Working for a Micro-Manager

Nearly everyone has had the experience of working for a micro-manager. Micro-management can range from asking for very detailed weekly status reports to reviewing and editing all outgoing emails.  If you work for a micro-manager, it can look like your boss is the cause of your frustration and anger.

Thank goodness that’s not true.

A few years ago, I was asked to coach a senior manager described by her boss as too emotional, defensive, and reactive.  In retrospect, my first interaction with this client’s boss was a preview of what was to come and a significant factor in my client’s reactions. The boss had no time for a face-to-face meeting and began our introductory call with a lengthy description of her credentials and experience, including her status as a certified coach. When it came to discussing my client, most of what she had to offer was what she was doing to help her employee and suggestions of what I might do. She wanted to know about the tips and techniques I use.

Nancy – my client – was a delightful, caring, and hard-working woman. She had significant experience in her field. Her 360 feedback report showed that she was respected and liked by her team.  Oh, and she was absolutely what I call a “busy bee” – busy minded and preoccupied with a lot of how-am-I-doing thinking.

Sometimes clients exaggerate the more challenging aspects of their bosses’ behavior, so I was a bit surprised when Nancy showed me an email in which her boss criticized the font she used in her emails.  There were comments about the content as well, but the font seemed to be the most egregious problem.  Nancy’s boss also monitored her time and daily schedule to a degree not usually seen in Director-level work.

I would describe Nancy’s initial feeling state as frustrated, angry, and defensive.  She cried as she told me about dealing with her boss and the admittedly unprofessional comments and advice she regularly received.  Although this sounds like a complex and untenable situation, the good news is that there was only one thing Nancy needed to realize – no one has the power to make you feel anything.  Not even your micro-managing, hypercritical, unprofessional boss.

Nancy has a teenage daughter, so it was easy to find an example to illustrate the inside-out nature of life.  I asked her if she had ever tried to make her daughter feel better about some teenage angst or trauma.  Oh yes, she said.  And you love her very much and tried very hard, right?  Yes.  How did it work?

It didn’t.

That’s because the human mind doesn’t work that way. Because we are always creating our experience of life from the inside through the power of thought and consciousness, no one can make you feel better. Or worse. We feel our thinking about the world, not the circumstances we’re in or the people around us.

It took a bit of trial and error, but Nancy started to catch herself getting revved up by the things her boss said or did.  She saw the shift of power – from the outside to the inside. She stopped over-reacting to her boss’s requests for info and was able to respond more effectively from a state of mental clarity as opposed to defensiveness. She stopped second-guessing herself and/or worrying about how her team was doing.  Her mind quieted down.  From a state of wisdom and common sense, she realized that she was pushing herself too hard and started making time for some self-care.

When she told me she was resuming her bi-monthly massages, I knew my work was done.

Her boss is still there, she hasn’t changed a bit. But Nancy can handle it better now that she’s seen the inside-out nature of life.

Red-Faced Rage Monster

Sometimes my coaching clients have an insight that debunks what they previously thought was true.  My client, Jack, for example had a bit of an awakening about how to motivate and inspire his team and influence his functional colleagues.  As a technical director in a medical device company, Jack led a team of engineers and was also responsible for working with both the manufacturing leads and the program managers who interfaced with customers.

At our first meeting, it was obvious that Jack was not excited about being in a leadership development program.  He was annoyed by the leaders in his company, seeing them as incompetent phonies whose main purpose was split between wasting his time and politicking with each other when they weren’t playing golf.   Because of this, Jack had no aspirations for “leadership.”

Jack also believed that he had to be mean and uncompromising to get anything done.  When people pushed him, he shoved back and powered through to get his way.  He was angry and justified his anger by thinking that it came with the territory.  He’s a big guy so I could only imagine what it was like when he lost his temper.

O-kaaay – Jack seemed like a pretty unhappy camper.  Step one was getting rapport.  Luckily I’m good at it.  I just listened. My listening threw him for a loop because he wasn’t used to people sincerely trying to understand him.  When he settled down, I discovered that he actually has lots of joy in his life – just not at work where he has a lot of thinking about how things should be and how people don’t measure up.  He loves working in his huge garden at home and playing with his little kids and his dog.  He loves his wife.  I’m sure everything at home isn’t perfect all the time, but he rides it out and settles down.

