The Importance of Perspective in Life and Leadership

Do things feel heavy and dense in your life right now?

Maybe you’re stressed out about a challenge at work, or a problem at home that’s got you off balance. Perhaps you lost your job, or lost a big account at the office. Maybe you’re struggling financially, or have health concerns in your family. Perhaps your team is struggling with performance and motivation.

It may feel like the world is closing in. In those moments, it’s hard to maintain perspective.

 

The Problem with Lacking Perspective

Feeling that way is understandable, but losing perspective can be a big problem—and even make things worse. How?

When you’re stressed, you tend to view things through negative filter, causing angst, resentment, and pessimism. And when you lack perspective you have a hard time determining the relative importance of things. (See my article, “How to Stop Catastrophizing—Managing Our Minds.”) That can cause you to let things get out of whack, leading to new problems down the road.

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

20 Benefits of Having Perspective

When you can put things in perspective, it means you can think about them in a reasonable and sensible way without making them better or worse than they are. Doing so has many benefits. For example, keeping things in perspective helps you:

  1. assess the importance of things in their broader context
  2. focus on what matters most
  3. understand situations and other people’s viewpoints
  4. keep anxiety and worries in check
  5. understand things more clearly and accurately, thereby reducing mistakes
  6. view things from different angles
  7. see both positives and negatives
  8. react intentionally and constructively instead of impulsively
  9. maintain your objectivity
  10. develop empathy and compassion for people instead of judging them
  11. avoid unnecessary conflicts
  12. improve your relationships
  13. forgive people instead of holding onto counterproductive grudges
  14. learn from experience
  15. discover new ways to view your problems
  16. develop your resilience
  17. grow as a person and leader, in part by seeing how you can transcend your current limitations
  18. appreciate what you have
  19. live intentionally and according to your core values and vision of the good life
  20. maintain your happiness and wellbeing

 

The Importance of Perspective for Leaders

Maintaining perspective is also important for leaders, in part because they face so many challenges.

Part of the job of a leader is finding problems in and discovering ways to get them solved. Encountering problems can feel overwhelming if you don’t have the ability to rise above them and see the big picture.

“One of the things leaders have to be good at is perspective. Leaders don’t necessarily have to invent ideas,
but they have to be able to put them in context and add perspective.”

-John Sculley, businessman, entrepreneur, and investor

Adaptive leadership is a modern leadership framework focused on how leaders can prepare and encourage people to deal with changing environments that are beyond the technical capacity of people to solve with straightforward solutions or the normal way of doing things.

Instead of trying to be the hero and solve everything, adaptive leaders motivate the people in the organization to face their difficult situations and adapt to the challenges they face together. They recognize, as Harvard leadership scholar Ronald Heifetz says, that “The work is through the people.”

One of the keys for leaders, according to Heifetz, is for them to “get on the balcony.” He explains:

“To diagnose a system or yourself while in the midst of action requires the ability to achieve some distance from those on-the-ground events. We use the metaphor of ‘getting on the balcony’ above the ‘dance floor’ to depict what it means to gain the distanced perspective you need to see what is really happening.”
-Ron Heifetz, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership

The idea is for leaders to maintain both sharp focus and broad comprehension at the same time. This will help them understand the situation, the challenges, and the people. Meanwhile, leaders must reframe their view of conflict, seeing it not as a problem to be avoided but rather as an opportunity for learning, growth, and advancement. Doing so requires perspective.

Strengths Search

We all have core strengths–the things in which we most excel. Take this self-assessment to determine your core strengths so you can integrate them more into your life and work.

 

How to Maintain Perspective

How can you maintain perspective when it feels like things are spinning out of control? Here are 12 ways to do so:

1. Read. One of the best ways to develop and maintain perspective is to read a lot, including classics of philosophy and literature as well as religious or spiritual texts.

2. Project forward. Think ahead five or ten years and imagine looking back on your current situation. That can help you see it in the larger sweep of your life so you don’t blow it out of proportion.

3. Talk things through. Lean on family, trusted friends, colleagues, a mentor, or a small group. That way, you can connect with others about what’s going on and hear their views on things. You’re also wise to talk to people from different vantage points (e.g., age, gender, culture, circumstances, history).

4. Distance yourself from the situation. You can do that conceptually, by looking at it from another person’s perspective (e.g., if you’re struggling financially, consider your challenges from the vantage point of someone with far fewer resources than you). Or you can do it physically, by changing your scenery. Often, removing yourself from the situation helps in ways big and small.

5. Do a reality check. Keep in mind that bad things happen to all of us, and that’s okay. It’s the nature of life. Be clear about what you can and can’t control.

6. Recall your capabilities. Think of times when you’ve overcome challenges in the past. Why shouldn’t this time be any different?

Passion Probe

Our passions are the things that consume us with palpable emotion over time. We love doing them and talk about them often. Take this self-assessment to find the ones that resonate most with you.

 

7. Start working on solutions instead of worrying so much about problems. With small but steady steps, you’ll start to see that your problems are probably more manageable than you thought initially.

8. Get out into nature. Go on a hike. Get out on a lake or into a forest. Feel the sun on your face and breathe in the air while taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of our bustling world. Contemplate the vastness of the cosmos and observe the intricate mesh of nature and life with reverence and awe.

“They will forget the rush and strain of all the other weeks of the year, and for a short time at least, the days will be good for their bodies and good for their souls. Once more they will lay hold of the perspective that comes to those who every morning and every night can lift their eyes up to Mother Nature.”
-Theodore Roosevelt, conservationist, naturalist, and former U.S. president

9. Be grateful for what you have. Pausing to think of all the blessings in your life can help you avoid excess negativity and keep the positive things in your life front and center in your thoughts.

10. Meditate. With a meditation practice, you can train your mind to be more present, focused, and still, with a calm and clear awareness of the present moment. That can help you avoid anxious reactions to life’s vicissitudes.

11. Pray and attend religious services. Prayer can help you tune into a divine perspective. Attending religious services can connect you with ancient scriptures and teachings—and the importance of viewing life from a sacred perspective.

12. Contemplate your death. Engage in the ancient practice of memento mori, which is Latin for remembering that you will die. In many ways, death can be the ultimate purveyor of perspective. It can help you see trivial things for what they are. And it can help you face up to the fact that much of what you worry about isn’t so important after all.

 

Conclusion

Ultimately, when you maintain perspective you’re able to weather storms better and keep your focus on what’s most important. Getting good at having and keeping perspective will serve you very well in life and leadership.

 

Tools for You

  • Traps Test (Common Traps of Living) to help you identify what’s getting in the way of your happiness and quality of life
  • Strengths Search to help you identify your core strengths and determine how to use them more in your life and work
  • Passion Probe to help you identify your top passions and start integrating them more into your life and work

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

Related Articles

 

Related Books & Resources

  • Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
  • Clayton Christensen, How Will You Measure Your Life?
  • Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals
  • Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie
  • Bronnie Ware, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying
  • Song: “The Long Run” by The Eagles

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Perspective

  • “Plan with your whole life in mind.” -Aristotle, ancient Greek philosopher
  • “Keep in mind how fast things pass by and are gone—those that are now, and those to come. Existence flows past us like a river…. Nothing is stable, not even what’s right here…. You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” -Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
  • “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German poet, novelist, and scientist
  • “It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.” -George Eliot, Middlemarch
  • ”Some things are just plain more important than others; in fact, some things are so important—your life, your health, your family—that others are trivial by comparison.” -Stephen R. Covey, Primary Greatness: The 12 Levers of Success
  • “As you look back on your life, you may realize that the things that mattered most were too often at the mercy of things that mattered least… that you were terrorized by the tyranny of urgency, and that you enjoyed very little creative freedom…. How different our lives are when we really know what is deeply important to us, and, keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and to do what really matters most.” -Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.”
-Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for living with purpose and passion) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

This Is How to Develop Self-Awareness: 7 Approaches

Are you self-aware? It’s common for people to overestimate their self-awareness.

Being self-aware means having a clear and accurate understanding of yourself, including your feelings, motives, desires, core values, strengths, and weaknesses.

Do you have a realistic view of yourself,
including a good and true sense of how others perceive you?*

Based on multiple investigations with nearly 5,000 participants, organizational psychologist Dr. Tasha Eurich and her colleagues found the following:

“…even though most people believe they are self-aware, self-awareness is a truly rare quality:
We estimate that only 10-15% of the people we studied actually fit the criteria.”
-Dr. Tasha Eurich

Psychologist Daniel Goleman considers self-awareness one of the four domains of emotional intelligence (along with self-management, social awareness, and relationship management). What’s more, self-awareness is the foundation for the other three.

