“Quiet on set!” We all want to be directors.

You submitted the proposal two weeks ago and there has been no response. “Action!” Everyone is talking over each other during the meeting. “Quiet on set!” Your child isn’t listening to your chore list. “Boom!”  The team can’t seem to get any traction on the project. “Roll!”  Wouldn’t it be great to have a giant megaphone in your hand and a bird’s eye view of all aspects of your life?  So if you wanted your friend to sober up, your boss to give you a raise or make your partner a sexy beast, all you would have to do is change the script and make it happen.  The truth is, while we may have delusions of being the director of our lives, we really just need to rewrite that script and surrender control.director

There is an ongoing theme that crops up a lot when I coach.  More than a lot.  Clients are constantly striving to change the other people in their lives.  They want their son to stop smoking, their co-worker to quit being nosy, their boss to acknowledge their accomplishments–you get the picture.  With all this constant striving to control and change others, we become embittered.  “I’ve told him to quit smoking dozens of times and he doesn’t listen to me.”  Sigh. “I’ve quit talking to my co-worker but they are still nosy.” Argh. “I’ve finished 6 projects ahead of schedule and my boss hasn’t said a word.” Woe is me.  The heart of this is the way we react to it.  The story we tell ourselves in our heads and the approach we take.

Here are some tips on how to let go of your need to be the Director:

  • Acknowledge that you are trying to direct others.  Changing a mindset always starts with acknowledging that it even exists. Several years ago, my son was baking a cake in my kitchen.  I ran around cleaning everything up and putting things away.  Critiquing each step.  He stepped back and said, “Let me fail.”  It was profound for me.  I needed to acknowledge that I wanted to control the situation, as if a cake was life or death.  So this is what control is like.
  • Reflect on your striving.  As a coach, I ask, “Can you control your boss…your daughter…your co-worker?”  Invariably the client says “No.” I ask, “Can you let go of the striving to control?” Client: “That’s not easy.” The striving itself is the source of your pain.  You are trying to change reality (albeit for the better) but the striving is undermining your relationship with the person you are trying to change.  So think about that.  You can’t change someone else’s actions, and you striving and worrying and manipulating will only twist you into a knot. So pick it up and put it on the table to look at it.  So this is what striving is; it’s striving to change things that you cannot direct.
  • Shut down the illusion.  So when I was in the middle of the baking catastrophe with my son, I decided to leave the room.  I was nothing but a stressed-out hindrance.  I took off my director’s beret, let go of the story and went to my trailer (actually my office). Let go of the illusion of control. I already knew how to make that cake.  Now it’s his turn.  My being in the kitchen was not going to change the end result.  It was delicious, by the way.  All by himself.  Successfully directing is just an illusion.
  • Figure out what you do have control over.  Hmmm.  Well, your reaction.  You have control over your reaction.  Even better to tell yourself, I have control over my response.  I can get mad, angry, frustrated, sad, or resentful.  I can also be sublime, calm, happy, relaxed or joyful.  You really do get to choose; the choosing is just different than what you initially thought.  I can remember being in the restaurant business and dealing with disgruntled customers.  My reaction to their bitterness was to be over-the-moon friendly.  Big smile, eye contact, “My day is just fabulous” attitude and it was infectious.  I was amazed at how I could turn a situation like a miss on a rare steak around through my own outlook.  Be that spark.  Understand that you can control yourself.
  • Don’t take it personally.  This is hard.  I have several clients that are putting off their happiness until…they get a promotion, their nemesis quits, their husband loses 20 pounds or their daughter sobers up. I can’t be happy if my daughter is unhappy.  I can’t be happy until Suzy quits.  The failures (and successes) of others are happening independent of you.  Whether or not that cake failed had nothing to do with me.  Let go of your personal responsibility for others’ actions.
  • Realize that everyone else wants to be the director of their own lives.  This is especially true when world events seem out of control.  So buried behind your boss’ request for a new venue for the holiday party is likely their need for control.  The tight deadline from your co-worker is to make sure it fits in their life.  Understand and respect that even your dog wants to control you by pawing you when you stop petting.  We all want influence and control.

