I’ve trained myself to illuminate the things in my personality that are likeable and to hide and protect the things that are less likeable. – Will Smith
Introvert or extrovert, you’re a social creature.
You have to interact with other humans in groups or one-to-one, whether you like it or not. You might be able to avoid parties and skip the small talk, but few of us live in total isolation from others.
When interacting with colleagues, employees, or new acquaintances in a group setting, you want to make a good impression and feel more comfortable with these relationships. Here are 11 ways to show your likeable side.
A genuine smile
A smile is the universal welcome. – Max Eastman
A warm smile isn’t just attractive, it encourages the other person to smile back. Smiling can help you feel better and is a great start to a conversation. You are inclined to trust a smiling person more so use that to your advantage.
Use their name
Words have meaning and names have power. – Unknown
Most of us complain that remembering names gets harder over time. Yet addressing someone by name tells them that you find them important. Focus on the name, repeat it, and link it to something else. When first introduced, shake hands if appropriate and repeat the name as in, “Hello, nice to meet you, John.” Focus on receiving the information. Try creating an association in your mind between the name and the person that helps recall. For example Jack = tall, Sarah = glasses. You can find more tips on remembering names here.
Be an active listener
When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen. – Ernest Hemingway
Active listening is a set of actions that makes the person feel heard. It means paying attention and then reflecting what you heard. Give nonverbal cues such as nodding and smiling, then summarise what was said. This shows you’re listening and makes the other person feel important.
Recall earlier conversations
Stop and listen. The story is everywhere. – Thomas Lloyd Qualls
Because you remember Anne’s name and listened when she mentioned she was training for a 5K, the next time you meet ask her how the race went. Linking past and present is essential in building long-term relationships, whether closer (your partner’s friend) or more distant ( a co-worker you see daily.)
Ask questions and hear the answer
There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing. – G. K. Chesterton
Most people like to talk about themselves, so let them. Ask about their interests or activities and actually listen before responding. Ask a followup question that allows them to reveal a little of themselves. For example, “So how did it feel to complete your first 5K?”
Resist the urge to one-up people. You can talk about your half-marathon or trip of a lifetime another day. Save it for when you’re asked directly.
Give sincere compliments and praise
Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. – Sam Walton
We all love genuine praise. You’ll gain likeability as a boss or manager if you praise good work, like delivering on time or under budget. A few words will go a long way. Creatives in particular often doubt their work, and pointing out something you liked in a project gives much-needed validation. Give what you’d like to receive because karma is real.
But we can all sniff out fake praise. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it.
Be tactful with criticism
Shout praise and whisper criticism. – Don Meyer
It might be your job to bring up areas for improvement. Offer suggestions without attacking the person. You are focusing on the work, not the character of the worker.
Don’t rush the process and give it some thought beforehand, so that you come up with a considered response.
State the issue in neutral language as you see it and allow them to respond. Define the desired outcome and discuss how you can support the person to work towards it. Remember to acknowledge improvement.
Ask, don’t give orders
In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way. – Tina Fey
Maybe you are the boss, but most people hate to be ordered around. Saying please and thank you doesn’t make you appear weak. Be clear about your request. If you need the report by Thursday 10 am, say so.
Don’t expect people to read your mind and then get angry when they didn’t deliver – that’s manipulative and a fast track to being disliked.
The cure is as simple as this: Live your words and live your belief system. – Shannon L. Alder
Others might get away with insincerity with some people some of the time, but most of us can spot it – so why would you want to be insincere? Be your genuine self with everyone. You don’t have to share every facet of your personality, but don’t change for every person you meet because fake people aren’t likeable. Find what works for you and stick with it.
Ask for advice
Ask better questions. Get better answers. – Richie Norton
Asking for advice shows that you’re humble enough to seek help, and it flatters the person asked as it shows they have greater knowledge than you. You win twice because you gain information and make the person feel good about themselves.
One rule; be respectful. Don’t interrogate or expect detailed professional advice for free. Nobody likes to be used for what they know.
Learn to tell stories
A thrilling story can be dull if told badly, but even the most mundane event can be elevated into a tale of epic scale by a good storyteller. – Johnny Rich
Likeable people can tell stories well. Whether it’s an account of their holiday or a summary of their project, they know what they want to convey. Practice makes perfect here. Concentrate on your point and don’t ramble. Observe your audience’s reaction so that you can do better next time.
Not A Popularity Contest
It is better to be likable than to be talented. – Utah Phillips
Popular is not necessarily the same as likeable. If you prefer to connect with small numbers of people, you can still be likeable and memorable. The essence of likability is paying attention to the person in front of you. As Keanu Reeves says, the simple act of paying attention can take you a long way.
Be intentional in social situations. Pay attention, focus on the other person, treat them with respect, and watch your connections grow to the next level.
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The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be. Ralph Waldo Emerson
Change is wonderful at first.
You decide to head in a new direction, full of enthusiasm and motivation. You can do this. But after some time you feel lost, stuck even.
Welcome to the messy middle.
You’re still far from the new self you want to be. It would be so easy to slip back into old habits. You’re caught between two forces: push away from the old or pull towards the new.
Push forces are strong at first. You reject what you don’t want, whether that’s a job title or a health status. But the further you get from the old, the weaker that push force is. The pull of the new isn’t strong enough to persuade you to put in the extra effort to become a butterfly.
A caterpillar enters the chrysalis and leaves its previous form behind. In fact it turns into a mass with no form at all. But it is programmed to keep changing towards its goal of being a butterfly, even though to achieve it means enduring a stage of being unrecognisable.
Think of the messy middle as your chrysalis stage.
