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Mindfulness and Cognitive Science Neurobiology and Behavior Raising Capable Kids

How to stop obsessing over social media

Earlier this week we looked at WHY we tend to obsess over social media – clicking over to Facebook or scrolling through Instagram every time there’s a lull in our work. Today we’re looking at HOW TO STOP. It’s not quite enough to tell yourself that you will only check it twice per day…I’ve got 6 conditions that need to be satisfied in order for scheduled check-ins to be successful!

As I said in this blog post (go read it if you haven’t!), our reaction to social media notifications is similar to a drug addicts response to building drug tolerance. So how do people effectively overcome a drug addiction?

 

We covered WHY you obsessively check your social media...but how do you create a healthy balance between growing your business and not getting obsessed? Many recommend limiting yourself to just a couple check ins per day but that only works if you're satisfying these 6 conditions. Are you setting yourself up for success or are you wasting time obsessing over your social media profiles? Read on to save time. http://alisanelson.co

Pin that image so your fellow girlbosses stop wasting their time too!

If you took the first step and started building awareness around your social media distraction then you’ve moved it from unconscious thought to conscious — that’s huge.

So how do we solve the problem?

The next step in problem solving (after understanding the problem) is to look at other similar kinds of problems and investigate the use of its solution. In the case of checking social media every time you start to feel a little stuck or bored, addiction is a good comparison.

In my searching, genuine relationships appear to be the best form of recovery from addiction.

Relationships provide

  1. a way for the addict to gain better self-awareness,
  2. the support + connection a person is usually seeking under the surface, and
  3. purpose to following through.

All three of these characteristics are also key to handling any kind of stress well. So it seems plausible to use these solutions for our issue with digital notifications and their effect on our creativity + productivity.

Related: How to turn self-doubt into an asset

Putting the plan into our context

You’ve likely heard others talk about scheduling when they check social media. I think this has an area of validity so if we add a few things to it, it can serve you well in your business. Here’s when I think it works:

  1. You understand the the compulsion to scroll through pictures is due to chemicals in your brain, not because there is anything life-or-death happening.
  2. You are well-connected to other people whom you feel understand you and support your work.
  3. You have meaningful work that is making progress.
  4. As you establish the new habit, you are self-aware of what triggers your desire to jump on Instagram and actively talk to yourself about why you don’t need to do it.
  5. You choose a constructive + creativity-boosting alternative after recognizing you feel stuck or you’re doubting yourself.
  6. You practice having an abundance mindset: social media can wait./

By satisfying these conditions and forming a plan for when they are not satisfied, I think scheduling one or two specific times when you are checking on social media can be highly effective. You will need to test out what you need after you’ve finished. Meditation or a walk or less-demanding work may be necessary to help you transition back into focused + creative tasks like writing. And this can be applied to other areas as well like email and text messages.

So let’s walk through those conditions.

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You understand the the compulsion to scroll through pictures is due to chemicals in your brain, not because there is anything life-or-death happening.

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Stress in your work can trigger your fight-or-flight stress response. If you’ve conditioned yourself to mentally check out whenever stress arises – even if just for a little while – you’ll need to build awareness around that behavior. Starting with recognizing that it’s a chemical surge in your brain that is directing your attention to social media. Your brain has been wired to see it as a solution. Whatever reason you tell yourself for why you need to check instagram for the twentieth time today is really just an excuse.

Unless of course you actually do have a reason – but then it’s not just a distraction, right?

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You are well-connected to other people whom you feel understand you and support your work.

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Social media can be a great connector. It can also be a cover for real-life-isolation. Whether you are introverted or extraverted, you need people. Our brains are even programmed to seek out security within a tribe. So if in real life you are feeling insecure in your relationships, the pull to social media – where your followers are praising your work and seeking your engagement – will be stronger.

On the flip side, if you are investing in real-life community — people whom you see face-to-face or talk with over Skype — social media is going to be an easier distraction to overcome.

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You have meaningful work that is making progress.

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Purpose is a major influencer. As a business owner you probably had a big reason to put yourself through all the stress of working for yourself. You probably have a future vision in mind that keeps you going when you think about quitting. Are you letting that through in each project you take on? Are you creating a course simply because someone told you to or is it serving your bigger vision? If it’s in line with your bigger vision remind yourself of it! Keep it front and center as you work so you can channel the stress of the struggle toward creating your best work.
If you are struggling and your project isn’t making progress you will be more likely to move on to less important tasks, like instagram or twitter. It’s discouraging to feel like you’re not getting anywhere. Rather than force yourself to struggle (or disengage from the project), look again at the problem you are trying to solve and the outcome you want. Do you have all the information you need? Is there someone you could reach out to who has the skill you’re trying to hack?

Related: 4 steps to solving problems like a pro

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As you establish the new habit, you are self-aware of what triggers your desire to jump on social media and actively talk TO yourself about why you don’t need to do it.

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Stephen Covey talks about how easily we get distracted by urgent, unimportant tasks. He concludes that a sign of a highly effective person is that they focus on the important tasks (and know how to distinguish between types of tasks). What you really want right now is the expected outcome of your project or task – so figure out a way to get that rather than letting yourself get distracted by social media.

You’re not solving the right problem when you disengage from an important task to do an urgent / unimportant one. You’re just wasting your energy.

Related: 4 mindsets hurting your business

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You choose a constructive + creativity-boosting alternative after recognizing you feel stuck or you’re doubting yourself.

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Your creativity is stalling and you’re losing focus because you feel stuck, you’re doubting yourself, etc. That is the worst time to get on instagram and start scrolling through perfectly styled images! Your brain needs a break. So reduce the stimulation and step away. Get present and take a few deep breaths.

Better to go outside and spend 30 minutes people-watching then to scroll through images in rapid fire.

Related: 15 super-easy self care ideas for creative entrepreneurs

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You practice having an abundance mindset: social media can wait.

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It’s not going to be gone forever. People won’t revoke their likes just because you haven’t responded yet. It can wait.

Really. It can wait.

Not indefinitely – in fact you know exactly when you will get to it. Because it’s scheduled. (And hey! With all the new algorithms, you don’t have to worry about missing your favorites in your feed!)

When each of these conditions are met, you can and should be successful in scheduling 1 or 2 social media check-ins throughout the work day. These will likely be longer because you’ve got an outcome in mind so you aren’t just endlessly scrolling.
As far as the time of day you check, I recommend afternoon and evening based on what I know about trying to create after consuming rapid-pace media but being home with kids all day I’m still working on fine-tuning my own schedule.

So tell me in the comments, will you try scheduling your social media check-ins?

Categories
Mindfulness and Cognitive Science

4 steps to problem solving like a pro

You run a business. Problem-solving is a necessary part of your everyday. But do you ever stop to consider how you solve problems?

There are two kinds of problem solvers.

