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How — and Why — to Go on a REAL Vacation

Nearly 40 percent of US employees feel like they have too much work to take a vacation. But research suggests you’ll be happier, healthier, and more productive if you do.

Last year, I was invited by KJ Dell’Antonia of The New York Times to coach Julie, a partner at a law firm who was feeling overwhelmed and inefficient at work. Julie planned to leave for a family vacation right after we spoke, and she worried that she was going to forget everything she learned about finding more ease and efficiency at work by the time she got back from vacation.

But I saw an excellent opportunity: Julie could use her vacation as a way to increase her enjoyment and productivity after she returned to work.

How? For starters, we know that vacationing can increase happiness and lower depression and stress. Productivity increases at work both before and after a vacation. And vacationing can also increase creativity and improve health. (Did you know that men who don’t take vacations are 30 percent more likely to have a heart attack? And that women who rarely vacation are an astounding 50 percent more likely to have a heart attack; they are also much more likely to suffer from depression.)

Maybe you can’t afford not to take a vacation this year.

There are some caveats, however: Happiness only increases when a vacation is relaxing. So how can we actually relax on our vacations?

First, plan a true vacation — one where you do not do any work. None. Zip. Nada. No work.

This might be blazingly obvious, but not working is a critical aspect of actually taking time off. So don’t do what Julie was planning to do, which was to hide that she was out of the office from some of her clients. She could easily do this by checking and responding to email throughout the day from her vacation. While you might be able to work from your vacation, you won’t reap the many benefits of a vacation if you do so.

So see if you can find a vacation partner, someone who will cover for you at work should an urgent situation arise. (A reciprocal relationship is ideal: They handle your work while you are gone, then you do the same when they take their vacation.)

Then tell your team at work your plan: You are going on vacation. You will be totally unplugged from work. You will not be checking in, or checking email. But you’ve planned well: In case of emergency, they can contact your colleague, who will either handle the situation or, as a last resort, get in touch with you.

Don’t forget to do this for any unpaid jobs you might have as well. If the kids’ swim team counts on you to organize volunteers, make sure you’ve handed this duty off to someone while you’re gone. I’ve found that having someone handle things on my behalf while I’m gone enables me and the people I work with to relax a little more.

Second, remember that all vacations are not created equally.

It is possible (as you probably know from experience, especially if you have kids) to return from vacation more exhausted than when you left. Research indicates that having pleasurable and relaxing experiences on your vacation, along with savoring those experiences, are important for remaining happier after a vacation for a longer period of time.

Again, this is totally obvious, but not all vacations are relaxing. The lure of adventure or philanthropic travel for novelty-seeking people like me is great. We pack our vacations with nonstop action when what we really need is time at the pool to nap. Here, from my desk, it seems so much more fun to travel to multiple areas in a new country rather than just see one beach. Our more more more culture leads us to believe that more will definitely be better–more activities, more destinations, more sights to be seen.

Plan a true vacation -- one where you do not do any work. None. Zip. Nada. No work. Click To Tweet

Before you pack your vacation with a lot of stuff that will actually leave you needing a vacation from your vacation, schedule yourself some downtime. Will you be able to get eight hours of sleep each night? (And if you accumulated a sleep debt before you left, will you have time to nap as well?)

Is there some aspect of the travel likely to cause you so much anxiety that you’ll be better off skipping it? Will you have time to truly savor the pleasurable aspects of your time away? Eliminate all preventable stress and time pressure from your schedule before you leave, and don’t let people tell you what you “should” do, or “have to” do while visiting a place that they love. Instead, ask yourself what you need most out of your vacation. Plan from there.

Finally, plan your re-entry.

What do you need to do so that your first day back is joyful rather than hectic? Here are a few things that work for me:

  • I have a “no hellish travel” rule — no overnight or complicated flights home that will leave me sleep-deprived and wiped out.
  • I dedicate the first day I’m back at work to just playing catch up — I don’t actually try to accomplish anything other than get through my email, return phone calls, go grocery shopping, and get my laundry done and put away. If I’m traveling home from a different time zone, I come back a day early to allow myself to adjust. (It is tempting max-out vacation time by staying away as long as possible, so I often need to remind myself that my goal is to come back rested and rejuvenated.)
  • I think of the email that comes in while I’m on vacation similar to the snail mail that comes to my house — someone needs to pick it up and sort it while I’m gone. (When I didn’t have an assistant to help me with email, I paid a high school aged neighbor $10 a day to do this for me; she loved the job and it was easy to get her set up.) I create special folders before I leave, and I have someone sort new incoming email into them once a day, deleting promotions and sending personal “vacation responses” where necessary.

My first day back, my inbox is — get this — empty. The emails I need to respond to first are nicely prioritized into a folder. This system isn’t perfect, of course, but it is much better than returning to 1,000 unread messages.

Join the Discussion

This summer, will you be taking a vacation? Will any aspects of it be difficult? If so, which ones? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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How to Only Do Things You Actually Want to Do

Recently, I started getting loads of requests for help managing too-long task lists, and so I published this process for organizing them. Ineffective task lists make us feel like we have too much to do in too little time, which makes us feel overwhelmed. Ironically, this makes us worse at planning and managing our time.

You might have a perfectly organized task list, though, that is still triggering overwhelm — I just went through one with a client, and frankly I was exhausted just looking at it. If your task list is sending you into an “I don’t have enough time to do all this” tail spin, it’s time to whittle that puppy down into something more manageable. This is a different process than organizing your to-do list, or formatting it in a more effective way. This is about shortening that list — dumping the stuff you dread — without suffering the consequences of not doing what you actually have to do to get done.*

In an ideal world, we would all be able to apply Marie Kondo’s world famous principles for cleaning out our closet to our to-do list: Anything that doesn’t “spark joy” we put in the trash (delete) or give away (delegate). Most of my clients start off with very little on their task list that they look forward to doing; one recently declared that she only puts stuff on her to-do list that she doesn’t want to do, because she remembers to do what she actually wants to do.

How to transform a too-long to-do list into a list of only the things that you actually want to do. Click To Tweet

So here’s how to transform a too-long to-do list into a list of only the things that you actually want to do:

Step 1: Highlight all the items on your to-do list that you dread doing. Hold each task list item in your mind’s eye, and notice how it feels to think about doing that item in your body. Do you lean forward a little, feeling a longing to get right to that task? (Don’t highlight items that feel like that.) Or do you get a sinking feeling in your stomach, with a corresponding desire to put the task off as long as possible? Highlight anything that makes you feel anything akin to aversion.

