Lessons from Hurricane Matthew

Our home sits perilously close to Lake Wackena.  This results in spectacular sunrises.   Every room has an unhampered view.  I love this house.  We have lived here for 15 years and, outside of losing a tree or two in a hurricane, we’ve had more than a decade of uneventful ownership.  Then came Hurricane Matthew.  The prediction, as it approached from South Carolina, was we’d be facing a tropical depression and ten inches of rain.  In anticipation, the village had lowered Lake Wackena by about a foot.  Plenty of room for those ten inches of rain. The rain started in earnest by about 8 AM.  By 4 PM, the water was lapping over the sea wall.  By 6 PM, the house was surrounded by water.  We escaped to a friend’s house about a mile away on higher ground.  Upon our arrival, the power went out.


I’ve heard all the stories of Hurricane Floyd and Fran.  I hadn’t lived in Eastern North Carolina and I felt like it was more like folklore than a reality.  But it was my reality now.  It’s amazing how 17 (yes, 17) inches of water in about 16 hours can radically change your life.  You may suddenly need to make a zig instead of a zag, and subsequently take stock in how lucky you really were.

Here are things I took for granted after experiencing Hurricane Matthew:


  1. Water.  Fresh, clean tap water is a beautiful thing.  On demand, 24 hours a day.  You can drink it.  Wash dishes, wash your hands, water plants, fill the dog’s water dish, mop the floor.  You can even take a bath.


  1. Coffee.  Delicious hot coffee made just to the desired lushness. Fresh and steaming hot. Sitting on your own coach snuggled up with a mug.  Ready at 5 AM without fail.


  1. Breakfast.  Eggs, bacon and sausage.  Everything held in a refrigerator waiting to be cooked on your stove or in the oven–whenever you want to make it.  No wait.  No line.


  1. Lights.  Available 24 hours a day, whether you need them or not.  You read by it, play your guitar, find things like clothes in a closet, and check to see if the attic is leaking. Or you see where the water shut off to the house before there’s trouble.  After three days of darkness, I’m still instinctively turning on the switch as I head into the bathroom with my flashlight.


  1. Toilets.  Here is another luxury that is available 24-7.  No need to bring in buckets of lake water to flush the toilet.  No worries about unsanitary waste.  No diseases running amok.


  1. Clean fingernails.  The worst part about cleaning up all the trash and debris in the yard was dirty fingernails.  With clean fingernails, you can put contact lenses in, type on an iPad, or touch your love’s face.


  1. Hot shower.  With the help of item #4, you can take a shower at 5 AM or 8 PM.  Grab some soap and shampoo, and you’ve got yourself a clean body free of mud, muck and body odor.


  1. Fans.  Fans are a marvelous and appreciated appliance.  They’re great at moving air. They help evaporate water so that mildew is prevented.


  1. Ice.  Ice is terrific for all kinds of things.  Keeping food in your thawing refrigerator cold.  Chilling down drinks and water.  In combination with an ice chest, you can keep your food fresh for maybe a week as you wait for power.


  1. Solar-powered cell phone charger.  Nuff said.  And my husband was brilliant enough to have it at home.


  1. Wi-Fi.  With this lovely invention, you can communicate with practically anyone, anywhere.  This, when paired with #10, can allow you access to fun things like buying stuff, inform the world of your whereabouts and general up-to-date info on the weather.


  1. Power.  There are lots of nifty things you can do with power.  Operate computers, televisions, shop-vacs, vacuums, blowers, refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers (in conjunction with #1), CPAP machines, invisible fences (for your dog to roam outside) coffee makers, toasters and water pick.  Pretty nice, huh?


  1. Clear roads.  It is shocking to see some of the roads that are impassable in the county where we live.  Whole roads were washed out.  They cannot be fixed in a week or two. I-95 is still impassable a week later.  Yes, the interstate.  How spoiled I was to be able to travel wherever and whenever.


  1. Abundance.  The local grocery store finally reopened when they had enough employees who could travel to work (see #13) and food to sell.  I went in looking for a frozen pizza.  The shelves were bare.  When you see a whole aisle of empty shelves in the frozen food aisle, there is the realization of how we take our American abundance for granted.


  1. Routine.  For about 4 or 5 days post-flood, I was a wreck.  Poor sleep and ongoing low-grade stress.  Uncertainty was eating at me.  I could barely work, read or write. My brain was in a fog.  The secret to getting back on track was getting back to my daily routine of meditation and exercise.  I’m slowly but surely dampening down my stress, sleeping better and getting my brain cells firing.


This has been a life-changing experience.  I am hoping I becoming more resilient from having coped with uncertainty on a day-to-day basis.  But I absolutely know that having the love and support of my husband, dog, friends, co-workers and family is irreplaceable. Gratitude abounds that we were spared the worst.  The weather has been beautiful since Matthew left and am so very grateful I still have a place to call home.

Traits of the Brilliant Leader

I want to share some concepts from Simon T. Bailey with you.  I had the wonderful pleasure of seeing him deliver a dynamic speech at the North Carolina State Human Resource Conference this past September.  He is one electric speaker.  He exudes energy and passion.  When he spoke of the traits of a brilliant leader, it resonated with me.


I coach a lot of newly promoted leaders–most of the time, we call them managers.  Until they have the skills to be a leader.  It’s been said that almost anyone can manage.  It’s a unique skill set to know how to lead.  These traits are the attributes that both newly promoted managers and dyed-in-the-wool old school managers need to embrace to get the most out of their employees.  Managers push and poke.  Leaders inspire and engage.


