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Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Effective strategies to stop the worry cycle
Worry is, sadly, an inevitability of life. Bad things are bound to happen, and the natural human reaction is to think about the negative consequences that could potentially arise.
However, worry is rarely productive—“it’s something we do over and over again, without much resolution, and it’s typically of the worst-case scenario of the future,” explains Jason Moser, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University, who has conducted studies on worry.
“There’s always an element of uncertainty, always an element of catastrophe,” he tells HuffPost. Unlike fear, which has a more pin-pointable source (like a spider on the wall), people worry over “an amorphous, future uncertain threat—something bad that might happen.”
While the research isn’t clear on the extent to which people are predisposed to worry, it is clear that there are some personality types that are more linked to worrying than others. Neuroticism seems to be tied to worrying, for instance, as is general intolerance of uncertainty, Moser says. And while everyone worries from time to time, it is possible to worry so much that it starts to have a noticeable impact on your daily life.
But even if you are a worrier, you’re not doomed—there are a number of effective strategies that worriers can use to stop the cycle. Moser and Christine Purdon, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist, professor and executive director of the Centre for Mental Health Research at the University of Waterloo, shared some of the most effective habits and strategies for squelching worry, as well as some common traits shared by people who aren’t bogged down by it:
They focus on the present.
Perhaps one of the biggest differences between worriers and non-worriers is the ability to stay in the present, and not get bogged down by things that have yet to happen. Purdon calls it a “worry chain”—the idea that one worry will spur a “what if,” which spurs another worry and another “what if,” and so on. Non-worriers are able to look at a problem and recognize what solution needs to be implemented, “but a worrier isn’t able to get that kind of distance,” she explains. “The mind goes a lot faster.”
For instance, say your son comes home with a bad grade. If you’re a worrier, you might then worry that this will cause your son to fail the class, which will then impair him from getting into college. However, if you’re a non-worrier, you’ll realize that the immediate issue at hand is just that your son needs to study harder in this particular class—and that’s that. “I’m able to say, ‘He usually does really well, he’s smart, he’s dedicated, he’ll be fine; this is a blip, not a pattern,’” Purdon says. Whereas when worriers become anxious, their “intentional focus narrows to threat cues. They can get themselves very anxious very quickly.”
They practice mindfulness.
Because staying in the present is so fundamental to squashing worry, practicing mindfulness can help you to steer focus away from a hypothetical issue that could develop down the road. “It keeps you in the here and now and it helps you be more aware of your thoughts,” Purdon says.
And therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy, can also help worriers stop the negative cycle, since they focus “on the idea of not wrestling and disconfirming the worries, but getting people to focus on their life and values and focus on the present moment so they can make decisions,” Moser adds.
Their brains actually function differently in a worry-inducing event.
Moser recently had a study come out in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, showing that the brains of worriers and non-worriers actually work differently in a stressful event. For the study, Moser and his colleagues had 71 female study participants answer surveys that indicated whether they were generally positive thinkers or negative thinkers/worriers. Then, the participants looked at negative images—such as a woman having a knife held to her throat by a masked man—as their brain activity was monitored and recorded.
Moser found that the brains of the positive thinkers were less active than those of the negative thinkers/worriers. In fact, “the worriers actually showed a paradoxical backfiring effect in their brains when asked to decrease their negative emotions,” he explained in a statement. “This suggests they have a really hard time putting a positive spin on difficult situations and actually make their negative emotions worse even when they are asked to think positively.”
They’re more willing to take chances.
While worriers have a hard time making decisions—they take a long time because they can become crippled by all the potential negative outcomes—non-worriers are more willing to test out solutions to a problem even if a bad outcome is possible, Moser says. In that same vein, non-worriers are also more flexible in the way they think about things, so they don’t get stuck in a negative thinking rut.
They have a sense of perspective.
Non-worriers are able to distance themselves from a situation in order to gain perspective. However, worriers can increase their perspective, Moser explains. One method for doing this is thinking of all the worst possible scenarios, and then evaluating how likely each of them is to really happen. For example: If a worrier is concerned about losing her job, she may jump to the worst-case scenario, which is that she will end up living under a bridge, homeless and alone. But Moser says that talking a worrier through a scenario like this helps her understand how unlikely that outcome is to happen.
Moser suggests another simple strategy to gain perspective: Using your own name instead of “I” when referring to your emotions. For instance, saying “I’m going to fail” is harsh and doesn’t allow any distance between you and the thing you’re worried about. But “if you talk about yourself in the third person, you can take better perspective,” Moser says.
They get to the root of their worry.
The problem with worrying is that it can spin out of control until the thing you’re worried about is 10 steps removed from your immediate issue. That’s why it’s so important to figure out what the real problem is in order to stop the worry cycle.
“When I work with worriers, I try to work on them with problem identification, and to help them be comfortable doing that,” Purdon says. “Yes, there are some problems that could lead to something else, but [let’s] not worry about that right now because it’s not happening right now.”
It’s important to move from problem-generation, which is what worriers are prone to do, to problem-solving. “Worriers think what they’re doing is constructive—that by anticipating [the future problems], it’s helpful in some way,” Purdon says. “It’s reasonable, to some extent, to do that, but they can’t stop themselves once they get started.”
