Smart solutions when productivity stalls- perspective is everything

You know that feeling when you’re stalled by something that needs to get done?  Even the most efficient people face roadblocks in their productivity from time to time.  This is especially frustrating for people who are used to completing challenging tasks with relative ease.  I recently met with an accomplished young gaming engineer for executive coaching to support his exploration of new work opportunities in Silicon Valley.  He revealed that he’d struggled for hours to complete a cover letter email, and this left him feeling baffled and weary about the whole process of interviewing for new employment.  We used the session to get to the root of what was creating this stall in productivity, and generated smart solutions based on his personal strengths.  Strategy and perspective makes all the difference.

Working with the Bay Area’s talented tech community has taught me this- the smartest people take it the hardest when their performance and results don’t meet their expectations!  Many have grown accustomed to things coming easily to them and have quickly advanced in their chosen career trajectory.  Early giftedness in STEM can sometimes lead to people develop an identity centered around being ‘brainy and capable’.  It may come as a shock when something as simple as creating a cover letter sidelines them and deflates their sense of efficacy.

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Why does this happen?  Over time, our strengths get reinforced as our primary means of solving problems because they get us from point A to point B quickly and easily.  Since these same strengths are also tied to our sense of identity and self worth, we become less willing to set them aside and use other methods of ‘solving’.  Tasks that force us to operate outside of our comfort zone trigger feelings of frustration because we aren’t as effective as we’re used to feeling, which stalls our productivity.  A guy who’s honed skills as a talented engineer, fluent in the most sought after programming languages will probably not be as adroit at English writing composition and will likely need to give himself more leeway in completing a thoughtfully composed cover letter.

Apply a smart solutions formula when your productivity stalls:
1. Conscious self-awareness.  Identify the evidence in your life (historically and currently) of how and when you have leveraged your personal strengths to achieve good outcomes.  How did your strengths allow you to perform optimally?  Result outcomes might be found in academic, career advancement, kinesthetic/athletic, social/interpersonal, emotional, musical, aesthetic, experiential, operational or other realms of functionality.

“I can recognize times in my life when my skills and abilities have allowed me to make progress, overcome obstacles, and reach important goals that have led me to where I am now.”

2. Balanced self-acceptance.  Scientific advancements in human cognition and intelligence reveal that all people possess strengths and weaknesses relative to their overall functioning.  To expect to function only by means of our strengths is unrealistic.  Sometimes we must be willing to step back from our most comfortable mode of operating and acknowledge certain tasks don’t call for our ideal skill set.

“This task calls for specific skills that I don’t practice as often (e.g. writing English composition).  I can’t rely on my core strengths to complete it.  I must be willing to feel uncomfortable if I’m to make progress.  So what?  That’s true for everyone sometimes.  If I let this slower pace of progress demoralize me it could stop me from getting from point A to point B.  Any pace will do, as long as I’m trying to move forward.”

3. Realistic expectations.  Plan to break down larger goals into chunks that are achievable and utilize breaks to regain energy.  Attempting to complete a difficult task in one fell swoop doesn’t lead to efficiency, it’s a set up for failure.  When you’re using your brain to work in less familiar ways, expect to take breaks before your mental energy begins to stall so your overall motivation remains strong.  This way you avoid feeling demoralized and progress remains steady.

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4. Shift perspective.  Pay attention to how you’re evaluating yourself- when we only measure our progress based on ‘results’ rather than ‘performance effort’ we can end up feeling ineffective or lose our sense of purpose.  Another coaching client of mine works in a highly specialized area of machine learning/artificial intelligence (AI).  While there has been genuine advances and exciting new applications here in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs around the world, the field remains experimental, and it still requires time-consuming, exploratory research.  Even the most brilliant minds working together face a sense of disappointment when big breakthroughs don’t happen, especially with constant media hype  fueling the AI frenzy.  If you are working on the cutting edge of new scientific discovery, it may be difficult to quantify progress and demonstrate measurable value compared to an ever-changing larger community.  While it’s natural to want to make comparisons, track and measure your contributions by ‘showing your work’ rather than evaluating yourself on outcome results alone.  By documenting your steps in the scientific process, generating strategic hypotheses, testing them critically through observations and experiments you are creating a useful path of ‘knowledge’ as you arrive at Type 1 or Type 2 errors, etc.  Find value in documenting how you’ve made progress to better direct your future paths of discovery.

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5. Prepare to use trial and error.  If one particular process of completing a task isn’t coming together, try a different plan of action.  Step away from a task and let your brain absorb the learning and develop new insights.  Go back with fresh eyes in regular intervals and adjust accordingly, and practice applying new insights.  According to the latest neuroscience,  researchers have discovered that moments of creativity take place when the mind is at rest rather than directly working on something.  Since creative approaches are so crucial to success, be sure to give yourself space from your work efforts.

