How to get unstuck when you’re stuck

You know that thing when you’re searching all over for something, but it’s actually right in front of you?

It reminds me of the Invisible Guerilla Experiment.

Participants were asked to count the number of passes between people passing around a basketball in a video they were shown. About half the watchers missed a person wearing a guerilla suit walking in and out of the video scene, thumping his chest. (Here’s the link if you want to test yourself.)

It turns out that when we’re focused on something, we’re very likely to miss unexpected events or ideas that come our way.
Which brings me to getting stuck:

It happens rarely, but as I sat down to write my weekly email to our Happier community, I was completely stuck on what I wanted to write about. Literally, zero good ideas.

I have a deal with myself that I will only share what resonates personally and opens my heart as well as my head. As much as I kept thinking about it, I couldn’t land on a topic that felt right.

Frustration started to set in, along with completely useless but nevertheless loud thoughts of the “Maybe I’m just out of good ideas and don’t have anything worthwhile to say” variety.

I decided to go for my daily walk to clear my mind.

While on my walk, I got a text from a friend. She is starting a new business and is stuck on what she should call it. We had talked about it before, but she wrote that she still can’t seem to commit to anything.

“Don’t try to make it perfect, you can always change it. Just start, just pick one option that is OK right now, and go from there,” I replied to her.

When I got home I still had not come up with a topic so I decided to work on something else. I checked my email. The first one was from a Happier member named Victoria, who had written to me a few months earlier.

She shared then that she felt really stuck — in her life, career, inside and outside. Her email now was to update me on the amazing progress she has made since — a new job she loves, great colleagues, unique writing opportunities — and to thank me to replying to her at the time.

She wrote about how just getting moving, just starting to write, to do, even without knowing how it will turn out, was so helpful in getting her where she is right now.

It was so awesome to get her email.

I wrote her an excited reply and as soon as I sent it, I started to laugh. Yep, sitting here, in front of my computer, laughing. Because as I was stuck on a topic for this week’s article, it was right there, in front me:

How to get unstuck when you’re stuck.

Here are my 3 favorite quick tips, which I hope can be helpful to you when you are stuck. Funny enough, I did a bunch of these this morning, without realizing I was doing them.

1. Get moving. Stretch. Go for a walk around your office or outside, if you can manage. You’ll get more oxygen circulating, which will help your brain focus and think more clearly. Some research indicates that in general, we should sit for about 20 minutes, stand for 8, and move about for 2.

2. Get distracted doing something relaxing. Our brains need to go through different phases to come up with insights. The first phase is what is sometimes referred to as the “focus phase”, when all the brain’s energy is focused on trying to solve a problem. But then the brain needs to go through the “relaxation phase”, during which it can make more broad and remote associations to help us arrive at the solution. Turns out there is a reason we often come up with ideas in the shower. (Here’s an article that dives deeper into this topic.)

3. Get doing. One of my favorite quotes is from Pablo Picasso: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”  The answer we’re looking for is often in the doing. It feels weird to start writing without an idea or painting without a concept. It might feel wrong to start a business without having the perfect name or to look for a new job without knowing what it might be. And yet, that’s exactly what we should do when we’re stuck: Start doing. It doesn’t have to be right or perfect, but it will move the energy around, and lead you to new ideas, people, and connections you wouldn’t discover if you waited for inspiration to come and find you.

 

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

I see this quote a lot, especially recently. Although, I bet I’m simply noticing it more because fear is on my mind.
IMG_9507I’ve been doing a lot of art lately.

It’s like someone opened a faucet and now it won’t shut off. Paintings, drawings, sketches –- they are jumping out of me and onto my canvas and sketchbook, as if they’d been waiting for decades to finally get out.

Perhaps they had been waiting for decades.

For most of my life art was something I dabbled in, very occasionally, but never allowed myself to dive into. It was an “extra”, something to which I didn’t allow myself to dedicate more time because “it wasn’t moving my career forward or helping me take care of my family.”

Well, 40 years of keeping it inside ended with a bang, almost literally. I’ve created more art in the last few months than I have during all the years before or than I could have anticipated. And I love creating it, so much.

Which brings me to fear.

