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Combining prosperous work lives and balanced personal lives
July/August 2004

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

    In this issue, you'll find:
  1. Economy of Emotion
  2. BossWoman coaching
  3. Up and coming workshops
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1. Economy of Emotion
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How much stress and emotion do you need? Answer: Only enough to fit the situation, no more than that.

In movement theory there is a principle about using the body with an economy of motion - only moving as much as is needed to make the action happen. Elaine of the Seinfeld Show made viewers laugh when she danced with odd flailing movements. When you watch professional dancers dance there is no flailing. Every part is working with the music; there is no random movement. The parts that need to be moving for the type of dance are moving; the ones that arenít needed are relaxed but connected. Nothing looks stiff even in a formal dance like the waltz. Ginger and Fred delighted generations of movie viewers by moving in unison because of their economy of motion. What if that were the wayyou handled your emotions during a typical day? What if your body and mind were in better sync; what if you only got as aroused or hyper as you needed to energize the responses you wanted.

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Adaptive Value of Emotions
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Emotions have adaptive value, signals to alert us to pay attention to what is going on around us so we preserve our lives and those around us. When our cave ancestors felt positive emotions they did more of what produced those feelings. When they were alerted by negative emotions to pay attention to possible threat, they took action to resolve the situation so that they could get back to a good state. Eventually, paying attention to the negative emotions helped the whole human race survive long enough to produce offspring who also paid attention to their emotions. Those who attended to the negative emotions probably lived longer than those who ignored the distress signals.

Fast forward to today. We are still very good at attending to negative emotion as though our lives depending on it. Sometimes our lives do depend on it. If you serve in the armed forces and take your turn patrolling the perimeter of the encampment, you will need to be hyper-vigilant to protect yourself and your fellow service people. If you work as air controller, the pilots in the air rely on you to pay attention to the blips on your screen and keep their planes safe. But what if you donít need to be hyper-vigilant and no one has told your brain.

Some women run their nervous system on full tilt even though they donít have jobs requiring hyper-vigilance. They scurry about looking for danger when none is around. They experience negative emotions to events that are happening only in their minds. Mark Twain said, "Most of what I have worried about never happened." However, emotionally these women are over-aroused in response to everyday activities. Their nervous systems are cranked up to full tilt as though they have a job requiring hyper-vigilance. They are wearing themselves out.

Are you one of those stressed-out Sallies who thinks up troubles, exaggerates the troubles you have, and ignores many of the good things you do have going on in your life? If so, you are wearing down your batteries. The stress will take a toll on your health and well being. You will age faster than nature intended and you will look older than your age. Instead, imagine life with only enough excitement to get you motivated for your activity. Imagine a life filled with more positive emotions than negative and where you control how you feel by using economy of emotion.

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How Neurotic Do You Want to Be?
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I collect definitions of neurosis - not the kind that mental health professionals need in their diagnostic work--- but the kind that speak to regular people. One of my favorite is: neurosis is when you try to control things over which you have no control instead of controlling what you can.

Melissa (not her real name) sought coaching so she could learn to control her boss. Well, thatís not what she actually said but thatís what she meant. What she said was, "My boss is driving me nuts and I want help to figure him out." In case you havenít noticed, people never want to figure out other people as an intellectual exercise. They want understanding so they can figure out what to do. Melissa really wanted to change her boss. She mentioned that her biggest aggravation was his habit of nagging her about missing her deadlines. She was so aggravated she spent a significant part of her work day noticing all the things she didnít like about her boss, picking apart his emails, and gossiping with her coworkers about how bad things were. I asked her to keep a log of each time she engaged in these behaviors. She was shocked to find out that they made up 50% of her work day. That meant she could have worked up to lunch time, taken the rest of the afternoon off and gone home. Instead, her emotional dance lasted all day and involved a lot of emotional flailing instead of dancing to the music. I suggested that maybe her boss would be less aggravating if she stopped trying to control him, stayed at her desk, and did her job instead.

Anytime you find yourself feeling out of control ask:

  • What areas of my life can I bring under control instead of worrying about what I canít control?
  • Where am I wearing down my batteries fussing about the small stuff instead of paying attention to the stuff that matters?
  • Where am I flailing my emotions around?
  • How upset do I need to become to handle this stress?
  • How do I know when Iím getting out of control and burning my wick down too fast?
  • How angry do I need to get to assert my rights? How anxious do I need to get before I take action? How depressed do I need to get before I redesign my life?
Melissa tried an experiment of ignoring her boss unless he spoke to her directly. She stopped talking to coworkers about him and spent her work day at her desk. Some surprising results: She felt less tired and stressed at the end of the day. She was more productive and even creative. Her boss noticed the changes, complemented her and recommended her for a special, high prestige assignment that involved the kind of travel Melissa had wanted to do. She decided her boss wasnít so bad after all.

