Relationship goals: when to invest in relationship growth vs separation

Yesterday I spent my day coaching 7 different young adults through completely different stages of their relationship development.  All of them have proven to be tremendously capable in their chosen professional field.  Even in the teetering tech market of Silicon Vally they’ve earned impressive merit based raises, gifted pricy vacations abroad with company funds, landed on prestigious lists like Forbes Top 30 under 30, deemed essential in corporate leadership, and set trends in the startup world of the San Francisco Bay Area.  All of them are navigating the perilous task of determining who to invest in for a long term romantic partnership.  These are people prone to approaching goals with a steely pace and scrupulous plan for a high success rate.  Yet interpersonal relationship development and decision making doesn’t easily succumb to this style of problem solving.  How does one successfully determine when to invest in relationship growth versus separation, especially in the face of elusive feelings like ‘attraction, chemistry and connection’?  How much compatibility is enough?  How much compromise is too much?   This article aims to offer some guiding points to lead you in your decision towards continuing in the relationship or breaking things off with the hopes of finding a better fit.

  • Predetermine what matters most in ANY sort of close, long term relationship.  Do this exercise.  Pretend you’re searching for a new platonic best friend, based on what has proven to be the most essential qualities you’ve enjoyed in other close friendships.  Make a list of top 5 descriptive traits you believe would be most important for the friendship to be awesome.  I asked people with various types of personalities to share this with me, in order to get a sense of what people prioritize when they decide to invest in growing a relationship.  I was actually surprised by what some people said! (I won’t list any here because I think it’s more effective to create your list without external influences.)  Now ask yourself ‘How can I find out if this person has enough of my 5 most valued traits?  What will I look for? How long will it take?  Does this person demonstrate these traits consistently with me as well as other key people in their life, or are they sporadic?’  Are the qualities on my list part of how I’ve identified and maintained ‘chemistry’ with people in the past?  If you find yourself dating someone who doesn’t exhibit these qualities consistently with you, chances are it’s just not going to work.
  • Is there considerable evidence that this person adds measurable value to your life right now?  I ask this because many people decide to invest in relationships based on factors they believe will be valuable at some future point.  Nothing is wrong with considering things like compatible achievement/financial goals, similar hypothetical timelines for marriage, or believing someone would make an amazing parent.  The problem with this focus is that people lose track of evaluating how much they actually enjoy the relationship in the here and now.  I can’t tell you how many people come into my office stating “my problem is that I tend to date two different kinds of people; one is super hot and we have great physical chemistry but not a lot in common/we can’t stand each other outside the bedroom, and the other one has a lot of what I want in a life partner but I’m just not as attracted to them physically.”  Choices, choices people!  Here’s the bottom line.  If someone doesn’t currently hold your interest enough for you to exclusively focus on them on a day-to-day basis, chances are you’re going to be so focused on an upgrade it’s bound to fail!  It does not matter that their potential is great, or the timing is off, etc.  Move on.  But accept this:
  • THERE IS NO HOLY GRAIL of a partner.  It doesn’t even matter how much of a catch you are (tragically!)  Don’t believe me?  Do this: find an older person who describes their early relationship as having exactly the experience you’ve always wanted- that feeling of butterflies and fireworks going off, sitting and daydreaming about when you get to spend time alone with them again, listening to them talk in awe of how amazing/intelligent/funny/interesting they are, doing stuff with them is so easy and fun, the physical attraction is there, ‘this is THE ONE’ feeling is there, the feeling is mutual, etc. etc.  Even when this whole ‘madly in love’ experience remains unwavering for years between two people, they will STILL tell you that eventually the honeymoon phase does end (You’ve heard this before.  Still, you long to be impervious to this truth, so you avoid it by chasing new honeymoons with different people).  So this is when the hard work of committed relationship compromise begins, in order for you to enjoy the reality of a long-term relationship beyond the honeymoon phase.

Now if you’ve managed to make a connection with someone to even consider any of the above questions, you’re off to a decent start.  These days in the dating world it’s a challenge to even get beyond the right swipe of a dating app, let alone past the cutting room floor of a first date/hang out session.  Think about how you want to address the idea of investing in this next period of relationship evaluation.

  • Clarify the deal of commitment.  Even though these conversations are awkward, if avoid it you’ll have no idea if investing more of your time makes sense.  First figure out what you want.  Would you prefer if the two of you are only dating each other in this next phase?  Or dating other people but sexually exclusive?  Do you know if marriage is something they want for themselves, and if so, how soon do they imagine being ready for marriage?
  • Spend time thinking about where you are and are not willing to compromise. The other person may need more time to feel it out.  Many people operate under the belief that “compatible” people start out wanting commitment changes to happen at exactly the same time.  This couldn’t be further from the truth, some people just need more time to process their thoughts and feelings.  It is your job however, to decide whether the discrepancies that exist between the two of you are just too big to establish and maintain a fulfilling relationship.  How you ask?
  • Notice the patterns that exist between you:  Are routinely important habits in their life persistently difficult for you to bear?  Do you see a feasible way for you to accept these things, even if they never change?  Can you communicate while problem-solving without spiraling into attack or stonewalling mode with each other?  Do you set each other off in consistently destructive ways?  Is the emotional toll of engaging in this relationship negatively impacting other important areas of your life such as your ability to work effectively in your chosen path?  Are you able to maintain the relationships you’ve determined are important to you while you’re dating this person?
  • Make a clear decision about the relationship for a specific period of time and execute towards that plan, rather than spending days or even months going back and forth about whether to stay in the relationship.  ‘Should I end this relationship?  Yesterday I struggled with thinking I should, but today I feel like I want to make things work.’  This type of deliberation can be paralyzing and spiral into even bigger problems, like anxiety and depression, which exacerbate the situation.  You’re not going to move forward in either your relationship or personally if you remain plagued with indecisiveness.  By not committing to a concrete plan, you are not actively working to gain resolution.  The irony of staying in a relationship with one foot out the door is that you neither benefit from the comfort of intimacy nor gain the necessary closure for moving on with your life.
  • Accept that even the happiest couples have perpetual problems.  Manage conflict with the understanding that not all problems can be permanently solved.  If I learned anything from studying the work of John Gottman (the leading expert on marital stability and relationship analysis through scientific direct observations) it was this- you are setting yourself up for failure if you approach all your relationship problems  with the expectation of permanent resolution.  Perpetual problems stem from fundamental differences in your personalities or lifestyle habits, and can lead to gridlock when attempts to communicate and compromise fail.
  • Learn to practice effective conflict management.  Enlist emotional intelligence skills and aim to avoid toxic communication styles.  Create a system of shared meaning in your relationship that fosters collaboration and friendship in order to bypass power struggles.  What matters is not solving perpetual problems, but establishing a dialogue that communicates acceptance of your partner with humor, affection, and even amusement, to actively cope with the unresolvable problem without it tearing down the relationship.