The first focuses on the moment. They like to make small pivots whenever needed to get around an obstacle. They aren’t thinking much about the effect that pivot has on their trajectory, they are just solving the problem for today and will solve tomorrow’s problems for tomorrow. Their aim is to avoid present disruption and they value that outcome more than the path they originally started on.

The second kind of problem solver is one who does whatever is necessary to get through the obstacle while maintaining their chosen path. They are solving a problem so that it never appears again. Their aim is to get to point B and they value that outcome more than avoiding disruption or set back.

The first form of problem-solving is a waste of time. It avoids learning for long-term ROI and leads to habits + behaviors that don’t align with the vision you most-likely have for your business.

If you want your business to be able to bear load — multiple products + tons of happy customers falling over themselves to get at those products, all while you spend less time running around like mad and more time pouring into your relationships + passions — then the foundation must be predictably strong. Your processes, the quality of your products, the way you handle problems when they arise — you need to know without a doubt that it all holds up to the new weight of your growth.

Are you “solving” problems by short cutting? I get it, it saves time and solving problems can be painful. But if you’re always stepping around a problem instead of getting to the heart of the issue, you risk the survival of your business and your ability to be creative + productive. Instead, use the numerous problems that arise while running a business to learn and you’ll set yourself up for success in the long-term. Check out these 4 steps for problem solving like a pro. More at http://alisanelson.co.

 

I’m going to walk you through 4 steps of expert-like problem solving. But first, why should you even care?

Problems cause cortisol levels to rise in our blood stream. They stress our system as they introduce uncertainty to our path. Turning uncertainty to knowledge is often a painful experience because it requires new thinking and expanding our comfort zones.

Here’s the thing: every time you decide to deviate around the problem to avoid the mental + emotional pain of understanding, you steal from yourself and your clients. And you increase the likelihood that your business won’t survive in the long-term.

You’ve chosen to be an entrepreneur and you’ve chosen to move past your most-obvious options for revenue in order to serve more people and create the life + space you want. Now it’s time to resolve that you will solve the many problems you face in a way that builds resilience, hope, and a business that really meets the needs of its clients.

Ok, ok, on to those steps:

  1. Understand the problem — the knowns, the unknowns, the conditions
  2. Make a plan — do you know a related problem and can you use it here?
  3. Carry out the plan
  4. Assess the result

Effective problem-solving is a skill. And like any other skill, it requires practice. You wouldn’t jump onto Adobe Illustrator for the first time and expect to know exactly what to do, would you? How do you even know it’s the best tool for the project? You should know without a doubt how + why it will do the job before you start.

So first you would think about what you need to do for your project, then you would consider the various methods for answering the need, finally you would consider the technology at your disposal.

After you’ve really understood the problem, you would form a plan for how to use the technology to apply the method and solve your problem.

>>>> You now have a process to test-run for solving the problem. (Woohoo!)

Once you’ve carried out your plan, you need to look at the result and determine if it aligns with the need. If it doesn’t, you go back to the first step – did you miss something? What part of the need didn’t translate?

The common response here is to just start fiddling. Not sure why your CSS isn’t coming out correctly? Let’s just add x, y, and z to the code and see what happens.

You’re deviating again – stop it! It’s the old throw spaghetti at the wall and see if it sticks. It’s an attempt to conform a problem to your current understanding — assuming there isn’t anything else to learn. You are capable of more sophisticated + effective forms of problem solving, ok? Ok.

So how does all of this translate to resilience, hope, and a business that really meets the needs of your clients?

Easy. It programs your brain to effectively respond to stress. (Tweet that).

Responding to a rise in cortisol by getting away from the problem as fast as you can programs your brain to disengage from life when thing get tough. You use the energy your brain is giving you to escape the problem instead of solve it. It’s why you think of eating sugary + fatty foods when you get not-so-great-feeling feedback from a client. It’s why you keep clicking over to Facebook when you’re supposed to be writing a blog post but the words aren’t quite coming out right. It’s also why you blindly follow what someone else says (since it sounds close enough) instead of making sure the solution is solid.
Following the above 4 steps to solving a problem keeps you engaged in the present world. It uses the rise in cortisol to your advantage as you channel the surge of endorphins + dopamine to focus on the problem. That in turn reinforces the belief that you can solve the problem, which builds hope + optimism since your brain really likes feeling capable and in control. Those good feelings forge neural connections telling your brain that a great way to feel happy is to focus + solve the problem. That’s resilience.

And all those new habits are what is going to lead you to do only the best things for your business + your clients.

Are you “solving” problems by short cutting? I get it, it saves time and solving problems can be painful. But if you’re always stepping around a problem instead of getting to the heart of the issue, you risk the survival of your business and your ability to be creative + productive. Instead, use the numerous problems that arise while running a business to learn and you’ll set yourself up for success in the long-term. Check out these 4 steps for problem solving like a pro. More at http://alisanelson.co.

Take action:

  1. Pin that infographic (hover over it for the pin it link) for reference when your next problem comes up.
  2. Leave a comment below with a problem you’re trying to solve right now and I’ll help you come up with a first step using the above method.

 

Categories
Mindfulness and Cognitive Science Neurobiology and Behavior

How to turn self-doubt into an asset

Self-doubt is a painfully common experience for a business owner. From hitting “publish” on a post to developing a new product to holding your hundredth discovery call, even C-level executives have been quoted expressing a continued struggle with feeling like a fraud. The struggle is so real that all the way back in the late-70’s researchers Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes gave it a name –> Impostor Phenomenon. It is now estimated that around 70% of people will experience impostor phenomenon at least once.

 

As a business owner, there’s good reason to feel like a fraud. As you seek to grow and you step into roles you never imagined for yourself, personal growth becomes mandatory. On a near-daily basis (depending on where you are in your business) you are operating at the edges of your capabilities — an intensely vulnerable place to be. Unfortunately, without an effective response to self-doubt, you can find yourself losing motivation, drooping in creativity, and spending a lot of time on stuff that doesn’t really help your business.

 

Because doubting yourself is so common and so problematic, this post is all about how to see your self-doubt in a new light. And because I want you to effectively step into your business and keep pushing the edges of your comfort zone, I’ve made a cheat sheet for you to keep on hand for when self-doubt strikes. We’re in this together, ok?

Self-doubt gets a bad rap. But you're the boss of your brain so you get to decide -- will self-doubt crush you? Or will you put in the effort to turn it into an asset? Creatives, bloggers, and business owners rely on creativity + productivity to make a living - unchecked self-doubt derails both. So read on and download the free cheat sheet so you can get started using your self-doubt to your advantage. More at http://alisanelson.co

Pin that image for later, friend! Or click here to pin directly from Pinterest!

What science says about self-doubt

Clance and Imes describe impostor phenomenon as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” What they saw happening in the women they were studying was that despite great capability and high motivation for achievement, they lived in fear of being “found out.” Sound familiar? Yea, me too.

