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Creating Successful Leaders

Tag Archives: Margaret Smith licensed Insights practitioner

It’s great to be happy. It’s wonderful to feel joy and hope. But does our society overemphasize these feelings? Judging by the plethora of self-help books, escapism social media, and online “happiness hacks,” that seems to be the case. Some sources have even called happiness a “cultural obsession.”

That may not seem like a bad thing on the surface, but it can have some unintended consequences. For one, if we’re constantly focused on obtaining happiness, we may not be fully present. We’re so focused on our happiness dreams, that we forget to appreciate what we have. As behavior expert Patrick Wanis says, “We place our happiness somewhere off in the future and therefore we’re never able to enjoy where we are now because we’re always thinking we’re only going to be happy when we get to be, do, or have something.”

Additionally, the expectation to be happy all the time is frankly unrealistic. We might logically know that our friends and acquaintances are not happy at all hours of the day—their lives are not flawless and worry-free—but that doesn’t stop us from viewing them that way. We constantly see pictures on Instagram or Facebook of happy, smiling people drinking cocktails, taking vacations, posing with their families, cooking perfect dishes, and we wonder why we don’t stack up. Why isn’t my life that happy? What am I doing wrong?

This is how obtaining happiness can become more of an obsession than a healthy pursuit. But what if we were to shift our focus so that happiness isn’t the end goal, but rather a fortunate side effect? That’s where “usefulness” comes into play.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

When we make ourselves useful through daily work, volunteerism, helping others, donating our dollars or time, etc., we de-emphasize happiness. We shift the focus from ourselves to others. That’s not to say self-care isn’t important (it is! And I’ve talked about that in several blogs posts), but focusing on others and living a purpose-driven life is just as important.

And, guess what? You’ll likely feel happiness anyway!

Doing your best work, volunteering, or caring for a sick friend can all be satisfying in their own way. Even though your end goal isn’t happiness, it’s a fortunate side effect that often accompanies living within your purpose or doing good deeds.

As a nation, it may do us all a lot of good to stop obsessing over happiness and start emphasizing usefulness. What might life look like if we dared to follow this pursuit?


Her new eBook is called A Quick Guide to Courage

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3 rocks stacked in rings of sand

Almost everyone experiences periods of heightened anxiety or frustration. Those periods might last a few minutes, or they could endure much longer. If you’re dealing with a situation that is causing increased stress, it’s never a good idea to ignore your feelings and hope that everything will get better. Instead, focus on ways to reduce your personal stress AND remove or diminish the sources of stress.

NOTE: If you’re experiencing long-term or severe anxiety, it’s best to seek help from a licensed therapist or psychiatrist. Your mental health is important and can affect nearly every aspect of your life.

So, how do you deal with short-term stress or anxiety? Here are 4 methods to try.

1. Practice a breathing technique

Breathing with intention is a great way to create a sense of calm and ease tension. You could practice yoga-style breathing, where you inhale deeply while focusing on expanding your lungs and belly, and then release your breath and let your diaphragm contract. Or, you could practice something neuroscientist Andrew Huberman calls a “physiological sigh.” Essentially, you inhale through your nose and hold your breath for a few seconds. Then, inhale again before releasing it and hold for a few more seconds. After that, exhale through your mouth in one strong puff. Learn how this breathing technique helps you in Dr. Huberman’s short video.

2. Remove yourself from the situation

Sometimes, the easiest and most effective way to calm your nerves is to remove yourself from the anxiety-inducing situation. That might mean excusing yourself from a team meeting or Zoom call, or stepping away from your laptop for a few minutes. Giving yourself distance can help you to collect your thoughts, take a few deep breaths, and plan how you’ll proceed.

3. Identify sources of stress

Is there something in your life that is repeatedly causing you stress? Maybe you’re involved in too many committees or volunteer groups. Maybe you tend to agree to projects, even when your plate is full. Or, perhaps, your source of stress is a person—a boss or co-worker who tends to email you at odd hours, overload your agenda with work, or make poor decisions for the company or your work team.

Whatever the case, it’s useful to trace back your stress to the source(s). Once you have a clear idea of what’s causing most of the tension in your work life, you can take steps to change it.

