When Fear of Interviewing Blocks Your Job Search

In the last couple of weeks three of my clients admitted that they had been avoiding looking for a new job because they were afraid of going on interviews. These clients had significant reasons to go after new jobs (e.g., financial distress, an unsupportive boss, being in the wrong industry) which they recognized, yet they were allowing their unexamined fears stop them. So we examined their fears.

Simple Interviewing Fears

“Adele” has been out of work for several years. At first it was a choice, but after her husband died it became harder to continue her same lifestyle. Lately she has found herself really pinched with unexpected health problems. She realizes she would do much better if she went back to work, she enjoys her profession, and she knows she is good at what she used to do. But in spite of all that she hasn’t been able to bring herself to look for a job.

When I asked why, she said it was because she was afraid of going on interviews. I got her to relax and think about being in an interview. Then I had her finish the sentence “The worst thing about an interview is . . . .” She surprised us both by answering “none of my clothes fit.” We had a good laugh, she said there was an easy fix to this problem and that she was ready to get started.

That wasn’t the end to the problem, though. It turns out that Adele is also afraid that she will perform badly in any tests she is given during the interview. Why? She keeps thinking of an interview she went on a few years back where she was out of practice and got so flustered when asked to perform that she couldn’t do what she had done for years. The pain and embarrassment she felt was intense. She has convinced herself that this will happen again so she avoids putting herself in any situation (such as an interview) where it might.

The Interview

So what to do? First, Adele has to address the deficit in her closet by buying an outfit that feels comfortable and appropriate. Second, together we will work on that memory to take away the emotional sting. Third, Adele will look for volunteer work at an organization she respects that will allow her to practice her old skills until she feels she is ready for that interview (or gets hired by someone who observes her in action).

Fear of Failure In an Interview

Meanwhile, “Brynne” was feeling stifled by her current situation. Her boss wasn’t giving her any of the stretch projects she was seeking to grow and move up in their company. On top of that, the boss’s personal style was to mention only the mistakes, never giving recognition for Brynne’s many accomplishments. Brynne needed to move to a new position with a more compatible manager. Brynne had realized a year ago she needed that change, yet here she was with an out-of-date resume and all the excuses in the world why she couldn’t start her search now.

When pressed, she admitted the real reason she was avoiding her job search was that she was afraid of going on any interviews. So I got her to relax, then asked her to finish the same sentence I asked Adele: “The worst thing about an interview is . . . .” She thought about it and answered “I won’t be good enough and the interviewer will judge me.”

While this sounds logical, look at it more closely. Why should she care what the interviewer thinks, really? The interviewer is not going to report back to Brynne’s family, friends, or even her boss on her performance in the interview. They are not going to decide who Brynne marries, what college her children go to, or whether she gets into heaven. At most, all they do is decide whether to hire Brynne for the job or not. Big deal. Even if she really wants the offer, it will not be the end of the world if she doesn’t get it. There are other jobs out there, and Brynne (if she’s smart) wants one where they want her and she wants them. Figuring out whether there is that kind of fit is really what the interview is about. If the interviewer doesn’t want her, then — HURRAY — they’ve figured out there isn’t a fit before any harm is done.

With a little thought, Brynne agreed that it wasn’t about whether the interviewer would judge her as not good enough but whether she will judge herself as wanting. Brynne is a perfectionist, and the fear of not being perfect has been a stumbling block we’ve worked on before. Half an hour later, we’d eliminated that block to interviewing and Brynne was smiling at the thought of finding her next job. (If you have that perfectionism block, check out my earlier post on how to get past it.)

Fear of Succeeding and Getting the Job

“Clarice” was in a panic. She had done the unthinkable, applying for her dream job on a lark and suddenly finding herself scheduled to fly out for an interview. If she had thought she would actually get that far she never would have applied. What would she do if she got the job?!

First things first. We had to get her to calm down so she could actually think. I had her tap on acupressure points that work as a powerful relaxation technique. (If you want to know what they are, you can see them in this post.)