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Efficiency of Emotions
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Another definition of neurosis from my collection: getting the emotional goodies of life inefficiently. People who do this one spend a lot of energy manipulating and complaining instead of just asking. Television sitcoms frequently have a subplot involving mothers who respond to their grown sonís visit or phone call with "Itís about time." The motherís real motivation is to see her son and to connect to him. However, what son wants to be greeted that way? Is it likely he will visit again soon? When she whines, "I never see you anymore," or "We arenít close ever since you married that woman." she may get some contact from him but it comes at great cost. She is stressed and unhappy and he is resentful. If she used economy of emotion she might get the closeness she desires by just asking, "Can we set up a time to get together?" and then when he comes over saying, "Iím glad to see you."

Do you get the goodies of your life expensively or with efficiency of emotion?

  • Where do you whine instead of asking?
  • Whom do you manipulate because you are afraid if you ask directly you might get rejected?
  • Does anyone ever tell you that you are "high maintenance?"
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Economy of Emotion Leads to Greater Happiness
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My third definition of neurosis is: looking at the hole instead of the donut. Blame this one on those cave ancestors who survived by being vigilant. By natural selection there was a tilt in the direction of looking for what is wrong in the environment (because it could have you for dinner). It is time to reverse the course of evolution and tilt in the direction of seeing the good stuff of life. Research by Dr. Martin Seligman and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania shows that optimists do better in every area of their lives than pessimists. They feel happier, make more money, marry well, live longer and live better because they look on the bright side. Unless your life involves running from saber tooth tigers, you would benefit by training yourself to look at the donut instead of the hole.

Here are some simple but effective techniques from the Center for Authentic Happiness:

  • Count your blessings. Every night for a month list three things that went well during the day. This one exercise can have profound impact. You can add a notation about why each went well and see some patterns by the end of the month. Example, being with certain people feels good. Certain activities are more interesting than others. Then you can purposely increase the activities that feel like blessings.
  • Increase gratitude. Today notice how often you say thank you and see if you can double the number tomorrow. Thank the bus driver when you get off at your stop. Thank your significant other for a meal you didnít have to prepare. Thank your mother for her phone call. A life lived in gratitude is a life of pleasure.
  • Every day plan one pleasurable activity for yourself. It could be a workout, a bubble bath, or a long distance call to a favorite friend.
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Closing Comment and A Request
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Sometimes emotions can get so out of control that we canít bring ourselves back to a calm state. When that happens we need the assistance of a qualified therapist. In this case, economy of emotion means not working so hard all by yourself when an expert can help you get control back quickly.

But for the "normal neurotic" this newsletter is a starting place to bring your flailing emotions under conscious choice. If you have any favorite definitions of "normal neurosis," send them along. I would love to add to my collection. Also let me know what tips you have discovered that help you have better economy of emotion.

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Conclusion
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Donít sweat the small stuff. Hint: itís all small stuff.

Susan Robison

References:
Richard Carlsonís small stuff books.
Martin Seligman. Authentic Happiness.

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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.
If you are feeling stuck on the way to your ideal life, give Susan a call for a complementary half-hour coaching session.

She provides keynotes and seminars to business and organizations on the topics of:

  • leadership strategies for women,
  • relationships,
  • work-life balance,
  • change.
She offers her audiences a follow-up coaching session because she knows that workshops don't work.

Contact Susan for your coaching, speaking, or seminar needs at Susan@BossWoman.org or at 410-465-5892.

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3. Up and coming workshops
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Susan will present two continuing education workshops for coaches on a Caribbean cruise this August. Open to coaches for credit. Contact Susan for more information.
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"Setting Hearts on Fire for Love"
Date: October, 9, 2004
Sponsor: Archdiocese of Baltimore, Department of Catholic Education Ministries
Place: Seton Keough High School
Presenters: Drs. Susan and Phil Robison
Contact: Carol Augustine at 410-547-5403
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"Secrets of Couples Working Successfully Together"
Date: November 15, 2004
Sponsor: Kampgrounds of America
Place: Orlando, FL
Presenters: Drs. Susan and Phil Robison
To register for Kampground Owners Annual Convention: KOA.com
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© Copyright 2004 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 the publisherís permission.
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