Are you playing it safe?

How to take action when it feels scary

A woman I coached (I’ll call her Susan) wanted to increase her visibility within her company and industry. She decided that doing more speaking would be a good strategy to help her accomplish this goal. She’s bright, accomplished and articulate so this seemed like a great direction for her. When Susan shared that she’d been invited to speak at a conference, I was excited for her. But she didn’t sound so thrilled.

“I’m going to say no. I’m not really ready.”

When I asked her what it would take for her to feel ready, she said: “First I’d need to do a lot of research. Then I’d have to write my presentation. And I’d want to figure out what questions people might ask so I could prepare the answers. Of course, I’d need to practice – a lot. I need to build more confidence in my public speaking.”

As we talked this through, she acknowledged that she has deep knowledge on the topic and a lot of related experience so her research wouldn’t need to be extensive. Susan is a strong writer and could handle the writing piece. And she could carve out some time in her schedule for practice.

But Susan still resisted saying yes. What was really going on here?

“The truth is, this scares me. I haven’t spoken at a conference before. What if I forget what I want to say or can’t answer a question? What if the audience thinks I’m terrible? It would be a huge public fail!”

Have you ever passed up an opportunity because you felt this way? Welcome to the club! Confidence expert Dr. Russ Harris calls this getting caught in the confidence gap:

“The confidence gap is that place we get stuck when fear gets in the way of our dreams and ambitions.”

Our fearful thoughts aren’t the problem – they’re totally normal. Our brains are wired to protect us from perceived threats like criticism, hurt and rejection. It’s how we react to these thoughts and what we make them mean that matters.

Here are some tips to help you bridge the confidence gap so your dreams don’t get derailed.

  • Let go of unhelpful thoughts. They are words, not the truth of who you are and what you’re capable of achieving. Use helpful thoughts to fuel action.
  • Own your value. Inventory your skills, talents and achievements. Remember the times you solved a problem, created a new solution or met a challenge and tap into that experience.
  • Shift your perspective on failure. View setbacks as opportunities to learn, grow and improve – not as evidence to support an old “story” about why you can’t do something.
  • Take turtle steps. Leaping tall buildings in a single bound is fine for Super Man, but leads to overwhelm for most of us. Consistent, small actions groove a pattern of success that leads to big breakthroughs.

And as for Susan, after working through her fears of the worst that could happen during her presentation, she decided the upside of doing this talk was greater than the potential risk. Was she nervous? You bet. Did she over-prepare? Absolutely. Did it go perfectly? There were some lessons learned. The confidence boost she got from facing her fears and acting anyway? Priceless.

Perfectionism or high standards?

5 Ways to kick self-sabotaging perfectionist habits

“I’m not really a perfectionist, I just have high standards.”

I’ve heard this from many successful women and, to tell you the truth, I’ve said it myself. It’s easy to tell ourselves that our perfectionist tendencies help us get things done right and are the reason for our success. After all, what’s the downside of striving for excellence and being the best?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do a great job, improve your performance and show up as your best self. But when this leads to setting unreasonable standards and pushing yourself relentlessly to achieve them, it’s easy to spiral into a cycle of worry, self-doubt and judgment. You can’t constantly live up to these expectations. And because perfectionism is really about winning approval, your confidence can plummet when you “fail” to achieve it.

How can you tell when you’re crossing the line between healthy striving and perfectionism? Here are 5 tips to help you recognize the difference and take the better approach.

    • Check your motivation. Are you striving in order to learn, grow and contribute or are you trying to win the high opinion of others? Focusing on self-improvement (which you can control) will relieve the pressure of constantly worrying about what other people think of you (which you can’t control).
    • Be open to helpful criticism. Do you take criticism as a personal attack or as an opportunity to learn something useful? If you can listen without getting defensive this can spur personal growth instead of increasing anxiety and self-doubt.
    • Avoid all-or-nothing thinking. Do you judge your performance in absolute terms? Instead, celebrate what went well while acknowledging where you want to improve. This can reduce unhelpful self-criticism and increase feelings of satisfaction.
    • Learn from mistakes. Do you view mistakes as proof that you’ve fallen short and aren’t good enough in some way? Try adopting a learner’s mindset. Get curious and find insights and new possibilities that will help you do better in the future.
    • Build your resilience muscles. It’s natural to experience setbacks – it happens to all of us. But it’s a lot easier to turn a situation around and bounce back if you treat yourself with compassion, focus on what went right and embrace a growth mindset.