When Clarice was breathing again, I got her talking about what was so alarming. While she continued to tap, I had her start with “The worst thing about the interview is . . . ,“ and it all came out. What if she got the job? She’d have to move to a city where she didn’t know anyone, leaving behind the friends she’d made and groups she belonged to (not to mention a certain ex she still had feelings for.) And she’d have to stop playing small, doing a job that was easy and safe. She would no longer be a big fish in a small pond. She’d have to stretch and prove herself to the hiring manager, someone whose accomplishments she really admired. What if she couldn’t do the new job? And ultimately, she would have to find out if the dream she had been holding onto for so long was really what she wanted. What if she hated the work after all?

By relaxing her body while getting out all the fears she had about this job, Clarice was able to start thinking about them rationally, putting them in perspective. She didn’t completely lose her fears, but they became much more rational. She left looking calm, thoughtful, and — yes — a bit excited.

How to Lower Your Interviewing Fear

So what do you do if fear of going on an interview is stopping you from going after a new job? First of all, relax. Remember, just thinking about interviewing cannot hurt you! If you are having trouble relaxing, try the tapping exercise above or one of the techniques from this post.

When you are relaxed, finish this sentence “The worst thing about an interview is . . . .” What’s the first thing that comes to mind? Write it down. Relax again and fill in the blank again. Keep going until nothing else comes to mind. Next, go through your list one by one, keeping your body relaxed throughout.

You should notice a few things. First, usually just getting clear on what it is you are afraid of can bring your overall fear down. Second, some of those fears just won’t bother you anymore when looked at in the light of day. (Remember Adele and her interview outfit?) Finally, just staying relaxed while thinking about your fears may allow your mind to come up with ways to fix the problem. (Adele could work as a volunteer to practice her skills. Brynne doesn’t really care about the interviewer’s opinion. And Clarice can make plans to join groups where she’ll get to know people in her new town.)

So there you have it — a simple way to bring down your fear of interviewing so you can go after a job you really want.

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.

Four Rules for a Vacation That Helps Your Business or Career

Now that Fall is really here and summer vacations are over, it’s time to start thinking about your next vacation. Really. You need to take breaks from work in order to do your best. A good vacation will send you back to the office refreshed, energized, and more creative. Go without a decent vacation too long and you actually put your job or business in jeopardy. You can lose your focus, start making obvious mistakes, miss great opportunities, and risk getting into fights with co-workers, your boss, or your clients.

Now, if you are going to go to the trouble and expense to take time off from work, do it right so you get the most benefit from the break. Here is an excerpt from my as yet unpublished book (working title: Living Better Than a Lottery Winner) which sets out four simple rules to actually get the benefits you need out of your vacation. I know, I know, these rules are easy to say but can be hard to do. If you’re thinking that, consider this: if you don’t do what you need to in order to get an adequate break from work, part of you is probably already working against yourself and on track for getting fired or sabotaging your business anyway, just to get the break you need, so you might as well do what I recommend here instead.

Vacation!

THE RULES OF A GOOD VACATION

Rule Number One: Do not spend time with family or friends on your vacation.

I don’t care how close you are to your parents, how much you love your cousins, or what a great time you had with your friends five years ago. Just don’t do it.

I don’t mean you have to leave your husband at home or the kids with their grandparents, although some people do need that much of a break from time to time. I mean don’t go stay with your parents for a week and call it a vacation. Don’t even make plans to stop by your aunt’s and uncle’s house on the Big Island in the middle of your time off. Think of your vacation as time away from all obligations, including familial ones. If you don’t, your break will end up feeling like one more chore and you will end up feeling like an overwound watch at the end of the trip rather than the limp, relaxed dishrag you are aiming for.

