Tag Archives: self-help

Reach goals and make decisions using “if … then” technique

When considering options, do you suffer from analysis paralysis? Or, do you impulsively react? To counter both of these approaches use the “if … then technique:”
· If I do ­____ then ____ will happen.

For example, you have two job offers and must decide which to accept. One seems more interesting but pays significantly less; the other pays more but requires working more hours:

If I take the job that seems more interesting but pays less, then:
• I could only pay small amounts off my debt monthly.
• I’d enjoy my work more and be less stressed.
• Commuting would be less expensive and time-consuming since the job is closer to home.
• I’d spend more time with my family because I’d work fewer hours.

If I take the higher paying job, then:
• More commute time and over-time would keep me away from home more.
• With less time at home doing household chores and spending time with the family would become more challenging.
• My family might step up and help with chores. Maybe they’d even appreciate what I do around the house more.
• I could hire a housekeeper.

At first glance this technique seems like just the pros and cons of your choices. It’s different, however, in that it encourages you to think in terms of the consequences of your options. It helps you think before you act.
· If you rescue your child from her irresponsible behavior again then you’ll teach her you’ll rescue her and she won’t have to responsibility for herself.
· If you buy that expensive outfit then you’ll have less money and you’ll look great for the party. This forces you to choose what you value more: looking great or saving money.

To avoid the ready-aim-aim-aim-and-never-fire or the ready-fire-aim approaches, use if … then and join the ready-aim-fire group.

A second and different use of “if … then” is in planning and helping you accomplish goals.

For instance, for a weight loss goal, use if … then:
1. If ____ happens, then I’ll do ____.
o E.g., If dessert is offered I’ll decline and request water.
2. Then, add your specific goal: I’ll walk 30 minutes weekdays at 6:30 a.m.

NYU psychologist, Peter Gollwitzer reviewed 94 studies that researched people who used this 2-step planning technique and found significantly higher success rates for just about any goal. He explains it works because it speaks the language of your brain: the language of contingencies.

Deciding exactly how you’ll react to circumstances regarding your goal creates a link in your brain between the situation or cue (if) and the behavior that should follow (then.)
• When dessert is offered (cue) it links to your desired behavior – turn it down and request water.
Gollwitzer says this link keeps you from having to consciously monitor your goal. Your plans get carried out without apparent effort.

I’ve used this approach recently and have been very successful in achieving my stated goal. I encourage you to try it, too.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at https://wholeperson.com/x-selfhelp/selfhelp.html#Anchor-Let-11481.

Relationship Stress

Relationships can be the best and worst things that happen to people. They produce a lot of joy but also a lot of stress. Your relationship to your own environment can also cause stress. There are ways you can help lessen this unavoidable tension. These skills come in handy if you

  • aren’t getting enough support from the people around you,
  • are confused and need someone to listen and care for you,
  • find yourself saying ‘yes’ too many times when you want to say ‘no’, and
  • your environment makes you uncomfortable.

Relationship skills can make a huge difference in your overall health. Think about all the stress caused by relationships and your environment. How often do your relationships with other people create stress for you? Maybe you have particular relationships that seem to involve more stress than others, or one that you constantly feel as though you have to tread lightly upon. Have you avoided a part of your home because you don’t want to deal with a mess? Have you become stressed from environments you can’t control, like traffic jams or hospitals? Using relationship skills to help cope with this stress will make things a lot easier on you and the other people in your life, and if you have a physical surround that soothes you rather than tenses you, you’ll be even more balanced.

Getting Organized & Getting it Done

Getting Organized

The first part of Valuing Skills is understanding what you value. To do this, you’ll need to do one thing first; relax for a bit! Sit down for five minutes at the office, find a quiet place in your home, or even lock yourself in the bathroom for a minute. Just take deep breaths and let go of some tension. Let your mind stop spinning for a bit so you can think clearly. Once you’ve done this, organize your thoughts. Lists are helpful; you can try making a list of all the things in your life right now that you enjoy. Family? Job? Book club? Pet? What are some things in your life you could do without? Mowing the lawn? Feeling panicked? Not spending enough time with someone special? Think about a typical week. How much time do you spend working or traveling? Sleeping? Playing? Relaxing? What kind of things do you do most? Does it match with your values? If not, that probably causes you stress.

Next, pick a value to set attainable goals around. Where do you want to be in a year? One month? How are you going to make this happen? Use some planning skills strategies; try to make a specific goal for this week, and connect it with others that work towards your long-term goal. Then get started! Break down big tasks into smaller ones, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

  • Do you usually meet your goals? Why or why not?


Getting it Done

Now that you’ve calmed down and thought about what you want, it’s time to make a plan. If you don’t commit to taking your plans into action, you’ll find yourself stressing again soon. It’s tempting to try to keep all your options open, but juggling multiple tasks results in dropping all of them. Pick one! Commit to making a good change.

Next, think about Time-Use Skills. What sort of things do you do that waste time? We all have tasks we can streamline. One common time-wasting habit is jumping from task to task without finishing them first. It’s more efficient to finish one then move to another. A second time waster is accepting nothing but perfection. This isn’t to say you should accept bad work, but recognize good work when you see it. Nothing is ever perfect. Another common time waster is putting off starting because you don’t know where to begin. Easy solution for that; start with the biggest and work your way down.

