When a Reeeaaaaalllly Old Story Is Holding You Back

This one is pretty weird, I have to admit. But it’s come up for me and a number of clients, so I put together this video to tell you a bit about how a strange kind of “inheritance” caused me to procrastinate and what I did about it.

You might have a similar cause of procrastination if:

  • You’ve taken care of everything you can think of and something is still holding you back,
  • You feel like there’s an odd energy that gets in the way of your taking action,
  • There’s a story of someone in your family who was prevented from reaching their big goal or goals.

If any of that sounds like you (or you’re just curious), watch the video to find out more about what this is and how to take care of it.

Don’t let someone else’s story stop you! When you’re ready to 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.

What If Your Life Were Easy?

Over the past year I’ve noticed an interesting cause of procrastination in both my clients and myself.

Sometimes we procrastinate because it has become soooo hard to do something to reach a goal that we subconsciously decide it’s not worth trying.

And because we feel that it’s too hard to achieve our goal, we find ourselves putting off actions that could achieve that goal. Then we wonder why we’re procrastinating.

I’ve discovered a way to help both my clients and myself make things easier so we can reverse our procrastination. It’s a little woowoo, but it works!

Watch the video to find out the simple trick we’ve been using to make our goals—and even our lives—easier.

If you’re ready to stop struggling so hard to 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.

But I Don’t Know What I Want

Not knowing what you want is the most effective form of procrastination there is. It stops you before you even get started.

It can be baffling, too. Everyone else seems to know what they want. What their goals are. What direction they want to take in life.

And you just can’t decide what you want (sometimes even when it comes to the little things, like what movie to watch). When you try, you get stopped right out of the gate with “fuzzy thinking.” You just don’t know!

This may show up as difficulty making decisions in one area of your life, like what career to choose. Or it could be a global issue for you making every choice a challenge, from where to go for dinner to who to marry.

If you struggle with making decisions, whether specifically or globally, know that there is a reason it’s so hard, and that reason is usually buried deep down in your subconscious.

Watch the video to see what causes the “fuzzy thinking” and how to get rid of it so you can finally go after what you truly want.

When you’re ready to stop the fuzzy thinking and figure out what you really want so you can finally 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.

A Way to Make Your Resolutions Work

If you don’t really expect much from your New Year’s resolutions—or you’ve given up making them entirely—try this technique. It whittles away at what’s going on below the surface that’s keeping you stuck.

There’s a reason your resolutions usually don’t work, and it has nothing to do with how motivated you are to make a change. When you try to make a big change, something gets triggered subconsciously, like:
•  a fear,
•  a belief, or
•  a competing need.

When that reaction is too powerful for willpower alone to overcome, you eventually give up on your resolution. And that’s why the resolution never seems to last much longer than February. Year after year.

Tapping is a great way to let go of those kinds of fears, beliefs and needs. The easy 3-step technique in this video is one way to try out some simple Tapping on your own on any resolution you’ve struggled with. It whittles away at what’s going on below the surface that’s holding you back.

So watch the video to get started making that resolution work for you. And you don’t have to wait for January 1st. You can use it anytime you want to make a change!

If you want to stop procrastinating once and for all and start living the life you are meant to, email me. We’ll set up a call to talk about what’s going on with you and see if I can help.

You Are NOT Lazy!

I met a woman who dreamed of creating beautiful jewelry but didn’t because she was “lazy.” Or so she said.

The truth was she was following a “rule” given to her years ago by someone else—someone who was no longer even in her life.

If you are not living the life you’re meant to yet, it’s not because you are lazy or stupid or lack motivation or don’t deserve it or any of the other negative, nasty things you’ve been telling yourself.

The reason you procrastinate, avoid taking certain actions or even sabotage your own efforts instead of going after your dreams is that, like the woman I met, you have an internal mental block that you may not even know is there.

Watch the video to find out how I know that’s true.