If you lack self-awareness, you’ll have blind spots that cause problems. For example, if you don’t know the reasons for your actions, you’re likely to keep making the same mistakes. Also, you’ll be less likely to take responsibility for them, damaging your credibility.

There are many benefits to having high self-awareness. For example, it can help you communicate more effectively, improve your relationships, and increase your happiness and fulfillment. It can help enhance your sense of personal control, improve your decision-making, increase your confidence, and augment your influence.

“…self-awareness is a predictor of success in leadership.”
-James Kouzes and Barry Posner, A Leader’s Legacy

Also, how can you expect to find good work that’s a good fit for you—and know what work you should avoid—if you don’t know your strengths, passions, and preferences, and if you don’t know what energizes you and what drains you? How can you avoid conforming to the desires of others if you don’t know your own heart?

“When you start thinking that you don’t know what to do with your life,
what you really mean is that you don’t yet know who you are.”

-Brianna Wiest, The Mountain Is You

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

How to Develop Self-Awareness: 7 Powerful Approaches

Here are seven things you can do to elevate your self-awareness:

 

1. Engage in frequent self-reflection.

Reflect on meetings or other encounters and their emotional wake. Pay attention to what you love, what you long for, and what makes you come alive. This means sometimes getting out of “climbing mode” (striving to move up the ladder of success, focusing on achievement and advancement) and getting into what I call “discover mode” (learning about who we are, including our values, strengths, passions, and dreams, and what we can do in the world). Listen to your inner voice.

 

2. Take assessments.

They can facilitate not only your self-awareness but also your personal development. For example:

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

3. Ask for input from family, friends, mentors, and coaches.

Solicit honest feedback, not only about your behaviors and strengths but also about your weaknesses and blind spots. At work, this can include “360-degree reviews.”

 

4. Consider not only what you know about yourself but also what others know about you.

For this, check out the Johari Window, a framework that can help you identify what’s known to yourself (or not) and what’s known to others about you (or not). See below.

Source: Adobe Stock

How many people get to see your true self? Do you have blind spots—things that are known by others about you that you’re not aware of? Consider writing down ten words that describe yourself—your main characteristics. Then have people who know you well do the same for you. Compare the lists to see how much overlap there is (or isn’t).

 

5. Journal.

As you journal, reflect on your experiences and feelings. Seek insights and look for patterns.

 

6. Join or start a small group.

When run well, small groups can facilitate deep conversations about meaningful things. Make sure the conversation includes not only self-reflection but also input from the group. That way, participants will have a chance to consider new insights in a safe environment.

 

7. Make time for renewal and sanctuary.

Engage in daily restorative activities (e.g., meditation, yoga, or gardening). Find places or practices of peace that help you guard and recenter your heart. Without renewal and sanctuary, you’re likely to be too scattered and frazzled to maintain high self-awareness.

 

Developing your self-awareness will have powerful effects on your life, work, relationships, and leadership. It’s an investment that pays big dividends.

“’Know thyself’… is still the most difficult task any of us faces. But until you truly know yourself, strengths and weaknesses, know what you want to do and why you want to do it, you cannot succeed in any but the most superficial sense of the word.” -Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader

Warren Bennis quote

 

Reflection Questions

  1. How well do you know yourself?
  2. Might you be overestimating your self-awareness, like so many others?
  3. Are you asking for feedback regularly, and are you truly open and receptive to it?

 

Tools for You

Strengths Search

We all have core strengths–the things in which we most excel. Take this self-assessment to determine your core strengths so you can integrate them more into your life and work.

 

Related Articles

 

Related Books and Videos

  • Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
  • Tasha Eurich, Insight: The Surprising Truth about How Others See Us, How We See Ourselves, and Why the Answers Matter More than We Think
  • William L. Sparks, “The Power of Self-Awareness,” TEDx Asheville
  • Tasha Eurich, “Increase Your Self-Awareness with One Simple Fix,” TEDx Mile High

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Self-Awareness

  • “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.” -Lao Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher
  • “Know thyself.” -inscribed on the temple wall at Delphi, 6th century BCE
  • “If a man does not know himself, how should he know his functions and his powers?” -Michel de Montaigne, 16th century French Renaissance philosopher and writer
  • “Self-knowledge is best learned, not by contemplation, but by action. Strive to do your duty and you will soon discover of what stuff you are made.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German writer, poet, and scientist
  • “Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.” -Witold Gombrowicz, Polish writer
  • “When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” -Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
  • “The deepest vocational question is not ‘What ought I to do with my life?’ It is the more elemental and demanding ‘Who am I? What is my nature?’… Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening…. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.” -Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
  • “To be aware of a single shortcoming within oneself is more useful than to be aware of a thousand in somebody else.” -Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama
“Self-awareness is the foundation of authenticity. You develop it by exploring your life story and your crucible, and by understanding how these experiences shape you as a person and leader. You enhance it as you seek honest feedback from others. You refine it by adopting practices that help you remain mindful and aware, even amidst life’s chaos.”
-Bill George and Zach Clayton, True North: Emerging Leader Edition

 

* There are two types of self-awareness, according to researchers. The first type, internal (or private) self-awareness, is about how clearly you see yourself and whether you notice and reflect on your own internal state. The second type, external (or public) self-awareness, is about how aware you are of how you appear to others.

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

+++++++++++++++++

Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

This Is How to Avoid Complacency

Have you become complacent? Have you been lulled into a state of easy contentment? Or are you at risk of not paying enough attention to potential problems? Is complacency preventing you from trying harder and making needed improvements?

It’s a common trap. Perhaps you’ve been complacent about your health—or the health of those you love? Have you been complacent about your work, team, leadership, or organization? Or complacent about your relationships? About democracy or the planet?

You may be struggling with complacency if you’re taking things for granted or if you have too much routine. Do things feel monotonous?

Are you sticking to what you know? Staying in your comfort zone and avoiding risk? Are you “phoning it in”? Have you stopped learning and growing? Is your ambition waning?

Perhaps you’re wondering,

Is this it?
Where did all my time go?
Isn’t there something more I should be doing with my life?

There’s nothing wrong with comfort per se, or with feeling satisfied. You probably want them in your life. The problem is when you have too much of them and lose your inner fire to fight for your dreams or your zest for life.

Complacency becomes a problem when it’s sapping your motivation, when it’s leading to inaction when action is warranted, when it’s detracting from your sense of hope, when it’s leading to mediocrity. Is it robbing you of future opportunities and benefits, or derailing your career?

 

14 Complacency-Busting Actions

Fortunately, there’s much you can do to avoid complacency (or to break through it when you’re in it). Here are 14 complacency-busting actions you can take:

1. Start acting with urgency. Like your time counts. Because it does—and probably more than you’re realizing now.

2. Invoke deliberate agitation. Try using what Tyler Hakes calls “deliberate agitation.” Think of it as shaking a snow globe. He writes:

“You let things settle into place just long enough and then shake them up. Watch to see if they fall into the same patterns or if something new and better emerges…. You deliberately and intentionally question things and change them before they become a problem. You remain vigilant in trying to improve so that way you don’t fall into the trap of complacency that leads to eventual failure.” -Tyler Hakes

3. Dream big. Think expansively about all you want to do in your lifetime in different areas, from family, relationships, and work to education, service, travel, and more. When you do that, you start to feel the powerful pull of your deepest aspirations.

4. Step out of your comfort zone. Has fear held you back from venturing forth and risking yourself? When you push yourself, take risks, and dare to have adventures, your blood races. You start to feel awake and alive again.

5. Strive for a BHAG—a “big, hairy audacious goal.” It can be a life goal or a work goal, but a true BHAG should take your breath away with how bold it is and how amazing it would be if you could make it happen.

“…there is a difference between merely having a goal and becoming committed to a huge, daunting challenge—like a big mountain to climb…. Like the moon mission, a true BHAG is clear and compelling and serves as a unifying focal point of effort…. people like to shoot for finish lines. A BHAG engages people—it reaches out and grabs them in the gut.”
-Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in Built to Last

6. Build your top priorities and most important activities into your calendar. Doing so will ensure you make progress on your top goals. That way, you can not only develop good and productive habits but also become the sort of person who consistently gets big stuff done.

7. Enlist support. Consider recruiting an “accountability partner”—someone who can help keep you on track (such as a training buddy or someone you can send regular progress reports to).