Monday, April 14, 2014
Create your own reality
It may sound crazy, but I believe all of us are familiar with what it means to be a stalker. Many of you probably think about (and hopefully do not relate to) the hiding-out, binoculars around the neck, creeper-style stalking that results in restraining orders or imprisonment. Perhaps on an even lesser scale, you may shamefully contemplate the hours you spent stalking the online pictures of your long-lost middle school crush that just friended you on Facebook. Regardless of these two stereotypical stalker types, I hope you will consider a new definition of stalking—a stalking of yourself and your career, that will challenge you to pursue your passions fearlessly, shamelessly and obsessively.
Stalking your career really means stalking your inner passions, your fire within and the talents you have and then blending those within a career. Unfortunately, for many of you, the word “career” evokes feelings of utter panic. “Career” has morphed into a new definition of entrapment, leaving post-grads feelings stuck, imprisoned to their nine to five jobs that mean nothing to them. For our entire lives, our teachers, parents, and society itself has trained us to believe that after college our sole purpose is to find a career that leaves us financially stable. We may have had inspirational mentors here and there that paid lip service to the importance of us pursuing our passions, but now that college is over, you may find that you do not so much as have an idea of what we’d like to do. The sky doesn’t really seem to be the limit any longer because we are paralyzed by our fears of failure. But, now is not the time for fear. It is time for us to all shed our inhibitions, throw caution to the wind and find out what really drives us to wake up in the morning. In my book entitled, The Secret to Finding Passion in Your Career, I believe whole-heartedly when I proclaim that, “They (teachers, parents, society) may have been right or wrong, but now it is up to you to begin creating the reality in which you can live the life your inner nature requires you to live.”
Once you have an idea of what interests you, search for people who are using your same passions in a career and stalk them. Don’t follow them around and actually stalk them, but use them to build up an understanding of possible careers you could obtain and let them become a part of a system of networking you have for your future career as well. Never disregard or refuse a conversation with someone. It’s not all about who you know, but all about who you are willing to get to know. Connections are vital in not only helping you gain opportunities in the future, but also giving you a wide range of knowledge pertaining to how to apply your passions in the working world. Investigate their jobs for things that may interest you or spark you to use your passions similarly. Be aware of who you’re meeting everywhere you go. You may be at a boring Christmas party with all of your parent’s seemingly lame friends or standing in line at the grocery store, but talk to everyone and find ways to give value to them. Welcome the exchange that is possible when you give and gain insight from those around you, a reciprocation that will naturally evolve into your personal growth in your specific field.
Once you have begun to seek out your passion in a specific career, pursue these opportunities relentlessly and creatively. It is hard to get a job in this economy, any job, and the lowest jobs are the hardest, because there are so many people applying. So, whether you’re applying as a barista at Starbucks or as a high-level executive at a marketing firm, keep in mind that you must act creatively in order to be remembered and gain any type of competitive edge over the sea of applicants. Just as you can imagine, it is always more effective to have face-to-face conversations with people than a virtual one, so always opt to hand in a hardcopy resume or have a real life interview with a future employer over simply e-mailing your resume or having a phone interview. When face-to-face is not an option, add a picture to your resume since, “a memorable picture and a nice smile equals competitive advantage.” Most importantly, be patient and stay persistent—and recognize that it may take time before you see the fruit of your labor (pun intended).
Today, even right now, let yourself daydream a bit. What do you love to do? Explore your passions freely. No answer is wrong, no occupation unreasonable, no dream unrealistic. Believe in yourself and believe in your own unique journey. Your life does not and should not look the same as the next person. Your career and vocation ought to align specifically to your heart, your talents, your skills and your interests. Although many will travel the world and start their own businesses, “You don’t need to run around the world and start a business ... It is about being who you are and living life in that expression.” Let yourself think, remember, and discover what you love and what you want out of life and relentlessly stalk that passion.
I remember the first job I ever applied for in an office during one summer in college. The job, a personal assistant, required that I have proficiency answering phones, filing paperwork alphabetically, making coffee, and using a copier. Having no past experience in an office, I confidently applied with my high school diploma, a few college courses, and somewhat tech-savvy skills under my belt. I mean, I knew my ABCs and I knew I could figure out how to transfer calls on a phone. I disregarded the fact that I had never once in my life made coffee or copies recognizing that I had no chance at being hired unless I beefed up my skills since my work experience consisted of babysitting. I showed up to the interview in my best workplace attire, exaggerated a bit, and obtained the job using charisma and a somewhat inflated resume. The evening before my first day, I resorted to YouTube videos on “How to Brew a Cup of Coffee” and “How to Use a Standard Copier” to teach me how to be a PA and life on the job turned out to be a breeze.
Monday, April 14, 2014
Networking Commandments for New Grads
Networking has become a crucial part of pursuing a career—and it makes sense: many jobs are never posted anywhere and are filled through recommendations and people who know someone who knows someone. Finding a job is mainly about who you know and who knows what about you.
But what if you are moving to a new city or want to change careers and don’t know anyone and nobody who matters knows you? Networking becomes exponentially harder—but not impossible. The bad news: You have to start from scratch. The good news: You have to start from scratch.
A fresh start means that you have nothing to lose. You cannot only try a new haircut and outfits, no; you can try new elevator pitches and new ways to start conversations with strangers.
Making a Fresh Start
Once you have made the decision to change careers or move to your favorite city you have to make a plan. Know what you want and what you need to do to get there. Memorize a clear and concise elevator pitch and don’t be afraid to pitch it even if you live on the first floor.
