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How to Cope with a Difficult Relative Over the Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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When is it Better to Just “Fake it”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deep acting is what this commenter is asking about:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Accessing Authenticity

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

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

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

1. Become a truth teller.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ring the bells that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack, a crack, in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

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

 


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

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

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

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

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What Does it Mean to be Brave Over Perfect?

Susie:

In the summer of 2016, when I received some horrible news about my health, I sent my family camping and sat on my bed for two days, spinning in thoughts of despair and sorrow. “I’m going to die and never see my children grow up. I’ll never write a book. We’ll go broke.”

After 48 hours of fighting like Muhammad Ali against my diagnosis, I did something radical. I asked, “What if I accept my situation? What would that feel like?” It felt TERRIBLE at first. My thoughts rushed in to yell at me, “You’re going to give up? You’re so weak!”

So I tried something new. I meditated on each of my thoughts and realized that what was causing me suffering was not the tumor that I could not feel in my body. Instead, my thoughts about the tumor were killing me, even before I spoke to a specialist. I needed to stop blindly believing everything I was thinking. I was going to have enough real physical pain to deal with; I didn’t need to make it worse with my thinking!

Then, something strange happened: I noticed that there was no difference between the thought “I’m going to die young,” and “I’m going to come out of this better than before” except for the way those thoughts made me feel. The relief I felt when I recognized this truth was enormous. I felt big, light, and free. I even laughed.

The minute I laughed at my most desperate thoughts, they lost their hold on me and seemed to disappear. It was as if they knew the gig was up, and moved on to someone else: “C’mon guys, let’s go bug another middle-aged woman who believes us.” Accepting my situation, while questioning my thoughts before letting them go, was making enough space in my head for wisdom.

Wisdom said, “No matter how bad your diagnosis, you still have a choice. You can spin and believe the stories that fill you with panic and despair. Or you can choose to see them not as reality, but just as stories.” I wrote down eight words in my journal: I choose joy over fear, brave over perfect.

What does it mean to be “brave over perfect? To me it means radically accepting myself and things as they are, and moving forward anyway. I am discovering that the world is far friendlier without my scary thoughts driving the bus. I procrastinate less and take more risks. I don’t need to please others as much anymore. I write and post my work publicly. I’ve gone from believing that my writing is not worthy of an audience to feeling, Oh well. It is good enough.

I, too, feel good enough for the world. I say no without guilt. For example, I just said no to a party that we go to every year. I called my friend to tell her honestly, “I love your family. I’m sorry I won’t be there. Sunday is my best writing day.” My friend laughed and surprised me by saying, “Good for you. Let’s go for a walk later instead.”

The best news? I feel freer and happier now than I did before my diagnosis.
* * * * *

Christine:

I wake up at 3am as the wind roars outside, rattling windows, pelting the house with pine needles and seed pods from the trees. I feel panic; hot, dry winds like these started the recent Northern California wildfires. Have we prepared enough for an emergency evacuation?

Less than a week into the horrific wildfires near our home, I had to leave town for work. The fires raged only a few miles away. Evacuees and their pets filled our house. People we knew were losing their homes left and right.

To make myself feel better, I typed up three pages of detailed instructions for what my family should do in case of fire or earthquake. Everyone in my family knew that the unspoken title of this little manual was “Memorize This in Case Mom’s Not Here to Tell You Precisely What to Do in an Emergency.”

I further tried to soothe my anxiety about leaving home in the middle of a natural disaster by making my family practice an emergency evacuation. Tanner volunteered to take care of the family heirlooms. I drilled him, dead serious: “Which are the high priority photo albums?” Macie, who shares my ever-present desire to control everything, asked clarifying questions about our family meeting place.

Molly was drawing on her ankle with a ballpoint pen. “Molly! Pay attention! When you get Buster into the car, what else do you need to make sure you have with you?”

My husband rolled his eyes.

Now, two weeks later, I am lying in bed in the middle of the night, again away from home. This time I am with my family in hot and dusty Ojai, California. The dry winds howl against the house. I know fire is an always-present danger. I try not to imagine the hills around us bursting into flames.

And then I slowly realize: Oh. My. God. No one is home to execute my detailed evacuation plan in case of fire. We would be safe, but like so many families we know, we would lose absolutely everything, the carefully crafted (and now laminated) emergency plan included.

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

Hah.

While it is true that I am no longer as afraid of making a mistake or disappointing others as I was in my youth, I have obviously not yet rid my life of perfectionism. I’ve just turned it outward, to the world, and especially to others.

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

No matter how hard I try, I cannot control what is happening outside of my own head. Click To Tweet

No matter how hard I try, I cannot control what is happening outside of my own head. This makes the world we live in tremendously uncertain. And because I am human, uncertainty makes me anxious.

