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Combining prosperous work lives and balanced personal lives
October 2003

My goal is to bring you news, insights, and information about leading a balanced and prosperous life.

    In this issue, you'll find:
  1. Think Like a Winner
  2. BossWoman coaching
  3. Up and coming workshops
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1. Think Like a Winner
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One of the most frequent questions I get from students and clients is how to become more self-confident. Often they want to feel more confident especially in new situations. I tell them that I am considering referring them for medication for their psychosis. How would you expect to be confident about an activity for which you have no training, have not practiced, and have never experienced? Self-confidence is not a given; it has to be earned.

To be self-confident about an activity you need to do the following: Study something, practice until you get good, and have a sentence in your head that you can do it well. The steps come in that order. No amount of positive affirmations can help you be more confident when you don't have the skills to do something. Unless we are talking about chance events like winning the lottery, thinking like a winner follows from acting like a winner.

Professional athletes exemplify the process of thinking like a winner. The story of Michael Jordan is a familiar one. Even though he was dropped from a high school basketball team, he eventually discovered his best talents in basketball. While sports experts agree that Jordan is one of those genetically gifted athletics, he reached the extraordinary level of success because of his work ethic. He not only studied basketball but practiced basketball. It is part of his legend that after the Chicago Bulls finished their practice sessions, he stayed and practiced for a couple more hours. The extra practice gave him the skills which led to his confidence.

I recently interviewed former professional basketball player turned writer, Mariah Burton Nelson, author of the 2002 book "We Are All Athletes: Bring Courage, Confidence, and Peak Performance into Our Everyday Lives" published by Dare Press. Nelson learned how to think like a winner from her mother. Her mom challenged her to a swim race - just the two of them -when Nelson was five years old. This mom was not like other moms, she didn't let her daughter win. And she won every year until Nelson passed her up at age ten. "Mom taught me that winning is fun and female -- and that losing is just part of what happens on the way to success. She taught me that competition can be a form of intimacy, since rivals share common goals, watch each other, and learn from each other's strengths and weaknesses."

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Pick a Winning Area
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Only you can define what winning means to you. Nelson has always enjoyed swimming but her winning sport was basketball. She says that it is freeing for a woman to define winning for herself. She says it is important to clarify your own goals. "Be sure they're your goals, not your parents' goals, your spouse's goals, your idea of what your goals should be. Women can be good at intuiting others' needs and desires but it i mportant to pursue your own dreams without hesitation or apology."

Pick something in which you seem to have some natural talent. You may have to dabble a bit to find that something. I dabbled in a lot of sports until my tennis coach said, "I've seen you dance and I've seen you play tennis. Stick with the dancing." When I picked my wounded ego off the court, I knew he was right.

  • What are your dreams? Are they your own dreams or are they the dreams of others?
  • Stuck for ideas? What dreams did you have before puberty struck? Studies on adolescent girls have suggested that the dreams of young girls often get tucked away by the time they enter high school never to materialize again. So return to the time of childhood and had dreams you acted out in play. When I asked the puberty question of a client who claimed she had no dreams - just dreams for her children - she rediscovered her love of horses and riding.
  • What are the steps towards those dreams? Are you pursuing them? What support do you need to make those dreams happen?
  • If you could be really excellent at something, what would it be? What would give you the right amount of challenge without being too frustrating? Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has found that those are the qualities of a learning environment that produces "flow," that sense of being so one with a task that you lose track of time and yourself.
  • How can you get better at something you are already good at? Recent research by the Gallup organization indicates that your career development return on investment may be higher if you strengthen a skill that comes naturally rather than using the common sense strategy of strengthening your weaknesses.
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Practice, Practice, Practice
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You have probably heard that punch line in some version of the old joke about the couple asking a local New Yorker for directions on how to get to Carnegie Hall. Many skills needed in our work and personal lives require the same discipline. Knowing how to think like a winner requires practice.

Mariah Burton Nelson reflects on the lessons she learned about practice while playing basketball professionally in Europe and in the first U.S. women's pro league (the WBL). "I attribute my success as an author and speaker to my athletic background, and to my commitment to approaching life with an athletic attitude. I'm a good writer because I practice writing - like I used to practice basketball, and like I still practice golf and swimming. I'm a good speaker because I take risks on the platform, drawing on the courage I developed through sports."

Don't worry if you have never competed in a sport. Nelson, who delivers thoughtful and inspirational keynote speeches to corporate, association, government, and college audiences, says that even many athletes don't understand that they can apply the lessons of competitive sports to everyday life. She says that sports experiences have the potential to help girls and women get comfortable with their bodies, with teamwork and with competition.

  • What experiences in school, work, sports, or hobbies have taught you the importance of practice?
  • Have you ever gotten better at a skill by practicing? How long did it take? How much did you have to practice to improve? How can you use those lessons in your current situation?
  • What skills do you need to practice now? It seems obvious that learning languages, math, and computer programming requires practice but so do the skills of teamwork, networking, and conflict management.
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Professional practice
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Years ago my mother asked me why I was still taking dance lessons and coaching. "Don't you know how to dance by now?" If your goal is exposure to a sport or a professional competency area, one course will be enough. If you wish to master some of the skills, you will need continuing education. Some of my clients are professionals who refer to their businesses as "practices." I always thought it was such a strange word to describe professional activities. I wondered when my doctors and dentists would get good enough to stop practicing. Now business people refer to "best practices" to describe processes that really work. Maybe it is not such a strange term to use.