8. Identify and remove barriers to change. When you’re stuck, it’s easy to become complacent and acclimatize yourself to the new situation. Why not get to work instead on identifying the major obstacles to progress and how to overcome them?

9. Notch short-term wins on meaningful work to build momentum. Draw on what researchers call the “progress principle”:

“…of all the positive events that influence inner work life, the single most powerful is progress in meaningful work; of all the negative events, the single most powerful is the opposite of progress—setbacks in the work. We consider this to be a fundamental management principle: facilitating progress is the most effective way for managers to influence inner work life. Even when progress happens in small steps, a person’s sense of steady forward movement toward an important goal can make all the difference between a great day and a terrible one.”
-Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in The Progress Principle

10. Take full responsibility for everything in your life. Be what my co-author, Christopher Gergen, and I call a “LIFE entrepreneur.” You’re much more likely to thrive when you take ownership of your life and recognize your agency—when you take your life back. LIFE entrepreneurs go out and create opportunities for themselves. They intentionally craft a good life with good work, and they bring their dreams to life.

#11. Get clear on your personal purpose, values, and vision:

  • Your purpose is why you’re here. It’s what gives you a sense of meaning and significance—often by connecting with and serving others.
  • Your values are what’s most important to you—your core beliefs and principles that guide your decisions and behavior.
  • And your vision is what you aspire to achieve in the future—and what success looks and feels like for you.

12. Cultivate vitality. You’ll feel better and perform at a higher level when you develop physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health and wellness. Being intentional about productive and energizing habits will pay big dividends.

13. Let go of limiting beliefs. Ever been your own worst enemy? Have you locked yourself in a mental prison of judgment, negativity, and rumination? Never forget that you always retain the power to upgrade your thoughts, and it can help you avoid the trap of complacency.

14. Set and maintain high standards. You tend to rise or fall to the standards you set. Why not leverage deadlines, accountability, and high standards to propel you forward?

 

Related Traps

Complacency is common, and it can be deeply damaging. It also tends to come with several associated traps:

 

Final Thoughts

Are you letting the complacency trap rob you of quality time and experiences? Of achievement and passion?

It’s tricky because you probably want satisfaction and serenity, and not a life of frenetic striving or perpetual busyness.

Somewhere in between the extremes, there’s a healthy place of urgency to live intentionally, achieve important things, serve others, and cherish your days, not squandering your time in a cloud of complacency.

Wishing you well with it—and let me know if I can help.

Reflection Questions

  1. To what extent has complacency crept into some aspects of your life and work (or your family or organization)?
  2. What will you do to regain the motivation and urgency to escape this trap?

 

Tools for You

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Complacency

  • “The life you have left is a gift. Cherish it. Enjoy it now, to the fullest. Do what matters, now.” -Leo Babauta, author
  • “Complacency keeps you living a comfortable life… not the life you desire. Challenge yourself to do something different. Then, notice the new charged quality of your life.” -Nina Amir, author and coach
  • “The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in our living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacities.” -Benjamin E. Mays, minister
  • “I really try to put myself in uncomfortable situations. Complacency is my enemy.” -Trent Reznor, musician and singer-songwriter
  • “History and experience tell us that moral progress comes not in comfortable and complacent times, but out of trial and confusion.” -Gerald R. Ford, former U.S. president
  • “By far the biggest mistake people make when trying to change organizations is to plunge ahead without establishing a high enough sense of urgency in fellow managers and employees.” -John Kotter, founder of Kotter International and Harvard Business School Professor
  • “Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value.” -Jim Rohn, author and entrepreneur
“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” -Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

Why You Should Build Your Passions into Your Life and Work

What are the things that consume you with palpable emotion over time? What are the things you love so much that you’re willing to suffer for them? Those are your passions.

You probably have passions in different domains of your life. Are you passionate about your work—or at least parts of it? Do you talk often about what you like about your work, or find yourself working extra hours even when you don’t have to? Are you building your passions into your days and weeks?

 

14 Benefits of Building Your Passions into Your Life and Work

There are many powerful benefits to building passions into your life and work. For example, doing so will:

  1. boost your motivation
  2. enhance your engagement
  3. increase your productivity
  4. sharpen your focus
  5. augment your creativity
  6. help you achieve your goals
  7. motivate you to keep learning, growing, and developing in your areas of interest
  8. boost your persistence
  9. help you be more resilient in the face of challenges
  10. lead to more happiness and fulfillment
  11. inspire others to find and work in areas of their passions when they see you loving life and thriving
  12. help you avoid burnout
  13. lead to much higher job satisfaction, according to a meta-analysis that reviewed data from nearly a hundred different studies (1)
  14. result in better work performance, according to a meta-analysis of sixty studies conducted over the past six decades

Passion Probe

Our passions are the things that consume us with palpable emotion over time. We love doing them and talk about them often. Take this self-assessment to find the ones that resonate most with you.

 

Of course, there’s also a flip side to this: there’s much lost when you don’t have passion for what you’re doing. In that case, you’re much more likely to lack enthusiasm and “phone it in.” Over time, this can put you on a downward trajectory.

To what extent are you building your passions into your life and work?
What more could you do?

 

Tools for You

Passion Probe

Our passions are the things that consume us with palpable emotion over time. We love doing them and talk about them often. Take this self-assessment to find the ones that resonate most with you.

 

Related Articles

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Passions

  • “If there is any difference between you and me, it may simply be that I get up every day and have a chance to do what I love to do, every day. If you want to learn anything from me, this is the best advice I can give you.” -Warren Buffett, legendary investor
  • “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” -Oprah Winfrey, media entrepreneur, author, and philanthropist
  • “Paul and I, we never thought that we would make much money out of the thing. We just loved writing software.” -Bill Gates, co-founder, Microsoft
  • “I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for the joy, you can do it forever.” -Stephen King, writer

(1) Mark Allen Morris, “A Meta-Analytic Investigation of Vocational Interest-Based Job Fit, and Its Relationship to Job Satisfaction, Performance, and Turnover,” PhD dissertation, University of Houston, 2003.

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

 

This Is How to Develop Focus: 20 Approaches

It feels like the world is dead-set against our focus these days. Are you bombarded with digital distractions? Are there near-constant requests for your attention?

Do you feel overloaded? Does your concentration feel fragmented? Find yourself checking your phone constantly?

These aren’t just annoyances. They can become a disaster for your productivity and quality of life.

 

Focus and Leadership

According to a survey of more than 35,000 leaders in more than 100 countries, 73% reported feeling distracted from their current task some or most of the time, and 67% described their minds as cluttered.

Nearly all the leaders surveyed (a whopping 96%) reported that enhanced focus would be valuable or extremely valuable to them. The researchers concluded:

The ability to apply a calm, clear focus to the right tasks… is the key to exceptional results….
we have observed a direct correlation between a person’s focus level and their career advancement.”

-Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter*

 

Struggling with Focus?

Here are some signs that you may be struggling to focus: You’re reading something but not absorbing it. Maybe you’re listening to people but you’re not taking their words in. You zone out in meetings. You’re jumping from task to task, and not making considerable progress on your priorities.

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

The Benefits of Focus

There are many benefits when you cultivate the ability to focus. When you’re focusing properly, you: make better decisions, manage your time more effectively, feel less stress, remain calm under pressure, and have better work quality. What’s more, you’re more creative and productive.

 

How to Develop Focus: 20 Approaches

How can you develop your focus? Here are 24 actionable approaches:

 

1. Observe your daily rhythms. Notice your best and worst times for focused work. Track your energy levels at different times and on different tasks. Then design your work and schedule to capture your greatest attention and energy.

 

2. Take regular breaks. Your brain can’t focus all the time. You need to toggle between focus and rest. (When you do so, you’re able to focus much better when you return from rest, according to the research.)

 

3. Practice self-care. Develop good sleep habits (regular bedtimes, caffeine and device curfews, etc.), eating and hydration habits, and exercise habits.

 

4. Minimize interruptions and eliminate distractions. For example, turn off smartphone notifications and place your phone outside the room when working.

 

5. Develop simple rules to maximize time in deep work. For example, don’t check email before noon (or another time that works for you).

 

6. Focus on one task at a time and avoid frequent task-switching. When you switch tasks, you waste time regrouping and trying to recover your focus. Be more disciplined in doing one thing at a time.

 

7. Design your work for “flow.” According to researchers, flow is a state of deep concentration and absorption—a state of almost effortless attention and peak performance. (See my article, “Designing Your Work for Flow.”)