Last, don’t forget Pacing! Here’s an analogy: you’re on a timed run. You have 30 minutes to run as far as you can. If you sprint at the start, you will be exhausted in 5 minutes and trudge the next 25. You won’t get very far. If you go at a good pace, you will save yourself a lot of pain, and get much farther. You can tell when a pace is right for you; you feel challenged, not overwhelmed.

Personal Management: Stress Less!

Everyone has moments where we feel as though life is throwing too much at us. We can’t control what happens to you, but we can control how we each respond to it. By understanding how to spend your time and energy, you can help yourself when you feel overloaded. Understanding how to prioritize yourself is a great stress-reducing tool. These are called Personal Management Skills. They are useful when you:

  • feel as though you spend too much time on things that aren’t important,
  • feel out-of-step with yourself,
  • feel you have too much to do and no time to get it done, and
  • you don‘t really understand what you want from the future.

There are five facets to Personal Management Skills. The first are Valuing Skills, which help determine what’s important. Second are Planning Skills, which turns your values into a road map. Commitment Skills help put those plans into actions. Fourth are Time-Use Skills, which help you trim out your time wasters, and last are Pacing Skills, which help you to keep on course and not fizzle out halfway through.

  • Do you feel as though you need management skills, or do you feel like you’re already organized?
  • Does it seem as though you need help on one facet in particular?

Coping 101

Coping skills for distress are different for all of us. They seem to come naturally, but at one point and time, each coping skill was new and different. You found it effective, so you kept doing it until it became second nature to you. Stress reducers are healthy, but some of our coping skills come at a price that makes them unhealthy. The economics of coping are simple. Some skills work, but come at a price, such as drinking. It may help you forget your troubles, but can cost headaches, embarrassment, loss of productivity, irritation, or even organ damage. Screaming, taking a bath, or yelling are also solutions people use, but these are instant-gratification fixes; they work fast but don’t last long. Low-cost, high-yielding coping skills are things such as talking with a friend or exercising.

You may find not all coping skills work for you, or that they don’t work after time. If you’re reading this, sucking your thumb won’t make you feel better anymore. Also, not all coping habits are helpful in all situations. If you cope by sleeping, then it won’t help when you shut down in the middle of a crisis. It’s hard to let go of old, comforting skills; but you can change them if you want to. First, decide to do it! Then take it one step at a time and make your new skills as natural as cuddling a blankie was when you were a child.

  • What kind of skills would you like to try?
  • Do you have unhealthy coping skills?
  • What skills would you like to phase out?

Children can overcome abuse, deal with trauma

Victims of sexual assault struggle

In recent articles (http://stressforsuccess.blogspot.com) I’ve covered how vulnerable children are lured into sex-trafficking due to their desperation. S/he’s:
· Likely running away from an abusive home, therefore homeless;
· Alone and frightened;
· Just a kid.
A seemingly protective man, and sometimes a woman, offers to protect them. What would you do?

Beyond predatory traffickers/pimps who are preying on vulnerable kids, there’s a sad reality that makes them more vulnerable to this nightmare: early and repetitive childhood sexual trauma.

Sexual abuse harms victims’ mental, emotional, spiritual and physical development. The following description is adapted from “Childhood and Adult Sexual Victimization” by Parson, Brett and Brett.

A victim of repetitive childhood sexual abuse undergoes damage to her still-developing personality. The abuse shatters her very spirit, which is much more difficult to heal than mental and physical damage.

“Mind, body, and spirit” implies that spirit is part of the total self. Rather, spirit permeates all. It represents her essence. It holds the fabric of the self together. Spirit:
· Provides her with a healthy self-centeredness: a sense of her unique self;
· Is the natural belief that her self is her priceless, personal possession, worthy of protection and respect;

Sexual assaults devastate his spirit and self-respect. His natural social tendencies are haunted by constant vulnerability, resulting in blameless availability for adult abuse. The child goes from being spirit-filled and alive to essence-defused and empty. The degraded self may be drained of most traces of feeling human.

Contributing immeasurably to the child’s helplessness is the blaming the child for the incest while the adult denies responsibility. The abuse is committed on someone who is least able to protect himself from immoral adult power.

After repetitive abuse the child’s changed view of self is the essence of his stress. He’s robbed of his free will, spontaneity, and autonomy. His patterns of perceiving, trusting, and acting are drastically altered based on many secrets too terrible to face. He’s forced into secrecy with threats of exposure, abandonment, fear of repeated sexual injuries, and further humiliation. He’s constantly wary around adults.

He’s forced to grow up fast, learning how to survive. To survive he navigates his dangerous terrain through hyper-vigilance to adult mood and behavioral cues of impending abuse. He maneuvers around them. He de-activates the mines before they explode through good behavior and an appeasing manner to avert adult depravity. Running away becomes a viable option.

His spirit dims; her laughter is extinguished. Their environment is a place where no joy, hope, and love are allowed to flourish. There’s only emotional and spiritual darkness, helplessness, and buried rage to be resurrected at a later time, and unleashed suddenly on unsuspecting targets, including the self.

They live in a persistent state of stress-induced burnout due to near-constant paranoid expectations of attacks. Being chronically revved-up is akin to living in an internal police state.

What’s profoundly remarkable is that these children find a way to survive. Their strength and ingenuity are integral parts of trauma therapy, which can help. To find trauma therapists in our area go to http://www.mhaswfl.org/.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at https://wholeperson.com/x-selfhelp/selfhelp.html#Anchor-Let-11481.

