Are you procrastinating, avoiding doing something—even though you know it will bring you closer to creating the life you want—because it drains you?
Dave came to me with exactly that problem. Whenever he tried to make cold calls, he would quickly lose his energy, and even his ability to think clearly. It limited his work days and put a ceiling on how much he could make in his business.
He really wanted to grow his business, but to do that he had to fix the problem. He just didn’t know how.
Watch the video to see what we did to find out what was causing the drain and put the stopper in.
Sometimes it takes a bit of detective work to uncover why something is sapping your energy. Then, when you know where to direct your tapping, you are ready to tap away the cause.
If you would like some help figuring out what’s holding you back from the life you’ve been dreaming of, email me. We’ll set up a call to talk about what’s going on with you and see if I can help.
For this post I did something a little different. I shot a video on my recent trip on a cruise ship. I apologize for the quality—I know it’s not the best.
But the message is important, especially for high-achievers: If you want to improve your creativity—really, your ability to come up with new ideas for your work or your life—you need to stop working. You need to stop thinking about working. You need . . . a vacation.
By the way, if you watch to the end, you’ll meet someone very important to me, too.
Do you find that a case of nerves can get in the way of going after what you want sometimes? Then this week’s technique can help.
Usually I use Tapping with clients to get rid of their deep-seated blocks to creating the life they want. But it’s not the only trick I have up my sleeve!
Do this simple technique when you’re just a little nervous about something and you will feel more confident in minutes. Watch the video now:
When you’re nervous you can’t think at your best or be as convincing or appealing as you are when you are confident, whether you’re giving a presentation at work or going on a date. Try this technique out next time you’ve got a case of the jitters and see what a difference it makes.
Today I want to give you a way to figure out whether your have a common block which can completely derail your progress. I’ll also give you a way to defuse it.
Although this block is common, it often manages to go unrecognized in most people since it only shows up when they start to make—and actually see—real progress towards their goals. That’s when it starts driving them to sabotage the progress they are making, which can be completely confusing as well as frustrating.
Why would anyone sabotage their own efforts just when they are starting to see some success?
Actually, it makes perfect sense that someone would sabotage themselves when they are starting to see improvement if the block they have is a fear of letting go of how they think of themselves. Take my client “Dominic,” an independent consultant who has a history of cycling back and forth between periods of expanding his client list and backing off from his business and letting it shrivel. He’s even been known to take a job in an entirely different field during a period where he is stepping away from his business. He truly loves what he does and wants to build a thriving practice, so we’ve been knocking down the internal blocks that get him off track.
After making some initial progress on his blocks, we decided to tackle his backlog of paperwork. Dominic had been letting his billing slide, which was doing a number on his cash flow. We made a plan, breaking down the project into several steps, then putting the steps on his calendar. We also made a plan for him get the billing done on a weekly basis going forward. What had seemed an insurmountable problem turned into something he could catch up on within a few days, then easily take care of after that. Dominic must have felt great, right?
Wrong. When I asked him how he was feeling, Dominic said with surprise in his voice that he was feeling “a little anxious.” As I asked more questions, he admitted that he didn’t know what it would be like to have his business running smoothly. He was a “flake.” Everybody knew that, including him. Who would he be when his business was thriving? He wouldn’t be that flake anymore. So who would he be?
Fear of losing…everything
When we have been holding a picture in our mind for a long time of who we are, anything that threatens to replace that picture can feel dangerous, even if on the surface we really want the change. It can seem to us, on some deeper level, that who we are will die if we change too much—even if we think the change is for the good. That’s extreme language, I know, but that’s how this block makes us feel. Then we will do anything, even sabotage what we want most in life, to avoid that frightening feeling.
Of course, we know that becoming more successful in our business or job will not make us die. But simply knowing that on an intellectual level does not change the emotional reaction we have to the “threat” to our self-image. And those emotions get triggered if we take a significant step towards change.
So if you notice that you start out full of good intentions on a new effort to move forward in your job or business, but pull back whenever you start to make progress, you may have this emotional block. If you have a pattern of doing something to screw up what had been off to a good start, you may have this block. Perhaps you just have a feeling that this might be a problem for you. If you have any of these indications, try this experiment.
What do you see when you visualize change, in detail?
Close your eyes. See yourself as more successful than you already are—maybe you are one more rung up the corporate ladder, or your business has a wait list of clients clamoring to hire you. Whatever you’ve been telling yourself is your next big goal, imagine you have achieved it and it’s effortless now. What do you look like? What does your workplace look like? Picture what you do during the day. Are you busy in important meetings? Traveling and giving presentations? Do you have more direct reports or people working for you? Who do you talk with and how do you interact with each other?