Self-doubt is stressful. It’s extremely difficult to focus on a task when your brain is telling you that you 1. have no right to be doing it and 2. you’re going to be found out. That is a threat to your security and you are biologically wired to avoid that kind of threat. Your body’s stress response is designed to go nuts at this point to give you the energy you need to get to safety.

But we’re not in the savannah running off on our own from the rest of the tribe and therefore at risk of getting mauled.

A new business adventure may not sound all that revolutionary but for your brain, it’s different than what is status quo. And therefore a threat. Your brain chemicals are quickly transitioning to a stress response in order to prime you for action – to run from the proverbial lion.

When you’re publishing new, high-value content, developing a new product, or consulting with a new client, your brain is looking at the possible outcome and responding based on prior experiences (imprints – like that time you were called a know-it-all in middle school). It then goes into automatic survival mode. A droop in chemicals like serotonin and oxytocin give you that feeling of fear and loneliness while cortisol spikes your heart rate.

 

In essence, your brain perceives a need for a safe place amongst safe people and your biochemistry is responding appropriately to get you moving in that direction.

 

Now let’s talk about why you should not move in that direction and what you should do instead.

 

Reacting vs Responding to self-doubt

So we’ve talked about what happens in your brain when you try something new, but what about behavior? That’s the stuff we can actually look at in our everyday lives. So what happens when someone is experiencing self-doubt?

  • excessive gathering of informationreading tons of blog posts on mistakes new biz owners make, listening to another podcast about sales funnels, signing up for one more ebook about how to land new clients

 

  • focusing on the urgent + unimportant taskschecking social media again, reading email without taking any actions or responding, investigating who unfollowed you, checking up on the competition,

 

  • easily distracted by unrelated mind chatterwhen was the last time I washed my hair? re-organizing your office space, spending excessive time styling a new photo for social media, ruminating on something someone said last week

 

  • preoccupation with your title (even Marie Forleo talks about this one) – rewriting your about page / social media bios over and over again

 

The list goes on. Day-in and day-out these behaviors indicate something is going on beneath the surface. You may be unaware of your self-doubt to some extent but as it continues to build up it will become obvious. Because you’ll be literally telling yourself, “You idiot, what makes you think you have any right to do this?”

What you shouldn’t do

  • Blindly listen to the shame gremlins.If you abandon every idea, project, or opportunity that you don’t feel 100% capable of doing (from meeting new people to launching a new product), you’re life will be spent watching everything Netflix has to offer. You’ll be constantly seeking to numb yourself to avoid shame and the deep longing to do something important with your time. But you are strong, brave, and clever. So don’t just walk away, ok?

 

  • Cover over the gremlins with inspirational quotes.There is inspiration that points us back to truth and grounds us in a bigger purpose beyond our own comfort, and there’s “inspiration” that is completely devoid of meaning and like putting a child-sized bandaid on a gunshot wound. Words like “you got this!” are pointless if they don’t point to concrete evidence.Trying to deceive yourself into doing the work will more likely serve to reinforce the feeling of self-doubt, and possibly even make it true.

What happens if you just ignore self-doubt?

Suppressing internal messages will lead to increased internal pressure. Increased pressure can lead to explosions. Many people talk about the cycle of depression, anxiety, greater loss of self-confidence, frustration, and loss of interest they experience while attempting to build a business. It’s burnout. When you fail to respond to what your body is telling you, your body makes you respond by first shutting down your ability to focus and be productive, followed by real health issues like insomnia, headaches, depression, anxiety, etc.

What you should do

Mindfully approach your self-doubt, seeking to understand why it is there and to learn more about yourself through the process. Mindfulness is a neutral look at your thoughts, feelings, and environment. You’re an observer of what’s going on, gathering information, and taking appropriate actions.

Observations to help you slow down the stress response and choose how you want to respond:

 

  • “Welcome, old friend”Pema Chondron talks about smiling at fear and welcoming it. You should expect it to be there – you’re being creative and gutsy. You can’t expect to just shoo it away or that you will grow out of it – instead you can let it be a sign that you are daring to do something new and let it sit while you ask more questions. You can say to yourself, “I must be pushing the edges of my comfort zone.” That’s good. As a creative entrepreneur, that’s what you want.

 

  • Your brain is giving you space to do a gut checkLet’s remember that it is entirely possible that you are an impostor (gasp!). People claim to be more capable than they are all the time. Sometimes it’s with malicious intent and other times it’s simply because they lost perspective.For example: Maybe all the people you follow on Twitter have been blogging about a certain topic – like landing pages – and you decide to do the same. Except that it is a little out of nowhere compared to the rest of your blog content. That feeling you have that makes writing the post hard or makes you feel a little extra self-conscious? That’s a good thing. You’re getting a chance to decide if that’s a direction you want and should take your business or if you got a little bit of copycat syndrome and need to scrap the idea. Our minds get hijacked all the time by the things we see making other people happy. Acknowledge you got distracted and just move on.

    Your brain could also be telling you that you don’t have enough information. Strangely enough, you could be endlessly surfing web pages because you do indeed need more information. But it’s not likely that reading 20 versions of the same post is going to get you what you need. If you’re developing a course for other graphic designers and you realize your understanding is a little shallow in an area, you need to problem solve, not consume more blogs.

 

Actions to take:

  • Assess your current capabilities and that which is required for the task or project at hand. If you need more information for your course on design, don’t just binge-read Elle & Co blog posts (it’s fun, I know! And I’m not even a designer!), reach out to Lauren and talk shop. That way you can get a better feel for another designer’s process and swap sources.
  • Seek effective support. More than just an instagram post or a “you got this! #girlboss.” Go to one of your favorite Facebook groups and ask a question. Get on the phone with someone and talk about what’s going on. Work with a coach who will encourage you + help you see the path.
  • Take note of your common indicators for self-doubt. What are your specific triggers? What does the downward spiral tend to look like?
  • Never stop learning. You will always have space to grow. You set yourself up for failure when you start to believe you’ve got this girlboss thing figured out. So surround yourself with people who push you to perform at a higher level and make a habit of seriously learning. This is more than scanning blog posts that catch your eye. I’m talking keep a list of problems you keep running into and actually seek to understand the issue. Some things you’ll get to delegate – bless your soul for not needing to know everything yourself. But some things (like understanding “how do people learn best” for that course you’re outlining) are vital to the efficacy of your work.

Did I miss something?

I’m a scientist at heart. The specific behaviors I’ve indicated here are not exhaustive and I’m always gathering more in order to help people (including myself) understand why they do what they do. I also love supportive evidence.

So tell me in the comments – what do you start doing when you’re doubting yourself? What helps you move through it?