I asked him if he honestly thought his way of influencing people was effective.  He smiled.  Then I asked him if he was up for learning something about how humans create our experience of life, how we see ourselves and others, and where our upset feelings really come from.  It occurred to me that it would be helpful for Jack to see that imperfect circumstances and people don’t have the power to make him feel anything.  If he could stop getting into judgmental reactions with people, he would have the mental space and clarity to have more impactful conversations.

To help him see this, I gave Jac a quick explanation of how the mind actually works – Inside-Out.  Because we can’t have a feeling without thought, I explained, people can’t make us feel anything.  Instead, it’s our thinking about them that brings the emotion.  I asked him to test this out between now and our next meeting.

At our next meeting, he was smiling and seemed a little less disgruntled and frustrated.  I asked if he had any insights.  He said “Yeah, I realized that being the Red-Faced Rage Monster isn’t very effective after all.”

We both laughed.  He went on to say that he started noticing that his reactions were caused by a storm of thoughts primarily based on past interactions that had nothing to do with the current situation.  When he was able to ignore that thinking and focus on how to work collaboratively to solve problems, work life got a little easier.  He also got curious about what made sense to his colleagues – why they did what they did, why it made sense to them to act a certain way.  Minus the snarky judgment, there was room for connection and understanding.

Magically, the Red-Faced Rage Monster disappeared.  Poof.

The View of the Future is Always Incomplete

Have you ever rehearsed a conversation that hasn’t even happened yet?  I have.  It’s funny how we torment ourselves with possible future scenarios, isn’t it?  Here’s a recent example from my own life.

One morning an e-mail popped up from an HR business partner client, Jane.  I’m involved in a particularly challenging coaching engagement with a senior technical expert in Jane’s organization.  Jane, who I respect deeply, engaged me to help, but she was overly involved in the coaching process, sometimes testing the boundaries of confidentiality.  Every time I saw her name in my inbox, I’d go into a major thought tailspin.  What was it now?  What new accusations have been made about my coachee?  How am I going to answer her questions yet maintain rapport with my coachee?

I’d get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and, with a sense of urgency, would immediately start frantically typing a response.  But this time, I stopped.

Sometimes when I least expect it, I have a helpful insight.  While I know this capability is build-in to the design of the human mind, insights, when they come, can still surprise me.

This time, I realized a few things before responding:

  1. I was in a reaction
  2. I have excellent rapport with Jane
  3. I was making lots of conclusions based on a few sentences of information in an email.

It occurred to me to ask for a short phone meeting rather than start an email exchange.  We set it up for two days later.

During those two days, I often found myself projecting and rehearsing the conversation.  But then I had another insight.

“I have no idea what I’ll be thinking and feeling on Thursday morning.  And I have no idea what Jane will be thinking and feeling on Thursday morning.” 

My view of the future was incomplete because there’s no telling what thoughts might occur in the moment.

I did my best to stop ruminating, and on Thursday morning, listened to what Jane had to say.  Instead of accusations, I heard her heart felt concern for my coachee and appreciation for what he was up against.  We batted some ideas around and in 15 minutes came up with an idea to help not only the coachee but the folks who have trouble understanding him.  It was easy!  It felt great!

That’s the beauty of the intelligent design of the human operating system.  We are hard-wired for insight and creativity, but we tend to torment ourselves with possible future scenarios.  Had I continued to ruminate, I might’ve blocked the process of insight, or worse, I might’ve started an epic email thread.  Luckily, this time I didn’t.

Knowing the design is most of the battle.

Mr. Spaghetti Head

If you met my coaching client, Parker, you’d probably wonder why he even needs a coach at all.  An MIT PhD biochemist, Parker did his post doc work in a lab run by the founder of his current company.  They do exciting work trying to find a cure for cancer. With his big genuine smile and way of connecting, people love Parker.  He’s paid well and works in a hip company – and he’s not even 40.

If things are going so well for him, what’s his problem?  Spaghetti head.

Spaghetti head is shorthand for a picture I use with my clients.











