Author: Kathleen Pickrel

Who, me?! Stressed?!

Who knew life could change so much in just a few weeks? Wow! In the blink of an eye, I’m no longer stopping to pick up my daily Starbucks and saying hi to the regulars; my work day now revolves around shifts of screening patients and staff who want to come into our center; and get-togethers with my children are occurring on Zoom rather than in person. All of our routines – poof, out the window!
These days, for many of us, it’s learning how to work from home, figuring out who will take care of the kids during the day, wondering how to suddenly become a homeschool teacher, and worrying whether there will be a next paycheck, not to mention trying to keep from getting ill and becoming socially isolated when we need each other the most.  Yikes! Of course, we are stressed!!
But guess what, we don’t have to be victims.  You know that old saying, you may not have control over what happens to you, but you do have control over how you respond?  We choose how we respond. We can choose to respond in ways that add to the chaos, that exacerbate our stress, or we can take steps that help us to stay strong, grounded and resilient.
So how do we do that?  Well, that involves taking some time to shift our focus from what is happening in our “outer world” to focusing on what is happening in our “inner world.” Here are a few steps to start to make that shift.
1. Identify what you are feeling – be specific.  The term “feeling stressed” is really an umbrella term for a variety of feelings.  What exactly is it that you are feeling? Is it feeling overwhelmed, tired, disorganized, disconnected, unprepared, overstimulated, scared…?
Being able to name our feelings is powerful in two ways: (1) Believe it or not, just the act of naming our feelings reduces their intensity 1, which (2) gives us some mental bandwidth to make a choice about what we want to do about it 2.
2. Think about what specifically is causing you to feel this way.  If you are, say, overstimulated, is it because you are watching too much news and need to turn it off for a bit?  Or maybe you feel overwhelmed having to learn new technologies for work or just to be able to say hi to a loved one.  If you are tired, is it because you are not getting enough or have interrupted sleep?
If you are feeling disconnected, is it because you are used to being in the office and now you are working from home and feeling isolated?  I have noticed this week that I am feeling overstimulated and realize that it is because I now have my work email on my phone in addition to my personal email, and I am checking it constantly for updates.
3. Once we have identified what we are feeling and what is the source of those feelings, we can choose to do something about it.  We don’t have to be held hostage to our feelings. If you are feeling overstimulated, decide what will help you to feel calmer.  Is it turning off the TV and going for a walk outside? Is it spending some time alone reading a book, exercising or doing a meditation?  Is it taking a bath in glorious solitude? I am working to limit how often I look at my work emails, and it is helping.
If you are feeling disconnected or isolated, what will help you to lessen that?  Is it Face Timing with your best friend or coworkers you miss? Can you set up a standing virtual lunch meeting?
If you are afraid, what steps can you take to feel less afraid?  Get more information? Talk with a trusted mentor? Work to organize a plan of action?
I was listening to a podcast last week, and the guest said something to the effect, when the brain feels uncertain, do something certain.   It is important to DO SOMETHING.
Beware of the “Yes, But…” syndrome!
It is not a real syndrome, but it is something that many of us struggle with. Sometimes we already know what is causing our stress and what would help alleviate it, but we will not give ourselves permission to actually do it. We think things like, “Yes, I feel overstimulated and know I would feel better if I could just spend a little time alone, but my family needs me,” or “…I have to put in all these hours at work.”
Breaking news, the world will not end if you take some time to take care of yourself.  Those around you may actually thank you because you are more pleasant to be around😊
If you have children or staff who work for you, this is additionally important as you are setting an example of how to do this.  Especially our children…we show them by our actions how to handle things. We want them to know that it is okay for them to take care of their own well-being.
Lastly, I think we all need to cut ourselves some slack.  We are doing the best we can under trying times, and it is okay to feel whatever we are feeling.  So be kind to yourself (and those around you). You deserve it!
 