 

Categories
Mindfulness and Cognitive Science

Get consistent: 4 mindsets hurting your business

Consistency can make or break you. It communicates authenticity, thoughtfulness, and make you trustworthy. It can lead to genuine connections with your audience. And it shows people that you are here and ready to help them. When you struggle with major dips in your ability to be consistent due to burnout, you risk the survival of your business. Don’t let your business fizzle out. Read on to learn more about the effects your thinking has on your business + make an action plan for how to respond.

 

The way we think about our work impacts the way we work on + in our businesses. In a previous post I’ve highlighted the importance of developing self-awareness and practicing throughout the day. Today I’m going to point out 4 mindsets that are making your life way harder than it needs to be. Plus I’m giving you a workbook full of questions for understanding your own mindset struggles + developing a plan so you stop wasting time and energy in your business.

Is your lack of consistency hurting your ability to grow + thrive in business? It takes more than discipline - you have to look at the way you THINK about your business + your life. Here are 4 common mindsets that could be killing your consistency plus tips for how to deal. Amp up your creativity + productivity through greater self-awareness and an action plan using the FREE WORKBOOK. More at http://alisanelson.co

 

Pin that image for a refresher later! Or click here to pin it directly from Pinterest.

First, let’s get a look a little more at the problem:

Does this sequence sound familiar?

 

You’re working on a new offering and you’re struggling to make progress. Most nights, when you finally go to bed, you are frustrated by your performance and vow to push through and stay focused tomorrow. You might start to notice behaviors like:

 

  • always working but unable to account for all the time you spent on a single graphic design
  • often changing directions on new projects
  • getting easily distracted by other, perhaps relevant, tasks
  • ignoring important maintenance tasks
  • always thinking about your project but without much action taken
  • comparing your results with others in a non-constructive way

 

What’s the result of these behaviors? Anxiety + stuck-ness + poor self talk

 

You keep trying to force your work because you’ve got a long list of vital tasks plus you are working to expand your business. You start to think once I get this project done, then I will be able to relax a little more. But I just gotta push through this now. I gotta make it happen!
 
So you start to work even more. You cancel your usual evening phone call with your sister and stay home all weekend. You are on your computer or your phone at every opportunity because there’s work to do! When someone questions you you get angry, defensive, and have thoughts like they don’t understand!
 
You try to use that frustration as motivation so you work even more until you suddenly crash.

 

  • You start sleeping through all your alarms
  • There is very, very short bursts of focus time throughout the day
  • You can’t muster the energy to do more than watch Netflix in the evening
  • The way you talk to yourself is largely negative
  • You might even get sick or develop constant headaches
  • Everything feels hard
  • You are easily frustrated by problems + people

 

It’s like you’re an airplane pilot and your engine just started on fire.
And it’s a cycle. The more you force yourself, the worse it gets.
So what’s going on?
 
I’m going to start with the way you think about yourself, your work, and the world around you. Your mental game has a huge impact on your creativity + your ability to focus on the important stuff and be productive. A mind that cultivates creativity + productivity will lead to consistency.

 

4 mindsets that could be killing your consistency:

 

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Mindset 1: FOMO

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The Fear Of Missing Out is a real thing. In fact, based on what I’ve seen in my kids, it starts around 2 years old when you suddenly start to emotionally experience the countless trade offs in life. My daughter went from quickly picking a shirt in the morning to wanting to wear all the things and getting weirdly upset when she only wore one shirt. Now at that age, she couldn’t actually understand the concept of a trade off. But you, my lovely + creative friend, CAN.

 

You can look at your unfinished list and walk away peacefully. The list will always be there – it will never just be “1 more thing and then I’m done!” Even when you launch a product, there will be last minute things you forgot and things you never even think of. That’s part of the adventure! You won’t miss out on the joy + full life you are working so hard for. In fact, you’ll realize you already have it when you untie your to-do list from your personal identity.

 

I know you want to be on all the social media apps and you want all the people to read your posts and you want to build an empire while also having the prettiest home ever. But running a business has trade offs. And you’re running a business – so you have to honor that. No, no. You get to honor that.

 

In a world where we are all over saturated and stretched thin, you get to say no to things. And even that can be flipped on its head. You get to say yes to your passion for creating something new that will make people happy. Say yes! And let that be a not right now to all those other things (or in the case of more social media, say no. I promise it’s ok).

 

Some trade offs are really hard. There’s a reason moms who return to work struggle with guilt. (And why some moms who stay home struggle with resentment + judgment). So let’s not downplay the mental + emotional struggle of missing out. But you get to choose for yourself – and you can thrive in that decision.

 

What do I do?

 
  • Acknowledge the trade off you’re making. If it’s the kind of heavy decision like go back to work or stay with your kids, remember that both are good things.
  • Compare each option to the vision you have for your business + your life. What is actually going to help you move forward in business, in relationships, in your influence on people’s hearts?
  • And finally, remember that saying yes does not mean you will always say no to the other thing. Instead, you are recognizing that this is not likely to be the only opportunity ever. You can reassess again later.

 

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Mindset 2: Perfectionism

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You know that the quality of your work is important – of course it is! It’s your brand! It’s your reputation! But all the details can keep you from moving forward.

 

There are certainly gradients here. Having an eye for the details and being straight up gifted at strategy are beautiful strengths that I wish I had. In this case, however, I’m talking about the kind of perfectionism that is driven by fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of looking like an amateur. Fear of failing.

 

 
Remember — fear makes sense. Your brain is trying to protect you from what it is interpreting as danger. Failure, looking foolish, etc. are all potentially harmful to your social standing – your brain is programmed to discourage such behavior. But it gets a little off track in our day-and-age. Your brain doesn’t know what’s most important all by itself. You have to tell it.

 

What do I do?

 
  • Notice that you are getting hung up on the unimportant.
  • Tell yourself “this is not important” – out loud.
  • Remember: you are developing in every area of life. As an adult, a business owner, a creative, a leader – everything! In some areas you will have reached a proficient level. In other areas you might still be an advanced beginner. That’s ok! That isn’t failure or foolishness. Trying to pretend you’re an expert when diy-designing your first ebook? That’s foolish.
  • Before you start a project, write down the outcome you are looking for — where is your business going? Then write down, starting with the end in mind, the steps you need to take. If you know details, write them down too. Everything you do should be lining up with that outcome and should move you forward to making it happen. If it doesn’t, leave it. You have an airplane to fly.

Related: 5 benefits of self-awareness

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Mindset 3: Victim

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A victim mentality involves various “woe is me” thought patterns. It’s a refusal to step up and take responsibility for your life and therefore shifting blame onto the circumstances and people around you. A person with a victim mentality will respond with “nobody understands!” when questioned on their work habits. In contrast there is what some call “creator mindset” in which a person takes responsibility for their life.
When you’re running a business there is always a long list of things to do. And because it’s your livelihood AND your baby, it takes diligent self-discipline to focus on a single task at a time and shut down the computer in order to enjoy the rest of your life.
A victim will never have enough time and always feel helpless when it comes to getting their business where they want it to be. This is where effective goal-setting and project management come into play. Having an effective plan in place for getting from A to B gives you a place to go when you start to see yourself playing the victim card.

