Tag Archives: Anxiety

Have a Fear of Losing? Self-Esteem Won’t Help, You Need Self-Compassion

What motivates you to pursue success? I’m not referring to money or fame; those are the products of success. What I’m asking is when you set your sights on a new challenge, what thought is going through your head?

On a recent episode of Pod Save America, they were discussing the inner dialogue of an unsuccessful presidential campaign—oversights, skewed approaches, why the candidate’s popularity seems to increase after losing. In regards to Hilary Clinton, one concept I found fascinating is the idea that her campaign and pre-election persona were too restrained and prudent. According to co-host Jon Favreau, this is not a new diagnosis after a failed run for the top office.

They said it about John Kerry after his concession speech. They said it about Mitt Romney after his concession speech. They said it about Al Gore after his concession speech. They said it about John McCain after his concession speech. There is a certain brand of politicians who are too cautious during a campaign and are less cautious after the campaign is over, and that is because they run with an overwhelming fear of losing. And that fear of losing makes them more cautious and calculated.

How many leaders are hampered by their fear of losing? Instead of operating from a position of confidence or positivity, they are focused on not screwing up. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; the more you fixate on the negative outcome, the more likely they are to come to fruition. So how can we stop ‘not losing’ and concentrate on ‘winning’?

We are frequently taught that success stems from self-esteem. Unfortunately, self-esteem is situational. It is linked to social comparisons, unrealistic expectations, and arbitrary self-assessments. In truth, research shows that self-esteem does not cause success; it is the result of success. Therefore, to start thinking like a winner, we need to replace our aspirations for self-esteem with aspirations of self-compassion.
Unlike self-esteem which is concerned with how you evaluate yourself, self-compassion is about how you treat yourself. This has three aspects. First, self-compassion means caring for one’s self with the same benevolence, care, and consideration that you treat those you care about. Being driven, results-focused individuals, we tend to set idealistically high goals and bet ourselves up when we fall short. Hence, we need to practice more self-kindness.

Second, it entails recognition that all people are imperfect. Often when we fail, our initial response is that something has gone wrong, that this shouldn’t be happening. We have this flawed view that everyone else is living a struggle-free life. With self-compassion we can alter how we relate to failure and difficulty by turning “poor me,” into “I’m not the only one.”

Finally, self-compassion involves mindfulness, a willingness to acknowledge our suffering. This may seem counter to a “winning” mindset, but denying the pain does not mean you aren’t feeling it. Maintain an accurate reading of your emotions so you can deal with them and move on.

Kristin Neff, a developmental psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, fi
rst proposed the concept of self-compassion in 2003. Since then, her research has shown that self-compassion is significantly associated with every indicator of psychological well-being.

Self-compassion yields greater emotional stability, resilience, life satisfaction, and a more optimistic perspective. The self-compassionate respond more adaptively to negative events with less pessimism, cynicism and self-critical thoughts and experience fewer negative emotions. And they experience lower amounts of stress, anxiety, and guilt.

Remember that fear of losing? Well self-compassion has also been found to enhance motivation. When people with greater self-compassion fail, they are less afraid of failure. In one study, after participants failed a test, they were coached to be more self-compassionate. Later, when they had the opportunity re-take the test, they studied longer than people who were not told to be self-compassionate.

Self-compassion filters how we respond to setbacks, thereby freeing us up to take risks and remain true to our convictions. Without the burden of hypercritical thoughts we can stop focusing on reducing distress and instead manage the actual issue.

And good news! We can learn to be more self-compassionate. Studies have found that even brief exercises instructing people to think about a problem in a self-compassionate manner have positive effects.

Step 1: Identify instances in which you are not being nice to yourself. Does your internal monologue tend to be negative? Are you punishing yourself when things don’t go your way?

Step 2: Determine why you are so self-callous. Do you think being hard on yourself is motivating? And if so, how badly do you need to feel in order be motivated? While negative thoughts can help us to manage behaviors, those with low self-compassion make themselves feel much worse than needed. Recognize when your sentiments cross from constructive into destructive.

Step 3: Stop it. When bad things happen, remind yourself that everyone fails, is rejected, humiliated, or experiences a multitude of other less-than-desirable happenings. Practice some self-kindness by being nice to yourself. Don’t lower the bar, but don’t beat yourself up when trying to reach it either.

Have a fear of losing? Stop trying to build self-esteem and start developing your self-compassion. Unlike the self-admiration of self-esteem, self-compassion does not depend on viewing yourself positively or even liking yourself. It is not contingent on failing or succeeding. And it won’t diminish when you experience a low point. So be compassionate to yourself so you can concentrate on winning, not avoiding catastrophe.

How to Boost Your Performance through Rituals with James Lipton

How do you prepare yourself for a new activity? I didn’t put too much thought into this until I was at a conference a few years ago. I can’t remember the topic but I distinctly recall standing at a urinal when a guy walked into the bathroom and shouted at the mirror, “You are Lizard King! You can do anything!” He then left as quickly as he had appeared.