As Brene Brown said,

“You can’t do anything brave if you’re wearing the strait jacket of what will people think.”

Here’s to dropping the 20 ton shield of perfectionism so your dreams can take flight!

Is now the “right” time to pursue your dreams?

Make your dreams happen – start now!

Spring is here! And that makes me feel energized and excited….even though there’s still snow outside my window. Spring brings thoughts of growth, renewal and coming into bloom. I love the sense of possibility and promise!

There is even life bursting forth in the unlikeliest of places. Wildflowers are flourishing in the California desert again after years of drought. Some of these blossoms come from seeds that have been dormant for as many as 20 years!

How about you? What hopes, dreams or goals have you put on hold, waiting for the timing and circumstances to be exactly right?

It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day business of living. Focusing on what you really want and then taking action to get it often feels too overwhelming. So you tell yourself, I’ll get to that  later. And before you know it, 5, 10, maybe even 20 years have passed and your still waiting for that “someday” when all the stars align and the timing is perfect. I get it – I’ve been there, too.

Here’s the truth: there will always be a rationale (or let’s be real, an excuse) why now isn’t the right time. You’re too busy. You don’t have the right experience. You want to do more research. You need another certification. You’re not ready!

Guess what? You’ll never feel 100% ready!

But here’s what I know. Whatever goal, dream or desire you’ve been deferring, the seeds to make it blossom are inside you, waiting to sprout. The key is to start taking action now – before you think you’re ready.

Martin Luther King said:

  “You  don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

What dream or desire would bring more joy and meaning to your life? Imagine how you’d feel and how  your life would be different if you achieved it. What’s one small step you could take this week to start making it happen?

Do you expect the worst?

How to keep negative thoughts from sabotaging you

When I was just starting out in my career, I worked at a large advertising agency in New York City. I was thrilled to have this job and was very excited when I got assigned to work on new products with a major client. They were testing a moisturizing soap that I got to try out. While it left my skin feeling smooth, it didn’t create a rich lather like other moisturizing soaps did. Would that be a turnoff to consumers?

In a move that felt pretty brave to me as a newbie junior account executive, I wrote a memo about this to my boss. All I got was a curt thank you. Over the next few weeks, I forgot about it….until I got a call from the president’s secretary saying he wanted to see me in his office in fifteen minutes. (Flashback to being called to the principal’s office!). We’d never met. Why would he possibly want to see me?

My mind immediately started imagining the worst. Did I screw up something big? Was the client unhappy? Was I going to get fired? In a panic, I called a friend to get his perspective. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You’re not getting fired. The president wouldn’t waste his time doing that – your boss would do it.” Not exactly the reassurance I was hoping for!

Filled with trepidation, I made my way to the 30th floor. Imagine my surprise when I walked into the office and saw the president with a copy of my memo in his hand. Our conversation was brief – and to tell you the truth, I don’t remember most of it. I was so nervous and distracted by my fearful thoughts that I had trouble focusing and I’m sure I wasn’t very articulate (picture deer in headlights). But basically, he told me writing the memo showed initiative and this was the kind of thinking the agency valued. I never saw that coming!

If you’re anything like me (and most people), when a situation is new, difficult or uncomfortable, your brain is going to tell you what could go wrong. Don’t beat yourself up – your mind is wired to respond this way! Your thoughts aren’t the problem – it’s how you react to them and what you make them mean that can be.

Here are some tips that can help you reduce stress and calm your worries when negative thoughts threaten to hijack your brain and sabotage your performance:

  • recognize that these are fear-based thoughts or stories that may not be true; take a deep breath, acknowledge them and let them go.
  • consider the possibility that something good (or at least neutral) might happen so you can be more present and effective in your interactions.
  • take action – even when it feels a little scary. Whatever happens, you will grow and learn from it!