Highlight all the things that you’ve been procrastinating because you simply don’t want to do those things. And highlight the things that are on your list because you feel like you “should” do them, or because you feel you have to do them, but that you don’t want to do or wouldn’t say you are choosing to do (or that you wouldn’t say with some delight that you “get to” do). In other words, highlight the things you plan to do simply because someone expects you to do it, or because you’ve always expected yourself to do those things, or because doing them would bring you status or power (but no actual joy in the process).

Step 2: Delete or delegate as many highlighted items as you possibly can. Start by deleting, then move on to delegating. Be truthful here; if you know in your heart of hearts that you’ll probably never do a task item anyway, or that there will be little consequence if you don’t do a highlighted item on your list, just scratch it off the list and be done with it.

You may feel relieved, or even accomplished (given that your list is getting shorter so quickly!). Or, you may feel anxious or even sad while doing this. Acknowledge your emotions, whatever they may be, as you madly delete items from your task list. Be curious about whatever you are feeling, and accepting of your emotions — but no need to get involved in them. Maybe you need to mourn (a little tiny bit) the fact that you are never going to make those photo albums (that you hate making but really felt like you should make). It’s normal to feel sad, or a sense of regret — but also, be real: you aren’t grieving anything tangible, you’re grieving the loss of a fantasy. For example, you’re giving up the fantasy that you are the type of person who makes photo albums. Or that writes strategic plans. Or that answers every single email. Oh well. Let yourself feel what you feel, and move on. This is a process of letting go.

If a highlighted task is something that absolutely does need to be done and thus can’t just be deleted, try to think of someone else who’d actually enjoy doing it, and make a plan for how you can delegate it to that person. If you don’t have an assistant or employees or children to delegate to, consider neighborhood teens and retirees who’d like experience, your company, or a little extra cash. Or, think of people who need help with something you enjoy doing, and negotiate a trade with them. All of this may seem like a lot more work than just doing the task yourself, but I promise, you will thank me later. Having a task list that is both short enough to not be overwhelming and that is loaded with things you’ll enjoy doing is worth the initial inefficiency.

Step 3: Transform anything left on your list that is highlighted into something that you actually want to do. If you can’t delete or delegate tasks that you dread, then you’ll have to make them better. Be creative. My favorite way to do this is to pair a not-fun task item with something you want to do more of. I’ve been known to sit on the lawn in the sun and make doctors appointments, and I listen to fun audiobooks while driving to pick up kids and while cleaning the house (I just listened to A Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes and I highly recommend it). My co-worker and I have been putting off reviewing our financial systems for, oh, years, but we just made a plan to do it together this summer poolside. There will be margaritas involved, and needless to say, we aren’t dreading the task anymore!

Understanding the value a task has for other people is another good way to make it more fulfilling (thus decreasing the dread factor). In a stunning series of studies, Adam Grant showed that briefly showing people how their work helps others increases not only how happy people are on the job but also how much they work and accomplish.

Grant’s most famous series of studies were conducted at a call center with paid fundraisers tasked with phoning potential donors to a public university. As anyone who’s ever dreaded making a cold call knows, these people probably did not have the to-do list of their dreams. People receiving cold calls from solicitors are often annoyed and can be downright rude. Employees must endure frequent rejection on the phone and low morale at the office—all in exchange for relatively low pay. Not surprisingly, call center jobs often have a high staff turnover rate.

In an effort to see if he could motivate call center fundraisers to stay on the job longer, Grant brought in a few scholarship students (who presumably had benefited from the fundraisers’ work) for a five-minute meeting where callers could ask them questions about their classes and experience at the university. In the next month, that quick conversation yielded unbelievable results. Callers who had met the scholarship students spent twice as long on the phone as the fundraisers who had not met any students. They accomplished far more, bringing in an average of 171 percent more money.

What made the difference? What, essentially, shifted the task of making cold calls from one people didn’t enjoy to one that they did? A shift in the callers’ beliefs about the meaning of their work for other people, and an increased sense of their purpose, value, and impact. So find out what value your work has for other people. How are you making their lives or jobs better?

Voila!

You’ve just Marie Kondo-ed your task list! Everything left on it at this point is now the stuff you actually want to do, the tasks that “spark joy.” If you’re like my client who doesn’t need to keep a list of the things she wants to do, you no longer need to keep a to-do list — you just need to remember to delete, delegate or transform the things you don’t want to do. And if your list still feels too long and overwhelming, now is the time for some task-list organizing — check this post out for how to do that.

*I learned this method from Martha Beck, so many thanks and 1,000 hat tips to her. These steps are an adaptation of her “Better, Barter, or Bag” it strategy.

 

3 Signs You Won’t Keep Your New Year’s Resolution

Like most self-help authors and coaches, I love New Year’s Resolutions.

Weeks ago I started asking my kids what theirs were going to be. I have a fantasy that January 1st will be THE day we launch headlong into our new-and-improved lives. I LOVE a fresh start, and there is nothing fresher than the first week in January.

But I know better.

By strongly “encouraging” my friends, family and readers to make New Year’s Resolutions, I’m failing to recognize that people don’t just make resolutions and then the next day spring into lasting action. I may wish this was possible, but research shows that it probably isn’t.

For the last four decades, behavior change researchers James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente have written extensively about how people actually do change.

According to Prochaska and DiClemente, people change in stages. They go from not even really considering making a change, to contemplating making one, to preparing to make the change…and THEN (and only then) do they spring into action. The actual behavior change (like starting to exercise, or going on a diet) is not the first stage of change, but the fourth.

Here’s the long and the short of it: To be successful in a New Year’s Resolution, you need to be in that fourth stage of change. What stage are you in?

1.) You sorta want to make a change…in theory…but in your heart of hearts, you know you don’t intend to make that change just yet. Or maybe you don’t really want to make the change, but someone else is pressuring you to make a New Year’s Resolution. Maybe your doctor has mentioned that she’d like you to lose weight, or perhaps your husband wants you to go to church more often. You can see their point, and you aren’t entirely opposed to the idea, but…just reading this you can feel your resistance rising.

You probably know this, but you aren’t ready to make a New Year’s Resolution. If you do make one at this stage, you’ll probably fail. You’re in the first stage of change, which is called “Pre-contemplation.” Prochaska, in his book Changing to Thrive, details three primary reasons that people get stuck in this stage; perhaps you can recognize one of these reasons in yourself:

  • You don’t know how to make the change you’d like to make.
  • You’re feeling demoralized by previous attempts to make similar changes and don’t want to fail again.
  • You’re in denial — you tend to defend yourself or rationalize your behavior when others suggest you make a change.