1 https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/070622090727.htm
https://www.6seconds.org/2018/01/21/getting-unstuck-power-naming-emotions/ 
 

Just Say No to New Year's Resolutions

Repeat after me: I promise myself…I will never again…make a New Year’s resolution! 
Ahhhh, doesn’t that feel good? Just feel the release…  Never again will you feel the pressure on January 1 of tackling some big change in your life that you hope you can accomplish, but in your heart of hearts, you are really just wondering how long – hours? days? weeks? – it will take before you ultimately fail and start beating yourself up for not being more disciplined?  No more!
The truth is, resolutions in and of themselves do not work, so when we make them, it is almost a given that we will fail. 
Statistics show that 80% of people who have made New Year’s resolutions have failed by February. 
Most of us have been there.  I know I have!  
So why doesn’t it work out for us when we start out with the best of intentions, telling ourselves, “Okay, this is the year!  I’m going to make it happen!” Why does it often just fizzle out? 
A few of the big reasons we fail at our resolutions are that (1) We only have a finite amount of energy to get us through the day, and creating a new habit takes a great amount of that energy, (2) we rely solely on willpower, and (3) inertia – doing nothing – is the easiest option. Let us unpack these reasons a bit. 
The truth is, we are a bundle of habits that allow us to go through our day very much on autopilot. We focus consciously on a new task, and then when we learn it, that “program” runs automatically in the background. This is extremely helpful and adaptive in our everyday life. Imagine if we had to think consciously about everything we do automatically every day. We would not be able to function!  The problem comes when we decide we want to make a change to one of our programs. We must pull that program from the background into our working memory and then work to overwrite it. This takes a great deal of energy. 
A small example: I had my trash can in the same location in the kitchen for almost 20 years.  When I remodeled the kitchen, I moved the trash can to a new location. For months afterwards, I would head to that old location because it was what I had automatically done for years. That is one extremely small change.  Imagine how much more difficult a bigger change may be and how much more “reprogramming” is needed. 
On top of that, we often try to use willpower to make the changes we want. The problem with using willpower to achieve our goals is that it ebbs and flows throughout our day, week and month, depending on our energy level, our stress level and the other demands that are placed on us.  
If you have ever tried dieting, like I have, this will sound familiar…eating low calorie, low fat, low carbohydrate, low taste food all day and succeeding until the evening rolls around.  It is 8:00, and I am heading straight for the cake, the worst thing for me. It is not that I am hungry. If that were it, I would make a nice salad or something else healthy. Rather, my willpower had ebbed because I was tired and had spent the day depriving myself.  
We are already using our self-control throughout the day…. getting out of bed when we want to sleep in, not yelling at our children when they have made us crazy or biting our tongue when necessary at work.  The list goes on. This is why adding a big goal to our willpower reserves often fails; it is pulling on reserves we are already using. 
Another reason we fail at making changes is that it is easier to do nothing – inertia. How many times have we thought, “I’ll get up and go for a walk” or “I’ll go to the gym after this show?” However, one show becomes the next, and before you know it, it is time for bed, and you have accomplished nothing? That is because it is easier to do nothing.
With all this in mind, is it any wonder simply saying you are going to make a change – a New Year’s resolution – without any real thought or strategic planning usually does not work? Success does sound daunting, I know, but it is entirely possible.  Here are some tips to help you set yourself up for success:

  1. Be realistic about your starting point and start small.  If you have never exercised before and your ultimate goal is to work out 5-6 times per week, an hour each time, you may want to start smaller and work up to your ultimate goal.  I now work out regularly 4-5 times a week for an hour, but when I first started, I could barely do 5 minutes on the elliptical. So that’s where I started. 

