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Category Archives: Advice from a Life Coach

young boy reading and laughing
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Revised from a post originally published in 2015.

We live in a stressful world. Research from the American Psychological Association shows that the majority of Americans experience a significant amount of stress. In a 2014 survey, 67% of those surveyed reported experiencing emotional symptoms of stress and 72% reported experiencing physical symptoms of stress.

One great way to fight your stress is through the power of laughter.

I attended a Brave New Workshop (BNW) class several months ago and one of the subjects they addressed was laughter. BNW is an improvisation group that works with people to boost confidence, connectivity, mental agility, and attitudes. Throughout their classes, you’ll often hear groups roaring with laughter. This isn’t an accident.

According to a publication put out by BNW, “Laughter is a powerful tool in helping individuals move away from fear and into discovery.” In a recent study, researchers from Loma University showed that laughter reduces cortisol, thus reducing stress. Other researchers have shown similar results of the stress-decreasing quality of laughter and have paired it with improved immune system response.

So, watch a funny movie, go to a humorous play, play an interactive board or card game with friends, or take an improv class. Begin to see the humorous side of life 🙂

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Image by SnottyBoggins from Pixabay

A couple months ago, I had the privilege of seeing Tracey Jones speak at the Women’s Business Bridge annual conference in Stillwater, MN. Tracey is an author, speaker, Air Force Academy graduate, decorated Veteran, international leadership expert, scholar, and researcher. She is also the President of Tremendous Leadership. After her engaging presentation, I picked up a copy of her book, Saucy Aussie Living: Top 10 Tricks for Getting a Second Leash on Life. Told from her dog’s perspective, the book is tongue-in-cheek and goofy, BUT there are many valuable lessons embedded in its pages. One such lesson: Hang out with other top dogs and fumigate the “fleas” in your life.

This lesson boils down to the simple truth that when we associate with high-achieving, ambitious, and positive people, those behaviors and attributes WILL rub off on us. The opposite is true too. If we spend all our time with lazy, incompetent, or negative people, we will inevitably start to take on those characteristics.

The lesson of hanging out with other “top dogs” is a great reminder to pause, look around, and notice both the positive and negative influences in your life. Do some people give you energy and motivate you to be the best version of yourself? Great! Spend as much time around those people as possible.

Do others bring you down with constant complaining, excuses, or negativity? Make an effort to step away from those people and remove their influence from your life. Easier said than done, right? How do you “fumigate the fleabags” around you? It may be extremely difficult to step away from negative co-workers, bosses, or family members. What can you possibly do?

1. Create Healthy Boundaries

Do your best to limit interactions with negative individuals by creating healthy boundaries. This may involve only checking and responding to emails from that person once per day or limiting the number of meetings with that person (or choosing to meet online or over the phone).

Creating healthy boundaries also means standing up for yourself. If you feel like someone is taking over your space, speak out. Let the individual know that you need more breathing room and autonomy.

2. Communicate

If you are less than thrilled with someone’s attitude or lackluster performance, talk to them about it. Don’t be confrontational! Instead, approach the issue from an angle of offering to help. You might say something like: “I noticed you’ve missed a few deadlines lately. Is something wrong? How can I help?”

Communication also helps put negative attitudes in check. If, for instance, someone complains about a co-worker, flip it around by saying, “I don’t see her in that light. Besides, I’d rather focus on XYZ project than talk about Amy right now. Let’s go over last month’s numbers…”

3. Find Your Top Dogs

Once you’ve identified the high-achievers around you, start making an effort to associate with those people as often as possible. When you do this, the “fleabags” will naturally be pushed to the side. Additionally, the positive, go-get-em attitude you’ll adapt from your positive influencers will likely carry over into your interactions with less-driven individuals. Your energy and zest may have a contagious effect. Instead of spreading fleas, you’ll be spreading sunshine!

Regardless of your approach, it is crucial to align yourself with like-minded, motivated individuals. Lean on and learn from them, and don’t forget to give your support in return.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Image via Pixabay.com

“If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive.”

Dale Carnegie

I get it. You’re excited about your new position or role and you want to get in there and shake things up! You see systems that are outdated, processes that don’t make sense, and a million opportunities to improve the current system and make positive change. And that’s great, except…

You may want to pump the brakes.

Why, you ask? Because even though you’re enthusiastic, motivated, and your heart is in the right place, others may not see it that way. Before you start demanding change, you have to prove your mettle. Demonstrate that you can thrive within the system before you go about changing it. Show that you have a deep understanding of your company and your role before you bring forward your ideas for improving things. Easing into change is as good idea for three reasons:

ONE: It gives you a chance to build your credibility. People will see that you’re dedicated to your job, perform well, and work well with others. Do your best work, do it on time, and show that you are a trusted partner (instead of combative and subversive).

TWO: It helps you build an alliance. It’s difficult to make change on your own, and nearly impossible if you don’t have others’ support. As you start thinking about ways to amend the status quo, be sure to make friends, ask for advice, and gather others’ thoughts and opinions. Not only will you be more likely to rally support behind your cause, you will also gain others’ perspectives on the issue, which will help strengthen your plan of action.