If you are at this stage of change, instead of making a New Year’s Resolution this year you’ll do better (again, according to Prochaska’s research) to make a list of all the good reasons, or “pros,” to make the change. How will you benefit? How long can you make this list of “pros”? Just start contemplating these things for now.

2.) You’re thinking about making a change, but you’re still worried about the drawbacks to doing so. Perhaps you’re considering starting a meditation practice, and you are aware of the benefits. But you also are pretty sure that you don’t have enough time to be regular about it, and your back hurts a lot when you’ve tried meditating before. Or maybe you’d like to cut back on your drinking, but you hate the idea of being the teetotaler at the party–you’re afraid the people you’re with will think you’re uptight and unfun. Your doubts are keeping you from getting started.

I’m in this stage of change in thinking about cutting gluten out of my diet once and for all. I’m aware of the benefits for someone like me (I’m very sensitive to gluten — the angry rash on my face makes this quite clear) but a life without sourdough bread doesn’t quite seem worth living. Yet. Right now it’s easier for me to really think a lot about going fully gluten-free, without actually doing anything. By thinking about something (but not taking action) I feel like I actually am doing something about the rash on my face (even though I’m not). This is safe, because I don’t risk failing, given that I’m not actually doing anything to change.

If this is you, you’re in the second stage of change, “Contemplation.” Before you take action or commit to a resolution, you’ll need to deal with your list of drawbacks to the change, or the “cons” that are holding you back. If you’re worried you don’t have enough time to meditate, for example, you’ll need to convince yourself otherwise. Can you find five minutes in the morning? How can you convince yourself that this will be worth it? Finding the benefits of making a change for others can be enormously helpful in this stage. How will your friends and family benefit from your change? How can you use these benefits to assuage your fear about how others will perceive your change?

3 Signs You Won't Keep Your New Year’s Resolution #NewYearsResolutions Click To Tweet

3.) You do truly intend to change, but you still feel some dread about it. You’re out of denial, in that you recognize that you really do need to change — or you’ve solved the problem of not knowing how to make a change (for example, by joining my Brave Over Perfect coaching group). Your list of benefits is longer than your list of drawbacks. The only thing you have to surmount now is fear of failure. This third stage of change is called “preparation.”

The way to move from here into action is to take an honest look at how the change you are preparing for can truly make your life better. How do you think and feel about yourself as you are right now, if you never change the behavior in question? Maybe you are often stressed, and you’re seriously thinking about getting in an exercise habit to combat this. Without more physical activity, you think of yourself as sedentary and out of shape, and you feel stressed and anxious. Now, imagine yourself having made the change you are looking for. How will you think of yourself differently? Most importantly, how will you feel?

Sometimes, on New Year’s Eve — or in life — we feel pressured to commit to changes we just aren’t ready to make. If you aren’t ready to spring into action, there’s no harm in that. Please realize that you have more options than either making a resolution (and probably failing, if you aren’t in the fourth stage of change) or doing nothing at all. All you need to do to grow is to move from one stage of change to the next!

Already made a resolution, but now it seems like you might not be ready to leap into action? Please check out my Brave Over Perfect Group Coaching. January is all about setting you up to cultivate a lasting habit. You’ll get real resultsUse the code BESTYEARYET to enroll for just $10. Learn more or enroll now.

20 Questions to Ask at Your Holiday Dinner

Like many families, ours followed this year’s midterm elections with passion. This will no doubt give us lots to talk about over the holidays and this week at Thanksgiving.

To be honest, this could stir considerable conflict. Our family is diverse: we are gay and straight; Black, white, and Latino; we are Fundamentalist Christian, Liberal Christian, Unitarian, Jewish, Buddhist, agnostic, and Atheist; we are Republicans, Democrats, and Independents; we come from suburban and urban communities. We will be 32 strong at our California Christmas dinner, with cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents hailing from Florida, Washington, and Boston.

So even if politics are on all our minds, we can give political conversation a rest for one meal, because as a family we are not defined by our politics. I believe we are defined by how well we love each other, by how well we truly see one another. So this year, under each holiday plate, I will place one of the questions below, to spur the kind of conversation where we truly listen to one another, so we can get to know each other better. Even though I’ve known most of the people at the table since birth — or they’ve known me since I was born — we still have so much to learn about each other.

We are defined by how well we love each other, by how well we truly see one another. Click To Tweet

Conversations like the ones that ensue from these questions help kids experience themselves as a part of something larger than themselves. This, in turn, is likely to make them more resilient, better adjusted, and more successful in school (as I wrote about here). So here’s an extra challenge: See if you can get the adults to weave their answers to the questions below into a narrative demonstrating that your family members have been through both good and bad times together, but through it all, you’ve stuck together.

A printable copy of this list is here.

  1. What do you remember about previous houses you’ve lived in? Which one did you like the best?
  2. For an adult: What did you have as a child that kids today don’t have? How was your life better? How was it worse? For a kid: What do you have that previous generations didn’t have? How would your life be better without it? How would it be worse?
  3. Has anything ever happened at a family wedding or event that you’ll never forget?
  4. Think of some relatives that have passed away in the last few years. What would they be likely to do tomorrow if they were still alive?
  5. Which family member has been your greatest coach in life? How have they coached you? What has made them good at it?
  6. For an adult: When you were a teenager, which family member did you go to for advice? Looking back, was it good advice? For a kid: Which family member have you recently received advice from? Was it good advice?
  7. For adult: What was your favorite movie or book when you were my age? For kid: What was your favorite movie or book last year, and what is your favorite now?

    Conversations like the ones that ensue from these questions help kids experience themselves as a part of something larger than themselves. Click To Tweet

  8. Tell us a story about a family reunion or family party that you remember attending as a child.
  9. What was the hardest thing you went through/have gone through as a child? How did you overcome it?
  10. What are your favorite stories that grandpa/grandma told (or still tells)?
  11. If you could know anything about our family history or about a relative who has passed away, what would you want to know?
  12. What is the most embarrassing thing your mother or father ever did to you?
  13. What are your best memories of holidays or family gatherings?
  14. What three adjectives would your grandparents use to describe you?
  15. Did your parents or grandparents ever lose their jobs? What happened? How did they start over?
  16. What is the best thing that your grandparents ever cooked? What about your parents?
  17. How did your parents change after they retired?
  18. If you could go back to one day in your childhood, which day would that be? Why?
  19. How are you most different from your parents and grandparents? How are you the same?
  20. What did/do your grandparents do with you that you loved? (For adults: What did they do that you didn’t enjoy so much?)

