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Social Confidence and “Extrovert Skills”

“I used my extrovert skills.” “I had to learn some extrovert skills.” “Oh, well, I don’t have extrovert skills.” I hear these phrases all the time – and they drive me crazy.

When did the ability to be socially graceful or to display good manners become the sole province of one group of people, one temperament?


Good social behavior is within the reach of every human being, no matter how quiet or even shy you may be. As an introvert, you may need to protect yourself from too much stimulation, but you shouldn’t protect yourself from connecting with others.

The problem, many introverts assure me, is that it takes too much energy to relate to others. Well, anything you don’t know how to do well takes more effort and involves more stress. Swimming, running, public speaking, cooking a Thanksgiving turkey … the list is endless.

Here are a few simple reminders:

When meeting other people, look them in the eye at the same time you shake hands. (Don’t extend your hand and then glance over the other person’s shoulder as you say hello.) Use their name, too. According to Dale Carnegie, nothing is sweeter than the sound of your own name.

Give the other person a chance to shine. Even if you’re networking, don’t focus so hard on your elevator speech that you fail to draw out information about the other person. Listen intently and be appreciative. (This is an especially good tip if you don’t think you’re good at conversation. You don’t have to be. Become a great listener and you’ll get a reputation as a great conversationalist.)

Throw some positive bouquets. For example, we all err on the side of thinking that someone needs to do something extraordinary to be worthy of thanks or even praise, yet someone who consistently performs or behaves well, time after time, needs to be told how important this is in order to stay motivated.

These small affirmations can create long-lasting bonds. People may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you make them feel.

And protecting yourself from social interaction? A bad idea. According to a joint report from Carnegie Institute, Harvard University, and Stanford Research Institute, only 15% of success is due to your technical skills. A whopping 85% of your success is due to social skills! You spend years of hard work and tons of money acquiring degrees and expertise, and your only return is 15%? Well, no, employers tell me that those technical skills will insure that you keep the job; but the social skills are what get you in the door so that your expertise can be appreciated. Those social skills are well worth developing.

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

Business Coaching and Introverts

When you hire a business coach and develop a program or product, the first marketing instructions you get will probably be something like this: “Contact your friends, send them a warm letter, offer them your services or product, and ask them if they know people who would be interested.” Bingo! You’re on your way with a marketing list, sure to grow as your friends enthusiastically spread the word.

Oh.

A typical introvert, I have spent my life making a few very deep friendships. Not for me the inclusion in the circle of giggling young women who took coffee breaks and lunch together every day, celebrating life events. When they were discussing a shower for one of their members, I was drinking coffee and reading a book. Their lunchtime group shopping tours were a far cry from my lunchtime exploratory (and solitary) walks.

I’ve had four deep friendships in my life. Let’s see, there was Polly, whom I met in the first grade. As two brown-haired, pig-tailed petite girls in a sea of blonde Scandinavians, we bonded instantly. We’re still friends, decades later, despite a 40-year hiatus when we moved apart, a gap that was bridged instantly when we met again.

Then there was an adventurous, brilliant but troubled girl in junior high school, whom I had to let go out of my life because I sensed her habit of living on the edge would lead me into trouble and deflect me from my path. And finally, the vibrant, charismatic friend of my middle years who suffered a head and brain injury, and died this year, after years of suffering, leaving me bereft.

And of course, hosts of acquaintances and colleagues, with whom I exchanged brief but pleasant conversations over the years.

Uh-oh. Not an auspicious start to my marketing list.

Luckily, there was the fourth: a serene and wise introvert who had early on mastered the art of being connected to a wide variety of supportive people while maintaining her privacy and serenity.

Studying her and listening to her brought about profound changes in my life and techniques I now share with others.

Here is some of the wisdom I have gathered:

Be a Person of Interest, not a Person of Mystery

People are curious; they want to know something about people around them in order to feel safe, to know how to respond and what to say and do – or not say or do. In short, they need to know, like and trust you (essential for business), but in order to do that they need to flesh out that vague outline of you that you may be presenting to them. If they have no idea who you are, what you stand for, and what delights you or not, they will make something up. In fact, they will write a whole life story for you that would astound you if you knew it. And you probably won’t like it.