Ten minutes later I was shocked as the “Lizard King” was introduced as the keynote speaker. After the presentation, I asked him about his display. He wasn’t embarrassed, although he claimed that he didn’t see anyone in the bathroom. The keynote stated that it’s simply his pre-speech ritual. “It must psych you up?” I asked. “It use to,” he responded, “now it’s just something I do to center myself before I stand in front of a crowd.”

Similarly, in a recent interview, Inside the Actors Studio host James Lipton discussed his pre-show rituals. It begins with the hours of meticulous research Lipton conducts on the person being interviewed. This can take months and Lipton prefers to do it by himself. He then transcribes his notes onto his trademark blue index cards and marks them up with post-it tabs and highlighters before they are neatly stacked in a 10-inch pile on his desk while taping the show.

My nightmare, somebody steals my cards.—James Lipton

Rituals like Lipton and the Lizard King are more than simply superstition or habit; they have been shown to have a positive affect on performance. In a study published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Alison Woods Brooks found that many top-level performers use rituals to help them prepare. These rituals significantly reduce anxiety and produce a higher quality work product. By mitigating the distracting, disruptive indicators associated with anxiety through pre-performance routines, Brooks concluded, “although some may dismiss rituals as irrational, those who enact rituals may well outperform the skeptics who forgo them.”

The lesson here is that we need a consistent ritual that precedes our stress-inducing events. You can go big (like screaming into a public bathroom mirror) or more subtle. Drink a glass of room temperature water. Read a poem or inspirational quote. Click your heals three times. Whatever you can do to center yourself and jumpstart that inner “on” switch. I’m sure Lipton would even be okay if you used index cards, although maybe you can find a color other than blue.

Paul Simon on the Hazards of Boredom

paul simon bannerI am worried about Paul Simon. After 61 years of making music, he’s announced that retirement is imminent. With the litany of groundbreaking music he’s released, I acknowledge that Simon deserves to go out on his own terms. My concerns are centered on whether he has sufficient interests to fill his time, because as it turns out, boredom is dangerous.

New research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology has found that “boredom puts people on edge: It makes them seek engagements that are challenging, exciting, and that offer a sense of purpose.” Couple this with the research where boring activities generate a sense of meaninglessness, and you end up with a less-than-favorable company culture.

When we are bored, there is a subconscious need to re-infuse meaningfulness into our lives. This re-infusion is not necessarily beneficial or constructive. In studies of binge eating, boredom is one of the most frequent triggers, along with feelings of depression and anxiety. It can lead to driving accidents, illegal drug usepolitical extremism, and an increased risk of mistakes. There is even research showing that boredom accounts for 25% of student achievement, the same percentage attributed to innate intelligence.

Accordingly, boredom can have detrimental affects on your workplace. Bored people make more errors, have more accidents, are less proficient, and engage in unhealthy habits. They also try to re-infuse meaningfulness with such negative conduct as gossip, conspiracy theories, uncooperativeness, and subversive behavior.

Some amount of workplace boredom is expected. We all have tasks that are both unenjoyable and unavoidable. Some are monotonous, others may feel like they are beneath us. To elude boredom, there are managers who delegate away all tasks that they do not find to be enthralling. You may have an employee who is excited by the chores you find to be painful; however, in many cases you are pushing down the boredom to others. As I said, sometimes this cannot be helped, but as the leader, very often it can.

A leader’s primary responsibility is not to be an entertainment director, but aren’t we accountable to provide some degree of intellectually stimulating work for our staff? How can we expect the most from them when we consistently dole out the least desirable tasks?

To minimize (or at least mitigate) the boredom of those on your team, you must first grasp their current level of boredom. Learn what motivates them and how they foresee their career progressing. Assign duties that align with their interests and needs. Create succession plans and track growth. Instill a sense of urgency. Basically, make an effort to engage your staff.

Like a bridge over troubled water, the sound of silence can make you crazy after all these years. Bad puns aside, we cannot allow boredom to become our go-to culture, nor can we allow the retirement of Paul Simon to negatively impact our team’s morale. Like Simon, we must make efforts to balance the tedious with the engrossing. And in the meantime, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that this is Simon’s first of many retirements from making music.

Better Call Saul on Avoiding Con Artists

saul goodman thunbThere’s something about being in a position of authority that seems to attract con artists. Disguised as consultants, applicants, vendors, and investors, leaders are often approached by people who claim to be something they are not. Sometimes it’s an exaggeration, others times it’s the convenient absence of information or an all-out lie. Just look at Jimmy McGill.

James “Jimmy” McGill, better known as Saul Goodman, is an attorney who pushes the boundaries of the law to the point of being unethical. I will refrain from making a hackneyed lawyer joke because Saul is more than your stereotypical slimy lawyer, he is a con artist. As such, he has no problem conning free publicity from a news correspondent with a staged suicide attempt or conning the legal system to help drug dealers launder money. I’d like to think I’m too sophisticated to fall for Saul’s shtick, but that may be just what a con artist is banking on.