If all else fails, seek professional help to help you figure out how to effectively invest the time and effort necessary for building and maintaining a healthy relationship.  Work through your breakup story if that’s the route you take, but move on so you can benefit from the invaluable rewards of love and intimacy.

 

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Strategies overachievers can use to find happiness and purpose

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Starting a new year is especially impactful for people described as ‘overachievers’.  I work closely with young influencers in the tech community of San Francisco, their struggles are as unique as their accomplishments.  From completing their own annual ‘Year in Review’ life progress report (yes that really is a thing) to calculating their financial growth trajectory against the top 1% of earners, they are quick to succeed at what they set out to do.  Most are well under 35, have founded and successfully run and/or profitably sold a company, and are already making more money than their parents.  Nothing to frown at, right?  Yet if this describes you, you’re probably thinking ‘meh, so has almost everyone else I know.’  It’s no easy feat to be impressive in the Bay Area.

Overachievers are known for their willingness to tackle new challenges, push themselves beyond their comfort zone in order to get ahead of their peers, and are highly effective at solving problems.  Yet high achieving people also tend to privately wonder “Am I the only one who has a hard time relaxing and enjoying myself?  Why can’t I stop worrying about falling behind in life?”  Overachievers invest much of their time investigating what ‘the right’ choices are, and can struggle with making definitive decisions out of fear of making ‘the wrong’ choice.  Committing to a specific career direction, choosing a spouse, or deciding which city to settle down in can all be paralyzing decisions for overachievers.  The painstaking (not to mention endless) deliberation of an overachiever can lead to chronic feelings of dissatisfaction, loss of authentic purpose, and ultimately, a barrier to enjoying the outcomes they’ve worked so hard to attain.

Effective Reframing Strategies overachievers can use to find happiness and authentic purpose:

Redefine Happiness.  Consider how often you think “I’ll be so happy when…or “I can’t wait until…” Stop placing a conditional clause on happiness, it prevents you from valuing your current circumstances as worthy of genuine satisfaction.  Ironically, this thinking style begins as way to sustain motivation and increase tolerance for challenging periods in life.  “I’ll be so happy when I finish this damn Ph.D.” (guilty as charged)  There’s nothing wrong with expecting to feel great once something difficult is over or a life milestone has been met.

  • The Stumbling Block:  When this ‘imagined future’ gets placed so far up on a pedestal that it diminishes your current circumstances, and prevents you from investing in present-day opportunities for satisfaction and joy.
  • The Faulty Logic: “If I let myself be happy with where I am right now, I’ll lose motivation to work hard, and I’ll stop striving for that next level of achievement.”  FALSE.  Work ethic is not driven by avoiding happiness.  You aren’t doing yourself a favor by adopting an attitude of ‘my current life isn’t good enough, and I shouldn’t indulge in pleasure, lest I become complacent’.  Nor does any particular achievement guarantee happiness.
  • The Solution:  Keep your happiness barometer focused on the here and now.  Allow yourself to experience real pleasure and contentment today, it will be the positive fuel that will restore and strengthen you for all your future endeavors.  What if you aren’t sure what makes you genuinely happy?  Instead of measuring every person, activity or experience as an opportunity to advance your station in life, start by asking yourself “Was that fun?”

“If you’re happy, that’s probably the most important thing. Everyone probably has their own definition of success, for me it’s happiness. Do I enjoy what I’m doing? Do I enjoy the people I’m with? Do I enjoy my life?”  Michael Dell, Entrepreneur and Founder of Dell

Redefine Failure.  Consider how often you label a situation or outcome in your life a ‘failure’. Many overachievers are quick to discount and devalue something that didn’t go exactly according to plan.  Part of how people successfully achieve goals is by creating highly specific plans with measurable outcomes.  However, overachievers are prone to self-punitive rumination when things don’t turn out precisely as planned, which leads to pervasive feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy.

  • The Stumbling Block:  Choosing to view something as a ‘failure’ blinds you to the value it can contribute to your life.  Tying your sense of worth to quantifiable ‘wins’ and ‘failures’ robs you of the chance to be a whole person, whose contributions and very existence is valuable beyond achievement.
  • The Faulty Logic:  “If something didn’t turn out how I wanted, it should be considered a fail.  I wasted valuable time and now I’m behind with my life plan.  This failure tarnishes me, and now I’m not as valuable as other people because of it.”
  • The Solution:  Practice finding (and believing) in silver linings.  In every outcome and life experience there is opportunity to learn and grow in profitable ways.  Finding out what problem solving strategies and solutions don’t work and why, developing newfound courage, building emotional strength, practicing patience, gaining insights about how people and groups think and behave, increasing your ability to offer encouragement and compassion, uncovering resilience, experiencing autonomy and teamwork in new circumstances, the list is endless!  The point is, the most successful, well-rounded people derive their critical personal development from all sorts of experiences and are better for it.  Do not short-change yourself by writing off even your worst outcomes as worthless.  Moreover, the value of your life cannot be quantified by successful achievement alone.

Success does not Guarantee Love.  This is a big one. Huge actually.  Many overachievers learned early in their life they are more likely to receive praise for their successes, which feels good- especially when it comes from influential people like parents or primary caregivers.  Alice Miller wrote about this over 30 years ago in the classic The Drama of the Gifted Child.  Being singled out for winning can make us feel special and desirable, increasing our awareness of social status.  Criticism for not achieving can feel rejecting and painful and can lower our sense of self-worth.  Over time, overachievers learn to associate social approval, love, admiration, inclusion, and even intimacy.as being dependent on one’s success.  It’s not that seeking social connections through common interests, values or achievements is misguided.  But relying on social status to serve as the most critical criteria for building friendships or finding a romantic partner can result in relationships that never feel good enough or genuinely fulfilling.

  • The Stumbling Block:   When we use our own version of ‘social status’ (prestigious academic or career achievements, artistic talent, wealth, power, socially recognized intellectual or physical superiority) as the primary focus for building our social circle or selecting a romantic partner, we can lose sight of the most important factors that make relationships feel good and lead to lasting love, happiness and intimacy.  We run the risk of developing relationships that feel inauthentic and insecure.
  • The Faulty Logic:  “My own relative success has led me win approval and special treatment from others.  I’ve also learned to avoid painful criticism and negative judgment by demonstrating superior abilities compared to others.  If I don’t choose someone whom matches or bolsters my success, I won’t feel genuinely good about myself or them.  I can’t really love someone who doesn’t measure up to my expectations for success. 
  • The Solution:  Building opportunities for growth through relationships is a healthy, if not critical part of one’s personal development.  However, overachievers can place a high degree of pressure on themselves to select their social circle strategically, or risk failure in life.  Many will point out quotes from high achieving leaders that suggest all social opportunities should be leveraged to boost one’s personal success.  Business philosopher Jim Rohn “we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with” or Michael Dell, Founder of Dell “Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people … or find a different room.”  While this advice has merit, it can be misleading if taken out of context.  It’s understandable to admire and be drawn towards people who show potential to uplift and improve us, but friendship and romance can’t survive without tenets like mutual enjoyment of each other’s company, respect, genuine affection and good will for one another, reciprocal generosity, and willingness to compromise in order to overcome challenges or disagreements.