Although I often forget it, I know that soothing my anxiety by trying to control everything and everyone doesn’t ever work in the end. The only thing that does work is acceptance: to accept that life (or a particular circumstance) is tremendously uncertain. Or maybe not what I wanted. And also to accept my feelings about any given situation.

For example, I accept that there are wildfires raging, and also that I feel sad and anxious about the destruction that is all around me. Acceptance is not the same as resignation, and it’s definitely not despair. It’s okay to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.

Most importantly, acceptance is about simply trusting that it’s going to work out better to meet life where it is, and move forward from there, without trying to manipulate or control everything and everyone.

This not-controlling business? It is not for the faint of heart. Acceptance takes a huge amount of courage.

Neither Susie nor I have fully recovered from perfectionism. Perfectionism is a little like an addiction, and recovery from it is a little like sobriety. We take it one day at a time.

What Brave over Perfect means to us today is this: We choose to accept uncertainty and take action from a place of trust. Saying yes to life and all of its unknowns now feels relaxing and expansive. It’s like finally having a great night’s sleep and waking up with wings.
* * * * *

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

It’s only $20 to sign up. In our next call, we are going to dig a little deeper into the perils of perfectionism and people pleasing. Upcoming call topics include:

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

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

 

 

 

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Teaching Teens to 'Just Say No'

Teaching Teens to ‘Just Say No’

Today’s teens are busy.

Last week, one of my teens was sitting in the kitchen replying to her emails while I prepped dinner. “Help me write a really good excuse,” she asked. A teacher had asked her to speak at a school function that she didn’t want to be involved in.

“Just write, ‘I’m honored to be asked, but I can’t help you this time,’” I suggested. This turned out not to be so helpful.

“MOM. Please. That will not work. I need to say why I can’t do it.” I walked around the island to look at her email. She had typed not one but two paragraphs detailing why should couldn’t go. Nothing she had written was exactly true.

Even though she wasn’t interested in attending, she hadn’t really said no; it was as though she was trying to paint a picture of a life so disastrously busy that her teacher would have no choice but to retract his invitation.

It can be really hard to say no. Teenagers, especially, want to be liked. They don’t want to disappoint us or their friends or their teachers. But they often don’t know how to say no, and so they find themselves hemming and hawing – and often saying yes instead.

The ability to say no is a critical life skill, and one that our kids probably won’t learn without explicit instruction and practice. We adults tend to emphasize that kids should “just say no” to the big things – sex and drugs and anything that might kill them. But if they can’t confidently decline an invitation or choose not to do someone a favor, how will they say no when it matters more?

Here are some ideas for teaching kids to say no that have worked for me:

1. Teach them to be clear about their priorities and truthful in their refusal.

Saying no is easier when we’re clear about our priorities; it’s even harder to decline a request when our reasons for doing so seem unimportant. My daughter has a lot going on this semester that’s more important than her teacher’s event. She needs to be careful about what she commits to on school nights. Saying, “I’m not that interested” seemed selfish to her. But it was also true for her to say, “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’m already committed to something else that evening.” What was she committed to? It didn’t need to be anything more than completing her homework and getting to bed at a decent hour.

Even though this response was vague, it was the truth. Untrue excuses and white lies lead to further entanglements and greater stress.

Telling the truth is not the same as sharing more details than are necessary, even if someone asks why you can’t help them out or come to their party. Detailed explanations imply that the other person can’t handle a simple no – or that the kids need help working out their conflicts.

2. Rehearse a handful of simple and vague go-to ways to say no.

When teens make a specific plan before they are confronted with a request, they’re far more likely later to act in a way that’s consistent with their original intentions.

Something simple – like saying, “That doesn’t work for me this time” – is almost always sufficient. But kids will need to come up with something they would feel comfortable saying. Help them pick a default way to say no, and then help them practice saying it before they need it. Here are some ideas:

  • “Thank you so much for thinking of me! I’m sorry I’m not able to help you at this time.”
  • “I can’t be there, but I will tell my friends about it and post it on social media.”
  • “I wish I could, but it’s not going to work out for me this time.”

3. Help kids think about the future rather than the present.

Research shows we often choose what is most satisfying in the present rather than what will make us happiest in the future – and pleasing others by saying yes can be far more pleasant in the present than saying no.

We can help kids make better decisions by encouraging them to picture themselves moments before the event in question (or in the aftermath of, say, not having enough time for homework or sleep). Would they be relieved if it were canceled? If so, encourage them to say no now so they don’t find themselves trying to weasel out of it later.

4. Encourage persistence.

If their “no” isn’t accepted with grace, help them practice repeating their refusal calmly, using the same words. This will help the other person see that they are sticking to their “no,” and that their pestering isn’t changing their answer. If that doesn’t work and they need something else to say, encourage them to express empathy. For example, they could say, “I understand that you are in a tough spot here,” or, “I know this is hard for you to accept.”