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

8. Practice doing things that require concentration. For example, read books or play games that require focus.

 

9. Engage in deep breathing and practice meditation. With meditation, you can train your mind to become more present, focused, and still, and you can enhance your concentration. It can help you train your attention and awareness, helping you feel calm and clear in the process. It’s a means of quieting and focusing—and refocusing—your mind. (See my article, “Why We Need Meditation and Mindfulness Now More than Ever.”)

 

10. Reduce anxiety, stress, and negative self-talk.

 

11. Get very clear on what’s most important so you can direct your efforts toward that.

 

12. Determine which tasks will contribute the most toward your most important aims.

 

13. Clear the decks so you can focus on your most essential task for extended periods.

 

14. Reduce or eliminate non-essential tasks. Consider using a “stop doing list” or a “drop list.”

 

15. Schedule your most important tasks and give them deadlines. (Tip: Be generous in the amount of time allotted for completion. We tend to underestimate the time it will take, generating stress in the process.)

 

16. Learn to say “no” more often and more easily, especially to things that don’t fit with your top priorities.**

 

17. Systematically measure your progress on your most important tasks. Tracking progress helps you maintain attention.

 

18. Stop focusing so much on results and focus more on deep engagement with the process of doing things that matter. For example, focus more on the strategies you can adopt for healthy living and focus less on your target weight.

 

19. Experiment with different schedules that help you focus better. For example, try themed days, such as a Monday planning day, Tuesday prospecting day, Wednesday writing day, etc. (or half-days).

 

20. Make a “Done for the Day” list each morning—a list of what would constitute essential progress and that’s reasonable for a single day.***

Personal Values Exercise

Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.

 

Tools that Help with Focus

Beyond the approaches noted above, here are three tools and frameworks that can help with focus:

1. Eisenhower Decision Matrix (a.k.a., Urgent-Important Matrix): distinguish between tasks that are urgent (time-sensitive, demanding immediate attention) and important (contributing to your long-term purpose and vision), using a simple matrix.

2. Ivy Lee Method: give yourself no more than six important tasks per day, listed from most important to least important. Then address them in order of priority, and without moving to the next task until you’ve completed the current one.

3. Brian Tracy’s “Eat the Frog” method: identify one challenging and important task (the metaphorical frog) and complete it first thing in the morning. The logic:

“The hardest part of any important task is getting started on it in the first place. Once you actually begin work on a valuable task, you seem to be naturally motivated to continue…. The most valuable tasks you can do each day are often the hardest and most complex. But the payoff and rewards for completing these tasks efficiently can be tremendous.”
-Brian Tracy, Canadian-American author and speaker

Reflection Questions

  1. Are you struggling with focus?
  2. How is it affecting you?
  3. Which approaches work best for you?
  4. Which new ones will you try, starting today?

 

Tools for You

Goal-Setting Template

Goals are the desired results we hope to achieve—the object of our effort and ambition. Goals are common in our life and work, but that doesn’t mean we’re good at setting and achieving them. Use this Goal-Setting Template to set your goals properly, based on the research and best practice.

 

Recommended Books

“The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. The few who cultivate this skill and make it the core of their working life will thrive…. Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.”
-Cal Newport, Deep Work

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Focus

  • “Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” -Alexander Graham Bell, scientist, engineer, and inventor
  • “If there is any one secret of effectiveness, it is concentration. Effective executives do first things first and they do one thing at a time.” -Peter Drucker, consultant, author, and expert on management and innovation
  • “Learn to master your attention, and you will be in command of where you, and your organization, focus.” -Daniel Goleman, psychologist and expert on emotional intelligence
  • “Most people have no idea of the giant capacity we can immediately command when we focus all of our resources on mastering a single area of our lives.” -Tony Robbins, author, entrepreneur, and philanthropist

 

References

* Source: Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter, “Are You Having Trouble Focusing? These Simple Strategies Will Help,” Harvard Business Blogs, December 26, 2017.

** Author Gregory McKeown suggests saying “yes” only to the top 10% of opportunities you encounter, in part by using rigorous criteria for giving assent, such as whether the opportunity is exactly what you’re looking for. If it’s not a clear “yes,” then it should be a clear “no.”

*** Source: Gregory McKeown, Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most (Crown Currency, 2021).

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

How to Get More Exercise: 17 Tips

Do you struggle with getting enough exercise? Sit too much? If so, you’re not alone. Adults between age 20 and 75 reported spending an average of 9.5 hours of sedentary time each day, not including sleep.

As they say, “sitting is the new smoking.” Your body was made to move, and it pays a price when it doesn’t. When you’re sedentary, there’s a dramatic drop in the production of enzymes that burn fat, and your metabolism slows.

You know that exercise comes with an array of benefits. For example, it has positive effects on energy, happiness, blood pressure, brain health, cognitive capacity, disease prevention, immune system function, mood, motivation, confidence, sexual function, sleep, stress management, longevity, and overall physical and mental health and wellness.

According to researchers, exercise can help you be more productive at work, have better interactions with colleagues, and feel more satisfied at the end of the day. (1) What’s more, when you don’t exercise, you get tired more easily and lose energy and stamina. You get stressed, irritable, and more forgetful and impulsive. Not good.

 

How to Get More Exercise: 17 Tips

So how should you go about it? Here are 17 tips for getting more exercise:

1. Start small and keep it simple. Take the stairs. Park at the back of lot. Avoid making it overly ambitious or complicated at the start.

2. Walk more. Why not go for a brisk walk daily? You’re built to move, and walking is simple and accessible. It allows your mind to wander and also gets you outside into the daylight.

3. Try walking meetings. They replace sitting with moving, and they can make the meeting more collaborative and enjoyable. You’ll also enjoy fresh air and sunshine.

4. Make exercise and regular movement as easy as possible. Keep those running or walking shoes by your bed. Have that gym bag packed and ready to go. Eliminate barriers and excuses.

5. Find out what works for you and do more of that. Start with one or two simple approaches that seem promising and see what works and what doesn’t. Don’t expect perfection and risk getting frustrated.

6. Build movement into regular microbreaks. How often do you get up from your desk? Not enough, in most cases. Can you stretch or do some simple movements (e.g., jumping jacks, knee-bends, squats, pushups, burpees)?

7. Choose activities you enjoy. You tend to feel more confident and perform better when you enjoy what you’re doing. Incorporate play or a challenge into exercise, with novelty and change. Engage in fun or relaxing hobbies that require some movement (e.g., gardening).

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

8. Calendarize exercise to help instill regularity and accountability. If you don’t, it’ll be too easy to skip as the busyness of the day overtakes your good intentions.

9. Use a step counter or other technology to track your progress. As they say, you don’t get what you don’t measure. Turn it into a streak and see your motivation and commitment increase dramatically.

10. Find powerful motivation to drive your exercise. Connect exercise to a deeper why and your higher aspirations and life goals—ones that have emotional resonance for you. Example: “I stay healthy so I can be alive and energetic with my kids (or grandkids).” For many people, continuing with exercise depends largely on anticipated rewards. Do you exercise because you like the way you feel afterward? Or does it give you a sense of accomplishment? Do you like seeing people at the gym or out on your walk?

11. Create habit loops for exercise. When you do this, you’ll stop thinking about it and just do it automatically. In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg notes that you can create more effective and lasting habits via a three-step loop: cue, routine, and reward. For example, he writes, a cue can be seeing your workout clothes laid out and ready to go next to your nightstand when you wake up, the routine can be going to the gym at a set time, and a reward can be a delicious post-workout smoothie. You’ll begin to anticipate the reward (not only the smoothie but also how good you feel after a tough workout), and that craving will make it easier to get going each day, he writes.

12. Set challenging but realistic goals. Good goals can help you with focus, motivation, and commitment—especially when you keep them visible and top of mind. Write them down, display them, and talk about them.

13. Set milestones to shoot for and celebrate on the way to achieving goals. This will help you avoid the problem of insufficient or fading motivation from goals that are distant. Examples: 500 more steps walked per day on average vs. last month.

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

14. Use implementation intentions. These are concrete plans to follow through on your goals. They come in a specific form: “I will (BEHAVIOR) at (TIME) in (PLACE).” Example: “I will exercise for 40 minutes at noon on weekdays at my local gym.” According to research from the British Journal of Health Psychology on 248 people and their exercise habits, a much higher percentage of people who devised a plan for when and where they’d exercise did so at least once a week.

15. Replace bad habits with good ones. For example, go without devices for an evening and focus on walking, moving, or stretching instead.

16. Build in social and group components to exercise. Join a team or enlist a workout buddy, trainer, accountability partner, or hiking hive. By building in mutual dependence, you get both accountability and routine.