Here are the 7 traits that Simon Bailey espoused:


  • Being Curious.  Bailey suggested that this trait is really an intellectual curiosity, or “the ability to see what is not yet.”  It is anticipating what might be coming.  This involves daily self-reflection and to be able to see: Where you have been, Why you are here, What you can do and Where are you going.  What about your direct reports?  Do you know where they are headed?  Have you taken the time to think about it? Trust me, they have.  This requires openness and  non-attachment.  Being curious is easier for me than some of the other traits.  My top strength from my Strength Finders assessment is “Lifelong learner.”  I am constantly on the lookout for more opportunities to learn and synthesize.  Be curious.  It will never take you down the wrong path.
  • Presence.  Bailey suggested that the mere presence of a cell phone or laptop at a meeting devalued the other folks at the meeting.  This was a huge wake-up call to me, even if my phone was face down.  He suggested that the mere presence of a device suggests that it was the priority–not the person or the people you were with.  I’m digesting this and trying to figure out how I can practically extract the presence of my phone while maintaining things like calendars and future meeting dates.  But you can see that if you are looking at your phone, you are basically not present for the person or people in front of you.  Presence means shutting down distractions and making the person in front of you the priority, whether it be a customer, employee or friend.  I’ve decided to leave my phone tucked away and out of visual presence, yet available if I need to schedule an upcoming event with the person or people I’m with. Prioritize being present.
  • Connect.  I remember teaching a leadership class some three years ago, and I suggested that every manager should know their direct report’s spouse/partner and children’s names.  Recently, I had a client who set out to learn three personal facts about their direct reports.  For many folks reading this, connecting comes easy.  For others, it feels like prying.  I can tell you that when someone asks me where I am traveling to next or when they say, “I saw you were in Asheville last week” (if they’re following me on Facebook), I am thrilled!  And I feel so acknowledged.  I can’t help but feel connected to that person. It makes a huge difference. Reach out and connect.
  • Consistent.  I can remember working for a boss who was a real hot head.  I never knew which side of hot head would be showing up that day or if the Rules of Engagement would be changing.  As David Rock has espoused, uncertainty puts your direct reports into a State of Fear: “an away state”.  Your direct reports cannot do their best work when they are in a state of fear.  Consistency in the rules and your temperament helps generate a “toward” or positive state.  They are much more engaged for the consistent leader because they feel confident that they know the rules of engagement.  Be consistent.
  • Relationships.  Bailey said, “Relationships are the currency of the future.”  I can remember my commencement speech back in 1983 by then Cornell President Frank Rhodes.  He said that the greatest thing that you are taking with you as you graduate are your friends.  This was very profound.  My relationships with my fellow Cornelians over the last 30 plus years has been one of the most gratifying aspects of my life.  They have been a source of advice, referrals and inspiration.  In addition, I have held onto countless other relationships from work and grad school that have enhanced my life as well.  Be sure to tend to the relationships in your life as they will prove invaluable.
  • Global thinker.  Think beyond your zip code, think beyond where you are.  I can say that since participating with a Mindfulness Coaching group, led by Satyam Chalmers, I have learned a more global perspective.  There were folks from Singapore, Australia and Ireland on the weekly calls.  As a born and bred American, I have and believe we can hold a very myopic view of the world.  The press does influence an American-centered viewpoint.  To be a great leader, we need to look for resources from all ends of the earth, be it products, services or thought processes.  Be global in your thoughts and share it.
  • Authentic Listener.  When I speak at various sites and venues, I frequently have said that the most important desire each of us has is the need to be heard.  Being present is an important part of this.  Regardless of whether your employee is in your office, cubical, gravel pit or service station, you need to pay attention and listen in order to understand.  This entails looking at their body language, the gaze of their eyes, the nuance of a smile or any other human indicator.  Be sure to respond with, “What I heard you say was… and did I get that right?”  It’s ok if you don’t get it right, because they know that you care when you ask for clarification.  Be an authentic listener.


You don’t need to have people be your direct reports for all of these traits to be useful.  Whether it’s interacting with your child, your spouse, a volunteer organizer or networker, all of these ideas can come into play.  Take the time to be brilliant–and you will be!

How to have a positive brain

Your coworker is complaining about their boss and you are sucked in.  You start piling on your own jabs, mistreatments and judgments.  You are cut off on the way to work and you start tailgating the person as payback.  “You can’t push me around.”  You overcook the steak and now you think the entire meal is horrible.  There is too much salt, the beans are limp and the mashed potatoes are gummy.  It all feeds on itself.  The negative outcome of one thing goes wrong and now everything else spirals out of control.  Your brain is wired for a negativity bias and in a world full of terrorism, wicked politics and “if it bleeds, it leads” sensationalized news, it can be catastrophically overwhelming.positive brain.jpg

Amazingly, you can overcome this.  It’s going to take work but it’s fun work.  Your brain is so malleable and elastic that you can actually rewire how you see the world.  You can create a more positive brain and actually become more resilient in the process.  Isn’t that great?  We do not have to be victims of our modern day culture but can be in a happier, more relaxed positive state of mind.  Are you up for this?

Here is how to create a more positive brain:

  • Pay attention to the good thoughts.  When you are having a positive thought like Doesn’t my dog look adorable next to me or I just made everyone at the meeting laugh or My husband is dancing in the doorway to my office.  It’s like catching butterflies, you need to keep your butterfly net at the ready.  Go catch them.  Unfortunately, our negative bias frequently hijacks our brain.  We tune into what is going wrong like the air temperature, the weather or your phone being slow.  So you need to be vigilant in order to catch the good things as they flutter by.
  • Figure out what this experience or memory says about you.  For example, when my dog is lying next to me in my office, I feel loved and appreciated.  When I make everyone at the meeting laugh, I feel like I belong.  When my husband dances in my office doorway, I feel joy and silliness.  As Rick Hanson says this adds and “enriches the experience.”  His analogy is that it’s like adding logs to a fire.  It burns even brighter.  Keep adding logs to enrich and strengthen the great experience.
  • Soak up the positive experience like a sponge.  Rick Hanson turned me onto this and he has a great Ted Talk on the topic: Hardwiring Happiness.  Once you have caught that great experience, observation or memory, dwell on it for a bit.  As Rick says, it can be for only 1 or 2 seconds, but marinate in the positive feeling.  It is amazing how this feels.  I feel my chest and head get warm and a smile starts on my face.  I actually feel the happiness.  Even if for a moment or two.  In a few moments, you have actually fired neurons in your brain and started the process of rewiring.  Isn’t that amazing?  You have taken one small step to rewire your brain in the direction of positivity and happiness.
  • Start a gratitude journal.  I’ve been writing in one for at least a decade.  I write down 5 things I am grateful for and I think about a situation that I turned around to the positive.  For example, if my husband didn’t respond to my text, I figure his phone must be in another room (instead of he is in the ER and can’t answer his phone).  One little reframe a day helps me keep a positive mindset and by acknowledging each reframe each day, I maintain the mindset.
  • Mediation or yoga.  You do not have to silence your self-talk.  This is the biggest misconception about meditation.  A lot of people think that in meditation, you sit quietly and a switch in your head turns off.  It is a practice and it is never perfect.  Okay, so maybe there is a monk or two out there who can turn off their brains, but the rest of us mortals are all working with letting thoughts go.  It’s letting worries go like balloons into the air.  Try it for 3 minutes.  Get an app like Calm, Whil or Headspace.  Most are free, so you can start now.  And why not sign up for a yoga class while you’re at it?  Even a once-a-week yoga session will give you physical benefits, increasing strength and flexibility.  Plus it will help you to reduce stress and have a more positive outlook about your self and the world around you.
  • Turn off the catastrophic messages.  I turned off the news some four months ago.  I don’t have any news apps on my phone.  I TiVo most of the television I watch, so I don’t need to view political ads.  I don’t know if it’s the meditation practice or turning off the news, but I am much more relaxed and positive.  It’s probably a combination of all these steps.  I just notice this one the most.  I was watching a college football game yesterday live on television and all of a sudden I was being bombarded with political ads.  I felt like I was being assaulted.  Negative ads stick more than positive (because of our negative bias), and they were hurling them at me like hand grenades.  I am still informed about the political race and am voting.  I just stay away from the distracting, stress-inducing messages.  It was a relief to go back to my TiVo recorded shows and away from all that negativity.

Being more relaxed and happy has really helped me stay resilient and confident.  This past month, I have had more speaking and facilitation gigs than ever before.  Three years ago, I would have stressed out about each gig and lost sleep over the event.  Now I just take one at a time, imagine the best outcome, and take it as it comes.  I’m a better facilitator because of my positivity practice.  Try it yourself.

Working with the Male Brain

I bought Michael Gurian’s book What Could He Be Thinking? about three years ago as per the recommendation of another coach.  It sat on the bookshelf until I moved offices recently, when I took notice of it again.  Part of what prompted me to open the book was a YouTube video by Mark Gungor called “Men’s brains versus Women’s brains,” which I had previously posted on my husband’s Facebook page.  It was spot on.  So I decided I needed to start reading the book.  The book is aimed at women who are married to men, but the insights in the book have a lot of value for women who work with, live with and parent men.  Well, I have men in all three categories in my life and the information is pretty useful.

working with the male brain.jpg

I realized that my expectation is that the men in my life should be just like me.  They should be able to express their feelings, empathize with my feelings and, most importantly, be able to understand me.  Well, as my husband has pointed out since I posted that YouTube video on his Facebook wall, my brain is all over the place.  His brain, on the other hand, is as Gungor describes it is: singularly focused in one box or compartment (one box for football, one box for finances, one box for fishing, etc.).  I had no idea.  But then I realized that he can be focused playing Solitaire for hours.  And I mean hours.  I don’t have the patience for that.  But understanding that point is really critical, as well as some of the other important revelations I learned from the book.

So here is how to work with the male brain:

  • Get in front of him.  As Grace Cooley wrote for the elephant journal, “Get in the Same Zip Code.  The reason he doesn’t respond to you sometimes?  Because you haven’t gotten his attention, so that he can switch “boxes” in his brain.  He is not ignoring you.  The way his brain works makes that impossible.”  So this is why when I yell from the kitchen, “Breakfast!”, he does not respond.  Since reading the book, I’ve made a conscious effort to either wait to ask a question, or physically get in the same room.  I have to say I am not as frustrated now.  Instead of feeling as if he’s chosen to ignore me, I am making an effort to connect better.  When possible, try getting into the same zip code.
  • Let him do.  Gurian points out what is “especially confounding to many women is a man’s deep-seated need to be trusted for what he does, not for everything he does or does not say.”  This just happened to me today with my husband.  We were splitting a pizza for lunch and he brought over one of the last two pieces.  My immediate response was, “I’m not eating that.”  What he was doing was being generous and my assumption was that he thought I was still hungry and wanted to overeat.  Like he was fattening me up for Thanksgiving.  All I had to say was, “No thank you.”
  • Do not give advice unless it is requested.  I have been burned by doing this with my son, male co-workers and my husband.  If they haven’t asked how to install a mail box, then, by God, don’t tell your former contractor “MacGyver” husband how to install a mail box.  I swear I did this a few months ago.  Like I know how to install a mail box and he doesn’t.  I’ve tried to tell my son what to do with parking tickets and job hunting.  You can imagine how it all went over.  Resistance and resentment ensues.
  • Be comfortable with silence.  I have learned this when I am coaching or facilitating.  I ask a question and count to 10.  It seems like an eternity, but it gives my clients the space to think and respond.  However, when it comes to talking with my husband or son, I have no such patience.  I want to fill the space with all my wonderful ideas.  When I am with my female friends, we will interrupt each other, never take a breath and rarely feel put out.  The male brain needs to be in the right box before being able to respond.
  • Try to stay focused.  As Gungor says in the video about women’s brains, “Women’s brains are a ball of wire and everything is connected to everything.”  My husband has looked at me smiling and said, “I need some wire cutters.”  This is in response to me bringing up the dinner menu, then immediately switching to discussing an email from a colleague, to “Do you think we should close that account?”  I am constantly guilty of what we like to call in my family “improper segues.”  I go from Alaska to the moon to 7000 leagues under the sea in a matter of two minutes.  I am so jealous of men’s ability to focus.  I’m not saying that there are men who don’t focus and there are women who do or don’t.  It’s just the way the brains of most men and women are built.  I, as a woman, can easily get unfocused.
  • Make appointments.  My son will rarely answer his phone.  He wants an appointed time to talk.  My husband and I had a conflict a few months ago and he said, “We are talking about this Sunday morning.”  This is critical if it is regarding a conflict.  As Cooley wrote, “Men need to be able to switch into the appropriate box or compartment in their brains.  Be kind and give him a chance to do that.  Let him know ahead of time what you want to talk about and set an appointment.  Put it on his calendar.”  The result from our Sunday morning appointment was a revelation for our relationship.  He had the opportunity to think though his side of the conversation and so did I.  If it’s emotionally charged, be sure and make an appointment.