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Bringing it all together:  Discover optimal productivity methods based on your personal strengths and challenges.  Practice applying a perspective that takes into account all the moving parts and your abilities before comparing your pace to others.  Remember that everyone hits roadblocks from time to time; taking this mindful approach and using smart solutions will help you overcome them as efficiently as possible.

Are your dating skills ruining your love life? 4 dumb dating habits to drop.

Most accounts of modern dating describe finding lasting love as more elusive than ever.  Thanks to mobile dating apps, dating has evolved into a finger-swiping game of ‘matching’ with people whose real intention for long-term dating is nearly impossible to determine.  Being an executive and dating coach in the San Francisco Bay Area has given me a front row seat to this phenomenon with an inside view of the good, the bad and the ugly.  The highly competitive tech scene here is also known for having an awkward dating culture where both men and women can develop some dumb habits that thwart their long term relationship goals.  I feel it’s my duty to share them publicly, air out the gender themes I see, and hopefully shed some light on the issue so more people are successful in their dating endeavors.

My clients are bright, healthy, charismatic people who bemoan their dating struggles as real a ‘pain point’ in their life.  In my last article on learned optimism, I outlined the rationale for viewing problems through a positive, solution-focused lens, and how to hold yourself accountable for your role in a problem.  When a client tells me “I’d like to meet someone and settle down into a long-term relationship but I’m having a tough time finding them.”  I’ll ask “What strategies are you using to meet eligible people?  Tell me, what are you currently doing to build a long-term relationship with someone?”  This is when the storyline starts to reveal dating habits that can be major roadblocks to developing a lasting romantic relationship.

master-of-none-5.w710.h473A 30 year old male client of mine shared with me how Season 2 of the Netflix hit series Master of None,(episode ‘First Date‘) struck a chord with him.   In this episode, Dev (Aziz Ansari) meets a myriad of women and for various reasons, experiences failure to launch towards a meaningful relationship with any of them.  In 2015, Aziz Ansari and sociologist Eric Klinenberg co-wrote Modern Romance: An Investigation, a book that examined the evolution of dating patterns and coupledom. The concept of ‘overchoice’ in dating, an idea first introduced in Alvin Toffler’s 1971 book Future Shock, and later explored in Barry Schwartz’s 2004 book The Paradox of Choice has become a mainstay in modern dating culture.  Ansari concludes that while having access to more potential mates might be enjoyable up front, it eventually makes the process of choosing and investing in someone much harder, and can ultimately lead to less romantic fulfillment.

Dumb dating habit #1:  Going on a never-ending cycle of first dates, waiting for that ‘love at first sight’ feeling to signal when it’s time to finally pursue someone for a long term relationship.

First impressions are often not a good predictor of who’ll be a good fit for a long term relationship.  In my observation, guys need to take initiative and figure out how to emotionally invest in the process of dating if they want a long term relationship.  A lot of men are stuck in a conundrum when they’re looking for a girlfriend- they feel safer with more options, but more options leads to low emotional investment, which leads to a sense of emptiness, which they fill with more creating more options.  It’s a vicious circle!  Men, start by figuring out what you need to do to care more about the person you’re meeting for a date.

Males are commonly raised to avoid vulnerable emotions, and learn to keep a safe distance from their feelings, especially in matters of the heart.  As a result, they can miss out on developing emotional intimacy with someone because they fail to take an active role in building it.  In movies, men are portrayed as reluctant participants in intimacy – cinematic stereotypes such as the manic pixie dream girl archetype evolved in order to protect masculine identity in the face of falling in love.

REBOOT:  If you don’t work to get inside your feelings and figure out how to genuinely invest in caring about the person sitting across from you, these feelings will not mysteriously emerge on their own.  I know you believe you just haven’t met someone who’s attractive enough, smart/accomplished enough, humble and supportive and interested in YOU enough.  If this storyline is sounding a lot like you, it’s time to see it for what it is – you’ve got to rise to the occasion and take initiative.  Make a real effort to be curious, listen, absorb and relate.  Look at it from an economic perspective- wise investments of all kinds pay off big!

Dumb dating habit #2:  You’re using dating as a way to compete with your friends- in this game the last one to get off the single train wins.  

You’re struggling with choosing someone because you’re too busy rounding out your dating options for more bragging rights with your friends.  A proud 20-something year old guy once told me that he and his male roommates had a world map in their house with colored pushpins in it to represent the countries of origin of women they’d each slept with.  Why?  Because it made them look cool to all their friends, duh!  But do you really want to be the last one who still cares about playing this game?  It’s like you’re that last guy in your middle school friend group who still cares about who has the most/best Pokémon cards.

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Dude at some point, it’s not that crucial anymore!  Eventually, most guys want to be with someone that will stand by them when life gets hard, someone to enjoy private moments with, who will honestly be there for them through the thick and thin of their life.  Meanwhile, do you want to still be scrolling through your phone contacts looking for someone who actually cares about what happens to you? (besides your family!  Not your ex either, she’s probably happily married now with a baby on the way.)