Simplify your life by throwing out the clutter

Spend more time doing things you like

Simplicity is gaining in popularity as a response to our economic times. Even though it goes against our contemporary American brain to be satisfied with greater simplicity and less stuff it came very naturally to our grandparents. Maybe it’s time to return to our practical past by challenging stereotypical American assumptions like:
* Baby boomers’ belief that human worth is tied to how much we work;
* Some parents equating being a good parent with giving your children everything they want;
In other words, simplifying will be different for everyone. What would make your life easier?

Leo Babauta writing for Zenhabits suggests that simplifying means getting rid of much of what you do to spend more time with those you love, doing the things you enjoy. It means “getting rid of the clutter so you are left with only that which gives you value.”

Babauta suggests many ideas. The following is adapted from http://zenhabits.net/simple-living-manifesto-72-ideas-to-simplify-your-life:
* First, write out a clear description of what your simpler life looks like.
* Identify your well-considered priorities or simplifying won’t work for you. Make a list of the four to five most important things to you, what you most value, and what you most want to do in your life.
* Identify which commitments – from family, hobbies, work and volunteering – truly give you value and you deeply enjoy. Which are in the top four to five most important things you listed? Drop those that aren’t.
* Log your time investments from upon awakening until you go to bed. Do they support your top priorities? Eliminate those that don’t. Then redesign how you spend your waking hours.
* Simplify your work and home tasks. Instead of hacking your way through your to-do lists, identify what’s most important and do those first. Eliminate the rest, delegate them or pay someone to do them.
* Set appropriate limits! If you don’t know how, take an assertiveness class. If you set no limits you teach others that you’ll always say “yes” to their requests. And guess what. They’ll keep asking!
* Take control over your emails, cell phone, IM, Twitter, etc. They’ll take over your life if you’re not careful. Set limits like checking emails once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Or admit that these electronic connections are a top priority and more important than whatever else you’re falling behind on.
* Get rid of stuff. It feels good. Use the idea of a workshop participant: once a year she hangs all of her clothes backwards. When she wears something she hangs it back up frontwards. At the end of the year anything that remains hanging backwards gets donated. I love this simple idea!

Happiness and satisfaction are never from what you own. They come from your relationships, being satisfied with what you have, being what you want to be and living your values. Recommit to your simplicity annually to avoid slipping back onto the American hyper-treadmill once the economy recovers.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple.

Grief: A Natural Stress

The greatest distress most of us ever have to survive is the death of a loved one. Grief is the process we go through when we are recovering from a loss. It can be a major or minor, and the amount of grief experienced by each person will vary. Some losses are simply more painful than others.

If you are going through the grieving process, allow it to happen. You need time to recover from the injury. If you were suffering from an illness, you would give yourself some time off. Death isn’t any different. Take your time; find other things in life to focus on, to spend your love and energy on. This is not to say you will ever, ever replace the person you lost. You will learn to accept your new normal. There is no replacing a loved one — people aren’t things. You need an outlet for your stress energy. Let yourself lean on friends and family; join a support group if you need to. Don’t be afraid to reach out during this difficult time.

You will never get over your loss. You will always love and miss the person who is gone, but you can and must accept their passing and move on. You are forever changed, but you continue on with a new strength and purpose, becoming a stronger person who experiences life on a deeper level.

*Click here for Grief Resources from Whole Person.

Grief Work

One Stage at a Time

There are many ways to handle the stresses caused by life stages.  An important one is not to take yourself too seriously. Laugh at the little things in life, and remember that all stages in life – the terror of being out on your own for the first time in your twenties, the confusion of processing death at 70 – will pass with time. Be patient; it’s all just a stage! Keep in mind as you age that coping skills won’t always work the same way.

Aging helps you develop a fuller, deeper perception if you let it. Keep in touch with friends both older and younger than you. It’s amazing to see someone go through the same stages you did, and it’s helpful to see someone go through those that are approaching.  Watching others helps you see first hand the benefits of accepting aging as a part of life. Continue forward instead of looking back. Some people live in the past and others can’t seem to stop worrying about the future. What we should all try to do is cultivate today’s joys, because they become the future. Today’s joys also become tomorrow’s cherished memories. Be patient, have a sense of humor, and accept life in all of its stages. Things will be a lot less stressful.

Stages of Life and Stress

Here are some of the stresses and joys of each life stage.

Breaking Loose Leaving home, focusing on/conforming to peers, testing our wings, loneliness, attachment to causes, changing lifestyle, throwing out family morals.
Building the nest Searching for identity, intimate friendships, marriage, intoxication with ones own power, great dreams, making commitments, taking on responsibilities, launching a career, working towards goals, doing shoulds, finding a mentor, thinking about having children.
Looking around Raising questions, recognizing painful limitations, gathering possessions, moving up a career ladder, questioning marriage, settling down, having children, desiring freedom, what do I want to do with my life?
Mid-Life rebirth Awareness of mortality, diminishing physical energy, emotional turmoil, parenting teenagers, finding new friends and developing deeper relationships with current ones, asking deep questions, changing careers, second adolescence, divorce, remarriage, conflicting pressures, learning to play again.
Investing in life Life reordered, settling down again, embracing new values, focusing on relationships rather than on possessions or power, nurturing a few good friendships, grandparenting, having more freedom, enjoying life, adjusting to an empty nest, facing lost dreams.
Deepening wisdom Softening and mellowing, steady commitments, deepening richness, simplifying life, adjusting to limitations, loss of energy, retirement, quiet joys, self-knowledge, and facing death.
Twilight years Loneliness, freedom from shoulds, dependence, mind sharp/body failing and/or body fine/mind failing, death of mate and friends, preparing for death, achieving a sense of peace and perspective.
  • Where are you now?
  • How are you experiencing changes physically?
  • Are you holding on to some things that may be best left behind?
  • Are you stretching yourself too far forward?

