Why don’t people appreciate it when I do better? I should just go back to being bad!

Our responses to people and situations can become so automatic that really, we have a habit and we do the emotional response with NO THINKING involved.

This is fine if we have good habits like eating our broccoli and going to bed early. But what if we have the emotional equivalent of smoking? You might thing that’s not possible, but have you ever felt excited to see the ex who verbally shat on you? Maybe you’ve gotten so angry that you couldn’t speak when you were questioned and felt stupid afterwards . Maybe you know someone who can’t understand why they keep going back to an abusive job/relationship. Or maybe you’ve given up alcohol and now you have to avoid the family Thanksgiving because those idiots are going to try and get you to drink. Anything that interferes with your functioning, sends you running towards pain, or encourages painful behavior from others, hey! That’s a bad habit.

The problem with habits is they don’t actually respond to will power where we most want to apply it. Think about the drunk in the bar with the whiskey in front of him trying to say NO! And I’m thinking, why worry at this point? Drinking the whiskey is a forgone conclusion if you wait till it’s in front of you. The place to apply a well intentioned “NO” was way before you already ordered the drink, made the whole pan of brownies, stayed late enough that you might as well just keep working. Habits are a response to a stimuli, but the bad things we do to ourselves and others are not the precipitating stimuli! That happens way before the bad behavior we want to stop.

Emotional habits are the same. By the time you’re trying to stop yourself from responding to your mother like an angry adolescent, you’re in deep and you might as well let it rip.

When we say the word habit, we tend to mean one little tiny part of a much larger cycle of behavior. He smokes, what a bad habit. Yes, but he also gets antsy at his desk, likes to get out of the office, needs to deal with stress, has a friend in the office that agrees with him politically on their smoke breaks, and likes the moment when the cashier asks him what brand he’d like and he remembers his dad asking him to pick by color. ALL of that is the habit, not just the moment he lights up.

Word on yellow wall

 

So if you have a habit of responding to another person in a way that hurts you or never gets what you want, start changing it by getting the rest of the picture. What are the triggers? Where did they start? What is the whole process? When do you start feeling the urge and what is happening right before that? What are the rewards?

Our brains are tricky. The reward can be something you’re actually getting, or just something you really believe you’ll get. If you’re doing an emotional habit because you need to feel loved by someone like your father, then you will not stop the behavior until you figure out how to take care of that need some other way. Even if NONE of the previous attempts have been successful.  You’re not stupid or crazy! You’re just trying to get what you need.  If you can admit what that need is, you can find a better way to deal with it, you can sense when it’s about to derail you and get back on track before old habits make the same old train wreck!

Ask yourself the same questions about triggers, process, urge, timing and reward when someone else is habitually hurting you.  What are they responding to and is it something you could change?  Or are they so caught up in their own habit that you need to accept the behavior won’t change and get protective of yourself?

But what if you’re changing and your own parents try to sabotage you?  What if you have family members that have always treated you badly?

When it’s your family and they are undermining all your efforts to do better/ get better.  That’s a habit on their part that probably starts in their fear.  If you change, will they have to look at themselves and the family differently?  What function does your behavior serve?  Don’t tell me it doesn’t.  I’ve seen way too many families that arrange themselves around one member’s addiction or bad behavior.  They do NOT know what to do if you make real changes!  Or maybe if you get better, you won’t need them anymore.  I’ve seen that drive a lot of sabotage.

Don’t take it personally when the other person has a habit. It will take at least 30 days of you acting differently for them to believe in your change, (if you’re lucky). After that it will take them a while to change how they react to you. It’s easier if they are trying to make changes. It doesn’t mean that it’s impossible if they’re not. Habits have triggers, if your behavior is no longer the excuse they’re using for theirs, you tend to get change. If you’ve changed and they can’t/won’t/don’t change, put it to them directly. “I’m loosing weight and feeling good so why are you putting out donuts constantly and asking me if I’m sick all the time?” If they don’t/won’t respond or change, you may have to change the boundaries in that relationship.  More painfully, you may just have to accept that is who they choose to be and make good choices for yourself about being in that relationship.  Sometimes, you need to get out.

 

A great book on this subject that I hand out to clients all the time is “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg.  It’s a great place to start learning about why you do certain behaviors with no conscious decision making involved.  So If you’ve been frustrated by how people ask you later about why you made such a bad choice and you seriously don’t have an answer, read this book. Once you figure out the stimuli and the needs you’re trying to meet, you can take control and make habits work for you!

I look forward to any questions you’ve got!

Spring Cleaning out your life.

Spring is coming (here in the north we’re expecting it in less than 4 months) and it’s time to clean out your house.   And for every action in your house or apartment, there’s even more important work to do on your heart and soul.

We call the eyes windows to the soul, a place we see out, and others have a chance to see in.  But have you looked at your windows lately?  If you haven’t cleaned them in a while, you’re not seeing the world clearly and people may have a distorted view of you.

A few items we clean off the windows.

