Familiar, Creeping Dread

 

For years and years of my adult life, I felt a recurrent, familiar dread in the rhythm of the work week. Before the dread set in, there was some buoyancy. Once the weekend was in sight, it started to feel like rolling downhill instead of slogging my way up. I used to say that Thursday was my favorite day of the week. For me, the end of the Thursday work day felt lighter than the preceding days. People tended to be in a good - at least, better - mood on Fridays, with everyone looking forward to their reprieve from the grind. I remember making plans for just how awesome my Friday evening was going to be, filled with relaxation and doing things like watching a movie with a vodka tonic in hand, only to find myself depleted, exhausted, and barely able to keep my eyes open at 9 pm. What a waste, I would think to myself, that one of the two nights I can truly enjoy every week goes down in this sad way, with plans unrealized and the need to recover taking over all other plans.

Saturday was always the best day of the week. It was the one day where I would wake up refreshed and even if there was a lot to do, I knew I'd be hanging out with my family, prioritizing at least one or two fun things to do along with taking care of household needs, errands, etc. Inevitably, the familiar pang would arrive on Saturday evening, a precursor to Sunday, knowing that the ability to be present would slowly seep away as the end of the weekend approached. And that was when the dread would really kick in. Sunday afternoon. My mind started moving forward into the work week, thinking through what needed to be done, who I'd be meeting with, what fires might pop up, which team members were going to be in conflict - the list went on.

Sunday night was the worst. It was more the exception than the rule that I would get a decent night's sleep before the work week began. I would go to bed at a reasonable time and watch the hours tick by. I would do the thing that insomniacs do, telling myself "Five hours of sleep is fine, I can work with that" and then "If I don't get at least four hours of sleep, this is going to be a rough week" and my mind would finally shut down around that time, allowing me a few precious hours of rest, but not nearly enough to keep me energized as the week progressed.

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Dread was such a regular in my life that I didn't question it much. I knew a lot of people who felt just like I did. We talked about the dis-ease of Sunday like it was a fact of life. One of my friends calls it the "Sunday scaries." Like so many other not-so-good aspects of my mindset at that point, I registered that it was there, and that it sucked, but it fell into the category of "the price we pay." As in, we must in some way "pay", or more accurately, sacrifice, in order to have the other benefits that come from staying in a particular situation. This is such a regular and consistent bit of messaging in our culture of success that we resign ourselves to it.

But actually, it's bullshit.

You do not have to accept dread as a fact of life. You do not have to fall in line with the "pay the price" concept of success. I'm not telling you to run out and quit your job, because that isn't the answer. No matter where you work, if you have already bought into the foundational trap of accepting a limited concept of "this is the way the world is," your experience of life will remain consistent. That is, you will get more of what you're resigned to. Ask yourself the following:

  • What in my experience lends itself to dread? Is it the hours I work? Not prioritizing my need to refuel, e.g. exercise, eat, sleep, etc.?

  • What am I tolerating? What have I resigned myself to? When am I saying "that's just the way it is?"

  • Are there other places in my life where something similar is happening? (I'll give you a hint - the answer is "yes") Where else are you deciding to go along because it is what it is?

Once you've identified these areas, you'll begin to see the pattern and can start thinking about ways to change what you're accepting as the sacrifice you're not happy making. What can you do differently? Where can you shift your priorities? To avoid crashing and burning, take it one small step at a time and make a single change before you move on to the next.


 

The Unsettling Unknowns of Transition

 

We've all been there, in those strange periods of time when a change has been initiated but remains incomplete. Even if you have some vague notion of what is changing or how it's changing, the details are hidden. Maybe it's because the lack of transparency protects the process, or maybe it's because lack of transparency is part of the culture in which the change is happening. Either way, it can be unsettling. You know something will change but don't know whether you'll be directly affected. It could be that the change itself will be positive, but since there is no proof of that either way, you tend to stay in the land of unease, hoping for the best but skeptically doubting the outcome. 