I listen to introverts, I know the complaints – “Why do they want to know what I did over the weekend? It’s nobody’s business but my own.” And I get it; I have spent many a weekend alone, happily listening to music, reading, gardening, reluctant to disclose that to anyone in a world that deems that solo behavior is peculiar.

But I also know that you risk being thought of as “aloof,” “snobbish,” or even ”arrogant.”

So take a deep breath and learn to say something like, “I had a great time relaxing, getting caught up, and even finding time to read. How about you?” Over to the other person, who probably really wanted to talk about what he or she did, anyway. Use your great listening skills to convince people that you are a great conversationalist.

Find something to connect with potentially in everyone you meet

While I (and many introverts, which I gather from reading internet forums) was looking at other people to see what wasn’t going to work here, and what I could do to protect myself, my friend is always seeking something to which she can relate. It isn’t always there and she has been known to quietly but diplomatically dismiss people from her life, but she often finds it. Her reward? A large group of very different people who complement different aspects of her personality and love her to pieces because she has recognized some unique essence in them.

Learn to set boundaries

Avoiding other people completely sets a huge boundary around yourself but it doesn’t help you navigate the complexities of actually being in a relationship with someone without being swallowed up or drawn into activities you don’t enjoy. We use avoidance to protect ourselves from the danger of – of what? Engaging in an activity you find distasteful? Being bored to death?

Asking for what you want and diplomatically turning down what you don’t want are communication tools everyone needs in order to be liked and trusted and to feel safe.

These are just a few of the simple changes introverts can make to ramp up their personal support group without becoming someone they imagine they wouldn’t like.

In the words of an incredibly successful sales person I met a few years ago, Never try to make a sale. Just try to make a friend.

How about you? Do you have a group of people who are your cheerleaders? Or do you just have a large group of casual acquaintances who barely think of you when you are not present?

It’s never too late to start enlarging your support group and reaping the personal and professional rewards. Tell me some of the skills you, as an introvert, have learned to develop a strong support network.

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

Holding on to your identity during a transition?

 

Maybe you shouldn’t be. 

Transitions – in life or in career – are tough. One of the hardest parts is the seeming attack on your identity when you no longer fill a given role, a role you may have played for years, even decades. People who have had to change careers for physical or health reasons, retirees from work to which they have dedicated years of their lives, mothers whose children have grown up and fled the nest, all struggle with this identity crisis.

I know it well: I was a very dedicated ballet dancer when I was young. I lived and breathed ballet: my companions, my choices in food, clothing, entertainment, the décor in my bedroom, all pivoted around my focus on dance.

Then I had to stop. Ballet isn’t something you do forever. But when I did, I had this vast, empty cavern inside of me that I couldn’t seem to fill. If I wasn’t a dancer, how would other people know who I was, relate to me in a way that I felt comfortable? What did I have to be proud of? What would I talk about, and to whom? Would I become invisible? I felt invisible.

The problem was this: I had identified myself as a “dancer.” So if I wasn’t being a dancer, who was I?

As a wise friend remarked, “No, you’re a person who dances. And when you are no longer dancing, you will still be a person.”

In other words, if the identity you have constructed hinges on a specific label, you will be in trouble during a transition. If, on the other hand, you have identified the qualities that made you so good at what you did in that role, then you can search for other ways in which to express those qualities.

My problem was that I was a performer: I loved it, even craved it. And yet, as a shy introvert, I couldn’t get that thrill on a day-to-day basis: spontaneous social contacts left me receding into panic. I needed that stage.

I also loved to wear costumes and the special way they made me feel. Finally, my body needed to feel the freedom of movement.

Most of all, I love to share all the things I have experienced, and from which I have learned,  with others.