*Find out more about our Stress Management and Wellness Promotion Resources and Self-Care Products.

Life Changes and Stress

Internal or external change is unavoidable. If too much happens too fast, you’ll end up feeling stressed. If things change too slowly, you’re bored.  Both positive and negative changes are stressful and your mind and body need time to recover. Increased stress is medically linked to illness, so take it easy. It’s no simple task to do so, since life changes come in clusters. Think about it. When you’re moving, you’re not just changing your house; you’re changing your physical climate, job, friends, church, schools, grocery store, and social activities. Some changes are easier to handle than others, but trying to prevent change altogether is asking for trouble. We all need change in our lives.

If things are too static, try saying yes to something you haven’t done before.  If things are changing too fast, say no, and don’t let yourself feel guilty! We all need time off, and you can’t please everyone.

Sometimes, life will spin out of control. At crisis moments, you need a survival plan.  Remember coping skills that have worked in the past, and apply them to your current disaster. Hold on to what works.  Let go of what doesn’t.

Life Changes Checklist

Mark all of the life changes that you have experienced over the past year.


  • Personal injury, illness or handicap
  • Pregnancy (yours or a partners’)
  • Change in religious views or beliefs
  • Change in financial status
  • Change in self-concept
  • Ending a relationship
  • Change in emotional outlook
  • Change in roles
  • Buying or selling a car
  • Aging
  • Change in habits


– Drugs

– Tobacco

– Exercise

– Nutrition


  • Marriage
  • Family members leaving home
  • New family member(s)
  • Separation/divorce
  • Trouble with in-laws
  • Partner stopping/ starting a job
  • Illness/healing of a family member
  • Death of a close friend or family member
  • Parent/child tensions
  • Change in recreational patterns


  • Changes work load
  • Change in play
  • Starting a new job
  • Promotion/ demotion
  • Retirement
  • Change in hours
  • Change in relationships at work
  • Change in job security
  • Strike
  • Change in financial status


  • Natural disaster
  • Holidays
  • Vacation
  • Remodeling
  • War
  • Major house cleaning
  • Crime against property
  • Moving to a new
  • House or Apartment
  • Neighborhood
  • Climate
  • Culture
  • City
  • State
  • Country

  • How did these changes affect you?
  • What was one change that had a surprising effect on you?

· What was one change that had a surprising effect on you?

Commitment versus Surrender

Commitment is your belief system in action. It is the decision to invest in particular goals, values, beliefs, and concepts. It seems as though there are a million things you want to do with your life, and even more you have to do. These want-to’s and have-to’s in life create stress if you don’t make good decisions about which is which. You’ll feel stressed if you only pay attention to either one.  Maybe you try too hard to do it all. If you find yourself saying there isn’t enough time, then you’ve got too much on your plate. It can make you feel panicked, rushed, and overwhelmed. On the other hand, having too little on your plate leaves you feeling unchallenged, bored, and depressed.

If you’ve taken on too much, you need to surrender something. We don’t like to surrender. We hate feeling  we had to give in or that we lost, but surrendering isn’t failing or losing. It’s the flip side of commitment, not the opposite of winning. It’s adjusting, and it can be as simple as changing your pace or realizing when a commitment is unrealistic.

  • Are you trying too hard to include all the want-to’s and  have-to’s  in your limited time?
  • Is there anything you want to surrender?  Need to surrender?

Understanding Self-Concept

Kicking Your Stress HabitsAnother part of your belief system is your self-concept. These are subjective ideas that are stuck in your head about yourself. Self-concept includes ideas about your limitations, abilities, appearance, emotional resources, your place in the world, potential, and even your worthiness. These alter your everyday choices and model the way you think. As an example, you may think you’re a lousy public speaker, but it turns out you’re really great. You, however, believe you’re no good at addressing a group, so you turn down an opportunity to speak at a conference even though it could do wonders for your career. You doubt your own ability so you opt out, and limit your potential.

Self-concept begins in childhood and is reinforced throughout your life based on your experiences. Perceptions about your own worth are very slow to change, even with a lot of positive reinforcement. When your self-concept isn’t in sync with reality you will feel distress. Others will have expectations and beliefs about you with which you are uncomfortable. You will constantly feel  as though you’re not prepared for situations like the conference. How stressed would you be if you had to give a speech anyway and you had no trust in your abilities?

  • Do you often feel as though you’re out of place?
  • Have you begun to realize some of your perceptions don’t match reality?

Stress Energy Economics

You are one person and you are subject to limited energy. Many of us use too much of our valuable energy when we don’t want or mean to. Overspending your energy is an unhealthy habit shared by a lot of us. If you panic when you can’t find your keys, or get angry when someone cuts in line, or you keep fighting a lost battle, you are overspending your limited energy. You can underspend your energy too. This would be something like if you were to allow a relationship to disintegrate, if you were turning a blind eye to something you could fix. Underspending and overspending are both problems.

