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April 15, 2019
My daughter is a competitive gymnast. For years we've traveled from meet to meet watching her flip, leap, and run with a determination one usually sees in a more mature athlete. It's an adrenaline rush for the whole family but for very different reasons. Our kiddo exudes pure concentration as she's competing, followed by exhaling sheer joy at the end of each event. For us parents, however, each time we see her jump from one parallel bar to the other or run and dismount off the beam, our hearts skip a little as we pray for both success and for safe landings.
Recently an eye exam revealed my daughter needed glasses, so she dutifully picked some smart (but cool blue!) shades which she wore all the time except during gym practice and meets. We started to see the impact of this small vision change on her confidence; wobbling more on the balance beam and hesitating as she ran toward the vault. Our hyper-focused kid was losing a little focus.
When You're Losing Focus
We can all relate to those times in our lives where our focus has shifted, causing a little imbalance. A big project at work is suddenly clouded by outside distractions.....a diet goes awry because of that big party you went to (then the after-party, then the early morning breakfast tacos).....a home improvement starts strong but somehow becomes the never-ending labor, then you still see it looming after a year's time. For me, my beloved blog was put on the back-burner to catch up with work because I lost my own balance for a bit. "Focus" is something we tend to create with passion in order to accomplish a goal, yet for us to sustain this focus is the bigger challenge. When you look at successful individuals that have accomplished something great, do you ever wonder how they sustain focus? Jack Canfield, creator of the explosive best-selling series Chicken Soup for the Soul, explains:
"Successful people maintain a positive focus in life no matter what is going on around them. They stay focused on their past successes rather than their past failures, and on the next action steps they need to take to get them closer to the fulfillment of their goals rather than all the other distractions that life presents to them."
Think about this: when you dive head-first into a goal and you start to lose that initial focus, is it because you're distracted by less-prioritized events around you, or could it be you're remembering past failures that start to shake your confidence? Ask yourself: am I focused on the end-goal or dwelling on my beam-wobbling? Or in my case, am I over-committing to so many other things that my priorities....MY focuses....get lost in the process?
The Power of the Picture
"Focus" goes beyond the eye-on-the-ball philosophy. It's not just about seeing your goal, but seeing it clearly. Visual focus and mental focus must be symbiotic. One simple, yet powerful, way to maintain focus is to create a visual cue to support your visual focus. This may look like drawing a picture or sketching out your project or goal, or simply writing out a few significant words that you can read on the refrigerator door or post-it note each day. It can also be helpful to draw the end-goal in "parts" or pieces and color off each one that you complete. Think of a pizza divided into 6 pieces, or a simple square with four parts to complete your project. When we think of bigger challenges in global terms we tend to lose focus, but when we divide a goal into a few parts we see the bigger picture (literally!) in a more concrete state.
For me, I found making a "word cloud" around my goal helped re-energize me (and it was fun, too!) If you don't feel like you're the creative type, simply hop on to Google Images and type in what your completed goals may look like, print them out, and post them where you can be reminded of them. Use highly-viewed areas such as refrigerator doors, bathroom mirrors, a small frame on your desk that you see each day, or your visor in your car (can you imagine opening your visor mirror every day and seeing the word or picture of your end-goal there? Talk about focusing!) Be looking for my upcoming blog about "vision boards" and how these highly-visual boards can help you with short-term and long-term focus on your dreams. But for now, simply the power of a picture can help you re-gain your focus. Find that picture, find that focus, and you'll find your goal being achievable.
For our daughter, she found focus with the magic of contact lenses. For me, creating my word cloud and hopping back onto my blog gave me a new lens to focus with. What about you? Ready to find your lens?
February 14, 2019
As much as I love being a working mom and wife with a kick-butt career, I value the times I get to momentarily shake off some stress with my gal-pals. My friends are my tribe; they see my vulnerable side and my less-than-fabulous profile. We share in secrets and in successes. Chips, queso, and conversation are always plentiful in my tribe.
Recently I had a friend talk to me about a personal stressor she had in her life that seemed to keep her down. She said, “Anissa, I can really relate to being in a dunking booth, but instead of wiping my face off and getting back on the bench when I fall, I get another ball thrown at me that keeps me in the water and I can’t stop it.”