So this is the story of how I became a professional speaker: someone who, dressed a little more elegantly than the audience, sways people emotionally and provides them with information and the positive energy they are seeking. Making broad, sweeping gestures and using body language appropriate to the content of the speech is a necessity to inform, motivate, and yes, entertain people.

And guess what, I can do this the rest of my life! Aging joints and muscles and less-than-vigorous energy levels won’t deter me.

I didn’t make the change overnight, though.

So, if you are in transition, take stock of what you do well, those great qualities you may not even recognize in yourself: headily directing a team of people to reach higher goals, nurturing individuals to help them become their best, providing the optimistic outlook that troubled people seek, being the “bridge over troubled water” that we desperately need in this world … and more.

One of my clients was very concerned about a new job she had, as manager of a restaurant. How could she cope? What did she know anyway about managing people? I had observed her with her grandchildren, where she was both warm and decisive in her manner, leaving them no doubt as to what she wanted from them – and didn’t want. She was perfect for the job; she just didn’t realize it yet.

Whatever you find out about yourself, recognize that, in one way or another, you may be able to do this for the rest of your life. If not, once you have transitioned successfully, you will have developed the skill to look for a new role that will explore your talents and refresh your spirit, and to recognize it when the opportunities appear. And they will.

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

The “Sliding Scale” of Introversion-Extroversion

After my talks, people often come up to me and say, “I used to be an introvert – but I got over it,” or, “I’m not sure; sometimes I think I’m one thing and sometimes the other. Can you be both?”

Actually, you can be both, changing from one situation to another, or changing over time from one to the other, then sliding back. That’s why I call the introversion-extroversion dimension a sliding scale.

Social psychologists have known for decades that surrounding circumstances can heavily influence personality. Personality tests may claim (or would have you assume) that once you have taken the test and been given a label, you are defined for life. It doesn’t work that way. A personality test cannot necessarily project what you will be in all other situations, past and future.

Although there are some known neurological differences between introverts and extroverts, the best-known (and possibly the defining) feature has to do with how much stimulation we can tolerate at a given time. Conversation, loud music, clutter, hustle and bustle – introverts tend to find too much stimulation at one time exhausting and even threatening, while extroverts thrive on it and will even seek out more.

What’s just been happening in your life?

But what is “too much”? The analogy to eating is a useful one. We all have appetites, some larger than others. We have differing capacities, too, so one person’s “full up” is another person’s “just getting started.”

Just as with eating, “too much” will depend on not only your capacity but on what you have consumed in the immediate past. If you have been overloaded with stimulation recently, you may crave isolation.

Too much isolation can drive you to seek bright lights and activity – generally.

Too little stimulation can be damaging to human beings.

We are social beings – we need connection to others to thrive. Research on everybody from infants to the elderly supports the recognition that we need social connections to be healthy, physically and psychologically. Some need more than others; many a healthy, successful introvert thrives on a few, deeply-held relationships rather than being part of a large social group.

Total withdrawal from social life generally results in poorer health and depression. So why do people do it, insisting that it is a necessary part of their introversion?

How’s your health?

Here’s one reason to withdraw: Being run down, or even ill, can lead you to resist exposing yourself to too much stimulation, as can depression or grieving. Recovering from these situations can mean that you and your energy rebound.  

Unfortunately, withdrawing from society for a long period of time, as introverts sometimes do, means a lack of the social experience that helps us shape up and improve our connections, and makes the thought of interacting exhausting and terrifying. So we end up avoiding social interaction more and more, often saying, “I can’t do that because I’m an introvert.”

It’s easier when you have skills

Go to the beach in the summer and watch an enthusiastic but unskilled swimmer beating the water with both arms, sending up great plumes of spray, while his legs thrash furiously. Then watch a highly-trained swimmer glide sleekly through the water as if it was her natural environment, leaving barely a ripple.

Introverts often complain about social activities as being energy drainers, but confident introverts (those with good social skills) find that they have plenty of energy for necessary and even enjoyable social encounters. Why? Because any activity for which you have skill takes less energy.