  1. Bugs.  These poor guys are just flying along minding their own business and run into your house.  In the emotional world these are the natural, daily, events that hit us and we don’t even think about them.  Snow and rain on the day you wanted to wear your new spring shoes or play a pick-up game in the park. Sudden changes in your day, too much traffic, and the annoying mosquito person at work, can all build up without any of us really noticing.
  2. Bird Crap!  They really don’t do it to you.  It’s not personal and they’re not aiming at your windows more than your neighbors.  It just seems that way.  Bad stuff happens in your life.  Things that can seem pointed, and like the universe really is out to get you, can leave long smears of frustration and disappointment .
  3. Rain drops & sprinklers.  The things that should clean, but may leave residue in the smallest most persistent ways, can also fog your vision.  Think of these as memories of good times, old habits that don’t seem that bad, and expectations that used to fit you.
  4. Eggs, doggie bombs, & paint balls.  Yep, sometimes it is personal and someone is out to get you.  This is the long standing feud at work or home, the 16 year old  who screams at you every time you ask where the homework is, and the driver who flipped you off after cutting into your lane without a turn signal.  People aren’t always nice.  Heck, some of them aren’t ever nice.  If one of those has made you the target of their unjustified wrath, you have some nasty to clean off your windows.
  5. Pollution.  We live in a world that is filled with too many choices, too many noises, too many people, and too many stresses.  It’s all around us.  Just being here in this day and age is a stress that we overlook and underplay.  It leaves a residue that can be hard to focus through but builds up so gradually you may not even realize it’s there.

 

If you clean all of this and have nothing clouding your vision, what could happen?  You could give yourself a chance to see clearly for the first time in years.  Maybe you’re not the bad things you’ve been labeling yourself as.  Maybe you’re a stronger person who needs to finally appreciate yourself.  Get out of the shadows and stop letting bad people and bad experiences influence the rest of your life.  Yah, we’ve all had stupid days and done shameful things.  Clean that off the windows and stop letting it color your world.  Give yourself the ability to focus beyond where you are and look out to where you want to be.  Clean the inconsequential bugs and residue off your eyes and see a better future for yourself.  What you can see, believe and plan for, you can achieve.  First you have to see.

How to get those windows clean!

  1. Vinegar.  It smells.  It cuts through bird crap and wipes away residue.  It is the sometimes painful experience of questioning all your assumptions and expectations.  Sit down and write out what you expect from life, what are so mad about?  Are your expectations realistic?  Are they part of the problem?  Do you assume you’ll always loose and aren’t worth winning?  Be strong enough to face your old world view head on.  Then give the reasons it’s not right anymore.  Write those on sticky notes and book marks, have them as your screen saver on your phone and computer.  Remind yourself daily that you are a new person.
  2. Get help.  Windows by yourself are overwhelming.  My mother would make all of us kids do this together for a great bonding experience of whining and accusing her of having brought us into this world for slave labor.  But at least we weren’t alone.  Ask people how they see you and really listen.  Look especially hard for the positives you’re missing and the negatives that are holding you back.  When you find a friend or mentor you can trust with these questions, leave the door open for more information from them.  Friends that will tell you the truth without judging you, are worth their weight in gold.  Keep them close no matter how uncomfortable it can seem.
  3. Put a sheet over the windows.  There are days when you know the proverbial crap is hitting the fan.  It’s really ok to take a break.  Close your eyes and let the breeze feel good.  You need enough rest to feel rested or you won’t have the energy to do more than exist.  This can also mean an information fast.  Turn off the news.  Don’t read the paper.  Give yourself a week long break from incoming information so you can have some time to process what’s already banging around in your head.
  4. Put up some protection.  If you build in overhangs, put up sun coverings, or just redirect the sprinklers, you are narrowing what will get splattered on your windows.  In life, you may need to narrow your choices down to a manageable number.  Give yourself 15 minutes in the grocery story and stick to the list.  Only look at the items that are already in your price range.  Our brains get overloaded by too many choices and it begins to affect our view of the world and ourselves.  People are more depressed these days partially because they believe they could be happier and should be.  Everything is out there, why can’t I find it?  Well, because it’s now hidden in a mountain of other options that are visually overwhelming and emotionally draining to sift through.
  5. Clean something.  The act of cleaning up a section of your house, the top of your desk, even your windows, will help you see a physical difference that you made happen.  When you clean, you physically enact what you’re trying to do mentally.  It allows your mind-body feedback loops to work in your favor.  And we all tend to think better in a visually calming environment.  Take one small area and make it calm enough to look at and feel good.  You’ll see more options for yourself and open up a space for new thoughts about yourself.

 

I hope this spring brings good things to your life, light to your eyes, and new beginnings you can be excited about.

Responsibility will set you free.

 

Responsibility is a big word with life long effects.  If your child can learn this one word and all the things it means, you will have given them freedom. Or maybe you need some freedom for yourself.

The cages people live in aren’t usually acknowledged or seen.  If the bars are visible, the prisoner usually tells everyone, “oh, I stopped trying to break out, there’s nothing I can do about it.”  There are plenty of people in this world that have to be overweight, poor, beaten down, & imprisoned.  There are far more prisoners of self-victimization.  The latter folks refuse to see a way out because they are scared of being guilty, afraid of failure, or addicted to pity.  Responsibility is the anti-dote to all of this.

When I’m responsible for my actions I can change them, learn from them, ditch them, keep them, or apologize for them.  I don’t have to be at the mercy of people who would remind me of the past.  I own my past mistakes proudly because I’ve used them to move forward.  I don’t have to feel ashamed because I already made apologies and amends.  Since I’m responsible for my emotions, I don’t have to react if someone else holds a grudge or expects me to continuously feel guilty.  I’m free to go as far as I can persist and work and dream towards.