When Stress Starts to Drown You
We can all relate to a time (or several times) in our lives in which an occurrence has created a stress that starts to consume us. I’m not talking about a rough-day-at-work stress. This is the kind of stress that seems to grow over time, filling our heads with pain and worry and depleting our lungs of oxygen to breathe fully. This is the kind of stress that makes you feel like your water in your dunking booth is about to go over your head and you can’t find your footing (see my previous blog for stress strategies when you still have your footing: When Adults Need a Time-Out: Slowing Down When Life is Speeding Up). We’ve come to understand that most of the time the stressful event will pass or work itself out, but in the moments of that debilitating stress, we’re drowning in our own worry.
Grab a “Life” Life Jacket!
Long-term data that has been compiled by the US Coast Guard indicates that wearing a life jacket dramatically increases your chances of survival and buys you time until you can get ashore or someone comes to help. A blog from the Coast Guard Compass states:
Falling into the water without a life jacket requires you to exert energy to keep yourself afloat while you await assistance. Wearing a life jacket nearly eliminates expending that energy, as it does the work for you.
In thinking of this analogy, consider how much energy you expend on stress. Of course, you may kick and scream just as if you were literally drowning, but what else can you do? What are your life jacket strategies for handling stress? Here are some strategies to consider:
- Anchor yourself. While you can’t control what others may be doing around you, take comfort in knowing that you’re in control of your own body. Try anchoring strategies like putting yourself in your favorite place every single day during the stressful event. This slows your body down a little to take some deep breaths. This could look like diverting your dinner schedule by half an hour to go sit on the porch, meditate, or look through a photo album. If the source of the stress is family-related, simply looking at favorite photos every day of happier times or positive interactions can create reassurance…..and visually remind you that friction may be temporary.
- Call for help. What’s the first thing you do when you’re in over your head? Call for help! Phone a friend, and stress the urgency to get some undivided, un-timed attention. This life jacket strategy works both ways, so be proactive and talk to your tribe about the difference between calls for help and your typical vent sessions via text. True help comes from sit-down, hear-it-out, talk-it-out support from trusted friends or family members. When I was going through cancer treatment, the stress and worry would build up so much that I had to “dump” it somewhere, and meeting with friends to drain some of those negative emotions helped me make room for the positive ones to flow in. Don’t be afraid to bear your heart to lessen your stress, because by doing so you’ll be making a commitment to others to do the same for them when they need it.
- Lighten your load. What if you were drowning and you had weights on your ankles and back? You’d take them off if you could, right? Of course, you would! Now think about the burden of a stressful, consumable occurrence paired with all of your regular duties of work or school, spouses, kids, taking care of a home, providing for aging parents, etc. If you can’t change the stress and you can’t put it down, what else can you put down? Try writing out all the commitments you have on a piece of paper. Then look at the list and think about what could be eliminated first. Could the world go on if you ordered out a few nights in a row or delegated dinner to a spouse or child? (FYI, cereal night is not the end of the world!) If you chose to take a temporary leave from being PTA treasurer, would they find a replacement? (hint, YES.) As much as you may value giving to others, you may find that people are understanding if you say “I have a lot on my personal plate right now. I need to focus on my [family/career/self] right now.”
- Get out of the water. I talk throughout my blogs about living life in a dunking booth; you signed up for this life, it’s for a good cause, and from time to time you’re gonna have balls thrown at you and fall down. But sometimes you have to recognize when to get out of the water totally for a little while and move away from the source of the stress. This is the hardest strategy of all, but it may be needed to catch your breath. For example, if you’re having ongoing stress at work due to a boss or coworker conflict, you have to determine 1) if you have physically and mentally done everything you can do on your part to alleviate the stressful relationship and 2) made attempts to involve others to support you. If these action items have been exhausted and the stress is affecting your ability to perform as your best self, then you make a determination to move to another team/department or company entirely. You can’t change others’ actions, but you can change your own actions.
A Life Preserver is a Life Preserved
Do a final activity for me: draw a life jacket or even a life preserver (those are easier for non-artists like me!) on a scratch sheet of paper. Then, write words or word phrases that help keep you afloat (ex. “my children’s hugs”, “faith in God”, “funny movies”, etc.) Post this on your refrigerator, at your desk, on your bathroom mirror, or other place you would look each day. Read it and feel anchored in all of your strategies.....you may find that the source of your stress starts to sink instead of you.