Many of these questions were adapted from the “Family Gathering” edition of Table Topics

How to be Imperfect

Last autumn, horrific wildfires raged near our home. People we knew were losing their houses left and right. In the midst of disaster, I had to leave town for work.

To make myself feel better, I typed up three single-spaced pages of detailed instructions for what my family should do in case of fire or earthquake. Which I then laminated. And posted in each of my kids’ bedrooms.

I then made my family practice an emergency evacuation. Tanner, age 15, volunteered to take care of the family heirlooms. I drilled him, dead serious: “Which are the high-priority photo albums?” Molly, 14, was drawing on her ankle with a ballpoint pen. “Molly! Pay attention! When you get Buster into the car, what else do you need to make sure you have with you?”

My husband rolled his eyes.

Until recently, I’d thought that I’d more or less conquered perfectionism. Perfectionism, I’d become fond of saying, is a particular form of unhappiness. I’d thank GOD I wasn’t a perfectionist anymore.

Hah.

While it is true that I am no longer as afraid of making mistakes or disappointing others as I was in my youth, I have obviously not yet rid myself of perfectionism. I’ve just turned it outward, to the world, and especially to others. How am I trying to solve this problem of mine? Read on.

Inner turbulence, outer control

The more turbulent I am inside, the more I try to control what’s happening outside. Some people look away when chaos reigns; I dig in. I boss people around. I am aggressive about what I think is right.

Feeling like I am right, like I know what to do, delivers a hit of certainty in a world of unending and catastrophic natural disasters, in a country where mass shootings are commonplace and our hot-headed president brags about his ability to start a nuclear war.

But every time I try to control anything other than my own thoughts—the weather, my husband, my children—I’m sending a message to the world and the people around me that they are not good enough. This absolutely is perfectionism, and indeed, it is a particular form of unhappiness—one that spreads like wildfire.

This control freakish-ness indicates that I have problem with what researchers call “other-oriented perfectionism.”

I’m not alone. A new study published in Psychological Bulletin demonstrates that perfectionism is increasing over time: Today’s youth are more demanding of others, and they are more demanding of themselves. They also feel like other people (e.g., parents like me) are more demanding of them.

Like its close cousins “self-oriented perfectionism” and “socially prescribed perfectionism,” other-oriented perfectionism leads to nothing good. Although we often think that perfectionism is a cause of success—“I’m a bit of a perfectionist” is a socially acceptable humble-brag—research clearly demonstrates that perfectionism is often debilitating. A well-studied phenomenon, perfectionism is clearly associated with serious depression, chronic anxiety, and myriad health problems.

And “other-oriented perfectionism” comes with additional drawbacks: In intimate relationships, it is linked with “greater conflict and lower sexual satisfaction.” When I get bossy and controlling, the people around me feel defensive, or they feel wrong, or they feel a lack of control—nothing anyone ever wants to feel.

Being controlling is like a sugar rush: It might bring me a quick hit of tense certainty, but never lasting peace. This is because all control is false. Temporary at best. Life is inherently uncertain. We might hate that, but it’s true. We can be sure of only one thing: We will die. And we are usually not even in control of that.

How to surrender

Given this, why do I so consistently and diligently resist uncertainty by trying to get the world to do things my way? And what can I do instead of retreating back into perfectionism?

The opposite of perfectionism is acceptance. Not resignation, but surrender…to whatever is happening in the present moment. I know, I know: That sounds terrible to my fellow control freaks. Bear with me.

You may have heard the truism that what we resist, persists. This teaches us that we often prolong pain and difficulty through resistance. Perfectionism is a form of resistance to whatever is actually happening in the present moment. At its foundation, it is a rejection of the current reality.

Research by Kristin Neff and others shows that resistance increases our suffering, while acceptance—particularly self-acceptance—is one of the lesser-known secrets to happiness.

But this idea that we do better when we don’t resist difficulty is very counterintuitive. How do we even begin to stop resisting what hurts or what scares us?

Behavioral science and great wisdom traditions both point us towards acceptance. It is strangely effective to simply accept that which we cannot control, especially if we are in a difficult or painful situation. To do this, we accept the situation, and also our emotions about the situation.

Instead of laminating instructions for exactly what to do during a disaster (because, you know, when the house is on fire that’s just what everyone needs), I could have let myself accept reality: We could, at some point, lose our home in a fire. And then I could just let myself feel the fear and anxiety I was actually already feeling.

This approach requires trust. Trust that if I’m still here, still breathing, everything is okay. Trust that even if I don’t give specific instructions, if I back off from trying to control everyone and everything, life will continue to unfold just as it’s meant to. Trust that even if it all goes to hell, even if other people make mistakes or do things differently than I would do them, that I can deal with the outcome, no matter what it is. Trust that I can handle all the difficult emotions that come up in response to what does or does not happen. Trust that I can handle loss and grief should it come.

“You know what to do now, in a fire or an earthquake?” I asked the kids a few weeks later.

“Pretty much,” Molly answered, looking up.

“What?” I asked.

“Depends what we’re dealing with. I’m in charge of Buster. I’ll get him to the meeting place.”

This is a good-enough plan…even though it does not account for some critical details.

Weirdly, this trust and acceptance thing works. When we suppress or deny our emotions (or distract ourselves from them by writing and laminating instruction manuals), they don’t actually go away. In fact, they tend to generate an even bigger physiological response, which makes us more, not less, anxious. But when we let ourselves feel what we feel, we can process what is happening for us. We don’t feel fewer challenging emotions, but we do feel them for less time.

For example, we might have a particularly difficult relationship with a neighbor or in-law. We can accept this as our reality, and also that we feel frustrated and saddened by the situation. This doesn’t mean that the situation will never get better; acceptance is not the same as resignation. We can work to make the relationship less difficult (or to be reasonably prepared in the event of a disaster), while at the same time accepting the reality that the relationship is very difficult. Maybe it will get better—and maybe it won’t.

Accepting the reality of a difficult or scary situation and our limited control allows us to soften. And this softening opens the door to our own compassion and wisdom.

And in this crazy and uncertain life, we human beings need those things.

Should You Stay or Should You Go?

Lucky us: We live in a world where many of us have an abundance of choices–where to live, what to do for a living, and, of course, who to marry. Or whether to get married at all.