If you know what responsibility is, you have already accepted that you are 100% responsible for everything that happens to you.  If you’re totally pissed off by that statement, you’re still confusing responsibility with fault.  You are never 100% at fault, you are always 100% responsible.

FAULT

  • Fault is about the past
  • It looks for who is guilty
  • It blames and shames
  • It “solves” the problem by finding a culprit and demanding restitution
  • Fault feels like a weight while you wait for someone else to make you feel better
  • No one will ever find enough fault to change their current situation
  • Fault finds and creates victims

 

RESPONSIBILITY

  • Responsibility is about the future you want
  • It looks for what can change
  • It asks for help and forms partnerships
  • It solves the problem by learning, change, hard work, and courage
  • Responsibility feels like a work out and it makes you a stronger, more confident person
  • Anyone can change what they are willing to take responsibility for
  • Responsibility is found by survivors who go on to become winners

 

Now that you want this, let’s learn how to do it.  Responsibility is a three part approach to your own bad behavior, the trash your neighbor put in your yard, your weight problem, your bad marriage, etc.  When you’re teaching children about it, start with their bad behavior first and then move on to situations that someone else caused or triggered.

  1. Accept/Admit.  “I did that.”  “I broke that window.”  “I’m going to die if I keep eating like this.”  “I hate my job and I feel trapped.”  “I haven’t spoken to my spouse with love in years.”  “I’m stuck in an abusive relationship.” This is the point where you allow yourself to see the situation clearly.  It can be painful so take it in small steps if you need to.  If you’re teaching a child, have them repeat a simple phrase after you and then compliment them.
  2. Amend/Apologize.  “I’ve taken over for the old boss and I’d like to make things right with your department.”  “I didn’t cause this problem, but I have the power to make it right.”  “I realize what I did hurt you and I won’t do that again.”  “I won’t allow another person to treat me that badly in the future.”  “I’m sorry.”  The person you may have to make amends to can also be you.  We allow some serious crap in our lives when we don’t realize our own value.  Apologize to yourself and then allow some forgiveness.  You did the best you could at the time and now you know better.  When you’re teaching children, ask them who was hurt by what they did.  You may have to help them by asking, “How would you feel?”  Be prepared to go slowly and repeat often.
  3. Adapt/Advance. “I can aim the ball away from the house next time.”  “I promise myself that I will eat a vegetable with each meal.”  “I learned from what happened and here’s what I’m doing differently now.”  “I will make small goals out of this big goal until everything is done.”  “I will deal with the issues that have been holding me back.”  This is where your future gets a turbo-charge.  You look forward and plan a new attack using the information you’ve gathered from the first two steps.  If you’re teaching children, ask them what they would do differently, or what would let everyone feel like a winner.  If you’re learning to do this for yourself, fill in this blank;  Today, I can ______________ to make tomorrow better.  You might find yourself filling that in with one word or several paragraphs and either way works.  Just make sure that you are acting on it as soon as possible and right now would be even better.

 

One more note.  If you make an apology, don’t get caught up in thinking that’s always about admitting you’re at fault.  Apologies do three things. They state wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness (the one everyone thinks of when they hear the words, “I’m sorry”).

Apologies are a treaty that states you understand the pain/trouble/ aggravation caused by an action and agree not to do it again.  You don’t admit you’re a horrible person who meant to harm the other person, just that you see their point of view enough to change your behavior.

And sometimes sorry just means you really feel the other person’s pain and want to express solidarity with them.  Know what you mean by your words and make the apology that’s needed for the situation.  If someone misunderstands you, explain what you can but remember you’re only responsible for your own emotions and behavior.

Controlling People, really care about their own feelings.

But you don’t have to.

You’ve probably been convinced that you should.  You spend lots of time and energy apologizing for holding someone accountable because they say, “I didn’t mean too!  You act like I wanted to hurt you!”  You enter the conversation wanting an apology and leave it apologizing to the person who hurt your feelings in the first place.

Now how does that happen?!

Simple.  You’ve been trained to care about other people’s feelings.  And whoever did the training didn’t differentiate between empathy (I understand you have feelings too) and agreement (your emotions are so important that I’ll do what you want).

You’ve also gotten shafted on motives because you don’t see the difference between an explanation and an excuse.  The ice on the road may explain why my car runs into yours, but it won’t be an excuse for driving too fast in icy conditions.  I’ll still have to pay your deductible and my insurance will go up.

Here are the ways understanding these differences helps you.

  • Valid explanations of motive and emotion no longer mean an excuse to use/ abuse/ ignore you.  Emotions just are.  They are not white-out for mistakes made against you and neither are motives.  Thank people for their pure motives towards you and then continue to stand up for yourself.  Whether or not people love you, they still need to treat you with respect.  If they’re not, how do you know it’s love?
  • You can empathize and understand feelings because you no longer think it means you must agree.
  • You can relax when other people start yelling about their feelings because that doesn’t mean you need to be guilty for holding them accountable.  Part of the usual anxiety is thinking about how you need to apologize later.  Guess what?  If you are calmly stating the facts without sarcasm or degradation, you do not need to apologize.
  • Accountability is totally behavior based. If you agree to let someone off the hook because of motives or emotions, you are showing mercy.
  • Mercy is for special occasions and unusual circumstances. It cannot be demanded.  Controllers think they deserve mercy and you must give it to them.  They cry, scream, and call you names when you don’t immediately let them off the hook.  You no longer have to let them escape accountability and call it mercy.