Keep in mind, as you start, it is more important that the goals you set are achievable than setting grand goals that will ultimately lead to frustration and discouragement.  Remember, we are working to set ourselves up for success!  
       2. Before you take any action – before you “do” anything – carefully plan it out. We are working to overwrite entrenched programming. Here are 4 things to keep in mind when planning it out: 
               a. Time of day and energy level . Are you a morning person or a night owl? Work to tackle your goal when you have the most energy.  Planning to start going to the gym in the early morning when you are a night owl makes it less likely you will succeed over the long haul. 
I tried for several months to complete a 30-day meditation challenge but could never make it to 30 days. I finally realized the days that I did the meditation were the days that I did it in the morning.  When I put it off to the evening, I would often skip it because I was too tired. Once I adjusted and ensured I always did the meditation in the morning, I was successful in completing the full 30 days. 
               b. Make what you don’t want to do more difficult. Some people who want to limit their credit card spending have been known to put their credit cards in a plastic bag of water and put it in the freezer.  They can access the card if they need to, but it takes more energy to do it.  
If you’re working to lose weight, do not keep your temptation food in the house.  You are much less likely to give in to temptation if you must get into your car and drive to the store to get it! 
            c. Make what you do want to do require less thought and effort.  If you want to start practicing yoga, keep the mat out and ready to go.  Even the small effort of having to go get the mat out of the closet can cause you to decide to put it off to another day. 
If you want to start working out, have your gym bag packed and in your car, preferably in the front seat next to you so that you can see it!
            d. Combating inertia – doing nothing – can be difficult because it is the easiest option. In this modern age, we have so many passive activities to keep us distracted…watching television, scrolling through social media, or doing silly but entertaining things like watching cat videos on Youtube. They all bring the stimulus to us, and all we have to do is sit back and take it in; we do not have to do anything other than push a few buttons. My suggestion is to try to limit your passive activities or to put them at the end of the day when you do not have to try to muster the energy to get going again. 
I have been successful in limiting engaging in these activities by using them as rewards after I have accomplished my active goals, such as watching television in the evening after I have gone to the gym. Again, it is easier to keep going than to begin again from an inactive position. 
What about you?  When is your best time of the day to work on the changes you want to see?  What things are you doing that you do not want to do or that you want to limit?  What barriers can you put in place to make those activities more difficult? What can you do to make the things that you do want to do easier to accomplish?  What can you switch up in your day/week that limits periods of inertia? I encourage you to give it some thought and begin implementing small steps. Small steps, over time, can add up to big change.  
My final thought is this: Making a change is not easy and involves a lot of trial and error.  We often do not succeed at first. When that occurs, the most important thing for us to remember is not to waste energy beating ourselves up or calling ourselves names but rather to look at it with a detective’s eyes: What worked this time? What did not? What needs tweaking? Try again with this new information and keep going! Because the truth is, the only time we truly fail is when we stop trying.  If it is a goal worth having, it is a goal worth not giving up on!