I assume that you will have more income. What are you doing with it? Imagine what it feels like to have more than you need to pay the bills, pay off all your debts, be able to go on more exotic vacations, pay for education, move to a bigger house, or donate more to your favorite charities—whatever you would do with the increase.
Now hear in your mind what the important people in your life are saying to you about your newfound success, whether that is your spouse, family members, clients, co-workers, bosses, or friends. Include important people from your past (your soccer coach, first wife, and brother you haven’t talked to in years). Don’t forget to “talk” to people who have died. Next, imagine what those same people are really thinking. Some of their thoughts will be the same as what they say to you, but some will be different.
If I’ve missed anything, be sure you put it into your picture. The goal is to really imagine all the aspects of your success. When you’ve spent some time getting a complete picture of this success and what it will change in your life, check out how you are feeling about it. You might expect to feel happy, excited, hopeful, even relieved, and you probably will feel some of those emotions. But if anything negative came up—like nervousness, worry, fear, heaviness, sadness, or overwhelm—some part of you is probably trying to avoid the loss of the “old” you.
Getting a negative feeling from inside yourself while visualizing your dreams coming true? Yep, you’ve got the block we’re talking about here.
Three simple steps to end the self-sabotage
One way to get around this block is to set aside time every day to do exactly what you just did. Visualize yourself as this more successful you, going through your day with all the perks of the success. You really only need to do this a few minutes at a time. But to make this work, you need to do three other things:
First, if negative things come into your visualization, like your boss yells at you, or you screw up and tick off your clients, or you are working too many hours, correct that part of the visualization. Visualize it again, but this time visualize the way you really want it to turn out (even if you have your boss acting out of character). After all, this is supposed to be the success you want, so see it that way.
Second, while visualizing, put each of your thumbs on the side of the index finger next to it and rub gently in slow circles near the base of the fingernail. This is a relaxation technique that will help you let go of the negative emotions that come up when you are visualizing your own success. This is key, since those negative emotions are the ones that are driving you to sabotage yourself when success starts to loom on the horizon.
Keep doing this exercise for a few minutes each day until the new you feels comfortable, and there are no more negative emotions connected to seeing yourself as successful.
We usually think that, to change how we think of ourselves, first we have to change what we do. It’s counterintuitive to think we have to change how we think of ourselves in order to change what we do, but that is exactly how you will get past this particular block.
So if you’ve discovered you have this block—you’re thinking of yourself as less successful than you want to be—it’s time to get started changing your thoughts. Until you do, it’s going to be nearly impossible to change what you are doing.
When you think about yourself in your work, do you see yourself as successful, competent, professional, just the way you want others to see you? If your answer is “yes,” then this tip is not for you. But if you see yourself in any other way—e.g., as a little kid in the corporate grown-up’s world, or as an arty type who’s floundering as a businessperson, or as a small-time player only pretending to do what you’re claiming to do and hoping no one sees through you—then read on.
I’ve found with many of my clients that one of the biggest internal blocks they have is that they don’t believe they are the person they are trying to be. They focus on what they are doing, thinking that if they just do what they are supposed to in their role, they will grow into it and finally be, and feel, successful. While there is no denying that you have to do what your boss, clients or customers need, how you see yourself—whether that is as a respected VP or successful business owner or, conversely, as the complete opposite—will also have a big impact on how well you succeed.
Take for example the solopreneur who knows she has a great service that other people need. She’s knows the marketing steps she needs to take to get the word out so customers who need her can find her. But she sees herself as someone who just isn’t a “real” businessperson, just someone who’s dabbling in her business. When she considers going to networking events, or giving presentations, or fielding calls from prospective customers, that internal view of herself is not only going to block her from doing things she needs to do (“oh well, maybe I’ll skip this networking event since I’m not likely to impress any potential customers”), it’s going to leak out when she does get out there and talk with people (like mumbling her words when she asks if they would like to buy her service).
When you feel like you’re faking it, it’s almost impossible to keep all of the discomfort you’re feeling from showing up in the subtle ways you hold yourself and act. Even those who are able to “stop up all the leaks” still aren’t presenting themselves as powerfully as they could if they weren’t using so much energy to combat the negative image they have of themselves.
Of course, there is some power in the idea of “fake it ‘til you make it.” You will get more confident the more you do something, but it takes time and that can lead to lost opportunities. So I recommend taking a shortcut to get that confidence more quickly: start doing things to see yourself as the successful person you want to become.