17. Change your mindset about exercise and movement. First, view it as part of your job—or at least a prerequisite to it. Or view yourself as a corporate athlete who needs to be at your best physically and mentally. Keep in mind that not everyone has the gift of health and movement. It’s too easy to take it for granted. Better to view exercise as a privilege, not a chore—and something you can invest in so you have the ability to do all the other important things that give your life meaning and joy.

“Instead of viewing exercise as something we do for ourselves—a personal indulgence that takes us away from our work—it’s time we started considering physical activity as part of the work itself.”
-Ron Friedman, “Regular Exercise Is Part of Your Job,” Harvard Business Review

Meanwhile, as you’re exercising, be sure to be smart about it. Build in enough recovery time to avoid injury. Drink enough water. Don’t exercise too close to bedtime, as it may make it harder to fall asleep. And give yourself grace and avoid harmful self-judgment.

You got this!
Gregg

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tools for You

Personal Values Exercise

Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.

 

Related Articles

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Exercise and Movement

  • “Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.” -Joseph Pilates, German-born physical trainer, writer, and inventor
  • “Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” -Jim Rohn, entrepreneur and author
  • “A fit, healthy body—that is the best fashion statement.” -Jess C. Scott, writer
  • “When it comes to health and well-being, regular exercise is about as close to a magic potion as you can get.” -Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, peace activist, author, and teacher
  • “If you don’t make time for exercise, you’ll probably have to make time for illness.” -Robin Sharma, writer
  • “Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” -John F. Kennedy, former U.S. president
  • “Exercise is amazing, from the inside out. I feel so alive and have more energy.” -Vanessa Hudgens, actress and singer
  • “Physical activity can be an effective treatment for mental health problems.” -Ben Singh, lead author of a large new meta-analysis with 97 reviews and more than 128,000 participants, research fellow, University of South Australia
  • “Sustained high achievement demands physical and emotional strength as well as a sharp intellect…. When people feel strong and resilient—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—they perform better, with more passion, for longer. They win, their families win, and the corporations that employ them win.” -Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, “The Making of a Corporate Athlete,” Harvard Business Review, January 2001

(1) Coulson, J.C. & McKenna, Jim & Field, M. (2008). Exercising at work and self-reported work performance. International Journal of Workplace Health Management.

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

How to Set Boundaries: 14 Proven Practices

Many people struggle with setting and enforcing boundaries. It requires knowing their preferences and breaking points. It means being willing to assert their desires and needs. This is hard for many people, either due to their upbringing or personality—or both.

There are many advantages that come with getting good at this. For example, it can help us protect our emotional wellbeing, grow as a person, develop greater self-respect and confidence, protect our time and energy, avoid burnout, earn respect from others, and prevent unnecessary relationship conflicts.

When we set boundaries, we’re helping others interact more effectively with us. Sometimes we’re setting lines for ourselves that we resolve not to cross. We’re getting clear on what we’ll accept or tolerate.

Boundaries help us function effectively. They allow us to enjoy our life and work while also giving us a sense of control over our lives.

When we don’t set and enforce boundaries properly and consistently, we’re more prone to anxiety, frustration, and resentment. We get overcommitted, perhaps falling into overwork, workaholism, exhaustion, or burnout.

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

How to Get Better at Setting Boundaries: 14 Proven Practices

Thankfully, there are many things we can do to get better at this. Here are 14 proven practices for setting and enforcing boundaries:

1. Recognize that setting and maintaining boundaries can benefit our lives greatly, including our work and our leadership. Given all the benefits, it’s well worth the effort. Also, it gets easier over time.

2. Realize that setting and enforcing boundaries is not just good for us but for everyone involved. Why? Because it creates clarity and generates mutual respect.

3. Avoid falling into the trap of overestimating the resistance that will come from setting boundaries. Our brains are good at generating fear and anticipating worst-case scenarios. Often, the reality is not nearly as bad as we fear when we get into worrying mode.

4. Stay focused on the higher purpose of setting boundaries instead of the down-side of the temporary awkwardness. When we set boundaries, it’s usually for a good and important reason such as protecting our wellbeing or reserving our time for our top priorities. In this light, it’s well worth a little temporary pain or awkwardness.

5. Evaluate our current boundaries to identify areas that need improvement. In particular, look for situations that often result in discomfort or resentment.

6. Take an inventory of boundary crossings that have happened. Thinking about these instances, focus especially on the people, the situations, and how they make us feel.

7. Determine new boundaries that we want to set and recommit to or update old boundaries. Our core values and current goals and priorities should inform these decisions. If we’re new to setting boundaries or have struggled with it in the past, we’re wise to start small and build out from there.

8. Communicate boundaries clearly. Sometimes, the problem is that we’re expecting people to read our minds and just know our boundaries. It’s a recipe for frustration and failure. Sometimes, we may want to explain our rationale so the person has context (e.g., “I’m fully booked now so I can’t help with that”). In other cases, we can leave it with a declaratory statement (“I can’t take that on”) or even just a simple “No.”

“No is a complete sentence.”
-Anne Lamott, writer

9. Be consistent in communicating and enforcing boundaries. This is key. It’s where the rubber meets the road. Without consistency, others are likely to get confused or forget, and that may take us back to square one. Better to do the hard work upfront and in the early stages until things start to take on a life of their own.

10. Develop our assertiveness, including getting better at saying “no” and saying it more often. We can focus on saying no to requests and opportunities that don’t align with our values or advance our priorities. We can avoid spending time with negative people who drag us down with their criticism, complaints, neediness, or narcissism. And we can decline opportunities or requests, so we don’t end up doing all the work ourselves (versus delegating things to others).

“The difference between successful people and really successful people
is that really successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.”
-Warren Buffett, chair and CEO, Berkshire Hathaway

11. Be kind but firm. Ideally, we come across as thoughtful and considerate while still assertive and clear. Sometimes, a little humor helps.

12. Get clear about who we are, what we value, and how we work best. When we’ve done this inner work, it allows us to set and enforce boundaries.

13. Set boundaries on our work time. For example, we can set a maximum number of hours we’ll work each week. We can limit email to certain hours, with rare exceptions only as needed. It helps to plan ahead—and be sure to identify and focus on our most important tasks.

14. Place boundaries around our emotional commitment to others. Boundaries aren’t just about our time. They’re also about the focus of our attention and emotions. It’s a trap to feel responsible for other people’s choices or their happiness or outcomes.

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

Conclusion

Of course, setting and enforcing boundaries isn’t a one-and-done deal. It’s an ongoing process that requires reflection and course corrections. As we proceed with it, we must keep making judgments about when to be strict and when to make exceptions based on new information.

As we choose our boundaries, we should bear in mind that other people will make different choices about their boundaries. What works for us may not work for others. So, we should respect other people’s boundaries even as we fight for our own.

Also, it’s a mistake to think about boundaries only in the negative—only as things that we and others can’t do. Why? Because when we get good at setting and enforcing boundaries, it sets us up for all the positive things we actually want to do and experience. By setting limits, we gain freedom. We free up our time and energy to live life on our terms.

“Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious. You get to choose how you use it.
You teach people how to treat you by deciding what you will and won’t accept.”

-Anna Taylor, author

 

Tools for You

Goal-Setting Template

Goals are the desired results we hope to achieve—the object of our effort and ambition. Goals are common in our life and work, but that doesn’t mean we’re good at setting and achieving them. Use this Goal-Setting Template to set your goals properly, based on the research and best practice.

 

Related Traps

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Boundaries

  • “Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.” -Josh Billings, American humorist
  • “Givers need to set limits because takers rarely do.” -Rachel Wolchin, author

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

+++++++++++++++++

Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

Is This It? On the Disappointment of Success

For so long we’ve wished for it. Worked hard for it. Suffered for it. Our dream.

We clawed and climbed for it. Sacrificed for it.

One day, after all the trials and tribulations, we’re finally there. The treasure chest of our dreams is before us. We almost can’t believe it.

We pause, relishing the moment, and then open it.

What we find is astonishing.

It’s empty.

Empty.

EMPTY???

How can that possibly be?

But it is. The treasure chest is empty.

What we’ve encountered is the “arrival fallacy”—the assumption that once we accomplish a major goal, we’ll get lasting happiness or satisfaction. It’s a lie.

 

Examples All Around Us

We see it all around us.

 

We see it in former athletes.

Think of Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time, with an astonishing 28 medals, 23 of them gold. He was World Swimmer of the Year eight times and broke 29 individual world records. He’s considered the greatest swimmer of all time—and perhaps one of the greatest athletes of all time.