All these choices give us certain freedoms, but they don’t necessarily make us happier. They create certain perfectionistic expectations: If we aren’t perfectly happy with the one we love, for example, might we have chosen wrong? Should I make a different choice now? Would the grass be greener if I were with my high school sweetheart?

Here’s where I find John and Julie Gottman’s seminal research helpful for understanding the problems of long-term romantic relationships. Here are two key things I’ve learned from them:

First, all couples have problems. Think the grass might be greener? Remember you’re trading out one set of problems for another. It isn’t about finding a conflict-free relationship, or even about solving all of your relationship’s problems, but rather about accepting the problems you can live with.

In her book Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert offers a very useful metaphor for this, quoting her gem-buyer former husband:

A parcel is this random collection of gems that the miner puts together. Supposedly, you get a better deal that way—buying them all in a bunch—but you have to be careful, because [he’s] trying to unload his bad gemstones on you by packaging them together with a few really good ones.

After I got burned enough times, I learned this: You have to ignore the perfect gemstones. Just put them away and have a careful look at the really bad stones. Look at them for a long time, and then ask yourself honestly, “Can I work with these? Can I make something out of this?”

Spouses are much the same: They come with flawed bits as well as sparkly strengths. The question isn’t so much whether you want the sparkly parts (of course you do) but rather whether you can deal with the flaws.

Second, there are really only four types of problems. The key is knowing what type of problem you’ve got, and then deciding whether or not you can work with it. The four kinds of problems are:

(1) One-time, solvable problems. I think many of us bull-headed people assume that all problems are solvable. They’re not.

But some are. These tend to be the types of conflicts that arise from a unique situation rather than differences in our personalities.

Say you want a dog, but your partner doesn’t. This is a conflict that can, in theory, be solved, if you’ve got good conflict resolution skills. If you don’t resolve the conflict, it can turn into #2, below: a conflict that comes up again and again and again, until you just get the darn dog. Or you leave, and then get the dog.

(2) Cyclical conflicts. The Gottmans call these problems “perpetual issues.”  Unlike solvable problems, they are based on fundamental differences in your personalities, emotional needs, or ideas about how you’d like to live life—and they will never, ever go away. Period. Accept that now.

They can become workable, however. The classic example of this is the slob who is married to a neat-nick: She wants the house hospital-clean; he leaves piles of crap everywhere. Being neat is hard for him, but easy for her.

Even if he commits to putting his stuff away, she can’t really turn him into a neat-nick, and so this is a problem that will wax and wane. His efforts to be neat will gradually fade as he gets busy or stressed or just lazy. She’ll get frustrated and the conflict will resurface. He’ll redouble his efforts, and the conflict will fade again, and so on.

The question is not whether you can get the problem to go away completely—you can’t—but whether or not you can establish a constructive dialogue about it and make periodic headway toward solving it.

Cyclical conflicts can actually create intimacy: You’ve worked together to improve a problem, and that feels good. So the question is: Can you arrive at a workable solution, knowing that you will continue to revisit this throughout your time together?

These are the lesser-value gems. Can you work with them?

Some relationship problems are workable. Others aren't. Here's how to tell the difference. Click To Tweet

(3) If you can’t work with those imperfect gems, you’ve got a deal-breaker issue on the table. Abuse is a deal-breaker that sometimes masquerades as a cyclical conflict.

Other deal-breakers aren’t so obvious. I have a friend who couldn’t establish intimacy with her husband unless she was very upset and let him come to her rescue. She got tired of having to be stressed-out (or freaking out) in order to feel connected to him, and she realized this was a deal-breaker for her. If they couldn’t move the problem into a different category—making it a cyclical conflict based on their personality differences—she didn’t want to be in the relationship.

They started seeing a counselor to see if they could establish intimacy in other ways. They couldn’t. After a year of trying in vain to make headway on the problem, they parted ways.

(4) Wounding problems are similar to cyclical ones, in that they can be fights you have with your partner over and over and over. The difference is that you never really make any headway on the issue.

Wounding problems generate frustration and hurt, they get worse over time, and they lead to feeling unloved, unaccepted, and misunderstood. These conflicts are characterized by the presence of the four things that the Gottmans have long found to predict divorce: defensiveness, contempt, criticism, and stonewalling (think of talking to a stone wall: The other person is totally disengaged).

Many couples can move their wounding problems into the cyclical conflict category by learning how to fight differently. Spouses who raise their issues with genuine respect and appreciation for their partner tend to engage in radically different discussions than spouses who launch headlong into a fight and hope to “win” it, blaming and vilifying the other.

So, should you stay or should you go? I shared this framework with a friend who is trying to decide whether or not to stay with her main squeeze.

She wants more romance; he thinks anything that smacks of Hallmark is needy and lame. She’d been thinking this could be a deal-breaker. “It’s NOT a deal-breaker!” she declared with obvious joy. “It’s a CYCLICAL CONFLICT!”

They talked about the conflict in a way that made them both feel understood and loved. He admitted that while romance was hard for him, he enjoyed making her feel loved. They established a dialogue, made some headway (he even brought her flowers the next day), AND have also accepted that this is something likely to arise again in the future.

Knowing that she has a cyclical problem on her hands, and not a deal-breaker, has given my friend some peace.  I hope having a better understanding of the problems that beset relationships also brings you a bit of well-being in this month of love.

Join the discussion: What types of relationship problems do you have? Inspire others by sharing your insights with folks in the comments, below.

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If this post resonates with you, I hope you’ll join our Brave Over Perfect group coaching! Our March theme is all about love and marriage. We’ll show you how to transform even the most challenging relationships, and it’s only $20 to join us for three coaching calls. Get instant access to our group coaching calls (and call recordings), a thriving online community, and online resources. Learn more or enroll now.

How to Cope with a Difficult Relative Over the Holidays

My paternal grandmother died young, at age 49; within a year of her death, my grandfather had remarried the woman who would become my grandma. Even though her kisses smelled like cigarette smoke, I adored her. As a little girl, I did not know that she didn’t get along well with her adult stepchildren, my father and uncle.

My parents were very conscious about how they managed conflict in our family, and I learned a lot from that. I do remember some rather tense family gatherings; my parents didn’t hide their conflict with my grandma as much as they encouraged good behavior around her.

Is there someone in your family who stirs conflict? Below are five tactics for dealing with difficult people. You can teach them to your children, and model them yourself.

1. Keep calm like a champion. When you feel yourself starting to get irritated by someone, slow and deepen your breathing significantly. Taking several long, slow exhales can measurably lower your heart rate and blood pressure.