If the other person still won’t back down, teens can share how they are feeling. For example: “I feel uncomfortable and a little angry when you continue to ask me even though I’ve declined.” Have them focus on their emotions – how the other person’s refusal to accept their honest decline is making them feel – and not the logistical details or logic for their refusal. (This takes a good deal of courage, to be sure. Even thinking about this is a step in the right direction.)

5. Say no for them.

My kids have permission to use my husband and I as an excuse when they are having a hard time saying no. We can always easily tell when they’re asking for permission to do something they don’t want to do. When this happens, we’ll often clarify how they feel. (“Do you think it’s a good idea to go to that concert?” Or, “How badly do you want to help out with that?”) Then when the response comes back lukewarm, we’ll put the hammer down. Very occasionally, the kids will indicate to us that they need us to say no firmly and within earshot of their friends or in a text that they can show their friends. We’re happy to provide this service; they don’t always have to do the hard work of saying no on their own.

Finally, if kids are still feeling nervous about saying no, have them take a moment to call to mind the respect they have for themselves and how they’d like others to respect them as well. It takes courage to consider your own needs and priorities along with the needs of others. But it’s worth it. In the long run, the ability to say no is a little-known key to our kids’ happiness.

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What’s Happening With Group Coaching?

The feedback from Brave Over Perfect group coaching participants has been great!

“Our coaching calls are really fun and valuable. I love them! I don’t LOVE talking on the phone but it turns out that I LOVE LOVE listening to interesting phone calls!”

“I’m feeling less stressed, and more like I’m living my priorities.”

“I believe all the changes I have made will be lasting and that the insights I’ve gained will be a foundation for further growth.”

If you’re intrigued, now’s the time to join us, as you’ll get two themes for the price of one. September’s class materials and three call recordings will remain online until the end of October. (October is dedicated to integrating the concepts we learned on our September calls.)

The November theme, “Being Brave Over Perfect,” will dig a little deeper into the perils of perfectionism and people pleasing. Call topics:

  • Tapping into Your Intuitive Wisdom
  • What to do When Things Feel Uncertain
  • How to Deal with Difficult People

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

Learn more or enroll now.

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The Secret to Happiness Webinar

What is the Secret to Happiness?

Everyone I meet eventually asks me this question, usually sooner rather than later.

The good news is that there are many secrets to happiness. But some keys to happiness are much more powerful than others, and the more powerful ones tend to be more surprising, as well.

I’ve studied the science related to happiness and positive emotions for more than a decade. A little over a year ago, I took a step back from the research to determine which happiness tips were the most powerful for my coaching clients, and in my own life.

What emerged was a list of real-life keys to happiness that I had never really blogged or written about, and that my colleagues haven’t been teaching or talking about.

I was so surprised! (And truly glad to be surprised! I can only tell people to practice gratitude so many times before we all start looking for something new.)

3 Surprising Happiness Tips Webinar

In any case, I’m going to share my 3 Surprising Happiness Tips in a quick, free webinar I hope you will join us! Register now here.

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Your Problems Probably Aren’t Unique

Busy people tend to struggle with similar challenges.

We get overwhelmed. We have trouble saying no. We take care of others before we take care of ourselves. We question our careers, our parenting, our marriages, and our priorities. We check our phones constantly (and eat junk food and drink wine and stay busy and otherwise numb our feelings). And then we feel like we aren’t good enough.

But we know what we want.

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

We want all this even though life is hectic and uncertain, even though we are not always (or ever) in control.

Great news: Everything we want is within reach. 

Brave Over Perfect Coaching is an effective and affordable way to learn how to live with more courage, acceptance, joy, presence, self-compassion, gratitude, and authenticity.

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

Life coaching—done right—works.

I’ve seen coaching massively change people’s lives in a very short period of time. I am trained as both a coach and, importantly, I have a PhD in sociology. This means that all of my coaching tools are evidence- and research-based.

People often ask: “Isn’t coaching expensive? And time-consuming? And difficult? And isn’t your waitlist like 50 people deep?”

Yes, individual coaching is expensive, and it can be hard and time-consuming. But there is absolutely no reason that coaching has to be 1-on-1. Group coaching is inexpensive, fun—and it is often even more effective.

Why?

It’s so much easier to see what other people need to fix—and to give them advice—than it is to address our own blind spots. From there, it’s a much shorter leap to taking our own advice.

Here’s the best part:

Brave Over Perfect Coaching is only $20 for three group coaching calls per month + an online community of like-minded people + a ton of online resources. (!!— For reference, my individual coaching—without the community and additional resources—is $250/hour.) Calls occur every other month (September, November, January, March, May, and July), to give you a chance to integrate what you’ve learned before jumping into coaching again.