First look back and remind yourself how far you’ve already come. Celebrate progress because by moving forward you’re already a winner.
Then focus on moving towards your goal at all times. Picture your new self in full colour. Write a statement describing what you’re working for, and look at it regularly. Fix the destination clearly in your mind and let it pull you forward. The closer you get, the stronger the pull will be.
Embrace the growth mindset, which says that you are always capable of developing and learning new things. It’s not that you are ‘just built that way’ or unlucky. Your efforts will get you where you want to be.
Marshal Your Forces
Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.
Change requires a great deal of energy. If you try to make too many changes at once, you’ll be overwhelmed and end up making none.
For example, your goal is to lose fifteen pounds. From your current position on the couch, you plan to go to the gym three times a week, jog twice every weekend, give up smoking and alcohol, switch to a paleo diet, and chronicle your transformation on Instagram. And you’re going to do all this in eight weeks, when your vacation is booked.
You’ve just set yourself up to fail. The changes and goals are too far from your current position. Instead, set yourself up to succeed by choosing one small change and making it stick.
The Force of Habits
We live by habits, which are essentially short cuts through life. Habits free up brain space for other things. It takes on average about two months to form a new habit. Chain them together to outwit your natural reluctance to do things differently.
Take the example above. Choose one thing, in this case going to the gym. First, define the best time to go. If it’s after work, pack your bag the night before and put it by the door. You see it as you leave the house. Pick it up, place it in your car.
Choose one night a week and set an alarm on your phone. Tuesday night, pack gym bag. Wednesday night, go to gym after work.
When you’re accustomed to one night a week, add another. Schedule it and repeat until it becomes habit. Then add more sessions until you have the desired set of habits.
Similarly if you want to write, start really small. Block out a sliver of time to write a few words every day. As little as ten minutes and 150 words is enough. When that’s bedded in, add more time and more words.
Don’t overload yourself. Make each new step easy so you can’t fail. Only add bigger challenges when each habit is ingrained.
Build your habits one baby step at a time.
The Force of Time
Change often fails because it all takes longer than we wanted, longer than we bargained for. We are addicted to instant gratification and an easy fix.
Yes, there are people who gave up smoking overnight, or hit their goal weight in six weeks. These are not average results, but outliers. Far better to be realistic about timescales and manage your expectations accordingly.
The Force of Process
Even when you can’t rely on results, you can rely on your process.
It’s hard to get the ball rolling, but if we continue to apply force it will keep rolling. This is why momentum is so valuable. When you’ve done the hard work of overcoming inertia, maintaining forward motion is less effort than starting from scratch again.
When you can’t see your destination, focus on the journey. Put in the miles, put in the hours, keep training until you break through the plateau. In other words, do the work. Forget about results in favour of simply showing up, day after day.
Note any emotional reactions you have — and put them aside. Feelings will slow you down and stand in your way. They exist, but in this context they’re not useful. Do you wonder how you feel about brushing your teeth, or do you just do it? Apply that thinking. Write about feelings in your journal if you want, but the force of process is strictly mechanical.
If you can, do more. More words, cleaner diet, heavier weights. Nothing you do is wasted. The win you need is closer than you think, as long as you keep going.
Eating The Elephant of Life
There are three constants in life…change, choice, and principles.
Life is a succession of changes. Whether we choose the change or not, we have to find a way to live through it and come out better in some way, ready for the next one. There is only one way to approach such a huge task, and that is step by step.
Just as you’d eat an elephant bite by bite and not in one mouthful, you must look at shifts in life as part of a greater whole. There will be times when you’re in deep and can’t see an end to it. You’ll feel overwhelmed and tempted to run back to the safety of your old ways. Know that this feeling is normal, expected, and temporary.
To thrive in the unstable environment called life you must scan the horizon to spot coming challenges, stay flexible and open to learning, and keep faith in your ability.
Most important of all, never give up.
It doesn’t matter how long change takes. Time will pass anyway. What matters is that you’re developing and growing as a human, making the most of your one life.
Being offended doesn’t, by itself, make me right.
Are you easily offended?
Do any of the following sound familiar?
- How can X group hold Y opinion that’s *obviously* wrong?
- How dare he look at me like that?
- She hasn’t said anything but I’m already upset because people like her all hate people like me.
We live in a world where people take offence at just about anything, whether important or trivial.
Whole industries are built around us paying attention to events and people that have no direct bearing on our lives.
We’ve been convinced not only that all our opinions matter a great deal, but also that we must express them — loudly and with increasing venom.
Everyone’s shouting, but few are listening.
This means that everyone is capable of both giving and taking offence.
Giving it is framed as exercising free speech without being responsible for its effects.
Taking it means being accused of being oversensitive, unable to take a joke, a snowflake. And then there’s another chance to become offended or hurt. It’s like an endless game of tennis with pain as the score.
There are ways to navigate this minefield and survive.
Different And Equal
In essence, you are neither inferior nor superior to anyone. True self-esteem and true humility arise out of that realization. In the eyes of the ego, self-esteem and humility are contradictory. In truth, they are one and the same.
Freedom of speech is a defining feature of democracies. This right belongs to everyone, especially those who disagree with you.
Your first thoughts on a matter reflect deeply held beliefs and prejudices which often go back to your family of origin. They’re tied to triggers and first impressions, allowing the brain to make snap judgements. These can be reinforced by schooling and media and are an automatic response that is barely examined.
Your second thoughts might agree with first thoughts, or they might differ. These are the beliefs you have formed after considering your first thoughts in the light of experience and new information. They need time and repetition to become automatic and overwrite first thoughts.