When I was in the process of burning myself out therapizing non-stop, I still spent holidays with family. I called them vacations. I lied. I came back from such “vacations” as tense and tired as when I left.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a great family, including my in-laws, and I love them all dearly. It is always important, fun and enriching to spend time with them. But it is not, I repeat NOT, a vacation. When you spend time with your family, or even your friends, you are “on” all the time to a certain extent. You are watching your Ps and Qs, and inevitably missing a P here or a Q there and feeling like a failure for fighting with your father over politics again or for not helping your sister with the dishes or for thinking of ways to avoid explaining why you’re not married yet or . . . . You get the idea. A break is where you get away from most of the expectations on yourself, not where you exchange one set of expectations for another.

So, no family or friends on your vacation.

Rule Number Two: Schedule a two-week vacation.

I know—you can’t possibly take two whole weeks away from work. Your To Do list is just too long, and no one else can do any of the tasks on it right. If you’re gone that long your boss will think you aren’t really committed to the job and your performance reviews will slip. That amount of time will allow your coworkers to snap up all the good, visible projects that could advance your career. I’ve heard all the excuses for not taking a two-week vacation. Now it’s time you heard the reasons you have to have one.

First, at some point I read about some research done somewhere showing that people do not relax for the first week of the vacation. They are still thinking about what they did or didn’t do before they left, and can Roger handle that presentation on his own, and what if I don’t get the numbers from Gigi right away when I get back, and what did my boss really mean when he said not to worry about the project—is he planning to fire me? Apparently, we all need that first week of vacation just to decompress in body and mind. The second week of vacation is where the real regeneration happens.

Second, you need all the regenerating that happens in that second week. Only then can you go back to work with energy, enthusiasm, and new ideas so that you don’t just do your job, you excel at it, get handed the stretch project that gets you noticed, strut your stuff and finally move into the corner office.

Finally, the alternative to taking the time you need is that you continue plodding down the path you are already on. At best, you’ll stay stuck where you are. More likely, you will get more and more tired, make more mistakes, and have less ability to deal diplomatically with boss, coworkers, and clients, not to mention what will happen to your home and social life. If it’s bad enough, you may even unintentionally screw up enough to get yourself fired just to give yourself the rest you need. I’ve seen it happen with more clients than I believed possible.

So plan for two weeks away from work. Then do it.

Rule Number Three: Rule Number Two means you need to take two weeks away from work, and what that means is no contact with work.

I mean it. Leave the laptop, Blackberry, and phones turned off. Better yet, leave them at home. Don’t let the office know what hotel you are staying at. Leave no contact information whatsoever in the wrong hands—by which I mean with anybody at work.

This means you will probably have to do some groundwork at the office before you leave. If in the past it was expected that you would take “working vacations,” it’s time to disabuse coworkers and bosses alike of the notion. A working vacation is not a vacation; it’s just work. You won’t get any of the benefits you really need from your time off. Be gentle, be firm, be strident if you must, but let people know that you will be out of touch from the time you walk out the door pulling out your hair until the time you walk back in with a tan and a smile.

I’ve known people who had so much trouble with this rule that they had to go somewhere where they literally could not be reached. Some options might be staying in yurts while trekking through Nepal, floating down the Amazon by raft, or snowshoeing to the South Pole. If this isn’t in your budget, you will have to learn to be firm and make yourself electronically unavailable to the office. Or drop your cell phone in the lake on your first day out.

Rule Number Four: Go away.

Don’t think that staying home and remodeling the bathroom will give you the R & R you need. It won’t. You’re just exchanging one To Do list for another. This does not give your body and mind the space they need to do the healing you need.

You also will not get the right kind of break if you plan to stay home and not do any of the chores on your list. It sounds good. I’ve tried it before. I told myself “Hey, I’ll just act like a tourist in my own hometown for a couple of weeks. I won’t have to do any planning. I’ll save tons of money. I’ll get to see all the places I keep meaning to get to.” But it didn’t work out that way. I ended up hanging around the house feeling guilty that I wasn’t being more productive. Plus, staying in the same old surroundings kept reminding my brain of the same old daily thoughts, which simply were not that restful or stimulating.