REBOOT:  The price tag for a real relationship is steep, and you need to be willing to pay the price.  Commitment, vulnerability, giving FOMO a grown ass man smack down, and dealing with someone’s shortcomings because they have to put up with yours.  When was the last time you heard of getting something worth having for free?

Dumb dating habit # 3:  Not noticing when your mind magically fills in the blanks in someone’s potential instead of accepting the current reality as it stands.  The problem with this is that your brain gets caught in a vicious cycle of unrealistic expectations.  This can lead to feeling mad and resentful when the person falls short of your version of them. 

Sometimes women can get ahead of themselves while dating, and lose track of the difference between what is reality and what is wishful thinking.  This happens when they fail to notice that someone isn’t demonstrating a consistent investment in getting serious with them.  When you fantasize a million steps ahead about how your next dates will play out together it can lead your brain to believing it should and it will, and then when it inevitably doesn’t, you feel shortchanged and frustrated, but keep hoping things will improve.  Unrealistic expectations can also lead people to cut things off prematurely which is sabotaging your #relationshipgoals.  Confirmation bias  is a form of faulty thinking with plenty of scientific evidence supporting people’s propensity to believe something is true because they would like it to be true. Motivated by wishful thinking, individuals will stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views (prejudices) one would like to be true.

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REBOOT:  DO NOT GET AHEAD OF YOURSELF. If someone isn’t consistently making an effort to set concrete plans with you, showing a genuine interest in connecting with you, stop giving him your mental attention!  Be ready to harness some discipline because old habits die hard.  You’re perfectly rigorous about keeping your diet paleo, you’re awesome at limiting your drinking to the weekends, but you let your mind go on a wild goose chase over every text thread in your phone!  You know you’re in trouble if the guy inside your head is always more fun to think about then the same guy whose text messages rarely extend beyond 3 words and you never quite know where things stand between the two of you.  Be honest with yourself.  Why would it make sense to want a relationship with someone who’s hot and cold towards you?  Inconsistency and unpredictability beget failure in building anything of value.  Open your eyes to the people who are making it clear they value you and want to spend time with you.

Dumb dating habit # 4:  You over-rely on dating apps and forget that prospective dating partners are everywhere!  Your attention is buried in your phone and you never (ever, ever) initiate conversation with a stranger for social purposes.  

Pretty much everyone is guilty of digital social isolation these days.  You’ve heard this before from those of us who evolved as human beings before the digital era.  By limiting yourself to socializing through online/text consumption you are actually limiting yourself to a communication method with WORSE social aptitude results not BETTER.  The quality of enjoyment, depth of expression and opportunity to build lasting relationships has evolved over billions of years through face to face communication.  Digital communication on the other hand has existed for a fraction of a mili-second and the jury is out if humanity would even survive if we continue to depend on it with today’s enthusiasm.  It’s not that I think people shouldn’t enjoy all the latest dating apps, follow each other on social media for entertainment, ease and efficiency, but aim to keep practicing your real life social skills.  Every single client who’s taken me up on my encouragement in this area has come back glowing with newfound empowerment and shock, really.  Like “I cannot believe I initiated a social conversation with a total stranger (sober, mind you!) AND DIDN’T DIE ON THE SPOT FROM ANGST.  I CAN DO ANYTHING NOW!!!”  YES!  That is the best feeling!

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Improve your health and performance with Learned Optimism and you will win at life

What is the difference between someone who consistently performs to the best of their ability and someone whose performance is unpredictable?  What allows someone to effortlessly tap into their peak performance and reach their goals and what compromises a person’s ability to access and sustain it?  One word- outlook.  Martin Seligman‘s groundbreaking research on learned optimism reveals how being optimistic is consistently related to improved health and longevity.  A US study of nearly 100 000 students found that people who are optimistic are less likely than those who are pessimistic to die from Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) or from any other cause over an eight year period.  On the other hand, pessimism has been linked to chronic stress and poor health functioning such as high levels of inflammation, a weakened immune system, increased pain perception, and other signs of physiological and mental dysfunction.  Optimistic people appear to manage stress more efficiently than others so that their stress disappears at a faster rate than those who don’t utilize optimism in their outlook.

Seligman developed a test to help people identify their outlook style (which you can take here.)  If your base level of optimism isn’t very high, don’t panic.  In fact, it means that you are at the level where learned optimism can be the most beneficial!

Executive coaching can be an effective way to learn and adopt optimism to improve your overall functioning and sustain peak performance in all areas of your life.  I typically work with high-achieving young adults in the tech community of the Bay Area/Silicon Valley.  Working with a coach is great for healthy people who are motivated to change what isn’t working, but need some guidance on how to execute strategically and efficiently.

