section for the manual,” I would find myself doing something, anything else. What was going on? I thought I’d taken care of all my blocks already!

Hey, I’m a coach who specializes in helping people get rid of what is holding them back. Surely I should be able to figure this one out. Was I holding myself back by trying to be perfect? No, that didn’t match what was going on. Did I need to get rid of the usual timewasters? Well, I tried and that didn’t work. I just found other, more creative ways to waste time. I wasn’t even wasting time, really. I was just working on things that weren’t as important. What if I cleared out some of the impediments to working on the manual? Nope, that wasn’t it.

I tried everything I could think of. Nothing worked. So I gave up and asked my coach. Yes, I have a coach. Two, actually. We coaches have realized that, no matter how good we are at helping our clients, it can be impossible sometimes to figure out our own problem. It’s like that old adage, you can’t see the forest for the trees. So when I really want to get moving I call one of my coaches. I called.

In about twenty minutes, Rebecca showed me that I was falling into a trap that many, many people are falling into these days. There is so much to do. If we aren’t working all the time, we feel like we’re falling behind. So we work later, eat lunch at our desks, stop taking breaks, start working on weekends, anything we can do to get more work done. But the reality is we get less done, not more when we do this.

taking a breakWhy should this be? Rebecca has done the research and tells me it’s because the adult brain cannot work for more than ninety minutes at a time. After ninety minutes, it just can’t take in any more information. It needs to take a break for something like twenty minutes before it can get back into high gear. That’s why my schedule of trying to get it all done without coming up for air was backfiring. I would hit my ninety-minute limit, then go into mental puttering mode, doing things that didn’t take much thought. The more I pushed, the less I could think clearly. I wasn’t taking any breaks, so my brain wasn’t coming back online. As Rebecca pointed out, I was being neither strategic nor smart by working constantly.

I spent a bit of time arguing with Rebecca. Well, sure, that’s true for other people, but I should be able to work through the pain. I have too much to do to be weak like that. I can take a break in a few months, after I’ve finished my project. Rebecca listened patiently to me rant, only smiling a little at my efforts to avoid physiology. We both knew that trying to ignore reality wasn’t working and wasn’t going to work. I needed to change my approach if I wanted to get more done. I had to take breaks every ninety minutes or so. Everyone does.

Once I caved and admitted that I was human, we got to work figuring out what the most effective way for me to work was so that I could get more done with the less clock time I would be using. Rebecca reminded me of the Pareto Principle. You’ve probably come across this at some time or other. The Pareto Principle holds that around 80% of results come from around 20% of efforts. To get the best results, then, I needed to schedule my most important “efforts” into the 20% of my time when I was most productive.

For me, this means scheduling ninety minutes to work on my sleep manual at the beginning of the day, when I have the most energy and focus. No more “clearing out the easy stuff,” like emails, when I sit down at my computer. That can wait. I have something important to do, and that is going to get done in my most productive time.

And, yes, I have to actually schedule breaks every ninety minutes or so throughout my day. The funny thing is, I’ve advised clients that they need to take breaks to be able to do their job better. I even wrote a post about taking a break when you are stressed so you can think better.

I knew this. Now you know it, too.

So your tip for this week is to figure out the times you are most productive. First thing in the morning? Right after lunch? The last hour of the day when everyone leaves you alone? Schedule your important projects for those times. And, yes, schedule breaks every ninety minutes or so. Run up and down in the stairwell a few times. Go get coffee with a co-worker and talk shop. Go for a walk. Take a real break so you can get some real work done.

I want to give a shout out to my friend and coach, Rebecca Kane. Thanks for pointing out the forest, Rebecca. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Make Fewer Choices, Get More Results

I love helping clients uncover and get rid of those internal blocks to their success that go very deep. It isn’t always easy, but it can be pure joy to start with, say, what they have been doing to sabotage themselves, follow it back all the way to its source and get rid of it. However, not all blocks are complicated issues that need serious detective work with a coach to untangle. Some blocks to doing what we need to in our career or business are simply “reflex reactions” built into all of us that can be avoided with some easy techniques—when you know the techniques.