The Internet will be your new best friend. Living in a time dominated by Social Media, new contacts or at least information are often just a few clicks, links, pokes and tweets away—so before you start your journey to becoming a Networqueen, you have to do some homework.
Update your resume and your online presence so they represent you and your (new) goals. Google yourself and see what future employers will find—make sure your online presence complements your professional appearance.
Master the delicate art of bragging—after all, if you don’t talk about yourself, who will? Don’t be arrogant but be proud of your achievements and make sure people know about them. You don’t have to rent a billboard, but casually mentioning your fabulousness will work wonders.
Follow potential future employers on LinkedIn and Twitter and like them on Facebook. That way, you will not only get information and updates easily, you will also have the chance to get in touch: You can like their posts, retweet or make comments. Don’t go overboard but like, link and follow with low-key determination.
Update your LinkedIn profile. Including a professional and current photo). LinkedIn is a great tool to initiate contact and become visible for future employers, recruiters and your friends who all have their own network. Join groups and participate in discussions buy only follow a handful of groups so you can make quality contributions.
Tweet. Twitter is an easy way to start communicating with strangers. The conversation might not go beyond a couple of tweets, but at least you will have a name or a topic to casually mention if you apply for a job at that company.
Let your network know. Look through your (online and offline) address book, send out a short email about your plans and ask your friends if they have any advice. Tell them that you would appreciate it if they could keep their eyes and ears open: It’s amazing how often seemingly “random” people know someone who might be crucial to your job search. You can send them the link to your LinkedIn profile or attach a short profile so they know what you are looking for.
Ask for advice. People love to talk about themselves. If you ask a friend or someone you admire about their experience, they will most always be willing to help you. Tell them how you got their name or email address so they don’t think you’re stalking or spamming them.
Volunteer. If you lack experience in your field, start volunteering and take small steps, such as starting a blog. In some areas it’s easier to volunteer or keep yourself busy in your spare time—but a unique and creative approach will definitely get people talking and open doors.
Socialize. Attend networking events, seminars or conferences; join clubs or associations. You will meet new people, get new opportunities and have a chance to wear all your new dresses. And it really can’t hurt.
Monday, April 14, 2014
Be a strategic, optimistic and tenacious full-time job seeker
Whether the target is a retail job on Main Street or an executive-level job in the C-suite, stress is still high among long-frustrated job seekers. There’s no shortage of fingers pointing at potential culprits. Depending on your politics, it could be the House, the Senate, Obamacare or presidents who have long left Washington, D.C.
When you’re worried about making ends meet today—and unable to even think about the financial security you’ll need through decades of retirement—it’s easy to blame everyone and everything for your misfortune. The fact is, though, that job seekers are not powerless victims of an economy that has volatile fits and starts.
The reality is that strategic, optimistic and tenacious full-time job seekers do find jobs. The more lackadaisical, defeated, angry, once-in-a-while job seekers do not.
So many job seekers need to hear this—including a 22-year-old recent college grad who is waitressing in Washington, D.C. I read about this young woman in a Business Week article, “You Can Have Any Job You Want As Long As It’s Waitress”. She is not in her desired line of work—she’s hoping to land a job at a think tank or policy-related organization. I applaud her for not letting her ego get in the way of a paycheck, but I think there are probably some big holes in her job search strategy overall.
My first clue was the fact that this young woman has applied to about 20 companies with “minimal response.” Job search pessimists would read this and say, “Well of course—it’s an uncertain economy, few employers are hiring and young people are having the hardest time of all.”
But on the job search optimists side, I say that anyone can find a job in any economy. At last count, there are far more than 20 potential employers in Washington, D.C.
So, here are six nuggets of advice for this young job seeker—and her brethren at every other age and life stage:
1. Cover the waterfront. In a difficult job market, you can’t limit yourself to the top 10 or 20 “ideal companies” on your wish list. Reach for your ideals, but also consider tier two and three companies that are in your areas of interest. Companies of all shapes and sizes offer resume-worthy experience—and paychecks.
2. Don’t die on the vine waiting for a “response”. Even in the best economic environment job seekers wait and wait and wait while they hear radio silence from companies that have their resumes in hand. Hiring managers are busy and distracted. One follow-up call won’t do the trick. And pursuing only one contact at a company is futile. Through Linkedin, personal connections, friends who work for the company and your alumni network find as many contacts as possible who can rustle up some action and get you an interview.
3. Stop hibernating in the Internet “black hole”. Recognize that many jobs are never advertised and online job boards can be wastelands of old, spoken for or undesirable jobs. In the Business Week article, the job-seeking temporary waitress talked about watching job postings on her alumni web site. The jobs listed on most alumni websites are few and far between. She’s probably checking job postings on a lot of other websites, too. Don’t make her mistake: you’ll find a job through real people, not computers.
4. Consider options other than a permanent full-time job. Employers are guarding headcount and doling out fewer and fewer permanent, full-time jobs. One of the young women interviewed for the Business Week article said she will consider internships—and I say that’s a good idea as long as they are paid. Too many companies are getting free labor while they hang a very small carrot off in the distance that may or may not turn into a paid job. Gravitate more to short or long-term freelance jobs (which are more plentiful as companies adjust to Obamacare) or intermittent project work—both available to job-seekers of any age.
Monday, April 14, 2014
Don’t waste your time
The average job hunt these days is at least four months long. And over one million have been unemployed for one year or more. Following these nine steps should make your job search shorter.