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Transition periods happen frequently in our professional experiences. Restructuring, downsizing, relocating, and reorganizing are all a part of doing business and keeping up with the needs of growth, clients, the industry, etc. But just because transition is a given doesn't mean that it's pleasant to be in suspension, waiting to see what will happen while fretting about the possibilities. The good news is that the fretting part is optional. A few adjustments to your mindset and your expectations can mean the difference between anxiously and impatiently waiting or calmly going about your business until what's done is done. 

Here are 3 things you can do to manage a transition period in a way that serves you. 

  1. Loosen your grip. You have no control over the outcome. How does it help to consider all of the worst case scenarios when you truly have no idea what's coming next? When you start to worry, remind yourself, out loud if you need to, that expending your energy on worry and anxiety has exactly zero impact on how things turn out. 

  2. Focus on what you can do. Until the change shows up, keep doing your thing. Sure, it may change, but it hasn't yet. Show up, be present, and tune in. What do you like about what you're doing? How can you capitalize on that during the period of uncertainty? Maybe you need to be deliberate about sprinkling in more fun or down time for yourself.  Don't talk yourself out of it because "Oh, it's all just so crazy right now - I can't possibly leave!" Actually, while everything is still what it is is the best time to make sure you're taking care of yourself. 

  3. Trust the process. Whether or not things go the way you want them to, they will go the way they need to, and ultimately it's for your benefit. This is by far one of the hardest things to do if your Type A and like to have an iron grip (see #1) so don't expect to nail this one quickly and easily. If you have to, mentally return to other periods of time when something went in a direction that you didn't anticipate and assess how it turned out. Was it ultimately fine, perhaps positive, even if you didn't initially think it would be? It's easy to fall prey to black and white, doom and gloom thinking. When those thoughts come up, repeat #1 and #2 and trust that thing are always working out for you. 


 

Be Wary of Good Intentions

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

Have you ever stopped to think about the meaning of this expression?  Do you ever tell yourself that you should get over something that someone said or did because "they meant well?"

There are times when it's hard for us to process the behavior of others when it has impacted us in a negative way. It might be verbal message that was hurtful, a repeated pattern of "knowing what's best for you" that ignores or overlooks what you think is best for you, a decision made without your knowledge or consent because, clearly, you aren't equipped to make that decision for whatever reason. We often decide that, while not awesome, it's okay and we move on with the justification that the person in question had good intentions, and ultimately that's more important than the action they took or the consequences it had.

That is B.S.

Intentions mean shit. It's the action and the subsequent consequences that matter.

Now, of course, no one is perfect. Human beings make imperfect decisions and engage in sub-par behavior from time to time. When that happens, an apology—a REAL one—is in order. It takes genuine self-awareness on the part of the other person to see that they acted in a way that disempowered you, to say sorry, and to refrain from such actions in the future. When you allow someone to get away with their actions without that apology and hold strong to the expectation that it not happen again, you consent to more of the same.

This pattern of thinking and cycle of behavior is very common in toxic relationships, where there's already a power dynamic at play in which the toxic person calls the shots through manipulative behavior over long periods of time. The target stays engaged because they aren't sure how to get out of it, what to say, feels they have no choice, etc. It's even more confusing because the "well-intentioned" person is often someone with whom you have an intimate relationship, like a parent or partner, or a long-term professional relationship, such as a mentor or boss. You've spent years believing this person has your best interests in mind, so you give them the benefit of the doubt repeatedly, even though they've shown you they don't deserve it.

When you identify this pattern, it's time to speak up and set expectations. Let this person know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of their behavior and what you expect moving forward. Observe the reaction you get. Is it dramatic? Do they go into victim or martyr mode? Do they try to make it about them instead of focusing on what you're saying about the impact on you?

Watch and see if they respect the boundary you've set or continue to operate as usual. Be prepared to enforce and repeat yourself, and to take the next steps to create distance if required.