The content of Parker’s spaghetti head was a whole lotta thinking about who he is and how he’s doing.  He didn’t see it as ego and he didn’t see that it’s all made up.

Yes, everything we think about ourselves – the good, the bad, and the ugly – is made of thought.  It’s thought, but it looks like the truth.

Parker is very fond of his knowledge.  He believes he knows how things should be.  He gets frustrated when people don’t do things correctly – especially people who are above him in the hierarchy.  Furthermore, they aren’t making backpack zippers – they’re trying to cure cancer!

He’s a pretty good listener, and because he has the reputation for speaking truth to power, people come to him to complain about things.  And of course, he readily jumps in the soup and takes on their frustration.

Parker was burning out when I met him.  When you believe your frustration is coming from your circumstances and other people, you don’t have many options.  He didn’t want to move to another company, but he didn’t see any other way out.

Luckily, he was up for seeing something different about how life works.  He read everything I gave him, watched TED talks, and completely identified with Spaghetti Head.  He began noticing when he was starting to get caught up in a reaction of churning thoughts and pulled back.  Leaning into the thought storm stopped making sense to him.

People, of course, noticed the change in his behavior, which initially presented another challenge.  His colleagues said “Hey, what’s wrong with you?  Are you quitting?  How come you’re so quiet?”  Admittedly, it was a significant shift because at first, he didn’t know what to do, other than get out of his reaction by trying to settle himself down.  It took time for him to be able to re-engage from a more settled state of mind.  But he did.

Here’s what he realized:

  1. His frustration was coming from his own thinking, not the situation.
  2. He was not effective when he was caught up in a reaction.

Towards the end of our coaching engagement, there was a reorganization in the company and one of his colleagues quit.  When he came home that night and told his wife she said, “So is this how tonight’s going to go?”  because his usual MO was to spend the evening complaining and being frustrated.  But this time, it was different.  His troublesome thoughts dissipated and he was able to have an enjoyable evening with his family.

Yeah, curing cancer is a pretty important job – but so is being a husband and a Dad.

Eleanor Roosevelt Understood Inside-Out

Long before Sydney Banks shared what he learned about the nature of life, there were plenty of people who listened to their innate wisdom.  Eleanor Roosevelt was one of them.

During WWII, when women were keeping the factories going, Eleanor set up a system of national daycare centers that also provided hot meals for women to take home at the end of the day.  She encouraged women to enter the field of journalism by inviting only female reporters to her press conferences.  When presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin was asked “Who is the ultimate badass woman?” she chose Eleanor.

Eleanor had lots of wisdom and common sense – just as we all do – and she didn’t let a lot of thinking drown it out.  Check out these three quotes – they clearly illustrate her understanding of the power of thought.

“I’m so glad I never feel important, it does complicate life!”  She realized there’s no value in having a lot of thought about yourself, good or bad.  She highly valued curiosity.  She looked for what she didn’t know and saw life with a sense of humility.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”  Eleanor understood that feelings come from thought, thought that she could accept or let go.  This belief gave her the courage to take risks and stand up for what she thought was right in a time when women were often not taken seriously.

“They’re not really criticizing me; they just don’t like my ideas.”  How different would the world be today if people were able to understand different perspectives and beliefs and not take things personally?  Eleanor was able to see beyond the criticism and look to understand the person. Can you imagine the outcome if she got defensive and emotional when people pushed back on her ideas?

We’ve all had “Eleanor moments” when we feel bulletproof and badass, but unless we understand where our feelings really come from, we chalk those moments up to something other than our own thinking.

Here’s all we need to remember to embrace our inner badass:

  • We have incredibly powerful minds, built for success. We are always evolving and growing thanks to a limitless flow of new thought.
  • Our minds only work one way – inside-out. We are not at the mercy of our circumstances.  We’re always just one thought away from seeing something helpful and new.
  • We’re always feeling our thinking – whether we realize it or not.

There’s nothing to do!  It’s just how it works.  Like Eleanor, we have built-in badassery!

When You Know How Something Works

When I was 16, my Dad bought me a car.  Not just any car, a red 1966 Chevy Impala SS ragtop with a 425HP V8 engine.  A fierce American muscle car with a manual transmission and heavy duty clutch.