Dress for the part you’re playing.
First, be sure you look the part. There is a truism in career coaching that, instead of dressing for the job you have, you should dress for the job at least one step above you on the corporate ladder. The reason given is usually that you are more likely to get noticed and thought of as being capable of handling that role. This is true and not to be sneezed at, but there is an even more powerful reason in my book. When you dress a certain way, you start to act that way.
I once heard that when judges put on their black robes, something changes inside of them. They feel like a judge and start to act more authoritatively than before. Similarly, military people keep their uniforms carefully tended. Think of the sergeant yelling “Tuck in that shirt. Shine those shoes. You’re a Soldier now!” or words like it to the new recruits at bootcamp. Dressing that way helps the recruits start to act with the conviction that they are soldiers.
So consider how the person you want to be dresses. This is especially important for small business owners. Maybe you think you can get away with wearing old T-shirts and jeans, or even a robe and fuzzy slippers, since most days you don’t see customers. Don’t do it! You need to change the way you see yourself. Dress every day as if you were going to meet a potential customer. The more you dress the part, the more you’ll believe in the “new you.” (Plus, you never know when you’ll meet a potential client at the local cafe.)
For the same reason, keep your grooming up. Successful business professionals typically don’t let their hair get shaggy, or pour on the goth eyeliner of their rebellious youth. You want to catch sight of your reflection in store windows and wonder who that successful person is, not reinforce the idea that you’re somehow not good enough.
Gather photographic proof that you are the person you want to be.
You can get a regular boost from seeing pictures of yourself looking the way you want to look. Perhaps you have a photo of you with an expression of complete determination as you are going down the rapids on your last vacation. Or one from your sister’s wedding where you are holding your head up with great confidence. Maybe you have an easy smile in a candid shot from your last training. Gather up as many photos like this as you can find. Put together a collage of them and hang it on the back of your door. Use them as rotating wallpaper on your laptop. Or put them around your home where you’ll notice them every day.
If you have trouble coming up with photos that speak to you of the success you want, get a good headshot. A lot of people try to save money by hunting around for a decent candid shot from the last company retreat, or use a photo from ten years ago that is “good enough” on their websites, business cards or announcements. That won’t accomplish what you want. You need a headshot that shows the parts of you that are capable, confident, professional—whatever it is you are trying to grow into. Just know that you have those abilities already, even if you haven’t exercised them as much as you’d like. A good photographer can capture the moments when those expressions shine through. You’ll probably have to wade through a lot of mediocre shots, but that’s normal. Don’t get discouraged. There will be a few that make you say “Wow” when you see them.
Don’t skimp on this. Ask around for referrals to a photographer who has a good reputation for getting great shots of businesspeople and go with them. You’re looking for someone who can capture the sparkle in the eye of people who don’t spend their lives in front of a camera. (Not everyone offers this service. I know of a small business owner who went to a photographer who worked with models and actors. She was shocked when she found out he hadn’t been practicing his smile for their shoot. And neither of them liked any of the pics she took.) A good headshot can really remind you of who you are becoming.
Stand up straight and smile. (Really.)
How you hold your body and your expression are additional ways you can start to change how you think of yourself. Remember that soldier? He is taught to stand at attention with “chin up, chest out, shoulders back, stomach in.” Try it now. You actually feel more confident when you stand or sit that way. And there is a famous study in which people making certain expressions (e.g., anger, fear) for a time started to feel the emotion they were mimicking, even though they hadn’t felt that way when they began. So channel your mother. Remind yourself to stand up straight and smile at times during the day. (Don’t smile constantly though. That’s just creepy.)
If you take these simple steps to change the external you, you’ll be on your way to changing the internal view you have of yourself.
I confess that today’s tip is not for everyone. But before you dismiss it as not being right for you, be sure to really try it on for size. You may discover that you can make this change. If you can, it will make a huge difference in your work.
“Mark” has blocks to growing his business. He came to me knowing that he procrastinates and misses deadlines. As we delved further, he identified a pattern of starting out on a project for a client with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. He would analyze the client’s problem, identify what they needed to be doing, create a new process, and then implement it. Those first few months were glorious as Mark delivered just what his client needed.
Then the tedium would set in. Maintaining his great process was boring. Newer, more exciting projects would take precedence and he would start to put off doing the first client’s work. Now the client wasn’t so happy with him anymore. And, truth be told, he wasn’t happy with himself, but he couldn’t seem to knuckle down and just do the work.