If you can, duck out of the situation so you can be alone for a moment. You may even consider making a “sh sh sh sshhhh” sound as you exhale, as though you are soothing a baby. This triggers the same muscles that you’d use when laughing; UCLA’s Marc Schoen has shown this to be extremely effective at keeping us calm, even when we are uncomfortable. The idea is to prevent our fight-or-flight response, which can make us aggressive and can make it very hard for us to be skillful in a challenging situation.

When we accept a person we find challenging, we let go of the resistance that creates stress. Click To Tweet

2. Accept the difficult person fully. This is a strangely effective strategy. When we accept a person we find challenging, we let go of the resistance that creates stress and tension. There’s a lot of truth to the adage, “What we resist, persists.”

Look at the person in question with kindness and compassion. Say to yourself, for example, “I see you, and I see that you are angry and insecure. I accept that you are anxious and scared, even if I don’t understand why. I accept that you are making all of us anxious, too. I accept that your trouble has become my trouble for the time being.”

Practicing this sort of acceptance is about dropping the fantasy of how we think things ought to be. You might have a fantasy of a sweet, close relationship with an in-law, for instance, and so you feel angry and disappointed every time he or she doesn’t live up to this ideal. But be aware that your in-law no doubt feels your disappointment, and feels judged. It might seem to that person like you’re trying to “fix” him or her, and it’s hurtful. This isn’t a good way for you to improve that relationship.

3. Let the other person be “right.” This is excellent practice for, well, enlightenment. It’s so hard, and our ego hates this practice more than anything. But when we let go of our need to be right, we deepen our acceptance of a situation and we engender peace despite differences.

Rather than simply listening to a family member so that you’re able to counter what that person says, try to listen for the sake of understanding. Where is he or she is coming from? This doesn’t mean you need to agree, just that you’re showing that person a basic level of respect. Research suggests engaging with a person this way – acknowledging the other’s point of view without judging it – can make that person feel more understood. As a result, he or she may be less defensive or difficult. Rather than interrupting with counter-arguments, try to paraphrase back the points you think a person is making, and acknowledge the emotions he or she seem to be expressing.

4. Give yourself permission to take care of your own needs first. This is a critical skill that many people – women especially – tend to feel guilty about. If this is you, repeat after me: “It is not selfish to take care of myself.” If you become weak or volatile from lack of self-care, you are all but useless to others.

For starters, get enough rest. It’s harder to regulate your emotions when you’re tired. In addition, don’t skip meals. Research shows that keeping your blood sugar stable will make you less aggressive if you get angry. And always remember to take a moment to leave the room, if possible, and breathe deeply if you find yourself in a particularly difficult situation.

5. Don’t take the bait. Sometimes it seems like a difficult person’s job is to provoke and incite. Family members know you and know how to push your buttons. Instead of engaging, see jabs and barbs as a cry for attention and connection. For a lot of people, conflict is born from an unfulfilled desire to feel useful and to be a part of something larger than themselves.

Start by giving the difficult person a way to focus on something besides himself or herself to feel connected and useful. If you’re having a meal with a difficult family member, you might ask that person to help your kids set the table. When you ask someone for help, provide a rationale for why that person might do you the favor. One decades-old study that’s still relevant today found that the word “because” tends to trigger compliance. For instance, you might whisper to your mother-in-law, “It would be great if you could show the kids how to set the table, because they need a little guidance today.”

We are all just looking for love, connection and friendship. One of the most wonderful lessons we can teach our children is that the greatest gift we can give ourselves is to accept a difficult person fully, and with love.


Sometimes even very well-meaning and loving people give us bad advice. Next week in my Brave Over Perfect coaching programwe’ll talk through how to stay true to yourself when other people would rather you not.

It’s only $20 to join us! Get instant access to live coaching calls (and call recordings), a thriving online community, and online resources. Learn more or enroll now.

When is it Better to Just “Fake it”?

People seem to be taking issue with my claim that happiness comes when we live with total integrity—when we stop people-pleasing and start living more authentically.

I understand entirely why a lot of people fear the sort of transparency and honesty I’m advocating. We are clannish beings, with nervous systems that evolved to profoundly fear being rejected by our tribe. Acceptance can feel like everything, and for some people, it can be a matter of survival.

At the same time, for most of us, it is far better in the long run to be ourselves and risk having people not like us than to suffer the stress and tension that comes from pretending to be someone we’re not.

Does this mean, though, that we always say what we’re thinking? Sometimes it’s simply not safe, or smart, to do that. As one commenter recently mused:

Is there anyone reading this who has not had an interaction with a law enforcement officer for at least a minor traffic issue? a tail light out? a parking ticket? And during such an interaction, is telling that officer that you resent being stopped because you believe s/he hasn’t met their quota of fines for the month a wise idea? Or if taking a ticket to court, is it wise to tell the judge you think s/he is a fool? You might think that—but saying so may lead to needing a good attorney.

Granted, a traffic stop is a racial flashpoint and a huge public issue. For some people, a run-in like this one could be lethal, especially if they were to express hostility—however authentic that might be. But there is an enormous difference between living your truth and always saying what’s on your mind. I don’t think that it’s necessary, or even a good idea, in instances like this one to “speak your truth.”

Nor do you need to pretend to be happy about the situation. Being pulled over can be extremely stressful (even life-threatening) and pretending that it isn’t will simply ratchet up your fear response, which is not a good thing. Inauthenticity—in this case, actively pretending to be happy when you’re terrified—tends to increase the fight-or-flight response in both people, and in that way could actually make a scary situation more dangerous.

But it’s entirely possible to internally acknowledge your feelings, while remaining quiet or emotionally unexpressive to those around you.

This is where it gets tricky again. Say you are feeling afraid; is it best to indulge your fear? Even if you don’t tell the officer how frightened you are—or even if you don’t pretend to be happy about the situation—how does one behave authentically in this situation? If you are resentful, is it best to be transparent about your resentment? Should resentment dictate your behavior?

Often this is the way it works: Something happens—or we have a thought or memory—that triggers an emotion. In turn, that emotion triggers behavior.

Sometimes, the behavior is repression—the act of pretending that we aren’t feeling what we actually are feeling. Or an emotion triggers a numbing behavior, so that we don’t really feel something, as when we start to feel bored or anxious and we immediately check our phones. (This doesn’t work, by the way; physiologically our emotions get bigger when we stuff them down. But let’s leave that for another post.)

Emotions trigger loads of behaviors. They may cause us to hug someone we love, or lash out when we feel angry.

So again: If we are trying to live with total integrity, if we are attempting to “live our truth,” does that mean always acting on our feelings?