The following tactics outline the basic tenets of Learned Optimism.  Keep in mind that our first reaction to something will always be automatic and happen instantaneously – that’s normal and to be expected!  We can acknowledge our initial reactions to an event without this becoming our permanent outlook on the matter.  That’s where Learned Optimism comes in.  We can cultivate this skill by identifying our first reaction, clarifying how this first outlook might impact our overall ability to problem-solve and perform, and challenge ourselves to adjust our outlook in order to optimize our performance and goal achievement.  With practice, we can improve our mental toughness, which is what helps a person cope with difficult situations, persevere and succeed at a high performance level.

Our outlook is shaped by our individual explanatory style, a psychological attribute that indicates how people explain to themselves why they experienced a particular event, either positive or negative.  There are three components to this:

  1. The permanence of an event – how long someone thinks it will last
  2. The pervasiveness or scope of an event – whether the person sees the event as specific and contained, or global and all-inclusive
  3.  Personalization of an event – whether the person views the event as something that was caused entirely by oneself, others or external factors

Learned Optimism tool # 1 – Adjust TIME outlook for an event.

Find ways to view a negative event as temporary:

  • “The next fiscal quarter will be better.”
  • This is a short-term setback.”
  • I’m having an off day today.”

Find ways to view a positive event as enduring and reflective of personal ability:

  • “I’m on a roll now, because I’ve worked hard, practiced, and now have a winning strategy.”
  • I know I can handle challenging things because I’ve already overcome so much.”
  • “I’ve created opportunities for myself in the past, and am capable of creating more.”

Learned Optimism tool # 2 – Adjust SCOPE of an event.

Find ways to view a negative event as specific and contained to one situation:

  • The next event will work out better because of what I’ve learned this time around.”
  • “I won’t let this personal rejection or difficult co-worker get in my way or stop me from reaching my goal.”
  • Things at my company are rough right now, but my personal life is going well.”

Find ways to view a positive event as global:

  • “Earning this promotion has gotten me on the right path to developing as a leader in the company.”
  • “My management style is more effective since I’ve made an effort to be more approachable and generous with my time.”
  • Taking social risks has been challenging but I’ve learned that overall, people respond well to me when I reach out first.”

Learned Optimism tool # 3 – Adjust PERSONALIZATION to contain one’s responsibility, recognize which personal strengths were utilized, and which external circumstances influenced the outcome of an event.

For negative events, identify your personal accountability, then factor in others’ contributions and the role of external circumstances:

  • “I can see how I contributed to the fight my spouse and I had.  I want to clarify my expectations and work on finding some middle ground so the next time this issue comes up we can avoid a blowup.”
  • “I reacted without communicating beforehand with my team members, which led to a break down in our overall progress.  I will suggest a few temporary solutions until we can figure out a more inclusive strategy.”
  • My company is going through major layoffs, and in spite of the contributions I made that demonstrated real utility, I’ve been informed it’s time to find my next position.”

For positive events, recognize which personal strengths you utilized to bring this event to fruition:

  • “I stayed focused on my goals and was willing to work harder when other people were frustrated and fed up, which helped me move forward and achieve in spite of facing real adversity.”
  • “I’m more comfortable and experienced speaking in front of others than my co-founder, so I took on the responsibility of pitching our idea to investors and now our startup has seed funding.” 
  • “I’ve worked on building up my tolerance for discomfort in social situations, which I believe gave me the confidence to ask out someone I’ve been interested in for months.  Even if it doesn’t work out, I feel good about stepping up and taking initiative.”

Bringing it all together- learned optimism is a winning strategy to get through challenging or unfair situations by shining a spotlight onto where there is opportunity for improved coping, positive progress and effective solutions.  Our initial response to a situation may not be the most effective way to navigate it successfully.  The key to adopting an optimistic mindset is to acknowledge the inherent choice we have in our response.  Learned optimism is not an exercise in avoiding responsibility or ignoring dire circumstances either.  Adopt an outlook that encourages personal accountability, and supports your performance growth in every area of life.  From your education to your work to your health, it is your outlook that predicts your level of success above all else.

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5 winning strategies to improve your likability at work and why it matters

“Likability” has become the X factor that distinguishes people’s success at work as the American workforce grows increasingly competitive and diversified.  Demonstrating a high level of likability goes beyond popularity, and is often cited as one of the most influential reasons behind promotion selection and leadership  advancement within a company.  The ability to come across as likable can lead to why co-workers and managers align with some people but not others. Likable people are more apt to be hired, earn a high level of trust and support from colleagues, and have their mistakes forgiven without injuring their credibility and reputation.  A study of 133 managers at the University of Massachusetts found that if an employee is likable and gives a well-organized argument, managers tend to comply with their suggestions, even if they disagree and the employee lacks supporting evidence.

