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Wednesday
Sep102014

How to Stop Burnout Before It Stops You  

 

Hi Guys,

You know how Sunday nights carry a kind of dread, no matter how many years you’ve been out of school? Well, the beginning of September feels like the annual equivalent to me. Summer vacation is already a distant memory (even if we just got back!).

This is why I set out to talk with burnout-studies expert Paula Davis-Laack for this week’s conversation. Consider this a preemptive exercise.

Paula is a friend and fellow graduate from UPenn's Positive Psychology masters program. She has coached thousands of professionals, even military personnel, in reducing stress and building resiliency skills and has written about combating burnout for tons of publications, including her blogs on The Huffington Post and Psychology Today.  

 Paula was a burnout victim herself, having spent seven years as a commercial real estate attorney before changing careers to help other “achieve-aholics” develop strategies for work/life balance. Nothing like getting the skills from someone who’s really been there, done that! 

So how do you know if you’re really burned out or “just” stressed? “Burnout is a chronic disconnect from one or more aspects of your life that once gave you joy and energy,” explains Paula. With the operative word being chronic. And unlike stress, burnout is not remedied by taking a weekend off to recharge. Burnout digs in its heels and moves in.

Its most common symptoms: Exhaustion with a capital “E”; trouble getting out of bed; toxic levels of irritability, cynicism, a perceived decline in personal productivity—all the way to depression, anxiety and physical illness. 

Bottom line: If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed and overextended for some time, self intervention is in order now. Paula goes into greater depth about all of this in our conversation, but here are a few of her suggestions for putting the brakes on burnout:

 

  • Tell someone…everyone! Everyone relevant, that is. Confiding in a close colleague will most likely point out that you’re not alone, which can go a long way toward helping you understand burnout isn’t your fault. Talk to your spouse, clue in good friends. You might be surprised by their offers to take on some tasks in your personal life, thereby lightening your load and freeing up some time.

 

  •  Schedule a meeting with your boss. Come armed with suggestions for reassigning some of your responsibilities and/or pushing deadlines. A solutions-driven agenda will help avoid making you look (and feel) like you’re whining. Plus, there’s a better chance you’ll walk away with results that can be immediately implemented. 

 

  • Ask for help! If some in your inner circles haven’t offered assistance, it could just be that they’re not mind readers. Be specific with your requests and needs. Delegate. ("Honey, would you take over making dinners for a while," etc.) It takes a village...

 

  • Look for the good stuff. Undermine the negative emotions with some positivity. Notice three good things that happened during the day and write them down. Make it a regular habit and don’t be surprised if you start sleeping better. (Paula will explain.) 

 

As always, I’d love to hear your stories—the good, the bad and the fugly. Have you recovered from burnout? If so, what helped you? Share in the comments, or email me at Stella@woopaah.com.

 

Love,

Stella

Thursday
Aug142014

Thank you, Robin Williams + The Science of Laughter

 

I’m saddened by the passing of Robin Williams. And I have to admit, I’m a bit surprised by how much. 

Usually when it’s someone I don’t actually know, I can empathize, but I rarely feel super affected. But this feels totally different for me...and I’m guessing for many of you, too. 

The reason I believe we’re experiencing such a collective loss is best captured by the late comedian and entertainer Victor Borge: “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” 

So, laughter literally brings us closer! And Robin’s amazing ability to make us laugh, together with his warmth and openness, made him feel totally accessible to us.

As a tribute to Robin Williams and his unique and generous comedic genius, I thought I’d share some interesting facts about the art and science of laughter (it’s crazier than you think!): 

1. Forget love, laughter is the oldest universal language.
It crosses genders, nationalities and yes, species. Researchers have found that chimps, gorillas, rats, even dolphins have a form of laughter (aka, “positive vocalization”) and are also ticklish. No joke! 

• Laughter is inherently instinctive, as anyone who has ever tickled a baby knows.
• In its earliest origins, laughter signaled playful intent. Still does. In fact, studies show that children at play typically laugh 300 to 400 times a day, whereas adults are more like 10 to 15 times a day. Seriously, what does that tell you?

2. Laughter is infectious. Pass it on.
Though we’ve all laughed when we’re by ourselves, we’re 30 times more likely to laugh in social situations. And laughter is a total bonding experience: Check out this amazing video of Robin and Koko the Gorilla. Talk about monkeying around....

• We’re way more likely to laugh watching a movie with a friend than when alone.
• Laughter has a way of deflecting fear, anger, shyness and embarrassment in public, as anyone who has ever introduced someone by the wrong name, congratulated a women on being pregnant when she wasn’t and a zillion other unmentionable mortifying behaviors.
• Interestingly, we tend to laugh more honestly when talking with others than when hearing a joke...even a funny one. Laughter doesn’t interrupt conversations so much as punctuate them. 