You’re free to speak, but you should wait before exercising that right.
By holding your tongue, you gain the chance to make a more considered response, one that shows a more mature personality. Suspend judgement and think, then respond.
You’re also free not to speak. It’s always an option to be silent in some circumstances.
The right to speak does not mean that others must listen. You can respectfully agree to disagree and move on. Also, use mute and block on social media to exclude some voices that routinely disturb you.
You can argue this leads to smaller echo chambers without dissenting voices, but social media lacks the nuance for reasoned debate, especially in these highly politicised times. Reduce contact with people who cause friction in your life.
More Than Stars
Exaggerated sensitiveness is an expression of the feeling of inferiority.
In a world of starred reviews and comparison websites, we all want to be at least four out of five. In extremes, hearing the equivalent of one star can bring us to tears and/or aggression depending on whether the anger is directed internally or externally.
If you can’t take any criticism, take a step back. Since none of us is perfect and we know it, anyone who touches on an insecurity is immediately judged hostile. But there may be information you can use if you examine what’s being said to find a core of truth, separate from the emotional hit.
Discount personal vitriol and look at your behaviour.
Could you change how you do something?
Do you need to change, but have been resisting it?
Are you angry about being caught out?
Own your feedback, do the work, and nobody will be able to goad you in that way again.
Their Opinion Is Not Your Mirror
People get addicted to feeling offended all the time because it gives them a high; being self-righteous and morally superior feels good.
You are not someone’s opinion — including yours. You’re much more than that. Most times, expressed opinion reflects its holder and not its target. We see the world as we are.
So, sidestep the opinion. Ignore it. Refuse to engage in a fight to see who can offend and be offended more. Most of us have enough baggage of our own without taking on other people’s insecurities as well.
The Centre of the Universe
One who enjoys finding errors will then start creating errors to find.
Criss Jami, Killosophy
You probably know someone who has a criticism for everything and is happy to share it. They may dress it up as advice or concern. Either way, they’re right and everyone else needs to be told which ways they’re wrong.
If you find yourself getting angry about a celebrity’s choices or something on TV on a regular basis, you’re spreading your circle of influence too wide. You aren’t the centre of any universe except your own, and that’s the only place you can make actual changes.
That woman’s plastic surgery or that man’s choice of partner do not require your input, and you can divert the emotional energy into your own life. Let entertainment be just that, and sidestep the negative vibe of constant gossip.
Often, you use misplaced moral outrage to avoid working on your own issues. Social media is full of virtue signalling where people are conspicuously and publicly offended to score social points but achieve nothing. Be careful where you place your attention.
Embrace Imperfection — Even Yours
Remember you don’t own people, let them decide, choose and live. There is no inferiority and superiority; it is just your crazy imagination.
When we recognise our own flaws in others, we reject them — and usually the person too. The inability to forgive ourselves first is the root of much sensitivity. We hand out punishment for the flaw in any way available, whether verbal attacks or online hate.
Ask yourself why this person has made their statement or action. Consider reasons that don’t involve you directly. It’s often not about you, even if it’s directed at you.
Then consider if they’re acting on their first thoughts. Give them the benefit of the doubt at first, because we all need to learn to wait for our second thoughts, the ones that more fully align with our principles and experience. Be civil because that’s the kind of person you are.
Ask yourself if you’re guilty of the fault you find in others. It may offend you because it’s close to home, whether it’s a self-indulgence you deny yourself or a desire you’ve been taught to suppress.
If they are deliberately offensive, ignore the chance to correct themselves, or escalate, then it’s time to walk away. They have more growing to do, but it’s not your job to teach them.
For example, in common with most female physicians I’ve been addressed as Nurse too many times to count. Nothing wrong with nurse, it’s just not my title. A polite correction is usually enough. But if a patient keeps using that title in a mocking tone, alluding to “real” doctors and positive discrimination repeatedly, they show that they’re hoping to offend. And make no mistake, I am irritated.
But I don’t explain myself, apologise for not being what they expect, or otherwise engage except to get the job done. Their projection of issues with perceived inferiority or authority aren’t my concern. As George Bernard Shaw said, “Never wrestle with a pig because you get dirty — and the pig likes it.”
If you accept your imperfection and that of others, paradoxically you are less fragile. Nobody can use your flaws to crack you open and goad you into helping them do it.
Let It Go
When you’re attached to something, whether through love or hate, you give it an importance it doesn’t have.
Some people hold tight to their negative emotions. They cradle them and feed them with their attention until they are defined by them. They become known for their thin skin or loud outrage on certain subjects. They have missed the truth.
Emotions are something you have, not something you are.
Other people’s emotions are not your responsibility, but you should follow the golden rule: do as you would be done by. This alone will help because it’s impossible to never offend anyone.
Strengthened by self-acceptance, tempered by empathy, and equipped with rational thinking, you can step back from constantly feeling offended or overly sensitive. You can observe those feelings and let them go. And you can make real choices about your future behaviour without either denying your feelings or allowing them to dictate unthinking behaviour.
So next time you find yourself getting worked up by something, ask yourself is this about me?
If it’s not about you, let it go. You don’t have to have an opinion on everything, nor do you have to attend every fight you’re invited to.
If it is about you, do something. Work on your blind spots and weaknesses, or work to make needed change in the world around you.
Use your anger positively and you’ll find life much calmer overall, and that has to be a good thing.
when leaning in further isn’t the answer
The wise rest at least as hard as they work.
No matter how hard you push yourself, there comes a time when you hit a wall. Either you’ve lost interest and excitement in your project, or you’re just exhausted by the work.
