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Tag Archives: How to Get a Life


If you’ve noticed more than one voice in your head, fighting for your attention, don’t worry: you’re not crazy. In fact, it’s quite normal to experience these different voices popping up at random moments and influencing how we perceive ourselves and the world around us.

To be more accurate, these “voices” are thought patterns we form over a long period of time. Oftentimes, we can tell what circumstances prompt one voice to start talking. Our inner cheerleader comes out when we accomplish something we’re proud of, for instance. Other times, it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint what exactly triggers a certain thought pattern, and if you’re not careful here, it becomes difficult to discern between what’s real and what’s a lie the voice in your head is telling you.

I want to talk about the worst liar of them all. In my book, I call it the “self-saboteur.” He/she is the voice that whispers, “You’re not good enough. Nobody will trust you. Nobody will notice you. It won’t work, it never does, you might as well stop trying, it’s hopeless.”

The self-saboteur is crafty, resilient, and an almost universal phenomenon. How do you keep this negative voice in check?

In his article on negative thinking patterns, life coach John-Paul Flintoff advises that we externalize the self-saboteur. The brain is flexible, and continues to develop past childhood. We can take advantage of this and disrupt negative thinking patterns. “The first step,” says Flintoff, “is to become aware of your automatic negative thoughts–and for me, anyway, that’s much easier (and more fun, actually) if I personify the inner critic, with a sketch, and give him/her a voice.”

Flintoff’s inner critic is shriveled and bald, with dark shadows under his eyes. He looks worried and avoids eye contact. He stays in the shadows but comes out to whisper hurtful things.

By creating such a detailed image of his self-saboteur, he is able to distance himself from this bad thinking pattern. It’s not him talking, it’s the shriveled liar in the corner.

Externalizing your self-saboteur takes practice. Old habits, and thought patterns definitely count as habits, take time and effort to break. But once you begin distancing yourself from your negative inner-critic, this thought pattern loses an incredible amount of power. As you continue learning to identify when and how the critic starts talking, you’ll get better and better at learning how to stop listening.

Another suggestion of Flintoff’s (which I find quite wise) is to think of someone in your life you greatly admire. The next time your self-saboteur takes the floor, imagine that this person is defending you. What would they say? If you’re honest (this is your defender’s turn to talk, so don’t allow the inner-critic any influence here), you’ll find that your defender has a great deal to say on your behalf. By doing this simple mental exercise, it becomes clear that most of the time, your self-saboteur is talking utter garbage, and you’re giving him/her a platform to let it get to you. Don’t do that! You’re so much more valuable, so much more loved, and so much more worthy than your saboteur will ever give you credit for, so stop wasting your time listening and put a sock in that liar’s mouth.


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At the end of 2007, many of my close associates watched in horror as the economic crisis took millions of Americans’ jobs, homes, and dreams. None of us had ever seen anything like it.

It was bad. And it continues to be bad for many people. But as it turned out, what came out of the crisis for me was a journey I never envisioned myself embarking on.

It started as friends of mine–old colleagues, neighbors, and family–began to confide in me: “I’ve been in the same career for years, and now it’s gone!” they’d tell me. “What do I do now? Go back to school? I can’t do that, I’m too old!”

I also heard: “I’ve never had to write a resume, can you believe that?”

Actually, I can believe it. Many of my peers were blessed with secure, longterm jobs in which they excelled for decades, so that they had no need (they assumed) to keep a polished, updated resume on hand. When the economic downturn left them frantic, it was only then that they realized their mistake. So I helped them craft a resume that would optimize their chances at landing another job.

At first, I was simply being a friend to individuals in need of guidance. I’d meet with folks for coffee and offer what advice my experiences had equipped me with. Then, I began to discover that I was truly good at helping people to find their path, and that I really enjoyed doing it.

So, You Excel Now was born. Today, I still coach numerous individuals on a one-to-one basis, but as this thing just keeps on growing, I’ve started turning my message and experience into talks, workshops and keynote addresses in order to reach more people. It doesn’t look like it’ll slow down anytime soon.

Here’s my point: All of this happened for me as a result of a really, really bad thing: the 2008 crash. While I’m obviously not glad the crisis happened, it serves as a good reminder that life is unpredictable, and often doesn’t do what we want it to do. The good news is, we get to choose how we handle it.

When you look at it right, you’ll find something good to take away from almost any bad situation. At the very least, a bad situation always equips you with a powerful learning experience. But oftentimes, bad situations open the door for new, potentially amazing opportunities. Had I not chosen to look at a disastrous situation as something potentially positive, I can’t say for sure that I would have found myself on this amazing journey as a career and life coach.

So keep your eyes peeled!


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travelingSome of my best memories come from the trips I’ve taken. Whether I’m remembering cozy summers with the family on the ocean, or adventurous backpacking endeavors in college, all my travels have left me with nostalgic, warm feelings.