How to Shorten Your Job Search
1.) Have a VERY GOOD answer for the question, “What are you looking for?”
When someone asks you what you are looking for, giving an unfocused or unclear response about what you want squanders a valuable opportunity. People who ask are usually interested in helping you. Help them to help you!
Say, very clearly, “I’m looking for a job as a [list one or two job titles] working for [name a couple of employers or the class of employer]. I’ve been doing [that kind of work] for [however long you’ve been in the field], and I’m good at it [list a major accomplishment or two].”
For example, someone in the Boston area looking for a job as a writer might say this:
“I’m looking for a job as a writer working for a top local media company like The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, or HubSpot. I’ve been writing and editing web content since 1998, and both of my websites have won several awards over the years, including the 2013 Forbes 100 Best Websites for Your Career.”
This may take some time and effort to figure out what you want, but it will be very well worth the time investment!
2.) Don’t job hunt alone.
A job hunt is a tough, discouraging, hard-on-the-ego slog through seemingly endless weeks of rejection. Find a buddy, or join a “job club” or job search support group. Members help each other with resumes and profiles, exchange job leads, and expand networks. The old saying “More heads are better than one” is a cliche because it is so true. Often group members become life-long friends.
And, it’s good to know that you are not the only reasonably smart person who is struggling with a job search.
Look for notices about job clubs in local places of worship, public libraries, the local CareerOneStop centers, MeetUp.com, and elsewhere.
3.) Do at least one face-to-face networking meeting a week.
Sitting at your computer for hours every day can feel very productive, but the best networking is face-to-face. So, step away from the computer, and interact with a live human being.
•Follow up on a LinkedIn introduction or other social media connection.
•Meet a former colleague for coffee or a drink after work.
•Attend a meeting associated with your kid’s school or some other community group.
•Attend an “event” with a speaker and official networking.
Whatever you find, at least once a week, get out of the house and connect with people face-to-face, being sure that you have number one, above, nailed so you can turn those introductions into useful networking opportunities (when asked).
4.) Pay daily attention to LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is the happy hunting ground for recruiters looking for qualified applicants. It’s also the best “social proof” of who you are and what you’ve done when recruiters and employers look for validation of the facts on your resume or job application.
Complete your LinkedIn Profile so the facts are there for validation, and be active in several LinkedIn Groups to demonstrate your knowledge, grasp of social media for business, and communications skills. Connect with “Open Link” recruiters to get on their radar. Follow your target companies.
5.) Don’t waste your valuable time applying online for jobs that aren’t good fits for you.
Read Before You Apply, Ask 4 Important Questions. Applying for every job you see, regardless of fit, is a waste of time, can damage your reputation with employers, and is very discouraging because most employers have several qualified candidates to choose from.
6.) Customize your resume and cover letter to the specific opportunity.
Applicant tracking systems are merciless screeners. If your resume doesn’t contain the “right keywords”—the ones used in the job description—it won’t be seen by a human being, regardless of how perfectly qualified you might be. This is not something to skip.
At a minimum, add the job title on the job description to your resume (at the top) described as “Target Job Title: [job title]” or “Objective: [job title] at [employer name]”. Create a summary of your relevant qualifications and accomplishments at the top, below the Target Job Title or Objective.
Doing more customization, like matching keywords in your resume with the keywords in the job description, is a very good idea so your resume is found searches of the resume database or applicant tracking system.
Monday, April 14, 2014
Beyond the Basics
Hiring continues to be mercurial, even as the unemployment rate drops. Nevertheless, I see reasons for job seekers to be more hopeful in 2013. Our unemployment statistics are far better than those in most other countries, and many employers say they plan to increase hiring in 2013 (especially for college graduates, which the National Association of Colleges and Employers reports will be up 13 percent, year over year.)
For those still looking for jobs, I’ve collected some advanced job-finding strategies that go beyond the traditional advice. (Note that I said job finding; not job seeking. Let 2013 be the year you identify yourself as a job finder, not an unemployed person.)
Track Your Progress
If you have been in the job market more than a few months, the amount of information you’ve collected could be staggering. If it’s not well organized, you are missing opportunities. Put every bit of data you collect into a format that, at the minimum, lets you structure and sort the data pool. By every bit of data, I mean all of it—every business card you collect; every interesting opening you find; even if the information doesn’t seem pertinent at the time.
A spreadsheet works well for this purpose, but you can also create a table in a word processing program. I offer my clients a Jobsearch Worksheet—a Microsoft Excel file with different worksheets for networking, recruiters, job boards, application status and elevator speeches. It’s currently a free download on my site, and you can customize it to your needs.
In addition, you should also use a calendar tool (Google.com offers one for free) to set reminders so you don’t forget important follow ups. If you are tech-oriented, use one of the free online project management tools, such as Producteev or Mavenlink, for even deeper integration of your contacts, notes, appointments, reminders and more.
Successful business professionals use specialized tools to help them and their teams manage long-term projects, make connections and retain focus over time. Successful job-finders take the same approach.
Put the Word Out
Business cards and websites aren’t only for corporate promotion. First, if you are not already using LinkedIn, sign up now. Also, order a professionally produced “business card” on which you can put a LinkedIn logo and profile name, website address if you have one, and direct contact information such as your phone number and email address. Add your skillsets or a few key, former positions to the reverse. Then, for those occasions when you make an important connection but don’t have the time or opportunity to collect information, have plenty of cards at the ready. Cards are free at places likevistaprint.com but I recommend you pay the extra fee to promote yourself instead of your printer on the backside.