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”

To Finish What You’re Avoiding, Change How You Talk About It

After we’d cleared out some major blocks, “Sam” told me his energy levels were back to where they were seven years ago when he started his business, and he could power through all sorts of projects fast. He was feeling really motivated to go out and get those new clients he’d been talking about for the last couple of years. The one thing standing in the way of his moving forward on the next growth phase of his business were the piles of “stuff” on his desk.

“Stuff?” I asked. “Oh, billing and other paperwork. The stuff I have to do. But I don’t like it. I know I’ve gotta do it to keep my business running, but I would rather do anything else. It’s so boring.” We talked about a few different time management tricks he could use to make time for the stuff and just get it done, but it quickly became clear that this wasn’t a simple question of fitting it into an already busy schedule. Just the thought of working on the “stuff” was turning Sam into a rebellious teen, shaking his head and saying “You can’t make me.”

lonely lawnmowerThat rebellious attitude was the tip off to me that we were dealing with an internal block that was tripping him up. We had already uncovered and cleared some of Sam’s other issues with authority. Turns out this was another aspect of his automatic refusal to do what someone tells him to do. Only he was the one who was telling himself to do the work!

Now that kind of reaction to other people telling you what to do is often part of what drives someone to become Continue reading “To Finish What You’re Avoiding, Change How You Talk About It”

The Money Block

While sitting in a long line of traffic, I started thinking of a block that creeps into many people’s decision-making: they try to avoid spending money, but wind up losing opportunities that would have earned them more than they would have spent.

That day, the toll bridge in Seattle had been shut down, so all of us were shunted on to the other, non-toll, bridge. For $3.69, you can usually get across the toll-bridge quickly and easily. The other bridge has become a stop-and-go nightmare as so many drivers choose that route to save money. While I was experiencing the waste of time that many people willingly choose, I was thinking about how gladly I would have paid the toll so I could get back to my office an hour earlier and make some money. Instead, I was spending more time driving, NOT getting work done.

Traffic Jam!Fooled by a veneer of rationality?

Usually, a quick way to test whether you have an internal block is to look at whether your actions are rational or irrational. If, rationally speaking, you know it makes more sense to get your report into your boss early, or finish your billing on time, or hold your temper around a client, and yet you consistently do the opposite, it’s a fair bet that you have an internal block that is keeping you from acting rationally. Yet when saving money is part of the equation, our actions can sometimes appear rational on the surface even when a closer look shows us they are not. This veneer of rationality surrounding saving money can keep us from recognizing—and challenging—our own block.

Take that pesky toll. For most people reading this, $3.69 is a trivial amount of money. Pay the toll, if it will buy you upwards of half an hour of time, and you can put that half hour into things like completing projects early, getting more work done, or networking—any number of ways to impress your boss or lay the groundwork for a new job, either of which can lead to a lot more money in your pocket than the outlay for the toll. What is a half hour of your time worth, if you had to reach into you wallet and pay for it? If you own your own business, you can use the time to put your efforts into bringing in more clients, creating a new service or product your customers need, or other efforts to make your company more valuable. Finally, at the very least you could use that half hour for some real downtime (going for a walk in the park, playing with your kids, canoodling with your significant other) that will improve your mood, creativity, and/or quality of life. All for the low, low price of $3.69.

Saving Money Can Cost You

But so often, instead of looking at what an outlay brings us, we immediately think “I can’t afford it,” or “I don’t need that.” A lifelong habit of being careful with money—or a lesson painfully learned from a sudden loss of income—leads to an automatic rejection of any expenditure that we are not forced to make. And that can paradoxically lead to a loss of opportunities and therefore a loss of money.

There are a lot of things we “make do” with in order to save money that may in fact be losing us money. Anything that saves you time that you could better use to improve your business or advance your career can fall into this category. This includes everything from buying new software to having an expert prepare your taxes to picking up dinner at the deli counter on the way home. In fact, anything that you do that is not central to your business or career that could be outsourced is something to consider as a trade off for the dollar value of your time, like bookkeeping, chauffeuring the kids around, rotating the tires on your car, or cleaning your home or office.