 

Understanding these will help you avoid being manipulated by controlling people, spouses trying to win a fight, co-workers & bosses, basically anybody who is willing to use their own emotions to excuse their behavior.  It also will help with the people who believe they cannot be held accountable when, “It was an accident!”  Accidents are a sign of poor planning.  They will continue to happen as long as you do not hold people accountable for their actions.

Emotions are valid, they just aren’t a valid excuse.

Motives will be judged by God, the rest of us have to go on behaviors.

I will empathize knowing I do not have to agree.

I will be understanding while I hold others accountable and insist on being treated respectfully.

 

photo by y3rdua flickr stream

Passive Aggressive and Out to Control YOU!

Are you ready to stop them?

Don’t defend yourself.  The passive has been setting you up to defend yourself, vigorously, so they will look more victimized by you.

Don’t power struggle.  Just keep smiling, it will irritate the passive more than anything you have to say.  Get frustrated and they will feel victorious.  Take it personally and you’re wasting energy.  They treat everyone like this sooner or later.

Make any statement that you need to and follow it with silence.  Do not beg, bargain or attempt to bribe the passive aggressive.  The more you talk, the less powerful you will sound.

You can also show your personal strength by probing their statements with out fear.  “Jane, you said you’ll be happy to take on this project, but you sound angry.  Is there something else you’d really like to say?”  Passives gain power through silence, lack of communication and misunderstandings.  Make it perfectly clear that none of that works

Your own view of the events is more important than what you are being told.  And you don’t care about what they say, how they paint the picture, or the promises they make. You care about the history of actions they have built up with you.  Never hear the words and forget the history.  You decide on actions from here on out.

Be Candid and happy to help them by describing their specific behavior.  They’ll deny it and you’re going to be fine with that. “oh good! I was so hoping I was wrong.”

Make parallel conversation and then redirect to the actual subject. Talk about a subject that’s close to the craziness they’ve been bringing up and then swing back  to the subject before they can interrupt.  “OMG, that is exactly like the time my grandmother drank all the Christmas nog and now we need to look at the third issue before the board.  Mary Ellen don’t you have a report on that?”

Passives will tell you all about how your ideas won’t work.  Put them on the spot.  “I’ve noticed you have a number of opinions on this so I’d like to hear what your solution is to this.  We have about five minutes do you think you can fill that?”

Now that you’ve asked for their opinion, they will say at least two or three completely contradictory statements.  And you are going to overuse the phrase, “I’m confused.”  You will not say things like, “You are so full of …..”  You will want to say that, but you will talk about your confusion instead.  You will follow that with factual statements about the three opposing things they’ve sworn are the same, or the differences between their words and their behavior.  Keep this utterly factual, do not raise your voice, and do not use these words; always, every, & never.

When you deal with a passive aggressive you are not  having a conversation with a logical person.  It won’t matter how logical you are, how well prepared.  They aren’t looking for a hole in your argument, they’re searching for the hole in your emotional armor.  Once your irritated or upset, they’ve found it, and now they’ll mess with you.

They will use technology to hide.  They looove e-mails and texts.  Text them back that you need a face to face meeting and then use your new skills to stop them cold.  Your e-mails all need to be backed up so you can access and use them as evidence if necessary.

Leave a paper trail of everything you do with the passive aggressive.  Take notes of every meeting and then e-mail them to everyone who was there.  Cover not just your a_ _  but your whole person.  Record and send to multiple people on every interaction you have with them.

Do not rely on the passive aggressive to get anything important done.  Record that they said they’d do it, send that e-mail out to multiple people, and then record all the various parts of the two to three back up plans you’ve got in place.

Now go forth and conquer!

 

Photo by Alan Cleaver_2000 flickr photo stream

 

People are trying to Control you

And they have so many ways to do this.  You might think that controllers only yell and directly order you around, but they can be so much sneakier than that.  You may not even know where someone else is taking over your life.  So before we can talk about how to deal, we need to learn how to recognize.

  1. “Don’t worry about me, I’m fine”  Sure they are.  Because they are sucking you dry for everything they need with guilt, recriminations, and their own omnipresent NEED.  Any need you have gets compared to theirs, which is worse, so much worse.  You should feel guilty, and that’s how you usually wind up; Guilty and giving in.
  2. “God hates sinners”  This one is about how some people misinterpret religion as a method of control.  Yes, God did set out some rules and asked that we follow them.  He did not, however, set up your boss, sister, mother, grandmother, boyfriend, etc. as His personal representative looking out for your spiritual well-being.  When you start hearing about what God wants in your life, think seriously about whether or not He would actually use that person as a messenger.  And remember, Jesus really didn’t like Pharisees.  So if your messenger is stuck on their own rightness, has no humility and is awfully concerned with the speck in your eye, that’s not the Spirit speaking to you.  It’s just some control freak who happened to read the Bible.
  3. “I just want what’s best for you.”  Funny how that always manages to be what the other person wants and not what you had planned.   These are the same people who keep telling you to “Think!”, “Why can’t you think for yourself?” & “I won’t be here for you forever.”  If you’re a 15yr old high school student, these statements might actually be OK for an adult to say to you.  Once you’ve gotten old enough to live your own life, those are attempts to control you and they need to be seen as such.
  4. “Don’t worry about a thing, I’ll take care of all of it.”  Yes they will, and you will be selling your independence to them every step of the way.  It’s always tempting to let someone else take care of things, we all want to be rescued.  But a rescue can turn into a lifetime of childlike dependence and associated depression.  If you don’t know anything you’re specifically responsible for, something is wrong.  We need responsibility.  We need to know that we are capable and competent adults, able to withstand failure and deal with success.  If someone takes that from us, no matter how well meaning they are, we will resent them deeply, no matter how dependent we are.
  5. “I’m in charge because I’m right!”  These people are filled with a sense of their own righteous direction and have left no room for doubt.  You cannot have a discussion with them about an issue.  It will immediately become an argument that they treat as warfare.  They will measure your maturity on a scale of how close your beliefs are to their standard.  They have no shame in telling you, often, that you will believe like them when you; grow up, gain spiritual wisdom, see the truth, gain more experience, &/or get a real job.  These folks will roll over the top of you and anyone else in their way, and they will think they are doing you a favor!  These are the same zealots that have “converted” pagans by the sword, starvation, and abuse.  And then they celebrated themselves.