Even house-cleaning is easier when you know how to do it and have the right skills and tools. The same is true of social situations.

Not being socially skilled is an energy-drainer, but it is an unnecessary one. Anyone can learn to connect and communicate well with others; being an introvert simply means you choose the times when you do this.

Confident introverts don’t avoid social situations. They just make wise choices.

Watch for my upcoming course, Social Success Skills for Quiet People, giving you the tools you need to operate effectively – and happily – in professional and personal areas, without becoming someone you don’t like!

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

Bullying in the Workplace: Who Bullies Whom?

Over 40% of employees in the workplace have experienced bullying, a persistent pattern of behavior that intimidates, degrades or otherwise undermines the wellbeing of the target. Bullying is four times more prevalent than sexual abuse, and, according to a study at the University of Manitoba, the outcomes for victims of bullying are worse than are those for sexual abuse victims.

So who are the bullies? And who are the targets? It’s easy to envision a quiet, introverted person as the victim of an outgoing, brash person. But it’s not that simple.

According to Arlene Vernon, HRxaminer, targets are often the best and the brightest: the most technically skilled, empathic, kindest – but unlikely to fight back. Incivility and aggression are often fueled by individual differences, such as introversion and extroversion. That doesn’t necessarily mean that most cases involve extroverts bullying introverts. Actually we don’t know that, as there is little research on this area at this time.  

However, bullying is most often from supervisor to subordinate, where even a fairly confident employee is reluctant to fight back. Given that extroverts are more likely to be promoted to leadership positions in the U.S., there is a chance that the scales are tipped in that direction.

But according to Vernon, bullying doesn’t have to be overt hostility. It can be covert; an introvert leader would be in a position to deny training or promotions, apply different standards, or block leave or time off. It can also be an employee-to-employee situation, as in malicious gossip, making false accusations, and stealing credit.

And what are the outcomes of bullying? Known results include stress, anxiety, depression, anger, aggression, panic attacks, and even suicidal thoughts, all negatively affecting a company’s wellness program. Even onlookers of bullying may be negatively affected.  

But that’s not all. There is increasing evidence that bullying is affecting workplace productivity, perhaps massively. Inability to concentrate or make decisions and absenteeism take their toll on productivity. Royal & Sun Alliance, the largest commercial insurance company in the United Kingdom, has suggested that absenteeism alone due to this kind of distress may cost businesses approximately eight to 10% of a company’s profits.

Then there are the costs of employee turnover, estimated at costing at least one-half of the employee’s salary to replace him or her. An estimated 70% of bullied employees leave, while an estimated 20% of witnesses to bullying also do so.

Rehabilitation of stressed employees, as well as legal costs, all add up.

Finally, a company can find its reputation damaged. People talk to other people. An unhappy employee is probably seeking comfort from friends and family, who then talk to others, and so on.

If a company develops a bad reputation for bullying, it could conceivably affect sales to the public.

So what are the solutions?  

We should follow the example of Scandinavian countries and Canada, which have enacted legislation against workplace aggression, just as there is now against sexual abuse in the U.S., allowing victims to report incidents, go to the union and take legal action.  

Training employees to recognize bullying would help create a climate in which bullying is less invisible.

Most of all, companies should work to create an environment in which individual differences are not just tolerated but celebrated, creating a cooperative and positive environment for all.

Are you aware of workplace bullying?  Have you had an experience you’d care to share?

Sources:  
Arlene Vernon, PHR, HRxaminer, in a talk to the Minnesota Council of Non-profits
David Yamada, Psychology and Work
Janet Fowler, “Financial Effects of Workplace Bullying” on Investopedia   http://bit.ly/1Hwhfky

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

The Unintended Consequences of Being an Introvert

As more and more attention is being paid to introversion, thanks to Susan Cain and her book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” the world is slowly becoming aware of introvert value and, what’s better, willing to make some adjustments to accommodate introverts and recognize our ability to make valuable contributions. For example, Steelcase, an international company providing “office furnishing solutions,” has designed a special “Susan Cain room”: a soundproofed room to which an employee can retreat for respite from the stimulus overload of a busy office.