Again, I don’t think so. Why? Because often it simply isn’t effective. It won’t necessarily make us feel less stressed or more honest. In the same way that we don’t always need to say out loud everything that is on our mind, we don’t need to act on our every emotional impulse. We need to be aware of what we’re feeling, for sure, but we don’t always need to act in the ways that our emotions would dictate.

It can be even more effective to “act as-if” we are already feeling something else. Before you write me off as contradicting myself entirely, hear me out.

Just as emotions tend to trigger behaviors, behavior can also trigger emotion. Think about the wise (and almost cliched) advice to “take some deep breaths” when you are feeling stressed. A particular behavior can help to create a different emotional state than you may be feeling initially. We often think of this as the “fake it ‘til you make it” path to happiness.

There is a catch here, which gets confusing. “Faking it” only works when we aren’t pretending or performing. Consciously faking a smile, for example, to cover negative emotions (what researchers call “surface acting”) tends to increase our distress. This kind of toxic inauthenticity is corrosive to our health (especially our cardiovascular system), and it damages our relationships with others. It also makes it hard for us to access our intuitive or visceral intelligence.

Suppressing or numbing our emotions doesn’t work the way we often want it to. UNLESS—and here is the trick—we consciously foster the emotions that we want to feel in our lives. This is what researchers call “deep acting.”

Deep acting is when we genuinely work to foster specific feelings. When we make an effort to cultivate real happiness, gratitude, hope, and other positive emotions in our lives, we can dramatically increase our well-being—authentically.

Deep acting is what this commenter is asking about:

I’m wondering…if you would suggest that the idea of “acting as-if” for treatment would never work? I suggest the use of breathing, self-imagery, posture…to feel better and improve relationships.

When we are talking about the types of research-tested behaviors this commenter suggests, “acting as-if” can be quite different than pretending to feel something that we don’t.

Here’s the difference: Pretending is about hiding or denying our emotions, while “deep acting,” or “acting as-if” is about proactively fostering emotions, starting with an action or behavior.

It’s a fine line, to be sure. We sometimes become pretty invested in our false selves, in the “representative,” as Glennon Doyle Melton calls it, that we send out into the world instead of showing up fully and authentically as ourselves. We create representatives to protect ourselves, often in response to unstable or abusive situations.

Sometimes, we aren’t yet able to separate our false selves from our real ones. We want to defend the important representative that has worked so hard for us for so long. And that’s okay…so long as we can see where our representative is holding us back, and that it is, of course, the truth that will eventually set us free.


This month in my coaching program, we’re focusing on how to live with total integrity.

It’s only $20 to join our live coaching calls, thriving online community, and online resources. We’ll talk about how we often need to muster considerable courage to lead our most authentic lives—and work together on just how to do that. Learn more or enroll now.

Accessing Authenticity

What if you didn’t have to worry about what other people think of you? Does your body sigh with relief at the thought of all the freed up time and energy you’d have? Or do you seize up with fear or resistance to the idea?

Authenticity’s appeal is obvious, but how does a person even go about being fully authentic, anyway? Here are 3 tips to get started.

How to be you involves accepting, loving, and discovering who you are. --J. Marsh #BeYou Click To Tweet

1. Become a truth teller.

Being authentic is, of course, at it’s core about being in total integrity with what is true for us. But most of us were not raised to be truth tellers, really–we were raised to people please. We were taught that white lies are totally okay. We were taught to pretend and perform and make nice.

But pretending–even if it is relatively meaningless, even if it is meant to protect someone else–is a form of lying.

And lying, even if we do it a lot, or are good at it, is very stressful to our brains and our body. The polygraph test depends on this: “Lie Detectors” don’t actually detect lies, but rather they detect the subconscious stress and fear that lying causes. These tests sense changes in our skin electricity, pulse rate, vocal pitch and breathing that the stress of lying causes.  It’s as if all sorts of alerts go off when we lie, as if the body is howling for us to stop.

Fortunately, we become happier and healthier when we live our truth. It is also the only way to be authentic.

2. Let your body point you towards what is true for you.

Sometimes it feels really hard to know who we are and what we want. But fortunately, our body always already knows what we are feeling, even when we aren’t conscious of it.

Try listening to the feedback that your body is giving you right now. Say something really untrue out loud, preferably to someone else. Try something like “I love it when my boss humiliates me in front of my team,” or “I adore having the stomach flu.” Then notice: How does your body react? The response will likely be ever so slight: a minuscule pulling back; or tensing of your jaw; or a tiny shoulder raise. When I say something that my unconscious mind hates, my body tries to tell me through a little heaviness in my stomach. If I spend too long doing something that feels wrong for me, I end up with a stomachache.

Now try saying something out loud that is true for you, and notice your body’s reaction. Try something like “I love the ocean,” or “I love the feel of my baby’s head on my cheek.” How does your body respond? When I say something that is very true for me, or when someone else says it to me, I get “chills of truth”—the hair literally stands up on my arms. And if I’m grappling with something hard, but the right answer comes up for me, I get “tears of truth.” Tears that tell me that something is profoundly true feel qualitatively different than the tears that come from grief or hurt.

What is true for us tends to make us feel stronger and more free. And lies tend to feel like constraint and constriction–our shoulders ache, our back hurts, or our stomach churns.

3. Accept the “ugly” bits of yourself, including the difficult emotions.

“Being You” is massively different from being perfect, or being the best possible version of yourself. We are all human, and by definition that means that we are often messy and raw and wrong.

When we love only the parts of ourselves that we deem to be good or strong or smart, we reject the parts of ourselves that make us real. This sets us up for inauthenticity. We start hiding what is real and showing off what is sparkly, but our seeming perfection is fake.

The only thing to do with all our imperfections is to accept them with forgiveness and compassion. And also to accept how we feel about our flaws, which is probably not so good. This does not mean that we are resigned to never growing or overcoming our weaknesses. It just means that we can be our true selves on this path. As Leonard Cohen sings in “Anthem:”

Ring the bells that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack, a crack, in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

Loving and accepting ourselves–and all our flaws, including our anger and fear and sadness and our pettiness–is, in the end, the only thing that enables us to be authentic. It is also the greatest gift that we can give ourselves. It is the reason that authenticity makes us happier and healthier and more connected to those around us.

 


If this post resonates with you, we hope you will join our Brave Over Perfect coaching group.