Fear is a form of energy. Channeling it so it works for you, not against you, will fuel your success.

Do you compare – and then despair?

How to avoid getting caught in the comparison trap

I was going through pictures yesterday and came across one from the last reunion I attended at my all girls high school. It reminded me of what a  good time I had that day, reconnecting with classmates, some of whom I hadn’t seen since graduation. I also remembered some of the feelings that were swirling inside me before the event….

I was really curious to see who was doing what and the paths their lives had taken. To share news about careers, kids and the ups and downs we’d each experienced over the years. Did those voted “most likely to ___” live up (or down) to those predictions?

And though I didn’t voice it at the time, if I’m totally honest, the thought of going back to school also triggered some of my old insecurities. What will my classmates think of me? How will I measure up to the expectations of who they thought I’d become? (Okay – I admit it. I also bought a new dress and got a haircut so I could show up looking my best!)

The truth is, most of us have moments when we compare ourselves to others. Occasionally, we may be inspired by their success (“Hey, I could do that, too!”), but typically our thoughts run something like this:

  • Another promotion? Her career is really taking off. (meanwhile, I’m stagnating).
  • OMG – look at those vacation pics from Fiji on Facebook! (and I’m planning a staycation).
  • Her business is growing twice as fast as mine. (even though we started up at the same time).

Let’s face it – we’re only human and it’s easy to fall into the comparison trap. When this happens, it brings up a lot of self-judgment that can undermine your confidence and trigger some variation of that old “I’m not good (smart, successful, young, etc.) enough” story. The fact is, if you measure your worth in comparison to someone else, you are doomed to be disappointed. There will always be someone doing or having more than you in some area.

Here are some strategies to stop the self-sabotage when a compare and despair cycle threatens to bring you down:

  • Give yourself a dose of self-compassion. It’s often said we’re our own worst critics and in my experience, this is usually true. Our minds are naturally wired to go to the negative – or as Dr. Russ Harris says, they’re tuned into “Radio Triple F” which constantly broadcasts your fears, flaws and failures. Recognize these are thoughts (words that create stories), not the truth. Acknowledge them, but then release them.
  • Appreciate your talents, accomplishments and strengths. I see many incredible women who are so caught up in striving for their next achievement that they don’t take time to recognize all they’ve already done. Pause to acknowledge and absorb your gifts, achievements and all the abundance in your life. You’ll be less inclined to worry about how you measure up to someone else.
  • Set your own standards. There is an old saying: consider the source. Who and what are you comparing yourself to? Celebrities who always look perfect, Facebook friends who only post idyllic lifestyle pics or women who pretend they can do it all with ease? These aren’t real! Let go of impossible standards that no one can achieve. Decide what success means for you and how you’ll measure it; then, celebrate your progress.

Thinking back to my reunion, I can tell you that I wasn’t the most financially successful person in the room. I didn’t own the biggest house or have the smallest waist-line. But none of that mattered. I faced those flickers of insecurity and showed up anyway. And taking action despite old feelings of self-doubt turned out to be the best way to strengthen my confidence. I stopped thinking about what people might think of me (truthfully? they probably weren’t thinking about me!) and put my energy towards enjoying my classmates and the party. I think Teddy Roosevelt nailed it when he said:

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Don’t let it steal yours.

Are you an approval junkie?

What Donna can teach you about whose approval matters

Did you chase gold stars when you were a kid? Do you dress to impress? Are you available 24/7 to keep your boss happy? If you said yes to any of these things, you’re not alone! I’ve done all these things at times.

There is nothing wrong with having high standards, doing a great job and wanting to get recognized for your efforts. It’s human nature to want to feel appreciated and valued by others. But when you develop a pattern of pleasing and rely on others to validate you, the price can be high.