Yes, being quiet can be a good thing: during quiet times we can collect information carefully, digest it, ponder it, and come up with innovative solutions. All of these are important contributions to organizations, productivity, innovation, and our own (I’m an introvert, too) sense of pride.

We introverts can and should be proud of our valuable contributions. However, in order to be truly effective, we need to manage how we contribute. Here are some pitfalls to avoid:

Pitfall #1: Being seen as “slow” or “uninvolved”

Listening carefully in a meeting or group, you test a new, innovative idea that just sprang into your head on one or two people near to you in a low voice. Ouch! The first person to speak up with the new idea gets the credit – and it isn’t you.

I can’t think how many times I have had a clever thought and handled it just like that – only to have that idea fed back to me later as fresh and brilliant – and attributed to someone else.

We may think we’re thoughtful and cautious; others may think we’re just slow on coming up with solutions.

The fix: Turn “slow” or “passive” into “thoughtful” and “careful”

Be very careful with whom you test your new ideas. The friendly sounding board you are using might not be acting in your best interests. Or, a true but bolder friend may verbalize what you shared, thinking to help your idea gain visibility. The result is the same: you’re not given the credit.

If you are self-conscious about speaking up in a group, my first advice would be, “Get over it,” but I know too well that “getting over it” is a slow process of gaining confidence in a group setting. So, another ploy is to say, “I may have some further thoughts on this, and I’d like to get back to you a little later,” or even, “I’d like to take a little time to put my thoughts down on paper.”

Teach people around you (yes, you can do this) to recognize that you are a deep thinker who provides great value when you don’t shoot from the hip.

Pitfall #2: Being seen as “sneaky”

While listening, you start to have disquieting feelings that there’s something wrong with what’s being discussed, but you’re not quite sure if you’re right and you’re really not ready to commit yourself to providing your criticism.


When we do this, we may think we’re being diplomatic and careful, and we may in fact be just that. But if we mention our thoughts later to another group member, who speaks to another … etc., etc. … we can quickly develop a reputation as “sneaky” or, at best, “cowardly.”

The fix:

Your initial silence has been interpreted as agreement; so your later criticism seems like betrayal.  

Signal your discomfort upfront by saying, “I think this needs a little more thought/research, and I’d like to get back to you with my comments.”

If, after careful thought, you decide there is no real objection to what has been suggested, you can always say, “I’ve given this considerable thought/checked the facts carefully, and I think we should go ahead.”

The biggest fix:

Learn to be proud of your introversion.

Let others around you, including managers, know that you like to think deeply about topics and can provide greater value if you feel free to take the time to do just that.  

You don’t have to be apologetic. The cultural tide is on your side; people are becoming aware that all good ideas do not come from the people who speak up quickly and the most. People are finally learning that the introvert’s great ideas are well worth waiting for.

Yes, it’s a good time to be an introvert in America.

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

Introversion, Gut Feelings, and Trust

Maybe – just maybe – your gut-level feeling that you shouldn’t be doing something is right. But if you’re an introvert, you’ve probably had a lifetime of being told to ignore your feelings, and urged to act just the opposite.

Want to stay home and read? “What’s the matter with you, anyway?” It’s implied that you’re neurotic or even antisocial. Want to leave a party before it ends? “You’re a party-pooper.” Find large groups overwhelming? “Just get out there and have fun (said with incredulity)!” (Even though the event gives you a headache or even nausea.) Enjoying being quiet and listening when in a group? “You’re shy, aren’t you?” a shaming label if ever there was one.

We end up forcing ourselves to do things that aren’t bringing us any pleasure, and somehow berating ourselves for the demoralizing experiences we endure. Then we crawl back into our little cave.

It’s no wonder we have never learned to trust our feelings as guides to what will lead to success and happiness.