January 25, 2019
Working-parent life is pretty much the definition of “hectic” in the dictionary, but recently I had a crazier-than-usual week that turned my dunking booth into a drowning pool. It started when my kiddo got sick with strep throat, resulting in two days of missed work. A few extra balls were thrown at me in the dunking booth, but no problem; typically when I have to stay home I get a lot of work done while she rests. Day three crept up and the kiddo was still sick (asthmatics with strep are no joke!) which led me to cancel several school visits. Ball, ball, ball!! My calendar got completely full for the end of the week and crept into next week, and I started to feel very behind. Day three nighttime: my body started to ache and my throat hurt so badly I thought I swallowed a sandpaper ball…..ball, ball, ball! More rescheduled school visits and cancelled appointments started making me visualize that ball being thrown at my dunking booth as just one big snowball, getting bigger and bigger and keeping me down just enough that I didn’t have time to climb back onto my bench. It was a snowball gaining momentum, and I wasn’t keeping up. How in the world would I make everything up? There was no TIME. Five days of Streptococcus bacteria put me 3 weeks behind in my consulting business. As an albeit-proud self-employed consultant, when I don’t work, I don’t get paid. I worried about clients getting upset about having to wait for me, feeling guilty about rescheduling, and most of all just wishing my kiddo and I would both feel better and want to eat more than soup.
Guilty Until Feeling Innocent
Why do we feel so guilty as adults when one commitment takes priority over another? Aren’t we supposed to prioritize when the balls start flying faster at us, or worse, start growing like a snowball? I’ll tell you why: it’s because we try to handle everything that’s thrown at us regardless of the velocity and speed. Sometimes we have no control over the ball-throwers yet we still think we can say “Wait, hold on, don’t throw that one yet! I’m not quite ready! Give me a week.” The 2015 Stress in America survey reported that money and work were the top two sources of stress for adults in the United States, and these two stressors had been the “winners” for 8 years in a row. The most recent Stress in America survey (2018) reported that healthcare costs and mental health support were the top stressors for Americans. And guess what? We tend to worry more about our healthcare costs while we are waiting hours in doctor’s offices…..which takes us from work, and costs us more money (looping back to our 2007-2015 stressors!) It’s a vicious cycle.
You’re Not Going to Drown…..You’re Going to Time-Out
Whether our situation is incredibly stressful or situationally stressful, we have no control over every facet in our lives; we either try to handle it all until we’re burnt out, handle certain things and feel guilty for not handling others (until the guilt passes), or we drown in our own dunking booth. I may not have answers to America’s healthcare issues or be able to relate to every reader’s life challenges, but I am here to tell you that you’re not going to drown. Ain’t happenin’, not on my watch. Dunking Boothers, I want you to close your eyes (after you read this paragraph!) and picture yourself falling into the water in your dunking booth. What happens when you fall? Do you feel like you’re drowning? Hopefully not, because quickly you will find your footing and realize you can stand up in your dunking booth with your head above water. For those of you that can’t visualize this, I’ll include a link so you can see an example (and on a side note, as a breast cancer survivor myself, I love this example as a dunk-for-a-cause!)
Portia de Rossi gets dunked for breast cancer research funding on the Ellen show
You're going to get wet, but you won't drown
Now, those days…weeks….months, even…..that the balls are coming at you so fast you feel like you can’t keep up and you’re losing your footing, make a decision to get out of the dunking booth for a break. That’s right: take an adult time-out. You’re already behind, so what’s a few minutes or an hour to recharge? Think about “littles” that are sent to time-out; if the strategy is used effectively (a.k.a. the RIGHT way), it provides the “little” with a few minutes to self-cope; to regain control over his hands, body, and mind before coming back to play.
I am telling you to do this, too. I am telling you it’s OK. It’s better than OK; it may be necessary so you can get back into the game. I have rules, though, so here are the adult time-out rules:
- · Sit in a quiet, non-stimulating, non-technology spot (this could be a spot on your bed at home, pulling your desk chair away from your desk and toward the window, outside your office on a bench or on your porch, or even a locked bathroom stall if all other locations fail!)