This is not easy and it is a slow process. Take it slowly and consciously and it will change.  Just remember when you start getting wrapped up in the dramatic film in your head to ask yourself, “Am I really the director?  Am I really in control?” and let it go.

“When you let go, you create space for something better” – Unknown

You’re angry because the meeting isn’t going your way.  You’re frustrated because your partner never makes the bed.  You smolder as the traffic piles up and will definitely be making you late to work this morning.  What’s next?  The self-critic pops in for a drive by of self-berating.  “My ideas stink.” “He doesn’t appreciate me making this bed.  I’m a doormat.” “I’m an idiot.  Why did I go this way?” Does any of this sound familiar?

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It’s amazing how often my clients don’t realize the language they use when they talk to or about themselves. Client:  “I’m the only one my mother has.”  Coach: “So you are responsible for your mother’s addiction?”  Client: (smile) “Well, when you say it like that…probably not.” Coach:  “Probably?”  Client: (bigger smile) “Why does it sound different when you say it? Definitely not.” We all have a ticker tape of the little self-critic rambling on and on and on in our heads.  That little self-critic is taking up precious space that is valuable real estate for much better things.  It’s time to let go.

Here are some things that you will create space for:

  • Random acts of self-care.  I gave up on the news about two months ago.  I let go of the need to be constantly informed.  I am calmer.  I am no longer hyper vigilant waiting for the next shoe to drop.  With the thirty minutes I saved (actually it’s probably more like 2 hours if you count all the news links I would take randomly throughout the day to get the latest on the stock market or what ISIS is up to), I’ve added 20 minutes of meditation and self-reflection.  If I’m home early before dinner, I read or meditate.  Create the space for self-care.
  • Loving kindness for others.  I have given up the resentment when I do things for others.  I used to get angry when I did the dishes or made the bed.  I had to let go of my story that I was being a doormat.  I changed the story to be one of loving kindness for my husband;  instead of constantly searching for the balance of power of “I did this” now “You owe me that.”  It was exhausting to constantly keep score.  Now I am in the space of having loving kindness for everyone.  A sort of pay it forward of love and kindness.  There is no scoreboard necessary.
  • Liberation for myself and others.  It’s so easy to get wrapped up in your children’s success or failure.  To see it as a reflection of you; as an extension of you.  If he doesn’t go to an Ivy League school, what will the neighbors think?   I let go of the attachment to their outcomes.  It’s the same when you want to implement a new procedure at work and it gets shelved.  Oh well, move on.  A year ago I would have lost sleep over the shelving of the procedure and had mock arguments in my head with the nay-sayers for hours ad nauseam.  I am set free.  Embrace liberty.
  • Embracing uncertainty.  As I say to my clients, we all want control.  We all want to be the Wizard of Oz with our hands on the joy stick of life.  Fact is that there is no control.  This can be uncomfortable.  Very uncomfortable.  When I let go of control, I started to be more adaptable.  I was driving from Virginia to home last week.  The tire pressure indicator on the car came on.  I initially felt a jolt of anxiety.  I took a deep breath and realized that I could control my reaction.  I called my husband for a second opinion on a 29 psi and he told me it would be fine for the time being.  I did stop at a gas station and filled up the tire (I have not filled a tire with air in about 30 years).  No sweat. I didn’t panic. Let go the illusion of control and embrace uncertainty.
  • Space for openness.  When you let go of judgment, you make space for openness.  Self-judgment is debilitating.  Constantly judging others is also debilitating.  “I’m fat.” “She’s fat.” “What an atrocious dress.”  “He’s late again.” Judge. Judge. Judge. Judge.  I am not completely free of doing this but I am at least calling it out in my head.  “This is judgment.”  The first step is to label it.  Acknowledge that you are doing it.  Calling my judge out lets me embrace acceptance.  I imagine writing on my forehead with a sharpie and masking tape: Judge.  Label it.  Then let it go.  The universe is open to me (and you).
  • Detach from emotions.  I have been a stuffer of emotions.  I would numb them or stuff them deep inside.  I am learning to lean into the emotion and observe it.  Oh, so this is anger.  My throat is constricted and my head is hot.  Oh, so this is sadness.  My stomach is clenched and tears are streaming down my face.  I love the analogy that I am just the movie screen and that the movie actually being projected is my thoughts.  I am able to just be the movie screen and not the movie.  Let go of the thoughts that create the emotion and observe.