What do I do?

 
  • Acknowledge that you are playing the victim
  • Practice gratitude – acknowledging all the unmerited awesomeness of your life is essential to snapping out of “woe is me.”
  • Remind yourself that you are not helpless – you might have a problem but problems can be solved. And you are strong, brave, and clever. You will figure it out or be able to find someone else who has handled it before.
  • Go back to your plan – what outcomes are you pursuing and what are the essential tasks? If you don’t have a plan, that’s your first essential task.
  • Let people in on your plan. Let them help you stay accountable to your plan. A victim uses “no one understands.” A leader + creator gets support.
 
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Mindset 4: Just do something

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Some of you might get a little feisty with me on this one but I see it all the time – in myself and in others. It’s this compulsion to charge ahead and “just DO something!!” because we know where we want to go but aren’t sure what the best step is to get there. “Just do something” often stems from a couple of beliefs: 1. If I don’t do something right this second I will miss my chance; and 2. It doesn’t really matter where I start because if I just push hard enough I will be successful.  

 

There are valid circumstances when this approach can be useful. Analysis paralysis can keep us standing still for a very long time. But for most business-related situations, you need a plan that you know will work. I’m not just talking from a “professional” standpoint. I’m talking mentally + emotionally you can’t afford to do things that don’t work. Applying force on the wrong part of the lever just leaves you tired and irritated. Will you meet up with failure? Yes, of course. You’re on a road toward expertise, remember? That means you won’t do everything perfectly the first time.

 

This blog is a pretty good example of what I mean. I knew generally the kind of business I wanted to build but I was struggling with what steps to take first. The ones that get me to making money aren’t necessarily best for my family (where my husband is in start-up phase with his software development + training company, Augment). I knew I needed an easy first step that would help me grow my skills, interact with people, and keep me engaged in my whole life. So I decided to begin with building up content and applying all that I know about stress + high performance to the audience I want to serve – creatives, bloggers, + business owners. In some ways I’m just doing something to get myself started. But it’s purposeful and on track with where I want to be headed.

 

The “just do something” mindset often leaves us spinning our wheels because we have no real confirmation that what we’re doing is going to get us where we want to go — and when we meet failure, we don’t know how to respond to it.

 

In contrast, planned out steps give you an anchor for when you come up against a difficult problem or you don’t get the intended results. You can go back and assess whether you missed a key piece of information or not. And you can remind yourself that building a long-lasting business does not happen overnight. When you have confidence in your path you can leave space for how long the journey actually takes and how much energy it requires.

 

 

What do I do?

 
  • Take notice – are you blindly jumping from task to task hoping it all leads up to a long-lasting business?
  • Remind yourself of your why + your goals
  • Remind yourself that you are capable of building a consistent + successful business.
  • Start researching the big ideas of a successful business. You’ve reached some level of success because you’ve got skills in your niche area but if you want to expand the strategy.
  • Consider hiring a business coach or strategist to help you get familiar with the principles of business + apply them to your direct context.
Categories
Mindfulness and Cognitive Science Neurobiology and Behavior Raising Capable Kids

3 things you should know when you work with people

We all want the people around us to leave satisfied. When you work with people, whether personally or professionally, there are a few basic characteristics of human nature that you need to keep in mind.

 

Around here, I’m subject to the needs of tiny people. Tiny people who don’t think the same way I do. Because they are tiny (read: they have an undeveloped brain, lack a lot of knowledge on how the world works, and have very little life experience).

 

You might be subject to the needs of your clients and maybe even your own tiny people. I empathize. Working with and amongst other people is one of the best parts of life – there is so much we can do together. It’s also really tough work. We get in our own way when we forget that we are all different, with different levels of understanding and different life experiences. And we forget that those differences are a good thing.

 

With your clients, you are more knowledgable + experienced in the skills and cluster of concepts surrounding your craft. Their lack of understanding is not wrong (it’s why they are paying you). As the professional, learning to read your clients and probe for their level of understanding + how they feel about the experience is essential. How else can you ensure they are having the best experience possible and will LOVE the outcome after working with you??

When you work with clients, you need to know a few things about how the average person works. Save yourself the headache and read these 3 facts about people. More at http://alisanelson.co

 

 

A few things to be aware of when you work with people:

  1. How we feel about something often matters the most
  2. We all have blind spots
  3. Most of us have control issues

 

Now let’s look a little closer at each of these.
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How we feel about something often matters the most

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The part of our brain that controls emotion – the limbic system – often overrides our logic + reasoning. This is the “I do what I don’t want and what I want I don’t do” conundrum. We have to expect the people around us have this same issue. Your clients may react a certain way or have a gut feeling about your work that they can’t articulate better than “I don’t like it.” Their level of self-awareness will determine how they handle this experience. This is HUGE because it’s here that distance starts to creep between you and your client. What they need is for you to use your knowledge + experience to help them process that gut feeling into a more helpful form of feedback.

 

You may be able to proactively give your clients the information and language they need to provide helpful feedback. With Grace and Gold does a great job of this with their blog. Recently, I got a lot of value from this post on color theory where they gave me the language to describe how color schemes make me feel.

 

Whether it is before a client books or in the midst of working with them, give your clients the language they need to effectively work with you. The better their tools for communicating their needs, the better they will feel about the experience.

 

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We all have blind spots

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As a mom, I get the opportunity to ease the stress of trying to understand everything at once. When my kids are crabby, tugging on me, or struggling to control their bodies, they don’t really know why. Their brains still have a lot of developing to do and so much of their world is new – all they know is they want what they want NOW.
I call these my children’s blind spots (actually, I just came up with that while writing and really liked it. So now I’m going with it).
As un-PC as this may sound, your clients are the same way. If we think about your skills on a scale of developmental stages, your clients are most likely novice level. They don’t know why they are hyperfocusing on the perfect shade of peach – they just know something is wrong and they want what they want NOW.

You can step in to your clients’ blind spots. Just as I have to have a mental list of my children’s needs, so must you. Take stock of your experience – where are the gaps most often popping up for your clients? My photographer friend, Kirsten of K Solberg Photography, sends out a prep email before a shoot with important tips and reminders. Prior to a styled shoot I did with her, she eased stress I didn’t know I had by providing details on what I should do to prepare. All I had to do was show up because she didn’t expect me to operate in my blind spots. (And I didn’t even throw a tantrum!) This is why I LOVE working with her and recommend her to anyone who asks.

 

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Most of us have control issues

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As humans we have a basic need for certainty. In survival terms, that’s security in the sufficiency of people and resources around us. In our modern world, it also includes fulfilled expectations. The best way to ensure certainty is to personally control the situation, right? Especially where we feel most vulnerable. Like our wedding day or our brand identity.