Sometimes It Is Hard to Be Thankful

Sometimes It Is Hard to Be Thankful

I remember, as a child, sitting at the dinner table refusing to eat “those disgusting peas”- I really despised peas! – and my mother telling me that I should be thankful for the food because there were starving children in China.  If you are of my generation, your parents probably said something similar. Did it make you more thankful? I know it never made me feel more thankful. I was ready to box up those peas and send them overseas, if it would be helpful! 
This is just a small example of how being told that we should feel thankful – or we should feel something other than what we do feel – does not actually help us to feel thankful.  This includes when we turn those “shoulds” inward, and we tell ourselves that we should feel a certain way: “I should feel thankful that the situation is not worse”; “I should be thankful because I am in a better situation than the next person”; or “I should feel thankful because someone else thinks I should be thankful.”
The truth is, we feel what we feel, and no amount of “should-ing” is going to change that.  As I say in my book It is What it is…Now What?!, it is important that we acknowledge the truth of where we are – this includes our feelings.  Once we are honest with ourselves, we can then decide what to do about it.  
Rather than trying to force ourselves to feel thankful/grateful for something that we quite honestly do not, it may be more helpful to begin to incorporate a general practice of gratitude.  This can be working to become more aware of those things for which we do genuinely feel grateful. So often, our attention on those things has been pushed to the periphery of our mind while the challenges and difficulties of the day take over the main focus of our attention.    
We as a species are programmed to focus more on the negative – on threats, of what is going wrong.  The theory is that we have evolved to be highly attuned to the negative aspects of our environment because in order to survive, we must constantly be aware of dangers in our environment1.  This tends to cause negativity to come more easily, and it takes effort to notice the good, to obtain that physiological response we get when we have true feelings of gratitude.  
What to do about this?  There are scientifically proven benefits of focusing on gratitude, and there are many ways to begin to incorporate a gratitude practice.2 There are a multitude of resources at our fingertips that can help us explore this area – books, videos, classes, etc.  One simple way to begin is highlighted in Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage. He discusses the “Three Good Things” exercise in which each day you write down three good things that happened that day. Try not to duplicate any item for 30 days.  Knowing you will need to come up with three new things each day will cause your mind to begin scanning for the positive things in your day.  
With Thanksgiving right around the corner, if you are having a gathering, consider a bringing up the subject of gratitude.  Perhaps you can go around the table and have each person say one thing they have been grateful for this year. Another option is to set a bowl in the middle of the room and have everyone write down one thing they have been truly grateful for. 
If you are interested in incorporating gratitude more into your life, it is okay to start small as with the “Three Good Things” exercise.  You are actually more likely to find success by starting small. It is much easier for us to incorporate something new into our lives if it does not take too much time and is not too difficult.  Once that small practice has become a habit, we can build on it. Make it doable.
There is a huge difference between feeling like we should feel thankful/grateful and truly feeling grateful.  My hope is that we can begin to focus less on “should-ing” on ourselves and focus more on remembering those things for which we truly do feel gratitude.
As for me, I am grateful that you have taken the time to read this article.  Thank you. What about you? You can start right now…What are you thankful for in this moment?  Got it? Congratulations! You have taken the first step in a gratitude practice. I encourage you to keep going…
 

  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200306/our-brains-negative-bias
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/11/23/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-gratitude-that-will-motivate-you-to-give-thanks-year-round/#515b9916183c

Are You Asking the Right Question?

I was sitting next to my coworker recently as she was desperately trying to submit an evaluation for a conference she had attended. It was the last day to submit in order to receive the continuing education credits (CEUs) she needed for her license, and the computer was not cooperating. After a few hours of panicked trial and error, she was finally able to submit the evaluation and receive her CEUs. Phew!
Several months earlier, this same coworker had waited until just prior to the deadline to submit the renewal application for her license. Unfortunately, the board never received her application. She did not learn this until the day the license lapsed, which caused an issue at work.
While working through both issues, my coworker repeatedly said something that most of us say on occasion:

“Why does this keep happening to me?!”

The last time she said this, I turned to her and asked, “Can I share something with you that may be helpful?” She said, “Yes.”
I explained to her that I had been listening to a podcast just that morning that talked about the power of asking the right question, with one of the most important questions being “What is the lesson in this?” I said, “Maybe you are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking ‘why does this keep happening to me,’ you may want to ask this question: ‘What is the lesson in this?’”
Her face lit up as she had a moment of clarity. She realized that she kept putting off things that were important to her in order to take care of other people’s business.

She was putting herself last and paying the price time after time.

I recently had a moment of clarity myself. It occurred to me that while it was easy for me to see the pattern in my coworker; it is not so easy for me to identify my own patterns that cause me to ask myself, “Why does this keep happening to me?!” – areas that I could be asking, “What is the lesson in this?”
One thing I have identified is that I often find myself saying “yes” to people or projects that take precious time away from the work and projects that are important to me. I overcommit and wind up feeling overwhelmed and upset at myself for not having the necessary time/energy to do the work that is important to me.
The lesson in this, for me, is that I need to be able to put my priorities at the top and to evaluate closely whether saying “yes” fits in with my priorities and time limitations. It is difficult, because I want to help those around me, to support them in their goals. However, if I help those around me to the detriment of what I want in my life, I am not honoring myself.
I am a work in progress with this lesson. Sometimes I fall into the old trap of overcommitting, but now I know to go back to that important question: What is the lesson in this? I consciously think about the lesson and how I can do better the next time.
What about you? Are you asking yourself, “Why does this always happen to me?!” If so, you may want to start asking yourself, “What is the lesson in this?” and see what happens…