Gurian makes the case for the differences based on the way most male brains function versus most female brains.  The main premise is that connecting the right and left hemispheres of our brains is a small bundle of nerves called the corpus callosum.  This allows the two sides to talk.  In men, the corpus callosum is, on average, 25 percent smaller than women.  There are exceptions in both sexes but think about that when you are having a conflict or misunderstanding with the opposite sex.  They are wired differently.  It’s time to adapt.

The 4 Parts of the Wheel of Change

Behavioral change is one of the most difficult things to accomplish.  In Marshall Goldsmith’s book, Triggers, he uses a device called the Wheel of Change to address behavioral changes both on a personal and collaborative level.  The main point is to actually reflect on how we want to improve as individuals, as well as a team. How often do we talk about that as a department, a family or as an individual?  Unless you are being coached, it’s not likely it’s being discussed.


This is a great tool to use to coach yourself on a regular basis.  It’s divided into four areas: Creating, Eliminating, Preserving, and Accepting.  It’s relatively easy to look at what you want to do going forward when it’s broken up in this way.  I like the fact that it’s a form of forward-thinking, instead of the traditional approach of dredging up blame and scapegoats.  This is a much more positive experience.  It’s similar to when I’m working with a client and they haven’t done the exercise they’d set out to do.  Questions to consider:  “No sweat. Is it still important to you?  Should it be phrased a different way so that you’ll feel forward motion?”  I have a client who walks at work but not on his treadmill at home.  So he won’t count that as exercise.  I’ve asked him, “Is your heart rate elevated?  Would those steps count on a Fitbit?”  “Yes. Hmmm.  Maybe it is exercise and you’re not giving yourself credit.”  It’s amazing how we won’t give ourselves credit for what we actually accomplish.  Being forward-focused instead of berating the client for not achieving what they said they wanted to achieve can make a huge difference in accomplishing goals.


Here are the four parts of the wheel of change:


  • Creating.  This is the innovation or creation portion of the wheel.  What do you add or invent?  When I work with teams, I ask what do we want to do differently?  Sometimes it might mean adding a team member who can bring a different perspective.  Sometimes you decide that you want to use a different software to track progress going forward.  I recently decided that I wanted to perfect my team facilitation skills and committed to reading more about the topic for 30 minutes a day.  So I added it to my schedule.  I created a new habit to help me increase my knowledge and skills in a certain area.  What about you?  What do you want to add to your life that will make you a better contributor, husband, partner or accountant?  What can your team add to make it work more effectively, serve the customer better or improve quality?


  • Eliminating.  This is eradicating or reducing things that are outdated and ineffective. What do we need to eliminate?  When I work with teams, I ask, “What should we do less of?”  It may be eliminating a step in the process that doesn’t make sense now that we are paperless.  It may be reducing the meeting time from one hour to 15 minutes to keep everyone more efficient and on-task.  It might be reducing your commute by moving closer to the office.  I eliminated actually putting together my weekly newsletter and delegated it to my daughter.  She earns money as my virtual assistant and I save time not having to do something, that for me, is tedious and not the best use of my time.  Organizations frequently get wrapped up in the status quo and never think that maybe if they eliminated a particular technology that has been around since the company was founded, they would have forward motion instead of being dragged down by old technology.  What do you need to eliminate?


  • Preserving.  What do we need to improve or maintain?  When I work with teams, I ask, “What do we need to keep?”  The answer might be “a sense of humor” or “meeting times”.  It’s likely the heart of the organization likes family values.  I also love when I work with teams and one of their values is fun.  Isn’t that something you want to preserve and enhance?  Don’t you want to be on a team that values fun? Sometimes we want to throw out the baby with the bathwater.  Taking time to reflect on what you want to keep in your life is important.  Personally, my husband and I eat dinner together every day.  I remember when he first started living with my children and me, he suggested we eat dinner together as a family.  This has been a uniting ritual.  So now, even though the kids are long gone from the house, we maintain this nightly ritual of eating together.  What do you need to preserve?