On the other hand, unlikable people are often unaware of how toxic they feel to others, seem to provoke a combative response in others, and over time, develop a reputation of  being ‘hard to work with, or hard to work for’ even if they consistently demonstrate a high level of technical skill in their work role.

The ability to manage your emotions and remain steadfast and positive in stressful situations has a direct impact not only on your performance, but how likable you are to others.  As tempting as it can be to find fault in others, taking on a non-confrontational problem-solving approach encourages people to work in tandem and collaborate with you rather than react in defensiveness and go into attack mode.  A wise, highly successful manager once said to me “it’s never effective to make people feel wrong, even if they ARE wrong.  Shaming people wastes time and energy and reduces morale- causing people to withdraw or retaliate rather than work to improve themselves.”

TalentSmart has conducted research with more than a million people, and found that 90% of high ranked performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of conflict in order to remain calm and in control. One of the greatest talents of likable people is their ability to neutralize difficult, unlikable people. They use their well-honed interpersonal skills to help disgruntled people feel supported, valued and useful to a team’s success, motivating them to cooperate with others.  If left unchecked, poorly managed conflict and employee grid-lock will sink a company’s success rate fast.

There are various strategies that likable people use to win their co-worker’s trust, appreciation, and support at work.  “Likability isn’t something you are born with, like charisma. It’s something you can learn,” says Ben Decker, chief executive officer of Decker Communications, San Francisco, a training and consulting firm.  To establish lasting, positive connections with people (whether you like them or not), you’ll need an approach that feels authentic to your interpersonal style. Many clients in my executive coaching practice come in to elevate their emotional intelligence skills to complement their highly developed STEM technical skills.  In the beginning, taking a different approach to interacting with others can feel difficult or artificial, but over time becomes easier to employ once you see the positive impact it has on your work relationships.  Engaging in stable, positive interactions at work will always be easier to maintain than constantly navigating awkward or tense work relationships.

Actionable strategies to increase your likability at work:

  1. Aim to communicate empathically with others.  Negative, unlikable people can be draining when they exhibit hostile emotions without regard for how they’re affecting others.  They aren’t focused on solutions because they feel unheard, and want someone to pay attention to their complaints.  You can avoid coming across as insensitive or unconcerned by offering a few short, empathic statements to demonstrate you’ve listened.  Help them see they’ve made an impact on your understanding of the issues they’ve raised, and you value their opinion.  This form of active listening increases your likability because you’ve demonstrated an ability to tolerate other people’s emotional expressions without negating their experience.  Even if you do not agree with them in the slightest, you’ve helped them move away from seeing you as personally contrary or combative.  Their complaints are not being made to generate solutions at this moment in time, but rather to be heard by anyone who will listen.  Refrain from sharing differences in opinion, which will only trigger a combative response style.  Use phrases to help that person feel understood before ending the exchange amicably.
  • “This does sound like a big problem.  I imagine it won’t be easily solved without some planning.  I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on the situation, it’s helped me get some new perspectives.  I’ll spend some time thinking about how to get the ball rolling in the right direction.”
  • “I think this is a really important issue too.  I want to give it the time and attention it deserves.  Now that I’ve heard your take on it, I feel like I can see how it’s affecting people differently.”
  • “This problem has been hard for a lot of people, but especially you, based on what you’re saying.  It seems like you’re doing the best you can, given the circumstances.”

If ultimately it’s your job to generate actionable solutions to the problems they’ve shared with you, it’s better to give yourself time to strategize, gather information, resources and support to optimize your plan of action rather than to engage in a reactive dialogue that won’t generate lasting solutions, and likely only provoke negative responses.

2.  Make time for small talk.  Positive relationships are born from sharing benign personal details.  Showing genuine interest in others makes you likable.  As someone who’s naturally chatty (with a personality style well suited to being a highly interactive coach versus a traditionally unobtrusive psychotherapist) I always enjoy helping people learn and practice the art of small talk.  Likable people make time to exchange simple personal reflections on topics that most people can relate to- favorite past times or culinary tastes, seasonal or local happenings.  Small talk is a time to compare mutual commonalities with the intent of learning something new about a person.  Sharing parts of yourself through small talk helps people feel familiar and comfortable with you and develop a sense of who you are outside of your work role.  I believe there are a few basic rules of thumb to successfully initiate and respond to others during small talk conversations.  These mini exchanges (think 5 -1o minutes) build upon each other over time, and eventually can segue into more in-depth conversations that are mutually interesting and enjoyable.