Move Networking into Overdrive
You’ve probably read a dozen articles that tout the value of networking, and for good reason—it works. One of my clients from Boston used networking to move into the top tiers of politics in Georgia. Traditional wisdom says it’s nearly impossible for a Northerner to break into “good-old-boy” politics in the South, but he did it… through determined, focused networking.
No matter how much networking you’ve done, it’s time to accelerate your efforts. If you are not already doing so, look at every interaction as a potential networking opportunity. If you make a connection with parents at your children’s athletic games, school plays or PTA events, for example, don’t hesitate to offer your card and ask them to contact you if they know of job opportunities relevant to your experience. Be brief and respectful, but diligent, and the work will pay off.
Use your data tracker (discussed in the first tip), to search networking data for opportunities you might not have noticed. For example, let’s say you have a great conversation with someone at a networking event in February. You exchange information and put his or her contact data into your tracker. Through an unrelated source, you hear of a perfect job opportunity in May. You can (and should) search your tracker before interaction with the company to look for valuable connections and information. In this case, you’d discover the February connection and could approach the contact for pointers, in advance.
Find Your Relevance
Many of my clients use a period of unemployment to reevaluate their prior direction and priorities. For the some, the result is a determination to find a job that follows their “passion.” The only problem with this approach is that their experience and job skills don’t necessarily translate to that passion very well.
Here’s the good news: with the exception of positions that require highly specialized training and expertise, nearly all of us can find relevance to an industry or position in which we want to work, we just have to look hard enough.
Make an inventory of your skillsets and be sure to consider life experience such as volunteer work and hobbies. If the experience is complex, that’s even better. Did you run the fundraiser for a local charity? Did you organize a bird watching group in your neighborhood? Activities that show drive, initiative and leadership are attractive to every employer.
Next, drill down to the individual tasks you performed, and then look for specific relevance. From project management to public speaking, you’ll be surprised at the experience you’ll find.
Friday, April 11, 2014
Why we should consider the hard truths we mask by staying busy.
How many times have you heard variations on this conversation?
Person A: How’s it going?
Person B: I’m insanely busy. You know, the usual.
Person A: Yeah, me too. I’m scheduling into 2015 already.
Person B: I get it. Haven’t taken a real vacation in over a year.
Person A: Well, gotta count our blessings for being busy, right?
Person B: Amen.
It seems to me that too many of us wear busyness as a badge of honor. I’m busy, therefore I’m important and valuable, therefore I’m worthy. And if I’m not busy, forget it. I don’t matter.
Recently, I hired Anne Davin to help me run my business, and because she’s much kinder to my schedule than I am, I find myself with more free time than I’ve had in decades. Anne reins me in so I don’t bulldoze full steam ahead into new projects that will invariably wind up overcommitting and depleting me. So lately, I have a lot of days on my calendar labeled “Succulent Space Days,” which basically means I’m free to do…whatever.
Because it looks to the outside world like I achieve a lot, people assume I’m insanely busy. But the reality is that, because I have such great support in my professional and personal lives, I have some down time. But down time leaves me uncomfortable. In September, my whole month was blocked out for a PBS station tour that got postponed until December. (You can still check listings for my public TV special here). When that got postponed, I had loads of free time on my calendar. I filled it up by writing a new book.
I guess you could say I’m more than a little uncomfortable with down time.
The Addiction of Crazy-Busy
In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown writes about numbing behaviors that we use as armor against vulnerability. And lest you think numbing doesn’t apply to you, because you’re not hooked on cocaine or alcohol, she clarifies by saying, “One of the most universal numbing strategies is what I call crazy-busy. I often say that when they start having 12-step meetings for busy-aholics, they’ll need to rent out football stadiums. We are a culture of people who’ve bought into the idea that if we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives won’t catch up with us.”
As a culture, we shame people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, but somehow we’ve normalized—we even praise—busyness addiction. But are we really doing ourselves any favors by staying so busy?
Because I suddenly have more down time, I find myself faced with the time to reflect upon my life. But facing my life isn’t always so pretty.
Facing The Truth
When I get off the hamster wheel of busyness, I’m forced to notice what comes up for me when I’m not busy. After I work through the realization that I could be working on my next book or the program I’m launching with Rachel Naomi Remen, or [fill in the “there’s always more” blank], I realize that none of those things must get done today.
What’s left in the silence are the things I don’t necessarily want to look at:
Like my flailing marriage.
Or the fact that I feel shame around how I’m missing out on some of Siena’s sweetest childhood moments because my job requires travel.
Or how uncomfortable I am with feelings of boredom.
Or how afraid I am of being ordinary.
Or how I tend to feel unworthy and unlovable unless I’m overachieving.
Or the fact that my mother isn’t getting any younger and I don’t get to see her very often, and I wonder if I’m unconsciously pulling away from her because I’m terrified of losing her one day so I’m practicing what Brené would call “dress-rehearsing disaster.”
Or how uncomfortable I am with realizing that, although a lot of people online care about what I have to say, I’m not very good at cultivating and sustaining lasting relationships with real people who really know me and love me.
Or how restless I feel when I’m not making myself feel more worthy by doing something to help others.