THREE: It gives you time to learn about the status quo, what works, and what doesn’t. While it’s tempting to barge in and overhaul an entire system that seems to be flawed, it’s a good idea to pause and study the system you’re attempting to fix. Are there parts of it that are actually working? Are certain things going well for certain people? Will there be resistance to your change? If so, why? Taking the time to study the current mode of operations will help you understand the greatest flaws and greatest assets of the system, and what should be fixed first. Your thoughtful approach will also demonstrate respect to those who have been working within the current system for years, and have not (for whatever reason) acted to improve it. Change can be a touchy thing, and you certainly don’t want to imply that everyone has been doing things wrong, and you’re the one with all the answers.

In short, don’t kick over the beehive when you begin a new role. Ease into it, learn how things are done, and start gathering information about what works and what doesn’t. Then, test the waters by floating ideas past others. Build your alliance, and then take action. With this methodical approach, you’re bound to gather some honey, rather than a few angry stings!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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You tried to do something and failed, but all is not lost. Failure can be a valuable learning experience if you take the time to examine what happened and make a plan to try again. Following the steps below can be useful for overcoming failure in any aspect of your life.

1. Disconnect your self-worth from this one instance of failure.

Sometimes the hardest part of overcoming failure is getting past the emotional implications. Failing at something doesn’t make you a failure. That would mean everyone is a failure because everyone has failed at something at some point in their life. It may help to say it out loud or even write it down. Once you internalize the knowledge that you are not a failure, you can take what you learned and use it move toward success.

2. Figure out what went wrong.

When you can look at the situation objectively, take some time to examine exactly what happened. What did you do or not do that contributed to the result? It’s important to focus on the things that were within your control. If you’re having trouble, a sequence of events is a good place to start. Be sure to note what you did well along with what you could have done better.

3. Make a plan.

You now know what needed improvement and what you did well. For each thing that needed improvement, what are the alternative actions you could have taken? Which of the alternative actions are realistic for you? Can any of the things you did well be improved further?

4. Decide whether to implement.

This is an often-overlooked step to making a plan. Break each action of your plan down into the steps it will take to execute. Do these actions look realistic for your life at this moment? Be honest and gentle with yourself. If the answer is no, that doesn’t mean you should scrap the plan. You may Simply need to rethink a step or two to get you where you need to go.

Here’s an example of what this process could look like:

Scenario: You didn’t pass a professional certification exam.

  1. Realize that failing a single test doesn’t make you a professional failure.
  2. You got high marks in one section, but the others weren’t great.
  3. Search for prep courses or other study materials; try to find out how much time the average test taker spends studying.
  4. Decide whether the additional time spent studying is feasible for your current life and whether having the certification is worth the extra time you would spend.

Don’t internalize failure and allow it to inform who you are as a person. Take the information you learn about the process and yourself and use it to improve your chances of success the next time around.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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You can dream of success and plan all you want, but at some point, the rubber has to meet the road. Your success will ultimately be built on actions, not wishes and dreams. The most successful people in the world not only have a strong vision of where they want to go, but the willpower and drive to get there. And that’s just it: to become exceptionally successful, you have to work exceptionally hard.

Beyond working hard, successful people often have to do what others will flat-out refuse to do. They’re the ones who are getting up early and working on writing their book. Or making cold calls to people who could help on their journey. Or investing in themselves by attending workshops or seeking coaching in order to better define their path. Or reading books and conducting research in their spare time to learn and improve.

This is the “tough stuff” most people refuse to do. It takes sacrifice and drive to, for instance, read a leadership book instead of turning on the television and zoning out. It takes dedication to wake up an hour early every morning and work on whatever you need to do to achieve your dream.

The “tough stuff” may take you out of your comfort zone (networking, cold calls, learning new skills, etc.). It may make you stretch yourself and adapt to new situations as best you can. That’s part of the process. If you’re not okay with a little risk and discomfort, you’re not likely to achieve major success. Risk comes with the territory (as long as it’s risk with a purpose—risk for risk’s sake isn’t going to do anyone any good).

Start with a solid vision of the future, create a plan, then dive into the tough stuff! Ask yourself:

  • Am I willing to make sacrifices to reach my goals?
  • Am I okay with a certain amount of discomfort?
  • Am I ready to learn whatever new skills are necessary?
  • Am I willing to accept I will encounter opposition? And do I have the courage and tenacity to face that opposition head-on?
  • Am I willing to take action and work for my dreams?

If you answered yes to these questions, you are in the right mindset to take on the tough stuff and achieve your success. Let that mindset drive you forward to dream, plan, and DO.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Stacked rocks on shore
Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

It happens to all of us: we reach a tipping point that makes us want to explode, run away, or do something completely rash that we’ll later regret. Maybe a troublesome co-worker hasn’t completed their portion of a project again. Maybe a client is making unreasonable demands. Or maybe you’re about to give a big presentation, and you’re all nerves. How can you deal with a stressful situation and maintain a confident calm?