Further, overachievers can sometimes fail to recognize or appreciate opportunities to learn from people whose personality strengths and achievements contrast with their own.  Overachievers tend to want to find a spouse who ‘has it all’ which often ends up sounding like an ‘idealized and improved’ version of themselves.  Instead, consider what personality styles are complimentary to your own.  Keep in mind people can be ‘Type A’ at work, but ‘Type B’ in social and romantic relationships, or vice versa.  Who you work well with at the office or studio may or may not be who you are best suited for romantically.  People are often happier in relationships that provide an opportunity to balance each other in a way that is mutually beneficial.  So allow some flexibility in how you define ‘smart and successful’, you are increasing your chances for developing healthy, happy  and lasting friendships and romantic partnership.

Finding Direction and Purpose Through Self-Acceptance.  One of the biggest challenges for young overachievers is narrowing down what direction to take their career ambitions. One theme I have heard repeatedly among high achieving millennials in my practice is “I don’t want to just be really successful at something, I want whatever I do to have meaningful social impact.  It’s important for me to be a part of something that leads to positive change in the world.”  What brings them into my office is that in spite of graduating with prestigious accolades or achieving early success in the tech/business sector, they struggle with feeling they are ‘doing the right thing with their life’.  It’s not uncommon for overachievers to experience a surge of perfectionistic career-related FOMO that can be paralyzing and lead to anxiety and depression.

  • The Stumbling Block:  The challenge for overachievers is that they excel in so many arenas that they have less cause for ruling out career choices.  They can often feel pulled in many different directions at once, and experience heightened pressure to always “know what they’re doing, and have a plan”.  Further, many high achievers are so conditioned to rank jobs based on external markers of success that they have a difficult time identifying and valuing their own personal enjoyment as a reason for making choices.  The added pressure to “make a positive difference in the world” creates a feeling of constant unease and intimidation.

“These are kids who will perform to the specifications you define, and they will do that without particularly thinking about why they’re doing it. They just know that they will jump the next hoop.  The fact that we’ve created a system where kids are constantly busy, and have no time for solitude or reflection, is going to take its toll.”  William Deresiewicz, who penned the controversial essay “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League” which reads like a self-help manual for ambitious yet internally adrift overachievers struggling to figure out how to navigate life.

  • The Faulty Logic:  I constantly feel like I don’t have enough concrete evidence to feel like I’m making the right major decisions, but I can’t afford to waste time doing things that aren’t part of a successful future.  If I don’t know exactly what I’m doing with my life all the time, I’m failing.”
  • The Solution:  First accept that NO ONE can know with certainty they’re making ‘the right or best choices’ for their own future.  Even people we believe turned out to be highly successful, happy and impressively socially responsible can’t look back and know they couldn’t have done things differently for ‘even better’ results.  The point is, let yourself live your life and appreciate a wide range of experiences, including the lulls and pitfalls.  Personal intuition and wisdom grow from a life full of twists and turns.  Learn to trust your own gut feelings, they are the ultimate decision-making tools for making choices, and you can’t hone these tools without testing them out on different experiences.  Feeling purposeful is entirely personal.  You can gather all sorts of facts, create decision-making diagrams and consider data taken from public opinion.  Sooner or later there will come a time when you cannot and will not know with any degree of certainty that something is going to pan out well.  What you CAN do is trust your future self to have the strength, courage and wisdom to handle the outcome if the day comes when you need to change course.  You’ll use the resources you have available, which will be invaluable wisdom gained from the experience, self-care strategies (you’ve hopefully been practicing along the way) and trusted social support.  That’s all any of us can really do!

Millennials Do It Their Way: Optimizing Casual Sex So Everyone Wins

Read between the lines.
If reading between the lines isn’t working for you, try speaking up and being direct!

Millennials coming of age experience in the United States has been uniquely influenced by their access to the free, unlimited sexual content widely available on the internet.  This access has served not only as a resource for their sexual curiosity and consumption, but as a primary resource for easily connecting to people who share their sexual preferences on the dating sites of the moment.  Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University analyzed data from a survey of more than 33,000 adults in the U.S. to measure the country’s shifting sexual landscape.  The data revealed that Millennials were the most likely generation to acknowledge having casual sex; 45 percent of them said they had slept with someone other than a boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse during their late teens or 20s.  Overall, adult acceptance of premarital sex increased from 42 percent in 2000 to 58 percent in 2012, an all-time high.  “Americans are spending more of their lifetime unmarried, so they have more opportunities to engage in sex with more partners, and less reason to disapprove of non-marital sex” reports Twenge.  She opines that increasingly permissive attitudes toward sex are a sign of the rise of individualism in America.  She explains “when a culture places more emphasis on the needs of the self and less on social rules, more relaxed attitudes toward sexuality are the almost inevitable result.”

More and more young adults are supporting the current trend in sexual decision-making, where commitment and emotional connection are seen as unnecessary precursors to first time sexual encounters with others.  In theory, this allows people to get their sexual needs met, while minimizing the emotional risks and responsibilities associated with interpersonal intimacy.  In my practice as a coach in the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s relatively common practice for both men and women to report having sex with someone they’ve just met.  Based on this first sexual encounter, they may choose not to see them again, may establish a ‘friends with benefits’ arrangement, or opt to get to know them on a deeper, emotional level through dating if a romantic relationship is something they’re seeking.  In most cases there’s a trial and error period, as people who are still very new to each other attempt to communicate their sexual preferences and get their needs met.  Millennials’ prolific use of texting as a primary form of communication, habit of avoiding vulnerabilityawkward interpersonal exchanges, and peer conflict can all contribute to frequent misunderstandings and rapid start/stops within their sexual encounters, regardless of what the end goal may be.  In some cases, getting stuck in a pattern of ineffective/unsatisfying sexual encounters can lead to poor health functioning or an over-reliance on recreational substances.

As a health educator I help people build the necessary skills to find, establish and maintain healthy sexual relationships.  This article aims to provide some practical guidelines for optimizing the outcomes of your casual sex encounters while dating, and insightful tips for decoding the opposite sex along the way.