Fall is here.

Let it be more than just hectic this year. 

Let it be authentic, joyful, and fulfilling.

I hope you’ll join us! Our next live call is on November 8.

Learn more  Enroll Now!

Warmly,

 

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How to Say No Gracefully

Three Steps to Say “No” Gracefully

Yesterday, a friend asked me if she could borrow my car to run a long-distance errand because my little car gets better mileage than her big one. I wanted to say “no”; switching cars on an already busy day felt like a hassle to me. But I didn’t say no. Instead, I hemmed and hawed and hesitated, hoping she’d get the hint.

It can be really hard to say no. Despite my best attempts not to care what other people think of me, I still find myself wanting to be liked. I don’t want people to think I’m selfish. More than that, I don’t want to be selfish. And I never want to miss easy opportunities to help someone out.

But we human beings will often choose what is most satisfying in the present rather than what will make us happiest in the future—and pleasing others (and thinking of ourselves as generous) by saying “yes” tends to be far more pleasant in the present than saying “no.” But saying yes when we want to say no tends to bite us later, in the form of resentment and exhaustion.

We can make better decisions by picturing ourselves moments before the event in question. Would we be relieved if it were canceled? If so, we’ve gotta say no now so that we don’t find ourselves trying to weasel out of it later. Here’s how.

  1. Rehearse Saying No.

When we are stressed and tired, we tend to act habitually. Knowing this, we can train our brain to habitually say no rather than yes to requests by rehearsing a go-to response when people ask us for favors. Research shows that when we make a specific plan before we are confronted with a request, we are far more likely later to act in a way that’s consistent with our original intentions.

Something simple—like, “That doesn’t work for me this time”—is almost always sufficient. (See this post for 21 more ways to say no.) Pick a default way to respond when you don’t want to do something, and practice saying it before you need it.

  1. Be clear about your priorities and truthful in your refusal.

Saying no is easier when we’re clear about our priorities; it’s even harder to decline a request when our reasons for doing so seem unimportant.

I could see that if I had to switch cars with my friend it was going to screw up my whole morning, and it would mean that while I could make it to my meeting in time, I would not be able to take the dog for a morning walk. “I won’t be able to walk the dog,” would have felt like a weak explanation. But walking the dog is my favorite part of my morning, and I count on it to get centered for the day. So, it was also true for me to say, “I have plans in the morning which would make it hard for me to switch cars with you tomorrow.”

Note that even though I was being vague about my plans, I was telling the truth. Untrue excuses and white-lies lead to further entanglements and greater stress. Lying sends your unconscious the message that there’s something wrong with saying no—but there’s not.

Be honest, but don’t be afraid to be vague. Telling the truth is not the same as sharing more details than are necessary, even if someone asks why you can’t help them out or come to their party. Detailed explanations imply that the other person can’t handle a simple no—and they often lead to people solving your conflicts for you, when you don’t really want them to.

If your “no” isn’t accepted with grace, persist. Repeat your point calmly, using the same words. This will help the other person see that you are sticking to your no, and that their pestering isn’t changing your answer. If that doesn’t work and you need something else to say, express empathy. For example, say, “I understand that you are in a tough spot here,” or, “I know this is hard for you to accept.”

If they still won’t back down, tell them the truth about how you are feeling. For example: “I feel uncomfortable and a little angry when you continue to ask me even though I’ve declined.” Focus on your emotions—how their refusal to accept your honest answer is making you feel—and not the logistical details or logic for your refusal.

  1. Make your decision final.

Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert has famously shown that when we can change our mind, we tend to be a lot less happy with our decisions. So, once we decline an invitation, we need to make an effort to focus on the good that will come from saying no, not the regret or guilt we might feel. Perhaps we will be better rested because we didn’t go to a party, or we’ll feel less resentful because we let someone else help out. Maybe saying no to one thing frees up time for another (more joyful) activity.

Say you are thinking of missing your monthly book club because you aren’t interested in the book. Send your RSVP as a definitive no, not a “maybe.” And then immediately turn your attention to all the time you just freed up for yourself.  What do you get to do now instead?

This strategy can be a great tool for offsetting the fear of missing out. The brain reacts to potentially missing out on something in the same way it would with an actual loss. By focusing on what we gain by saying no, we keep our brain from perceiving loss.

If you are feeling nervous about saying no, take a moment to call up the respect for yourself that you’d like others to feel for you. It takes courage to consider your own needs and priorities along with the needs of others. But it’s worth it. In the long run, the ability to say no is a little-known key to happiness.

Need more help saying no? I hope you’ll join my Brave Over Perfect Coaching group, where we practice the skills we need to say “no” strategically, so that we can say “yes” with joy and abandon. Learn more here. 

 

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