This has been a deep and deliberate practice for several months but I am reaping the rewards.  Create space for what you really want and let go.  It is better.

6 Tactics to Turning Over a New Leaf

This is the time of year where many folks start gathering up their New Year’s resolutions.   We start putting together the list that will cure all our ills and bad habits.  We decide it’s time to turn over a new leaf.  Lose 50 pounds, quit smoking, get out of debt.  Pick your leaf.  You might be ready to tear up that leaf by the second week of February.  You’ll be sore from that new exercise regime, or blow $100 on that new Thai restaurant, or break out the plastic again.  Why can’t we stick to the same leaf…new or otherwise?

 

There is a lot of scientific evidence that is available now to help show you the way.  If you really think it through and set up a plan, you can succeed.  There are ways to anticipate the self sabotage. To be one step ahead of yourself and anticipate a few faltering steps.  If you understand your willpower and can short circuit your “auto-pilot”, there is hope that you can achieve your greatest desires.  You can succeed in turning over that leaf. 6 Tactics to Turning Over a New Leaf

Here are some tactics:

1. More.  It is much easier to get behind the concept of more versus less.  Drink more water versus drink less soda.  Exercise more versus eat less.  It is so much easier to say, “Yeah, I ran more miles this week than last.”  But how do you know if you ate less, without meticulous logging of every calorie?  Even in the during performance reviews, it’s so much easier to ask someone to do more of something than less.   Frame your goal as something you want to do more of.

2. Identity.  Kelly McGonigal in her book “The Willpower Instinct” calls this your “Want Power”.  Think about how you want to identify with yourself.  It’s not that you want to save more as much as you want to see yourself as a “financially stable” person.  So when you make choices, you see yourself in the condition you are aspiring to.  So, if you identify with being a long distance runner, you aren’t likely to stop at McDonalds.

3.  Plan B.  Make sure you have a back up plan when hunger, stress and fatigue kick in.  These will happen.  Maybe not the first day, but at some point, you will be standing in the check out line at the Piggly Wiggly, a half hour late for your Zumba class, starving to death and that York/Reeses/Milky Way/(fill in your favorite candy) will be calling your name.  There are times when making a good choice will be impossible.  Your willpower is at its brink.   Pick the “regular size” versus the “king size” bar; choose gum or a bottle of water.  Pick a new default when your back is against the wall.

4. Schedule.  I’ve been a Franklin Covey Facilitator for several years.  One of the principles that has always been espoused in their “Focus” and “7 Habits ” courses is to schedule the big rocks.  The big rocks are the important goals in your life.  Whether it is training for a marathon, a happier marriage or being financially stable, if you schedule time in advance, you are much likelier to actually show up.  So plan a date with your partner, schedule ten miles for Saturday morning or spend Sunday afternoon working on your business plan.  Scheduling it will ensure that it happens.

5. Imagine temptation.  Envision your worst case scenario.  What bump in the road is likely to show up in the first week or so?  Birthday cake at work during your first week of your fitness plan: imagine yourself emailing that you have a conflicting meeting and turn it down.  You’re running late to your child’s concert and the only choice is fast food: imagine yourself ordering a salad and bottle of water.  Visualizing “the higher path” will help you actually follow through.