  • Accepting.  What do we need to delay or make peace with?  This is an important piece of the wheel.  We can spend a lot of energy getting angry or resenting something when what we really need to do is just make peace with it.  I was in a job where there were one or two sacred cows in the organization.   I spent a lot of time getting angry about the sacred cow.  “They never show up.  They never do the job.  What are we doing with these folks?”  Problem was that the powers that be had no issue with the performance and had no intention of eliminating them.  When my energy around it turned into one of acceptance, I became much happier.  I didn’t have to spend my time focusing on their failures.  Let it be.   It might be that you don’t have the capital right now to spend on improvements.  Maybe it needs to be delayed until 2017.  What do you need to accept?


The important thing about the Wheel of Change is that all four areas need to be addressed.  This makes sense.  An example that Goldsmith uses in his book is of his client who wants to preserve his family, eliminate his commute, create a new commute and accept that he wasn’t good at golf.  He decided that he would move from the suburbs of New Jersey to Manhattan, reducing his 3-hour daily commute to a 10-minute walk.  So he gave up golf and is spending more time with his family.  They are all interconnected.  What do you want to work on?

6 Ways to Get Unstuck Today

You meant to start that exercise program this morning but hit the snooze button instead.  You were going to reach out to your friend for a referral and blew it off–and your thought was probably along the lines of, “He doesn’t know anyone who needs my kind of services.”  You had to start on that big gnarly project but decided to scroll through Facebook instead for an hour or so.  You just never seem to get unstuck.  It feels like your days are quicksand and the new normal is sucking you in.A photo by Jared Erondu. unsplash.com/photos/j4PaE7E2_Ws

I was in that place some four years ago.  I never seemed to have forward momentum.   I also had an aversion to change.  Most people do.  I’d rather watch television all day with my free Saturday or bake the perfect loaf of bread than take on a project.  I also didn’t think that I had anything to share with the world.  I had just finished up my coach training with the Neuroleadership Group and I was being coached by my fellow students on a weekly basis.  I had the revelation that I was stuck.  With the help of my fellow coaches, I finally was unstuck.  So this what I learned.

6 ways to get unstuck today:

1. You are not an impostor.  Practically everyone feels like an impostor.  Someone will find out that you aren’t the greatest mother, accountant, teacher, writer, or cook.  This can be paralyzing.  My coach was working with me recently.  I felt like I wasn’t an author.  She reflected back to me what the source of that limiting belief was.  I realized that I had been writing for over four years, have been read in over 100 countries and had over one thousand followers.  She asked me to say it.  “I am an author.”  I owned it.  What do you need to own?

2. Path of least resistance.  Figure out what the project or activity is that you need to break out of and create the path.  I keep my sneakers, shorts and t-shirt in my bathroom closet.  I can get up in the dark, dress and head out before my husband wakes up.  If I had to turn the lights on in my bedroom and scour around for my walking garb, I likely would roll over and hit the snooze.  If you want to take up the guitar again, get it out of the closet and put it in plain sight.  If you want to walk during your breaks at work, take your spare sneakers to work and put them under your desk.  Basically, you’re eliminating the excuses you would normally come up with.  Create the path to your new goals.

3. Clear the decks.  When I write or work on a project, I clear my desk of any clutter like post its, papers, books, magazines, invitations or mail.  So if I’m in the middle of two projects, I put one of the projects away.  It’s out of mind.  This frees me up to work on what is in front of me without visual distraction.  There is no excuse.  I don’t end up going down some rabbit hole of “Should I go to the conference in Austin?”  “I wonder what that letter is about.”  “Why did I buy that book?”  The only thing on my desk right now is my computer, a lamp, a glass of water and a picture of my kids.  So before you get started, stash the clutter.

4. Digital sabbatical.  I have not tried to go without social media and email for a day except for when I was caught in the Berkshires a month ago without power and Wi-Fi.  It is really freeing to not be constantly checking for notifications.  But I DO put my phone in my purse or another room when I am writing.  Like right now.  My email and social media on my computer is shut down.  No bings, chimes or pings to bother me and veer me from my focus.  About two months ago, I turned off all notifications on my phone except for text.  My reasoning is that my kids and my husband typically are the ones who text me, which may end up being important.  For you, it might be something else.  Seeing a little red number 4 in the corner of my Facebook app used to drag me right back into opening the app to check out the latest Like.  Now I do that when I am free and not trying to accomplish something.  Set up Digital-Free Times.

5. Is it important?  When my fellow student coach would work with me, if something wasn’t accomplished, they would ask, “Is it still important?”  Say you didn’t sign up for that 5k or start going to the gym like you said you wanted to.  Maybe it’s not important any more.  Maybe it is.  It’s still a good idea to reflect on.  What is the “why” of what you are doing?  What is the higher goal?  I used to run in the morning because I was training for a marathon.  Now I walk in the morning to just get outside, listen to a book and feel refreshed.  It’s like that task you’ve moved 5 times on your task list.  Is it still important?  If not, delete it.  If it is, do it.

6. Start.  I am amazed what I can get done in 5 minutes.  Before I taught Franklin Covey’s ‘5 Choices’ class, I used to procrastinate if I had five minutes before a meeting started.  Now I’ll return a phone call, finish an email or make a hotel reservation.  I am amazingly more productive.  Any free time is an opportunity to start.  At home, I will pick up a book and read a page or two or put my grocery list together.  The point is, I start.  If I don’t get it done before another commitment, no sweat.  I’ll get back to it after the meeting is done.

I got unstuck through working with a coach.  There is a perception that asking for help is a sign of weakness.  It’s really a sign that you are ready for forward motion.  What do you want to get started on?