I’m not asking you to spend a lot of money traveling to Thailand or other exotic parts. If the most you can afford is a trip to a friend’s lake cabin in the middle of February when he’s not using it, then do it. If you swear up and down you cannot afford a vacation of any kind, I’ll even take the stay-at-home vacation as long as you promise to go somewhere you’ve never been and do something new each and every day. (It’s better than nothing.) All I’m pointing out is that you need to get away from your everyday routine to get any benefit from your vacation.

By the way, if you only get two weeks vacation per year from your employer, it’s time to do a serious evaluation of your job. Okay, if you are just starting out and you have to wait a year or two before you get more vacation time you’ll probably just have to tough it out. However, if you’ve already been in the same job for seven years and this is all you get and all you will ever get, ask yourself if the job is really filling your soul. It certainly isn’t giving you much time to pursue other interests, so if the job itself doesn’t fulfill you, then look for another one that either does or that gives you enough time for a life outside of it.

This is just my personal opinion here, but I believe staying put simply because your job pays you enough to have a nice comfy retirement isn’t a good excuse for keeping a job that doesn’t give you time for a life now. What kind of life will you have left when you turn sixty-five, anyway? If your job is that wearing it is probably affecting your health, so how much time will you really have left even if you make it to retirement age? In addition, your mood and imagination are getting ground down daily. How long do you think it will take to get them back once you retire?

Nancy Linnerooth

So there you have it. If you want to reap the benefits at work of a good vacation, start planning that mid-winter break trip now. And don’t forget to follow the rules!

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.

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!”

The Best Way to Prepare for a High-Pressure Event

One of my clients, “Angie,” is making an important presentation this week. It’s high profile, and she would like to impress a number of higher-ups in her company who are attending. This is a great opportunity, and it comes with a lot of stress. Now I know Angie. She will come through this experience with flying colors, presenting her information in a clear way, fielding all the questions with ease, displaying her knowledge and ability beautifully. She thrives in high-stakes situations.

Compare her experience with that of another client I spoke to this week. “Barbara” told me about a high-pressure opportunity she had two years ago to show what she could do. She took the LSAT, the test would-be lawyers take before applying to law schools. She’s smart, motivated and really will be a good lawyer in time. But when she took that test she was too stressed to demonstrate any of that well, and her score showed it.

Do you stress-out preparing for important events? Don’t. Do the opposite.

What do you do right before an important “performance?”

Do you pore over all your notes just before stepping up to the podium? In the car on the way to the sales presentation do you rehash all the possible objections your potential customer may have and how you can respond to them? Do you reread the interviewer’s LinkedIn bio for the twentieth time while waiting for the receptionist to take your name? If so, you may be shooting yourself in the foot.

If you want to do your best in a high-stakes situation, the worst thing you can do is get yourself stressed. Don’t get me wrong, you have to do your prep work. Practice your powerpoint presentation. Learn the answers to customers’ objections. Research the company you are interviewing with. But do those things before the day of the event. When you cram the day of you increase your stress level. As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, the more stressed you are the less of your brain you can access. So cramming right before an important event, whatever that event is, will actually lower your performance.

https://unsplash.com/photos/98Elr-LIvD8

So how do you get yourself in the right mindset to succeed? Just follow the immortal advice of Bobby McFerrin: Don’t worry, be happy. I mean it. If you aren’t happy already, get yourself there. When you are happy, you actually have access to more of your brain so you can think faster, be more creative, keep focused — everything you want and need in a high-pressure situation. So when going into such a situation, it’s in your own best interest to be happy.

How do you do this? Coming right up—but I couldn’t resist linking to the video, first.

How can you “get happy” when you want to?

It doesn’t have to be hard to do this. There are a lot of different ways that can work. One simple way to get happy is to think about one of the best moments of your life. Really try to relive it. Think about what it looked like — the colors, the light, the expressions on everyone’s face. Remember the sounds and how it felt physically. Go through all the senses, bringing up as much detail as you can. Take your time. The more detail you call up, the more you will be able to really feel the happiness you felt at the time.