And that’s great. But it’s not the complete picture, is it? I’m sure if I really tried, I could remember all the things that were stressful, exhausting, and uncomfortable; in other words, the inevitable parts of traveling we like to ignore.

So while I love the memories traveling provides me, it’s meant to do much more than simply create fuzzy feelings.

Traveling recalibrates our expectations and assumptions about life. When we stay in one routine for long periods of time, tunnel vision takes over. Without even realizing it, we begin to assume that all life has to offer is what’s right in front of us in our particular circumstance. Traveling wipes this clean when we see all the differences, big and small, between places and cultures. There are many ways of doing life. Traveling both inspires us to try new things and forces us to investigate our own lifestyles.

Traveling gives us the chance to test ourselves. This might mean a physical challenge such as a long hike, a mental challenge like learning a new language or familiarizing yourself with cultural customs, or the general challenge of relinquishing your sense of control as you navigate your way through new spaces and experiences. A family friend told me that after spending time in Colombia, she no longer found herself worrying as much about the trivial stresses of everyday life, because her experience abroad proved she was capable of handling all sorts of challenges. This is the kind of personal growth traveling provides.

Traveling forces us to prioritize. You can’t fit every trinket and comfort you own in a suitcase. You have to instead focus on what you really need to make your travels special for you. You’ll take this mindset home with you. How can you simplify your life at home to optimize your priorities?

Traveling doesn’t have to be long and grandiose to be meaningful. Take a train ride through the country, spend a weekend  biking or camping, or coordinate a roadtrip to historical sites in your area with friends and family. As long as it transports you to new experiences, your adventure can be almost anything.

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We’ve all thought something like this before: “I’ll get that project going soon, but I can’t now because I’m behind on bills, I have to focus on work, and chores around the house are piling up…”

…And in this way we continue to neglect “that project.” The project itself is going to differ from person to person. For some it might be getting an exercise regiment in place, for others maybe it’s taking an adventurous trip to another country and culture, and for still others it could be taking a risk and changing careers. But I’m willing to bet that you–yes, you–have something in mind that you want to do, mean to do, and need to do.

The thing that keeps us from tackling our big project is a bit of faulty thinking. You see, we tend to think that our present circumstances, no matter what they are, aren’t perfect enough for us to get going on our project. Once we get a few things in order and get our mind geared up, then we’ll be able to pursue our big idea. But not now, oh no. There are far too many things in disarray now.

And that’s the faulty thinking. Our present situation always seems to be in disarray because, well, life is sort of a mixed bag of unpredictable factors all thrown at you at random. I’ve experienced this enough for myself to know that there is no such thing as “getting things all in order.” By that I mean that paying your bills won’t make more bills stop coming. Cleaning your house once won’t make it stay clean forever. You may be in a rough patch now, emotionally, physically or mentally, but that is part of the roller coaster ride of life.

So what am I saying? Essentially this: now is always the time to go for it, because “perfect” circumstances don’t exist.

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If you’re honest with yourself, you will see that neglecting that big thing you envision on the grounds that “you’re not ready” is really just an excuse born out of fear of failure.

I challenge you to act on your “big thing,” whatever it is, today. Even if that means one small, concrete step in the direction of your goal, I’m confident that moving toward it will empower you. Tomorrow will bring more challenges, setbacks, and unpredictable snafu’s, yes, but that’s okay. You can navigate through them.

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We all know that good habits reap goodness in our lives and that bad ones do the opposite. As many of us have experienced, bad habits can have lasting, damaging effects. But like many things, forming good, healthy habits is easier said than done. It’s easy to resolve to change things for the better, but it’s much harder to stick with it over the course of time. The dilemma, it seems, is finding ways to sustain a lifestyle of healthy habits.

In “The Power of Focus,”  authors Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Les Hewitt (all three successful businessman and entrepreneurs) offer a formula for habits. Let’s take a look at the three points they lay out for us:

“1. Clearly Identify Your Bad Or Unproductive Habits”

Canfield, Hansen and Hewitt stress that the key to identifying bad habits is being honest about long term consequences, not necessarily things that would show up tomorrow. “The real impact could be years away,” they point out. It’s easy to ignore bad habits that don’t have immediate consequences, but that’s exactly where their power takes hold of our lives. We must instead look ahead and see how the choices we make now will impact the future.

“2. Define Your New Succesful Habit”

In the same way we looked to the future when identifying bad habits, we’ll also look forward when we implement good habits. Looking forward “helps you create a clear picture of what this new habit will do for you. The more vividly you describe the benefits, the more likely you are to take action.” Again, this is the way we stay strong with good habits: picturing the rewards and aiming for them. Take the time to sit down and map out your new set of good habits, thinking about the great things you will achieve when you adopt them. It’s good to start small, so don’t overwhelm yourself with tackling multiples habits at once. After all, the brain can only handle so much! Focus on one habit at a time, only moving on when you feel that you’ve successfully installed it into your routine.