Following that convention, I would say that I have two "practices," one in therapy and one in coaching, and I am always trying to get better by improving my skills. For example, as part of my coaching practice I will be taking a course on "Strategic Career Design" for the next several months. It promises to organize the cutting edge research on how adults make career commitments and career transitions. You will be seeing some of that information in this newsletter.

I am also making a special offer to new coaching clients good until the end of November. New coaching clients that commit to three months of career coaching will have their first two months at half my usual fee for whatever package (depending on length and frequency of sessions) they chose. As always I offer a complementary hour session to see if we are a good fit to work together. This special offer is a two-winner solution. You get a financial break for signing up for coaching with me and I get to "practice" my deepening career design skills. Call 410-465-5892 or write Susan@BossWoman.org to inquire about setting up that complementary session.

  • What career practices put you top of your game?
  • What other practices help balance you? Spiritual disciplines use the term "practice" to refer to activities that develop one's spirituality. Examples include meditation, chanting, prayer, scripture study, mindfulness. You might also include self-care practices such as healthy eating and exercise.
  • Keep practicing. I know, it's boring but it is also necessary to maintain your skill level. Concert pianist, Arthur Rubenstein said, "If I skip a day of practice, I notice. If I skip two days, my family notices. If I skip three days, the audience notices."
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Finally, Time for Self-confidence
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If you are developing something you have the potential to get good at and have practiced lots and lots, you will be getting closer to achieving mastery, a real level of expertise in that activity. Now it is time to know that you are good at what you do.

Mariah Burton Nelson knew she was good at basketball. While playing for Stanford, she set a rebound record that stood for 24 years until broken by Nicole Powell in 2002. She says when you start to develop your "physical intelligence" by doing something physical on a regular basis, "Your relationship with your body will change. Perhaps your posture will be the first transformation. Then your expectations. When you think of yourself as an athlete, it might begin to seem perfectly normal -- imperative, even -- to devote time each day to physical fitness. After all, that's what athletes do. You'll begin to make more conscious choices about nutrition, stretching, strengthening, and resting. You'll begin to feel competent to join a yoga class or bowling league or neighborhood Ping-Pong game -- even if you don't win, even if you weigh more than you should, even if you're too embarrassed to say 'I am an athlete' out loud." Confidence in any area of your life will lead to a more generalized self-confidence. Nelson says it will increase your confidence even if you aren't very good in the sport. "If you're willing to declare 'I am an athlete,' even for a little while, you'll notice a change in how you see the world and how you move through it. If you tell yourself 'I am a klutz,' you will keep bumping into things. Tell yourself 'I am an athlete,' and you'll begin to walk with pride, you'll begin to say yes to physical and professional challenges, and you'll begin to team up with people who can help you achieve your goals." After talking with Nelson I understood why women who take self-defense courses have a much lower probability of being mugged than women who have never taken a course. How do the muggers know you took a course if you are not wearing your black belt on the subway? Of course, they don't but the theory is that even if you never achieve the black belt, you will develop enough confidence to carry yourself in a self-confident assertive manner, a manner that somehow says, "Don't mess with me."

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How Winners Think about "Failure"
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No one wins all the time. You may lose a client to a competitor who underbids your proposal. You might have gotten passed by for a promotion. Your sales might be down. Nelson has some advice for how to handle when you fail even at something you are good at. She says that this is when it is important to have a "B" game. When Tiger Woods talked about winning with his B game, fans misunderstood, thinking that he meant he settled for giving less than his best. Nelson explains what is really meant by a "B game" and gives some advice on how to use it.

  • Develop your A Game: the best that you can possibly be. Strive for this level of performance every day.
  • Accept that you cannot perform at the level of your A Game every day.
  • Develop a B Game -- a utilitarian approach that is less beautiful, less stunning, less flashy, but dependable and effective.
She says, "When you find that your A Game is not available, accept and even embrace this B or C Game, this backup plan. Trust, nurture, and appreciate this approach for what it is, and it too will lead to impressive and victorious results, at least some of the time. Legendary golfer Johnny Miller put it his way: 'Serenity is knowing that your worst shot is still going to be pretty good.'"
  • How can you define your success in both your "A" game and your "B" game?
  • If you were thinking like a winner, how would your life be different right now?
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Conclusion
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Confidence can't precede mastery; it must follow.

Susan Robison

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2. BossWoman Coaching
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About the publisher: Susan Robison, Ph.D. is a professional coach, speaker, author and seminar leader. She loves to coach women who want improvement in:

  • work-life balance,
  • career transitions,
  • building your business or practice,
  • time management,
  • increasing productivity.
She provides keynotes and seminars to business and organizations on the topics of:
  • leadership strategies for women,
  • relationships,
  • work-life balance,
  • change.
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3. Up and coming workshops
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Mariah Burton Nelson will speak on "Physical Intelligence: What Your Body Is Desperately Trying to Tell You"
Sponsor: University of Virginia, Women's Center
Date: November 6, 2003; 7:30pm
Fee: Free and open to the public.
For more info (including exact location,) contact the Women's Center, (434) 982-2903.
To contact Mariah Burton Nelson visit her website at www.MariahBurtonNelson.com.

Susan Robison will speak on "Design Your Ideal Life."
Sponsor: Association for Women in Computing
Date: November 20, 2003; Networking at 6:30pm; program from 7-8
Place: University of Maryland, Baltimore County Library Room 259
Fee: Free and open to the public.
For more information call: Roxine Phillips, Manager Network Transport Provisioning-Potomac; 410 393-5458


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BossWomen e-Newsletter is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Coaching should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for, counseling, psychotherapy, legal, or financial services.

Copyright 2003 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The above material is copyrighted but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information. However, you may not copy it to a web site without my permission.

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