Ooooh, that last one is an especially big bug-a-boo for a lot of people. Somewhere along the line they learned that it is morally wrong to pay someone else to clean for them when they are able-bodied enough to scrub their own toilets. But look what you lose when you take the time yourself to do that. You take time away from building up your business in ways that only you can. Just about anyone can vacuum; only you can do the rainmaking, or provide your professional services, or do whatever your customers come to you and not the other guy for. And if you work for someone else, taking time to clean your own home means you don’t have that time to get the certification you need for the next step in your career, or to meet someone in your field who could help you get into that great company you’ve had your eye on, or any of the other things that might move you up.

How To Determine Whether to Spend the Money or Not

To find out if you have a block around spending money that is preventing you from actually making money, try this exercise. Take a piece of paper. Draw a line down the middle. On the left-hand side, write down something you have been avoiding and what it would cost you to buy it. On the right-hand side, write down what it would buy you (e.g., “time to work on presentation” or “time to take on one more client”). Estimate what that could be worth to you. Yes, I mean a dollar amount (“a $5000 bonus” or “$30,000 for one additional client relationship over the next five year”). Now, come up with a percentage likelihood that you will achieve that benefit. (e.g., “15% likelihood that it will lead to the bonus” or “100% ability to work with potential client off my waitlist”). Multiply the potential worth by the percentage likelihood. If the resulting number is greater than what you wrote down on the left-hand side of the page, you have just shown yourself that the rational choice is to spend the money here.

Yes, I know your calculation is not really a hard and fast number, but it is a fairly rational way of estimating what the expenditure is likely worth to you. It is certainly better than a knee-jerk reaction of “spending any money is bad.” Then, if the upside looks like it is more valuable to you than what you have to pay to get it, it is time to spend the money. If it is just too speculative, don’t do it.

Got the Money Block?

Now, if the upside is more valuable than what you would pay and you still can’t bring yourself to do it, you’ve got yourself a money block. Do what you can to stay in your head, being rational, about the expenditure instead of just listening to your feelings that are screaming “Don’t waste money!” You’ve already calculated that it wouldn’t be a waste of money. So take a deep breath and make the commitment to doing the rational thing.

Of course, if you are currently working on a shoestring and you really have to pinch every penny, then you will have to trade some of your time for money, at least until you get some leeway into your system. Then, once you have more money that you can use to “buy” time, you will be able to shift your efforts from money-saving to more money-making efforts. For now, do what you have to. But keep doing those calculations. At some point, sooner than you expect, the upside of spending the money will outweigh the downside.

The Elements of Optimism That Can Unblock You

Last week I started a series on the practical application of Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism to improve your results in your work. Last week in my post What Optimisim Will Get You I explained why using an optimistic approach can get you past some of your blocks and when to use it. This week I’ll explain the three elements of the optimistic explanatory style that get you motivated and energized.

Optimism as Seligman describes it is not some sort of dewy-eyed, happy-go-lucky approach to life that someone is born with. Likewise, being pessimistic does not mean going around being grouchy all the time. Instead they are ways of explaining events in your life. And since you can learn how to use an optimistic explanatory style, you can get the benefits of being an optimist even if you’ve never thought of yourself as one before. (By the way, if you think of yourself as a “realist,” you most likely use a pessimistic explanatory style more often than not.)

We will focus here on ways to get unblocked by changing how you explain to yourself why bad things happen in your job or business. Explain setbacks the wrong way and you’ll feel helpless, like it isn’t worth trying anymore, and your career or business will suffer accordingly. Explain them in the right way and you’ll bounce back quickly from the same setbacks, sometimes with more excitement and energy than ever, leading to all sorts of good results at work. So identifying when your explanations are blocking you and changing them to more motivating language are important skills to develop.