You can see if you are wasting your stress energy, or not using enough of it by asking yourself three questions. First, does a threat really exist? Second, is the issue important? Third, can I make a difference?

If you answer no to any of these, it isn’t worth getting stressed over. If you answer yes to all of these, then it’s a good reason to use your energy.

  • What sort of things are worth using your stress energy?
  • What kind of things aren’t?
  • How often do you waste stress energy?

Kicking Your Stress Habits

Stress: A Matter of Perception

Stress can be caused by events, which will produce different reactions in each of us. Events are not good or bad within themselves, but our needs and experiences add context to them. The personal lens that we see events through can make them stressful.

Every day you face events that you either see as threatening or non-threatening. Which one it is depends on the perception habits you’ve learned.  These are learned from a young age; you absorb them from people around you. If your parents fought about money, you’re likely to feel finances are stressful. There are many factors that change your perceptions growing up, like your peers, your geographic location, economic status, etc. If you judge an event as threatening, you’ll feel distress. Your unique perceptions change the amount of threat from an event; seeing a large dog may not threaten you at all, but may cause distress for your friend who was bitten by a dog. The amount of distress from an event will change, depending on the level of value you place on what’s being threatened. Maybe you don’t feel threatened by having to miss going out with friends for a work function. But if it were your best friend’s birthday you were missing for work, you would probably feel bad. Perception habits are hard to change, but being aware of them can help you reduce your distress.

  • What kind of perception habits do you have?

Kicking Your Stress Habits

Assess your emotions before a confrontation

Let Your Body WinYou swear you’re prepared to speak calmly and professionally to a coworker you believe is intentionally sabotaging you. But the second you open your mouth to say something, BAM! you’re practically yelling at him! The first moments of an encounter set the stage for the entire conversation and you know you’ve blown it. But how can you control your aggression?

Use advice from the great book, “Crucial Conversations” by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler (McGraw-Hill, 2002.)

Defensive emotions once engaged are difficult to turn off. And the more defensive you are the more convinced you are that you’re right, giving more fuel to your emotions. If you’ve blown it you may want to apologize and arrange to talk later after you privately take responsibility for your emotions. Here’s how.

Last week I wrote about the book’s advice to identify the other person’s behavior and ask yourself why s/he is behaving that way. Your answer is what actually causes your emotions, not the other person’s behavior. It’s vital to understand this so you can move beyond your defensiveness.

For example, you and I are working on a project together. I discover that you’ve met privately with our boss. Plus, when we both attend meetings you “hog” the time, making it seem like you’re in charge of the project, which you’re not.

“Why” do I think you’re hogging the limelight and excluding me from meetings? My answer: “Because you want all of the credit.” Doesn’t this assumption fuel my anger and resentment?

But just because I believe this doesn’t make it true. If my “why” answer is defensive and judgmental, which it is, I need to identify your behaviors and the facts of the situation before speaking to you.
* Fact/behavior: you had two meetings with the boss that I wasn’t notified of so couldn’t attend. You didn’t inform me later either.
* Fact/behavior: when we presented our idea together you spoke for several minutes while I spoke far less.

Separating the facts and your behaviors from my assumption that you want all of the credit balances me emotionally. I feel more in the driver’s seat of my own life, which decreases my stress therefore my defensiveness. I can assertively speak to you by using this formula:
1. State the facts from my point of view;
2. My interpretation of their meaning;
3. How I feel about it;
4. Ask if I understand correctly.

E.g., “Tom, you didn’t inform me of the meetings you had privately with the boss. This makes me think excluding me was intentional. I felt resentment and was hurt by this. Was I purposefully excluded and if so, why?”

Substituting my assumptions (“hogging” and “wanting all the credit”) with the facts of the situation including your behavior plus using this formula to address my concerns can help balance me so I’m less likely to become instantly defensive.

Next week we’ll look at additional ideas to improve your ability to handle your “crucial conversations.”

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple.

Anger may be an emotional castle built on sand

The Importance of Crucial Conversations
Jacquelyn Ferguson, MS

Do you avoid difficult workplace (or personal) conversations where you fear the outcome will be uncomfortable? If so, read “Crucial Conversations” by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler (McGraw-Hill, 2002.)

According to these authors an organization’s effectiveness is strongly determined by its employees’ willingness to have crucial conversations. They found in the worst organizations poor performers are ignored then transferred. In good organizations supervisors eventually handle problem situations. In high performing organizations’ employees willingly and effectively speak to someone who fails to deliver on promises. Everyone is held accountable regardless of their level.

Difficult conversations usually trigger your stress cycle; therefore defensive behavior (my words not theirs,) bring out your worst behavior (their words). What’s your worst behavior? It’s not pretty, is it? You’d probably be as embarrassed as I to have people you respect see you behave that way.

To move beyond your automatic, defensive reactions and your worst behavior determine what – or whom – is actually causing your problem. Is it really that co-worker who aggravates you so, or might it your own interpretation of that person?

I’ve frequently written about how negative judgments of others trigger your worst behavior. These authors approach this formula differently, which may help you see that your own interpretations determine your emotional reactions and behavior.

Their advice is to ask yourself why the other person is behaving as he is. A simple example from a program I recently presented, “Collaborative Communication.” During our lunch break an attendee had to wait a long time at a Subway shop where there was only one employee working. He was doing his best and actually, according to my attendee, was doing quite well. He waited on four people at a time, taking each sandwich through the same steps together. All four customers had to wait for all four sandwiches to be made together.