Try these three techniques:

1. Use the “100 years test”

Picture this: A car cuts you off in rush hour traffic as you’re making your way to work. You can’t find a parking space in the employee lot due to a big client event, and you’re late to an important meeting. At the meeting, you realize you’ve misplaced your notes and have to bumble your way through your presentation. THEN, just to put the cherry on top of your awful day, you realize you’ve parked illegally and your car’s been towed.

You’re fuming—mad as a bull in a china shop. You’re about to return home to your family, and probably lash out at them (unfairly) and make everyone around you feel just as rotten as you’re feeling right now. But wait! This is the perfect time to utilize the 100 years test. The test goes like this:

Will any of this matter 100 years into the future? Will the dangerous driver, your tardiness, your flubbed meeting, and your towed car be remembered in the annals of history? Likely not. All of those unfortunate events pale in comparison to the way you treat your family and the legacy you leave with them.

Remind yourself what truly matters. Every day, we have to deal with a hundred minor inconveniences. Don’t let yourself get hung up on those unimportant annoyances. Instead, use the 150 years test and instantly put things in perspective.

2. Excuse yourself

If you feel yourself reaching your boiling point, sometimes it pays to physically remove yourself from the space or the people who are causing you anger or anxiety. Just creating some temporary relief from the stressful situation can help to give you perspective and restore your calm. Take a short walk (outside, if possible!), meditate at your desk for five minutes, or squeeze a stress ball for a few minutes. Think about the situation while you’re physically removed from it, and then return to the space when you’re feeling calm and ready to deal with whatever has set you off.

3. Assess the “threat level”

Like the 150 years test, assessing something’s “threat level” is a good way to look at a non-optimal situation from a more neutral standpoint. This is a concept articulated in the book True Blue Leadership by Tracey C. Jones. Ask yourself, “Does this current annoyance threaten my family, my life, or my soul?”

When it comes down to it, these three crucial components should be first and foremost in your mind. If the annoyance is non-threatening (a chronically late co-worker, a bad hair day, an upset client), remain calm! There’s no need for a “fight or flight” response. Tell yourself, “I’m dealing with a nonthreatening situation. It’s best to stay calm and collected.”

How will you Keep Calm and Carry On this week? Try one or two of these three methods and let me know how it goes!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Image of neatly aligned noodles showing perfectionist tendencies

Taking pride in your work is an important part of professional success. When you are passionate about the types of projects you take on, and the results or products you produce, it’s natural to strive for that extra bit that will distinguish your work and help it rise above the competition.

While this attitude can be useful, it can also open you up for new anxieties and unforeseen consequences. You may find yourself so focused on perfecting the task at hand, your work and the work of your team, actually suffers as a result. The stress that comes with obsessing over small details might even bleed over into other parts of your life!

Producing good work is, ultimately, about finding a process that allows you to channel your productive energy in a constructive way. If you find yourself stuck striking this balance, I have some strategies that might help:

1. “Perfect” Is Not Always the Solution

No matter how ‘finished’ a project may seem, there are almost always ways in which it can be tweaked or improved. Graphics can be stylized and made to include different sets of information. Speeches can be reworded a hundred different ways. Striving to achieve perfection in specific areas run the risk of distracting you from the actual concrete demands of a given project. Take a step back and focus on the general architecture of the message you’re trying to convey, or the product you’re trying to present. Is the information succinct? Does it engage the audience in an approachable way? These basic considerations don’t explicitly require a perfect solution, and there may be more than one viable option available. Don’t limit yourself.  

2. Get Eyes, Get Feedback

Run ideas and rough drafts by team members and other colleagues. An external pair of eyes is an invaluable tool in separating the wheat of your ideas from the chaff. You don’t have to shoulder all the responsibility of making a project great yourself. Even the most talented professionals in their field rely on the input and knowledge of others. If something is missing, trust in your associates to help point you toward it. Their reaction will most likely mirror that of your audience.

3. Work in a Rhythm

We all work most effectively in different environments and rhythms. Regardless of the space or schedule of your efforts, practice holding yourself to consistent windows in which you work. Take breaks, and enjoy your leisure time outside of the project. Creating great work is not isolated to what you produce but holistically how you produce it. If you’re short on sleep or distracted, it will only make the worrying and obsessing worse.

4. Know When to Put Down the Pen

Sometimes, you just have to know when to say “when.” If your biggest issue is finding the point to cut yourself off from a given project, set hard deadlines or dates where drafts can no longer be touched. Having a firm idea of when something must be finished can provide clarity and drive in producing the best work you can. These small degrees of structure provide the bounds for your creativity to flourish. It is not always easy to put ideas like these into practice. The emotional regard you have for your work is important, but it is equally important not to abuse yourself with it. As with all things, balance is key. Hopefully these reflective tools will help you achieve that balance. They may just be the ‘perfect’ solution.

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