Because I have a lot of fear about getting my art out there.
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About admitting – to myself, mostly – that perhaps it’s not such an extra. That perhaps it’s core to what I do, how I live, what I have to share with the world.

About trying to do something more with it and failing.

About not being able to figure out how to make it a genuine, vs. forced, part of what I do – for work, for life, as a human.

I have fear about sharing it broader and no one caring.

I fear that it’s not good enough.

I’ve heard many people describe me as fearless. And while I think it was meant as compliment, I don’t think it’s possible to be human and have no fear. Not if you’re trying to do something new, something creative, something that brings you to your edge, in whatever way. And we all do that in some way, so we all fear.
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The answer isn’t to remove it somehow. I don’t think it’s possible, not all the way. Perhaps the only way to remove fear is to never try to do anything you fear, which would make for a pretty terrible way to live, in my opinion.

It’s also not realistic to just ignore fear. That won’t make it go away.

I think the answer is to first, acknowledge our fear, accept that it’s there, and break it down a bit:

What would you do if you weren’t afraid of…

… failing
… disappointing someone
… disappointing your own expectations
… looking like a fool
… not fitting into your own story
… not making money
… having to give up and try again?

We have to start by figuring out exactly what we’re afraid of. (No guarantee that you’ll like the answers, but you’ll learn a lot about yourself. Spoken from first-hand experience.)IMG_9579

And here’s the second step, one that I’m working on taking.

The second step is to try to move from a place of fear to a place of love.

I know, I know. These are big words and when I first started thinking about this my reaction to my own thoughts was to try to dismiss them as too vague, to wishy-washy, too, you know, out there.

But actually it’s pretty tangible and concrete:

We can either make decisions from fear or from love.

There are many words you can substitute for love: passion, commitment, trust, kindness, dedication, faith, abundance, gratitude. We may use different words but I know you know what I mean.

What would you do differently if you could shift from a place of fear to a place of:

… love of doing what you do
… trust in the good intentions of others
… commitment to your purpose
… strength of your convictions
… gratitude for having an opportunity to do something
… dedication to a cause, big or small
… faith in kindness
… passion or excitement for something in your life
… belief in your own ability to overcome challenges?

I realize I’m offering more questions than answers, but I’m learning that might be the point. Sometimes, we have to change the question to get more clarity about the answer.

So my question for you and me today is:

What would you do differently if you move from a place of fear to a place of love?

 

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But it’s not how it should be!

I could tell my daughter wasn’t feeling well as soon as she sat down for breakfast.

She was less of her jumpy-goofy usual self and her eyes had that look I know well. Call it mom’s six sense, but I know it when I see it.

Kiddo was sick. It wasn’t anything horrible, just a nasty bug. It happens, not a huge tragedy.

Except we were on the fifth day of our week-long vacation.

A special vacation we had planned so my daughter could spend time with her best friend, whom she is not getting to see at camp this summer. A vacation in a warm, tropical paradise that was such a magical break from the long Boston winter. A vacation I badly needed.

“I can’t believe the universe is so cruel as to ruin our vacation,” I thought, as I settled my daughter and her friend into a shady spot under the palm trees.

“How dare the universe make her sick now, when we are supposed to be having this amazing vacation!” I kept thinking, feeling frustrated, upset, and almost angry.

“This is not how it should be!” I kept repeating in my mind. “This is not how it should be!”

My daughter’s best friend, whose family came to meet us in paradise so that the girls could spend time together, also got sick. She caught some different bug, but she didn’t feel well either.

So Instead of going off kayaking or trapezing with their “kids’ club”, the girls ended up spending the rest of our vacation chilling together in the shade, taking short swims in the ocean, napping, and generally just taking it very slow.

“So awful that the girls got sick and didn’t get their full vacation,” I said to my friend, the mom of my daughter’s friend.

She seemed to be taking it all in stride and appeared less consumed by the frustration that was, by this point, coming out of my ears.

“Doesn’t this happen to you guys every time?” she asked me, matter-of-factly.

“No, this is the first time Mia got sick on vacation,” I replied.

“Oh, you guys are lucky! One of our kids always gets sick on vacation. It’’s just how it is,” she said.

It’s just how it is.