Men seeking sexual encounters with women:

  • Adopt an early communication style that encourages a positive response from women.  What does that mean? Skip the crude humor in online and text exchanges- chances are, you’re likely only entertaining yourself (or infamously landing yourself in one those Buzzfeed Tinder Fail lists) and that’s not the point is it?  Humor is fine, and can be a good initial approach online, but seriously, a little goes a long way.  Increase your odds of getting a genuine response from women by taking yourself out of the dregs of online dating wasteland- try telling an original, funny story about yourself, relate to something personal on a woman’s profile, or at minimum, send a quick hello with your array of pics to see if what you have going on is of interest to her.  Have a friend (preferably female) screen your online pics.  It may seem trivial, but poorly chosen pics can make or break your online dating success.
  • Once you’re corresponding consistently with someone, be proactive and suggest a specific plan to get together.  While this seems like a no-brainer, a lot of guys fail to get the ball rolling while they have a woman’s attention.  Comedian Aziz Ansari conducted focus groups with hundreds of people for his new book Modern Romance, getting intimate details on why people have problems with dating.  He shares “The lack of clarity over whether the meet-up is even an actual date frustrates both sexes to no end, but since it’s usually the guys initiating, this is a clear area where men can step it up.” So guys, to optimize your chances of establishing a sexual encounter, strike while the iron is hot.  While you’re keeping someone around as a text buddy, someone else is closing the deal as her new sex partner by making specific plans.  It might be entertaining and easy to have an assortment of women to text and exchange photos with, but these women will eventually fade you out of the picture for someone they know in real life.
  • Be sincere and honest about what your ideal arrangement is right now.  Just because you’re wanting to keep things casual doesn’t mean you’re decreasing your chances for sexual opportunities with women.  There are plenty of women who are open to keeping things casual too!  Plenty.  It doesn’t make sense to allude to wanting a more committed relationship if you actually don’t- doing so only increases the odds of introducing drama I’m sure you’d rather avoid.  Women can absolutely relate to wanting to experience an array of people before settling into a committed relationship, and understand you may be in a stage of your life where you’re prioritizing other life goals above romantic relationships.  In short, aim for integrity when you engage with someone in pursuit of sex.  Establishing this mutual understanding up front will create a space where both of you can focus on what you’re actually there for- sexual pleasure.
  • Real talk: If you aren’t asking what you can do to help a woman achieve orgasm and/or paying close attention to figuring out what she enjoys (and spending more than a little time doing this) it’s safe to guess you’re coming up short in bed.  Which of course, is your choice.  Just consider that when a woman finally does come along that you actually care about pleasing (even if it’s years and countless women from now), you likely still won’t have much of a clue about how to get her off (especially if you’re a fan of male produced porn).  There’s a good chance you’ll pale in comparison to other guys she’s been with, which is not a good look if you want to become that person’s significant other/favorite sexual partner.  If that’s not enough motivation, consider this:  when a woman reaches full sexual attraction to a sex partner she is going to be much more agreeable and feel more confident about trying new things for the sake of her partner’s pleasure.  That sexual fantasy you’ve had since the 8th grade?  That could go down if you play your cards right. #Thankmelater

Women seeking sexual encounters with men:

Speak Up Clearly and Consistently To Avoid Confusion.  Taking a meek approach in communicating your sexual preferences is going to seriously set back your sexual pleasure (and possibly compromise your sexual safety). Remind yourself:  Men cannot read your mind (and your subtle non-verbals can go unnoticed) because men and women are culturally socialized to communicate in different styles.  Be direct with your words and your actions about what you like and what you don’t like. Think about it: when men engage sexually, most do a pretty good job of getting their sexual needs met.  Porn and sex in movies perpetuate the myth that men do exactly what women love during sex (and women are supposed love it, regardless of how ridiculous it is!)

Set The Pace:  Literally and Figuratively.  Figuring out a sexual pace that feels good between two people comes from familiarity and predictability, neither of which have been established when you’ve only recently met someone.  So in addition to communicating openly, take the time to find a pace that works for both of you. Try not to approach sex like it’s fast food eaten at 2 am after staying out all night- which is usually on a whim, followed by almost instant regret.  Take your time and do it right– these SOS Band song lyrics were a hit for a reason!

STOP FAKING IT IN BED.  Really.  Pretending that you enjoy things during sex that you don’t is synonymous with digging your own sexual grave.  Take one for the team, and stop sending guys the wrong message that what they are doing sexually is awesome when you know that it’s not.  Funny but true story:  A 25 year-old attractive Asian woman I’m coaching tells me “So I met this guy randomly, and after we talked and hung out for a while, we eventually decide to go back to his place where we end up having sex.  Right away he starts fingering me with way too much force, to the point where it’s actually hurting me and I’m going numb from it!  So I stop him and say ‘hey when you touch me like that it hurts’ and he looks at me and says a little defensively “ok well… some women like it like that.”  She deadpans, “Christina I had to break it to him… “Um NO.  NO ONE likes it like that!”  We both had a good laugh at her candor in the moment.  I could not have been more proud of her for speaking up for herself!

Stop filtering and dismissing guys so quickly- be optimistic about seeing if you can develop good sexual chemistry with guys who don’t fit your bill. These days, you can swipe right to meet guys using more filters than your favorite photo editing app offers- you can specify height, body type, education level, location, age, etc. One of the most common complaints I get from women is that they rarely feel attracted enough to guys to even see them a first or second time.  But who you think will be attracted to sexually may not be a good match in real life.  Scientists working with Match.com found that we are horrible at knowing what we want; the kind of partner people said they wanted often didn’t match up with what they were actually interested in long term.  What works well for predicting good first dates doesn’t tell us much about the long-term success of a couple let alone their sexual chemistry.  Social psychologist and researcher Robert B. Zajonc explains, “while we are initially attracted to people by their physical appearance and traits we can quickly recognize, the things that make us more attracted to someone are their deeper, more personal qualities, which come out only during sustained interactions” – the “mere exposure effect” is repeated exposure to a stimulus which tends to enhance one’s feelings toward it.

This last point applies to anyone and everyone seeking sexual or romantic connections of any and all kinds:

Do Not Let FOMO Take Over.  You’ve read about, you’ve experienced it, you’re sick of hearing about how Millennials are  responsible for amplifying this toxic trend in a digital era.  That said, I’ve seen far too many people spend endless amounts of time spinning their wheels, agonizing over not meeting/dating enough people they find interest in.  A billion and one first dates later, still…nothing.  Begin to rethink what this could mean…maybe this isn’t the strategy that is going unearth the person who gets you excited and holds your attention.  Switch it up, peel your eyes away from your phone, pull your earbuds out and take a look around you.  Make eye contact and smile, maybe even say hi to the person next to you- this could be your first moment together of many better ones to come.