One Small Change

I had an annoying problem for quite some time.  You see, every time I went to find my keys in my purse, I became frustrated as I rifled through every nook and cranny of the purse – sometimes two or three times – before ultimately being triumphant in pulling the elusive wad of keys out of the clutches of my purse. I would go through this ridiculous process several times a day, every day, until last week when I finally set my mind to eliminating this ongoing annoyance.
What did I do?  Something so small and simple that I feel silly sharing it with you.  Of the four compartments in my purse, I decided to pick the smallest pocket and always place my keys in that same compartment – every time.  Guess what? It works! I always know where to find my keys!  I am sure this comes as no surprise to you.  You are probably saying, “Duh, why didn’t you do that a long time ago?”
This, my friends, is an excellent question.  It is not that I had not thought of it before.  I had…and I knew that it would work.  So why not do it?! The answer is that it was easier (at the time) to just throw the keys into my purse and let them land wherever they would.  I was either in a hurry or had something else on my mind.  The bottom line is I was not focused on what I was doing.

As it usually does, not paying attention to what we are doing winds up costing us in the long run.

How much time and frustration could I have saved myself by focusing on what I was doing and spending the extra five seconds to put my keys in a set location?  A lot!

I share this story about my lapse in rational behavior because I am fairly confident that many of you out there have something that you do on autopilot – something that if you focus on it and do it with intention – would make your life easier.  Maybe it is the way you handle your emails, plan (or do not plan) your meals for the week, or do your laundry.  I bet there is at least one thing that with a little focused attention up front can free up time and energy as well as reduce your stress and frustration level.  It can be as small a thing as putting your keys in the same place each time.  What is the one small change YOU can implement in order to make your life better? I encourage you to give it some thought and give it a try!

If you have decided to make a small (or big) change, I would like to know what it is. If you would like to share your change with me, let me know at http://choosecon.wpengine.com/contact/.

Is it a Goal or a Wish? The Difference is Huge!

I would like to lose weight.
I am thinking about going back to school.
I wish I could spend more time with my kids.
I want to start going to the gym.

How many times have you had these or similar thoughts, perhaps with every intention of following through?  You may have even made a New Year’s Resolution that you will absolutely make it happen this year, only to find your good intentions fall by the wayside as the demands of your life – the way it is currently – erode away those good intentions.
When this happens, we often beat ourselves up with harsh judgments that we would never heap upon someone else, thinking things like, “You are such a failure!” or “You always screw things up!” I suggest to you that rather than having some innate character flaw, the error is instead one of approach – you were wanting or wishing for change when what you needed, instead, was to create a goal.
Wanting or wishing for change causes our approach to be unstructured and to rely upon willpower. Creating a change in our world takes energy – often physical, mental and emotional energy.  Is it any wonder we do not succeed when we place this additional expectation on top of our already full life?  Expecting us to be able to accomplish this by relying on willpower alone, which varies depending on the time of day, how much sleep we got, or how full our day has been, is unrealistic. Are we really going to make it to the gym at 5:00 am when we did not get to bed until midnight the night before?
A goal, on the other hand, is structured and helps us to create a framework that allows us to rely less on willpower.  I particularly like this definition of a goal from www.businessdictionary.com: “An observable and measurable end-result having one or more objectives to be achieved within a more or less fixed time frame.”  Here is an example.  My goal for going to the gym: I will go to the gym Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (measurable/time frame) on my way home from work at 4:30 (time frame).  I will do this every week for a month (time frame).  I will keep a chart of my progress on the refrigerator and review at the end of the month (measurable/time frame).
The last point is important – reviewing your progress.  This is an opportunity to review whether things are going according to plan. When reviewing your progress, rather than looking at it with a judgmental eye, which we often do, instead look at it with the eye of a detective…what is working well?  What needs adjusting or tweaking? This is a time to strategize and determine what will make you even more likely to succeed.  Perhaps Mondays are not a good day after all, but Saturday is wide open.  Make the adjustments and keep going! If you were not as successful as you had hoped at first, that is okay.  Keep refining and move forward.  As Albert Einstein said, “You never fail until you stop trying.”
I have the following quote framed and sitting in my living room to remind me that I have the power to make my dreams a reality…
“A dream written down with a date
Becomes a goal
A goal broken down into steps
Becomes a plan
A plan backed by action
Makes your dreams a reality”
– Author unknown
If there is a change you want to make in your life – something important to you – do not just wish for the change, make it a goal, and make it happen!