 

Anyone relying on another person is going to feel vulnerable – and most (just because I can’t confidently say all) will be tempted to try to control the situation. Think micromanaging. So those emails you get late at night with more questions, instructions, or another “I changed my mind!” (while frustrating) are most likely data: your client is struggling with an expectation that feels very, very important. And they are having trouble handing it over to you.

 

Following the previous tips, you can increase certainty by preparing your clients with accurate expectations + anticipating where they might have trouble. In addition, setting guidelines for your clients can reduce their uncertainty. For example, there is a commonly recurring tip to set business hours. This protects you from the stress of answering emails as soon as they come in (at 11pm) but also, when stated, give your clients certainty of when they can reach you and when to expect a reply. In our culture with so many things vying for our attention, it becomes common practice to over communicate because we expect we are being ignored or forgotten.

 

Lastly, while the extra work can be frustrating, remember that it’s a big part of your job to build trust with your clients. That’s a whole other blog post so I’ll leave it at a specific tip: schedule a call or in-person meeting with them. Actively demonstrate that you want to hear them and address their concerns. This doesn’t mean you are bending to every demand – it actually shows confidence to proactively engage a difficult client. By meeting with them, you get the opportunity to convey confidence in your abilities and also probe more for their expectations (so you can give them a more accurate outlook or adjust your plan).

 

—-

 

You get the pleasure of spending your time and effort on a better human experience for the people around you. That’s not an easy task but it is a worthy task. Keep these characteristics in mind and build systems that decrease uncertainty for your clients.

 

So let’s hear from you.

  • What’s your favorite way to improve client experience?
  • What blind spots are you covering?
  • Whose doing it well? (I’d love to get more examples of creative girlbosses rocking their client experiences!)

 

Categories
Mindfulness and Cognitive Science

4 steps for in the moment mindset shifts

Once we see the thing that’s really bothering us, how do we move on? It’s hard enough to figure out what’s really going on underneath…what’s the next step? It continues to be a long road of practice for me – to take the useful step of progress as I grow in my various responsibilities rather than wasting my energy getting angry over how I’m not perfect yet. A progress over perfection mindset is essential once you start to grow your level of self-awareness.

 

You "know" what you're supposed to do and say but what do you do when you freak out, feel anxious, and struggle to think clearly? Here are 4 steps for in the moment mindset shifts including a real-life example of that time I lost my cool over some frozen spaghetti squash. More at: http://alisanelson.co

I was given 4 big + beautiful spaghetti squash. Then I forgot them in my car and they froze solid.

While running errands with my kids I started feeling myself getting angry – snapping at Frey for talking so much (ummm, she’s 3. Cool it, mom?). We were already at our destination by the time I realized it was the “THUNK, THUNK” of the frozen spaghetti squash in my trunk that was grating on me. Resonating sounds of my failure to be a good housewife.

 

Making mistakes makes me angry. My daughter’s mistakes make me angry. I get angry over being angry. I don’t want to need help and I definitely don’t want to need Jesus.

 

Since I want to override this frame of mind, I need a repeatable formula of sorts that I can walk through with predictable success. I thought I would share it with you since I know I’m not the only one who struggles to keep a progress over perfection perspective!

 

 

Here’s a few things I do to shift my mindset toward progress over perfection:

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I describe what I’m doing out loud

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Most of the time verbalizing what’s going on exposes my silly expectations. It also helps me see the real problem I need to solve –

  • “I am mad at myself for letting the squash freeze. I wanted to do a good job here and from my viewpoint, I now have to cook all of them right when they thaw or throw them away. I did this last year and I didn’t like the taste. I’m frustrated that I didn’t do this right…again.”

I’m usually saying this to my daughter if I’ve been snapping at her – maybe not all of it but a simple explanation to emphasize “it’s not you, it’s me.”

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I point out the silly parts and get perspective

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I honestly don’t like silver lining. I like where reality meets undeserved kindness. As entrepreneurs running a start up, being good stewards of our resources feels like it needs to be perfect. There are consequences to my forgetfulness and I don’t want to gloss over that simply because “self-love.” Instead, I want to practice seeing my mistakes the same way the Lord sees them –

  • “Frozen squash is a bummer but it’s silly to be angry about it. I made a mistake. In this case, the consequences are not dire. Lord, I’m thankful that the consequences here are manageable. I’m thankful for the chance to see how my mistakes impact my attitude towards my kids. I’m thankful that you continue to give us more than enough and that it’s up to you to sustain my family – not me. “

I for sure talk about this with my daughter because when I know she sees my struggle with trying to control everything, I sure as hell want her to see me seeking repentance for it. This is based on my understanding of Paul’s call for us to live sober-minded. I don’t need silver lining to love myself, I need perspective on how deeply the Father loves me and how he can use even this to sanctify my heart and transform me to be more like Christ.

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I repent

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Since repentance isn’t necessarily clear, here’s an example of what it looks like for me based on my understanding from Scripture and specific teaching I’ve had from pastors –

  • “Lord, I made this about me. I chose to believe that caring for my family is a heavy burden that I bear alone. I chose to believe you are insufficient. Out of that belief I became angry at those you have entrusted to me. I want to turn from that belief, to rest in your sustaining power and the grace that is mine because of what Jesus did. Thank you for your continued forgiveness of my pride and thank you for this sign of grace – this opportunity to practice believing you are who you say you are and you will continue to sanctify my heart.”

I also ask Freyda to forgive me for yelling / giving silly commands / lacking grace with her. We’ve practiced this quite a bit and she seems to understand. {This part is super hard for me because sometimes I still feel justified in the yelling I did – maybe she was actually doing something wrong and I feel anxious that if I am the one apologizing, she will think she was the license to disobey. Praying for better understanding of grace here. Parenting is super hard, man.}

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We cuddle, tickle, and be silly

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I have seriously cuddly children. Especially if we’ve been disconnected lately (mom’s been short-tempered), they seek out a lot of physical touch. Which is super tough if I’m still struggling with why I’m angry. By God’s grace this process softens my heart. In the instance of running errands, I pull Frey up to the front seat for a squeeze and some giggle time and make extra effort in the store to engage her (+Arthur) in our shopping. Big idea here: I’m conscious of my children’s love languages and I’m staying present with them in the post-repentence period. For me, it helps me to keep praying and rejoicing in grace which in turn helps me exude love + respect + kindness to my kids rather than going right back into short-tempered.

Sometimes I wonder if I am trying to make up for my yelling – which I don’t want to do. So I’m usually also thinking consciously about what grace looks like in these moments. Frey is usually wanting to do different things to errands more fun and I aim to stay focused on our parenting big ideas – saying yes as much as possible from a heart of grace and also from an understanding of what I really want my parenting to look like. For example, we don’t get treats because we have treats at home. In certain stores she stays in the cart because the aisles are narrow. We giggle and she helps open the fridge doors or helps put items in the cart because that’s how we do family together.