Con artists take advantage of us by discovering what we feel most confident about — those beliefs we are least likely to question — and using it for nefarious intent. This intent many be for money, power, influence, or your job; either way, it is self-serving and against your better interests. A reason we are all susceptible to cons is based on what psychologists call egocentric anchoring, the misalignment between seeing ourselves as highly contextualized versus viewing others as more generalized and homogenous. Described in the paper, How to Seem Telepathic, con artists exploit this mismatch by creating the illusion of like-mindedness, which builds a foundation of greater trust.

When we like someone or feel an affinity for them, we tend to mimic their behavior, facial expressions, and gestures, a phenomenon known as the chameleon effect. But the effect works the other way, too… we can fake the natural liking process quite well.—Maria Konnikova

Here’s how it works. As Maria Konnikova describes in her book The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It … Every Time, it begins when the con artist identifies the victim (the put-up) and creates rapport and a sense of empathy (the play). Once the relationship is established, the con is in motion with a barrage of logic and persuasion (the rope) to sell their scheme (the tale) with the ways it will benefit you (the convincer). Then, by the time the swindle has occurred (the touch), we’ve become so unknowingly invested that we may not even realize there was a con.

The confidence people have in their beliefs is not a measure of the quality of evidence, but of the coherence of the story that the mind has managed to construct.—Daniel Kahneman, Nobel-winning psychologist

It may not be possible to avoid all instances of being hustled; the wider your leadership capacity extends, the more opportunities there will be for potential cons. There are, however, steps that can be taken to mitigate being swindled by the Sauls of the world:

saul goodman adSlow down. The research on con artists shows that it is prevalent in time of high pressure and the need for fast changes. These periods of transition breed uncertainty and make us gullible to those selling a quick solution. Be aware of instances when you feel anxiety so you can be mindful before making sizable purchases, carrying out significant changes, or taking counsel from someone who has much to gain from your decision.

Instill some self-doubt. A con artist doesn’t force us to do anything; they assess the areas where our belief is unshakeable and build on that foundation to subtly change the world around us. Our confidence will blind us from seeing that changes are even happening. To battle this, don’t be so sure of yourself. Take counsel from people who have nothing to gain from your accomplishments and have developed a track record of being interested in your success.

Consider the timing. If you think you are too smart to be conned, research shows that everyone, regardless of their aptitude, is more susceptible after experiencing a setback: financial problems, injury, divorce, or any other occurrence that we associate with failing. So instead of relying on your IQ, lean on your EQ (emotional intelligence) to know when you are at a low point and should not be making big decisions.

When it comes to predicting who will fall, personality generalities tend to go out the window. Instead, one of the factors that emerges is circumstance: it’s not who you are, but where you happen to be at this particular moment in your life. —Maria Konnikova

saul goodman redMost people are not out to get you, but that doesn’t mean you can remain vulnerable. There are many Saul Goodman’s in the world and we must have the ability to see through their façade. If we don’t, they will take advantage of our naively trusting nature. This is more than being made to look like a fool; the repercussions of the con artist’s actions can affect productivity, profitability, and culture and may ultimately destroy a company. Be on guard and don’t trust a guy wearing a bright red dress shirt.

Weekender: Shirley Manson on the Need for Agitation

Shirley MansonWelcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, some debris of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just some debris (versus an entire compost)? Because it’s the weekend!

When I first entered the work world, I remember feeling a constant wave of anxiety. Questions like, “Am I making the right decisions?” and “What more can I do?” kept repeating in my head. I’d been told that a career is not a sprint but a marathon, but there was no way for me to absorb this advice with all the pressure I was putting on myself. Turns out, I wasn’t alone in these sentiments.

In a recent interview, singer and actress Shirley Manson was discussing when she and her band Garbage first achieved fame in the early 1990s.

When I was young, I literally felt scared 24/7. 24/7 I felt anxious and angry and frustrated and all the things that come with being young…It’s a great engine. That’s why young people achieve stuff…I think being chill is so overrated. A sense of agitation is good.

It is comforting to know that an internationally-renowned rock star had a similar experience as many of us. Even more comforting is that this fear can be harnessed to propel us towards success. Manson frames this as a by-product of youth, but it doesn’t have to be.

It is hard to keep the engine stoked, which I am managing to do. I still manage to be enthusiastic and I’m not cynical and I’m not tired or bored. But that is a challenge. How do you keep yourself as stoked as you were when you were young?

Like Manson, many of us aren’t quite in the dawn of our careers. This does not mean were are anywhere near the twilight. For anyone in the in-between, there is a persistent challenge to remain engaged. This cannot come from a supervisor or any other external stimulus. We have to dig deep and find the inspiration within ourselves.

Look for new challenges, new end goals, and new ways to develop and learn. If you aren’t feeling agitated, make yourself agitated. Think of everything you want to accomplish in your career and how little of it you’ve gotten done up to this point. Push yourself just far enough that it is motivating without becoming debilitating. It’s a long way from “being chill,” but it’s better then being stagnant.