After all that, he found himself in a depression after retiring from swimming and revealed that he had contemplated suicide. Is this it?

Think of Tom Brady. He won seven Super Bowl championships and was the most valuable player of the Super Bowl five times. When somebody asked him during his storied career which Super Bowl ring is his favorite, Brady replied, “The next one.”

Here’s Brady talking to journalist Steve Kroft:

Brady: Why do I have three Super Bowl rings, and still think there’s something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, “Hey man, this is what is.” I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me, I think: God, it’s gotta be more than this. I mean this can’t be what it’s all cracked up to be. I mean I’ve done it. I’m 27. And what else is there for me?
Kroft: What’s the answer?
Brady: I wish I knew. I wish I knew….

 

We see it in our accomplishments, like a promotion or raise.

We’ve been working so hard, and we believe those achievements will transform our lives for the better. Yet we’re disappointed when we see that the reality is often far different from our expectations.

“After a lifetime of trying, I finally had a book hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list.
It made me really happy… for about ten minutes.”
-author

 

We see it in retirees.

After looking forward to finally enjoying life after putting so much time into their work, many recent retirees hit the golf course or the beach and wonder, Is this it? According to researchers, the prevalence of depression among retirees is substantially higher than that of the overall older adult population. (1)

 

We see it in former executives.

Hubert Joly had remarkable success early in his business career. After making partner at McKinsey & Co. by age 30, he led EDS France, turned around Vivendi’s video games divisions, and became CEO of Carlson-Wagonlit Travel. He felt that he had reached the top of a mountain. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to the hype. First, it came with all sorts of new problems and hassles. And second, it felt empty.

“The mountaintop felt desolate. The idea of success I had been chasing turned out to be hollow,
and I felt disillusioned and empty.”

-Hubert Joly, former chairman and CEO, Best Buy

 

We see it everywhere.

We see it in parents whose children have left the home. In retired military personnel. We even see it in kings.

Take the example of Abd al-Rahman III, the emir and caliph of Córdoba in southern Spain in the 10th century. Around age 70, he was reflecting on a life of remarkable worldly success: “I have now reigned above 50 years in victory or peace; beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies.” He thought about his incredible riches and all his honors, including the power and pleasure that waited on his call, as he described it. What did all of it add up to?

“I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot.
They amount to 14.”
-Abd al-Rahman III, the emir and caliph of Córdoba

Is this it? Fourteen days of happiness from 50 years of living in the best of circumstances?

Alas, getting what we want can be unsatisfying or even disappointing. It can feel like less than we imagined, not as Earth-shattering as we hoped. Why?

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

What’s Going On?

Things are good, but we feel surprisingly empty. We wonder why we’re not happy and fulfilled. Maybe we lack motivation or enthusiasm for things. We feel purposeless. Maybe we lack energy, or we’ve lost interest in activities that we once found engaging.

There are a number of factors at work here:

 

Feeling lasting satisfaction is highly unlikely due to our evolutionary biology.

Given our biological makeup, we have an urge to keep pursuing more (lest we run out of food or shelter) and an inability to maintain any strong emotional state. We have a strong wanting drive that’s deeply baked into our nature.

A big part of what’s going on here is the frustrating but very real phenomenon of hedonic adaptation (also called the hedonic treadmill), in which we become rapidly accustomed to changes in our circumstances and then settle into that new baseline as if nothing had occurred. We’re wired biologically to return to homeostasis. Whenever we experience change, our mind and body work hard to re-equilibrate. So, we return to the baseline. It’s the way we’re wired. And still we wonder: Is this it?

 

Our brain is working against us.

When we’re working toward something, our brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, motivation, and learning, in anticipation of the reward of achieving it. We get dopamine hits as we make progress toward the goal. What happens when we achieve our goal? Those dopamine hits fall away. (Ouch.) The result? We bounce from goal to goal in an endless pursuit of those hits, almost like chasing our tail.

 

When we reach the top, we may stop learning, growing, and challenging ourselves.

That’s a recipe for stasis and complacency. We also need variety to keep things interesting.

 

On our way to the top, we may have neglected important relationships in our lives.

That Faustian bargain may come back to haunt us.

 

After we’ve accomplished a goal, we can lose our sense of identity and purpose.

We have to reorient our focus toward something new, and perhaps redirect how we perceive ourselves. Not easy. (See my article, “Is Your Identity Too Wrapped up in Your Work?”)

 

Sometimes, the reality we experience at the top is a far cry from the dream we had.

Sure, there are likely to be perks of that promotion and raise, but there are also likely to be new hassles. Longer hours. More responsibilities. More cut-throat politics.

 

Contributing Factors

Often, there are contributing factors that compound the problem of disappointment. Here are some examples of common traps we fall into that make things worse.

 

Going for other people’s goals.

If we were exerting all that effort to please our parents or impress our neighbors or boss, it’s no wonder we find ourselves less than fulfilled at the end of it

 

Falling into the “expectations trap.”

When there’s a gap between our current versus expected life satisfaction, and when we become attached to our expectations, we feel disappointment, even though our life may be going well.

 

Engaging in unfair and unhelpful comparisons.

Many of us fall into the comparison trap fairly often—comparing ourselves to others on things that tend to be fairly superficial. Even worse, we tend to compare ourselves to unrealistic standards (i.e., the most outwardly successful or beautiful). It’s a recipe for disappointment.

 

Believing the common myths about happiness and success.

For example, the trap of believing that:

  • happiness comes from improving our circumstances
  • we’ll be happy when we’re successful
  • we’ll be happy when we have certain things
  • happiness is a destination
  • success is the point of life
  • we can measure success in dollars, possessions, and other things that bring us status and attention (2)

(See my article, “The Most Common Myths about Happiness.”)

 

Never feeling successful enough.

We can always do more. There’s always more to chase. (Back to the hedonic treadmill.)

 

Drifting away from ourselves in the pursuit of success.

We see the disconnection between who we really are and what we’re doing, and we feel it.

 

Drifting away from our family and friends in the single-minded pursuit of our success.

Meanwhile, it’s precisely those relationships that lead to the most enduring happiness and life satisfaction. We’ve been sabotaging them on our way to the top.

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

What to Do About It

Though we’re wired this way, that doesn’t mean we’re helpless against this phenomenon and resigned to disappointment. Here are 15 things we can do to address it.

 

1. Learn to value the process and the journey instead of fixating on the end result.

Focusing only on the end result makes little sense. Are we supposed to endure four years of high school or college just so we can enjoy a two-hour ceremony? Suffer through months of training only so we can enjoy the instant it takes to cross the finish line?

 

2. Diversify our sources of happiness.

Make sure we have several irons in the fire when it comes to things that motivate us and bring us enjoyment. That way, when we’ve achieved a goal, we’re less likely to experience that drop-off of happiness and motivation, because we have other things that enrich our lives.

 

3. Make plans for what will follow our major initiatives.

Again, that will help us have something to look forward to. Otherwise, we may be destined to fall off the satisfaction cliff.

 

4. Mine the experience for learnings.

Instead of expecting to be lastingly happy from accomplishing something, review the experience for learning and growth. Think about what we liked about the experience—and what we didn’t. This will help us extract nuggets that we can apply as we redirect our focus toward other activities and new goals.

 

5. Recenter.

Sometimes when we’re in hot pursuit of a goal, we can lose ourselves in all that hustle. We become the single-minded, obsessed goal achiever and let other important parts of our life suffer or fall away. Now’s a good time to recenter and come back to the fullness of living whole.

 

6. Rediscover purpose.

Sometimes, when we’re pursuing a goal, we lose sight of our deeper why, our purpose. Our goal-pursuit is about ego, prestige, status, or vanity instead of about something bigger than ourselves like connection, service, or spirituality.

 

7. Give back.

If we’re caught up in disappointment about the lack of lasting happiness after a big accomplishment, it’s a sign that we’re too focused on ourselves. Change the focus to helping others. For example, ask the following:

What did we learn along the way that we can share with others? How can we teach it or otherwise give back to make the accomplishment even more meaningful and impactful?

German-American psychoanalyst Erik Erikson coined the term “generativity” and described it as a stage in our psychosocial development characterized by “a concern for establishing and guiding the next generation.” The idea is that, as we get older, we start focusing less on ourselves and more on nurturing and guiding young people as well as fostering the success of future generations. It resonates with what Swedish gerontologist Lars Tornstam called “gerotranscendence,” which is a shift in our understanding of ourselves and our role in things as we age, from a materialistic view of the world to a more transcendent one, with enhanced feelings of connection with past generations and lower interest in superficial social interaction.