It’s only $20 to join our live coaching calls, thriving online community, and online resources. Upcoming call topics include:

  • Tapping Into Your Inner Wisdom
  • What To Do When Things Feel Uncertain
  • How To Deal With Difficult People

We’ll talk about how we often need to muster considerable courage to lead our most authentic lives—and work together on just how to do that. Learn more or enroll now.

How to Get Better at Reaching Your Goals

Busy women tend to struggle with similar challenges. We get overwhelmed. We take care of others before we take care of ourselves. We question our careers, our parenting, our marriages, and our priorities.  We feel like we aren’t good enough.

But we know what we want. We want to be seen by people who “get” us. We want to do meaningful work. We want amazing relationships with our spouses, our friends, and our children. We want the peace that comes with acceptance and self-compassion and self-care. We want to enjoy the small moments. We want to focus on what’s important. Most of all, we want to enjoy this life that we’ve worked so hard to create.

We want all this even though life is hectic and uncertain, even though we are not always (or ever) in control. Here’s the thing: It isn’t enough to know what we want.

We also need to know how to get what we want. Enter Brave Over Perfect Group Coaching, where we practice specific strategies for feeling less overwhelmed and more fulfilled. Using behavioral psychologist Sean Young’s framework, below are 10 steps for getting better at reaching our goals — I hope you find them practical and useful in helping you get more of what you want in your life. While here I use my desire to exercise more as a model, this can obviously be applied to many things. (I’ve created a goal-setting worksheet here in the hopes that will make it easier, too.)

1. First, state the big goal. What would you like to accomplish in the next three months or so? My hope is that I’ll get back to an efficient, but well-rounded exercise routine that includes a little stretching, strength training, and aerobic exercise in about 20 minutes, six days per week.

I’ll take a small success over an ambitious failure any day. Click To Tweet

This isn’t a ton of exercise, but because I can do it in so little time, it is realistic. (Six days a week seems ambitious, but I have given myself the option of combining days, for three longer workouts if, say, I’m traveling or something.) One thing I’ve learned a million times, over and over: realistic is better than sexy. I’ll take a small success over an ambitious failure any day. Small successes show us that we really can change our behavior in a lasting way.

2. Next, break this larger idea down into long-term goals. Long-term goals take up to three months to accomplish. My long-term goal is that by the end of the year, I’d like to have had 10 “streaks,” or weeks in which I have completed my exercise plan.

3. Break it down again, into short-term goals, which take one to three weeks to accomplish. I have three short-term goals:

  • Work with a trainer to set up my workouts (the specific exercises and stretches).
  • Memorize the circuits and learn to do them properly.
  • Have two “streaks” (entire weeks where I complete my plan) in a row.

4. Now break your goals down into very specific, ridiculously easy baby steps. What can you do today? Tomorrow? My first step was to call my friend Aaron, a trainer, who put together the exercises for me. Today, a baby step is to learn the warm-up stretches he gave me. Try to break your baby steps down until they are so easy you feel little or no resistance to them.

5. Set up your environment to make things easier. Our environment dramatically influences our behavior. We like to think our behavior is all our personality and preferences, or that it’s the strength of our iron-clad will that determines our success, but actually, we are hugely influenced by the people, places, and technology that happen to be in close physical proximity to us. This means that to be successful in reaching our goals, it’s very helpful to set up our environment to make things easier, to create what are called structural solutions. This usually means removing temptations—if your goal is to stop checking your phone while you drive, keep the phone in the trunk. And make sure that what you need is easy and convenient—if your goal is to eat more kale, keep a lot of kale in the fridge, and a list of restaurants that serve it.

I made exercising even easier for myself by moving my yoga mat and other equipment into my office. I workout at four in the afternoon, when my attention at work is starting to flag and I’d rather exercise than work…and everything I need is right behind me!

6. Involve other people, even if you are an introvert. We humans can often get ourselves to do something we might otherwise resist if it makes us feel more a part of a tribe or a clan—if it deepens or increases our social connections in some way. Other people can also work as a bit of external willpower, getting us to do something we’d rather blow off.

I scheduled a series of Skype calls with Aaron, both so he can make sure that I’m doing the exercises correctly and because I look forward to talking to him. I can tell you that if I didn’t have a call with him today, I’d be very tempted to push my workout time out a little bit, so that I can finish this post. For me, changing the routine is a very slippery slope—10 more minutes at work can easily become 20 and then 40…until it’s time to make dinner and there is no time for exercise.

7. Identify why your goal is important to you. Think less about what you want to achieve and focus in on how you want to feel. Identify a “why” for your goal that will motivate you over the long haul.

We do better when we let go of our logical reasons for why we want to do something. Why? Because research shows that good, solid, logical reasons for doing something—like exercising because we want to lower our blood pressure or ward off cancer—don’t actually motivate us over the long haul. It turns out that emotions are far more motivating than achieving goals in the long run.

So shoot instead for a feeling-state that you want more of (for example, maybe you want more happiness, confidence, or calm). I want to establish this exercise routine because I know it will increase my energy. Feeling awake and energetic is very important to me.

8. Make it a part of your identity. As in: I am a person who exercises. I’ll be tracking the days I exercise, so that I can look back and see: Yup, I’m an exerciser. Collect evidence that you are the type of person who does whatever it is that you are trying to do.

9. Make the behavior more enticing. We human beings pursue rewards: a pretty little cupcake, attention from a mentor, a sense of accomplishment. When our brains identify a potential reward, they release dopamine, a feel-good chemical messenger. Dopamine motivates us toward the reward, creating a real sense of craving, wanting, or desire for the carrot that is being dangled in front of us.

Rewards need to be immediate or, even better, built into the routine when possible. This is why I listen to audiobooks while I exercise; when I look forward to listening, I make exercise more enticing.

10. Make the behavior more habitual. Once a behavior is on autopilot, everything is easier—we don’t need much willpower to enact our habitual behaviors. Can you make your behaviors related to accomplishing your goal habitual in any way? Do this by anchoring behaviors in existing habits or routines, or even a schedule, using a When/Then statement: “When I do X, then I will Y.” For me, it’s “When it’s 4pm and the reminder pops up from my calendar, then I will exercise.”

What are your goals? What behaviors will you need to change in order to reach your goals? Leave them in the comments below. And if you’d like help setting your goals and reaching them, I hope you’ll join our new Brave Over Perfect Coaching Group!

Brave Over Perfect Coaching is an effective and affordable way to learn how to live with more courage, acceptance, joy, presence, self-compassion, gratitude, and authenticity. It’s only $20 for three coaching calls, two months of online support, and tons of online resources. We would love to have you join us!

Life is hectic and uncertain. You don’t have to be.

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