There is a caveat here: if you are an introvert, and haven’t had good guidance in developing your introversion in a confident way, your reluctance to participate in a given event may not be the result of intuition (“This isn’t for me”) but the result of anxiety, because you haven’t learned the social skills to cope successfully with such events.

How do you tell the difference between intuition and unwarranted, self-defeating anxiety?

The anxiety over not knowing what to do or say is simply a lack of social skills, common to many introverts who have learned to shrink away from social interaction. The self-consciousness we develop from feeling out of step with society, plus our increasing lack of practice in social skills are a part of what I call “introvert baggage,” not a necessary part of introversion, which merely calls us to manage our energy effectively.

Gaining confident social skills is simply a matter of finding good models, not the bright, energetic center-of-attention model, but the quiet, well-mannered helps-other-people-feel-comfortable model.

You can find these models through observation, reading (try an etiquette book), or coaching.
Simply acquiring social skills doesn’t mean you must get out there and go on a social binge. It does mean that you are able to do so when it’s important to you: to network, support friends, etc.

Why is socializing important? Nobody gets through a successful life alone. We all need a confidantes, support systems, and networks. If we are in business, and most of us working people are in some way or another, we need to be able to connect meaningfully with people who see value in our contributions.

It can be painful, however, and here’s where self-knowledge and your intuition can be an excellent guide.

Business coaches often urge me, and others, to go to every possible networking meeting in order to meet people who somehow, some time, might be able to help make our businesses go forward.

I reflected on this, and it occurred to me that this might be the equivalent of urging Kate Middleton to attend every possible party in England in the hopes that she would someday meet someone who could possibly introduce her to the future King of England. (Cue cynical laughter here.)

How do you know when it’s right to go? First, take some time to sit quietly with your wisdom and get very clear on what you want out of life. Banish the “shoulds” of society. Mentally practice your social skills: greeting people, appreciating them. Stop worrying about how good things are going to happen. Convince yourself that they can, and you are worthy.

Then, take a chance on going out somewhere, such as a meeting or a party, to check whether or not it’s in line with your vision. At the first sign of discomfort, ask yourself if it’s your lack of skill, or if there is really something going on here that is counter to your best interests.

If you’re still a little unclear, you sometimes need to allow a given event a second chance before you are clear as to whether you are responding to your intuition or simply to your “introvert baggage.” But don’t be afraid to draw yourself up proudly and say to yourself, “This simply isn’t for me. I will never be appreciated here for who I truly am.” Thank the host, hostess, or event organizer as you leave.

With enough Introvert Pride (yes, you can develop that), you can even say, as I have sometimes done at a pleasant event at which I’ve had enough, “I’m not leaving because I don’t like your event. I am an introvert, and I have had enough stimulation for one evening. Thank you very much.”

Some time ago, I was due to attend a networking meeting, but felt reluctant to do so. I hadn’t really gotten any meaningful connections at this group; furthermore, I often left feeling vaguely depressed, somehow assuming that there was something wrong with me.

But taking a furlough from life, I concentrated on who I was and what I wanted, no matter how crazy it sounded. Faced with yet another meeting of this group, I told myself bravely that I didn’t have to do that anymore – it was a go-nowhere situation for me. I fought back the voices of previous coaches who scolded me for being too passive.

So I skipped this next meeting, stayed home, and started looking at the internet for groups that might be more aligned with my interests. I found one quickly (my gut said “yes”), attended it the next day, was welcomed, connected immediately with interesting people, and set up a great relationship/partnership with two of the members.

These relationships and partnerships seem to flow into life easily, once you know who you are, and can handle it.

Until you’ve aligned your actions with your gut, you don’t know how really easy and sweet life can be.

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

Transforming your year

Everyone tells you that you must have a clear vision of where you want to go and who you want to be. Not everyone tells you exactly how – and how not – to get to that vision.

For example, suppose you want a life in which you are well paid and appreciated for your work. You want warm relationships and the time to pursue them.