4. Set healthy boundaries

One way to take charge of your stressors is to set healthy boundaries. Set parameters for when and how often you’ll answer emails, phone calls, or virtual chat requests. Say “no” to projects when you have too much on your plate or when projects are not a good fit (click the link for 10 effective ways to say no). If someone is causing you undue stress, have the courage to meet with that person and communicate your frustrations. Be tactful and make suggestions on how to improve the situation.

You can take charge of workplace stress. Take time to consider your stressors, create a plan, and act! And when life gets frustrating, don’t be afraid to dismiss yourself from the situation, breath, go for a walk, or even read a few pages in a book—whatever it takes to reduce your stress and calm your nerves. Work should not be a place of constant stress.


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Recently, mental health has been in the spotlight, and for good reason! People are struggling more than ever in this era of uncertainty and apprehension. In fact, the CDC found in a survey that two in five adults have symptoms of depression or anxiety. That’s staggering! And, unfortunately, there isn’t much help for those dealing with mental health issues, partially due to the enduring stigma around mental health.

But here’s the truth of the matter: mental health is health, and it does matter. Research shows that there is a strong link between physical and mental health, and poor mental health has been connected to ailments such as cardiovascular issues, obesity, or even cancer.

Even if you’re not experiencing depression or anxiety, you might not quite be thriving. If you’re feeling drained, aimless, or less-than-joyful, you could be experiencing what researcher and science author Adam Grant calls languishing.

According to Grant, “Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield.” He goes on to say, “[Languishing] is the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being.” 

I suspect many of us are feeling this state of “languishing” more than ever. If you’re working from home, you might be feeling the monotony of staying in the same space, day after day, and interacting with the same people. You might feel like you’re stuck in “survival mode” and your creative spark isn’t what it used to be.

How can you stave off languishment and rediscover your joy? While I don’t have a magic bullet, I do have a few suggestions:

Step Away

A change of scenery can do wonders for your wellbeing. Stepping away from your desk or your house can give you a fresh perspective and a little distance from any problems you might be facing. Take a walk outside, move your laptop to a coffee shop or library, go out for lunch, practice yoga or hop on the treadmill—whatever appeals most to you! Stepping away, counting, and focusing on your breathing can also create a sense of calm and help put things in perspective.

Focus on One Task

If you’re feeling spread thin or anxious, try focusing on only one task at a time. Don’t give in to the pressure to multitask! Close your email, put your phone on airplane mode, and commit to working on just one thing. This focus time can ease your nerves and give you a sense of accomplishment.

Even if your focus time only lasts half an hour or an hour, that can be enough time to make good progress. Try the “one task at a time” technique whenever you’re feeling scattered or exhausted.

Try for Small Wins

If you are floundering or feeling worn out, try to accomplish one “small win.” This could be any minor, easily accomplished task. For example, test all your pens and toss the ones that no longer work. Or, send one important email you’ve been putting off. Or, clean up your computer desktop or downloads folder. These mini tasks can give you the forward momentum you need to tackle larger projects.

Respect Your “Temple”

Your body is a temple. It’s true. If we don’t treat our physical selves well, our mental and emotional sides also suffer. Take time every day to treat yourself well. Instead of opting for a quick Pop-tart or donut for breakfast, make yourself some eggs with spinach or a bowl of oatmeal with berries and chia seeds. Other ways to “respect your temple” include exercising regularly, de-stressing (taking a hot bath, enjoying a cup of tea, reading a book, getting a professional massage), and setting aside some quiet time for reflection or meditation.

Practicing self-care is essential for maintaining your energy and spark for life. If you don’t take the time to be kind to yourself, how will you have the capacity to care for others or perform at your best?

Talk to Someone

Do not underestimate the power of human connection. If you’re feeling stressed, sullen, or aimless, don’t be afraid to reach out to a close friend or family member for help. Sometimes, simply talking over your issues (or venting!) is exactly what you need to work things out or put things in perspective. If you’ve been feeling truly awful lately, it’s a good idea to schedule a couple sessions with a therapist or psychiatrist. Your mental health is worth it.


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