I coached a client recently (we’ll call her Donna) who had been working for a demanding and highly critical boss for several years. In order to please him, she regularly worked long hours, took on other people’s work and sacrificed her weekends (and sometimes, even her holidays). He rarely thanked her and though her work made a lot of money for the company, she never got a raise. Yet she continued to work herself to the point of exhaustion.

A few weeks ago, he told her the company was moving in a different direction and her position was being eliminated. No thank you for her many contributions to the company or congratulations on a job well done. Instead, she got a request to spearhead a massive transition effort on a short timeline before she left so the work could be easily re-assigned to others.

At this point, weeks of not sleeping, missing meals and extreme stress had Donna on the verge of a physical collapse. She knew protecting her physical (and emotional) health was her top priority and wanted to give her notice. But she kept hesitating. Why? She didn’t want to disappoint anyone. She was worried about what other people would say. And deep down, she was still hoping for him to finally express his appreciation.

As we talked things through, Donna had a major ah-ha.

Depending on someone else for her sense of worth, fulfillment and happiness had created the exact opposite effect. It undermined her personal power. Eroded her confidence. And caused her to feel angry and resentful.

Through our coaching, she created an exit plan on her terms. She outlined the work she would do and named her last day. Was the boss disappointed and annoyed when she shared it with him? You bet he was! Did he ever give her that thank you she worked so hard for? No, he didn’t.

But Donna got something much more important: a renewed sense of self-respect.

She feels empowered because she took charge of her life, made the decision that served her best and took action. Her confidence has soared, her stress level has dropped and she is ready to find a new job (and a better boss).

Donna reminded me of this truth.

When you live your life to please other people, you’ll never be happy. The approval you’re seeking from them is what you need to find within yourself.

Is your new year momentum slowing down?

5 ways to overcome your inner resistance

Did you start the new year with a sense of excitement about all the possibilities 2017 could hold for you?

Maybe you want to grow your business, find a new job or carve out more time for the people and activities that mean the most to you.

But, if you’re anything like me, it’s one month into the new year and despite your best intentions, your momentum is slowing down. It isn’t because you’re lazy, weak or unmotivated. There is something deeper going on.

The truth is, we’re wired to resist change.

Why? Doing something new challenges us to stretch (uncomfortable!), to step into uncertainty (daunting!) and to risk the possibility of failure (scary!). Naturally, our brains (and egos) kick into protective mode in order to keep us anchored safely where we are.

But here’s the tricky part: it’s incredibly easy to rationalize why we aren’t making the progress we want. A few of the reasons I’ve used? It’s too busy at the office. I’m juggling too much with the kids and work. I’ll get to it when things quiet down (which of course, they never do!). Can you relate?

One of my goals this year is connecting with more women through speaking engagements. This means consistent outreach to organizations that need speakers. I got off to a flying start with a flurry of activity at the beginning of the month. But last week slipped by and my efforts were minimal. I got curious. What was going on here? I realized it was because I’d decided to do something different: make some calls instead of relying exclusively on email. This felt less comfortable to me so I unconsciously prioritized other work.

Here are 5 strategies to help you melt resistance when it’s getting between you and what you want. (I’m using them right now to help me pick up the phone!)

  1. Acknowledge your emotions. It doesn’t take much for feelings of frustration and self-criticism to surface when things don’t go as planned. Recognize that resistance is a normal protective mechanism. Don’t beat yourself up – that will only slow you down further.
  2. Remember your why. What motivated you to choose this goal? How will life be different for you and others when you achieve it? Reminding yourself why something is important to you can help you summon the courage to take the next step.
  3. Reframe change as growth. The word change often triggers a fear narrative: what if things don’t work out, what if I fail, what if people judge me? Growth means “an evolution over time; an expansion, an increase in value…a process towards fulfillment.” That feels far more motivating!
  4. Take bite-sized steps. It’s easy to get derailed by setting unrealistic expectations that you don’t meet, and then feeling it’s time to quit. Breaking your big goal into smaller steps that you’ll actually do is a much surer path to success.
  5. Tap into your resilience. When you do something new, expect that there will be setbacks. The critical thing is how you react to them. If you can learn from them instead of seeing them as proof you’ve failed, you’ll be able to course correct and keep moving forward.