Sounds awesome, right?

Not so much.

As a new driver, I was grappling with understanding hand signals and the rules of the road.  I wanted a little Ford Falcon with an automatic transmission to putter around on the country roads in my small town.  The Impala seemed like a behemoth, a beast.

My Dad repeatedly explained how to ease up on the clutch and simultaneously apply the gas, but despite his best efforts, I could not make that darn Impala move.  I could barely remember how to work the gear shift in the little H pattern.  I was lost.

Driving a manual transmission made total sense to my Dad.  It made zero sense to me.  We never got out of the school parking lot, and I was in tears on the way home.  The Impala was a masterpiece of automotive design, yet I couldn’t get it to move more than a few feet!

This is what happens when you don’t really understand how something works.

The human mind is also a masterpiece of design.  We all have the power to formulate thought and experience that thought through our senses.  We also have limitless potential for new thought.  The design is truly amazing.  But until we realize what’s happening and how it works, we can get as frustrated as I was in the parking lot.

To make it more challenging, the belief that life comes at us from the outside (from circumstances, people, or past events) is a huge misunderstanding about how the mind actually works.  When we’re stuck in the misunderstanding, it looks like things external to us (our workload, children/pets, or past failures and disappointments) are causing us to feel stress or worry.  It looks like we must cope with what’s coming at us. Our emotions ratchet up.  It’s easy to slip into a victimized state of mind.

Furthermore, just as I couldn’t intellectually see how to drive a manual transmission, we can’t intellectually think our way out of our thoughts.  Instead, we must realize how the system works in the moment, while we’re experiencing what looks like life coming at us.  When we know how it doesn’t work – outside-in – we set ourselves up for the moment of insight when we see how it does work – inside-out.

For example, in my own life, sometimes it can look like a lack of consulting work in the pipeline is stressful.  I can build a strong case for why this is true – I have a mortgage, dogs to care for and bills to pay.  Then I catch myself and get on with things.  A few days later, while walking the dogs in the woods, I get a thought about partnering with a friend to market a program to her client base.  A few phone calls later and we’re looking at venues for an exciting new project.

In my 30s, I finally learned to drive a manual transmission in a little red Honda Civic.  Once I understood the moment of balance between letting out the clutch and pressing on the accelerator, I was all good.  A few years later, I got my own version of a muscle car, a Volkswagen Scirocco.  Some days, while I was effortlessly shifting gears barreling down the highway, I’d think of those tortuous hours spent in the school parking lot with that Impala SS and smile.

Understanding makes all the difference.


All You Need to Know About Holding People Accountable

Once again, I’m motivated to write a post based on recent coaching conversations. This time, the topic is holding people accountable. A quick internet search found many references to two actions so common-sense it’s hard to believe that it takes someone from The Center for Creative Leadership or The Harvard Business Review to spell them out.

1. Define and clarify roles, goals, and expectations.
How can a leader hold anyone accountable if there isn’t alignment and understanding as to what success looks like? To compound the issue, a leader who sends confused or mixed messages about performance will be contributing to a culture of mistrust, uncertainty, doubt, and fear. So why is getting clarity and alignment about roles and goals so difficult to get right?

Here’s what I’ve heard:

– I thought they understood ….
– We discussed expectations in performance reviews
– We reviewed team goals at the staff meeting
– I sent out an e-mail to the team
– It’s obvious what we need to do to succeed – meet our numbers!
– We don’t have time to _____________________.

The only problem here is the belief that people hear and perceive messages the same way. It’s a common misperception that because we’re in the same situational experience, we all must be experiencing it the same way. In actual fact, we are never having a common situational experience. Ten leaders on a conference call or sitting around a board room table are having 10 different, thought-generated experiences on a continuum of clarity and presence to disengaged and checked out. And, that level of clarity and presence will fluctuate throughout the meeting within each individual.

A leader who understands the inside-out nature of reality in the moment will naturally want to verify and validate what his/her team members are hearing. It won’t make sense to broadcast a one-way message to a distracted team, to assume silence equals agreement, or to believe that sending an e-mail will “make it so.”