Upon his return to our classroom, my attendee explained his own impatience was because the employee was disorganized (negative judgment). In my attendee’s mind, it was the employee’s disorganization that made the attendee impatient. Another attendee offered a different perspective. She suggested that the Subway employee probably didn’t want to take off and put on his plastic gloves repeatedly, so he made multiple sandwiches together. My attendee thought this seemed a likely explanation and said he probably wouldn’t have been impatient if he’d looked at it that way.

In other words, the label “disorganized” is what caused the attendee to become impatient, not the Subway employee’s system.

Who drives you the most nuts? Why is that person doing what he’s doing? Your explanation, your “why,” triggers your emotions therefore you reaction. The other person doesn’t make you feel as you do, therefore cannot be responsible for your reaction.

To have an important conversation that you’re now avoiding, prepare for it by asking yourself, “What’s your problem person’s behavior and why is he acting that way?” Next week I’ll address how to handle your negative why.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple.

To be happy consider strengths

Live, appreciate your strong suits
By Jacquelyn Ferguson, MSJacquelyn Ferguson

Dr. Martin Seligman, University of PA author of “Authentic Happiness” and a Positive Psychology pioneer, says happiness is strongly enhanced by three factors:
* Feeling better about your past;
* Thinking more optimistically about your future;
* Experiencing more contentment in the present.

To be happier in the moment Seligman advises you to avoid shortcuts to happiness: sensory experiences accompanied by strong emotions (ecstasy, orgasm, thrills, delight,) like eating hot fudge sundaes, having sex, or watching spectator sports. These pleasures give you upticks in happiness but fade quickly.

It’s much better to seek gratifications, which are activities you do for the sake of doing them. They involve thinking and require stretching your skills to improve.

Gratifications will bring you greater ongoing happiness when they are an expression of your signature strengths. (Take Seligman’s VIA Strengths Survey @ www.authentichappiness.org to discover your own.) All of these strengths are very positive. Living your life expressing your top five or so makes you much happier – so much so that you can stop focusing on fixing what’s supposedly wrong with you. Wouldn’t that be refreshing? These strengths include:

Wisdom and Knowledge: Courage:

Curiosity Valor
Love of learning Perseverance
Judgment Integrity
Social intelligence

Humanity and Love: Justice:

Kindness Citizenship
Loving Fairness

Temperance: Transcendence:

Self-control Appreciation of beauty
Prudence Gratitude
Humility Hope

For example, my top five strengths identified by taking his assessment two years ago and again recently, are:
* Integrity;
* Curiosity;
* Zest;
* Loving;
* Gratitude;

These strengths have strongly influenced my choices, thereby my happiness.

  • Integrity: Hopefully those who know me well would say that I have integrity. Just a small example is that lying is virtually impossible for me. I also deliver what I promise, etc.
  • Curiosity: I love my work and have great curiosity in all the workshop and speech topics I present (not to mention this column.) In fact, I won’t present topics that don’t interest me.
    * Zest: Researching areas that fascinate me gives me great zest or energy and passion for presenting information to others.
  • Loving: I’m fortunate to have a wonderful husband and great friends and family. Throughout my entire life I’ve had abundant loving relationships.
  • Gratitude: All of my life I’ve been a very grateful person, which is an effective buffer against depression, according to Seligman.
  • I truly have a great life; and not because of money or possessions nor quick pleasures – although I do love watching MN Vikings’ games. My happiness and contentment come from living what is to me an interesting life; one of my own choosing and designing, therefore authentic.

Identify your own signature strengths by taking Seligman’s assessment, then figure out how you already live these and consciously appreciate that. Seek even greater happiness by looking for additional ways to express your strengths. If authentic happiness is your goal, living your strengths is your strategy.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple.

Turn Your Holiday Traps into Holiday Treasures

Holiday Traps or Holiday Treasures
From Kicking Your Holiday Stress Habits
By Donald Tubesing, PhD, MDiv & Nancy Loving Tubesing, EdD

Do eagerly look forward to the holidays? Does your creative, not to mention spiritual, energy expand?

Or are your holidays filled with too many “shoulds” that exhaust you?

Take this assessment to identify your Holiday Traps and Holiday Treasures so you can continue the treasures to reduce your holiday stress and change the traps that add stress to your already too-busy life. Circle true or false for each. If it’s difficult to decide, estimate which answer would be 51% true of you.

1.    You lose control over your activity calendar saying “yes” to all invitations and requests. Each carries a “social obligation” burden and can overwhelm you. Or the opposite, you sit at home waiting for someone to include you, which doesn’t happen so you’re all alone again.

True                      False

2.    Gift giving is a creative activity for you. You excel at looking through your receivers’ eyes to select something very appropriate for each. You enjoy the planning, shopping and the wrapping of each gift, as well as their appreciation of your choice.

True                      False

3.    You live far away from your family of origin and cannot make it home for the holidays and will deeply miss your family’s holiday traditions. How depressing. OR You and your new mate both have your own treasured holiday traditions. In an attempt to make you both happy you work hard to meld them together, which is more confusing and exhausting than it is comforting and enjoyable. Why does he have to have potato pancakes on Christmas morning? Why can’t he give that up?