There it was, the simple difference between how she reacted and how I reacted to the same situation, our daughters getting sick in the middle of a paradise vacation.

She didn’t need the vacation any less than I did, she didn’t anticipate it any less — for herself or her daughter — she didn’t hope to enjoy some chillaxing time away from the kids any less.

She just thought that’s how it is, kids get sick.

And I thought, that’s not how it should be, kids shouldn’t get sick on dream vacations they anticipate for months.

I can trace so much of my unhappiness, frustration, anger, suffering, and disappointment in life to “that’s not how it should be.” The delta between how it is and how I imagine it should be is like this deep valley of suffering. The more I focus on it, the greater the difference between the two is, the more suffering I feel.

This vacation is not going how I think it should be.

I can’t do my yoga pose like I should be able to.

My job isn’t working out like it should be.

This project is not as successful as it should be.

My friend is not being as kind to me as she should be.

It’s endless. I’ve probably spent a total of several years of my life in this valley of suffering, between how it is and how I think it should be.

I’m aware of it. I’m aware that I can look at any situation differently, from the point of “it’s how it is”, and suffer less. But c’mon, does that mean I have to like and be resigned to the fact that my kiddo gets sick on vacation or that a certain project I poured myself into is not going well?

“Acceptance of the present moment has nothing to do with resignation in the face of what’s happening. It simply means a clear acknowledgement that what is happening is happening. Acceptance doesn’t tell you what to do. What happens next, what you choose to do, that has to come out of your understanding of the moment.”

This quote, by John Kabat-Zinn, from his wonderful book Wherever You Go, There You Are, is written in one of my journals. As I was struck by the very different way my friend was dealing with our daughters getting sick, I remembered it.

Acceptance of “this is how it is” doesn’t mean liking how it is or not doing anything to change it. It’s simply a place to start. From there, we can choose to try to change how things are, and if we can’t, try to find something within how they are to appreciate. But it’s a way better — and more productive — starting point than “that’s not how it should be”.

That much I can very much attest to.

“I’ll tell you guys a secret,” I said to my daughter and her friend, as they laid around in the shade next to me, chatting.

“I kind of like that you’re not in kids’ club and I get to see you guys a lot more.”

They both smiled and promptly went back to making music videos on their phones. (11 year-olds, what can I expect, right?)

I did love the chance to hang out with the girls more. Within this less than ideal situation, it was truly something I felt grateful for.

And I won’t lie and tell you that I banished all thoughts of “this is not how it should be”, but I did replace many with “this is not how I’d like it to be, but it’s how it is” variety. (A mojito with fresh passion fruit helped a bit, if we’re being really honest here.)

3 tiny practices that will make you a happier working human

In the past few weeks more than one person has asked me the following question:

How do you bring all this “mindfulness / awareness ” stuff into real life?

The last person to ask was a friend who had just had a really rough day at work. She and I have been talking about this idea of not judging things as good or bad, but trying to simply see them as they are and do our best within the situation:

I get the concept of awareness and surrender in theory, but I just don’t get how it applies to stuff like work, for example. I went into a meeting recently and really tried to be aware of it and surrender to how things went. It sucked! It was an awful meeting!  I don’t see how all this awareness helped me.

As I’ve been deepening my practice of yoga, meditation, awareness, and yes, surrender, the greatest challenge I’ve come up against is exactly this:

How do we apply these contemplative practices off our meditation cushion, away from the yoga mat, and in our real lives of work, family, overwhelming to-dos, errands, commutes, and a billion other everyday challenges that occupy most of our minutes?

Michael Singer, the author of two of my most cherished books on these ideas, The Surrender Experiment and The Untethered Soul, has a wonderful talk about Karma yoga that I encourage you to listen to. Karma yoga, put very simply, is the practice of bringing the practices of yoga — mindfulness, awareness, non-attachment, non-harm, non-judgment — into our real lives. Many consider this to be the most challenging type of yoga and as someone who practices on-the-mat yoga 4-5 times a week, often taking very challenging classes, I agree wholeheartedly. Yoga on the mat is way easier than yoga in a contentious work meeting.