Music is also a great way to bring up certain emotions. So listen to music that makes you want to dance. Heck, actually dance if that makes you happy. (Okay, don’t do either of those things in your office if they will get you fired.) I know people who swear that meditating raises their mood. For others, it’s looking at a baby picture of their kid. Still others go for a walk in the park. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as whatever you do gets you feeling good.

Let me be a bit clearer. When I say do whatever works to feel happier this is not license to take drugs or alcohol. Remember, your goal is to access more of your brain. Drugs and alcohol have the opposite effect. Instead, I’m encouraging you to use natural ways to improve your mood. Think of what usually puts a smile on your face. Maybe it’s remembering swimming with your best friend in fifth grade, or planning a dream vacation, or watching old clips of the Marx Brothers. Give yourself some time to really think about this. Then pick one that you know really works for you.

You will need to schedule time right before the event to do whatever it is you’ve chosen to feel happier. The activity doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Thinking of the happiest day of your life could take less than a minute. Just be sure you don’t get yourself stressed out trying to take a ten-minute walk in the park if you only have three minutes. That would undo all the good you are trying to achieve.

Can’t get happy? You might have some unlearning to do.

I realize that some issues can’t be fixed with this quick tip. For example, problems like fear of public speaking will need more work to root them out. Barbara believed that she couldn’t take tests well. I know she can—once we break the old connection she has in her mind between taking tests and stressing out. So we’ve scheduled some time to “unlearn” that belief and get rid of the stress she feels around retaking the LSAT. Then she’ll be ready to take that exam again. And this time, she’ll get happy before walking into the testing center so she can really show them what she’s got.

Of course, if you’re like Barbara and have something big holding you back, you’ll want to work on it to level your own playing field. But for every other high-pressure event you have, just remember to get happy. Your performance will peak, and maybe you’ll get that promotion, or sale, or recognition that you’re ready for.

Your Negative Self-Talk Is Slowing You Down—Change It!

While you are going through your workday, how do you think about yourself? Do you think things like “Yes! I am so good at this. I’ve really got what it takes to succeed here!” Or is it more like “Who am I kidding? How did I ever think I could pull this off?!” Let’s really test this. Think of the last time you made a mistake. What did you think then: “Loser?” “Idiot?” “I always screw things up?” “I’m just not good enough?”

Facepalm by Joe Loong (flickr user JoeLogon)
Facepalm by Joe Loong (Flickr user JoeLogon)

Most of us seem to have some of those kinds of negative thoughts about ourselves come up, especially when things aren’t going our way or we’ve made a mistake. When I talk to clients about their negative self-talk, they usually think that it’s a good motivator, pushing them to work harder, fix what they’ve been doing wrong, or just get it right the next time. At the very least, they think the negative messages they give themselves are harmless. They are wrong.

The truth is these kinds of messages are damaging. They will slow you down, demotivate you and limit your creativity. I’ve seen them be completely debilitating, leading clients to essentially give up. It’s as if they’ve mentally thrown up their hands and said “Why bother. If I’m such a loser, I might as well not try.”

What can you do if you have one of these negative messages blocking you? I use two different techniques. The first works quite fast but you would need to learn to use a strange-looking technique. The second will take a commitment on your part to follow through with it, but you can start it right now with just paper and pen.

1. Using EFT (“tapping”) to eliminate negative self talk

When a client comes to me with a prominent and persistent negative statement, it tells me that they’ve learned over time to believe something unhelpful about themselves and it’s become a significant block for them. In these situations I will often use a strange looking but surprisingly effective interactive relaxation and refocusing technique called EFT which helps them “unlearn” negative beliefs. I use this technique because I’ve found that it is the fastest way for my clients to let go of those negative statements. When my clients stop using their negative statements all the time, those statements stop doing damage to their motivation, focus, and ambition. They can think about their present situation and options, and even mistakes they make, in a much more objective way.