Or how lonely I often feel, even when I’m surrounded by a crowd of people.
Oy. Yet again. I’ve used my busyness to numb the feelings of vulnerability that accompany the unsettling truths about my life.
Busted, yet again.
Making Peace With Inaction
Lately, my friend and mentor Martha Beck spends about four hours each day meditating. I can barely make it through 20 minutes of meditation without checking my watch, so I can’t even begin to relate to four hours of total inaction. Who would I be if I wasn’t busy accomplishing stuff? Who would I be if I was okay with doing “nothing” for hours on end? Even scarier, what truths would I have to face that I can effectively avoid facing when I’m crazy busy?
I have experienced moments that touch the kind of peace Martha often experiences, those moments when you really understand what the Bible meant when it describes the peace that passeth all understanding. It’s compelling, that kind of peace. It draws you in, makes you crave more, and jolts you awake so that you don’t want to miss out on life by filling yourself with crazy busyness.
But then, you lose it, like a greased watermelon. And the pain of its loss tempts you to fill up your schedule again, so you’re not faced with the longing of what you have touched but can’t sustain.
What’s The Solution?
What’s the cure for busyness addiction? Brené prescribes the care and feeding of our spirit. It’s not that passionate action is always wrong, just like a sacred morsel of chocolate isn’t always a numbing behavior. Sometimes these behaviors soothe us. But more often, they’re a way to hide. How can you tell the difference? When we consider what motivates our numbing behaviors, Brené invites us to ask the following questions: Are my choices comforting and nourishing my spirit, or are they temporary reprieves from vulnerability and difficult emotions ultimately diminishing my spirit? Are my choices leading my Wholeheartedness, or do they leave me feeling empty and searching?
Friday, April 11, 2014
Reflections of a Buddhist physician
Optimism, it turns out, isn’t just defined as the tendency to expect things to turn out better than probability predicts, nor is pessimism defined only as the tendency to expect things to turn out more poorly. Both terms are also used to describe the way we think about the causes of adversity, pessimism in particular being defined as the tendency to think about them in a way that makes us feel powerless. A pessimistic self-explanatory style, then, describes the tendency to attribute the causes of adversity to forces that are internal (“This is all my fault”), universal (“This affects absolutely everything”), and immutable (“This isn’t changeable”).
Not surprisingly, numerous studies show that possessing such a pessimistic self-explanatory style places us at an extreme disadvantage, mostly by preventing us from responding to adversity in ways that make it easier to surmount. Telling ourselves, for example, that we failed a test because we lack good test-taking skills—meaning that we lack inherent ability—may discourage us from preparing for a makeup test, leading us to fail it again. On the other hand, if we tell ourselves we failed a test because we didn’t study enough—meaning we didn’t make the effort, something over which we have significant control—we’re more likely to redouble our efforts the second time around and pass it. In other words, if we spend our energy defending a rationale for why we can’t do something, we’ll almost certainly not be able to do it. As Richard Bach writes in his book Illusions, “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.”
People with a pessimistic self-explanatory style are also at an increased risk for developing posttraumatic stress and depression when adversity strikes—as well as for losing their motivation when they fail. In one study, psychologist Martin Seligman asked swimmers to swim their best stroke and then told them their times were slightly slower than they actually were. When they swam again, swimmers with an optimistic self-explanatory style swam at approximately the same speed, whereas swimmers with a pessimistic self-explanatory style swam more slowly. When things are going well—when the team on which we’re playing is winning, for example—no difference in motivation or performance exists between optimists and pessimists. But when things aren’t going well—when the team on which we’re playing is losing—pessimists often stop trying.
Or, at least, some do. It turns out that not all pessimists are created equal. Depressive pessimists, research suggests, believe they lack the necessary ability to succeed and therefore that their efforts are irrelevant. Defensive pessimists, on the other hand, worry about negative outcomes as well but use their anxiety to motivate themselves into action. Interestingly, defensive pessimism—acknowledging the possibility of failure without allowing it to discourage us from making the efforts necessary to prevent it—may represent the most adaptive self-explanatory style of all: in one study of female basketball players, subjects identified as defensive pessimists outperformed even optimists.
What explains such a counterintuitive result? One possibility is that a blindly optimistic self-explanatory style might lead to overconfidence and therefore carelessness, an idea supported by the finding in the study above that subjects with an optimistic self-explanatory style garnered more fouls than those with a pessimistic self-explanatory style. Another is that a blindly optimistic self-explanatory style might actually promote a reduction in effort as we might not try as hard if we believe our ability eliminates the need. Finally, a blindly optimistic self-explanatory style might cause us to overlook the true reasons for our performing poorly—for example, because we’re poorly conditioned—and thus prevent us from improving at the same rate as our defensively pessimistic peers.
Given these potential pitfalls, a more constructive approach might be instead to develop what psychologists call explanatory flexibility, a willingness to reformulate how we think about the causes of negative events, abandoning even optimistic narratives when information that contradicts them comes to light. How, then, do we develop such flexibility—a realistic optimistic self-explanatory style—remaining balanced in the way we evaluate the causes of negative life events without surrendering our sense of power and control over them?
Friday, April 11, 2014
Five principles for making the most of life’s twists and turns.