- · Turn your phones/iPads/smartwatches/tablets, etc. to “silent” mode and try to leave them in another spot out of eyesight
- · Choose 3-4 self-coping strategies and write them down on index cards or sticky notes. Choose one of them each time you go to time-out. Some examples may be:
o “Rainbow” breathing (put both your arms up straight and then breathe in and out deeply as you bring your arms down to your sides, making arches with your arms in the form of a rainbow)
o Drawing pictures or words that make you happy (ex. fantasy vacation, funny child’s face, poems)
o Putting on a “calm music” playlist (note: this is the only time I’ll allow technology during time-out!) My personal favorites are piano instrumentals by John Tesh or Jim Brickman.
o Shoulder self-massage (cross your right hand over to your left shoulder and massage while counting to 10; cross your left hand over to your right shoulder and repeat)
- · Do a quick self-check after your strategy: are you feeling calmer than you were before you went to time-out? If not, repeat your coping strategy a second time.
· Then when you’re ready to return to reality (a.k.a. your dunking booth), try using a sentence extension for that stressor to help you get back in the game. This may look like “I’m missing so much work…but I’m taking care of myself so I can continue to work for years to come” or “I’m worried about money issues….but I know I can talk to friends and family about my worries instead of trying to take it all on myself.” (see my blog post Perception Changes Attitude)
In affectionately keeping with our dunking booth analogy, adult time-outs can be taken whenever you feel like you’re getting in over your head. An adult time-out may be a few minutes every day, or a much-needed hour or two alone each week. You CAN figure it out if you look at your schedule, and you owe it to yourself, your family, and your career to recharge. Leave your guilt at the door and take a deep breath….you’re gonna be in this game for a long, long time.
January 16, 2019
I am unapologetically Texan. Born and raised in the Lone Star state, I have never felt like the lone star with all the “Mornin’s” I’ve gotten from complete strangers on any given day. Even in my big beautiful city, you can still see gentlemen wearing straw cowboy hats and habitually taking them off when they enter a restaurant or church. It’s challenging sometimes to tell what kind of attitude is behind that “Mornin” greeting because there’s a level of automaticity that was reached years ago as shaped by Texan culture. Regardless of knowing what kind of mood the person is in that’s providing the greeting, it still feels good on the other end to be greeted.
So Dunking Boothers, think about this: do your words portray your attitude? Do you think about the words you say and the WAY you say them? As I’ve stated in past blogs, perception changes attitude, and attitude portrays your calling card. Whether you are happily employed, miserably employed, or looking to be noticed, your attitude is transparent whether you think it is or not. John Maxwell said it best: “People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude.” I remember being made to read Maxwell’s book The 21Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You when I became an educational administrator, and I thank my former boss whole-heartedly for that “forced” assignment.
ATTITUDES IN THE WORK CLIMATE
Consider your attitudes in your current job: if you’re happily employed – overall you enjoy your tasks and the people you work with – do you portray that happiness with a fake smile or a genuine demeanor of satisfaction? Ask yourself, “Does my boss know that I’m satisfied in my work?” If you’re one of the lucky few who truly enjoys your job, then why not portray that through your attitude each day? Display your thankfulness through your attitude – greeting others and asking them about their families, thanking your boss for a specific opportunity that was thrown your way, showing appreciation for being appreciated. Bosses will recognize demonstrative acts of appreciation and hold on tight to you….or better, recognize additional capabilities that you hold and move you up the food chain.
If you’re miserably employed, sit down in a quiet spot and think about your attitude at work. What are the variables that contribute to this unhappy work environment? Consider the following:
- Am I able to apply the skills and gifts that I am good at?
- Do I appreciate and respect my boss even when we don’t agree?
- Is there opportunity for growth?
- Am I working hard for a small paycheck, living month-to-month?
- Do I enjoy the people / location / hours / climate of the environment?
- Does everyone at work seem to enjoy the job but me?
If you answered “yes” to that last question, go back to the first question: are you unhappy in your situation because you’re not able to use your skills and gifts that you were trained or educated in? If you have constant conflict with your boss or other co-worker, what steps have you taken to remedy this conflict? The Conflict Resolution Fairy is not going to just fly in and fix a problem; at some point one person is going to have to approach the other and start a possibly-uncomfortable conversation. But it’s better than sitting still and letting the ball-throwers line up to your dunking booth to throw.