It works like this: I lead my clients in a guided conversation in which we review the evidence they have for their negative emotional beliefs, while—and this is the strange looking part—they tap with two fingers on a series of acupressure points on their own hands, head and torso. I tap on myself at the same time while guiding the conversations about their beliefs. If you want to see what EFT looks like in practice, you can check out my article about “tapping down” stress.

Let me break out this technique for you with a little more detail. First I ask my client to repeat out loud the negative statement they’ve been thinking about themselves. Then I ask them to tell me, on a scale of 0 to 100%, how true their statement feels (not how true they think the statement is, but how true it feels). Next we begin a few short rounds of tapping—I show them where to tap, but they do their own tapping—while talking about an event that led to their negative emotional belief. When this process is complete I ask them to tell me again, on a scale of 0 to 100%, how true their statement still feels. Very often, after we have tapped and talked about the first event they offered as evidence for their emotional belief, their negative statement comes down from feeling 70% true, or higher, to zero. We’ve relaxed and refocused that negative belief right out of existence just with a little tapping and talking. And we can get back to business.

However, if after some tapping and talking we find that the self-defeating emotional belief is still at work, at least in part, this may mean there are more events underpinning that belief that we can talk and tap about. Often another event, or a different negative statement, occurs to the client after the first one has been minimized. In either case we do another round of tapping and talking, which takes care of the new statement or event the same way. So you can see that this works faster for some folks than for others, but it brings improvement for just about everyone relatively quickly.

You can use EFT all by yourself to eliminate your own negative statements—I teach clients how to do this, as a matter of fact—but the guided conversation part takes a bit of training and practice so you may want to get help with it. Even EFT practitioners such as myself will often turn to another practitioner to help them get rid of an emotional belief. It can be difficult to see something that you’ve lived with for a long time in a new way that allows you to get rid of it.

2. Using your own evidence to eliminate negative self talk

Of course, I know that learning do-it-yourself EFT is not on most people’s To Do lists. If that’s you, there is an alternative way to get rid of your negative self-talk. It will take longer, but all you’ll need is paper and pen.

Draw a line down the center of a piece of paper. On the left-hand side of the paper near the top, write down the negative statement you use most often. Next, in the right-hand column write down all the evidence that your negative statement is not true. Evidence can come from any time in your life. Individual pieces of evidence can be minor by themselves. The point is that each thing you write down puts the lie to that negative statement you’ve been telling yourself.

Let’s say you wrote down the negative statement “I’m such an idiot.” You would write down everything that’s ever happened that proves that you are not an idiot. You might start with things from your youth like: “I got a lot of Bs and some As in junior high and high school;” “My art teacher told me I had a good grasp of perspective;” or “I memorized the entire opening to He-Man!” Don’t stop with school. Try things from work: “My first boss said I was a quick study when we put everything into an online format;” “I’ve been hired for four different positions that took a fair amount of brainpower;” or “I was picked to create a new process in my last job that led to our department using one-third less time to get the data out.” Don’t forget other areas of your life: “I was asked to lead the fundraising auction for the kids’ school;” “My brother always wants me to look over his taxes;” and “I was able to explain the basic idea of String Theory to my friends over dinner last month.” Don’t stop at three. You should put down at least ten things on the right side of the paper. The more the merrier—or more powerful

Once you have a fair amount of evidence on the right hand side of the page, it’s time to change the negative statement. On the left hand side of the page, near the bottom, write down a positive statement that you can use instead of the negative statement. By positive, I don’t mean Pollyanna, like “Everything always works out perfectly for me.” What you want is something that is stated in positive terms. So instead of writing “I’m not an idiot,” you might write something like “I’m smart enough to figure things out.”