 

Dr. Christina Villarreal’s Focus on Women’s Sexual Health, Empowerment & Wellness

15 years ago, I completed my doctoral dissertation examining cultural and gender influences of sexual risk behavior among Latino women. I’ve enjoyed educating women on how to embrace their sexuality, overcome obstacles to safe sex practices, and empower themselves for a lifetime of sexual wellness. I’ve served as a Relationship Expert on social media websites like GuysAskGirls.com, and written a range of articles on dating and relationships, with media publications and interviews in popular media sites such as techcrunch.  This week I orchestrated what turned out to be an amazing educational workshop for nearly 40 women on Navigating Sex, Relationships, and Dating in San Francisco. I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to do this important work. Thank you to all those that participated, there will be more to come!  In the coming weeks I will be recruiting a diverse group of men in various stages of their dating life and relationship experience- from single to married.  These men will form an expert panel for an open Q & A session for an audience of Bay Area women who’d like to better understand why guys do what they do!  I will facilitate an honest and respectful dialogue that will surely be insightful, informative and instrumental in improving dating and relationship experiences for all.

Here are a few candid snapshots from the event on May 27th, 2015, we had a great time!

Hosting my first workshop on Women's Sexual Health and Wellness
Hosting my first educational workshop on Women’s Sexual Health and Wellness

With Rebecca Alvarez of Bodyfeminina- she is a Sexual Wellness Expert and Women's Sexual Health researcher

With Dr. Lina Hannigan, a Clinical Health Psychologist practicing in the Bay Area, SF.
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Is Lightweight Stalking on Social Media a Relationship Killer? Stop in 3 Easy Steps.

How often do you keep tabs on the person you're dating online?
How often do you keep tabs on the person you’re dating online?

Have you ever wondered how much checking someone’s status updates/tweets/photo uploads is normal/harmless, and when does re-checking their online activity become problematic?  Most of us have caught ourselves clicking through someone’s social media activity because we have reason to be naturally curious  about them- maybe the person is someone we want to meet, or just started dating and want to know more about them.  Other times we might scroll through our partner’s online activity as a way to check their daily mood, as counterintuitive as that may sound (since you likely see them or at least communicate with them regularly in person).  Today’s prolific use of social media gives us an alternative glimpse into our partner’s emotional status and social exchanges that we may not otherwise pick up on.  Even if someone’s online persona is carefully constructed for public consumption, having access to their online activity gives us an opportunity to interpret the meaning of their coming and goings, even their level of intimacy with others.  If this person is an ex-romantic partner this may be all we have to go on- even if all we see is their profile picture and friend list, this information can still provide a rough approximation of their current situation. This dilemma recently became a topic of conversation in my coaching practice, where helping people improve their emotional intelligence is a common goal throughout the work that I do.  Victoria, a bright and accomplished 24 year-old woman shared with me that constantly checking her boyfriend’s social media activity and online communication with his ex is taking a hard toll on her mood and relationship functioning. Me: “Have you ever talked to your boyfriend about what you see on his social media sites?  That you’re concerned about who he’s interacting with online?” Her: “HELL NO! The last thing I want to do is come across as the person that I actually am- the type of person who stalks people online to see what they’re up to, and compare their successes to mine.” Checking people’s online activity, or ‘lightweight stalking‘ if you will, can run deep.  We start out taking a quick glimpse at our partner’s tweet/Instagram pic of the day, only to find their ex decided to comment suggestively.  It’s too easy to then check out our partner’s ex-boyfriend/girlfriend’s Twitter/Instagram/Facebook, etc (because dammit they have a public profile just begging to be explored).  So begins the comparisons.  Do they seem happier/sadder now? Does their taste in fashion/music/politics demonstrate that I’m a more tasteful/intelligent person?  Is he/she in better shape than me?  Our self-esteem may start to wane the more we compare ourselves to them.  We end up heading into an tailspin trying to interpret their ‘Vaguebooking‘ habit on Facebook.  We’re left wondering if they’re pining for their old relationship.  Do they want to rekindle things?  Will they/have they tried?  If trust hasn’t been well established in our relationship, we might become irrationally suspicious by mistrusting and/or questioning our partner for no substantial reason.  Suddenly we’re starting arguments that undermine the health of our relationship.

FML.

Dr. Tara C. Marshall, Ph.D., explores online post-breakup fixations in her research article Facebook Surveillance of Former Romantic Partners: Associations with PostBreakup Recovery and Personal Growth.  Results based on the responses of 464 participants revealed that one-half to two-thirds of people have made contact with an ex-romantic partner through Facebook, and that over half admit to having looked through an ex’s photos to find pictures of them with a new romantic partner.  Findings from this study suggest that keeping tabs on an ex through social media is associated with poorer emotional recovery and personal growth following a breakup. Therefore, avoiding exposure to ex-partners, both offline and online, may be the best remedy for healing a broken heart.

Solution:  Put Yourself on a Stalking Diet

  1. Do not allow yourself to stalk during the time of day when you know you are the most emotionally vulnerable and/or have unlimited time to comb through the internet for new postings.  For many people this is late at night.  Give yourself an 8 pm stalking curfew!!!  Most likely after 8 pm, you’ll engage in other things that will bring your mood back to a normal, and you’ll be in a less anxious place before you sleep.
  2. If you know you’re not ready to quit cold turkey, put some “stalking hours” in place, like office hours, if you will.  You’re only allowed to check on those you stalk between 2-4 pm, for example.  That way if you find yourself curious about your ex at midnight (especially likely if you’ve been out drinking), you can rest assured you’ll have a chance to stalk to your heart’s content, just postponed a little.  Chances are, you won’t have that same aching (likely misguided) curiosity during the logical hours of the next afternoon.
  3. Delete the social media app(s) that you use the most during your sleuthing for one week.  This will allow you to see how much you actually miss compulsively scrolling through that particular social media site.  You might discover that the cost of missing out (FOMO) is not creating as much emotional damage as stalking does.
  • And if all else fails…
If all else fails…

Successful Entrepreneurs Reboot with Smart Daydreaming.

Reboot and restore your brain with Smart Daydreaming
Reboot and restore your brain with Smart Daydreaming

I work with some of the most ambitious, driven people in The Bay Area’s tech community.  High achieving individuals who operate on the model: attain success first and foremost.  Their minds are used to operating at the speed of light- always problem-solving, always anticipating and avoiding pitfalls- essential skills for surviving the minefield of Silicon Valley and San Francisco’s booming young professional scene.  A 2003 study led by Pennsylvania College of Technology examined the relationship between entrepreneurs’ personalities to long-term venture survival, finding the only “significant personality predictor” was conscientiousness, or the propensity to plan, organize, and take care of responsibilities.  According to Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, it takes a special breed to take on the risk of entrepreneurship.  “A lot of progress in the world is driven by the delusional optimism of some people,” he told Inc. “The people who open small businesses don’t think, ‘I’m facing these odds, but I’ll take them anyway.’ They think their business will certainly succeed.”

Many executives struggle with turning their brains away from constantly mentally building and managing their business or profession.  When the mind focuses constantly on problem-solving it never gets a chance to reboot.  When your thoughts remain hyper-focused on managing negative outcomes, it leaves no space for positive imagination- an essential part of overall health management and happiness.  The end result is mental burn out, which can lead to chronic physical manifestations of stress.  Functionality becomes seriously compromised.