Furthermore, a leader who realizes that the frustration s/he feels when communicating current business challenges and expectations is always and only coming from thought in the moment and not the situation or the team’s reactions, will be better able to maintain the presence and connection required for getting alignment and commitment.

2. Provide honest, timely feedback on progress or lack thereof.
I’m beginning to suspect that the current over-emphasis on being politically correct is contributing to a lack of honest conversations about progress on goals and objectives. Some corporate cultures seem to reinforce the old adage “if you can’t say something nice…” sending an implied message that negative/constructive feedback is somehow disrespectful. Isn’t it disrespectful not to be honest with people?

Again, the faulty reasoning that our feelings come from anything other than thought in the moment is at play. Some leaders worry about how critical feedback will be received and from that place of worry and discomfort, they deliver vague, confusing messages about performance – or avoid having the discussion altogether. Others may take poor performance personally and react from feelings of anger and frustration that look absolutely justified when one believes that circumstances cause feelings – and therefore that dire circumstances require “tough talk.”

There are many reasons for lack of progress or poor performance, but there’s only one way to really understand what’s going on. We need to have a connected conversation from a space of mental clarity. And finding this space is not about tips or techniques. Every introductory supervisor training has a module covering performance feedback. There’s no formula for interpersonal effectiveness – it’s about understanding how human beings operate.

The Secret to Holding People Accountable

The key to more effective conversations about performance is realizing two facts:

1. We are all living in separate realities created by thought taking form uniquely in each person, in every moment

2. Our feelings are always and only coming from our thinking and not the circumstances

Each of us is living in an ever-changing world of thought in the moment – from inside of us, not from circumstances or other people. When we realize how the mind works, we don’t waste energy and create noise in the system looking outside of ourselves for the cause of our emotions in the moment. Without that activity, mental clarity is our natural state of mind. From that space, wisdom, common sense, and connection emerge and honest, effective conversations are possible, regardless of the situation.

Presence and Gravitas….when you don’t have dragons

In my coaching practice, I’m often asked to help leaders develop executive presence or gravitas. Here’s how I reflect on what to do:

Executive presence…. Hmmm, what’s thought got to do with it? (I hear the Tina Turner melody in my head.)

Of course, it’s always about the role and nature of thought, but I have to connect some dots first. So, I usually start with a quick visit to the blogosphere to look for definitions and examples. Such as:

In a survey asking CIOs to list the top 20 leadership skills, Executive Presence came in second. The post listed 7 traits: Composure, Connection, Charisma (ability to draw others in; often achieved by strong listening skills and an ability to stay in the moment), Confidence (what you say and how you say it – posture, eye contact, pitch volume, pace); Credibility (no filler language), Clarity, and Conciseness (not verbose).

In his HBR blog post Deconstructing Executive Presence, John Beeson states:

“Although executive presence is highly intuitive and difficult to pin down, it ultimately boils down to your ability to project mature self-confidence, a sense that you can take control of difficult, unpredictable situations; make tough decisions in a timely way and hold your own with other talented and strong-willed members of the executive team.”

Colin Gautrey advises those looking to develop “genuine” gravitas that the behavior is “The external evidence of a deeply held conviction that the individual is totally competent to do what is expected of them and handle anything that comes their way, without feeling the need to prove themselves.” He concludes (and I rest my case) that “The problem is that gravitas comes from within….”

Next, I simplify. Sounds to me like self-confidence and mental clarity.

So what gets in the way of self-confidence and mental clarity? Lots of ego-driven thinking and self-doubt; endless “Who am I and How am I doing?” comparisons. The louder the chatter, the less presence and mental clarity are available in the moment. Gripped by a host of feelings – insecurity, defensiveness, upset, impatience – that appear to be coming from current circumstances, it’s impossible to behave like a confident, credible leader.

Now I can get down to the business of sharing what I know about how the human operating system really works.

1. Our feelings and experience of life are always and only coming from our thinking in the moment.

2. When we realize the fact of this understanding, we are less gripped by our thinking in the moment and don’t waste time and energy trying to fix our circumstances.

3. When our heads are clear, we naturally have fresh thinking that gives us what we need in the moment. There is an intelligence in the system that will never let us down.

The implications of this understanding as they relate to executive presence and gravitas are myriad.