Make sure your positive statement is supported by the evidence. That way, if you catch yourself rolling your eyes when you say the new positive statement, you can pull out the piece of paper, read the evidence (yes, all of it), go back and say the new statement knowing that it is true. So don’t use “I’m the next Einstein” unless you really are.

There will undoubtedly be a number of positive statements that could fit your evidence. You might want to write down several, then pick the one that seems the most powerful to you. Circle that one. That’s the new statement you are going to replace the old negative one with.

Here’s where the real work comes in. From now on, every time you say that old negative statement to yourself (“I’m an idiot”), you need to stop yourself and say instead the new positive statement (“I’m smart enough to figure things out”). Yes, every time. What you are trying to do is change an ingrained habit. To do that you need to replace the old habit with a new one. If you occasionally let the old habit slip by, you are reinforcing it and the whole process will take longer.

How long does this take? Well, research says that changing an old habit takes around two to three months of actually doing the new activity (here, that means saying the positive statement instead of the negative one). I know, I know. That sounds like a very long time. But think about it. You’ve been saying the negative statement to yourself for how long now? Years, maybe? A few months is small sacrifice to reap the benefits of getting it out of your head.

Plus, you will start to notice improvements much sooner than two months if you put this plan into place. The old statement will come up less and less. You will have more energy for what you need to do since that old statement won’t be bringing you down. You’ll be able to think more clearly, get more creative. After a while (say, two to three months) you will notice that you haven’t said that negative statement in over a week. Soon after that you will stop thinking about it at all. In a year or two you’ll find that old piece of paper when cleaning out your desk drawer and realize that you just don’t think that negative thought anymore. Congratulations! You’re done with it, and can throw out the paper.

You will want to change all the negative thoughts you have for the reasons I’ve mentioned above. Here’s one more word of advice about that: don’t try to do them all at once. For one thing, actually writing down a lot of negative statements about yourself is likely to bring you down. In addition, it can be overwhelming trying to change everything at once—so much so that you might give up before you make any headway. That would be a shame since you will get a great benefit from changing even one negative statement.

So work on one, get rid of it completely, then pick the next one. Each negative statement you work on should be easier to change than the last one. And you’ll be amazed at what a difference that makes in your work.

Lower your stress, with just two fingers

I want to share a technique that I use with many of my clients to get rid of all sorts of blocks to their success. The technique is called EFT, or simply “tapping”, and it’s growing in popularity, is being used around the world, and the number of studies documenting its effectiveness is mounting. Really, the only drawback to it is that it looks weird. Ah well, can’t have everything.

I’m going to teach you a simple version of tapping to use when you are feeling stressed. Stress can lower your ability to think and be creative, so it’s important to limit stress when you can. Before we start, though, go drink some water. No really, go. This won’t work if you are at all dehydrated. I’ll wait.

Welcome back. Okay, the first step is to write down the feeling you are working on. I’ll be using the word “stress,” but if “overwhelmed,” “underwater,” “scared” or some other word captures what you’re feeling better, please use that. Next, on a scale of 0 through 10 (0 is not at all, 10 is as bad as you can imagine), write down how stressed you are feeling right now.

It’s time to do the actual tapping.

Tapping on the Karate Chop point1. Karate Chop. Take two fingers of one hand and tap on the karate chop point on your other hand. That’s the fleshy part on the side of your hand under your little finger. You’re tapping about as hard as if you had a push-button phone with a sticky button. So, you’re not whiffing it and you’re not leaving a bruise, but it’s solid. Now, while tapping on that point, we’re going to say something three times. Repeat after me: “Even though I’m feeling really stressed, I deeply and completely accept myself . . . Even though I’m feeling really stressed, I deeply and completely accept myself . . .  Even though I’m feeling really stressed, I deeply and completely accept myself.”

Tapping on the Eyebrow point2. Eyebrow. Now tap right where one of your eyebrows starts and say “This stress.”

Tapping on the Side of the Eye point3. Side of Eye. Tap on the ridge of bone on the side of your eye. “I am stressed.”