“Always being ON will eventually turn your brain power OFF, limiting your potential for success.”

The cure?  Train your brain in the practice of ‘smart daydreaming‘, a strategy that helps people to better engage with the pursuits that are most personally meaningful to them.  Kaufmans’s Theory of Personal Intelligence has revealed this practice as a powerful way to tap into spontaneous forms of cognition, including insight, intuition and the triggering of memories and stored information — types of intelligence often accessed through active daydreaming.  The outcome?  Improved mood and increased productivity.  This is not your run-of-the-mill “Let my mind wander aimlessly until I go back to my usual mental diet of constant worry.”  This is strategic, purposeful daydreaming, with the goal of rebooting your brain and getting your mood back on track so you can operate at your best when it counts.  How does it work?

Smart Recipes for Daydreaming.

  • Begin with ‘The Miracle Question‘-  Begin with a clean slate and let go of whatever is on your mind.  Take the time to imagine total freedom, and that any miracle you wish to come true is now possible.  Step out of your usual ‘problem story’ and into an all new story where problems do not exist.
  • Stop and pay attention to what specifically about your story makes you feels good, what makes you say “YES!  THAT WOULD BE AMAZING!” Continue along this vein, flush it out, give it legs.  Where would you be, what types of people would be in your life, what would you do, for how long would you do this, etc.  How would your average day look in this miracle context?
  • Each time you mind wants to problem-solve for “How would THAT ever happen?  Why aren’t I working on making this happen right now?  Am I failing at life for not achieving this?”  Stop.  This is supposed to be an implausible daydream, where solutions don’t matter, obstacles don’t exist, and there is no shortage of optimal resources, supreme experiences, awesome people, and boundless opportunity.
  • After you have thought through a full on version of the ultimate experience, notice your mood.  Instead of being driven by angst, you’ve given yourself a highly personalized mental vacation, possibly revealing new insights about what you care about most.
  • Aim to practice smart daydreaming for 10-15 minutes each day.  Track themes.  Let these themes serve as a guide for what you’d like to ultimately have more of in your life.  See if you can build some of those themes into your short term and long term vision of your life.

By actively engaging in positive daydreaming you are not only giving your mind and energy level a chance to reboot, you are freeing your mind to construct a concrete, idealized vision of your preferred future.

Ask a 7 year old what they want to be when they grow up, and they nail it, every single time.

Kids are natural dreamers.  They’re too young to realize that being “a famous inventor, a marine biologist, a pop star like Katy Perry, own sushi restaurants all over the world…and become The President of The United States” is a stretch, to say the least (this is my child’s vision of her future right now, and who knows, she may pull it off!)  They might not be able to tell you HOW this future could ever happen, but they’ll definitely enjoy telling you WHY having this grown up future would be ‘the best thing ever’.  Their eyes light up, they smile and have a great time telling you all about it.  That’s the point.

“We should make sure our ideas of success are our own. We should focus in on our ideas and make sure that we own them, that we are truly the authors of our own ambitions. Because it’s bad enough, not getting what you want, but it’s even worse to have an idea of what it is you want, and find out at the end of a journey, that it isn’t, in fact, what you wanted all along.”  Alain de Botton, from his TED Talk, ‘A kinder, gentler philosophy of success’

Slow Down Your Sense of Time with One Matrix-Like Mind Trick.

Have a Matrix Moment

What if you could literally slow down the passing of time, would you do it?  In today’s day and age, our most valued commodity is TIME.  We want things available faster, completed sooner.  Time is money.  Aside from monetary efficiency, why are we so pressed for time?  Because the sooner the mundane tasks of the day are completed, the more time we have for enjoyable things.  Time flies when you’re having fun.  Technological innovations aside, is there a way to slow down our sense of time?  YES. Read on.

New research from Stanford GSB suggests there is a way: elicit a sense of awe. Experiencing something awe-inspiring — whether it’s the Grand Canyon, a blazing sunset over your favorite cityscape,  or a Puccini aria — can expand perceptions of time, enhancing quality of life.  The key, says Jennifer Aaker, Stanford GSB’s General Atlantic Professor of Marketing and an author of a new paper on the subject, is that awe makes us feel small, not larger than life, the way happiness can. “When you feel small, there’s a reapportioning of what’s out there,” she says. “Time is reapportioned also.”

The study, to be published in the journal Psychological Science, defines awe as something that is both vast (in size, scope, number, ability, or importance) and capable of altering one’s view of the world.  UC Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt, a former University of Virginia psychology professor now at New York University’s Stern School of Business, described awe as “fleeting and rare.” They examined the history of awe, tracing its role in ancient religious texts, including the Hindu Bhagavad Gita and the Christian Bible, and in influential and charismatic political leaders such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Philosophers opine that awe is most easily felt in solitude, while spending time in nature, viewing art or immersed in emotionally inspiring music.  Edmund Burke wrote that awe, which he referred to as “the sublime”, is also more likely to arise from something obscure and surprising, rather than something clear and expected.  Commonly recognized physical responses that distinguish awe from other emotions is the presence of goose bumps or chills.

“[Awe] is more of a mindset than we think,” says Aaker. “This research suggests you can cultivate it in similar ways, as you do gratefulness or happiness. Yet, when it is present, awe can transform people and reorient their lives, goals, and values.”

How can we bring a sense of awe into our daily lives?  Be in the moment.  

  • Practice focusing your attention on the elements around you that bring you moments of joy.  These are different for everyone.  Some people’s gazes will naturally be drawn to elements in nature, others to the expression of human individuality around them, others will find pleasure in noticing unique order, rhythm or sound.  Rather than expecting moments of awe, encourage feelings of awe by awakening your senses to the world around you.
  • Aim to take breaks from multi-tasking, especially while doing things for pleasure.  When I make time to enjoy dessert (or any recklessly indulgent experience for that matter), what ever it may be, it literally becomes my favorite thing ever.  In that moment.  I am a firm believer that life is better, richer, more expansive when we have ‘multiple favorites’ to celebrate.  I will happily elaborate upon this practice, just ask me.
  • Do your favorite things slowly and deliberately.  It can be a habit to rush rush rush through everything.  Understandable when dealing with the mundane, but like Keith Sweat says “make it last forever.

Be Better Than Everyone, Use SMART Goals In 5 Easy Steps

Making Your Goals PossibleThe method of SMART goals (an acronym for the 5 steps of specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based goals) is one of the most effective and powerful tools used by high achievers to reach their goals — realistically and consistently. Whether you’re leading a 300-person organization, a trailblazing startup entrepreneur, or an individual who wants to gain traction towards a personal goal, learning how to set and utilize SMART goals can make the difference between failure and achievement. 1. Make your goal focused and well-defined. A specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal.