My answer to the question of how to bring mindfulness and awareness into our daily lives is a work in progress and I am learning all the time, but here it is:

Practice. Or rather, tiny, concrete, tangible practices that you integrate into the things you already do as part of your life, whether or not you sit on a meditation cushion, take yoga classes, or take part in any other contemplative practices.

With that, I offer you 3 simple ideas to try at work, which I’m pretty sure will make you a happier working human if you practice them regularly:

Mindful email

My first suggestion is not my idea at all. I’d heard it in an interview with Mirabai Bush, who is one of the people responsible for bringing the practices of Buddhism and meditation to the US and who has been teaching contemplative practices at work for several decades. Here’s how mindful email works:

  • Write your email, whether from scratch or as a response to someone’s email.
  • When you’re done writing, take 3 deep breaths. Really focus on the breath. Count them.
  • Once you’re done, read your email again and try to do this from the perspective of the person receiving the email. Focus on the emotional aspect of the email — how would they feel reading it?
  • Make any changes you think you should or leave your email as you wrote it, and then send it.

Most of in-person communication is non-verbal — how we say something matters more than what we say. But most of our non-verbal cues, including posture and facial expressions, are lost in email, making it a difficult communication medium. When you take a pause and consider the emotional impact of your email, however short or long, you’ll be able to see if you need to add or take away certain words or say things differently to make sure that it sounds the way you would want it to sound in person.

Kinder meetings

I feel like meetings are the new plague — everyone has them, no one wants them.

They aren’t going anywhere soon so I invite you to look for ways to make your meetings kinder, whether you’re calling them or participating in them. If you can make one person in a meeting feel a bit warmer, happier, more cheerful, you’ll change the entire dynamic. Kindness has been shown to have ripple effects — when you do something kind, the other person feels happier, and happier people do more kind things.

I had to go to a meeting recently I was dreading. There was nothing wrong with it, but it was a rainy day, I wasn’t feeling great, and I’d have to drive through a ton of traffic to get there. I’d also not finished the writing I’d planned for the morning and was feeling rather unaccomplished.

When I showed up everyone was getting ready to start, heads down reading the documents that were distributed prior to the meeting. The room felt flat, low energy. Perhaps the rain and the traffic were getting everyone down.

So I took out my phone and showed one of my recent paintings to the person next to me. We’d just met at this meeting, I didn’t know him, so I simply said something like: “While we wait, can I show you something I tried to paint recently?”

We talked about my passion for painting and how I’d recently gaven it an outlet, something I’ve not done in decades. He then started telling me about restoring old boats, something he loves to do. One of the guys across the table joined in, his passion was traveling to really exotic spots. Shortly the entire room was talking about things everyone did for fun.

In just a few minutes, the energy in the room changed completely. Everyone was sitting up, looking at each other, ready to roll. It was a great meeting, and I didn’t really mind the traffic on the way home.

You can do the tiniest things to make your meetings kinder:

  • As someone walks up to the conference room table, pull out the chair for them or move your stuff so they feel welcomed to sit down.
  • If you’re grabbing a drink or a snack for yourself, get one for one other person in the room.
  • Pay a compliment to someone in the meeting — find the best way to do it, perhaps privately before or after, or, if appropriate, during the meeting.
  • Thank someone — for helping you with something earlier or simply for holding the door as you walked in.
  • Share something funny or interesting to make the meeting less sterile and encourage others to participate.
  • Give your full attention. This might be the greatest act of kindness we can all give to each other — when someone is talking, put away your phone and even notes, and just listen. Having been on the receiving end of this, I can tell you it feels AMAZING.

30-second pep talk

It’s amazing the negative thinking spiral we can go on when something bad happens at work. We get poor feedback on a project, don’t get our point heard in a meeting, argue with a colleague, get a bad review from our boss and the negative thinking machine goes into overdrive. We end up either blaming and criticizing ourselves or making the person who caused the negative interaction into a pariah, making all future interactions almost certainly negative.

Try this instead. (Warning: It seems annoying and difficult. It IS annoying and difficult the first few times you do it. Once you see what it does for you, it becomes one of your favorite things to do. I am serious.)

When something negative takes place, pause and for 30 seconds and step outside yourself. Literally picture yourself stepping outside your body and asking yourself this question:

If there is a reason, a positive good reason for why this just happened, what could it be?