4 Ways to Disempower Your Negative Thoughts

You stand on the scale and you’ve gain 5 pounds.  You think, “Fatso, why did you have that extra chocolate chip cookie?”  You avoid setting up the meeting with your boss because you are sure your idea will be shot down.  “She doesn’t think I’m smart.  She’ll never like my ideas.”  You gossip about your co-worker because you know they will never get the promotion they want.  “He’s an idiot.  There’s no way he’ll get it.”  All these thoughts are wearing a super highway of negativity in your brain.  The good news is you can change that.

disempower negative thoughts

Your brain is malleable and can be changed–and it doesn’t even involve surgery.  The key to disempowering your negative or unwholesome thoughts is to change your pattern of thinking.  It takes practice.  But when you start creating wholesome thoughts, they beget more thoughts that are wholesome.  Soon, you are a wholesome thought-machine.  As Professor Mark Muesse teaches in the Great Courses: Practicing Mindfulness, “Unwholesome thoughts break down into three areas: selfish desire (I want my neighbor’s car), hatred (I hate that person because they are different from me) and deluded thoughts (I think I’m the greatest or completely unworthy).”


Here are Professor Muesse’s four “R’s” of disempowering thoughts:


  1. Simply replace the negative or unwholesome thought with something opposite.  If someone cuts you off in traffic, instead of angrily swearing and tailing them, you should instead think, “I’m sure they are in a rush for a good reason.”  I’ve done this when my boss’ door was shut.  I would switch my paranoid thinking: “She’s going to fire me,” to “She must be working on my raise or a new challenging project.”  When I had a four-hour unplanned airport layover a few weeks ago, I replaced my “I hate this airport and this lousy airline” thought (which became my new negative mantra for a few minutes) to “This’ll be a great opportunity to listen to my book and get in 10,000 steps.”  I also cultivate compassion by saying, “Just like me.”  If someone steals my parking space, I say, “They want to be happy, just like me.”  Replace the unwholesome negative thoughts with positive, wholesome ones.


  1. Reflecting on results.  Think about the long-term results of this thinking. Contemplate the forward trajectory or consequences of these thoughts.  If I believe that I am a nervous speaker, I will become a nervous speaker.  If think that I am financially insecure, I will become financially insecure.  Seeing the long-term consequences helps squelch the inner critic.  Another way of looking at it is: do you want to be the Grinch?  Even Grinch-like folks were small children at some point.  It took years of unwholesome, greed-filled thoughts to result in the vengeful person they became.  What are you really creating with all those unwholesome thoughts? Your best you?


  1. Redirecting attention.  This is where you direct your attention away towards something more wholesome.  Like your breath, your toes or your ear lobes.  I advise my clients to do this when they get angry and have regressed into their lizard brain (the fight-or-flight part of your brain).  When you are hijacked by emotions, it’s important to get out of your head and back into your body.  Especially before you say something you might regret.  Your best thinking is in your prefrontal cortex but it’s impossible to get there as long as you are in a state of fear or anger.  Remember the phrase This too shall pass.  Good or bad, everything is impermanent.  We just need to accept that it is impermanent.  Joy or terror, thoughts pass away, lose power and fade.  Bring it all back to the breath.


  1. This is all about challenging your assumptions.  It might be that you’ve become jealous of your co-worker’s new convertible sports car.  You assume that if you had that car, you would be happy.  Examine what you might feel you’re lacking.  Maybe you want some freedom.  Maybe independence.  Look at the underlying assumptions of why you might be envious.  You might be envious of your boss’ new smart phone.  You want to have the latest technology.  But won’t that phone be an out-of-date piece of junk in 3 years?  I recently moved my home office.  I thought about a nice chair I wanted for it.  I realized that I didn’t want to add any more furniture to my already fully-furnished house.  I realized there was a chair and ottoman that was unused in another room.  So instead of feeling like I was lacking, I discovered I already had what I needed.  Challenge your assumptions.


Any type of mindfulness is a practice that takes time and consistency.  Habitual thoughts are not easy to break but it can be done with persistence.  I personally journal each evening about how I have reframed my thoughts throughout the day.  I think the reflection helps me hardwire the new positive, wholesome thoughts.  Good luck!

“It is not enough to stare up the steps – we must step up the stairs.” -Vance Havner

You’ve procrastinated all morning.  You keep checking your inbox or Instagram feed and haven’t touched that project you’ve been meaning to work on.  One more cup of coffee.  One more like on Facebook.  You’re staring at the staircase and then looking down at your phone to see if there is one more thing that you can use to distract yourself from actually, finally taking that step.

Spiral Staircase


This has been me this morning.  I have set this time aside to write and all I want to do is putz around.  I keep opening my inbox thinking, “What are you doing here again? Get to work!”  I am never going to get to the top of the stairs unless I at least start.


So here are some things to keep in mind to get you going:


  • Time blocks. What really got me writing this morning was knowing that this was my time block to write.  I have a commitment to myself that I will get a post done by noon on the weekends.  It’s now 10:39 AM and I have to start.  I have to spend at least 30 minutes on it even if I have no idea what I am going to write.  So I write.  I know some of my clients have set up time blocks for returning phone calls, responding to emails, exercising and being with their families.  Set up time blocks and make a commitment to your work.


  • Have a vision.  What does the top of the stairs look like to you?  My vision is “Make a difference in people’s lives”.  Writing these posts aligns with that vision.  Even if one person reads this post and changes one thing in their life because of it, then it’s worth 45 minutes of my time to make that happen.  Know why you are doing what you are doing and align your efforts with it. How will that production report affect your organization?  How will that conversation with your co-worker move you forward in attaining your vision?  Line up your actions with your vision.



  • Frequently the steps aren’t easy.  I have struggled with this.  When I was in Paris earlier this year, I ended up having to take a spiral staircase to many of my destinations.  I’m really tall and have large feet, so trudging up a small spiral staircase is not only difficult but I can’t see the top.  When we were visiting Sainte-Chapelle (a cathedral built in 1248), my friend and Francophile, Susannah, pointed to a very narrow stone spiral staircase to travel up.  I figured there is no way this building (built 8 centuries ago) is worth being claustrophobic or on my tip toes for.  I was wrong.  Against my better judgment, I followed Susannah up the staircase.  The top of the stairs revealed one of the most heart-stopping, breathtaking, stained glass-encrusted spaces I have ever been in. Take the steps–the view may surprise you.