One Thing You Can Do When You're Stuck

 

From time to time, no matter where you might be on your personal journey, chances are that things will slow down for a while. Sometimes they've been slow for a whiiiiiiile, and deep down you know that you’ve stagnated and have been treading water for some time.

Even if you've been making changes and updating your mental programming, it's normal to come to a plateau point—you've already slayed some dragons and you’re feeling pretty good, but it's getting close to the time that new dragons will start to appear. Your new, higher consciousness will bring them out to play.

Until then, you may feel like you're just sitting around, waiting for them. You’re not all that comfortable in the interim, but you’re not sure how to speed things up to bring the next level of work into the light. And really, there is no need to do so. We've become accustomed to instant gratification, but sometimes the best thing to do is to be in whatever period of time you're in until you have the clarity you need to move forward.

So, what should you do? Twiddle your thumbs? Sit on your hands? Play rounds of Candy Crush? Binge-watch Netflix?

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Sure, those are valid choices. But will they move you forward?

When you're in a waiting period, find one way to provide value to someone else each day. It's so easy to get caught up in the daily tasks and to-do lists and completely forget that the point of your life is not simply to be a cog in the greater machinery, but to be a human being who interacts with human beings beyond the technical achievement of things. It is the intangible that makes life worth living, not the accomplishment of tasks. When you operate in autopilot mode, you're not fully conscious of the way you go through your days. They become routine, rote, scheduled—in other words, there's so much same ol', same ol' that you don't have to be fully engaged to get through each day.

Providing value doesn't have to be an earth-shattering or monumental undertaking. It can be as small as saying kind words to someone who needs to hear them, buying coffee for someone, making a point to reach out to someone you haven't connected with in a while, expressing your appreciation to a team member, etc. Add it to your daily task list if you must, but make a point of doing it every day until it becomes a habit. Over time, you'll see multiple benefits.

You'll feel good when you make others feel good, and the better you feel, the less stuck you become. As you begin to realize the benefits of providing value, you'll naturally begin to prioritize what really matters over what keeps you busy. Best of all, you’ll wake up to your potential and the potential of the world around you, rather than staying resigned to the status quo and keeping your expectations low.

What's one thing you can do today to bring value to someone?

 

Should You Fake It Till You Make It?

 

We've all heard this one, right?

It can be interpreted in many different ways. Essentially, what's implied is that you may not always be feeling confident about what you’re doing, but if you continue to engage and "fake it," eventually you will arrive successfully at whatever your end goal is.

The philosophical part of me likes to contemplate this aphorism from time to time. I break it down to see if it holds up, and while it may not always hold true, there is some wisdom in this approach.

Think about it. Whenever you try something new, by definition it’s something you don't know if you'll be good at, right? You've never done it, so you have no evidence you can pull it off. You may have enough self-confidence to take the risk and try, but no hindsight to rely on to provide the knowledge that you can, indeed, pull this off, whatever it is.

Does that mean you shouldn't try?

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If you tend to hold back until you have evidence that you can do something, how will you ever move forward? You won't know what you're capable of until you try. And you won't necessarily have the luxury of trying just once. You may have to try over and over again until you get to where you're going.

To me, that's what faking it till you make it is all about. It's about taking the action you feel compelled to take and letting the gap between that action and your self-confidence fill in over time. There will be a gap, no doubt. But instead of seeing it as a reason to not move forward, accept it as the reality that the gap is necessary. Faith and trust in yourself are about doing things that you have no proof will work. Moving forward despite the lack of proof signals faith in yourself.

I'm not implying that it's easy. Moving forward on sheer faith takes a lot of courage. Expect to feel a little freaked out and do it anyway. One of the tricks I like to employ is to mentally fast-forward past the event or thing that's giving me anxiety. For instance, I always have some anxiety before speaking. It's totally natural and I expect it, but I love to envision the evening after I speak, when I can relax, spend time with my family, and have a drink after dinner. I also imagine how I will feel—satisfied at having delivered content that will positively impact the group I spoke to in some way.