Mary McGuire-Wien and her husband, Charles Wildbank, had been searching for a new home on Long Island for more than a year, but every place they’d seen was either unsuitable or unaffordable. After one long Sunday of unsuccessful house-hunting with their agent, the couple was anxious to get back home, but got stuck at a traffic light right next to an old barn that was under renovation. “A guy in a hard hat looked over at us and said, ‘Are you looking for a house?’” says Mary.
Though the barn didn’t look like a house—it didn’t even have any visible windows—Mary and her husband got out to take a look. The building turned out to be loftlike, with beautiful historical details (including back-facing windows). “A normal family probably wouldn’t want it,” says Mary. “But it was absolutely perfect for us because we needed a space where I could have a yoga retreat, and where Charles could paint.” They agreed to buy the place from the construction worker, who turned out to be the barn’s owner.
Mary and Charles could be considered fortunate—what are the chances that the owner would stop them when they were most in need of a home? And yet, they were the ones who agreed to investigate an unlikely prospect. Their open-mindedness turned a strange moment into a lucky break.
People who spot and seize opportunity are different. They are more open to life’s forking paths, so they see possibilities others miss. And if things don’t work out the way they’d hoped, they brush off disappointment and launch themselves headlong toward the next fortunate circumstance. As a result, they’re happier and more likely to achieve their goals.
Psychologists are figuring out why some people always seem to juggle incredible opportunities. Their insights can help us all lead luckier lives.
1. See Serendipity Everywhere
Luck is hard to study, and yet scientists have uncovered the startlingly large role chance plays in love and work. We are more like pinballs bouncing around a machine than captains at the wheel. Certain types of people are well suited to this fact of life.
Elizabeth Nutt Williams, a psychology professor at St. Mary’s College in Maryland, found that chance was a significant factor in shaping the career paths of thirteen professional women she studied. Women who take advantage of happenstance have competence, self-confidence, and the ability to take risks. They also have a strong support system. And a North Carolina State University study found through interviews with 42 engineering workers that job tips often come from unlikely sources in unexpected situations.
Richard Wiseman, a psychologist from the University of Hertfordshire and author of The Luck Factor, spent a decade researching people’s perceptions of their luck. He found that those who call themselves lucky score higher on the personality factor of extraversion. That means that they are more likely to have a fortuitous encounter because they meet lots of new people and keep in touch with a large group of friends and acquaintances. These advantaged souls also score higher in openness, and lower in neuroticism, the tendency to experience negative emotional states like anxiety, anger, guilt, and depression.
Wiseman conducted an experiment in which he placed the same chance opportunities—money on the ground and a potential encounter with a connected businessman—in the paths of two different people, one who claimed she was an unlucky person, the other who said things always seemed to work out well for him. The “lucky” guy immediately noticed the money on the ground and pocketed it, then struck up a conversation with the businessman in the coffee shop where he’d been planted. The “unlucky” woman, meanwhile, stepped right over the cash, and sipped her coffee without saying a word to the same businessman.
2. Prime Yourself for Chance
Serendipity smiles upon people who have a more relaxed approach to life. They have clarified their long-term goals but don’t worry too much about the details. Rather than aiming to become the top cardiac surgeon at the Mayo Clinic, they vow to be a doctor who helps save lives. Once they’ve pinpointed the ultimate destination, they believe there are many different ways to get there. This requires openness to life’s surprising twists and turns as well as cognitive and behavioral flexibility.
An open person heads to the dog park thinking he might encounter a potential new friend, business partner, or romantic interest. A closed person sees only dog owners. “Don’t classify people and situations in advance,” advises Wiseman. “Wait until you know what’s in front of you.”
You can increase your opportunities for good luck by maintaining a large network of friends and acquaintances. Increasingly these days, the best opportunities float online, so make sure you’re connected. Case in point: Marketing expert Shel Horowitz grabbed a chance to lecture in Davos, Switzerland, after noticing a LinkedIn search for conference speakers.
Cognitive flexibility can be cultivated, too. To limber up your own brain, try thinking about different points of view on a single topic. Maybe you have a firm belief that underwater homeowners don’t deserve a bailout. If that’s the case, try to come up with 10 reasons it might actually be a good idea.
You can also learn to behave more elastically. Flexible people often respond to the same stimuli differently than do rigid types. They might take varied routes to work, or stop at out-of-the-way places for a cup of coffee, rather than heading to their favorite cafe for “the usual.” Exploring new territory naturally increases good fortune.
“Do something different,” says Ben Fletcher, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire. It doesn’t even need to be meaningful to your goal. Trying to get a date? Read your neighbor’s newspaper, switch seats on the train, or watch a new television program. Breaking behavioral habits can lever changes in mental habits that have kept you from success so far. “People’s lives can be absolutely transformed by being nudged along a slightly altered route,” says Fletcher.
Try to keep your mood positive in order to catch more of the possibilities that whiz by every day. Researchers at the University of Toronto recently demonstrated the benefit of seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. They found that people in good moods actually take in more visual information, while those in bad moods don’t see as much around them.
Anxiety in particular gives us tunnel vision; while we’re focusing on a potential danger, we end up missing a lot of extraneous but potentially beneficial information. In another experiment, people were offered a large financial reward to carefully watch a dot on a computer screen. Occasional large dots were flashed along the edges of the screen, but the participants missed them. When they looked hard, they saw less.