After the big quake hit.Everyone feels at least momentarily helpless in the face of a failure. The pessimist decides he is helpless and gives up. The optimist looks at the same failure and thinks of ways to limit it so he can go on to succeed. To react to a setback with optimism, you need to look at the three Ps of how you explain what happened, or your explanatory style: Permanence, Pervasiveness and Personalization.

Permanence: Temporary (Optimistic) v. Permanent (Pessimistic)

First, Permanence. An optimist thinks of a bad thing as a temporary setback, arising out of temporary conditions that will or can be changed. A pessimist believes it is something permanent that’s going to last for a long time because it was caused by traits that will not change in himself, or the economy, or in potential buyers, or in “people.” To use the optimistic approach, look for ways that a situation is temporary or the conditions for it can be changed.

  • Instead of thinking “No one is going to buy from my company in such a bad economy; I’m doomed,” you might think “Yes, the economy is bad right now, but it always cycles out of downturns eventually. I just need a plan for how to get through this lean patch.” Or “What can I provide that people need now because the economy is bad.”
  • Instead of “That was terrible. I’ll never get the hang of sales,” think “I blew that sales pitch, but I can go back over my notes and practice for the next one, and maybe get some pointers from my friend on how to handle that kind of objection.”
  • Instead of “My boss ignored my idea at the meeting because she doesn’t want to try anything new. I won’t bug her about it anymore,” try something like “My boss has seemed pretty out of it lately. Maybe she has too much on her plate to consider my idea right now. I can check back with her in a few weeks to see if anything has changed.”

So if you catch yourself thinking people, or situations, or even you, are “always” or “never” a certain way, and will never change, find ways to limit your conclusions. Remember: situations and people change all the time, so “always” and “never” thoughts are usually wrong on their face. Dig deeper for ways change may happen.

Pervasiveness: Specific (Optimistic) v. Universal (Pessimistic)

Next, Pervasiveness. A pessimist thinks a setback in one area means everything is going to go bad in all areas. She sees it as a universal failure. An optimist sees the setback as limited to the one event. He sees the failure as specific. Here’s how those two explanatory styles might look:

  • “All bosses will throw you under the bus to save their own career (so I’ll just keep my head down” v. “This boss will throw me under the bus to save his career (and I better get my resume updated)!”
  • “My services are worthless” v. “My services are worthless to this guy, but maybe that guy over there needs what I do right now.”
  • “The job market is in the tank. No one is getting hired right now. I’m never going to get an interview” v. “The overall numbers don’t look good, but my region is picking up faster than other parts of the country” or “my industry is actually growing” or “I’m not getting hired by statistics; I just need one offer from one company with one opening. There is always turnover from people retiring, moving away, or even dying. Something will open up if I just keep sending out resumes and networking.

Personalization: Externalization (Optimistic) v. Internalization (Pessimistic)

Finally, Personalization. A pessimist internalizes the cause for a failure, saying “I’m the cause of this problem” and calls themselves names (“I’m such an idiot.” “I can’t sell lemonade to people in the desert.” “I’m a total failure in this job.”) An optimist externalizes the cause, blaming outside people or forces. (“My co-workers didn’t do their homework.”)

Two things to be aware of on this last explanatory pitfall. First, it is the least important, so if you have limited time to make changes in your own explanatory style, focus on the other two. Second, and more importantly, you will not improve if you do not take responsibility for your mistakes. If you caused a problem, or were a significant reason for a failure, own that. But don’t call yourself names. Instead look at how you can change, learn or grow from what happened. That’s the optimistic and effective approach that will lead to better results in your career or business.

For the next week, pay attention to how you use the 3 Ps when something goes wrong. Do you see it as a permanent problem that is pervasive throughout all areas that is caused by your personal failings? If you find you lean toward any of those pessimistic explanations, you will want to get started on changing your explanations so you can be more effective and energized when you want.

Coming up next, I’ll detail some of Seligman’s specific techniques for changing a pessimistic explanatory style to an optimistic one.

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.

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