Tapping on the Under Eye point

4. Under the Eye. Tap about and inch below your pupil under your eye. “I’ve got too much going on.”

Tapping on the Under Nose point5. Under Nose. Tap under your nose. “And it’s real.”

Tapping on the Chin point

6. Chin. Tap on the line on your chin. “I’ve got good reasons to feel stressed.”

We could use two fingers for the next spots, but it will take too long to find them, so let’s do this the easy way.

Tapping on the Collarbone point7. Collarbone. Make a fist and, with the flat part of your knuckles, tap on your collarbone where a man would knot his tie. “I’m really stressed.”

Tapping on the Under Arm point8. Under Arm. Take all four fingers and tap under your arm, about four inches down from your armpit. “All this stress.”
Tapping on the Top of the Head point9. Top of the Head. Finally, tap with all five fingers on the top of your head and say: “I’m so stressed.”

Okay, stop tapping and take a deep breath. Great. That was a single round of tapping. (By the way, all you really need to say as you are tapping around the points is “this stress,” but I like to keep it interesting.) Check in with your stress level. Is it still the same number you started with, did it go up, or down? Write down the new number. Usually the numbers go down, but sometimes they go up. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just means you are accessing something you’ve been pushing away and now you’ll be able to tap it down.

Time for a second round of tapping:

Karate Chop: “Even though I have this remaining stress, I deeply and completely accept myself.” (Say that two more times.)

Eyebrow: “This remaining stress.”

Side of Eye: “There’s a lot on my plate.”

Under Eye: “I’m not sure how I’ll get it all done.”

Under Nose: “So of course I’m stressed.”

Chin: “Anyone would be.”

Collarbone: “Still, the stress isn’t helping. It’s actually making it worse.”

Under Arm: “Maybe I can let go of some of it.”

Top of Head: “I’m letting go of some of that stress now.”

Stop. Breathe deeply. Check your stress number now. You can keep doing rounds of tapping until you get that number down to zero or until you have to do something else. Usually just a few rounds is enough to get the stress way down from where you started so you can think better and get more done.

There’s lots more you can do with tapping, but sometimes all you need is a quick boost. I hope that was helpful.

3 Steps to Take When You’re Overwhelmed

An Overflowing Desk - Too Much To Do!Two weeks ago a client came to me with an all-too-familiar problem: she was completely overwhelmed with all she had to do and couldn’t find a way to change what was going on. “Maria” and her partner were building a startup and were giving it their all. They worked from early in the morning until bedtime. Meals were eaten standing up while filling orders. Weekends were down to half a day. There was no time for friends, and phone calls with family were limited to ten minutes each week. And still she had projects on her To Do list that she simply couldn’t get to.

I started with the obvious: Continue reading “3 Steps to Take When You’re Overwhelmed”

3 Things You Can Do To Feel Better Quickly

Last week I told you that research shows that you can become thirty-one percent more productive if you just get happy. At least, companies could get that “Happiness Advantage” when their employees followed certain exercises designed to increase their happiness. I know, however, that for people who are stressed out or feeling down, getting from where they are to a happy state can seem impossible. For those people I have an interim step: implement the Three-Legged Stool. (Of course, if you are truly depressed or anxious, you really should get yourself to see your medical doctor or a therapist first!)

A 3 Legged Stool

The Three-Legged Stool is a little speech I give every one of my therapy clients (yes, I’m a psychotherapist in my other life) who suffers from some kind of depression or anxiety. There has been a fair amount of research showing the connection between the three steps I recommend and getting rid of, or at least easing, depression and anxiety. Although I have not done any research on the connection between the three legs and true happiness, my clients’ experiences gives me a strong suspicion that a good grounding in any or all three legs of the stool is also a good springboard to happiness, even in those who are not clinically depressed or anxious. So I offer it to you now.

There are three things you can do to feel better quickly. Continue reading “3 Things You Can Do To Feel Better Quickly”