I think Steven Pressfield got to the heart of it when he wrote:

“Most of us have two lives: the life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.” 

Here’s to unleashing the life you really want to live!

What do you want in 2017? (and 5 ways to get it!)

Resolutions don’t work! 5 things to do instead

Happy 2017! I love the sense of possibility the new year brings. It feels like a fresh start – out with the old and in with new. It’s the perfect opportunity to build on the growth and success you had in 2016 and chuck the beliefs, behaviors and situations that didn’t serve you well.

What do you want most this year and how will you make it happen?

If you’re like millions of people, you’ve already made a resolution or two – find a new job that lights you up, get those regular workouts in, find more time for the people and experiences you value most. (Or my perennial favorite, finally lose those extra 10 pounds! But enough about that…)

The truth is, a whopping 92% of resolutions fail!

I spent more years than I care to admit jumping on the resolution bandwagon, only to fall off it fast and land hard. I felt like I’d failed. I beat myself up for not doing better. Not surprisingly, I had trouble picking myself up and regaining my momentum. Ever gotten caught up in a spiral like this?

Finally, I wised up and decided to stop doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Here are five strategies that helped me stop “resolving” and start creating what I really want.

  1. Dream big. Having a vision for where you’d like to be next December can be exciting and motivating. If you haven’t done this already, write down what you want to achieve and the kinds of experiences you want to have that would make 2017 amazing. Give yourself permission to go big and have fun with this!
  2. Identify priorities. This is key: get clear on why each of these goals is important to you. How will you feel and how will your life be different when you achieve it? If you aren’t connected to your why, you probably won’t reach your goal. Rank you goals in order, starting with the one that will have the biggest positive impact on your life.
  3. Start small. One of the biggest reasons resolutions fail is because they’re too unrealistic. By breaking a bigger goal into more manageable chunks you’re far more likely to accomplish it. Set a time frame – 90 day sprints work well – and outline the specific actions you’ll take each week.
  4. Create accountability. You’ve got a goal and a plan, but let’s be honest – even the most disciplined among us make more progress when we’re accountable to someone else. Reporting activity and getting support from an accountability partner, mastermind group or coach keeps your confidence high and your momentum strong.
  5. Manage your mindset. You can have the most brilliant plan in the world, but if the story you tell yourself is that you don’t have the right credentials, it’s too hard and you can’t do it, it will never really happen. Make your mindset your greatest ally instead of a sneaky saboteur.

Here’s to making 2017 your best year yet. You can do this!



Want to take back your sanity this holiday season?

3 Myths About Boundaries (and what to do instead)

The holiday season is in full swing – shopping, parties, cards, cookies, friends and family!

It can be wonderful, but also overwhelming. For many of us, it means skyrocketing stress levels. Instead of feeling merry and bright, you may be feeling over-extended, time-crunched and a bit resentful about the length of your to-do list.

Setting healthy boundaries is the key to reducing your stress, but Good Girl beliefs (I must make everyone happy, I need to accept every invitation, the house needs to be decorated perfectly) can make setting limits feel really hard. Here are three common myths about boundaries and some stress-busting strategies you can use instead.

Myth # 1:The problem is the other person. Truth/What to do: It’s really about what you’re tolerating. The other person may have no idea how you feel. Where are you feeling the most stress or resentment? That’s the place where a healthy boundary can really help. Have a conversation and communicate what you need.

Myth # 2: Setting boundaries means you’re selfish. Truth/What to do: It actually means you want to show up at your best, not exhausted and resentful. Give yourself permission to start setting the limits you need. What is one thing you don’t really want to do that you can drop from your to-do list or say no to?

Myth # 3: It’s your job to keep everyone happy. Truth/What to do: No it, isn’t! And you’ll end up exhausted and disappointed if you try. If keeping all the holiday traditions you’ve ever had (or your parents had) because you think everyone expects it is wearing you out, ask for help. Someone may step up or you may discover that certain things actually aren’t that important!

Here’s to a joyous (and a little more peaceful) holiday!