I told you this would be annoying and difficult. Who wants to think about something good that can come out of a bad meeting or a poor performance review? But this isn’t simply saccharine advice and I ask you to put aside your judgment and just play along the next time you run into an issue at work.

Here’s the reality: The benefits of something bad happening aren’t always apparent right away. There is nothing good, for example, about having a difficult meeting right after the meeting (other than it’s over).

But this is your practice, to step out of the situation and your own reactions to it for a short time and think about what could be the benefit of having had this happen.

  • Did you learn something — about yourself or the other person involved?
  • Is something clearer to you now than before?
  • Did you have to practice something that you want to get better at — patience, restraint, fresh thinking, being able to stay calm under stress?
  • Did you bond with someone else who was also going through a similar situation?

In the spring of this year I flew out to LA to meet with one of the top agencies in the world. It was a super-fancy meeting, with lots of people in the room, and the energy was insanely high. I didn’t think it could have gone any better.

A few weeks after I got home they called to say that they love me, but I’m just not big enough for them to take on as a client… yet. (I thought the entire point of our meeting was for them to see the raw material and get excited about making me big enough, but that’s a whole other blog post.)

I was so down, so disappointed. I don’t even want to tell you the kind of negative fatalistic self-talk that filled my head for days. It sucked.

A few months later I was introduced to another agency. Smaller, more focused, with clients who were a lot more similar to me — but you know, bigger! Not only is this now my agency, but I know that my agent is the absolute right partner for me in every possible respect. We are a dream team and I shudder to think about working with anyone else.

I couldn’t have known this at the time, but the reason my big agency meeting didn’t bring about what I wanted was because I needed time to find my current agent. Your 30-second pep talk might come to the conclusion that you don’t know why whatever negative work experience you just had might benefit you in the future, but you’re willing to have a tiny bit of faith that it will.

Dont just it just try it

 

 

 

 

 

Do less. Give more.

One of my dearest friends had a birthday on December 11th. She lives in New York and we have a tradition to send each other gifts for our birthdays. Usually a part of the gift is hand-made — we’re both the creative kind, you could say.

The past few months have had me in a whirlwind in every possible way — emotionally, logistically, physically, you name it — so the first time I remembered my friend’s birthday was on December 11th.

I felt like crap. What kind of a friend was I if I hadn’t remembered earlier and hadn’t even thought about her gift?

I sent her a Facebook message to wish her a happy birthday and to apologize for being so late with my card and gift. Here’s what she replied with:

“Thank you! Anytime things become too much we can just send love – no pressure!”

I started to think of all the times I’ve stressed about being late with gifts or running around trying to get a good gift for someone. Sure, my intentions are good when I do this but somewhere in the middle of all the busy and hectic, the intention fades and it all boils down to a to-do.

The gift might be a good one, but I have a lot less love to give with it. Instead I’m filled with stress and some strange sense of accomplishment for getting “it” done.

So here’s a thought: Can we do less and give more?

Maybe instead of putting together a fancy beautiful holiday card to mail, you can send your family and friends a warm email instead?

If the thought of trying to organize a holiday party — at home or at your company, especially if it’s a start-up where no one ever has enough time — raises your blood pressure, why not just get some take out to share together?

If life is feeling too overwhelming, how about skipping that big family vacation you were thinking about and taking some time to chill out at home together instead, maybe planning some local easy trips?

Do less (things, to-dos, stuffs). Give more (love, kindness, yourself, your beautiful inner energy).

Believe me, I am reading the advice I am writing and part of me feels like my mind has been taken over by aliens. I used to be the person who would have all the holiday gifts wrapped weeks in advance, whose parties — at work or at home — would be super awesomely creative, with tons of preparations and fun elements, who would think that only losers would choose to stay home if they could explore a new place they’ve never been.

But the thing is, all that stuff is just dressing. It’s pretty sprinkles, that yes, are fun and good and bring you and the people you share them with some joy, but only if they come on top of something a lot more important:

The joy you feel and share. The kindness and love you feel and share. The ease and light you feel and share.

