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Category Archives: Changing Your Life

Two people in a cafe with tables

It’s necessary to take occasional breaks during the day. In fact, we need them if we’re going to maintain a high level of productivity and accuracy. In past posts, I’ve discussed Tony Schwartz’s Energy Project, which maintains that people work best when they take a break every 90 minutes. That’s a good rule of thumb, but it’s not just about the quantity of breaks, it’s about the quality. Some breaks, as it turns out, are more replenishing than others.

If you sit at your desk, flipping through social media updates, your break is not going to deliver the kind of replenishing results you’d get with an intentional, unplugged break away from your desk.

Daniel Pink explores replenishing breaks in his weekly “Pinkcast.” According to Pink, science shows that the quality of your break matters.

He says there are five basic rules for taking intentional breaks:

  1. Something beats nothing (1 or 2 minutes is better than no break at all)
  2. Movement beats stationary (get out and get moving!)
  3. Social beats solo (this is true for introverts too—find a friend a start up a conversation)
  4. Outside beats inside (catch some fresh air, if you can)
  5. Fully detached beats semi-detached (Don’t talk about work. Don’t bring your phone)

If you tend to gloss over break time, it may be time to re-examine your approach. Leave your phone in your desk, get up and visit co-workers, and take frequent walks outside. These kinds of breaks will help give you the kind of replenishment and rejuvenation you need during a long day.

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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person jumping at sunset

Happy New Year! Now is the time when many people reflect on the past year, examine their life paths, and resolve to make meaningful change. Though you may start the year with the best of intentions (earning a promotion, losing weight, learning a new language), it’s easy to quickly lose steam after a month or two have passed by.

You might slip up once, then twice, then you toss the whole resolution out the window and tell yourself you’ll do better next year. But that doesn’t have to be the drill. It IS possible to commit to the resolutions you’ve made and actually make positive changes in your life.

Try these three steps:

1. Try 90 Days Instead

While this may seem like cheating, it is actually a good idea to commit to a goal for 90 days rather than an entire year. According to David Horsager, author of the Trust Edge, the attention-span and commitment of most people doesn’t usually stretch beyond three months.

However, he argues that most people can make huge strides in just 90 days. If you map out a plan for that stretch of time (outlining not just what you’re going to do, but how you’re going to do it), you can do everything from losing 20 pounds to writing a novel.

2. Lean On an Accountability Partner

Whether a trusted friend/co-worker or a professional coach, it’s a great idea to use an accountability partner. This is a person who knows about the commitment you’ve made, and agrees to hold your feet to the fire. Ideally, you and your accountability partner will have regular check-ins, so they can keep tabs on your progress and you have an added incentive to get things done.

3. Break Down Your Goals

When I’m coaching individuals or teams, I often advise them to take their goal and break it down into “bite-sized pieces.” When you only look at the end state you’re trying to achieve (write a book, get a raise, eat healthier, etc.), it can seem daunting or downright impossible.

Instead, set incremental goals that lead you to the BIG goal you’re trying to achieve. Whenever you hit one of your incremental goals, don’t forget to celebrate! This will give you a little extra incentive to keep at it.

It’s the New Year, and you want to start it out right. No matter what big-picture change you’re trying to make this year, you CAN get it done. Follow these steps, don’t be too hard on yourself if you have an off day, and don’t forget to celebrate your achievements. Happy 2020!

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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Post first published in 2016.

It’s Thanksgiving month, so you’re likely seeing constant reminders about gratitude and giving thanks. A lot of it may seem fluffy, but there are actually concrete benefits to being grateful.

Studies have shown that moods lift, outlooks become more positive, and relationships are healthier when we practice gratitude. From a business perspective, showing appreciation for your clients, co-workers, support staff, or employees helps to foster a more pleasant atmosphere, boosts morale, and slashes employee turnover.

But, gratitude shouldn’t be treated as a one-off thing. We shouldn’t get through Thanksgiving and go, “Well, that was fun. Now, on to Black Friday!”

A grateful mentality should be a sustainable one. We’re talking about an attitude shift here, not just a temporary state of mind. Why change your thinking for a month, when you can change it for a lifetime?

The trick to sustaining an attitude of gratitude? Practice every day.

The moment you wake up, instead of dreading the day ahead, think about the many blessings in your life. These could be simple things–the hot coffee in the pot, your friends and family, the roof over your head. Think about three things that bring you joy, comfort, or stability. You can choose to write about these things in a gratitude journal, or simply meditate on them for a few minutes.

Then, see where your day takes you. This morning burst of gratitude should help give you a positive boost and, if you confront rough patches throughout the day, you can always think back to your morning meditation and remember the three things that you were grateful for.

(It is worth noting that being a grateful person doesn’t mean that there aren’t negative aspects of your life. If the negative parts get too overwhelming, it may be time for a significant change. But that’s a topic that I’ve addressed in other posts.)

When you’re grateful and appreciative, the world changes. Your personal outlook becomes brighter, the people around you seem more pleasant (or at least tolerable!), and your relationships become more amiable and love-filled.  Try adopting a gratitude-filled lifestyle and watch your world transform!

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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Stressed woman at laptop biting pencil
Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

For many leaders, stress seems to become the norm. They are constantly dealing with managing people, projects, and clients…all in between attending many, many meetings.

Stress does NOT have to be the norm. You can still be a good leader AND cut your workload (in fact, freeing yourself up and de-stressing may make you a better leader).

Here are 4 ways to start cutting stress:

1. Delegate

If you want something right, you have to do it yourself, right? …Right?

Not at all.