These are some of the main types, but they can combo into endless variations of you not being in charge of your life.  And you WANT to be in charge of your life.  The alternatives are not pretty.

Look for next week’s post on how to be in control of yourself, so these controllers can’t touch you.  Good Luck and God Bless.

 

Photo by Thomas Hawk, flickr stream

Stop Attracting Crazy People!

If you look around and your friends take advantage, your family takes you for granted, and your job is in Hell’s waiting room, the common denominator here is you.

There is a way out if you’re willing to change.

  1. Put yourself in at least the top five of your priority list.  If you’re not important to you, no one else has to take you seriously either.  You’re probably worried that some people will say you’re self-centered and selfish if you don’t kill yourself trying to make everyone else happy.  The kind of people you DON’T want in your life will tell you horrible things so they can continue to take advantage of you.  Take that as a good sign you’re moving in the right direction.  Write down a to do list.  Ask yourself how many of the items on that list help you and only you.  Make sure there are at least two items, each day, that are all about you.  Do this daily and consider it a multi-vitamin for mental health.
  2. Take time for you each day where you turn off your electronics and don’t let anyone bug you.  We have an incessant world where every second is bombarded with needs and wants.  Turn it off.  Take a walk.  Sit in the sunshine.  Call it prayer, meditation, anything that reminds you to listen and find some calm.
  3. Say the word No a lot more often.  You will never have space in your day if you say yes all the time.  Crazy people love to hear yes.  They will bug you till you crack,  & scream about how you don’t love them when you say no.  Then they’ll shower you with praise and promises they won’t keep the second you say yes.  Which is how they’ve trained you to say yes, all the time, or else.  Take your life back from this madness.  Say no.  Say it often.  Practice saying it with confidence and a smile.  The people who don’t like to hear this word will eventually go away if you keep saying it.  No is like scrubbing bubbles for your mental bath tub.  People that are calm and mature can hear no and stick around.  Immature narcissists will have a breakdown when they figure out you mean it.  This is great!  Say no and watch the crazy people run!
  4. Stop complaining.  No one wants to hear it except the predators looking for their next powerless target.  This is like putting blood in the water every time you do it.  Predators look for people who feel powerless and have little to no concept of responsibility for their own future.  When you announce to the whole world that you hate your job, have no plan to change that, and you will never get what you want; the people that could actually help you are backing away.  Your next ex-spouse is circling closer, posing as the rescue ranger you’ve always dreamed of.
  5. Stop blaming.  Sure it’s someone else’s fault.  Now what?  Are you really expecting the person that hurt you to come back and make it right?  Yes absolutely, they should.  But they won’t.  Ever.  Once again, you are signaling powerless and helpless  to the very people you don’t want in your life.  Accept that you were hurt, life is not just, and you will have to do the repair work whether or not it’s fair.  Anything less and you are a wounded fish waiting for that shark with the big teeth to come find you.
  6. Stop waiting.  You’ll start eating vegetables next week.  You’ll walk during lunch if someone will come with you.  You’ll plan that vacation you’ve dreamed about your whole life…..after all that other stuff.  You think waiting is smart and proves you’ve overcome your need for instant gratification.  No.    Waiting is just you letting your fear of change turn your life into the longest line at a government office.  If you are moving towards the things you want in your life, you will attract other people doing the same.  Other movers actually help and encourage you.  Waiting for a rescue sends out a signal that you are alone, helpless, and a sitting target in the water.   And we know the kind of person that attracts. Start playing the Jaws theme, here comes the teeth.

 

Photo by leasqueaky  from flickr.com

Someone at work, is out to get you.

You even know who they are.

You didn’t want to believe it, so you’ve made up excuses for how rumors swirled, letters got misplaced, and situations you had calmed down suddenly fired up again.

Someone is mad at you, possibly blames you for a stalled career, or maybe their home life sucks and you’re a good target.  Whatever it is, you are not imagining this.

You might need to look like you don’t know what’s going on, but don’t fool yourself.  You have a target on your back and someone is gunning for you.

Here’s your battle plan.