In the past two weeks I’ve described two ways to get around those kinds of blocks, first, by making it a little bit harder to procrastinate and second, by making it that much easier to start the activity you want to be doing. Today’s tip is another way to get yourself going on something that you just haven’t been getting around to in spite of all your good intentions. (All three of these techniques and the research behind them are explained in detail in The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. I highly recommend reading or listening to it on your commute.)

The Labyrinth

Making choices can be exhausting

Science tells us that making choices lowers our physical stamina, our persistence, and our overall focus, and it lowers them a lot. (Each choice also lowers our ability to do math problems, if that is relevant to you). Each choice doesn’t have to be complicated or have enormous consequences resting on it to have those effects, either. As Shawn Achor puts it, it can be as simple as “chocolate or vanilla.” When we’ve used up our “choice energy,” we start making the easiest choices that take the least amount of effort, whether or not they lead to the results we want. Then it just takes time and rest to replenish our choice energy.

I recently read about a study that showed this choice energy being used up. The study looked at the parole system in an Israeli prison and found that the earlier in the day a prisoner’s parole hearing came up, the more likely he was to get released. The researchers concluded that because it was easier and safer for the members of the parole board to deny parole than to grant it, they were more likely to make the hard choice—to grant parole—early in the day before they had made many choices, and more likely to make the easy choice—denying parole—later on after they had already made a number of choices. The only exception was for the hearings that happened right after the board’s lunch, when there was an increase in paroles granted. Apparently eating can replenish your “choice reserves” somewhat, too.

Just this week a client gave me another example of what happens when you use up your choice energy. A few years ago she took a standardized test to get into professional school and didn’t do very well. The test takes over five hours to complete, with five multiple choice sections. The questions are tricky, designed to weed out those who don’t think the way that is required in school. By the time my client got to the fifth section, she was exhausted. She couldn’t keep her focus on the questions long enough to reason them through, so she just started filling in the bubbles randomly. Her stamina, focus and persistence were gone because of all the choices she had already made in the previous sections.

Granted, one of the reasons she got to this exhausted stage was a deep-seated fear of taking tests, which dragged her down and made the first four sections of the test that much harder for her than for others taking it. But even after we finish rooting out her test anxiety, when she re-takes the exam she will still have to contend with using up her choice energy. So we’ve made a plan. To make sure she has as much “choice energy” as possible going into the test, which is on a Saturday, she is going to limit the choices that she has to make for at least twenty-four hours prior to that. She’ll do things like lay out her clothes for Friday and Saturday on Thursday night. She has already picked out what she will order at lunch with her co-workers on Friday. She will ask her partner to choose Friday’s dinner without her input. He will drive her to the test site. Any choice she can make before that twenty-four hours, or give to someone else, she will.

Save choice energy by getting rid of choices—prepare in advance and make rules

You can use a similar strategy for any project that you haven’t been able to get going on. Let’s say you’ve been meaning to make some cold calls but never get around to actually doing them. Instead of just saying to yourself, “I’m going to make some calls tomorrow, without fail” and relying on your willpower to make it happen, make all the decisions you can the night before. Write them down and leave the plan on your desk. How many calls will you make? When will you make the first call? Who will you call, and in what order? Don’t leave anything to decide on the day you make the calls that you could decide the night before. Then, when you arrive in your office the next day, there is your plan sitting right in front of you. The decisions are already made. You just have to implement them.

Another way to get around draining your choice energy—and therefore your stamina, focus and persistence—is to make rules for yourself. When you’ve made a rule, you’ve already made your choice in advance so you aren’t drawing on your choice energy when it is time to act.

Example: Jessie’s big slump at work

A good illustration of these techniques was the situation faced by my client, “Jessie,” who wanted to get more productive at work. She liked her job and her boss, but she found she was doing less and less each day, coasting on her reputation from past successes. She knew she couldn’t keep going this way much longer.

Jessie recognized that a big obstacle to her getting anything done these days was her conversations with her co-workers over coffee when she first got to work. They had turned into b- . . . er, kvetch sessions about all that was wrong with the co-workers’ managers and their jobs. By the time she got to her desk, she was unmotivated and looking for the easiest thing she could do to make it seem like she was working. The problem was compounded at lunchtime when she would join these same friends for another complaint-filled conversation that would sap her energy for the afternoon. Making herself choose anything challenging from her To Do list under those circumstances was just too much.