A few years ago I put together this over-the-top 5 course dinner together at my house — I forget the occasion, but my parents and grandparents came over. The women in my family are amazing cooks and I’m pretty good, but there’s always that bar I’m trying to reach, you know? So I really outdid myself, including printing out menus and decorating them together with kiddo.

By the time everyone came over I wasn’t simply exhausted, I was on empty. Of course it was awesome to hear how everyone enjoyed the meal and to get the “oh, wow!” validation, but I had no joy of my own left to share. I’d put it all into the cooking and preparing and organizing!

At some point, I was in the kitchen getting dessert ready, when my mom walked in. She asked me why I looked so upset, so stressed out — was anything wrong?

“I wish you could relax with us a little,” she said.

It wasn’t a criticism — this I realized a few days after, because of course my initial reaction is the knee-jerk “How could I possibly relax when I was doing all this stuff?!!!” It was a wish that I could have traded one of the ultra-complicated dishes for a little time to give myself to rest before everyone came over.

During these holiday weeks can you have an an intention to do a little less and give more of what we actually want from one another:

Love. Kindness. Smiles. Hugs. Ease. Happiness. Gratitude. Cheer.

And bonus: You don’t even need to wrap any of it.

Dolessgivemore

 

 

 

 

The expectation of bias: How it can wreak havoc and what to do about it

This weekend I spoke at the MIT Breaking The Mold Conference. One of the topics that came up is that of bias women entrepreneurs might face when they go to raise venture funding. What I shared with the audience is what I want to share here — and get your thoughts on:

The expectation of bias, the damage it causes, and what to do about it.

I spent five years as a venture capitalist, as the only woman at the firm (not counting administrative assistants) and usually the only woman board member (with the awesome exception of Gail Goodman, who was the CEO of Constant Contact, my first venture investment, where I served on the board for 5 years.) I’ve been an entrepreneur for most of my career. I’ve pitched many venture firms, successfully raised money for some of my companies, failed to raise venture money for others.

So I feel I can speak from a lot of experience on this topic. And here’s what I mean by the expectation of bias:

Human beings have biases and perceptions.

There are venture capitalists who would rather fund male entrepreneurs than female ones. There are people who consider confident women aggressive and there are those who don’t think women are aggressive enough to run a successful company. This list of biases can go on forever. Where there are human beings, we have bias.

But while I am not here to defend unfounded biases, what I have often seen happen is that the expectation of bias on the part of the woman wreaks havoc even before she walks into the room to pitch her company. I have seen this so many times as a VC, but I’ve also experienced it myself.

It goes something like this:

You have read tons of articles about how venture is not friendly to women. You’ve heard stories from women entrepreneurs about horror meetings. You have a friend who is a VC and he mentions off the cuff how women don’t know how to pitch (or can’t think big, or can’t be greedy enough.)

These start to seep in and you begin to assume that these are the biases that will be stacked against you when you go to pitch your company. To make matters worse, you have one — or two or a dozen — bad meetings that seem to confirm the bias. It becomes rock solid in your psyche and every time you go in to meet with a venture capitalist, you expect that they share the bias.

Why is this terrible?

Because your perception or expectation of bias changes how you act, how you communicate, how you carry yourself.

Your confidence takes a hit so you’re not as strong in your verbal and non-verbal communication. Instead of staying crisply focused on your agenda, you try to address concerns you assume your audience has. You misjudge questions and comments you get because you don’t see them as they are, you see them as they could be if the person across the table is negatively inclined towards you. This causes you to miss the substance of the questions and not do your best answering them.

I’ve been there and when I’ve felt this way, I had the worst meetings and did my worst in them.

And I think this goes way beyond pitching venture capitalists.

In any situation — going in for an interview, meeting with your boss to talk about your performance or a raise, giving a speech to a group — if you expect your audience to be biased in some way, it will negatively affect your performance. You will then likely not get the result you really want — the job, the raise, awesome feedback about your speech — which will only go to reinforce your expectation of bias for the next time.

This cycles sucks. So what do you do?

Assume the best intentions.

This may sound too simplistic, too feel-goody, too mushy of advice. But it’s not. It’s foundation and not at all easy to actually put into practice. If you can do it, I am certain you will see more positive outcomes you’re after.