  • When setting your goal, make sure you can answer the 6 “W” questions: Who, What, When, Where, Which, and Why. The more specific a goal is, the more you can find ways of reaching your target.  Ask questions such as:
    • Who is involved?
    • What do I want to accomplish?
    • Where will this happen? Identify a location.
    • When will this happen? Establish a time frame.
    • Which requirements and obstacles will be part of the process? Identify them.
    • Why am I setting this goal? Nail down the specific reasons and benefits of accomplishing this goal.
  • Know the difference between a specific goal and a vague goal. For example, there is a difference between saying, “I work too much, and feel drained and bored with my life” and “I miss having fun in my life, and want to invest time each week to seek out fun/recreational opportunities that will allow me to feel restored and happy.” When you set a goal to invest in reshaping your work/life balance, track your performance at work and other important areas of your life as a way of measuring your progress as you build pleasurable experiences back into your schedule. This will help you see the direct benefit of the changes you’ve made, allowing you to see the payoff of shifting your behavior. Other examples of specific and vague goals:
    • Vague: Get in shape for the summer.
    • Specific: Join a crossfit studio and attend 3-4 times a week over the next 3 months.
    • Vague: Own a home.
    • Specific: Put 30% of income into savings account for the next 12 months and talk to a realtor.

2.  Have identified metrics for measuring your progress and outcomes. A goal without a measurable outcome is like a sports competition without a scoreboard. Identify specific markers of success to measure your progress and build momentum towards your goals.

  • Ask questions such as:
    • How often?
    • How much/how many?
    • How will I know when my goal is accomplished?
    • What is at the finish line?
  • Set a daily reminder to track and measure your progress:
    • Keep a journal, put up a whiteboard at the office, use your smartphone to download a tracking app — these are all tangible ways to track your development.
    • Make the goal Attainable
  • Draft realistic goals. Based on the present restrictions such as your schedule, workload, and knowledge, do you believe you can attain the objective you set? If not, then set a different goal, one that is attainable for you in the present.
  • Ask yourself the following questions:
    • Are you prepared to make the commitment to reach your target?
    • Are you willing to dramatically alter or at least tweak aspects your life?
    • Is there a more achievable target you are willing to to work for?

3. Choose goals that are attainable. Is your goal a challenge but still possible to achieve? Goals should be achievable. The best goals require you to stretch a bit to achieve them but they are not impossible to achieve. Goals that may have seemed far away and out of reach eventually move closer and become attainable, not because your goals shrink, but because you grow and expand to match them. When you list your goals you build your self-image. You see yourself as worthy of these goals, and seek out experiences that allow you to develop the skills and work ethic that allow you to possess them.

4. Make the goal relevant to your life’s reality. For instance, if joining a certain social organization seems like a good idea, but most of the organization’s activities center around consuming alcohol which is inconsistent with your goal of cutting back your drinking, choose a different organization.  Lack of options/choices is rarely a problem in today’s culture of endless options.  Carefully consider how well your choices are fitting into the big picture of how you want your life to look.

  • Set goals that are realistic. If you are 30 pounds overweight and haven’t trained for a challenging athletic endeavor in 5 years, it’s unrealistic not to mention physically risky to sign up for a triathlon with 6 weeks of training. So set a goal you have a realistic chance of achieving.  Even if someone is motivated and capable of change, their expectation of immediate progress/payoff may be unrealistic, and can lead to a sense of inadequacy and undermine their confidence when moving forward.

5. Ground the goal within a time frame.  SMART goals should be time-bound, meaning they should have a deadline or there should be a date for completion. Setting a deadline reinforces the seriousness of the goal in your mind. It motivates you to take action. When you don’t set a timeline, there is no internal pressure to accomplish the goal, so it gets put in the back burner.  Have a sense of urgency. If you want to raise your credit score to 720, when do you want to raise it by? “Someday” won’t work. But if you anchor it within a timeframe (example: Raise credit from 700 to 720 in 12-18 months), then you’ve set your mind into motion to begin working on the goal.  Within your established time frame, ask yourself:

  • What can I do TODAY to reach my goal?
  • What can I do 3 weeks from now to reach my goal?
  • What can I do 3 months from now to reach my goal?

FINAL TIPS:

  • Document or share your milestones with supportive people in your life along the way to your target. Make a point to pair your milestones with healthy rewards.
  • Remember, there will be days when you become discouraged and ‘not in the mood’ to work towards your goal(s).  This is normal, and does NOT mean you are failing yourself, or your plan.  Getting offtrack does not equal failure, and is not a reason to give up or relent to feelings of hopelessness.  Hit the pause button and take a breather.  High achieving, hard working people still need a break sometimes.  But then get your mind and body back on track, and reconnect with the true purpose behind setting your goal in the first place.  Why is it important to you?  What will accomplishing it afford you in the long run?  Then get back in the game.
  • Don’t forget to enlist people, opportunities and a range of resources that can help you achieve your goal.  Most people feel good about tapping into their strengths, skill sets, and networks to help others grow and achieve.  Help them feel good about helping you by not only expressing your gratitude, but by showing them the positive evidence of their support.
  • Use the power of visualization. Make sure to imagine yourself not JUST at the finish line of your goal(s), but visualize yourself achieving the small steps it takes to get there.  Don’t let there be a huge abyss between where you are now and where you want to be in your fantasies.  Yes it can be indulgent and fun to fantasize about ‘the ultimate fantasy’ coming true, but you’ll benefit more from fantasizing about hitting your goal for the week if it’s actually achievable in the here and now.

FOMO Struggle Is Real: How The Best & Brightest SF Singles Are Still Missing Out

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of FOMO [Foe-Moe] is: “Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.”

As an executive coach to some of San Francisco’s most successful young tech entrepreneurs, I help them fight back their FOMO on an hourly basis.FOMO was first identified in the mid-1990s by marketing analysts as an acronym to explain how new media commerce was undermining traditional brand loyalties. Twenty years later, the FOMO phenomenon has infiltrated American culture with ‘choice overload’, impacting how we make decisions in both our personal and professional lives. Particularly in the Francisco Bay Area, where millions of investors come to place their bets on innovative young high achievers, it can be feel like life changing decisions are being made at every turn. Attractive, successful single people are everywhere. The whole world is open to them. Armed with an ample array of talents, access to top social networks for professional and dating opportunities, they just have to choose. But they struggle to do so with any permanency. The FOMO struggle is real.

In Barry Schwartz‘s eloquent Tedx talk “The Paradox of Choice“, he describes how western industrial societies have come to over value choice: “If we are interested in maximizing the welfare of our citizens, the way to do that is to maximize individual freedom. The reason for this is both that freedom is in and of itself good, valuable, worthwhile, essential to being human. And because if people have freedom, then each of us can act on our own to do the things that will maximize our welfare, and no one has to decide on our behalf. The way to maximize freedom is to maximize choice. He goes on to argue that instead of increasing our sense of well-being, an abundance of choice is increasing our levels of anxiety, depression, and wasted time. It leads us to set unreasonably high expectations, question our choices before we even make them, and blame our failures entirely on ourselves.