Let’s start with the 7 Cs listed above. Take away the mental chatter and from a clear and present focus, it’s possible to listen deeply and connect with others in the moment. Regardless of the situation, it’s possible to remain calm and composed – or at the very least to recover quickly from spikes of emotional reactions. When nervous, anxious feelings slip away, the outward behaviors that signal confidence and credibility naturally emerge. Posture, pace, pitch, volume, and eye contact take care of themselves. The message is delivered in a clear, concise, confident manner.

The leader who knows that his or her feelings are not coming from a challenging situation or a strong-willed colleague or customer is able to maintain composure and diffuse emotional situations with calm, fact-based questions and a natural willingness to attempt to understand others. The leader who understands that change, uncertainty, and workload are never the source of stress and pressure will have more mental bandwidth available to see different ways of getting things done, make timely decisions, and set priorities.

Once again, there is nothing that can help my clients more than understanding how their minds work. It always comes back to the Principles – whether I specifically talk about Mind, Consciousness, and Thought or not.

PS: For those who are not Game of Thrones fans — that’s Daenerys Targaryen with one of her dragons

It’s Not About Heading for a Good Feeling….

Porcupine (1)Lately I’ve been seeing the implications of the 3 Principles in a much simpler way, thanks to Keith Blevens and Valda Monroe along with the work I’ve been doing with Chantal Burns.  There’s only one thing people need to understand in order to reap the benefits of the understanding that Syd Banks shared with the world so many years ago.  It’s this:  All experience is always coming from your thinking in the moment.  Period.

When you realize this, those thoughts fail to have the impact they used to have.  They don’t have any staying power.  It doesn’t make sense to entertain thinking that’s outside-in.  When you don’t pay attention to outside-in thoughts, your mind automatically clears and you’re connected to your wisdom and common sense – the source of new thought, thus a new experience in the moment.

Notice what is missing here.  There is absolutely nothing to do – especially anything that has to do with judging thought or the resultant feeling state as good or bad.  It took me a while to understand that this is what Keith and Valda mean when they say you can’t split thought.  Just like you can’t split the principle of gravity.  There’s not good gravity and bad gravity, it’s all gravity.

So here’s what this means in terms of the coaching and sharing I do in business.

  • Taking the notion of good thought and bad thought, good feeling and bad feeling off the table is huge for me. It gets rid of all the doing that clutters up my clients’ minds.  They don’t have to be their own personal thought police, constantly on the lookout for bad feelings to do something about.
  • When I’m not implicitly or explicitly labeling thinking as good or bad, I don’t have to debate with my clients about whether the feeling of stress is good or bad. I have many clients who love to be under a tight deadline or working on a technical problem on the critical path of a project. One person’s stress is another person’s exhilaration.  And trust me, you don’t want to be debating that fact with scientists and engineers!
  • You don’t have to look for a good feeling or any other feeling for that matter. You don’t have to choose to love your neighbor or get curious about the perceptions of your co-workers.  Those feelings are the result of a clear and present mind – and when you don’t entertain illogical outside-in perceptions, you will automatically return to your innate clear and present state.  You’ll see that we are all doing what makes sense to us in the moment, that we all have human frailties.
  • It’s true that when we’re not doing a lot of thinking about our thinking, our minds settle down and we may get flooded with a beautiful feeling of love and gratitude and connection in the moment. But it’s not about working to be in that blissful state more often as though that’s the place to be.  The wisdom of the system will give you what you need in the moment without your interference.

Recently I’ve been talking with a number of people who have been to lovely seaside retreats or incredibly inspiring conference events that, in their minds, generated beautiful feelings of peace and love and gratitude.  I’ve heard people say that it’s too bad they have to go back to the outside world of ringing phones and meetings and other interruptions.  Sometimes, innocently we don’t see that this very statement implies that the outside world/reality is responsible for ruining our state of bliss.  Sometimes people hear that if you have a very deep understanding of the principles or if you really “get it,” you will be in this blissful state all the time, most of the time, or at the very least, more than the people who don’t get it.  I don’t agree, and I also think it takes people down a path of doing, of being on a quest to find and sustain a feeling of bliss and contentment — A state that already exists behind our thinking.