  •  Be willing to initiate a circumstantially relevant conversation (for example seeing someone enjoy a cup of coffee/tea is a good time to ask what they prefer, then share some small personal details about your own caffeine habits, add some novel experiences if you can to keep it from being too mundane).  Pay attention to the amount that they share and aim to match it, then expand a bit more.  Find out if there’s anything you can learn from them based on what they share.
  • Be responsive to people when they make an effort to begin a small talk conversation with you, and be inclusive of others whenever possible.   Even if you’re having a hectic day, take time to convey you appreciate their conversational gesture and try to refrain from saying how busy/rushed you feel.  If you really are counting on every spare minute that day, let them know you want to come back to chat with them a bit later, and make a point to follow up in some small way the next time you see them.
  • Ask a few people who know you well (family members, room mates, close friends) how they’ve seen you engage in small talk and ask for candid feedback.  What have they observed in your conversational style that works well?  What might be misinterpreted?  Consider any reoccurring themes with the intention of ongoing improvement so that others have easy, enjoyable exchanges with you.

 

3.  Pay attention to what tends to lighten people’s mood, what puts a smile on people’s faces or brings people out of their shell.  A few seconds of generosity with your energy can instantly warm people and makes you endearing to others.  I’ve had clients tell me they struggle to connect with people they have very little in common with, especially across genders.  If  you’ve ever paid close attention to someone who’s incredibly likable, you’ll see their charm often comes from a willingness to admit to not knowing much about something that someone else has a talent for- they’ll make light of this difference and find a way to joke about being less fashion savvy, less gadget knowledgable or less organized than a fellow co-worker.  Complimentary teasing, when done subtly and with genuine appreciation for someone else’s strengths is a fun, positive way to connect to others and increase your likability.

4.  Keep close tabs on your mood, and get in the habit of making micro-adjustments to sustain your comfort, stamina, peace of mind, and sense of humor.  Top performers understand how even the smallest differences in our mood can shape our response style and influence our ability to be creative, proactive and solution focused, and patient with unlikable people and complex problems.  You’ll want to aspire beyond healthy eating and good sleep hygiene and understand what additional influences can tip your mood in the right or wrong direction.  I recently sat next to Silicon Vally venture capitalist Tim Draper during a fundraiser luncheon for non-profit organization BizWorld.org.  He shared with me a few secrets to his success, including the importance of understanding and managing what influences your mood and energy level, taking extra precaution before going into high stakes meetings, public performances, or making paramount decisions with long term consequences.  By learning what helps you sustain your best mood, you’ll not only increase your likability and performance level, but serve as an inspiration to others who see you gliding through life with more ease and less stress.

  • create a varied and personalized list of self-care strategies and implement them routinely into your daily schedule.  (The list should range by category, e.g. time required, ease of access, supplies needed)
  • learn when to pass on extra curricular activities, social events and spending time with people that drain your energy and mood during times you’ll need to rely on your best performance ability
  • invest in resources that help you streamline domestic tasks that take up precious time and energy- whenever possible and affordable outsource tedious household chores so you can invest your time and energy on making career gains and positive social developments.

5.  Keep your eyes on the big picture and don’t sweat the small stuff.  The most likable people find a way to not let minor annoyances become obstacles to their success, and train their brain to notice positivity, hope, generosity, kindness, improvement and teamwork.  They are comfortable using trial and error, steer clear of perfectionistic or overly-idealistic expectations, keep their goals realistic, recognize growth and gains in themselves and others, and manage to find the silver lining in the most challenging circumstances.  Practice.  Then practice some more.  These are all tactics that take time to develop and can become staples in helping you become more likable and effective in your life and work goals.

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How to kill it at your new job- proven strategies for getting ahead in a cutthroat culture

So you recently landed a job that lines up well with your career goals.  You’re feeling confident.  Maybe you already have a great track record of achievement- top SAT scores, a stellar graduating GPA, glowing letters of recommendations from past employers.  Your time to shine has finally arrived!  But after settling into your new role, you realize this new work climate is no easy read.  Communication with your boss or co-workers leaves you feeling unsupported, and you start to worry that taking this job was a mistake.  What should you do?  You’d like to avoid moving on prematurely so your resume stays on track.  The following tips will help you kill it at your new job with some proven coaching strategies, even in a cutthroat culture.

Working with an executive coach is a great way to skillfully steer this situation back in your favor.  One of the first things I ask my clients to do is to describe their personal career vision to me.  Outlining one’s career goals helps to pinpoint the various skills and experiences that are necessary to achieve this vision.  Does this job afford you an opportunity to make these gains?  (In all likelihood yes,which is why you sought out and/or accepted the position in the first place.)  Some jobs require you to change more than others- a process which is often unpredictable and frustrating as you figure out how to succeed there.  An executive coach can help you prepare mentally and strategically for this.  Together you will generate lasting and effective solutions to keep you on your personalized track to success.