IS IT ME??
If you’re in a good climate, using your skills, paying the bills, is it your attitude toward having to work in general? Think long and hard and ask yourself, “Is it ME?” If it is, stop frettin’ (as an unapologetically Texan would say) and do one more exercise: write out your schedule for a typical work day, starting with the moment you wake up in the morning and get ready to when you arrive at work, to each sub-task you may have on any given day, to your commute home. Then, look at each item on your schedule carefully. Try to determine at what point you start to feel unhappy at work. Is it when a specific task must be done, or does it start right when you get in the parking lot? If it’s task-related, consider other ways to complete the task, delegate it, or get it done first-thing so you can spend the rest of your day with it off your plate. Or better, work harder and alter your attitude to promote up – you may stop having to do that task after promotion!
If this unhappy attitude starts before you even arrive at work, look at home variables and ask yourself if you feel unhappy leaving your family/children, if you have the financial opportunity to work part-time or take a break, or if you feel like there are additional factors behind career unhappiness that go deeper than just work. If so, have conversations with spouses, parents, and professionals to determine a path of support.
WHY IS THIS SO IMPORTANT?
It’s important to feel a sense of happiness and self-worth at work. Happy workers create a happy climate which increases productivity and growth for all stakeholders. There are so many studies to support this claim, but the bottom line is you owe it to yourself to put out your gifts and training into the universe in a way that justifies why you went into your field in the first place. Contentment in your career makes it worthwhile to climb into your dunking booth every single day and face each ball head-on with an attitude of “I signed up for this. Bring it.” Who knows? One of those ball-throwers may just tell you “Mornin” and walk on by.
January 10, 2019
Being a former teacher, administrator, and now consultant and motivational speaker, I’ve lived my life by the school calendar for about 25 years now. Family gatherings, vacations, flights, seminars, mealtimes (heck, even PEE times!) have all revolved around some type of school calendar. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve come not to mind the dreaded day-back-at-work-after-a-holiday. Ironically, years ago as a fresher teacher I used to dread those days. How would the students come back academically or behaviorally? Would my lesson motivate them enough to want to stay awake? And why in the world don’t they install mandatory coffee makers in every teacher’s classroom??
|Photo by roobcio|
So why my evolving change of heart as more and more day-after-holidays are experienced each year? Because life challenges – those balls that keep getting thrown at you and me when we sit in our dunking booths – can change perception. PERCEPTION changes attitude. I’ve survived cancer, childbirth, and challenging careers, so you bet my attitude each day is a little better than it was in my younger days. You bet I try to enjoy every day I have on this earth, even if balls are thrown at me. You BET I’m in this for the long haul, so I might as well make each day worth living. I may not wake up each morning singing songs from a Broadway musical, but I am quick to remind myself that I did indeed wake up.
In my first blog, “Welcome to the Dunking Booth”, I discussed three dunking-booth strategies, the first being perception changes attitude. Your perception of your day, your calendar, and your tasks dictates your attitude towards the ball-throwers. If your perception of your upcoming day is “Ugh, this is gonna be a nightmare day” then guess what? Your attitude will show it. And you’ll probably have a nightmare day, because your attitude bounces back to the ball-throwers that continue to come to your dunking booth. They can’t wait to throw another ball at you just to see your reaction, or over-reaction in some cases. If you were a ball-thrower and you got to choose which person to dunk – Person A in the dunking booth that keeps screaming theatrically and talks back to you, taunting and teasing, or Person B who simply sits with a smile on his/her face, falling gracefully and getting back up – who would you want to dunk? C’mon y’all! You’d pick the theatrical one! Why? Because it’s more fun; it’s more reactive. Ball-throwers like a big reaction.