3. Laughter is like a secret-weapon aphrodisiac. 
At the very least, it makes us look more attractive. 

In a private study WOOPAAH conducted with a national dating site, we found that photos of people laughing got way more hits (over 400% more) than those photos with a smile or a provocative pose. Update those dating profiles, people!

• Studies show that women laugh more with men they’re attracted to, and men are more attracted to women who find them funny. 
• On a purely intuitive level, smiling and laughter help put others around you at ease. 

4. Laughter really IS the best medicine. Hollar! (Or rather, hahaha!)
Dr. Hunter Adams—not so coincidentally portrayed by Robin Williams in the film “Patch Adams”—showed that laughter could dramatically improve the quality of life for hospital patients...especially kids. 

• It can lower blood pressure, ease stress by stimulating our endorphins and actually be good for the circulatory system.
• According to the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, people diagnosed with chronic diseases who had a sense of humor had a 31% better survival rate.

5. Laughter is a natural at reducing pain.
Norman Cousins, who wrote Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing way back in 1979, found that 10 solid minutes of good belly laughing could relieve pain for up to two hours. Couldn’t hurt to try....

• It could be the next wonder drug. In a study of orthopedic-surgery patients, James Rotton, Ph.D., a professor at Florida International University, found that those who watched a marathon of comedy videos requested fewer pain meds and tranquilizers than those who watched only dramas. 
• As a natural mood elevator, laughter can help us reframe negative events, help lighten the darkness.

Again, thank you, Robin, you comedic luminary, for illuminating our lives with such brilliance. 

With love,

Stella

 

Thursday
Jul242014

Is Fear Stopping You in Your Tracks? Here's How to Move Through it.


One day, about a month ago, my husband and I set out on to explore a new park and go for a gentle hike.  I was about five months pregnant (yes! I’m pregnant :), so we chose an easy trail. We bought ice cream and proceeded on the paved road, delighted by our new discovery and the beautiful vistas in front of us.  Slowly the paved road turned into a dirt road, then into a kind of jagged path, littered with loose rocks and exposed tree roots, then the path got so skinny, we weren’t sure we were even still on it. The path seemed to disappear under my feet and turn into a series of substantial hills to ascend and descend. I began to feel flush and overcome with fear. 

Inside my head I was all like, “Shit! Why am I doing this? This is so stupid...what if I fall? My imagination imagined the worst. And it didn’t help that I could also hear my mom’s voice, “Are you sure you should be going for a hike?” 

It’s easy to get excited about an adventure in the beginning and then… regret it. Ever been there?

Looking ahead and seeing how far we had to go, I began to freeze up: How am I going to make it?

Fortunately, I did make it. And what helped me move through my fear on this hike, I realized, were strategies that work for surviving most journeys (literally and figuratively): 
  • 1) No pain, no gain. Fear isn’t always a sign of danger; sometimes, it’s an indication of a new growth spurt. In my online class, I talk about The Hero’s Journey and how the roads that lead us to our greatest growth don’t always feel so great in the process. Especially when the journey or endeavor is new to us. Ask yourself, are you being led or stopped by fear? 
 
  • 2) “One step at a time” is not just a corny expression. As soon as I’d scope out how much farther we had to go, I’d start freaking out. But when I focused just on taking the one step in front of me, I could manage that. Of course, having a sense of the Big Picture is always a good thing…as long as you can also see the immediate steps you need to take to get there. 
 
  • 3) Don’t go it alone. The buddy system isn’t just about staying safe. Studies suggest that challenges seem less daunting when we’re facing them with a friend or supportive colleague. Thank goodness I was with my hubby, Ilya! He walked ahead of me and would offer his hand whenever he sensed I was about to freak out. 
 
  • 4) Don’t just stand there, do something! Have you noticed, life doesn’t let us stay stuck for long. An uncomfortable situation just gets worse until we take some kind of action to deal with it. So, refusing to budge is rarely a good option. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take a break, catch your breath, even rest for a bit. Just as long as you start moving again…before too long. 
 
  • 5) Ain’t no shame in admitting you’re scared. When the going got tough, I got silent. At first. But as soon as I shared my fears with my husband, I instantly felt a little better. In fact, research shows that acknowledging our negative feelings out loud can help them dissipate faster. And in my case, “loud” was the operative word…. 

Need some support navigating a current journey or adventure? Click here.

With love,
Stella
Tuesday
Jul222014

You're Allowed To Change Your Mind

Has this ever happened to you? You have a goal and you stick with it... except once you achieve your vision, it’s either:
  • a) nothing like you were expecting it to be
  • b) something you discover you’re no longer interested in 
  • c) or some variation on all of the above.  
After spending an incredible amount of time, resources, and heart devoting yourself to your noble vision...you may find yourself at best, underwhelmed, and at worst, depressed, disoriented, and maybe even physically ill. 