  • Step into fear.  My friend Janine and I went to the Eiffel Tower the day after the Brussel airport bombing.  We had tickets to what I thought would be the 1st landing of the tower.  I’m not crazy about heights and I figured that would work just fine.  It turns out we had tickets to the top.  When we got to the top, there was another staircase to go up. Janine was game to go up and I was fine where I was.  She ran up the stairs and came back down to get me. “Cath, you gotta come!”  I stepped into my fear, took the steps and saw a Paris I will never forget.  If I reframed it as a challenge rather than a fear, it became much easier to conquer.



  • Have support.  I’ve already shown you two examples where my friends have supported me in venturing up staircases with terrific results.  These same friends are in “Cathy’s Brain Trust” and they give me weekly feedback on my posts.  I feel accountable to them to continue to write.  Who is depending on you?  Who are you supported by?  When pushing through to your highest aspirations, you need to make sure you have support.  My daughter is part of that group and she knows me well. Writing is definitely a challenge and I know she’s always cheering me on.



  • Be open to the unknown.  Frequently we don’t know exactly where we are headed.  We have a vision but there is so much that is unseen from the bottom of the staircase.  My friend Susannah and I were hiking in Haystack State Park.  At the end of the hike was Haystack Tower…with a spiral staircase no less.  It was a hot, humid day and I think the last thing I  wanted to do was go up the tower’s two flights of stairs.  Susannah assured me that the views were at the top of the tower.  So-you guessed it-I went up the two flights and the payoff was a view of three states at once: MA, CT and NY.  Stick it out and it will pay off.



  • One step at a time.  Many times I have clients who are frozen from being overwhelmed.  They want to take action, but when they decide they want to write a book, it’s paralyzing.  They can’t take any step because a step like “write a book” is not easily done in a morning.  The key is to break it down into chunks.  Bite-size chunks like “write an outline”, “decide what software to use” or “research books on writing non-fiction for one hour”.  Break it down one step at a time so that the step can be accomplished in 90 minutes or less.


This isn’t always easy when there are so many distractions in life.  It’s easy to think that skimming through and putting out fires is getting you to where you want to go.  Figure out which staircase you want to go up and start with one small step.  The view from the top is going to be awesome.

“The most successful people are those who are good at plan B.” -James A. Yorke

You are frustrated because they cancelled the show you bought the tickets for six months ago.  You don’t get the promotion you’ve been dreaming of since you came to this company.  The proposal you sent to your ideal client which is going to double your income this year, is turned down.  Is the universe ganging up on you?  Nope.  You just need a Plan B.

Plan B

I recently traveled to New England on business and pleasure.  I ended up with several Plan B moments.  I was staying on the 17th floor of the Hartford Hilton.  The fire alarm went off at midnight.  Sleep was Plan A.  Descending 17 flights of stairs on foot was Plan B. I was staying at my friend’s beautiful country home (in the middle of nowhere in the Berkshires) and planned on writing while there.  There was a thunderstorm that plowed in overnight. Phone and wifi were dead.  Plan A was writing.  Plan B was having a lovely day long conversation with my friend.  I missed a connecting flight at Washington Reagan airport.  Making the connection was Plan A.  Walking 10,000 steps in Terminal C was Plan B.  The important thing was being open to Plan B.


This is how I remained open to Plan B:


  • Keep the goal in mind.  I’ve retold the story of taking 17 flights of stairs and more than one person told me, I think I would have just stayed in the hotel room.  Truth is I didn’t smell smoke but in a 22-story hotel, how could I possible know what was above me.  The goal was avoiding participating in a fire and if trudging 17 flights kept me safe, then that’s the goal.  Getting home safely was the goal when I missed the connection in DC.  It’s easy to get caught up in the frustration of a change of plans but if you focus on the end goal it calms the anxiety.


  • Know where your essentials are.  When a fire alarm goes off and there is an annoying strobe light to accompany it, it’s disorienting.  I tried to turn the light on next to my bed.  It didn’t go on.  I thought the electricity was out.  Fortunately, when I fumbled over to the desk lamp it worked. But I had no idea where my sneakers and glasses were.  Having shoes and glasses were essential.  During the thunderstorm two nights later and the lights flickered, I made sure I had my glasses and shoes next to my bed.  Socks?  Laptop? Nope. Not essential. So in a work situation if you end up not having an LCD projector, use a flip chart.  If you don’t have a flip chart, have someone take notes on paper.  Figure out what’s essential.


  • Label the feeling.  I was sitting in the last row of the plane when we finally pulled close to the gate and making my connecting flight was very present in my mind.  I had a ton of anxiety and, frankly, I was angry that we were sitting 10 feet from the gate but were not actually “at” the gate with the door open.  I consciously sat in my seat and thought, this is what anger feels like.  My forehead is hot and my stomach is clenched.  OK.  And this is what anxiety feels like.  My stomach is flipping and my throat is tight.  OK.  I sat there inventory-ing my feelings as they arose and labeling them.  I was able to witness the feelings instead of getting sucked into them. Labeling the feeling keeps you from stuffing it away as well.  Let it rise and vanish as you consider each one.  If you take anything from this post, work on labeling your feelings; it will keep you from getting sucked into them.


  • A plausible alternative.  When someone cuts me off in traffic, I try and imagine that they are headed to the hospital on an emergency.  When I was sitting in the back row of the plane, I decided it must be some safety issue and the plane couldn’t pull up to the door.  When the client I sent a proposal to doesn’t respond,  I imagine my offer ended up in their spam folder.  Better reach out by phone.  A coach friend of mine, Michele Woodward, recommends that you reach out to a potential client three times.  That’s a great rule of thumb.  With smart phones and bulging email inboxes, the world is a giant distraction.  It takes patience and persistence to get through the clutter.  Assume that they want to get back to you, they are just overwhelmed.  There is always a plausible alternative or explanation.