So, what’s the answer for Mark? Well, there are actually two possibilities. First, we could look for an internal block that is keeping him from simply getting the work done on time. Is there a downside to succeeding — loss of friends, fear of becoming too busy to play with his kids, worry that he will outshine siblings? Does he have “old programming” that kicks in whenever he is doing too well, telling him that only greedy people make a lot of money or that he is too artistic to succeed in business? Once we identify the internal block, we can get rid of it, leaving him free to carry on with the mundane (but still lucrative) part of his business.
Before we did that, though, I wanted to check out the second approach. What if his reluctance to do the more mundane work was simply an acknowledgement by some part of him that such work was not his strength. Perhaps he is “a fixer” through and through and the daily work should be turned over to a “doer.” If that were the case, he could turn that block into a strength by building his business around his strength of “fixing.” He could be the one who goes into a client from the outside, puts his new processes in place, then hands the new system back to the client for continued maintenance by one of its employees. Alternatively, if he really wanted to keep the maintenance part of the business, Mark could hire someone himself to do that work while he monitored his employee and personally kept in touch with his client on a regular, but less onerous, basis.
Either approach would allow him to keep doing the analyzing and fixing he truly enjoyed and skip the dull work he hated. His clients would be happier. And he would be seen as the hero instead of the one with a follow-through problem.
Now think of your own business or job. What are your strengths? What do you love to do? What do clients (or bosses) rave about? Now think about ways for you to focus on those strengths while delegating the work you dislike — your “blocks” — to someone else.
In our culture, we usually get hung up at this “handoff” stage on three different things. One, we grew up believing that we have to improve those parts of our work that are weaker. Remember that comment on elementary school report cards, “Needs Work”? We are not taught to think, “I’m not very good at spelling so I’ll give it to Johnny across the table and he’ll give me his multiplication tables.” No, we are told to focus on our weaknesses to improve them. So, first up, remember that you are not in school anymore. You do not have to do everything and do it well. You just need to make sure that someone is doing what needs to be done.
Second, many of us are worried that if we delegate something, it won’t get done right. We want to control everything, and we can’t control what someone else does. This is true. It is also entirely beside the point. You want to make the most of your strengths, so give away something you are weaker at. By definition you aren’t the best person for that job. There are plenty of other people who are better at it. In addition, you can get better results by delegating even when you delegate something you are good at. The art of effective delegation is a topic for another time, but for now just remember the old adage: two heads are better than one. Someone else will have different experiences, viewpoints and ideas to bring to a problem. Their plan and execution could be better than yours. Alternatively, together you can create something better than either of you alone.
Finally, entrepreneurs often get trapped into thinking they have to do everything in their business from answering the phones to changing the light bulbs. Yes, that may save you money when you are starting out, but if you don’t get away from it quickly it will stunt your growth. How can you add a new product or client if you are already working flat out? How can you impress your existing and potential clients if you are completely exhausted from wordprocessing, bookkeeping and filing every night and cleaning the office and filling orders on weekends? The short answer is you can’t. Don’t try. Figure out what your clients come to you for and do that. Everything else is fair game to be delegated.
There are a lot of ways to delegate. For business owners who simply have too much to do, you can contract out tasks (think bookkeeping, virtual office assistance, cleaning services). You could also hire part-time or full-time employees for specific areas of work. If you feel like you are missing something key to making your business grow — say, you love to learn everything you can and stay on the cutting edge of your field but aren’t good at networking and bringing in new clients — you can join with a partner who has that skill.
If you are not a business owner, this approach may be harder to implement but you may still be able to make it work. If you are in a position to hire direct reports to “fill in the gaps” for you, do it. You will probably need to understand what they do, but it will still be better to have someone do the detailed work. If you can’t delegate to a direct report, see if you can develop your strengths to the extent that you become a “star” at what you do and can expect your employer to find others to do what you are not good at. I once worked in a law firm with a partner who excelled at writing appellate briefs. She was one of the few attorneys who was not expected to go out on golf courses and bring in new clients.
What about Mark? He is intrigued by the idea of turning his blocks into strengths, but nevertheless wants to root them out. I’m happy to help him do that since I know, once they are gone, he can still choose to focus on his strengths in his business.
So think about how you might be able to turn your blocks into strengths. It could be a much simpler solution to your problems!
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.
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.
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.
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:
Presenting and Acting
Highly competitive 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
Financial control and accounting
Law (but not litigation)
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 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.
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.
Why 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.
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.