Empathy and good humour are in short supply. You zone out, even during your leisure time. You’ve been running too hard for too long, and now your tank is empty and you’re running on fumes.
You simply don’t care anymore. Welcome to burnout.
We’ve all seen it in others. The dead eyes of the caring professional, the weary voice of the call centre operative, or the resigned indifference of a mother with young children all have the same flat emotional tone. It’s as though such people are hollow, all their colours washed out. They have no spark.
You put the way you feel down to stress or fatigue. While these obviously play a part, burnout goes deeper than that.
Every Day The Same
Burnout often has as much boredom in it as exhaustion.
Ingrid Fetell Lee
When you’re burnt out every day is just more of the same.
Your life is like Groundhog Day, endlessly repeating except that unlike Bill Murray’s character, there’s no way to escape the loop. Low intellectual challenge combined with high physical or emotional challenge is a recipe for discontent.
Physical challenge can come in the form of long hours, hard manual labour, or lack of rest. Emotional challenge is dealing with other people’s emotions, absorbing rudeness or abuse, and repressing your natural responses. In the case of sectors such as retail and hospitality, the requirement to do all this while smiling is an added layer of stress.
Maybe it’s the extra self-imposed load of writing or a side hustle that’s drained your tanks. You can barely muster a smile. Nothing you do makes a difference and you can’t bear another day. All your emotions are blunted except anger, ranging from mild irritation to full blown fury. Everyone frustrates you, which is anger in another guise.
Emotional energy is like money. Each day we have a finite amount to spend. If you’re a millionaire, you can afford to give to anyone who asks. But when you’re down to your last pound, even a request for 50 pence is too much. You just don’t have it, and you lash out at the tiniest demand.
How can you be creative in this situation?
Nothing From Nothing
Creating the culture of burnout is opposite to creating a culture of sustainable creativity.
We are all creative, but for some of us it’s a defining pursuit. A burnt out bricklayer can still build a wall, even if quality suffers. A burnt out creative loses inspiration and motivation. Their output dwindles and dries up, and the impact on their livelihood is matched only by that on their psyche as they start to question their identity.
It turns out you can’t make something from nothing.
Many occupations and professions have a culture of long hours. Smartphones in every pocket are a modern marvel that chains us to email and therefore work. And that’s before we consider social media and the stress of a hyperconnected world.
If you recognise yourself here, maybe it’s time to take a breath.
Rekindling The Flame
Time spent in nature is the most cost-effective and powerful way to counteract the burnout and sort of depression that we feel when we sit in front of a computer all day.
Once you’ve determined that burnout is your problem, it’s time to fix it. The term “work” means the totality of your non-leisure activities, paid and unpaid.
Try some or all of the following.
Take a moment in a busy day. Close your eyes, blow out all the air in your lungs. Let your stomach sag and relax. Take a short breath in and blow it out slowly, repeat five times. Rest your eyes by looking at something distant. If that’s not possible, find a picture of mountains or a lake online and examine that. Breathe.
Repeat twice daily and whenever overwhelm and anxiety start to build.
Every body needs adequate rest and quality sleep is the foundation of wellness.
In a world of 5am starts and late nights, most of us are sleeping less than ever. Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, wrote The Sleep Revolution to highlight the importance of sleep to our overall health and success. She has six rules for better sleep.
- Put away electronic devices at least thirty minutes before bed
- Take a hot bath
- Put on specific night clothes for sleep
- Your bedroom should be cool, dark and quiet
- No caffeine after 2pm
- Bed is for sex and sleep only
If you’re getting only five to six hours of sleep, and especially if that sleep is poor quality, you probably need more. Watch your programme on catch-up and go to bed earlier.
Ease off stimulants and depressants
You’re probably leaning on something to keep you going, whether caffeine, sugar, or alcohol. Go cold turkey and stop. You may be able to restart at a lower level after seven to ten days, or you might feel so much better that you carry on without.
Cutting out caffeine can cause a withdrawal headache for a few days, so drink lots of water to help minimise it.
Eating sugary or starchy foods leads to a yo-yo effect, where blood sugars rise and fall rapidly. This can impact your mood and irritability. Eating a large carbohydrate meal can cause sluggishness soon afterwards. Try splitting your lunch and having some as a snack mid-afternoon. Have more salad and fruits and less bread, cereals, and pasta.
Alcohol has a potent depressant effect. It might help you go to sleep but it disturbs your sleep and is dehydrating overall. If you choose to drink, have no more than two units of alcohol per night and at least two alcohol-free days each week.
After a day hunched over a keyboard or picking up and holding small children, you collapse on the couch, phone or remote in hand. It’s no wonder you’re aching. Muscles become weak, tight, and imbalanced due to sedentary lifestyles.
While we all know exercise is good for us, the road to burnout almost always includes ditching healthy habits. When the gym or your usual sport seems too daunting, a short walk is a perfect alternative. A ten-minute walk each day has real benefits for health and mental wellbeing.
As you feel better, incorporate regular exercise into your routine. Schedule it in your diary. Some like to work out their adrenaline in spin classes or kick-boxing, but you might benefit more from walking, running, swimming, or even yoga.
Rethink your workload
If you drove your car the way you drive yourself, you wouldn’t be surprised when it broke down.
Have you taken leave in the last six months? Have you set time limits on working at home, or doing overtime? Often we’re convinced that we have to do extra, but pushing until you crash helps nobody.
Spend time looking at the way you work. Can you delegate or give up something? Your boss may not be sympathetic to your issues, but if you can present a solution and not just a problem your chance of successful change improves.