But suppose your nagging belief is that it’s simply not possible. After all, you’ve spent years piling up evidence to tell you that.

So you sit down, meditate, and envision in exact detail what you want. You then open your eyes and everything is still the same.

Vision isn’t enough

A fellow coach tells the story of a woman to whom he was talking. She had a serious weight problem, and he asked her what she was doing to challenge it. She replied that she sat on her sofa every day for thirty minutes and visualized herself losing weight.


That, of course, was the problem. Vision should be the carrot that draws you forward, taking the steps necessary to reach that dream. It should not be a dream in which you submerge yourself in fantasy, waiting for things to happen.

It’s not enough to dream; you must walk the walk.

So you say, “OK, I’ve tried that, and I’m exhausted. I mapped out all the steps, followed them carefully, and it still didn’t work.” Maybe that was the problem.

Throw away the list

One of the reasons we fall into despair over the seeming impossibility of meeting our vision is that we believe we have walked the path leading to that vision – perhaps many times – yet we’ve never reached that Promised Land.

What probably happened was this: you made a list of the logical (to you) steps you needed to take to get there.  

You started to follow those steps. You brushed aside distractions.

At some point, you were blocked, or exhausted, or rejected, or disheartened. You lost your dream.

It’s a little like taking a path that’s edged with a tall, thorny hedge. That hedge gets in the way, and you can’t even see the fields on either side of the path, fields filled with blooming flowers and sparkling brooks. All you can see is the rocky path ahead and the thorny hedge walling you in.

Maybe some of those distractions were not actually wrong paths at all, but alternate, pleasanter, and faster ways to get to where you want to be.

So don’t make that rigid plan. An inspiring vision opens you up to all the possibilities in your environment that you haven’t seen before.

Try this exercise that I like to do with clients: what do you see here?

 OPPORTUNITYISNOWHERE

The way in which you break this phrase up into separate words is a strong indication of your current mindset. What do you see?*

Truly creative people don’t use lists:  they pay a lot of attention to their vision and notice everything in the present that confirms its reality.

Pay attention to your emotions: honor them, and recognize they are just temporary, like sudden summer storms that appear, rage, and then disappear, leaving a clear sky and sun.

Despair happens to everyone, every now and then. The problem is, when it hits, we picture ourselves sunk in a never-ending sea of despair. It’s such a heavy feeling that it forces us to sit down and stop working in order to support it.

Pay attention to when despair hits: for me, it’s about 4 p.m. and I have learned that my energy level is simply low at that hour, so I turn temporarily away from doing anything productive to reach my dream.

 Here are two despair-chasing phrases I use all the time:

There is a solution. I just can’t see it right now.
        and
I can’t handle this right now. I’ll worry about it tomorrow.
 
Angry at feeling rejected or blocked? Use your anger as energy; turn it into determination to succeed, then look around you for another path that isn’t blocked.

Unload the baggage, those memories of past setbacks, and load your mind with warm, successful memories. Collect every scrap of evidence you can that records your progress through life – skills mastered, certificates gained, warm notes telling you how important you are to others, and go over them every night just before bedtime.

It’s really all about getting out of your own way.  

I hope you love these quotes from Tut, The Universe, as much as I do:

“Rarely are the first steps in a journey anything like the final ones, either in direction, pace, or grace.“

“Simply stand aside, let spirit emerge, have no doubt, and your wings will appear.”

*  “Opportunity is nowhere” or “Opportunity is now here”

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

The Holiday Time and Energy Bandits

Time and energy bandits are habits and thought processes that can suck you dry, leaving you exhausted and harried.

One of these bandits, which particularly rears its head at the holiday season, is perfectionism.

Now perfectionism is a wonderful trait – in its place. Some of the places where it is advisable to practice perfectionism include brain surgery (or any kind of surgery), pharmacy, air traffic control, operation of any kind of heavy equipment, including motor vehicles, or any other activity that seriously threatens the health and safety of living things.