 

8. Learn to savor life now.

This means noticing what’s going on around us and fully feeling positive emotions. In the process, we extend them and help encode them in our memory banks.

 

9. Realize that we never really arrive while we’re living.

Living isn’t about reaching some metaphorical finish line. Do we really believe that life is a race? Living isn’t about reaching some chosen level of success. Do we really believe that success is the point of life?

 

10. Reinvest in learning and growing.

Take a course. Read books. Listen to podcasts. Watch TED talks. Learn a new skill or language. Adopt a creative practice such as painting or poetry.

 

11. Establish a spiritual practice, ideally daily.

Engage in prayer, worship, contemplation, meditation, or yoga.

 

12. Cultivate a gratitude practice.

Return regularly to the things we have and to the things we’re thankful for. Being grateful for all we have is much wiser than expecting achievements to keep us continually satisfied.

 

13. Craft our work and leisure activities to facilitate “flow” states.

When in flow, we’re so absorbed in something that we lose track of time. In such a state of optimal experience, dissatisfaction is impossible.

 

14. Build more of our strengths and passions into our life and work.

Figure out what we’re good at (our strengths) and what we love (our passions) and creatively bake them into the fabric of our days.

 

15. Focus on everyday progress toward an ever-renewing set of meaningful goals and worthy activities.

That’s wiser than placing all of our hopes on ONE BIG ATTAINMENT.

As always, we’re wise to seek professional help from a coach, mentor, or therapist if we feel stuck in a rut or caught in a loop of dissatisfaction.

Personal Values Exercise

Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.

 

Conclusion

Some may conclude from contemplating the arrival fallacy that there’s no point in setting and pursuing goals. While understandable, that’s a mistake. We should continue setting and pursuing goals but change our focus from a fixation on goal achievement to enjoying (and mastering) the process along the way. We can change the focus from winning or achieving to who we become in the process of pursuing goals. Indeed, pursuing goals can be energizing, fun, and fulfilling. We can enjoy the process of learning, growing, and discovering how to address challenges along the way. Lasting, sustainable happiness is about good living day in and day out, teed up by intentional choices about what matters, not about achieving certain levels of success.

In the end, maybe we should stop chasing things like happiness, success, wealth, beauty, fame, power, prestige, comfort, and pleasure. These all have their merits, of course. But they’re destined to disappoint in the final analysis.

Why not focus instead on living a good life—on intentionally crafting a life we love and that fits our nature? A life of health, connection, and service. On crafting a life of purpose, learning, growth, integrity, and wisdom. A life of joy and savoring. And a life in which we work to make things better, with and for others.

Back to the treasure chest.

Maybe we were looking for the treasure in the wrong place? The treasure was with us all along, but we were so focused on the prize at the end that we missed what was before us.

Will we keep repeating the mistake?

 

Tools for You

 

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

Related Articles

 

Postscript: Inspirations

  • “Is there anything in life so disenchanting as attainment?” -Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish novelist and poet
  • “As the days wore on, there was a part of me that felt empty… I had always believed that when you win a championship you’re transported to some new, exalted place. What I realized was that you are the same person you were before, and that if you are not content with who you are, a championship, or any accomplishment, isn’t going to change that.” -Ray Allen, NBA basketball star
  • “So I won an Olympic gold. And as I climbed down from the podium, the only thought I could think was, ‘What the hell do I do now?’ It was awful, absolutely terrifying. It was like death—the worst feeling I’d ever had.” -a client of Dr. Martha Beck, Harvard-trained sociologist, coach, and author, as told in The Way of Integrity
  • “When I was younger, I spent too much time obsessing over what would make me feel better or how I imagined a certain set of circumstances would magically transform my life and career.” -Judith Viorst, writer and author of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
  • “I can’t get no satisfaction.” -The Rolling Stones
  • “Arrival fallacy is this illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness.” -Tal Ben-Shahar, teacher and writer
  • “People haven’t found meaning in their lives, so they’re running all the time looking for it. They think the next car, the next house, the next job. Then they find these things are empty, too, and they keep running.” -Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie
  • “Everyone has dreams, and they beckon with promises of sweet, lasting satisfaction if you achieve them. But dreams are liars. When they come true, it’s … fine, for a while. And then a new dream appears.” -Arthur Brooks, “How to Want Less,” The Atlantic
  • “The funny thing about having all this so-called success is that behind it is a certain horrible emptiness.” -Sam Shepard, actor and playwright
  • “To live for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top.” -Robert Pirsig, philosopher and writer
  • “Never let success hide its emptiness from you, achievement its nothingness…. Your duty, your reward—your destiny—are here and now.” -Dag Hammarskjöld, Swedish diplomat
  • “Happiness is not a mental state that can be permanently won…. By misunderstanding happiness, the modern conception increases the likelihood of disappointment.” -Nat Rutherford, University of London
  • “Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness: on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming at something else, they find happiness by the way.” -John Stuart Mill, English philosopher
  • “We need the sweet pain of anticipation to tell us we are really alive.” -Albert Camus, French philosopher and author
  • “…our natural state is dissatisfaction, punctuated by brief moments of satisfaction…. The secret to satisfaction is not to increase our haves—that will never work (or at least, it will never last). That is the treadmill formula, not the satisfaction formula. The secret is to manage our wants. By managing what we want instead of what we have, we give ourselves a chance to lead more satisfied lives.” -Arthur Brooks, “How to Want Less,” The Atlantic
  • “The late-life crisis… really is a thing. Recent research has found that as many as one in three people over 60 will experience it in some form. The late-life crisis is characterized by dissatisfaction; a loss of identity; an expectations gap and the feeling that life has peaked, so it’s all downhill from here.” -Richard Leider and David Shapiro, Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Old? The Path of Purposeful Aging
  • “Don’t let your happiness depend on something you may lose.” -C.S. Lewis, British scholar, writer, and lay theologian
  • “Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” -Luke 12:33-34 NIV

 

References

(1) Pabón-Carrasco M, Ramirez-Baena L, López Sánchez R, Rodríguez-Gallego I, Suleiman-Martos N, Gómez-Urquiza JL. Prevalence of depression in retirees: a meta-analysis. Healthcare. 2020;8(3):321

(2) Material things aren’t likely to boost our happiness in a sustained way, according to the research. What’s more, materialistic people tend to be less happy than others. They tend to have fewer positive emotions and lower life satisfaction levels, on average, not to mention more anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. (Source: Dacher Keltner and Jason Marsh, “How Gratitude Beats Materialism,” Greater Good Magazine, January 8, 2015.)

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

How to Stop Avoiding Things: 17 Practices

Struggle with avoidance? We all avoid things sometimes. It’s natural.

Do you tend to bypass that difficult task? Put things off until later—or never? Steer clear of that difficult somebody? Change that uncomfortable subject? Put off that hard conversation? Sidestep that brewing conflict? Maybe you put off going to the doctor to get that concerning symptom checked out.

It’s like your life is a game of dodgeball. When things get thrown your way, you dodge, duck, dip, and dive.

If you’re like others, perhaps you avoid things not only via your behavior but also in terms of your thoughts and feelings.

Avoidance is natural, a coping mechanism. But it can become maladaptive when it’s overused or used in the wrong circumstances.

Many people avoid too many things and too often. Sometimes it isn’t a conscious choice per se. It’s stimulus-response. Challenge-avoid.

The problem is that things often end up getting worse because of it. And it can become programmed behavior, a habit of sorts, affecting many things in your life, from your performance and leadership to your relationships and self-respect.

Avoidance may make things easier now, but over time things tend to fester, becoming much worse over time. For example, it can lead to even more anxiety and concern because you’ve allowed things to deteriorate further. Avoidance can also be frustrating to others, like spouse or colleague, and make things worse for them too, leading to new conflicts.

In the end, avoiding something leaves the core problem unaddressed. Avoidance can become a way of life, a bad habit pattern, a vicious circle.

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

How to Stop Avoiding Things: 17 Practices

Given all these damaging consequences, the question arises: What can you do about it?

Here are 17 ways you can break the bad habit of avoiding things:

1. Start by noticing your avoidance behaviors. If you start looking for them, you can bring them into your consciousness and begin addressing them intentionally. Such mindfulness is an important first step.