Sure, if you hand off a task, it might be approached in a different way than what you intended, but that doesn’t mean that approach is wrong. It’s just different…and different can be good! “Different” can bring variety and new ways of thinking or solving problems. Part of delegation means letting go some of your control. It means opening yourself up to others’ methods and perspectives.

Effective delegation involves handing over the reins with enough instructions to make things happen, but also giving a certain amount of freedom to the person who will be performing the task. Remember: even if the person is a bit slow or clumsy at the task at first, they will learn. Give them time.

2. Step Away From the Office

Despite what you might think, you are not a machine. You are human, and humans need to occasionally rest and rejuvenate.

Schedule meaningful breaks into your daily schedule–time when you’re completely unplugged from work. Go on a walk, read a book at lunch, get a massage, or attend your child’s soccer game.

In addition to your small daily breaks, schedule vacations into your year. Even a few days at a cabin on a lake will do wonders for your stress levels.

3. Prioritize

What are the items or tasks that truly need your attention? What are you unable to delegate to others?

Prioritize your task list, based on the assignments you need to handle personally. Your other to-do items can probably be delegated or outright skipped. For instance, are you really needed at every single meeting? Can your team handle certain meetings on their own?

Make a to-do list at the beginning of each week, in addition to the start of each day. This will help put big-picture tasks in perspective. It is also helpful to hold a quarterly planning session to look at the even bigger picture in the office.

4. Make Meaningful Connections

Being a leader can seem lonely at times. To overcome the isolation, make an effort to communicate with others and make meaningful connections. This will inevitably involve being vulnerable and allowing your authentic self to come to the surface.

Of course, you have to maintain some professionalism when communicating with your team, but you shouldn’t be afraid to show them that you’re human. You have interests; you make mistakes; you have a family and a life outside the office walls.

Just the act of reaching out and asking someone about their day will help you form better bonds with that individual. And, when you feel that you have friends (and a support system) in the office, that can cut stress significantly.

As a leader, you don’t have to let stress consume your life! Take charge of your leadership by delegating tasks, taking meaningful breaks, and developing an internal support system. Now, breathe!

If you’d like to read more about how to beat stress, take a look at my post on stress-busting techniques.

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 madsmith33 from Pixabay

Article first published in 2016.

Psychologist Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth first noticed a correlation between success and grit when she was working as a school teacher in a difficult neighborhood. A child’s scholarly success was not necessarily related to their IQ; more often than not, it was related to their dogged perseverance, or grit.

Duckworth left teaching to pursue a career in psychology and made grit the subject of most of her research. She studied diverse groups of people—from military cadets to students to sales people—and, time and again, observed that grit was a key attribute to success.

The people who kept going despite failures or setbacks, the people who were committed to a job or task for the long-term, were the ones who usually succeeded.

How do you foster grit in your own life and your children’s? Duckworth admits that the research is lacking, but a few interesting ideas have cropped to the surface. One study shows that developing a “growth mentality” helps create a gritty personality. A growth mentality has to do with the belief that failure is NOT a permanent state. It is something that creates growth and helps us succeed next time. This kind of attitude puts people in a positive mindset, a “I can do it next time!” frame of mind.

What do you think? Has grit been a part of YOUR success? Is it something you need to work at?

For the full TED Talk, please click the link below:

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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young boy reading and laughing
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

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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“There are 3 things you never turn your back on: bears, men you have wronged, and a dominant male turkey during mating season.” – Dwight Schrute, The Office

The entertainment industry loves a good workplace grudge, but while you may enjoy the conflict between Dwight and Jim on The Office, it’s far less entertaining to be involved in a workplace grudge in real life.

Grudges can develop in any relationship, but there are a few reasons why they develop more naturally in the workplace. For one, there is often competition between employees. Whether multiple employees are up for the same promotion or bonuses are awarded to top performers, the emotions involved in striving and failing can easily transfer into a grudge.

Another reason workplaces are a natural place for grudges to develop is the amount of time you spend with your co-workers. With employees working increasingly longer hours, it doesn’t just mean more time at work, it means more time with co-workers. You may not like some of your co-workers, and what would normally be a small grievance can compound over time into a full-on grudge. And while you can respectfully take a break from someone in your personal life, that usually isn’t an option in the workplace.

Even if we spend a good deal of time with our co-workers, it doesn’t mean we are developing deeper connections. This is another reason grudges can develop more frequently in the workplace. Work relationships usually operate on a more superficial level, which can lead to less empathy between co-workers. Less empathy can lead a person to more easily attribute a malicious motive to someone’s actions when no malice was intended.

Whatever the reason a grudge develops, the effects are not entertaining. A workplace grudge can blind you to the talents of your nemesis. While an idea might seem good coming from a different co-worker, you may dismiss a specific person without really listening to what they have to say. Even if you try to hide your feelings of contempt, co-workers can pick up on the tension, which could affect your relationships with others.

Beyond the tendency for a grudge to hurt you professionally, the damage it can do to you emotionally and physically is the best reason to let it go. The stress that a grudge can add to your work life can be dangerous. No amount of sticking it to someone else is worth damaging your physical and emotional well-being.

It may not seem like an easy task to let go of a grudge, especially when you feel you’ve been wronged. The best way to alleviate a grudge is to address the situation directly with the person involved. Try to engage them in a healthy dialog about the relationship and see if anything can be done to resolve the tension. If that isn’t possible, it doesn’t mean nothing can be done. You can choose to let go of a workplace grudge, or any grudge for that matter. You can choose to let go of the emotions surrounding the circumstances of grudge and focus on your own performance and well-being. In many ways, this can be much harder than getting external resolution. No matter how you resolve a grudge, the positive changes you are likely to experience are worth it.

Leave the workplace grudges to the entertainment industry, because fictional characters don’t have to worry about their emotional well-being.

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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