  1. Remain calm.  This will be seriously irritating to whoever wants you agitated.  Think carefully about how you sound when you’re being the business version of you.  Practice producing this tone of voice no matter what else is going on.  When your co-workers are devolving into juvenile delinquents, you will still look and sound adult.  This is important.  Who do you want to believe?  The guy screaming like a howler monkey denied sex and bananas or the adult who’s calmly describing the situation?  Your boss doesn’t like rabid monkeys either.
  2. Recruit allies.  These do not all have to be in the workplace.  You need some allies that are outside of the situation and can give you an alternative viewpoint.  Having friends and allies can make the miserable creatures most likely to target you think twice.  Loners are easy to pick off and have no one to hand out repercussions later.  People with friends come with built in possibilities for extended reach and negative consequences to anyone hurting them.
  3. Document  everything you can.  Now is not the time to take it easy.  The more you document, play by the rules, and then document some more, the more difficult it will be to bring you down.  Co-workers on the attack will look for something you’ve done that falls outside of the rules.  Never mind if everyone does it and they’ve been doing it that way since the company was founded.  If you don’t have written permission for it, expect to have it thrown at you in some nasty way.  If you need to break the rules, get someone higher up the chain to sign off on it or forget it.  Don’t waste your time documenting other people or trying to bring your attacker down.  You’ll look like a jr high girl in a cat fight if you do.  Take care of you, take care of your allies, make sure your actions are positive for the work place.
  4. Make an escape plan.  Do you have some money saved up?  Do you know what you’d do if your job ended tomorrow?  No?  Get busy.  Having vindictive co-workers is one way to be reminded that we all need a back up plan.  Living paycheck to paycheck will put you in a desperate place.  You are more likely to take other people’s crap and be sending out signals that scream, “Potential Victim! Please Target Me!”  When you know you could walk and be perfectly OK, your backbone will magically harden and your skin will grow teflon like qualities.
  5. Deal calmly and directly with your attacker, do not fight them.  No screaming, no yelling, no sarcasm.  There is no faster way to make your enemy look like an escaped mental patient than to remain calm as they get louder and more outrageous.  Your boss may not care who’s right, who’s better for the company, or who’s working the hardest.  The boss WILL care about who’s easiest to deal with.  Let your behavior be non-defensive, goal directed, and calm.  You will be amazed at the stuff you get away with saying when you say it calmly while smiling.

 

Most of all, trust yourself.  I see way too many people in my office who didn’t trust their gut feelings until it was too late.  At the very least, check your bad feelings with someone you trust.  If you’re wrong and you’ve done the five actions listed here, no harm done.  You’ll look better on the job and have allies who will prove useful later.  If you’re right and you take these five actions, you will either save your job or have a better option to move to.

 

Photo by; Adam Cohn, flckr creative commons.

Dealing with the Procrastinator you HAVE to work with!

 

I got to thinking about the post I put up last week and how it’s great when people can realize they have a problem, ask for help, and make everyone’s lives better.  Yah, and then we have the more frequent experience of that guy at the office who, “doesn’t have an F*&%#ing problem!”  We all wish he’d read the article about his anger, or his passive aggression, or the way he doesn’t start his projects until the night before and then blames you at meetings.  But he/she won’t and you know it.  Change will come from you changing how you deal with this person and the situation around you.  No matter how crazy the other person is, what does it make you if you’re still reacting to them in the same way?  If it hasn’t worked, change it.

  • The only person you can change is yourself so it’s a good thing that’s a powerful change.
  • You can create a way out of the situation, no matter who’s fault it’s been that you’re here.
  • Waiting for other people to rescue you will be a long, frustrating, failure.  No one’s coming.  Get yourself out.

But Hey! You’re here to learn some tricks to get that lazy guy at the office moving and what’s all this about personal responsibility?  Don’t worry.  If you can accept the three points above you’re ahead of the game and have an attitude that will barrel through some of the problems other people put in your way.  If you look at those three and there’s no way you’re going there, keep reading.  I’ll make sure you get some useable ways to deal with the problem.

1) Never assume you know what the problem is.  No matter how long you’ve been working there or your experiences with the procrastinator, spend some time investigating before you try to solve the problem.  Solving problems you don’t actually have leads to more problems.  It’s like taking medication for low blood pressure when you actually have normal blood pressure.  You’ll wind up with a whole new problem; high blood pressure.  We typically assess situations from our own point of view and what will benefit ME!  That’s great if you’re the only one there, and will have to change if you want to work more effectively with others.  If you haven’t already, go to the person and ask them what’s happening. Write out what you’re going to say first and practice it in a mirror so you know it sounds completely non-judgemental.  Judgment shuts down communication.

2) Behavior you notice will change.  Just notice not; judge, punish, gossip about, huff about, or even reward.  People come back to my office and tell me, “that didn’t work” usually in an accusing tone of voice.  What they mean is, “That didn’t work immediately like a magic charm and I don’t want to repeat stuff.”  It’s not instant, but it will work.  Look at this person  and say a description of their behavior like you were a newscaster describing the most ho-hum story of the day.  “Ray, our project is due tomorrow and you have been playing Angry Birds for the past two hours.”   Smile at the end of this sentence and look at Ray until he breaks and starts talking.  It doesn’t matter what he says, so ignore it.  As soon as there is a break in his stream of justifications and denial, say “Oh”, and walk away.  Ray will now have a sense of urgency without being able to mask it with anger at you.

3) Make sure your own progress and accomplishments are recorded and correctly attributed.  If you’re in a traditional work setting get your immediate boss to check your progress.  This allows you to show that you are on track for the deadline.  If you immediate boss is the procrastinator, they have climbed to that position on the backs of overcompensating perfectionists.  You will need to keep notes about what you do, and how valuable you are to the company.  You’ll be using those notes for your job interviews somewhere else.  When you’re starting your own business and the procrastinator is your friend and business partner,  you’ll need to go through steps 1 & 2 often and combine them with positive rewards for efficient behavior.  Which brings us to our next point.