True                      False

4.    You love to decorate your home for the holidays. All of the festive sights, smells and sounds energize you. You love hearing from loved ones far away through their cards and can hardly wait to visit and celebrate with those closer to home. It’s all so magical and loving.

True                      False

5.    You give the gifts you hope to receive, while at the same time fear you won’t get what you want. You want so many things and can’t prioritize your preferences. You tend to measure others’ love for you by how many gifts and the expense of each they give to you.

True                      False

6.    You love the busyness aspect of the holidays because it fills you with a sense of purpose and worth. All of the social gatherings reconnect you with your support system that you hold dear. Plus, the extra commitments help you appreciate the solitude and silence when they return.

True                      False

7.    You dread gathering with your family of origin for the holidays knowing that the same old conflicts and pressures will reappear. Your older siblings treat you like you’re still their little sister while your parents trigger everyone’s defenses just like they always have. What a pain!

True                      False

8.     Making the holidays perfect is important to you. Your house, the food and the gifts must be memorable and appreciated. But every year you feel let down when reality doesn’t match your Madison Avenue expectations. You expect yourself to feel loving, joyous and peaceful but find yourself feeling lonely, sad and discouraged.

True                      False

9.     One of the many reasons you so enjoy the holidays is that they allow you to get back in touch with your childlike past imbuing the festivities with magic and meaning. You love all of the sights and sounds and the comfort they bring you. You enjoy celebrating your heritage and affirming the love that connects you no matter what has transpired.

True                      False

10.  The holidays allow you to get in touch with the meaning in your life. The rituals and traditions stimulate spiritual reflection and centering as well as a sense of playfulness, excitement and wonder. You know the traditions can help you through the difficult times even when your feelings don’t quite match the occasion.

True                      False

Scoring directions

Check out whether your “true” answers indicate a trap or a treasure.





Santa Claus Trap Item #5 Santa Claus Treasure Item #2
Activity Trap Item #1 Activity Treasure Item #6
Tradition Trap Item #3 Tradition Treasure Item #10
Life Script Trap Item #7 Life Script Treasure Item #9
Magic Trap Item #8 Magic Treasure Item #4

1. Santa Claus Trap to Santa Claus Treasure

Gift giving can be fun but can become a major holiday hassle; it takes time when you’re stretched thin already and in today’s economy who can afford them? To help move you from trap to treasure answer these questions:

  • What kind of gift giving would be meaningful to you and to your recipients?
  • What would help your heart and soul – and theirs – feel refreshed?

Give meaningful gifts:

  • Make a gift instead of buying it;
  • Give your time and attention in some way;
  • Don’t just give tickets to an event but go along and share the experience;
  • Give a gift of affirmations, memories, thanks;
  • Donate blood, give groceries to a food bank; give an exhausted mother an afternoon of child care, or help a neighbor in need.
  • Put yourself on your gift list, too. Treat yourself to a gift that’s perfect for you.

Also, learn to ask for what you want. Don’t be a closet hinter. If whoever it is you’ve hinted to in the past hasn’t gotten it, what makes you think s/he will this year? Don’t expect others to read your mind. Speak up. For example, if you’re lonely, ask someone to share your celebration – or ask to participate in theirs. If you need time alone in the middle of all of the holiday togetherness, say so.

Helpful hint: if you can’t get what you want, want what you get; it’s much more satisfying than wishing for the impossible.

2. Activity Trap to Activity Treasure

It is startlingly easy to get caught up in the Activity Trap over the holidays. You have your own expectations of yourself and of others, as does everybody else.

Start by listing all of the things you want to accomplish before and during the holidays then cross out the unnecessary activities.

  • Identify your top priorities and make time for them, even if that means something else gets tossed out. Remember, if everything is a priority then nothing is.
  • What energizes you? Do more of these activities, while doing less of what drains you.
  • Do your unpleasant tasks as quickly and painlessly as possible, then reward yourself. Refuse to suffer.
  • Keep for yourself the activities you enjoy, even if they aren’t essential or could be done by others. You need them. They nurture you.
  • When you’re being a slave, lighten your load. When the guests arrive use this great idea from a workshop participant:

Before anyone arrives, write down all the little jobs it takes to host a wonderful gathering on small and colorful, festive pieces of paper. Fold them and put them into a bowl.

As your guests arrive invite them to draw one task from the bowl and agree to take on the responsibility. Present this idea in a cheerful way.

Include everything you can think of: set the table, recycle empty cans and bottles, clear the table for doing dishes, bring out after-dinner coffee, etc.

Then observe how virtually everybody enthusiastically jumps into their assigned job and enjoys the teamwork and camaraderie this creates. If anyone resists they won’t for long when they see how willingly everyone else participates.

You can also turn obligations into energizers by creatively updating them. Any new approach can energize you.

  • Instead of sending out holiday cards, write a compliment to each friend rather than a history of the past year.
  • Surprise some people on your list with a brief, long distance phone call.
  • Fill out your holiday cards at the library, a favorite restaurant or someplace enjoyable to you.

3. Tradition Trap to Tradition Treasure

Some traditions are worth continuing, others definitely need to be pitched, while still others can be tweaked and made better.

  • Which tradition from your past would you like to resurrect? Maybe it’s singing holiday songs before dinner? Or attending a religious ceremony together. Or volunteering at a soup kitchen. Make sure participating in this tradition lifts your spirit versus depresses you with yet one more obligation.
  • Ask friends about their traditions and adopt an appealing one for yourself.

