Tag Archives: Stress

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.

Jessica Jones on Overcoming a Toxic Boss

jessica jones posterI recently binged watched the Netflix series Jessica Jones. Let me begin by saying “Wow!” I can’t remember the last time I was so addicted to a show. If you haven’t seen it, the simple premise is that Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is a former minor superhero suffering from PTSD.

We follow Jessica as she deals with the source of her PTSD, a sadistic adversary named Kilgrave (David Tenant). Kilgrave has the power to control minds. If he tells someone to do something, they will do it without hesitation regardless of how vile the suggestion may be—sticking their hand in a blender, tossing hot coffee in their face, punching a stranger, etc. With his power, Kilgrave held Jessica captive for a year against her will. Pretty sick stuff.

jessica jonesTo a much lesser extent, how many of us have been “mind controlled” by a less-than-favorable boss? Like Kilgrave, they tell us how to feel, what to think, and how to behave. However, since they don’t have Kilgrave’s superpower, these “leaders” control through such tactics as manipulation, fear, and isolation (emotional and physical) until you are ultimately browbeaten into submission.

To deal with her trauma, Jessica resorts to drinking heavily, working obsessively, and bouts of insomnia. I’d like to suggest a few more constructive ways to help you work through your situation.


If you can swallow your pride, present ideas in a way that allows the boss to feel the idea was theirs and/or take partial credit.This will allow the boss to feel important and your ideas will be able to flourish. Be sure to give the boss credit and compliment frequently. It may not feel dignified but self-preservation is not always pretty.

Be selective

Choose your battles wisely. Think before you act. Make rational, purposeful choices as to which battles are worth fighting and which you need to let go.

Form a coalition

If it’s you versus someone in a higher position of power, you are going to need support. Finding others who are willing to go out on a limb may be tough, but power in numbers is effective. Get the team together to provide constructive, non-threatening feedback to the boss. Maintain frequent contact with these other courageous individuals and ensure that you are not being played against one another.


When you are dealing with an unethical, vindictive boss, CYA (Cover Your A–) is a necessity. Maintain written records of every meeting, conversation, and incident. Avoid commentary, just write the facts. You may also want to send frequent emails to your boss summarizing assignments and seeking clarification on tasks. Not only will this clear up miscommunication, but it will provide a paper trail if needed.

Move up the chain

In the same way you need a supportive team, you also need support from those at the upper echelon of the organizational hierarchy. Make sure other department leaders are aware of your situation, speak with your boss’ boss, and keep HR in the loop.

Make a run for it

No one should have to work in a place that is so toxic, so once you’ve done everything you can to try to improve your current situation, it’s time to consider an exit strategy. Save yourself and find a healthier work environment.

It took Jessica Jones a year to break free form Kilgrave’s mental grip…and she had superpowers. Don’t wait around with the hopes that your situation will get better. Unless you do something, it won’t. Avoid succumbing to the mental warfare. Remind yourself of your value and don’t let others treat you as less.