Now, don’t misinterpret this strategy to mean you have to sit there and take it; that’s not the intent. When it’s your turn and you step up into the dunking booth, the intent is for you to project a more positive attitude than you may have woken up with this morning…..or yesterday morning…..or last year. One way I coach people through this strategy is to try a sentence extension. For example, if I asked you how you felt this morning and what your original attitude was “Today’s gonna be tough”, we may discuss what elements specifically look like they could be challenging, then formulate a sentence extension. For example, “Today’s gonna be tough because my students are just getting back from break, but my plans are ready and I’m prepared.” A simple exercise like creating this extension clarifies the perceived challenge and adds a solution or strategy that can help shape your attitude. Another example may be someone who always says “I hate Mondays!” If you can clarify the challenge and extend it with a coping strategy, the statement “I hate Mondays!” can become “I hate Mondays because I’ve had such a good weekend, so I’ll try and remember something funny from the weekend to get me through today.” Now, let’s go back to that line of ball-throwers outside your dunking booth. Over the next several weeks, take a look: is it starting to get a little shorter?
Your behavior may not change overnight, but consider how one simple strategy YOU do changes the behaviors of others. Now, go get back in your booth and be ready for what’s coming today. There’s always a chance that the ball-throwers may pass you by.
January 2, 2019
|Clipart courtesy of Worldartsme.com|
My adult life has been pretty extraordinary. What looked on the surface as the typical middle-class childhood growing up in a Texas town was actually the catalyst for this now-extraordinary life. Of course I didn’t know it at the time. Most kids growing up with a childhood like mine assume they’ll have a similar adulthood, more or less. But life - as I have deemed it for myself and will for you as well - is like a dunking booth. Have you ever been to a county fair or fundraiser and seen those large clear dunking booths that some poor schmuck (or generous saint) has to sit in? Once benched, this person’s only job is to wait while others line up to gleefully throw balls at a target, ultimately sinking said person into cloudy water if the target is hit just right. The person sits....the person waits....the person falls....the person wipes their face and gets back on the bench for more. C’mon y’all, is this not the perfect metaphor for adulthood??
But what we sometimes fail to see is how we became dunking-booth victims. Some of you may still envision yourselves as only ball-throwers, playfully moving from game to game and never sitting still. But folks, once you volunteered to grow up you volunteered for the dunking booth. You got in and probably never realized the exact moment you were sitting there; it was just your “turn”. I began to realize I had climbed into my own dunking booth by college, but even then I had no clue how many balls would be thrown at me. How many balls CONTINUE to be thrown at me.
Now don’t get me wrong, maturity doesn’t lend itself to torturous acts by design; this idea of you and I in the dunking booth has so much to do with perception, action, and good ole’ gumption. Our own dunking booths may represent what we try to protect, what we’ve earned, or what we stand for. It may be our homes, our careers, or our passion. It could be protecting us from the outside elements OR making us more vulnerable as we sit and watch what will happen. Many of us sit perched in defense-mode, knowing the balls are gonna fly and at any given moment we may be struck down. But think about how you handle this strike-down.....do you view yourself the victim every time or chalk it up every time as just being part of the game? My guess is you may feel a little of both. Or, your perception may be different each time based on who’s actually throwing the balls at you (ex. "my boss had to yell at me, it's his job....it's OK" or "how DARE that stranger at the grocery store judge me by my 22 items in the 20-items lane! But why am I so upset about it?")
What life in my dunking booth has taught me so far - and what I want to teach you through this blog - is 1) perception changes attitude, 2) action, even if unsure, is better than sitting still, and 3) gumption cannot only be acquired, but grow from within you and help you persevere. Gumption didn’t die out with the old black and white movies; it’s alive and well and living in this Texas gal. This gal that’s survived heartache, career changes, uncertain moves, and even cancer. This gal that encourages others to change their own behavior to affect the behaviors of others around them. This gal that continues to wipe the cloudy water off her face and sit in her dunking booth, smiling and nodding at other dunking booth folks surrounding her, like she has a secret on her lips. Guess what? She does. And her county fair is in full swing.
Anissa Moore is a public speaker, educational consultant, and Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She owns her own company, Anissa Moore Consulting, specializing in professional development opportunities for educators and other professionals. As a licensed behavior analyst, she's studied behavior patterns as they relate to organizations, work production, and employee attitudes. She is an 11-year advanced breast cancer survivor and currently juggles the health challenges of treatment "afterlife" along with her business and her family. She lives in Texas with her husband and their 11 year-old daughter, also known as the "little miracle".