2. Seek the root cause of your avoidance behavior. What’s the deeper why behind it? Continue asking why until you’ve hit paydirt and there are no more deeper reasons. There are many possible reasons. Perhaps it just feels easier to avoid things than to deal with them? Maybe you’re afraid of looking bad or failing so you decide to avoid it instead? Perhaps you believe you can avoid the anxiety associated with people or things if you avoid them?

3. Process your emotions. Giving yourself an emotional outlet will help you refrain from maladaptive avoidance. Resist the temptation to bottle your feelings up. Find ways to release them instead. Talk through your feelings or try journaling. Get some exercise to change your physiological state.

4. Divide the problem you’re avoiding into smaller, more manageable chunks. That way, you’ll see that it’s not as intimidating.

5. Start with an easy task or small encounter to get momentum. This can also help you develop confidence.

6. Look for ways to boost your motivation for a better result, one that would leave avoidance in the dust. For example, consider all the ways that avoidance is holding you back from personal or professional excellence (e.g., by harming your relationships or impeding your progress toward goals). Or give yourself small rewards for addressing things.

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

7. Reframe a situation to note the positives and refrain from focusing only on the negatives. For example, turn a problem you’re dreading into a puzzle you’re curious about solving.

8. Quiet your negative self-talk. Give yourself some grace and don’t let avoidance become yet another reason to beat yourself up. Practice self-compassion and replace your negative self-talk with a more charitable interpretation (e.g., we’re all a work in progress).

9. Practice your communication skills. This will help prepare you to deal more effectively with tough situations as they arise. With good communication skills, you’ll be able to advocate for yourself more assertively, and you’ll be able to engage in what author Susan Scott calls “fierce conversations.”

10. Set a deadline for taking action. Commit to addressing it by a certain date and time so it doesn’t keep slipping into a squishy future that somehow never arrives.

11. Build action habits. Through consistent actions, you change your identity to a “doer.” You change your self-concept to someone who addresses things upfront instead of avoiding them. (See my article on “The Incredible Benefits of Being Action-Oriented.”)

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage.
If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

-Dale Carnegie, writer and lecturer

12. Recognize that addressing something you’ve been avoiding can make you feel powerful. It can give you a sense of agency and accomplishment. Maybe it leads to momentum or greater confidence. Bear in mind that challenges can help you grow. They give you a chance to learn about yourself and others, all while developing your capabilities. With a growth mindset, you can view things that you previously avoided as opportunities for personal development and capacity-building.

Goal-Setting Template

Goals are the desired results we hope to achieve—the object of our effort and ambition. Goals are common in our life and work, but that doesn’t mean we’re good at setting and achieving them. Use this Goal-Setting Template to set your goals properly, based on the research and best practice.

 

13. Work on your problem-solving skills. If you get in the habit of creatively exploring ways to solve challenges instead of avoiding them, you’ll build a valuable capacity for it and also your confidence when it comes to facing up to challenging situations in the future. You can do this alone or with a trusted friend or colleague. It may help to write down some ideas to prime your brain and serve as a reminder.

14. Develop your tolerance and flexibility. Build your tolerance of difficult emotions while acknowledging that there are some situations that may be too taxing for you, at least for now. If you have rigid ideas about the ways things need to unfold, it can make you anxious. Work on embracing the unexpected and appreciating the different ways people approach things—and all the different ways things can get addressed.

15. Work on improving your coping skills and strategies. Try deep breathing and self-monitoring. Engage your “observer: (practice watching your thoughts and developing your awareness of feelings, emotions, impulses, and recurring behaviors). Or get in the habit of moving from the metaphorical dance floor and getting on the balcony in difficult situations, as Harvard leadership expert Ronald Heifetz advises. That means stepping back from the action and observing what’s going on from a higher perspective. Check in with your feelings. Get curious about the situation and ask yourself gentle, possibility-opening questions (e.g., “How might I address this? What would my best self do in this situation?”).

16. Resist your urge to avoid when it appears. Commit to being the kind of person who deals with things and not falling into the trap of avoidance.

17. Get support. Ask for help from a friend, mentor, coach, accountability partner, small group, and/or therapist.

Which of these practices will you try?

 Wishing you well with it!

 

Tools for You

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Addressing Avoidance

  • “Avoidance coping causes anxiety to snowball because when people use avoidance coping they typically end up experiencing more of the very thing they were trying to escape.” -Dr. Alice Boyes, PhD, author, The Anxiety Toolkit
  • “Avoidance is the best short-term strategy to escape conflict, and the best long-term strategy to ensure suffering.” -Brendon Burchard, author
  • “What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.” -Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

How to Get Better at Asking for Help: 10 Tips

Many of us have a hard time asking for help.

Maybe we pride ourselves on being independent. Self-sufficient. A Lone Ranger.

There’s value in being self-sufficient, but when we’re too proud to ask for help it can be costly. It can keep us stuck in hardship and delay our advances, or lead to overwork and burnout. And it can inhibit close relationships with family and friends.

“Going it alone in times of hardship is never a good idea.”
-Jonathan Rauch, The Happiness Curve

Asking for help is an important skill that can aid us in all our endeavors, from living and loving to leading and learning. We’re wise to get good at it.

 

How to Get Better at Asking for Help: 10 Tips

Here are 10 things you can do to develop the useful skill of asking for help:

1. Notice that nobody succeeds without the help of others. Where would you be without the help of parents, teachers, coaches, teammates, colleagues, mentors, and friends?

2. Recognize that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It means you’re committed to your goals and confident enough to show some vulnerability.

3. Realize that the alternative (not asking for help) means continuing your frustration and suffering.

4. Understand that your fears about asking for help are misplaced. Even the worst-case scenario probably isn’t so bad. Perhaps the person refuses to help or can’t right now. Maybe you feel a bit awkward or disappointed for five seconds. So what?

5. Recall that most people like to help others. It makes them feel good to contribute. Think about how you felt when you were asked for help. (1)

“How have you felt when you have helped others? I think we can agree that’s one of the great feelings, right?
Why would you deprive others of the same feeling?”

-Marshall Goldsmith, The Earned Life

6. Stop waiting so long to ask. Consider how much time you’ve already spent on the issue, whether it’s something you’re good at addressing, and whether there are better uses of your time and energy.

7. Trust others to set boundaries for themselves. They can always decline or chat further about the extent of help they may provide.

8. Tally the potential benefits of getting help. Maybe you’ll get fresh ideas or greater clarity about how to proceed. And in the process you may very well deepen your relationship with the person contributing.

9. Start small when trying this out and build from there. This will make it more manageable and less likely that you’ll abandon it.

10. Be open with others that it’s hard for you to ask for help, but you’re trying to get better. This will make it easier to ask when the time comes.

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

Tools for You

 

Related Traps

Goal-Setting Template

Goals are the desired results we hope to achieve—the object of our effort and ambition. Goals are common in our life and work, but that doesn’t mean we’re good at setting and achieving them. Use this Goal-Setting Template to set your goals properly, based on the research and best practice.

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Seeking Help

  • “If I can leave you with only one piece of advice to increase your probability of creating an earned life, it is this: Ask for help. You need it more than you know.” -Marshall Goldsmith, The Earned Life
  • “Isolation is fatal…. The burden of going it alone is heavy and limiting—and potentially dangerous…. In fact, social isolation can take up to seven years off of your life. Isolation contributes to heart disease and depression; it influences your immune system and leads to faster aging and advanced health problems.” -Richard Leider and Alan Webber, Life Reimagined
  • “Economists call it the warm glow of giving, and psychologists call it the helper’s high. Recent neuroscience evidence shows that giving actually activates the reward and meaning centers in our brains, which send us pleasure and purpose signals when we act for the benefit of others. These benefits are not limited to giving money: they also show up for giving time.” -Adam Grant, Give and Take

 

References

(1) According to a 2022 study by researchers Xuan Zhao and Nicholas Epley published in Psychological Science, “Those needing help consistently underestimated others’ willingness to help, underestimated how positively helpers would feel, and overestimated how inconvenienced helpers would feel…. Undervaluing prosociality could create a misplaced barrier to asking for help when needed.” (Source: Zhao, X., & Epley, N. (2022). Surprisingly Happy to Have Helped: Underestimating Prosociality Creates a Misplaced Barrier to Asking for Help. Psychological Science33(10), 1708–1731.) There’s also research noting that helping others may promote feelings of happiness, increase social connection and self-esteem, lower stress levels and blood pressure, and promote longevity. (Source: Oliver Scott Curry, Lee A. Rowland, Caspar J. Van Lissa, Sally Zlotowitz, John McAlaney, Harvey Whitehouse, Happy to help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 76, 2018, 320–329.)

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!