But true perfectionists extend this way of thinking and behaving far beyond the boundaries of necessity. Relationships, child-rearing, weddings, and holidays are areas where the whole experience would be better for everyone if the perfectionist could just back off.

Christmas can include a hurricane search for exactly the right gift, which is unavailable due to its popularity, or the ultimate holiday decorations and meal, suitable for a photograph on a magazine cover.

“But I’d be letting people down if I didn’t do it,” wailed one of my clients. “Really?” I said. “Have you asked them?” Turns out her family members were delighted to be asked. They hated her frantic search for perfection.

How to dial down your perfectionistic tendencies? Make a list of all the areas in your life where it is necessary for you to be a perfectionist (see discussion above). Then make a list of all the areas where is merely “desirable,” including filling out income tax returns, making travel reservations, dealing inadequately with customers or clients. Failure to be perfect here can result in spending money or in wasting time, but it is not life-threatening.  

What’s left after the “necessary” and “desirable” areas are the gray areas: being concerned about how you dress, how your home looks, whether you have said something foolish, made a mistake, or somehow displayed your ignorance.

In this context, perfectionism is NOT about setting high expectations or being successful in your endeavors. It is about being concerned about making mistakes and about worrying about what others think. Perfectionism in this arena robs you of joy, of creativity, and of authentic relationships.

Think of it this way – persistent perfectionism is stress, and persistent stress is life-threatening. Any event that you are willing to shorten your life for by having anxiety had better be an equally life-threatening event. Are dust bunnies, disarranged hair, or verbal mistakes really worth your life?

Turn the lights down low (hides the dust bunnies), sit back, and smile a lot. Forgive yourself for small mistakes and forgive others around you for the same. Trust me – you’ll be more popular – relaxed – than you ever thought possible.

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

Introvert Nervousness – Friend or Foe?

“I’m now able to give a talk in public, but I’m still nervous. I guess I won’t ever get over it.” The speaker was a woman in one of my seminars, and the topic was introversion and public speaking. Her assumption was that because she was an introvert, nervousness was always there, ready to undermine her performance and her confidence, and she would never be free of that awful feeling. 


After she spoke, I reflected that, years ago, I returned to dance after taking a few years off to go to college. At my initial return performance, I was overwhelmed by fear that I would fail miserably and embarrassingly. As my partner and I got into the opening pose just before the curtain went up, I was dismayed to find that his hand, which I was holding, was shaking badly. Just before the curtain rose, he said to me quickly, “Remember, this is energy. Use it!”

 

The performance was brilliant.

 

Good – really good – performers have always known that the little thrill of anxiety they experience before a performance actually enhances what they do; to be completely calm is to become a little dull. That nervousness can produce a number of positive changes, including increased mental clarity, energy, and enthusiasm.

 

Recent research by Crum and Salovey (2013)* disclosed that the belief that stress is debilitating will undermine performance, confidence, and health, too. 

 

So would simply switching that mindset to one that tells you that nervousness will enhance your performance make all the difference in the world? Not necessarily, because first it is important to rehearse your performance thoroughly, so thoroughly that you have a set of well-learned skills on which to fall back; think of it as being on a kind of automatic pilot.

 

Then, as the performance unrolls, you can hear that little voice inside saying, “I think I can. I KNOW I can.”

 

Repeatedly performing the same skills under stress while believing in the performance-enhancing value of stress leads to better performance, increased confidence, and a greater overall sense of well-being.

 

And, by the way, nervousness over public speaking or any other kind of performance is not the exclusive experience of introverts; extroverts can feel it, too. Introverts sometimes fall into the trap of believing what they hear so much from society, that introversion is a kind of defect. 

 

No, pretty much everyone has the same experiences when it comes to something like public speaking. The same rules apply: learn, practice, tell yourself nervousness is an advantage – and grow.

*Crum, A., Salovey, P. & Achor, S. (2013).  Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

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Lynette is a member of MVP Seminars. Visit her at www.MVPSeminars.com

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