“3. Create A Three-Part Action Plan”

You’ve honed in on areas in your life you want to improve, deciding to take different (usually opposite) courses of action to beat out bad habits. Now, you’re ready to get the ball rolling. Take the time to “make a decision about which specific actions you are going to implement.” Each person’s three-part plan will be slightly different, and it is up to you to determine what works best for you. Some people’s three-part plans might actually have five parts to them, since the number of steps isn’t really what’s important. The important thing is that you visual specific actions. How can you really realize your goal of implementing a new habit? What actions will boost chances of success? The action plan will propell you from visualizing changes you wish to see, to actually feeling empowered to make them. What’s more, having a written copy of your plan works great as a visual reminder or reference for those days you’d like to slip back into bad habits.

Vital to the success of your action plan: setting a start date.

Canfield, Hansen and Hewitt use the example of someone who takes too much work home on the weekends. They look honestly at the consequences of this habit (“Family time restricted, feeling guilty, important relationships become polarized”), visualize the benefits freeing up the weekend completely (“more relaxed, reduced stress levels, create unique family experiences”), and make an action plan to get there:

1. Design my work better by not overcommitting.

2. Delegate secondary tasks to staff to free up my time.

3. Have my family keep me accountable. No golf if I don’t follow through!

Start Date: February 3rd

As with any change we make in our lives, repetition is key. To make better habits, you’ll have to keep fighting the brainless tendency we have to continue the bad habits we’ve created. This may be annoying at first, but if you stick to the action plan and keep your focus toward the future, you’ll soon find that you’re actually doing the good habits without having to think about them. Think about how good that will feel!


Canfield, Jack, Mark Victor Hansen and Les Hewitt. The Power of Focus. Florida: Health Communications, 2011.

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By Margaret Smith, UXL:

In life, there is one fact that is without a doubt true: your time is priceless. Because of this, it’s important to make sure that time is spent on the things most important to you and your long-term priorities. Are you using your time in a way that reflects your values and skills?

In order to help you make sure that you use your time meaningfully, I’ve compiled a list of creative ways to suavely decline the requests of others. Although it’s important to offer your time and support to those around you, whether at work or in your personal life, it’s also paramount that you say “no” for your own goals (and sanity!).

13 Ways to Artfully Decline

“I’m really not the best fit for __________.”
“This sounds like a great opportunity, but my schedule is packed.”
 “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m sorry, I can’t.”
“I really can’t do that right now, but have you considered __________?”
 “I’m sorry, but I’m only taking on work related to _________ right now.”
 “I’d like to help you, but my schedule won’t allow any new projects.”
 “It’s against my personal policy to __________.”
 “Thanks for asking, but I really can’t.”
 “I can’t take this on for personal reasons.”
 “I have other commitments.”
 “I can’t take on another project at this time.”
 “I know you would like my help with __________, but I won’t be able to do so unless/until __________.”
 “I with I could, but as a rule I don’t __________.”

I hope that these easy responses help you to take more control of your time and your schedule. Remember, you shouldn’t consider saying “yes” unless you’re enthusiastic about the project and the way that it aligns to your values and priorities.

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By Margaret Smith
Speaker | Career Coach | Certified Insights Discovery Practitioner

Making your voice heard, being noticed, overcoming your inner saboteur, improving interactions with others: These are many of the topics I discuss with my coaching clients. These are also many of the topics that the writer Julie Morgenstern addresses in her article, “Five Ways to Get a Life” published in O Magazine. Read on for a bunch of useful and fun advice about taking back your life!

Morgenstern’s Advice:

  1. Shorten your work day by 30 minutes: This may seem counter-intuitive, but I promise that you’ll get more work done because committing to leave earlier gives you a deadline and forces you to eliminate the little time wasters (silly interruptions, procrastination, perfectionism) that typically eat up your day.
  2. Avoid multi-tasking: Recent studies show that it can take the brain twice as long to process each task when you switch back and forth between activities. By learning to focus your full attention on one project at a time, you can regain the extra hour or two you crave.
  3. Break the habit of total self-reliance: Insisting on doing everything yourself burdens you and prevents others from feeling valuable and needed. Delegate more at home and free up your time for things you love and excel at doing.
  4. Capture all your to do’s in one place: People who haphazardly write lists on stray notepads, post-it notes, and backs of envelopes waste time wondering what to do next and worrying that they’re forgetting something. Choose only one tool to track everything you need to do and prioritize from the top down.
  5. Schedule one purely joyful activity each week: Think of an activity (dancing, reading, playing an instrument) that you haven’t done for a long time that brings you instant happiness. Put it in your datebook as nonnegotiable and watch the quality of your life improve.

Also try to start each morning with the most important item, not the many small and easy tasks. Remember that you can always squeeze the little things into the gaps.

Your Challenge: Give one of these life-improving ideas a try, and let me know how it transforms your day!

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