Here’s what occurred to me today when I was walking in the woods with my dogs.  I’m very well acquainted with that beautiful feeling, and it moves me to tears whether I’m sitting in a retreat center or driving in my car on the highway on a beautiful day.  But the wisdom of the human operating system serves up thought that is just what I need in the moment.  For example, sometimes as I’m walking along the path with my dogs, I’m completely zoned out.  I’m not thinking about anything.  I feel fabulous.  I often have insights about a work project or a client or just how damn lucky I am to have the life I have.  However, when I hear the engine of a 4-wheeler coming in our direction, I am immediately super focused on what I might have to do to get myself and my dogs to safety.  It’s a different feeling – but it’s not good or bad.  Did the 4-wheeler ruin my walk?

A few years ago on a walk, one of my dogs was exploring around a stone wall and wound up with a snout covered with porcupine quills.  We were about 30 minutes away from my car so it was a bit of a scramble to get back there and then to the vet.  Once there, 20 minutes and $200 later, my pup was fine.  So fine in fact that a few weeks later, he did it again.  For a few months after that I was hypervigilant whenever we walked by a stone wall – which in the woods in New England is just about all the time!  Was that wrong?  Should I have been trying to get back to my blissful state?  Was the fact that in New Hampshire we have little creatures called porcupines that are covered with nasty quills the reason for my lack of bliss?  NO.  The mind gives us what we need when we need it.  In other words, my common sense dictated that I needed, at times, to keep a closer eye on my dogs.

In my mind, saying that the commitments and facts of working life take me away from my blissful retreat-mode feeling or the reoccurring state of gratitude and love, would be like believing the porcupines ruined my dog walk.  Then I could decide to work on that thinking and cultivate compassion for the porcupines.  Or be grateful that my dog wasn’t hurt badly.  But that doesn’t make sense.  What makes sense is that no matter what I’m feeling in the moment, my experience is always coming from thought – and only thought. There’s nothing to work on or strive for – it just is.  Like porcupines and stone walls in New Hampshire.

Overwhelmed? Help is on the Way!

HandAlthough you vowed that this year would be different and charged into 2016 with the best of intentions to take control of your life, you’re right back where you were before the holidays. Overwhelmed. Overworked. Overscheduled. Most days you dread going to work because you just don’t see yourself making any progress. If one more perky person smiles and says “It is what it is,” you’re going to scream.

The feeling of overwhelm is a common state of mind that looks like it’s coming completely from our circumstances. To make matters worse, conventional wisdom reinforces the misunderstanding about the source of our emotions. The “experts” say overwhelm is the result of relationship problems, career demands, financial difficulties, life transitions, and so on.

When it looks like you’re drowning beneath a huge wave of conflicting priorities and unrealistic expectations, it’s hard to make decisions and move forward. You’re stuck. The more you think about how much you have to do, the less you get done. It’s a vicious circle. Here’s how to stop the madness:

First, realize that your feelings are coming from your thinking 100% of the time. No person or circumstance can ever make you feel anything. Sometimes you see it and sometimes you don’t. But it’s always true; it’s just how the human mind works. When you’re telling friends about your best vacation ever, I’ll guarantee you’re not feeling stressed and overwhelmed, no matter how many emails are in your inbox. Being open to this possibility will pave the way for insights, the fresh thinking that spontaneously emerges when our minds are free and clear.

Second, have faith in your innate wisdom and potential for insights. You’ve been having new thinking and seeing different perspectives and alternatives your entire life. The capability has always been there, but the more you know the less you’re open to seeing something new. Then you’re stuck with what you have, so to speak, and it makes sense try to find a new time management tool, get better at multi-tasking, and when all else fails, complain about the inefficiencies of senior management. You churn and grind away, clogging up your mental pipeline and stopping the natural flow of thought.

Just like a 3-year old in the time out chair, your mind will automatically settle down when you stop focusing on external circumstances as the source of your frustration. From a state of focus and mental clarity, you’ll be able to make decisions and move forward. Your wisdom and common sense will guide you in the right direction.

So the next time you want to scream like a toddler, put yourself in the time out chair and see what happens.

If you want to hear more on this topic, join me in my Supermind -sponsored webinar on February 29th.