4) Subtly reward the behaviors you want.  But the other person a pop, smile at them more often, make a sincere compliment about what they’re wearing, anything that leaves them with positive feelings and isn’t directly about the work you want done.  You want them to feel good about working on projects and getting them done.  The more they do this without realizing you were behind it, the better.  Yes, it’s manipulative, but what were you trying to do by glaring at the guy and not responding to his e-mails?  Use positive social pressure instead of anger and emotional threats to get what you want.  You feel better, look better and get more of what you want.

5) Minimize the damage.  People don’t like doing this because they see it as a life sentence of covering for the procrastinator.  NO.  Make a time frame for yourself of how you are getting away from this person and how long it should take.  If this is an equal partner, feel free to calmly share this with your procrastinator in your most non-judgemental tone of voice.  Do not threaten.  Threats are powerless and procrastinators have heard them before.  You have a plan and it will be rolling forward.  Don’t bother telling them the plan can change if they show better behavior.  They are smart enough to know this already.  You saying it will sound weak and make the statement a threat.

Do the work you need to in order to look good for a promotion out of this mess or a job interview somewhere else.  If you’re in a business start-up, put the other person in jobs that they either like well enough to do well, or that complete failure won’t derail everything.  Either way, concentrate on what you want the end-product to be and how that will make your life better.  You may just need to pretend the other person isn’t there, document that you did all the work and your attempts to get them to engage.  Don’t forget that last one if you’re in the traditional work world.  Bosses want to see that you tried to play nice.

6) Keep communicating.  You’ll get plenty of messages in your life to shut up, we all do.  Walk through them with a calm voice, a blank face, and neutral body language. If other people cannot get to your emotions and they cannot convince you to shut up more often, they will eventually give up and grudgingly communicate back.  This will be hard and it takes practice.  Our natural inclination is to be sarcastic and snipe back, or at least shun the people we don’t like.  This is business.  Cultivate a business face that you consciously put on when you are dealing with the difficult people at the office.  Do not allow those people to get your face or your tone of voice to deviate from calm and blank.  It will feel like they are winning.  If you’re doing this right, they are actually wrapping themselves into knots trying to figure out how to get you emotional and screaming.  If you keep doing this right, don’t be surprised when the difficult person wants to be your best friend.  Nobody likes being screamed at.  For some people, it’s just better than being ignored and discounted.

You have the power to change your situation.  You cannot control other people, but you can almost always influence them.  Figure out what the real problem is before you start making changes.  Keep yourself calm and do not judge.  Ongoing communication isn’t always fun, but it will always be better than ineffective threats.  It’s ok to make up the difference for someone else as long as you have a time frame and a goal.  Do not make overcompensating a life style, it isn’t sustainable.

Have the best work week possible!

How can I stop procrastinating?

 

Question: I’m an intelligent person.  I do well on projects once I get moving but my co-workers call me the great procrastinator and I think they’re starting to ask if they can work with other people.  My end products are great, but no one wants to put in the crazy hours I do right before things are due.  I’m also starting to miss some deadlines and can’t figure out why.  What can I do?

Thanks for asking this question again.  I’m guessing that you’ve asked it before and got frustrating answers about how much better you would do if you stopped procrastinating.  Most people can tell you what you already know, this behavior is making your life harder and slowly killing your job future.  But almost no one actually talks about why you do it or how to overcome it in real, achievable, steps.  So I’m glad you asked again and took the chance that someone would give you a real answer this time.  Settle back in your chair and let’s get to work.

First off you need to look at what you’re doing without the assumptions.  Yes, it looks like procrastination, but could it be avoidance, fear, defiance, or perfectionism?  Your intervention, the change you want to make, needs to be based on your real problem.  Don’t just take what other people have told you, or labeled you, and try to fix that.  Other people may be full of horse hooey.  Ask yourself some questions about what you’re feeling & thinking when you put tasks off.

  • “I’m not thinking, I saw there were donuts in the break room and then I talked to Chuck about the ball game and 45 minutes later I still hadn’t started on anything.” If you truly find yourself with lost time, lots of distractions, and no conscious decision to put off your work, you might have ADD/ADHD.

The old thinking was that children outgrew this and you the adult wouldn’t ever have to worry about it.  What we know now about ADD is that some adults learn to compensate very well, but the underlying differences in processing information don’t really disappear.   Get an evaluation for ADD and consider medication and diet changes to treat it.  The GAPS or specific carbohydrate diets are great for this.  (shameless plug for my good friend Cara who writes up an awesome menu for the GAPS diet.  You can find it at healthhomehappy.com).

ADD responds to newness, social rewards, and urgency.  Break the big project into a number of smaller projects with due dates and accountability from your co-workers.  Set up small rewards for yourself that break up the day and allow you to see progress.  Getting started can be hard, so find little urgent things and entry tasks that you actually like to start your morning.  An entry tasks are like doorways for you.  They are quick, interesting and usually not that necessary for today.  They get you at your desk and using the keyboard so you can physically start the day.

