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Staying Strong When It’s All Going Wrong

Staying Strong When It’s All Going Wrong

    Photo credit: `◄ccdoh1► (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

    Learned helplessness is the condition when we’re so used to being able to do nothing that we, in effect, give up trying to do anything – even though the circumstances might have changed so that we could do something if we tried.

    It can be learned by animals when given electric shock and by babies who, for example, get no feedback from their mother: They learn that nothing they do gets any response. (Presumably human babies can also learn it from receiving unavoidable electric shocks, but to my knowledge this particular scientific experiment has never been published!)

    As you can imagine, it can have massive implications for us as adults – if we believe nothing much we do can influence how things will turn out we’re fare less likely to try and do anything to improve our situation. We’re therefore much, much less able to be able to cope when things go wrong.

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    The universe doesn’t hate you – honest

    Things go wrong for everyone – the universe doesn’t have a grudge for anyone in particular. How we cope with the inevitable setbacks of everyday life is one of the things that differentiates between those people who are ultimately successful and those who aren’t.

    This doesn’t mean, of course, that at the individual level some people aren’t unlucky and that others don’t get away almost without challenge by life – but in overall, big-picture terms our responses dictate a great deal of how life treats us.

    It’s this approach which appears in such trite sayings as “If life throws you lemons, make lemonade”. They may be trite, but there’s an element of truth in them.

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    One of the big issues about learned helplessness is that we tend to regard the negative things in life as ‘permanent, pervasive and personal’. In other words, we tend to subconsciously believe that a bad situation will never change; that a bad situation in one part of our life is generalised to the rest of our lives; and that it’s something to do with us in some way that is our fault.

    To challenge these assumptions, all you have to do is find a set of tools which encourage you (or force you) to look at things objectively, rather than dwelling on the negative. By getting a greater sense of perspective it puts the our setbacks in their place, cutting away at the effects of the Permanence, Pervasive and Personalisation agenda.

    Two simple but massively useful questions to ask yourself when things get you down are these (there are others!):

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    If this was someone else’s problem, what would I do?

    It’s always easier to solve other people’s problems than your own, isn’t it? After all, the chances that you can give someone else good advice is greater than the chance of you accepting good advice that someone gives you!  Find ways of making the problem objective, so that it feels more like it belongs to someone else – getting distance from the setback is a very powerful tool.

    Examples might include such things as writing the problem down in a letter to yourself (perhaps addressed to yourself at work if you’re at home or visa versa and perhaps using your middle name if you have one). Post it second class mail so that it takes a few days to arrive…

    On a scale of one to ten, where ten is dying, how bad is it?

    A seven? A five?  And having established that it’s not the end of the world, don’t dwell on how bad it is – instead ask yourself the killer question “What’s the one thing I can do, now, to move from a five to a four?”.  There’s always something – but as humans we tend to simply get over-whelmed by the big picture of how bad something is and dwell on the enormity of the issue, effectively saying to yourself “I can’t solve this, so I might as well not try”.

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    And you’re probably right – you can’t get from an eight to a one, probably, but there’s no reason to give up and stay at an eight. Seven is better than eight and there’s always something you can do.

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    Last Updated on December 2, 2018

    How to Flow Your Way to a More Productive Life

    How to Flow Your Way to a More Productive Life

    Ebb and flow. Contraction and expansion. Highs and lows. It’s all about the cycles of life.

    The entire course of our life follows this up and down pattern of more and then less. Our days flow this way, each following a pattern of more energy, then less energy, more creativity and periods of greater focus bookended by moments of low energy when we cringe at the thought of one more meeting, one more call, one more sentence.

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    The key is in understanding how to use the cycles of ebb and flow to our advantage. The ability to harness these fluctuations, understand how they affect our productivity and mood and then apply that knowledge as a tool to improve our lives is a valuable strategy that few individuals or corporations have mastered.

    Here are a few simple steps to start using this strategy today:

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    Review Your Past Flow

    Take just a few minutes to look back at how your days and weeks have been unfolding. What time of the day are you the most focused? Do you prefer to be more social at certain times of the day? Do you have difficulty concentrating after lunch or are you energized? Are there days when you can’t seem to sit still at your desk and others when you could work on the same project for hours?

    Do you see a pattern starting to emerge? Eventually you will discover a sort of map or schedule that charts your individual productivity levels during a given day or week.  That’s the first step. You’ll use this information to plan your days going forward.

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    Schedule According to Your Flow Pattern

    Look at the types of things you do each day…each week. What can you move around so that it’s a better fit for you? Can you suggest to your team that you schedule meetings for late morning if you can’t stand to be social first thing? Can you schedule detailed project work or highly creative tasks, like writing or designing when you are best able to focus? How about making sales calls or client meetings on days when you are the most social and leaving billing or reports until another time when you are able to close your door and do repetitive tasks.

    Keep in mind that everyone is different and some things are out of our control. Do what you can. You might be surprised at just how flexible clients and managers can be when they understand that improving your productivity will result in better outcomes for them.

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    Account for Big Picture Fluctuations

    Look at the bigger picture. Consider what happens during different months or times during the year. Think about what is going on in the other parts of your life. When is the best time for you to take on a new project, role or responsibility? Take into account other commitments that zap your energy. Do you have a sick parent, a spouse who travels all the time or young children who demand all of your available time and energy?

    We all know people who ignore all of this advice and yet seem to prosper and achieve wonderful success anyway, but they are usually the exception, not the rule. For most of us, this habitual tendency to force our bodies and our brains into patterns of working that undermine our productivity result in achieving less than desired results and adding more stress to our already overburdened lives.

    Why not follow the ebb and flow of your life instead of fighting against it?

      Featured photo credit: Nathan Dumlao via unsplash.com

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