  • What opportunity is available.  When I realized I missed my connection and had four hours to kill, I decided that I could listen to my book on Audible and walk 10,000 steps.  I’m not sure there weren’t a few folks who saw me walking by them 15 times who didn’t think I might be lost or a lunatic but here was an opportunity to get a few hours of my book done and get in 10,000 steps.  The opportunity in Hartford was seeing some thirty Hartford firefighters.  These guys were there to potentially save my life.  What bravery.  They do this every day.  Run in while we run out.  I don’t have the opportunity to see that every day.  The opportunity in the Berkshires without wifi?  Isn’t it obvious.  20 hours without social media and email and phone.  Priceless.  All I need is a good friend and a dog and the opportunities are endless.


I’ve always had my father as an example of patience.  I have always admired his unflappability.  Whether it was a flat tire or a teenager changing their mind with Friday night plans, “Daddy, can you drive me and my friends to bowling instead of playing Monopoly at home?”  I try and tap into his patience when I face my Plan B. Tools help.

6 Ways to Cope with Blamers

Your co-worker is constantly blaming his boss for his 80 hour plus work weeks.  You are blamed by the project chair for the missed deadline although they were responsible for the delay.  Your partner blames you for the cold dinner, after arriving thirty minutes late.  You end up embarrassed.  Dumbfounded.  Sometimes seething.  These destructive feelings, when ongoing, cause irreparable damage to the relationship and your self-esteem.

blamersBlamers are everywhere.  I see blamers as those who have external locus of control.  As defined by Psychology Today, “The belief that events in one’s life, whether good or bad, are caused by uncontrollable factors such as the environment, other people, or a higher power.”  If you feel as though everything is out of your control and out of your realm of responsibility, you’re going to have lost that responsibility elsewhere.  This is what blamers do.  “A person with an internal locus of control believes that he or she can influence events and their outcomes.” Odds are that if you are suffering from the blamers around you, you have an internal locus of control and are feeling responsible for the blame that is heaped on you.  Fear not!  There are ways to cope with this.


6 Ways to Cope with Blamers:


  1. Own your piece. Everyone has at least 2% of the truth. This is a tenet of CRR Global. So does the blamer.  If you get defensive and start arguing with the blamer, it is discounting the 2% of truth.  Maybe you were late with one little piece of the project, maybe you didn’t answer the email by the deadline, maybe your ideas weren’t well fleshed out.  I’m not suggesting you be a doormat, but acknowledge the 2% that is correct.  It’s not “I completely blew this, I’m sorry” but “I can see that responding faster to that email would have impacted the outcome.”  Everyone is right…partially.


  1. Find the brilliance. A lot of people rarely compliment the other folks in their lives. Whether at home or at work, we don’t try and catch people doing something right.  But everyone does something right every day.  Even if it’s brush their teeth or complete the monthly report on time.  Look for the positive.  Hunt for it.  I was working with a narcissist once.  She didn’t like any of my ideas for a project.  She showed me one of her ideas which I sincerely thought was innovative.  I said, “This is brilliant.”  She did a 180 degree change on the project.  Now she was onboard.  If I had held my tongue, we would have remained at logger heads.   Look for the brilliance.  Then broadcast it.


  1. Listen with empathy. When someone is blaming either someone else or you, be sure to actively listen with empathy. This can be difficult.  It can be painful to hear someone trash your best efforts.  It will help to focus on your breath so that you can stay out of going to your lizard brain and activating your limbic system (the fight or flight response). It may even take returning to the topic later after you’ve had a chance to cool off.  My husband was upset with me a few nights ago and asked that we talk about the topic on Sunday morning.  This was really effective.  I had time to reflect and he had time to reflect.  We were in a better space to listen and be empathetic. Make space to listen.


  1. Respond looking for solutions. Aja Frost wrote a great article called 7 Perfect Replies to (Politely) Shut Down Negative People. My two favorite for coping with the chronic blamer is, “Is there anything I can do?” and “I’m sorry to hear that. Did anything good come out of the situation?” This can shut the blamer down because it is focused on forward positive motion.  Blamers typically want to dwell on how bad everything is. I have asked clients who are focusing on blame, “What 2% are you responsible for?”   This is a proactive approach.  It focuses on what can be versus what was


  1. Come from a place of love. As Kelly Smith wrote for Tiny Buddha, “Remember, all actions are based in either fear or love. Base yours in love. Realize their actions are based in fear. Often, these fears are ones that no one can reach because they are too deep-seated for the person to acknowledge. Accept that, and continue to operate from your own base of love.” I personally have been meditating on loving kindness for months.  My mantra has been to be the “Love and light” in my life.  Having an open heart and compassion for others helps me see the good in all people regardless of the facade they may be exhibiting.  We all want to be loved, happy and at peace.


  1. Let go. As Kelly Smith wrote, “It’s not worth your constant wondering and worrying. It isn’t good for you to hold onto it and over-analyze it. Let it go; visualize yourself blowing it all into a balloon, tying it off, and letting it drift away. Feel lighter because of it!” I love the balloon metaphor.  Another practice is to clench your hand in a fist with your anger towards the blamer, and then release.  Let the blame dissolve into the ether.


Sometimes your best efforts can’t change or pacify other people’s behavior.  There may be a difficult decision in front of you.  Chronic blamers can be toxic for an organization or family unit.  If you’ve tried these coping mechanisms and you still feel like your self-esteem is being affected, you might need to move on.