Batch your work so you can concentrate on one thing at a time. Remove distractions such as social media. Consider noise-cancelling headphones, or listen to a noise generator like the ones at mynoise.net to drown out busy thoughts or external environments.
Do what you can to improve your ability to do deep work, as burnout reduces your effectiveness.
At home, teach your children to clean their rooms and do their own laundry. Buy in help if you can afford it. Share rides for sports and training sessions with other parents. Reduce social obligations that drain you.
Go out and play
A life without play and enjoyment is first dull and eventually unbearable. Spend some time outside. Time in nature refreshes and brings perspective, whether it’s in a park or on a mountaintop. If you live near the sea, make the effort to visit because watching the waves reduces distress and promotes calm.
Pick up your favourite hobby or a good book. Listen to uplifting music while you exercise as this has a proven effect on mood.
Having something to look forward to helps you get through the days. Book a concert, see a movie or visit a gallery, plan to do something fun at the weekend. Without play you grow old before your time, and without new experiences you ossify and become boring. You don’t want that.
Examine your motivations
Why are you doing what you do?
Part of burn-out is a feeling of hopelessness, that it’s all for nothing. One small thing that helps is a visual reminder. I kept a cute photo of my kids on my desk to remind me what I was working for. Other options include a place you love, a happy family group, the house you want to buy, or even tickets to a concert.
The image triggers positive memories and emotions to combat the tide of negativity. It helps you go on, just a little more.
In the same vein, crossing off the days to an event can help. Maybe it’s a vacation you’re looking forward to, maybe it’s the day you leave – either way, you want to create a sense of anticipation and excitement.
Reframe and realign your objectives
Following on from the point above, what if you’re doing the wrong thing? Or doing the right thing, but the wrong way?
You can use your trusty journal to free-write about everything that’s weighing you down. Often – if not always – you know the answers, deep down. You know you need to make a change, and you resist it for apparently rational reasons.
Perfectionists deal with their doubts about work by doubling down. They assume their dissatisfaction is the result of not working hard enough, and they are at high risk of burnout. The professions are the natural home of high-achieving perfectionists using dysfunctional coping mechanisms to deal with the truth; their role, responsibilities or work ethos is a bad fit for them.
But if your identity is tied to being a doctor, or lawyer, or entrepreneur, change will be painful and affect other people too. That keeps you stuck, no matter the cost, but consider this.
Burnout is a message – the price of your current life is your peace of mind, and that cost is too high.
So you need to figure out what and how to change, with help if need be. Change can range from working smarter, changing roles, starting something on the side that nourishes you, all the way to leaving your job and starting again.
Remember that you choose to do what you do.
When you say you have to do a thing, you also choose to reject the alternatives. You could resign today and go live in a cabin in the woods. There are many good reasons why that won’t work, but they don’t make the option disappear. And it will be the right option for someone.
Your job is to get rested and then get clarity on the things that matter. Own your choices. Then decide how to fit them into a life that works for you.
There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.
Sometimes our lives get unbalanced. Burnout is an extreme case, where multiple aspects are neglected for a long time in favour of work. It is not necessary to destroy your relationships and your health in pursuit of some work ideal. If you’re crying in your car and unable to go into the building, or drinking every night to find rest, the warning lights are flashing.
Start to take better care of yourself so you can attend to the work of change. You may think you’re chained to your life as it is, but often you also hold the keys to your own freedom.
Renewal after burnout is possible if you allow yourself the space to find it.
(first published by Publishous on Medium 24.7.19)
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recognise and remove internal and external roadblocks to success
You can’t always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.
We all want to succeed. When success doesn’t come, we tell ourselves stories about why that might be.
- I’m unlucky.
- The timing isn’t right.
- Other people have better connections.
- People like me who are ______ just don’t win.
- The market is overcrowded.
Most of these excuses are false. And you know it. Humans are really good at rationalising their failures and placing the blame elsewhere.
Whether you bottle it up or act it out, are you keeping yourself from the things you say you want?
Doubt Is The Only Certainty
Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.
There’s something you want, but you doubt your ability to get it. Deep down, you don’t think you deserve it. Seeing someone else with what you want makes you envious, so you become hypercritical of yourself or that person, which both lead to bitterness and anger.
Criticism and envy are signposts to what you really want. Figure out precisely what that is, and you’re well on the way to getting it.
Success looks very different to each of us. If you envy the writer with a number one bestseller, what element of their success annoys you most? It could be critical acclaim, financial security, freedom to write all day rather than be employed, or even the fact that they look so damn happy in their photos. Why can’t you have that?
Use that feeling. You can have what they have if you master your self-doubt.
A certain amount of doubt is healthy but too much is paralysing. Start with your definition of success and make a plan to get there. Don’t let doubt stop you. It’s time to act.
He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.
Shannon L. Alder
Do you order the same food from the same restaurant every time?
Do you try that new restaurant you drove past yesterday, or do you only visit places that others have given at least a 4.8 review rating?
Risk aversion keeps you locked in place ruminating over all the ways things can go wrong if you change. You follow the herd, even if the herd isn’t going your way.
Moving towards your dreams always entails risk. It might be more difficult than you thought. You might not make it. It might not look as good from the inside.
But what’s the alternative?
The only way you’ll know where your limits are is to push yourself further. You can’t reach a new level without taking a chance that you might fail. Don’t discount the possibility that you might succeed.
Focus on the chance of success and accept that you’ll probably have to try more than once. Failing forward is tough, but taking each failure as a lesson helps you build the resilience and feedback you need.
As Wayne Gretzky said, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Adjust your aim and keep swinging.