I help people explore choice overload, the sense of regret from making decisions that lead to less-than-satisfactory outcomes, the cost of having relentlessly high expectations, chronic feelings of disconnection from their current circumstances, and the stagnation that comes from making social comparisons.

Most people have a wide range of professional passions, and are attracted to different types of people with various physical attributes, personal strengths and qualities. The fact remains, there aren’t enough hours in a day to pursue all of them at once. Further, if lasting intimacy is on the goal list, it’s impossible to achieve that type of connection if one never gets beyond the ‘first 5 dates’ lifecycle. In an effort to not miss out, people pursue everything and everyone, and are left wondering why nothing ever evolves. By the time they come to me, they are overwhelmed, frustrated and unfulfilled; they want to pursue success professionally and/or in their dating pursuits, but with less stress and more direction. If you’re reading this, perhaps you can relate.

How can I redirect my thinking to banish FOMO?

Remember: by saying “NO” to some things, you are saying “YES” to other high quality and equally important experiences.

  • Slow down your dating process. By taking the time to get to know one person at a time, you are being thorough in determining if there is genuine potential for a high quality romantic connection, and less likely to ‘let the right one slip by’. Be careful not to rule someone out if a potential red flag crops up. Anyone who’s been happily partnered for years will tell you, unsolvable differences exist between even the very best matched couples.
  • Balance your recreational activities and social plans with proactive self care.  By taking care of your body and mind by engaging in pleasurable, restful and restorative activities, you are shoring up your energy so that when you do engage in an outing that requires elevated energy, you are more likely to have it in store so that you actually enjoy it as it was meant to be enjoyed. Can you really expect to get the most enjoyment out of seeing your favorite musical artist perform live if you’re exhausted, irritable and physically uncomfortable?
  • Pay attention to what you enjoy doing most, and focus your career planning accordingly. Getting in on ‘the next big thing’ and making a lot of money while doing it are cool, I’ll admit. But don’t forget, even if you’re really good at doing something doesn’t mean you’re going to enjoy doing it for the long haul. By choosing to develop your skills and opportunities in a concentrated professional direction that you know you enjoy, you are more likely to reap the benefit of succeeding in that particular vein. If your career journey seems to be evolving more slowly than you’d like, remember, career success is rarely, if ever linear and constant. Genuine growth and success are never free of setbacks. Professional setbacks are opportunities to hone your attention to what is necessary for continued and elevated success.
  • When a choice results in an unexpected and/or poor outcome, don’t automatically think of it as a failure. Thinking “What a waste of time and energy!” keeps you from utilizing that experience in an advantageous way. Without valuing what you learned and integrating this information into your future decisions and endeavors, you miss out on the chance to execute with better aim and more fruitful outcomes. With dating, you may not see patterns in why your relationships end. Consider getting some information from past partners (if still on relatively good speaking terms). Ask them “What was it like to date me? What worked well? What did I do that made it difficult?” Admittedly, this is tough homework. Be sure to clarify you don’t want to rekindle things, you’re there to get information about what role you played in what when wrong, like an aviation black box. There’s a good chance there are some themes in how you behave in relationships that you are not aware of that could help you move forward in creating a healthy and long-lasting romantic relationship.
  • Learn to relish in the choices you DO make, and stop agonizing over the choices you DON’T make. It’s easy to go through life with ‘entree envy’, there are a lot of amazing choices out there! Life however, has a funny way of changing directions for us, outside of our control, and when you least expect it. So enjoy what you can, while you have it.

The one habit keeping you from winning big(ger) in life, and how to change it.

Vulnerability, just ahead.
Vulnerability, just ahead.
AP Photo

What keeps you up at night? All of us have something in our life we’d like to see come to fruition. Sometimes we want this thing badly.  It can weigh heavily upon us, especially when we feel it’s just outside of our reach.  Resentment can set in when other people manage to pull it off, seemingly without a hitch. A startup idea that takes off, a well-timed promotion, a romance that seems like the perfect match. ‘Why not me?’ you wonder. ‘What am I missing?’  A common habit stands out among people who struggle to make lasting progress towards their life goals.

They avoid feeling things.

‘Feeling things’ seems kind of like a simple and obvious part of life (doesn’t it?) But it isn’t.

I know you resist feeling things, we all do. It’s an unavoidable habit of modern culture. Any emotion that causes us the slightest displeasure can easily be evaded by numbing our emotions with media, caffeine, booze, retail therapy, recreational drugs like marijuana, Chipotle, to name just a few. If you spend your life constantly avoiding uncomfortable feelings you will remain exactly where you are, but older and likely more bitter (choke back sob) as you see others achieve the things you want all around you.

Opening yourself up to feeling things you most hope to avoid (a.k.a. vulnerability) will afford you the opportunity to make gains in the direction you want most. When Dr. Brené Brown spoke atTEDx about the power of vulnerability in 2010, her viral talk garnered more than 7 million views on TED.com. Dr. Brown says that losing our vulnerability isn’t something to take lightly; vulnerability is power. “Vulnerability is not about fear and grief and disappointment. It’s the birthplace of everything we’re hungry for: joy, creativity, faith, love, spirituality,” she says. “And the whole thing is, there is no innovation and creativity without failure.” The bottom line?

You must be willing to tolerate some emotional discomfort to win big(ger) in life.

Allow yourself to face the prospects of rejection if you want love, mental/physical exhaustion if you want to achieve, disappointment if you want to ‘win’ positive growth and change in your life. Emotional discomfort will not kill you. In fact, without it you’re likely not challenging yourself to reach your full potential. I promise, you will survive feeling emotionally vulnerable. Some tactics for tolerating this discomfort on the path to becoming more awesome:

  • Create incentives for yourself to take emotional risks. Rewards work just as effectively for adults as they do for kids, only you have to enlist yourself with the responsibility of doling them out in an effective manner. Choose wisely, and even if you cheat a little, it feels much better to ‘earn’ something indulgent while making progress towards your goals.
  • You may need to exchange some of your old habits for a healthier list of coping strategies that allow you to feel safe/calm/supported without damaging consequences.
  • Selectively participate in activities that shore up your confidence- put a plan in place to do these things routinely as a coping strategy for surviving disappointments along the way.
  • Enlist others for support! A client of mine shares “weekly wins” with a good friend- they text each other micro successes that occur while making strides towards their goals. This tactic is a win-win because it not only drawing your attention towards the positive, it connects you with someone who’s in your corner, strengthening your courage to keep going.

If we’re going to find the way to our own personal version of success, vulnerability is going to be on that path. As much as we want to remain impervious to failure, growth and positive change don’t happen that way. Even if it were possible to be ‘perfect’ that’s not what draws people to respect and love you. People are most often pulled in to care and invest in you when they can see your courage and willingness to take risks; share that process, and connect with them through common disappointments.