How an Effective Evaluation Changed my Life

Using the “Sandwich” Method

Do you cringe at the thought of having to give feedback? Whether it is evaluating an employee’s performance or giving a friend or loved one feedback when requested, the prospect of giving a positive yet helpful appraisal can be a tricky prospect. 

I find giving an effective evaluation one of the most difficult things to accomplish. 

How do you tell someone how he or she can improve in a way that does not crush the spirit or cause feelings of incompetence but rather encourages growth?

I learned a valuable tool for giving feedback when I joined Toastmasters, an organization that helps people with their public speaking and leadership skills. (www.toastmasters.org) In Toastmasters, part of the growth process is being able to give feedback to someone who has just given a presentation. Speakers vary greatly in their levels of expertise, which provides fertile ground for practicing this skill. I have benefited greatly from this process, both as the evaluator and as the one being evaluated.

I first joined Toastmasters because my shyness and lack of ability to speak in front of even a few people was affecting my ability to do my job effectively. My first talk – three to five minutes introducing myself to the group was painful…for both myself and those who had to listen to me. I stammered, said about 35 “ums” and “ahs” while I rambled somewhat incoherently. 

I couldn’t even talk about the subject I knew best – myself.

My evaluator, bless his heart, had quite a job in front of him, to give me feedback that was positive and encouraging while giving me areas to work on (the easy part!). The goal in evaluating/providing feedback is to help people know that they already have something to offer while at the same time helping them to grow. In order to do that, we must come from a place of caring, looking at it from the perspective of “how do I truly help this person?”

That’s where the “sandwich” method comes in, providing a framework to accomplish this tricky task of providing genuinely helpful feedback. The formula is simple, start by highlighting what is going well – aspects about the person and/or the job she or he is doing. The person who gave me my first evaluation applauded my courage to get up there and just do it, being willing to do something so outside of my comfort zone. Apparently, I had a nice smile and seemed friendly…all aspects that are necessary to connect with an audience. These were small things, but they were positive, and they made me feel hopeful, that maybe I did have something that I could work with. 

After hearing that an evaluator feels that there are truly positive aspects to what was presented, the person being evaluated will likely be more open to receiving feedback as to what can be done to be even better. In this part of the evaluation, we want to give only one or two suggestions for improvement. Any more than that, the person can begin to feel attacked. Try to be specific and provide examples. One suggestion I received in my evaluation was to speak up. I had spoken softly, which not only decreased the perception that I was confident in what I was saying, but also, many in the audience could not hear what I was saying.

Lastly, we want to end on a positive note. Often that means rephrasing or paraphrasing some of the positive things from the beginning of the evaluation or letting the person know that you are excited to watch them as they continue to progress in their goals. 

That’s it, the “sandwich” method: We are “sandwiching” the discussion of areas that need improvement between what is going well. Giving a good evaluation is so important in helping people to want to continue in their growth rather than to become discouraged, feeling that they will never be good enough. As a result of the great evaluation I received after my first speech, I continued on, getting better and better. It helped me to gain confidence not just in speaking in front of people but also in my life in general. I took on leadership roles that I would never have considered before, both in Toastmasters and in my profession. It truly changed my life, and for that I am forever grateful. 

The next time you are asked to provide an evaluation or feedback, remember, how you say it has the power to help spur that person to new heights or to knock them down. How we say it really matters. Try the “sandwich” method. It really works!

Choose Congruency provides coaching, mentoring, and support to help you clarify goals and then create a path to successfully achieving those goals.

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Kathleen Pickrel

Tucson, Arizona

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