Stuck In A Rut
We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
It’s often said that change is the only constant in life. We can only navigate a hugely complex world by filtering, simplifying and making mental models.Even though we’re hard-wired to prefer novelty, we also resist change because of the strain it puts on our mental bandwidth. Add to that fear of the unknown, and we retreat into the familiar safety of the comfort zone.
Resisting change eats away at you because repressing emotion consumes more energy than expressing it. Imagine you’re punching something. Now imagine you pull that punch at the last minute. You use energy for forward motion and more energy for an equal reverse motion. Not only that, but denying the punch leads to anger and resentment because you don’t get the release you need.
All that energy expended, yet you’re stuck in the same rut, settling for less. It’s exhausting.
You know you need a change when you’re bored repeating the same routine, when you’ve stopped learning, when there’s less and less reward in your activities.
You also know when a situation is bad for you and you need to change it or leave.
When you’ve poured a great deal of time and energy into a job or relationship, change can feel like a waste of your investment. This sunk cost fallacy stops you from cutting your losses and leads to inertia, staying with something that has no hope of improvement. What is right for one time and place may not be right forever.
Face that growing feeling of discontent head on. Use your journal to uncover its source or talk it out with someone. Identifying the source is the first step to deciding what changes you need to make, and they may not be as extensive as you fear.
Unresolved conflict between what you have and what you want often transforms into anger that is directed towards the self in anxiety and low mood, or outwards into hostility and envy.
Find the courage to confront the possibility of change so that you control the process.
Busy Doing Nothing
We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment.
I expect you’re a busy person, like everyone these days. But are you doing the things that matter even if they’re difficult, or giving in to distraction?
If you find yourself down a rabbit hole of Youtube videos after looking up a simple fact online, you’re not alone. But the resulting guilt and shame can be enough to derail you from your actual work. Procrastination can wear many faces, including filling your time with “worthy” activities like reading or research or reorganising the kitchen cupboards.
It’s not enough to be busy. You need to be productive, not merely occupied. Getting clear on the day’s priorities is the first step, and an ordered schedule will help you achieve that. Each Sunday, spend thirty minutes with your planner and set aside time in the coming week for must-do and want-to-do tasks.
Knowing what to do and when gets around having fifty things you could be doing bouncing around your head, but being unable to pick one and therefore doing none of them.
Like eating your broccoli before dessert, must-do items come first. If you’re a rewards person, finish the task before you have your cookie, ten minutes of social media or whatever.
If you’re prone to distraction, minimise it. Use one of many stripped down desktop apps so you focus. Leave your phone in another room. Research has shown that even if it is silenced, your smartphone still pulls your attention.
Can’t bear to get started? Does the task feel overwhelming? Use the Pomodoro technique to break it into ten or fifteen-minute chunks. If a task fills you with dread, get it out of the way and eat the frog first. Everything else will be easier by comparison.
Get on task, stay on task, and accomplish more with your time.
The Truth Is Out There
One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.
You probably know someone who likes to consider their options carefully. They gather information, take opinions, and always think twice. They feel safer when they have more evidence.
Then there are people who make choices based on their feelings about them, good or bad. Often they are highly intuitive. Journaling becomes a sacred rite as they dig deeper and deeper into emotions.
Too much analysis leads to paralysis. Too much thinking about feelings is another route to procrastination. Faced with an overload of emotion, you might manage it by repression, distraction, or numbing. In any case, you get nothing done.
Deep thinking is a good thing — as long as it leads to action. At some point, you have to declare the thinking phase complete, draw up a shortlist of options, and then choose one.
A list of pros and cons is the simplest tool, and the act of writing them down clarifies your thoughts.
A simple scoring system can help you prioritise different options. For example, when buying a house, I had a list of essentials like location, number of bedrooms, and living space. The second list was for desirables like south facing and size of the garden. By allocating one to three points for each essential and one point for each desirable, I was able to compare houses with different features more easily.
If a house missed any essentials it was out of the running, no matter how lovely. Scoring helps to take some of the emotion from the equation, especially for big decisions. Making your lists forces you to be more objective, but there’s nothing to stop you allocating your points in any way that feels right.
If you’re considering a major decision like a job change or relocation, try visualisation. Imagine yourself in a future where you’ve stayed unchanged and not followed through. Do you feel regret or disappointment? That’s a clue that this change could be right for you.
Of course, you can’t see the future, but you can use a combination of techniques to make the best decision you can. Emotion allied to objectivity gives you the best of both worlds.
Get Out Of Your Own Way
Self-sabotage is when we say we want something and then go about making sure it doesn’t happen.
Your inner roadblocks are expressed in different behaviours.
- self-doubt — envy
- risk aversion — following the herd
- resisting change — settling for less
- lack of discipline — procrastination
- overthinking — distraction/numbing
You might recognise yourself in any or all of the scenarios above. We’re only human and none of us is perfect, but naming the obstacle is the first step to overcoming it. Outer behaviours always reflect inner thinking, so mastering your internal dialogue will improve your chances of success.
Make better decisions, accept the risk of failure and do it anyway, and follow through with action.
Simple tips for maximising success as a creative
I want to be a cat in my next life. Cats are great role models. A well-loved pet would be ideal, but since I’m a cat that’s not essential.
I can rely on sharp claws and keen senses to feed and defend myself. I carry myself with supple grace, accept affection on my own terms, and find the warmest spot in the house to sleep. Sounds pretty good.
But in this life I set goals and strive to exceed them. Sometimes that works. Today I’m tired and a little disheartened, because the reward for my efforts is unpredictable and I can’t figure out what’s worth repeating.