4. Life Script Trap to Life Script Treasure

Do you feel trapped in the roles you play in life: the always giving mother, the always providing father, the always good little sister or brother?

Be aware that when you return to your family of origin for any reason, not just for the holidays, that it is interestingly common for all to revert to the roles they each had during those years. Big brothers boss more; little sisters please more, etc.

Give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel. Don’t feel what you “think you should feel” or “wish you felt.” Trying to deny or manipulate your feelings, or act contrary to them only distances you from yourself. Not that you need to confront everyone who’s upsetting to you at the moment of upset, but if you would more frequently tell people how you feel about what they’re doing in an assertive fashion, more conflicts would be resolved more quickly.

Which situations or people trigger your regressions the most? Prepare for these by creating a mantra to say to yourself before, during and even after your gathering. For example, let’s say your Uncle Sid is a boorish man who loves to argue politics with anyone who will accommodate him. When he picks on you your automatic reaction is to get defensive and loud. Follow these three steps to respond to him the way you want:

1.    What is your goal? For example, to avoid getting negatively hooked by Uncle Sid

2.    To achieve this goal how do you need to be? Calm, relaxed, accepting of him and gracious no matter what he says.

3.    Affirm this over and over again. “I’m calm and relaxed, accepting and gracious.”

Repeat this to yourself a hundred and more times before you’re with him, deep breathing as you do. This will prepare you. While you’re in his presence repeat it to yourself again. When you feel you’re getting hooked, repeat it in your mind again over and over while slowly deep breathing.

5. Magic Trap to Magic Treasure

There are no perfect holidays – for anyone. If you think others experience them then you are experiencing the Magic Trap. Magical thinking tends to be all or nothing thinking. Everyone is perfectly happy all of the time or they’re miserable. It’s never that stark.

Which holiday expectations do you have that go typically unmet? Unmet expectations are often unrealistic to begin with; no one could satisfy them. So, for example, if you want everything to be perfect the day of your holiday celebration it’s your expectation that’s your problem. Accept what is. Realize that your need for perfection can cause the very problems you later feel depressed about. Those around you can feel your too-high expectations and rebel. Learn to accept each person as he or she is. Don’t expect behavior from them that they historically haven’t shown. So if your brother is always late for the celebration, let him be late. Don’t take it personally. Accept that this is a part of him for whatever his reasons.

Which holiday expectations fill you with joy historically? If it’s planning and obtaining everyone’s gifts and you do this throughout the year, do it and enjoy it.

The degree to which you turn your traps into treasures will be the degree to which you lower your stress and truly enjoy the season.

From  Kicking Your Holiday Stress Habits by Donald A Tubesing, PhD, MDiv, and Nancy Loving Tubesing, EdD.

Kicking Your Holiday Stress Habits

How to become more optimistic about future

Can I learn to be Optimistic?
By Jacquelyn Ferguson MS

Would more money, a nicer house or better health make you more content? Are these the same things that satisfy happier people, too? If not, what can we learn from them to become happier ourselves?

The Positive Psychology movement finds that you’ll get the most bang for your happiness buck by changing how you:
* Feel about your past
* Think about your future
* Experience your present

So let’s look to your future.

Future-oriented positive emotions include:
* Optimism
* Faith
* Hope
* Trust

You must be fairly optimistic for these emotions to augment your happiness. Optimism is hope about your prospects. In these tough times it’s more difficult to remain hopeful, yet many do.

Dr. Martin Seligman, the University of PA pioneer of Positive Psychology, author of “Learned Optimism” and “Authentic Happiness,” and world renown optimism/pessimism researcher, has shown through extensive research that optimists and pessimists interpret events very differently. Pessimists are more realistic but optimists are more resilient, healthier and may live longer, and are better at work and in sports.

Seligman has narrowed down becoming more optimistic to changing how you explain why good and bad things happen to you through two dimensions of your “Explanatory Style:”
* Permanence versus temporary: for how long do you give up?
* Pervasiveness – universal versus specific: how much of your life is affected by events?

Permanence vs. temporary: Pessimists see causes of bad events as permanent, such as not getting a job interviewed for – “I’m all washed up.”

Optimists use temporary terminology to explain “I wasn’t on for that interview.”

Whose stress lasts longer? Who’s going to give up more easily? Being washed up sounds very permanent.

Pessimists also use expansive and exaggerated words like “always” and “never” such as “I’ll never get a job.”

Optimists use “sometimes” and “lately” such as “I’ve had some bad interviews lately.”

Opposite terminology is used when something good happens.

Pessimists use temporary terminology to explain why something good happened – “I’m lucky to get this job.”

Optimist use permanent causes for good events – “I’m the best candidate for this job.”

The second dimension of your Explanatory Style is Pervasive: how much of your life is affected by an event?

For bad events pessimists explain with universal terms and may feel helpless in multiple areas of their lives, like not getting the job:
* “I’m such a loser.”

Optimists use specific explanations and limit any helplessness to the bad event – “I wasn’t feeling well that day.”
Who is more resilient for the next interview?

Pessimists use specific reasons to explain why something good happened – “I got the job because I’m good at math.”

Optimists use universal reasons – “I got the job because I’m smart.”

So, to become more optimistic and happier about your future explain bad events with temporary and specific causes and good events with permanent and universal ones.
Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple.LetYourBodyWin.gif