Is there something you feel compelled to do but hold back because you can't prove you have what it takes? Take a risk, have some faith in yourself, and let the gap fill in.

 

When You're Not Feeling It

 

Sometimes, I don't feel like doing anything. And I mean, nothing. As in, I have a bunch of stuff on my list and not a single one calls to me. On a scale of 1 to 10, my motivation can be measured at nice solid zero. I'm sure you can relate. It happens to all of us from time to time.

So, what do you do about it?

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Back in the day when I prioritized crossing things off the list, I sucked it up and got to work. How I felt was the least of my concerns. Any thought I had that I could possibly give myself a break or postpone action was met with internal chatter like "Don't be lazy," "Tomorrow will be worse," and "Just keep grinding." I couldn't stand those thoughts in my head, so I would proceed as planned, disregarding my energy levels, and pushing through anyway.

You may be thinking, "Well, yeah. You do what you have to do." And of course, in the reality of our daily lives, there are times when this is indeed the case. But does it always have to be? Can you find the room to honor those feelings from time to time without self-flagellation?

The first thing to ask yourself is how often this is happening to you? Is it a general theme in your life, that you have a lot to do and little energy to do it? If so, this is a big red flag that you are overtaxing yourself and not allowing yourself sufficient downtime to refuel and re-energize. You are basically dragging yourself around by the bootstraps, grinding it out, feeling relief at having crossed things off the list but are no less depleted for having done so. If you've been taking this approach for a long time, you probably feel resigned to it, as though there isn't a better way. You tell yourself it is "fine" and "okay" and you'll just have to keep doing it.

But there is a better way. Take some time to reflect on these two points:

#1: Consider that your lack of motivation may have more to do with misaligned energy than fear and avoidance. The truth is that we are rarely motivated to do things that force us outside of our comfort zone. Things of that nature really do require action even when you don't feel like it or you'll stagnate. When your energy is misaligned, however, you may need to find ways to honor your need to refuel rather than accomplish your to-do list. Lack of motivation sets in quickly if you are always doing what you should do and rarely what you want to do. If, at that particular time, there is truly no way to slow down, then be proactive about getting out your calendar and scheduling your downtime. For real. In fact, if you make a habit of scheduling downtime that's just for you, you can look forward to it on the days when you know you need to keep moving, and you'll find that making a habit of scheduled downtime alleviates your lack of motivation on the days you have a lot to do.

#2: Avoid berating yourself. When you're not feeling and it and the mental chatter starts up, shut it down. Go back to #1 and determine why you're avoiding action, honor your feelings—whether it's because you're scared or because you need to re-energize—then come up with your plan for either a) taking the inspired action that will take you out of your comfort zone even if you don't feel like it, or b) take some downtime or make sure to schedule it so you're not running on empty.

 

When Fear Comes Back with a Vengeance

 

I've been battling fear pretty intensely for the past couple of weeks. I know, you're probably thinking, "Really? You're the one who's always talking about how to overcome it!"

That's true. I speak about overcoming fear because in some way, shape, or form, it is always present when you're on the path of growth. There is a cyclical nature to it. It comes in when we are doing something new, becoming visible, taking risks, and making big changes. But it also likes to pop up a bit more mysteriously from time to time, and it's not always obvious why it's back. It even shows up in conjunction with something you believed you'd already overcome.

Sometimes fear makes an appearance because you have made so many changes.  Perhaps subconsciously, you sense that you're on a different playing field with its own set of challenges and unknowns. Because everything is new, it might feel like an even bigger, badder fear than those you've worked your way through before.

What to do when that happens?

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Acknowledge the fear and observe. What's happening in your life, your head, your heart? Why might this be showing up now? If you're having a hard time getting clarity, talk to a trusted friend. Sometimes a little assistance can bring things into focus and you'll have a handle on why you're scared.

Appreciate that the fear is providing you with information you need so that you can process and move through it to continue working on whatever it is you've prioritized for your personal growth.  