Categories
Mindfulness and Cognitive Science Neurobiology and Behavior

When vulnerability makes you feel like crap

Sometimes, self-awareness reminds us that we are not as awesome as we wanted to believe.

 

I have a very specific tell in group settings – a typical behavior that indicates when I am feeling self-conscious. After sharing something or posing a question, I quickly take a drink of whatever I have in front of me…even if the cup is actually empty. Because my worth is, at times, wrapped up in the thoughts and reactions of the people around me, it is shame-inducing to try to measure up and be found wanting. Even if it’s by my own (mostly ridiculous) standards + assessments. So I try to hide myself behind an empty coffee cup.

 

Discovering and digging down to the root of this tell is one instance where increasing my self-awareness really sucked. I didn’t want to know the amount of shame I experience on a daily basis. I didn’t want to know how much I didn’t like myself (and that that’s a big reason I was (/ am) so judgmental).

 

Self-awareness is about getting to know ourselves so we can begin to influence our behavior. And that includes all the stuff we’ve been avoiding – like the real reason we want to lose weight or succeed in business or have well-behaved kids. We don’t always come out looking pretty when we really get down to the underlying beliefs that shape what we do.

 

 

Vulnerability is a skill. Brene Brown tells us it's essential to the creative process but what do you do when that "process" leaves you feeling awful? Seeing yourself as you are - someone who always has room to grow - requires remembering these three things. You got this, girlboss. More at: http://alisanelson.co

I’ve recently been going through another bout of lightbulb moments shedding light on my habitual behavior that brings up a lot of not-enjoyable feelings. I’m going to give you 3 reminders (based on primary research) today that I look back on during these stressful experiences. I hope they can serve you when you start feeling all those hard emotions and you’re tempted to get rid of them any way you can.

 

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The better you know yourself, the better your decision-making

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Recently my sister applied for a job. She walked into the business and introduced herself to the manager explaining she had sent in her application online. The manager then told her it was a system error – they weren’t actually hiring. When I talked to her later she told me how she felt stupid for making the mistake. However, in terms of job hunting, she did what she was supposed to – she put herself out there to make a personal connection with the person who might hire her. Turned out she had the wrong information – but why should she feel ashamed over that?

 

When we know our own tendencies – our internal beliefs of unworthiness or expectations of personal perfectection or never being an inconvenience – we can identify moments quickly when we start to hide from the world. My sister had enough self-awareness to identify that she was feeling stupid for making a mistake. She could have blindly walked into a really unproductive day but instead she recognized the hard emotion and subsequently was able to move on. I’ll talk about the one other really good thing she did in a couple minutes.

 

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Your brain chemistry gives you a genuine capacity for hope

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Self-awareness enables you to identify signs of stress. When you can sense or predict a stressful moment, you can decide how you will respond. Battling feelings of unworthiness or shame is very stressful. Soon after making a social blunder you can find me snapping at my kids or deflecting all conversation with really bad jokes. But it doesn’t have to be this way – we hold within ourselves (literally) a genuine capacity for hope, optimism, and peace and we can bring it out during times of stress.

 

In this case, I’m talking about serotonin. (Seriously, the body is so cool). Neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine can be released in the brain during times of stress to help us manage the stress in an effective way. These chemicals are responsible for feelings of happiness and wellbeing. Let me explain by simulation:

 

Remember the tell I mentioned? I finally told people about it. In a group of around 15 women (some are close friends) when I was supposed to be leading a discussion about body image, I caught myself going for my empty coffee cup. And right there I told everyone that I do it when I feel inadequate. I was laughing about it but it was terrifying to admit. And I kept reaching for my cup. But now that the “tell” was out in the open, I had the support I needed to sit in the feelings of imperfection. Throughout the conversation I received a lot of those blessed “me too’s” and also a lot of affirmation that the thoughts I had in my head and that feeling of inadequacy just weren’t true. So even though I still feel them when I talk in a group, I can counter the emotions with my own response where I choose to not believe I am less worthy or valuable as a person and where I choose to focus on my capacity for growth.

 

So when you are feeling all those hard feelings because you started paying attention to the way you react to the world around you, you can simultaneously feel hope and joy. The Bible tells us the same thing – and the reason for it is the same too. When our identities are rooted in something other than our performance, we can get frustrated by our mistakes without getting the wind knocked out of us. We can continue to hope for a better outcome in the future and maintain our joy because we know that our underperformance does not alienate us.

 

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You are wired for human connection

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Vulnerability is difficult. And admitting to yourself and to others that you feel shame or unworthiness is definitely vulnerable. But we are wired for human connection. Something amazing happens when we reach out. There is a hormone, known as oxytocin, that is released during times of intimacy between two people – sex, breastfeeding, birth, and during times of stress are a few of these instances. It is released in the brain and promotes feelings of wellbeing, trust, and generosity.

 

Research has shown that in some people, simply writing a letter to a trusted friend or family member increases oxytocin levels and brings about feelings of wellbeing. From personal experience, bringing trusted people in on the story playing in my head, while frightening, gives me what I need to take action or release the grip of shame.

 

In my story about my anxiety in a group setting, once I told those I was with, I still kept reaching for my cup. But in the midst of it, I could make eye contact with a friend and though the compulsion was still present, I could sit with it and be reminded again that I didn’t need to hide. The compulsion is much weaker now – and I’ve also improved in my ability to hear and process my need to growth in clear communication. =)

 

Similarly, with my sister, she reached out to me after the hiring mix up and that gave me the opportunity to remind her she did everything she should have done given the information she had – in fact, she did a vulnerable thing in putting herself out there. We were able to walk through the result together because when she felt the hard feelings, she didn’t just let them roll around in her head and heart passively. She processed them effectively.

 

 

Prior art:

Brene Brown researches the impact of shame on relationships and the non-obvious antidote – vulnerability.

Dr. Shelley Taylor has done monumental work over the past 30 years to uncover how our brain chemistry impacts our social lives.

Categories
Mindfulness and Cognitive Science

5 benefits of cultivating self-awareness

Let’s talk about why self-awareness is worth your very precious time and energy. What does someone with a lot on their plate get out of it?

 

When I first began learning about mindfulness and the benefits of self-awareness it felt a little too good to be true. I aim to spend my time (always a practice) following Pareto’s Law (the 80/20 principle) – and here before me I have a clear habit that seems to not only make it into the 20% of my personal endeavors but of multiple domains across the personal and professional spectrum.

 

Below I’m going to get down into just 5 benefits that self-awareness brings with practice. This is certainly not all of them, nor will it be a complete explanation of why they come out of self-awareness (that’s a very long post – trust me, I tried it).