You’ve probably had days like that too. Days when endless hustle and failing forward feel like hitting your head against a brick wall, over and over. Days when it’s hard to believe in yourself and stay motivated.
Can you rediscover your appetite for the hunt? Can you be more like a cat?
A Numbers Game
Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything that can be counted counts. — William Bruce Cameron
Comparison might be the thief of joy, but we still have to track our stats. How else will we know where we stand?
Looking at numbers drives you to a kind of madness. Whether you count views, followers, pounds lost or lifted, or revenue, numbers draw you in. The world shrinks to a set of digits that you then equate to your own value.
If they’re going the wrong way, heaven help you and the people around you.
Peak madness is achieved by then comparing those numbers to other people’s numbers. You inevitably come up short because you only look at the most successful — those who you hope to emulate someday.
But you want someday to be today. You want the bragging rights, the book deal, and the interview on a popular TV show — now. Hasn’t it been long enough? Probably not. It takes much longer than you think or want to build success.
Remember when you longed for just one fan or even ten reads? Other writers are still there, hardly out of the starting gate. You’ve moved past that, and as long as you keep creating you’ll move past your next milestone too. Perhaps there are other measures of your impact.
Views and reads matter to writers, but they don’t map exactly to engagement. Look at comments, however brief. Out of your whole audience, those who comment are the most engaged fans. They take time to read, vote, and then reach out to you.
Treasure your commenters. Reply and thank them for their time and interest. Make a connection. I won’t pretend claps don’t matter, especially if money is involved. But when you’re still some way from your next milestone, the smallest dopamine hit of approval is welcome.
Like No-one Is Watching
A flower blossoms for its own joy. — Oscar Wilde
There’s deep satisfaction in doing something well. Craftsmen of old spent time making sure the back of an object, though not usually seen, was still beautiful. You can turn a finely tailored jacket inside out and find no loose stitches or raw seams. Every part of a created object reflects the skill and attention of its creator.
Writing can be art, but it must always be craft. Your writing should be the best you can produce. Live by the Beyoncé principle: over-promise, over-deliver, and keep on growing. Standards vary from day to day, but should never be less than good. Make it good, then make it better.
How do you know it’s better? On your down days, take your latest finished piece and compare it to your work of six or twelve months ago. Look at those older pieces and see how they could be tightened and polished further.
The same applies to losing weight, getting fitter, or learning a skill. Look back at where you started, review your SMART goals, and progress becomes clearer.
There’s a long way to go yet, but you’re on your way so give yourself credit for the journey so far. Take a reward for effort, and keep going.
You want to be known for consistent high quality. Henry Ford said quality means doing it right when no-one is watching. One day, those eyes will be turned on you. Be ready.
No Shortcut to Greatness
A few years ago I bought a car from a doctor at the start of his career. He was selling the car to help fund his planned attempt on Everest.
Wait a minute. Mount Everest? He wanted to be an Army surgeon. He also wanted to climb Everest before he was thirty. Both goals required a ton of hard work, so he made a plan that matched his impressive ambitions.
Now imagine someone builds an elevator that goes to Everest’s peak. Almost anyone can book a ride and stand at the top. How impressive is that? Not very.
The fact is, we value what we pay for. And the reverse is also true; we don’t value what we get for free.
How does that connect with writing or whatever business you’re in? It means the hard work you do is integral to the payoff you get. The harder you work, the sweeter the reward.
Now you can reframe the work as building a bigger payoff. Giving your work both intrinsic and future worth carries you through the inevitable gloomy days when the wind dies in your sails.
Don’t drift in the doldrums when that happens. What you do when you’re losing is the measure of your character. Get out the oars and start rowing.
Riding Out The Storm
But this time you can’t row. You’re caught in a perfect storm; work, health, relationship or financial issues make it impossible to do more. You’re barely surviving as it is. What to do now?
Maybe you can’t lean in, but you can limit backsliding. Three things will help you.
- Harness the power of a tiny goal. Write for five minutes, exercise for ten minutes, meditate for three minutes every day. Set the bar so low you’re bound to win. The little wins accumulate to stop your sense of mastery from fading completely. Choose your goal. Mark a cross on your calendar each day you achieve it. Winning streaks have power.
- Work on strategic aims. Get into the not urgent but important box of tasks you mean to do sometime but haven’t yet. Watch a tutorial on that software you bought but can’t use. Do some digital admin; clear out old files that clutter your desktop, file your receipts, check your antivirus is up to date. Use the Pomodoro technique and work in fifteen-minute bursts. Finish one job before starting another.
- Focus on the goal. Picture yourself at the finish line. What will you need to get there? Do you need extra training or equipment? A goal is a dream with a deadline, so don’t spend too much time thinking. Planning is a prelude to action and not a substitute for it.
Dreaming With Eyes Open
Sometimes you can fake it till you make it; other times you can’t. When the fears of not good enough and you’re going to fail take hold, you’ll struggle. Struggle is an inescapable part of life, of daring to hope for better. Hold fast to dreams, but know that they aren’t enough to get you where you want to be.
‘The principle of moving forward, as though you have the confidence to move forward, eventually gives you confidence when you look back and see what you’ve done.’ — Robert Downey Jr
A cat doesn’t make a jump by staring at its feet all day. It focuses on the landing. If it falls short, it digs in its claws and scrambles up. Then it sits and licks a paw as if it exerted no effort at all to reach the target.
Keep moving, whatever you have to do, however tiny the progress. Look back only to remind yourself how far you’ve come already, then turn your eyes forward to the peak. It’s always uphill to the top.
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How to make small talk less of a big deal
The trouble with her is that she lacks the power of conversation but not the power of speech.