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Reframe how you’re thinking about the ‘problems’ you’re experiencing at work.  Learn to embrace this job as a purposeful choice you are making for the sake of experience and skill building rather than an oppressive situation that is happening to you.  Remember no one is holding you hostage there.  Ask yourself “Am I ready to adapt to a different way of thinking and operating?”  No one said changing perspectives would feel easy, or that you wouldn’t face major obstacles along the way.  Either stay in the game and take ownership of the experience, or prepare to move on.
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Rise to the occasion: successful leaders search for ways to improve and strengthen themselves in difficult situations, inspiring others to do the same. They are often unflappable and well respected, even in hostile work climates.  That’s what makes them so effective in senior positions and invaluable to a company or organization.
  • What personal strengths do you have that helped you overcome past obstacles?  What did you do to persevere?  Some of my younger, especially gifted and fortunate clients have moved through life with relative ease, so dealing with an uncontrollable work environment can feel especially demoralizing.  Others have come through relative adversity, but realize past coping strategies are no longer sufficient.  If the cultural climate of your new job seems unwelcoming, petty or even combative, you may find yourself avoiding interactions altogether.  I encourage my clients to see this as a chance to learn how to read, respond to and handle a variety of people.  The more versatile and challenging, the more prepared and effective you will be in handling future challenges.
  • Anticipate people’s behavior so you can prepare to respond with efficiency rather than let negative emotions take over.  For example, instead of allowing others’ tardiness to be a constant source of frustration, learn to use this extra time to your advantage by completing simple tasks while you wait, organize your schedule or review to-do lists.  Does your boss constantly place blame on others or set unrealistic goals?  Learn to respond with positivity and an eagerness to improve and support.
  • Aim to view other people’s behavior as a reflection of the setting and their ability to cope with it rather than taking it personally.  Criticism is often a relative opinion.  It doesn’t matter that you were your boss’s favorite employee at your past job.  Learn to view criticism as an opportunity to better understand what others expect instead of getting defensive.
Learn to predict and manage your emotional style so that you are not just reacting, but thoughtfully responding to difficult people and situations with strategy.  You’ve heard some people described as ‘running hot and cold, moody, or unpredictable.’  That’s rarely a good thing in work settings.  Anyone who’s served in a leadership role will tell you that managing difficult people or emotionally charged situations is a necessary part of the job.
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  • You’ll find that working with others is much easier if you are well liked – which means you will be more successful during your time there.  I encourage my clients to step outside their comfort zone and find ways to show interest and demonstrate kindness towards others they might avoid in their personal life.  Almost without exception there will be people we don’t like that we need to work alongside.  Whether or not they are truly reprehensible is irrelevant:  not ‘liking someone’ can quickly erode your working relationships and productivity, and get in the way of your professional goals.  People we don’t even like are not worth that sacrifice!
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  • Identify your emotional and social style, and zero in on what tends to trigger you during times of stress.  How can you build upon this style so that you remain better balanced under pressure?  It’s not uncommon for people to become rigid and/or less effective in their emotional style when distressed.  Rational-leaning people who are valued for their even-keel disposition and logical problem solving may become hyper-rational and avoid attending to emotional information even when necessary for resolving conflict.  Emotionally sensitive people who are skilled at reading others and interpreting social climates can become overtly emotional and lose track of logical solutions when overwhelmed.
  • Appreciate your natural interpersonal style and how it affects others, and challenge yourself to practice more versatility in your social interactions.  Soon others will experience you as highly perceptive and effective in your role.  As a general rule of thumb, be patient and observe social patterns before jumping to conclusions, avoid gossip, and express gratitude and appreciation for others whenever possible.
  • Respect other people’s seniority regardless of how effective you deem them to be in their role.  You can always ‘be right’ silently in your own head (but beware of resting bitch face!)  Take care to demonstrate flexibility and supportiveness and pay attention to how problems are resolved among others.
Maintain a safe distance between your work identity and YOU.   You are a multi-faceted person who exists with needs outside of your career.  Take a break, catch your breath.  The learning curve of new jobs can be draining, so self-care is crucial to your long term functioning.
  • Taking care of yourself is easier if you adopt a consistent pattern of paying attention to your needs, even if it’s with small gestures.  Doing so will have a cumulative effect which will allow you to get back in the game with endurance and motivation.  As time passes, you will develop increased resiliency, perseverance, emotional self control, and things will seem more manageable.

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  • Remember this job is a finite experience, it’s not forever.  These days it is very respectable to stay in any given position for a year or more before moving on to garner other experiences.
Track and summarize what you are learning and how you are growing as a person, not just for the sake of your career.  No one is going to do this for you.  Check in and swap stories with people outside your place of employment.  Commiserating with others is a good reminder you are not isolated nor the only one going through mine fields.  Only the strong survive!!!
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#Squadgoals for grownups: how to build your social crew with confidence