3. Go Ahead, Slack Off
Conscientiousness is no friend to serendipity. A “big five” personality trait, it’s strongly associated with achievement. “Conscientiousness means you do what you’re supposed to do, and you stick with it,” explains Carol Sansone, professor of psychology at the University of Utah. Problem is, conscientious people will persist in a task even when there’s no good reason to do so. This may explain why it’s possible to “try too hard.” By rigidly pouring all of your effort into one approach, you miss out on unexpected—but more direct—paths to success.
Wiseman conducted an experiment in which he gave subjects a newspaper and asked them to count how many photographs were inside. There were 43, and most subjects found them within a few minutes. However, they could have completed the task within seconds had they read the large type on the second page of the paper. It said “stop counting—there are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” Or they could have instead earned $250 had they noticed the half-page message that said “Stop counting, tell the experimenter you have seen this and win $250.” The subjects didn’t notice either message. But when Wiseman asked them to look through the newspaper a second time for anything unusual, they saw them immediately.
The takeaway? Allow yourself to stray off-task sometimes. We need to be loose to become aware of hidden opportunities. So even when you’re crunching to finish a project at work, participate in the cross-cubicle chatter, or follow the links from one interesting blog to the next. “You might miss your deadline,” says Sansone, “but you could end up creating more understanding of your topic. Allowing yourself some flexibility in the process can lead to better long-term outcomes.”
Catching lucky breaks gets much harder as we get older—not because our opportunities change, but because we do. “People in their teens and 20s tend to be open because they’re discovering who they are as a person,” says Todd Kashdan, a psychologist at George Mason University and author of Curious? “As we get older we become a lot more crystallized in our thinking. We think, ‘I shouldn’t be playing kickball because I’m 40.’ But who decided kickball is not a proper thing for a 40-year-old to play? We create these rigid rules and eliminate chances to change all the time.”
4. Say Yes
Once primed to discover life’s opportunity, what do you do when a juicy one jumps into your path? If you’re like most people, you’re immediately besieged by two competing emotions: intrigue and anxiety. You’re curious about that job opening, but you can think of a hundred reasons why you should stick with your current gig.
“Which impulse will you act upon?” asks Kashdan. “Over time we develop a pattern.” This explains why some people’s lives seem full of fortuitous circumstances, while others are riddled with regrets about roads not taken.
Teresa Bondora turned down an invitation to join Aerosmith’s tour across Europe as the band’s well-paid in-flight stewardess. “I wanted to finish college faster,” Bondora says. “But not long after I said no, the regret started growing. Who says no to something like that?” Doug Hadley passed up an offer to play professional beach volleyball in California after college, choosing instead to stay close to his family in Indiana. “It’s 30 years later and I still wonder how my life would have been different,” he says.
Serendipitous people are more fearless about trying something new. Instead of giving in to worry about what could go wrong, they think, “Isn’t that interesting? I’d like to give that a try.”
Good outcomes increase self-efficacy, or the belief that you are capable of accomplishing whatever you set out to do; they also fuel an appetite for future risk. John Olson first found fortune as a 13-year-old when he volunteered to sit apart from his classmates on the airplane during a class trip. “I ended up in first class,” he says. “The best part was seeing the faces of my classmates as they filed past me to get to their seats in coach.” Olson later worked his way up from supermarket stock boy to CEO of multiple e-commerce sites by pouncing on random opportunities—like acquiring a neighbor’s failed towel business for $20 and a case of beer. “If an opportunity is available, I will usually follow it,” he explains. “It’s allowed me to live in a sort of never-ending fantasy world.”
The rest of us have trouble ignoring our chattering minds, which might tell us we’re not experienced enough to do that job, not attractive enough to talk to the woman in the red dress. And our loved ones don’t always help matters. “As an actress, I turned down the chance to go to India,” recalls Kama Linden, now a lyricist. “My mother said I would get some disease and never be able to dance again. The girl who took my place said they were treated like kings and queens.”
Remember that our minds—and our mothers—don’t always tell us the truth. Acknowledge their concerns. Listen to your intuition, but don’t expect to feel 100 percent certain. “If we wait until all negative emotions disappear, we’re never going to go anywhere,” says Kashdan.
If you’re truly unsure about a decision, try asking yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” says Wiseman. And what’s the true likelihood of that horrible outcome? Another helpful tactic: Think about which action you will regret more in the future. “Sometimes there’s a short-term cost, in terms of your resources or time or stress,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at the University of California at Riverside and author of The How of Happiness. “Like going to a party. You don’t really want to go because you don’t know anyone, so it’s anxiety-provoking. But you end up having a great time and meeting new people. You paid a short-term cost but got a long-term benefit.”
Friday, April 11, 2014
Regularly express gratitude.
Another important part of your outlook is the expression of gratitude for whatever you have. Regularly express gratitude.
Thanksgiving is a primary ingredient of optimism and a positive outlook. Right now, start making a mental list of what you’re grateful for. It can be people or things or whatever. Just start listing them in your head. By doing this, you’re counting your blessings. It’s as simple as that!
Every day, we’re either counting or discounting our blessings. Research has shown that people who regularly listed what they were thankful for experienced higher levels of optimism, alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy than those who didn’t. Those who expressed gratitude more often helped others, exercised regularly, made progress toward personal goals, enjoyed satisfying sleep, and felt connected.
Grateful people enjoy higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction and vitality than do pessimists. They experience less depression and stress, too. Researchers learned that grateful people do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life; they just rise above them. Optimistic and grateful people are also more empathetic and are considered more helpful and generous by the people in their social networks.
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