When I launched WOOPAAH, my vision for the company was to create a physical playground for professionals to bring them alive to the present and to ignite their creativity.  And for two years, I successfully designed engagement programs for corporate employees - from Google to Johnson & Johnson to the City of New York. 

Yet more and more, I started feeling restless…ultimately realizing that this great dream I had achieved was, in fact, no longer doing it for me. 

The very thought that I didn’t want to do this anymore felt like a personal betrayal.  

Turns out, however, that it was a huge gift (I can say that now after 18 months of turmoil). Knowing that I had to change my vision was the catalyst to knowing what I wanted to do next. 

So...feeling bad for wanting to change your mind or your vision? Continue reading here for some of my tips and more of my story.

• 1. Changing your mind is not the same as admitting a mistake. Often, our fear of looking foolish—or worse, like a failure—prevents us from moving on. Yet, it’s actually the opposite that’s true: Altering or adjusting your vision is a sign of strength, not failure.

 

• 2. Sometimes you have to try it on to know it doesn’t fit. Just as one size doesn’t always fit all, one vision won’t be the same for every individual. Or it can take some time before the job or position has run its course. The good news: Without getting to this point, you couldn’t really know what the experience would feel like—and perhaps more importantly, what your next move should be. 

 

• 3. You’re in a different place now than when you first made the decision. We’re on a continuum, constantly changing and learning new things about ourselves and the world at large. When you think about it, it’s more impressive that any goal, once achieved, is still fulfilling!

So how am I modifying my vision? I'm launching a new coaching program. I've found that working one-on-one with clients enables me to use my strengths and make deeper impact. Interested? Read on!

Track 1: The Career & Life Fulfillment Program for Overachievers

I’ve realized that over achievers who have done everything “right” and worked really “hard” have the most difficult time when suddenly dissatisfied or bored with their work and life vision. 

Does this sound like you or someone you know:
  • What used to motivate you no longer does the trick
  • You’re feeling stuck and don’t like your options 
  • You’re considering a big change and are questioning yourself
  • You wake up with dread and don’t want to face your day
  • You can’t quite recognize yourself lately...where did the passion go?
  • You’re ready to love your life and work again 
Want to learn more? 
Schedule a complimentary 30-minute session to help you get unstuck. 
Limited spots available to first come first serve. 

Track 2: Conscious Executive Leadership Development

Want to learn how to develop a culture and team that are not only effective but happy? Recognizing you need support in developing yourself as the leader you know you can be? Contact me to explore if this is right for you or your organization. Topics covered include:
  • Developing your leadership vision
  • Engaging your team 
  • Building clear purpose, vision, and values 
  • Training yourself and others to be more resilient
  • Mastering difficult conversations
  • Creating a culture of well-being and happiness
Want to learn more? 
Book a complimentary 30-minute session to explore if this is right for you or your organization. 

 

Thursday
May222014

How to Stop Sabotaging Yourself: the Prelude

 

Hey Guys,

You know that expression, “You’re your own worse enemy”? Of course you do; it’s practically the overachiever’s slogan! (That’s not meant as a good thing, BTW….) It came up when I was talking with a client who was venting about how miserable she was at work. That wouldn’t have set off any alarms, except for the fact that not so long ago, she LOVED her job! The more we talked, the more I knew her experience wasn’t unique (we’ve all been there!) and that I had real information and advice for getting over the self-torment—and especially for dumping all that negative energy. 


It’s all here in this video I just put together: a quickie course on the research and remedies—or happiness hacks, as I like to call them—for three of the biggest success sappers. And I’m offering it for FREE! That’s how much I want you to check it out. I’m even turning this week’s post into a little warm-up for the course. For instance, did you know:  

 

 • Being negative comes naturally. Really. Our brains are predisposed to all things bad, dark and unsettling. Scientists call it “negativity bias” and trace it to the Stone Age when thinking the worst was, in fact, good…in the sense of a life-saving strategy. The good news for 21st Century humans: We can retrain our brains. Now hold that thought. Seriously, hold that thought.

 

The Power of Positive Thinking isn’t just a catchy book title. With apologies to Norman Vincent Peale (look it up), we now have hard scientific evidence that positive emotions, just being in a good mood, allow us to see possibilities that otherwise would never have entered our minds.   

 

When all else fails, give yourself a break. Overachievers are notorious for being hard on themselves. How’s that working out for you? Take a breath. Take a walk! Anything to help quiet your inner critic. 

 

I hope the ideas in this post resonated with you. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. And, of course, I would love to hear from you after you watch the video! You can always get me at stella@woopaah.com.

 

Till then, here’s to your happiness and loving life!

Stella