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The Bay Area is home to a large number of people who relocate here for improved work or educational opportunities.  After settling in, most find themselves wanting to establish new local friendships, set up a social community, and increase their sense of group inclusiveness.  Many could benefit from developing their social crew with confidence, a.k.a. #squadgoals for grownups.  For some, building new friendships in an area brimming with overachievers in tech can feel intimidating, and lead to a sense of social isolation and loneliness.  Others who feel more comfortable in high achieving social contexts may find networking for professional purposes easier, but feel uncertain about how to read social cues outside of structured work settings.
One of the first things people can do is aim to understand the role they typically take on in group settings.  Most people can look back to childhood and notice re-occurring patterns in their social lives.  What influential experiences or people shaped your beliefs about friendship growth?  How did you come to understand yourself in comparison to others in a group dynamic?  Taking historical inventory can help people better understand and reflect upon their unique social development.  Why did some groups feel enjoyable and easy, whereas others felt uninteresting or even toxic?    Here are a few examples of young millennials working through social challenges:
29 year old  Jason “I’m bummed that some friends who said they’d do a 10k with me a few months ago ended up flaking- it felt pretty rude.  One person basically said they’d go if another mutual friend was going, but not if it was just me.  I feel like my social value in the group is lower than I thought, and now if I don’t go, it just proves I don’t have much influence.”
25 year old Sunako “I feel nervous in group settings, even when everyone in the group is a friend of mine.  I get worried that I don’t have anything interesting to contribute to the conversation, and I feel like everyone is smarter and funnier than me.”
28 year old Kiaan “I haven’t found a group of friends like the ones I had in NYC- I used to have a group of friends I could just hit up for random stuff, you know, grab a drink or a bite, shoot some hoops, whatever.  I can do that with work people here, but it’s just not the same, you know?  I don’t really connect with people here in the same way.”
Around the same time I decided to pen this article on #squadgoals for grownups, my daughter (who’s in the 3rd grade) hosted a sleepover for ten of her friends.  There’s nothing like watching a group of kids resolve social predicaments over and over as a way to examine the social nuances of group functioning.  As someone who’s well liked by her peers, makes new friends easily, and has successfully welcomed newcomers into her friend group, I wanted her to weigh in on what can help people feel confident in social situations.  I was hoping she’d give me a few basic points of reference to build upon how and why friendships grow stronger, and how to best enjoy social groups.  (The secret is out- multi-tasking parents are not opposed to having our kids do our work for us whenever possible!)  She offered the following tips in plain language, pointing out the most important tenets of developing friendships and navigating social groups.  These universal concepts are timeless, and I truly believe apply to all ages and social strata.  As we get older, we can overcomplicate things, take things too personally, and assign unnecessary value to social roles that undermine our confidence and ability to enjoy others.
  • If you’re feeling shy but would like to make new friends, it helps to remember: no one wants to play alone.  Everyone likes the feeling of being included.  By being part of a social group you can enjoy things differently than when you’re alone.  A group is only fun if people in it are getting along well.  How you can help this happen?  There are different ways you can be included in a social group.
  • If you want to build a leadership role within a group, you have to gain other people’s trust that a suggestion you have is going to go well and be fun.  Some people really like coming up with new ideas for the group, and other people like to add their opinions to a new idea.  A good leader pays attention to other people’s opinions and preferences when they’re coming up with suggestions for the group.
  • Everyone feels good when their idea is used for a group activity, so it’s good to take turns and let other people suggest ideas.  Be enthusiastic about their idea, and pay attention to how they’d it to go.  They’ll probably invite you back to do stuff with them again.
  • Move on from an activity that isn’t working well and don’t take it personally.  Focus on paying attention to what people find fun, and accept that some times an idea doesn’t go as planned.  Just let it go, and do something else.
  • It’s ok if you don’t enjoy coming up with ideas for the group- other people will still really like including you because you make a point to enjoy their suggestions.  They’ll keep including you because by participating you add to the fun of the group, and you’ll become closer friends with others that way.
  • Sometimes you might want to do an activity that other people in your group don’t want to do.  You have to decide what’s more important to you in that moment – doing the activity you had in mind, or doing something with the group.  If other people aren’t interested in joining you for this activity, you should focus on the reasons unrelated to you to that have probably influenced their decision.  You should not take it personally.  Just move on and stay focused on having fun, what ever you decide to do with your time.
  •  If you decide to do something different than the group, you can always meet up with them later, you don’t have to feel like you’re not part of the group anymore.  By getting together with the group another time, you get a chance to do different things, and other people can do the same.  If people in a group get mad anytime someone wants to do something different for a change, it’s probably not going to feel as much fun in the long run.  The best groups should still be able to have fun when people come and go at different times.
  • Most new friendships are established and reinforced because people enjoy doing the same types of things- even doing them alone these activities are fun, but by sharing the experience with other people, it adds to the fun.  In the beginning maybe you don’t feel that close to someone new, but as you do an activity with them, you end up feeling more comfortable and closer to them.  Before you know it you’re very close friends.
She makes it sound pretty simple, right? 🙂
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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.

 

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.