What does it mean to assume best intentions?

When you go in to pitch your company, assume that the venture capitalists across the table are excited to meet you, want to hear about your idea and your vision, and dive into your business case.

When you go in for an interview, assume that the person interviewing you is genuinely excited to hear about your experience and your qualifications for the job.

When you give a presentation, assume that the people in the room are there because they want to hear what you have to say and are eagerly anticipating your talk.

Will this always be true? Absolutely not. There will be people who will judge you based on others like you they’ve met before, who will hold strong biases, who will make assumptions about you before you even speak.

But there will be many others who will get to experience the best version of you, the confident, authentic, kick-ass version of you, not clouded by your expectation of their biases. You will drive your message and how you feel, you will bring the best you to whatever the pitch or meeting or presentation you’re at, and you’ll give yourself the best shot at achieving the outcome you’re after. You won’t always succeed — boy, let me tell you, I keep learning this painful lesson — but you will know that you did your actual best and you will have the energy to keep trying.

Why?

Because there is always something we can work on within ourselves. And this is our best work, within ourselves.

If I give a speech and the reception is not as enthusiastic as I hoped, there are things I can work on to make it better. I can work on my content, my cadence, my slides, add some humor or take out some stats that might be boring. I am in control of making changes and that is empowering.

But if I assume that it didn’t go well because the audience was biased in some way — they don’t like women, they don’t like immigrants, they don’t like women immigrants whose name is spelled oddly and who wear crazy rings and tend to swear on stage — then what am I to do? Go around the world searching for audiences, which don’t have any people who feel that way?

Assume the best intentions.

It doesn’t mean you’ll never run into a bias or have to deal with someone’s incorrect perceptions. But it does mean that you will bring your real, awesome, authentic you every time. And that’s your best shot, give yourself the freedom to take it.

Assume the best intentions

 

 

 

This is the absolute best way to deal with stress. Seriously.

Ever have one of those days when your mind is spinning in a loop of stress or worry or anxiety or negative talk? Of course do, we all do.

I’ve tried a bunch of different coping mechanisms over the years:

Do something creative to get my mind into a different mode.

Meditate or do some yoga to try to calm the mind and create a little space between the negative or painful thoughts running into each other.

Indulge (overindulge?) in a food I love.

Drink too much red wine.

Go for a long walk outside.

Watch a marathon of whatever TV series I am into at the moment. Or Thomas Crown Affair, aka the greatest distraction movie made in recent history. (This coping mechanism usually leads to a secondary one: Shopping for something that looks like one of the beautiful outfits Rene Russo wears in the movie. This method is expensive, be warned.)

These all work to some degree, although some come with undesirable side effects. You can figure those out.

But I’ve discovered that there is one way to deal with overwhelming stress, pain, sadness, negative talk, or anxiety that works better than all of the above, combined:

Blast your stress with kindness.

For real.

We’ve all read studies that show how doing something kind for someone else helps you feel happier because it increases your levels of serotonin (as well as serotonin levels in the recipient of your kindness act). There is also research that shows that the impact of being kind increases as you do your kind acts in clusters — one every day for a week is better than one every once in a while.

But what if you take this up another notch? What if you became a concentrated-kindness giving machine precisely when you were losing your mind to a loop of stress?

I’ve been doing this for a while now and I can tell you that there is no better way I’ve found to deal with those days when the world seems out to make you want to cry. When I feel that way, I stop whatever I am doing and try to think of as many kind things I can do.

Many are really simple and not world changing:

Text a friend I’ve not talked to for a while and see how she is doing.

Call my mom and ask if she needs anything at the store.

Get something for my daughter for dinner that I know she will really love.

Send a useful or inspiring article to a work colleague.

Hold doors for people wherever I go, let people go ahead of me in traffic, say thank you and actually look at the woman handing me my coffee, pay a genuine compliment to someone I run into during the day.

I literally blast my stress with kindness. Does it all go away? No, usually not. But do I feel a bajillion times more alive, energized and in control of my runaway emotions? For sure.

Try it. Seriously, try it — there are so many super-easy kind things you can do at work, at home, with friends.

Blast your stress with kindness. As a big bonus, you’ll be blasting someone’s world with love.