Last week I described why demanding perfection from yourself can sabotage your work or business. You can waste enormous amounts of time and energy feeling bad that you don’t do your job exactly the way you think you should, or perform better than everybody else, or get more done. You may put off taking action—speaking up at a meeting, taking on a new project at work, or telling others about your business—and so miss out on opportunities that could come your way. So while working to improve your skills is an important part of growth and development, perfectionism is a major block to anyone hoping to advance in their career or grow their business.
If you recognize yourself as a perfectionist who is blocking your own success, then the technique I detailed last week of changing your internal message from “I’m not good enough” to “I am good enough” is a valuable approach to changing your perfectionist mindset. By all means, use it. But don’t stop there. To get even more powerful results, and get them quicker, try the opposite extreme for while. Start taking immediate action. Do things before you feel completely ready to act, before your plan is perfectly formed.
Leap First, Ask Questions Later
When you see an opportunity, step up and take it. If your boss says she needs someone to take on a new project, open your mouth and say “I’ll do it” before you have time to think of all the reasons you’re not the best qualified. If someone at the next table at lunch is talking about having a problem that your business handles, lean over, apologize for interrupting, and hand them your card instead of thinking of the other people out there who must know more than you do. Go ask your boss for something new to work on. In other words, leap before you look.
For the next month, try this as an experiment. Do not analyze all the pros and cons of doing things before doing them. You’ve already been doing that and it hasn’t worked for you —you fell into the perfectionist trap. So it’s time to try a new approach. Instead, act first then figure out how to do the best you reasonably can with the opportunity you now have.
If you are a true perfectionist, you are probably going into conniptions right about now, thinking “I can’t do that, what if I get it wrong? What if I don’t do it as well as the other guy? I’m just not ready. There’s not enough time.” Do it anyway. It is a fast way to get out of your old rut. The more you do it, the more successes you will have and the more you will realize that your old way of thinking (that you aren’t good enough at what you do and need to do everything better to be valuable) is wrong.
How to Leap First, In Two Easy Steps
If you follow a couple of steps, it will be easier to do this experiment.
First, talk and think about your goals for everything you do in a different way. Whatever your project is, whether it is fixing a process in your department that is too slow, editing an internal manual, or training your client’s employees in the use of new software, your job is to improve the situation and make it better than it was—not to make everything perfect. Remind yourself of this at every chance you get. When you realize that your goal is to improve things for your company or your client, then you will realize that every improvement you make gives value. In this way, every improvement you make is a success. Remember, perfection isn’t achievable. Improvement is.
Second, plan from the start to make changes to your project, whatever it is, as you go along. This is actually a deliberate approach taken by many companies because it often gets them better results than waiting to start work on a project until it is all planned out. That way they, and you, can make changes as they go along to meet the needs that become apparent only after they’ve been working on it for a time.
Case in Point: How Cal Built Momentum
For example, take a client of mine who realized he should be out networking for a new job but was having trouble getting moving. “Cal” had all sorts of excuses. He hadn’t updated his old resume. He needed to optimize it for the type of job he wanted to get. He needed to create a plan for who to contact in what order to get the type of job he wanted to get. Heck, he needed to figure out what kind of job he wanted to get! Every way he looked, he saw ways he could do it wrong, and that had him stymied.
To cut the Gordian Knot, he emailed an acquaintance, asking for coffee and the opportunity to talk about what kinds of jobs were out there. No, he hadn’t perfected his resume, his plan of attack or even his goal. But he was moving, and things started to fall into place. The acquaintance had heard of a couple of jobs that might do. They didn’t, but they got Cal thinking of some other places to look for job postings. Another friend offered to make suggestions for his resume and came up with changes that were far better than Cal would have made on his own. Soon he was clarifying what he wanted in his next job as well as getting a better idea of what was available. He was also sending out better and better resumes. None of these things would have happened if he waited until he had everything perfectly ready to go.
Your Assignment: Do This for 30 Days
If you are a perfectionist, here is your assignment. For the next month, whenever you get that familiar, uncomfortable feeling that you’re not ready, or not good enough, to take on a project, whether big or small, step forward and do it. (Okay, start with just a small project first if you need to, but as soon as it is complete do another.) Next, set a limited goal only to improve the situation you are working on, whatever it is, not to make it perfect. Finally, get started on it, knowing that you can and will adjust what you are doing as new information comes in.
(By the way, if you know that this is what you need to do to get out of your own perfectionist trap but you just can’t bring yourself to start the experiment, a coach might be able to help you dismantle the trap so you can move forward.)
Some part of all perfectionists knows that they can do more than they are allowing themselves to do. If that’s you, try this experiment and see how quickly you can strengthen that part of you and really start succeeding the way you know you can.