Trust that you have everything you need to keep going, even if it feels different this time. You have the ability to move through this relatively quickly because you've been practicing acting despite fear. This is the perfect opportunity to stop and take inventory of just how much change you've made and growth you've experienced—so celebrate how far you've come! Fear can be a powerful reminder that we've come a long way and it's showing up to remind us that with each new level comes a new devil.

Above all, have compassion for yourself. You wouldn't berate a friend who was going through this, so don't do it to yourself, either. Give yourself a mental pat, and acknowledge all the good work that's brought you to this place. Accept the experience as par for the course rather than a disaster waiting to take you off track.

Is fear back with a vengeance in an area that surprises you? Where can you take inventory and celebrate how far you've come?


 

How to Stop Caring So Much

 

One thing people consistently ask me about is how I don’t worry about what other people think. Some assume it's a built-in superpower that you either have or you don't, and for the people-pleasers out there, it can feel nearly impossible to get to the point where the opinions of others have little impact on what you say and do. The good news is that it's not a superpower—anyone can learn to care less, and in a healthy way. The bad news is that you have to practice at it to get it right.

I was not born with this ability. Like most everyone else, I learned that it's important to keep some opinions to yourself for the sake of another. And it's undesirable to make comments or take action that may rock the boat a bit too much. We spend years of our lives with the reinforcement of this message through family members, school and, ultimately, our professional associations. Best to eat your words rather than risk upsetting the apple cart. After all, is it really worth the headache the disruption causes?

Yes. A thousand times yes.

I have no idea where this notion that we should seek to skate through life unscathed came from. If you take a few minutes to reflect on your own life, you will undoubtedly see that the events that shaped you and moved you forward the most were some of the most challenging you've ever faced. Like it or not, discomfort triggers our growth and expansion. We are able to see that in hindsight, but desperately avoid discomfort through our choices, even if the boat-rocking that ensues brings about some really positive change for both the boat-rocker and boat-rockee. In fact, the "oh-shit-I-don't-have-a-choice" moments tend to facilitate the greatest change, as if we need to be backed into a corner to do what needs to be done.

When it comes down to it, we care about what others think because we want to avoid being a trigger for someone else. But what if they, and you, really need that trigger to move forward in a positive way? Why do we assume that being triggered or triggering is a bad thing? Sure, it can be a bit messy, but I'll take messy any day of the week over bottled up feelings, walking on eggshells, and eating my words ad nauseum for the rest of my life.

A huge part of this fear is the gratification cycle and our unwillingness to sit and stew in something. I bet if you believed that your words or actions would translate immediately into the outcome you desire, you wouldn't hesitate. But of course, what will happen next is unknown. You don't know how people will react and the weight of that uncertainty trumps any potential benefits. You can't wait for it. It's too much to bear.

It doesn't have to be that way. You can make the choice to speak or act even if it's uncomfortable. It's required homework if you ever want to be free of the chains of other people's opinions.

Instead of focusing on the doom and gloom, apocalyptic scenario of your world burning down to cinders if you dare to make such a move, consider the positives it will bring to YOU, not the impact it will make on someone else. If you have to, write it down. Make a list of ‘pros’ in black and white, and whenever a ‘con’ sneaks in, you can also jot it down. But make an effort to set aside the programmed thinking and focus on the potential positives.

Take a deep breath. Then do or say the thing you're afraid to say or do.

I know, I know. "But it's so hard!" you're saying to yourself. Cut it out. You create your reality through the words you say, so say something better than it's hard. Tell yourself, "It will be freeing for me to make this choice." Or whatever you need to say to put the spin on it that you need. Understand that the ONLY way to stop caring so much is to fight the deeply ingrained habit to hold it in, and make a move even when you don't want to.

Start with something relatively easy. Don't run out and tackle the biggest beast in your life where this has been an issue for you. Start small. Pick an area and commit to saying what you've been wanting to say sometime in the next 2 weeks. Remember: Immediate gratification may not occur, you can't control the reactions of others, and just because it's triggering doesn't mean it's bad or wrong.