The answer Jessie and I came up with was to implement three rules. The first was not to have coffee with her co-workers until after 10:30 am. That way, she had at least two hours to get some work done at the beginning of the day. The second was to do first the one thing on her To Do list that she least wanted to do that day. (Of course, she picked that item out the night before.) The third rule was to turn the conversation to something more positive whenever a co-worker started in on a complaint, like what they could do next to find a better job, or where each was going to go on vacation. (Again, she picked out what the topic would be the night before.)

Two weeks after she implemented these three rules, the change was dramatic. Jessie reported that she was getting a lot more done throughout her workday, not just those first couple of hours. She had already finished two of the projects she had been dreading and avoiding. And her co-workers were also enjoying the change in their conversations. Apparently they were tired of the never-ending complaints, too.

Pick out a project and try it!

You can use this technique on anything you have been avoiding. The day before you plan to work on it, write out your plan—what you are going to work on, when, in what order, anything that you will have to decide. Put your plan front and center on your desk so that the next day you can just do it. If your problem is long-standing, or, like Jessie’s, it seems to cover a lot of activities, then come up with a rule today that you can follow tomorrow, and the next day and the next. That way the decision is already made and you won’t have to whittle away at your stamina, focus and persistence by making choices each day before starting on your project or projects.

Next week, I’ll put this technique together with the two previous techniques to show you how to implement a new, more productive habit. Until then, enjoy the extra stamina, focus and persistence you’ve recovered!

Relax Your Body To Access Your Brain Under Stress: 3 Techniques

In last week’s tip I explained how we go into a fight or flight reaction when we perceive a threat and our brains’ higher functioning begins to shut down, whether that threat is an attacking grizzly bear, an angry boss, or even the economic news. The longer we perceive the threat, the less of our brain we can access.

Last week I focused on the importance of limiting your intake of media, especially the news, to lower the amount of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline in your body throughout the day. The more we hear about dangers from accidents, war, crimes and even financial distress, even when these things happen to complete strangers in another part of the world, the more our body pumps out those stress hormones. For that reason, just cutting back on your consumption of the news can drop the level of those hormones in your body, allowing you better access to the parts of your brain responsible for decision-making, creativity, language, and other areas critical for success in business (not to mention life).

But even when you’ve limited the amount of media in your life, you will still find yourself in situations in which you are facing a perceived threat. Let’s say your biggest client calls you up and tells you they are going to pull their account. This is a big threat, but not one that your flight or fight response can help you with. Indeed, that response will actually prevent you from reacting to the client’s threat in the best way you could. The stress hormones that start coursing through your body will block access to the very parts of your brain you most need in the moment—like critical thinking, impulse control, problem solving, maintaining relationships, and simply being able to find the right words!

Relaxing Your Body Stops the Flow of Stress Hormones

Relaxing the body, relaxing the mind
This post isn’t actually about yoga or anything like that, but the fellow in this photo is doing a fantastic job of relaxing, don’t you think?

It turns out that the way to get access to your brain in situations like this is really quite simple: you just need to relax your body. Once your body relaxes, your brain Continue reading “Relax Your Body To Access Your Brain Under Stress: 3 Techniques”

Too Much News Makes You Stupid: Turn It Off!

Last week I went to a two-day training for therapists (I’m both a therapist and a coach) about how to treat trauma and PTSD. I was pleased to discover some useful information that also works for people who are not dealing with major trauma in their lives. Today’s tip is the first of two important take-aways for my readers from that training.

Perceiving a Threat Ramps Up Your Body and Shuts Down Your Brain

Too much news
Thanks to the news media, we now share everyone’s worst threats—and we carry a heavy load of threat response baggage as a consequence

When you perceive a threat, even a threat of the non-lethal type like those you might experience at the office, your body releases a number of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that prepare you to either fight or flee. Physically, your heart and breathing rates go up, your muscles tense up, and you get a lot of energy. This means you can potentially do big things, like the story of the mother who lifts a car off her child. But you can’t do them for very long as you quickly Continue reading “Too Much News Makes You Stupid: Turn It Off!”