6. Compassion.  Forgiving yourself for any slip ups is critical.  Assume before you start that you will.  Because you will.  There are vacations, snowstorms, fires to put out and sick babysitters.  Showing yourself compassion is critical.  If you know that you can forgive yourself, you are much more likely to be successful in the long term.  Take care of your inner dictator.

All these steps involve taking the long view.  Pick the leaf that is most important (don’t pick a whole pile) and pull your full attention to it.  Imagine your future self. Make decisions based on their best interest. When you don’t–and there will be times when you don’t–practice forgiveness.  When you are successful with the first leaf, there will be will be others to take on.

Soothe your Inner Dictator

It’s difficult to control our inner dictator.  Most of us are trying to work on something.  Exercising more, spending less money, eating more fruits and vegetable, stopping procrastination…pick your poison.  The minute we derail, we beat ourselves up.  “Cathy, you lazy wench, why did you sleep in and not go for a run this morning?”, “Why did you go out to dinner when you said you would save money this month?”, “Dummy, you spent 2 hours on Facebook when you could have been doing homework.” “What is wrong with you?” Sound familiar?  Your dictator has taken over.

According to Dr. Kelly McGonigal and her book “The Willpower Instinct,” carrying around this guilt and reprimanding ourselves with this self talk is actually going to encourage more self defeating behaviors.  What?  Is she crazy?  I would be completely out of control if I didn’t reprimand myself.  My dictator is doing a great job of keeping me under wraps.  Really?

One of the studies in the book took place at Carlton University in Ottawa, Canada.  They tracked the procrastination habits of students over the course of the semester.  The ones who were self critical for the way they performed on the first exam were much more likely to make it a habit and procrastinate on subsequent exams.  Those who forgave themselves for procrastinating on the first exam, did far better and  improved their study habits.  Doesn’t it seem so much easier to have some self compassion and to soothe your inner dictator?

Here are some ways to calm your dictator:

1. Forgive.  Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”  Let go of your grudges towards others.  If you can’t forgive them and their failures, how can you possible forgive yourself.  I was tormented by resentment of an ex for years.  It got me nowhere but more stressed out, paranoid and resentful (as I recounted all his sins against me and mankind).  It wasn’t hurting him, it was hurting me.  Release it and move on.

2. Self Compassion.  Once you have forgiven others, it should be easier to forgive yourself and your failures.  Try to imagine if you would say any of the things that you say to yourself, to a close friend or your child.  Imagine your best friend getting on a scale and you say to them “Hey fatso, that’s what you get for eating all that cake last night.”  Why would you talk to yourself with any less compassion as you would a friend.  Forgive yourself.

3. Escape.  Anticipate the feeling of giving in when you are stressed out and plan your escape.  So if I’m used to grabbing a glass of wine when I get home from a stressed out day at work, have an alternative escape plan.  A healthier option.  A walk, some yoga, praying, crotchet, reading, gardening, P90X.  What ever you enjoy that is counter to your normal unhealthy default escape. This will trip up your inner dictator.

4. Envision.  Envision being successful with a few bumps along the way.  This is what kills most New Year’s resolutions.  You join a gym and say you will go every day and then when the first bump in the road comes along (such as I couldn’t get a babysitter) you abandon the plan.  Resolution over.  Realize you are going to have set backs and keep on keeping on.  In the story of the tortoise and the hare, the tortoise always wins.

5. Awareness.  Watch how you talk about yourself to others.  I know several colleagues who constantly put themselves down or are down on life.  “I’m having a bad hair day.” “I’m overloaded.” “I’m tired.” “I’m sick.” First of all, do you want to be around someone who is such a downer?  Second, how can you possible have a good day when you are saying this out loud?  If you are feeling a little tired, say “I’m feeling great.” And add a smile.  It will turn your day around and others will be attracted to your energy.

This is a difficult process and it isn’t easily changed over night.  Your dictator has been in control for a long time so don’t plan a coup d’état.  Slowly but surely pacify your dictator’s power by reflecting on how you are viewing things and what you are letting your dictator control (and say).  Soothe your inner dictator.

What is your dictator saying?