Your brain is wired to move when your body moves.  Get the body where it needs to be, doing the things that look like work, and your brain will be more likely to show up too.  Last of all, you don’t work like the other kids and you’re not supposed to.  Find the ways that work for you.  Do you need to work intensely for 3hours and then take a nap?  Do you need 5 different tasks going at once so you can switch between them when you loose interest?  Experiment with work styles that actually work for you and invest in some headphones so you can drown out the office chatter and zone into your work.

 

  • “I hate this job.  I hate my co-workers.  I feel powerless and I don’t want to do yet another stupid project that won’t get recognized or appreciated.” Uh-oh!  You’re not procrastinating.  You’re avoiding.  Putting off tasks that need to get done is a great way to be passive aggressive.  You may be doing this because you cannot tell the people in your office how you feel, or because you want to get fired or be forced out and can’t just quit.

Back up and find a quiet space to consider some things.  Why are you at this job?  Is this the only way you have to make enough money for something you truly care about?  Is this job to support a life that you no longer want or feel invested in?

If you have a great life and a lousy job, connect your job performance to your exit strategy.  Reward yourself for starting tasks with time spent looking for something you really want to do.  Get support from outside your job and have that person ask you about where you’re going next.  Get a calendar and circle the last day you will be willing to work for this company.  Write up the steps you need to take to get gone and still have a great recommendation.

If both your job and your life are sinking you deeper in the quicksand, this is a much larger problem.  You could be suffering from depression, or you could need major changes that you feel unwilling or unable to face.  Either way, seek some professional help.  Get a counselor that you trust and unpack the pieces of your life that are leaving you this angry and tired. For you, procrastination is a symptom of something deeper that will cause larger problems if left unchecked.

 

  • “I’m going to fail. Everyone will finally see that I don’t have what it takes to do this job.  I feel jumpy and overwhelmed all the time.” Yup, we’re all jumpy when we’re scared.  If you expect failure or a bad outcome then you will put off starting projects because they are emotionally uncomfortable.  You’ll avoid them like you probably do the dentist, and then show up with a screaming toothache when you absolutely have to.

If you have this kind of fear after successfully completing other projects, then the feeling isn’t coming from your present life.  When did you first feel like this?  Who was usually telling you about failure and who was around when you felt like you’d failed?  Separate out the now feelings and thoughts from the past that is ambushing you.

This can really be as simple as putting two sheets of paper or two word processing windows in front of you and labeling them “Now” & “Past”.  Putting this in front of you helps your brain start thinking about the situation in a new way.  Anytime you’re starting a project have these available to write on.  Then get moving.  And no, I don’t mean pull up to your desk.  Get out of the building and walk for a few minutes.

Fear grows when we stay still.  Move your body and use the time to think about the work you’re about to do.  Take a notepad so you can write down anything that might come to you, but don’t feel bad if it doesn’t.  When you get back, go STRAIGHT to your desk and start working.

 

  • “Why do I need to explain this anyway?  I get so angry that my co-workers feel I owe them an explanation.  I get my work done, what’s the problem? This is defiance.  It is the overwhelming feeling that you must take care of yourself by telling everyone around you no.  You don’t trust that other people will be helpful and you usually see them as the problem.  This can actually be confusing to you if you’re socially aware enough to realize you need and want other people around.  You may want the help and accountability, but respond with internal anger and passive aggression.

Procrastination is potentially your way to say no when you don’t even understand why you need to say no. If it’s about your boss or other authority figures, you have  a piece of history that needs to be cleaned up.  At some point you felt weak, alone, and helpless.  You will need reminders of your present strength, the people that support you, and your competence.  Put up a bulletin board in your area that is a daily reminder of these things with pictures, certificates, letters, etc.  Don’t be afraid to get professional help, counselors are not in charge of you, they are only there to help.

If this is about your peers then you may have a history of betrayal from those closest to you.  Procrastination is a way to avoid further disappointment and betrayal.  Instead of trying to make nice with your co-workers, put all your projects into terms that you will understand and work towards.

Make this about you!  In this case, you will do everyone a favor by focusing on how each of your tasks helps you.  Literally write out the ways a good finish will benefit you and make you look good.  Put it somewhere you will see it everyday.  You also need to get some professional help so you can have the relationships you want.

 

  • “Oh God!  This will take forever and no matter when I start, I’ll still be working on it at three in the morning the day it’s due.  And it won’t really be done, it’s never where I want it to be. Why, oh why does everything need to be perfect?  Where did that start?  You’re putting off starting because you know how crazy you will make yourself.

Start handing in rough drafts.  If you’re really compulsive about this, turn in your rough drafts to either your boss or a co-worker a day before it’s due.  Then, correct ONLY those things the other person asked you to.  I don’t care what else you see, leave it.

For you to overcome your procrastination, you will have to think of everything you do as 1/2 way and that’s ok!  You will also need to look people right in the eye and shoot down any comments they make about your lack of perfection.  You probably care too much about what other people say.  Look at yourself in the mirror at least once each day and say out loud, “I really don’t have to care what other people think and I am allowed to ignore what they say.”

Alright, there are some of us who just judge the situation and think that we’ll have the time later, so why not yack at the water cooler now.  You will notice that you’re ability to do this diminishes with age.  You may have the past experience that tells you it works, but you don’t have long to keep pulling this trick.  Look through the list above and find at least two of the strategies that you can use.

Start today and you’ll be looking at a better tomorrow.  Start tomorrow and you’re just pushing that much closer to the eventual crash landing you know is coming!