Let’s get into it.

 

Self-awareness and mindfulness are more than just feel-good. They change your brain + the way you respond in the moment to setbacks and uncertainty. Read on for 5 benefits of cultivating self-awareness in your personal + business life. More at: http://alisanelson.co

5 Benefits of self-awareness

The 5 benefits I’m highlighting today build on each other. It’s one of those things that I realized as I looked back over their effects on my life – there is a progression that happens when we begin to ask why about our behavior and peel away the layers.

 

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Benefit 1 – Freedom from fear

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Freedom from fear isn’t the abolition of fear but a choice to do something even when fear is present. How could we possibly choose to do something when our brains are telling us it’s dangerous to our survival? Self-awareness. You’ve likely experienced this even on an unconscious level – you’re interested in performance and growth, right? At some point along the way you have felt afraid and decided to move forward anyway.

 

Fear is a natural occurrence. We share it with other animals – a natural instinct to avoid anything that appears to be a threat. As humans, we are capable of higher thinking than instincts. Therefore we can take action based on knowledge of the system we are in rather than an instinctual avoidance of pain. Fear doesn’t just go away – our brains still send signals to indicate threat. And there are certainly instances when we need to react blindly to those signals – like when our brains discern a snake in the path before we have consciously seen it.

 

What self-awareness allows is for greater independence from our fear in our decision-making. From here we can grow and expand our areas of comfort as we make strategic choices to nudge forward in the direction of our dreams.

 

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Benefit 2 – Freedom from procrastination

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Building on top of the first benefit we’re going to talk about procrastination.  We all have those tasks that just sit on our to-do lists. Some are, of course, just not important or urgent enough (and we’ll talk about those momentarily) but others are important and yet they sit there. Why?

 

Asking why gives you back the power over your behavior. Maybe it’s just really not that important – then move it off your to-do list. Maybe it is important but you don’t have all the pieces – then make the action item about getting the missing pieces (or pass it off to someone else). Fear is another huge reason we procrastinate – freeing yourself from the reaction fear brings will help you get the clarity you need to take action and move forward.

 

Self-awareness helps you to value your time and energy appropriately. The natural next step once you have that is more care in how you make decisions about spending your time and energy. For example, I grew up getting beef from my grandparent’s farm. And while this made it very normal to enjoy a steak on a semi-regular basis (there were 7 of us…) we grew up knowing that we had it really good. The beef we had was very valuable – and treated as such. Now, as an adult, I still get beef from my grandparents. And we savor the steak – even when we eat it in a normal, everyday meal. We’ve assigned a certain level of value and our behavior matches because we are aware of the value.

 

You should treat your time and energy like a nice cut of beef. (How’s that for wisdom from a housewife?)

 

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Benefit 3 — Greater resilience

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It takes effort to actively remember the value you’ve attributed to your time and energy. In the face of a painful situation – like getting your idea shot down by your boss or receiving tactless negative feedback from a client – our gut reaction is to escape the moment. You go back to your desk and start clicking through the internet or you throw up an angry rant on Facebook. Brene Brown studies and writes about shame and vulnerability. She calls these kinds of habits “armoring up” against vulnerability (showing up and putting ourselves out there when the outcome is uncertain). A couple ways we armor up are by numbing (clicking through the internet) or by perfectionism (including getting angry when things don’t go the way we expected or highlight imperfection).
[Comedian Louis C.K. has a great bit about our fear of being alone – you can watch it here.]

 

So how does self-awareness play in here? Instead of numbing or perfectionism, self-awareness invites curiosity, investigation, and action. It offers the opportunity to put painful experiences into perspective. Why did it hurt so bad when your boss rejected your idea? Maybe it’s because your goal was attention and prestige. Or maybe it’s because the idea came from a deeper desire or dream you have for the world. Getting curious (as Brown calls it) gives you the chance to better understand your true motivations and put them up against your values – to see how this piece fits into the bigger story. Asking why lets you decide consciously if this moment is worth your time and energy and allocating both resources accordingly to take the appropriate action – action that inspires growth. This is resilience – resisting the urge to armor up in the face of vulnerability and instead taking positive action to learn and grow from the experience.

 

As you ask questions and learn about your current habits of avoiding vulnerability, it’s important to keep in mind that these aren’t innate flaws. It’s your brain’s current pattern of self-preservation and it just needs some fine tuning. This leads into the next benefit of self-awareness.

 

 

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Benefit 4 — Habits

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Habits form by repeated action. Your brain uses insulation of neurons (action called myelination) to strengthen any action or thought you have over and over again. A habit might be “when I’m bored, I chew on my fingernails” or it might be the exact movements a pro tennis player makes to perform a backhand.

 

There are various strategies for both the weakening of neuron connections and the strengthening. Self-awareness makes both possible. You see, our brains have a lot of responsibilities. So they like to be able to shift into autopilot and they don’t much like change. Thankfully, as with fear, we are capable of overcoming that characteristic of our brains and change anyway. So cool, right?

 

Self-awareness gives us the opportunity to weaken the habits we don’t like so much (after over 20 years of nail biting, I’m a changed woman!) and strengthen the habits we want (systematic practice of all the little movements that play into a perfect back hand).

 

Bonus :: Applying knowledge of the system also makes some habits come without much effort – paying attention to the right things gives you a snowball effect. I love the brain.

 

 

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Benefit 5 — Fruitful response to stress

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Stress happens. We hear over and over again that we need to reduce our stress levels – and in some cases, yes! please stop rushing around everywhere at 100 mph. But stress is also a part of life and a very beautiful biological response to our environment. What we need is a more fruitful response to our stress – one that works for us instead of against us.

 

There are 3 different stress responses – the classic (1) fight-or-flight response to stress; the (2) challenge response; and the (3) tend-and-befriend response. These involve slight differences in chemistry and extreme changes in your behavioral response to stressful situations. Self-awareness lets you pick which one you will go with because as you observe yourself begin to experience stress (or you anticipate it) you can override the automatic reaction (1) and go with (2) or (3) depending on what’s appropriate. We’ll dive deeper into these alternative routes but that is beyond the scope of this post for the time being. I highly recommend Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk (watch it here).

 

The point is, when you have a developed sense of your feelings, thoughts, and desires you can choose how you react to the environment as it shifts around you. With greater control of your internal environment, you spend less time getting shifted around by the changing winds. You become steadfast in your direction personally and professionally.

 

Each of these benefits come through the effort of getting to know yourself. Now you’re starting to get a picture of how self-awareness places itself within the vital 20% of the work of your life. Each of these benefits expands your capacity to do work and if your capacity is greater, your likelihood of success is greater. I will spend time exploring each of these benefits more in-depth over the next several months.
How can you begin to move toward these benefits? Check out the sign posts I describe in this post. They are super easy entry points to greater self-awareness.