George Bernard Shaw
Imagine you’re going to a party. You know the host and a couple of other guests. There will be drinks. There will be small talk.
Are you excited to meet all those new people? Or are you shrinking away in horror and already thinking about faking peritonitis to get out of it?
You’re not alone.
There are two kinds of people in this world. The first go by the Irish principle of strangers being friends they haven’t met yet. And the second live by Sartre’s principle that hell is other people. Unfortunately for the latter, they also have to socialise at least occasionally.
Good conversation is like a well-paced game of tennis, neither too fast to return serve, nor failing to return and letting the ball drop. Here are ten tips to help you raise your game, whichever camp you’re in.
1. Assume rapport
Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.
If you struggle with talking to strangers, approach them as though they’re someone you know. Assume you already have a friendly connection. Drop your shoulders, breathe out, offer a smile or a brief but firm handshake as appropriate. Odds are they feel the same about you, and you’re not intimidating, are you?
2. Listen more
We have two ears and one tongue that we might listen more and talk less.
Most people wait until the other stops speaking and then weigh in with their own observations. Active listening is a technique that aims to ensure the speaker feels heard. And since most people want to talk about themselves, they will think you’re great if you let them. Listen, acknowledge by gestures such as nodding, and then summarise what they said before responding. Try, “So what you’re saying is…”
3. Avoid interrogation
The primary use of conversation is to satisfy the impulse to talk.
A rapid-fire series of questions isn’t just hard to respond to, but can come across as aggressive. Relax and let them answer one question at a time. Remember you’re meant to be listening, and if your questions come in a constant stream you aren’t really listening or responding.
4. Don’t choke
That’s all small talk is – a quick way to connect on a human level – which is why it is by no means as irrelevant as the people who are bad at it insist. In short, it’s worth making the effort.
It’s easy to mock small talk about the weather, the game, or property prices, but they’re safe and universal subjects to get things started. You might fear you have nothing to say, but there’s always something. Look at the local newspaper or trade magazine before you arrive to see what the hot topics are. If you don’t watch the current big thing on TV, have something else to talk about in books or movies.
5. There’s an art to delivery
It’s the way I tell ’em.
We draw a great deal of meaning from the way speech is delivered. Practice a stance you’re comfortable with and avoid closed body language. The words are often less important than tone, speed, and clarity of speech.
Breathe evenly. Adjust your volume to match the room. Speaking too fast will lose your listener, and too slow will bore them. Keep your point in mind so that you don’t meander and lose the thread of your statement.
Some people are effortlessly funny, some are unintentionally funny, and then there’s the rest of us. Comedians are masters of timing, but even they practise their material in low stakes situations before headlining their national tour. Avoid telling jokes unless you’re confident, but laugh at them whenever possible.
6. No monologues
A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That’s why there are so few good conversations: due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet.
Even if you’re the most knowledgeable person on the topic being discussed, avoid monopolising the conversation. You don’t know what other people know and you risk coming over as arrogant. Remember that conversation is a game in which both parties speak and listen. If you hold forth, you’re lecturing and people’s eyes will glaze over. We’ve all been trapped by the single subject bore. Don’t be that person.
7. No open combat
Conversation isn’t about proving a point; true conversation is about going on a journey with the people you are speaking with.
Conversation is not a full-contact sport. Rein in the need to be right all the time and keep away from arguments. If someone tries to pick a fight with you, decline. Move away, feign ignorance, or change the subject. Social gatherings are rarely a good setting in which to confront people. If you think you’re superior to other people, keep it to yourself and consider you’re probably wrong.
8. Steer away from controversy
The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.
In a mixed gathering, there will be a range of opinions on any subject. Deeply held convictions are not going to change over the canapes, and that includes yours. One of the great joys of life is discussing deeper issues, but reserve that for the right audience. Avoid politics, religion, and any charged subject from the news.
If you’re faced with someone espousing views you’re absolutely opposed to, you have the right to move on. Don’t put up with unnecessary discomfort. Socialising is hard enough.
9. Practise emotional intelligence
Silence is one of the great arts of conversation.
Be aware of the person you’re talking with. Do they show signs of interest with open body language? Are they oriented towards you, the exit, or someone else? One of the worst sins is constantly scanning the room for the next mark. This makes the other person feel ignored and insignificant. If you see someone else you want to speak with, finish your conversation and excuse yourself politely.
Know when a conversation has ended and try to move on with grace. Pay attention to cues.
On the other hand, if you do connect with someone, ask open questions and listen. If you want them to say a bit more, try waiting combined with encouraging actions such as smiling or nodding. Often people will respond again to fill the silence. If not, offer something of your own. The best conversations happen when both people are relaxed and willing to reveal something true about themselves.
10. Know your limits
Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas…many have a horror of small talk but enjoy deep discussions.
Extroverts are energised by social contact, whereas introverts are drained by it. Both need other people to varying extents. If you’re introverted, plan accordingly. Watch your energy levels and leave before you’re exhausted. Accept that you’ll need a period of withdrawal to recharge and work it into your schedule as a priority.
Don’t Sweat The Small Talk
Brave the introductions and small talk, and introverts have a chance to find a kindred spirit who’s happy to chat in a quiet corner while the extroverts work the room. If you’re lucky enough to go with a more outgoing partner or friend, that might offer the perfect cover. You’ll still have to drag them away at the end though.
Treat small talk as a starter for ten rather than a trial. Life is all about making connections and that means being comfortable with social situations, whether you prefer talking or listening.
You can’t get to the deep without first going through the shallows.
(first published by Publishous on Medium 8 June 2019)
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