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BossWoman eNews – November 2004
Combining prosperous work lives and balanced personal lives

Welcome to the November 2004 edition of Susan Robison's free e-mail newsletter for women business owners, executives, and professionals.

Our goal is to bring you news, insights, and information about leading a balanced and prosperous life while making a difference. If you are on this list you have been a client, an advocate, or attended a workshop. Pass this newsletter on to others who might be interested. This e-mail list is not sold or exchanged. Details on subscribing (and unsubscribing) are at the end.

In this issue, you'll find:

  1. Gratitude and Choices
  2. BossWoman coaching
  3. Up and coming workshops
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1. Gratitude and Choices
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Many places in the world celebrate late fall and winter holidays such as harvest festivals, winter solstice celebrations, Thanksgiving, independence days, and religious holidays. It is a good time of the year to remind ourselves to be grateful. A few years back, my husband and I took ballroom dance lessons from an Australian teacher who was experiencing his first US Thanksgiving. The next week he commented, “Strange holiday – food and football.” Ever the teacher myself, I felt compelled to fill in the blanks – about Pilgrims and Indians and gratitude and fellowship. I’m sure it was too much information because at the end he asked, “Are we talking about the same holiday – the ones you Americans celebrated last Thursday?” To the outside observer, the holiday was an excuse for gluttony and violent sports, without any hint of the original tradition of a harvest festival of gratitude.

Yes, sometimes we ask ourselves the same question, “Is it just about food and football?” We forget about the gratitude part. Even those who celebrate the winter religious holidays get so caught up in the food and commercial aspects of the whole season that they forget that these holidays commemorate events important in their religious traditions.

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Why Is It So Hard to Remember?
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These days we all have a touch of attention deficit disorder. We just don’t have enough brain cells to integrate all the stimulation we are bombarded with. So we pay attention to the most salient aspects, that is, the noisiest, the busiest, and the flashiest. While we are attending to all the input coming through our overloaded senses, we lose the more subtle aspects of our deeply held values.

  1. Overchoice. You would think with freedom of choice comes more appreciation for what the abundance of our lives. You would think, but it is not so. In his excellent book, “The Paradox of Choice,” Barry Schwartz reviews research that shows that the more choices people have the more anxious and less happy they get.

    This year, a new grocery store opened in my area. The number of stores within a 15 minute drive is too overwhelming to count; the number of items on the shelves makes me dread my turn at grocery shopping. Not so with a trip to Mars, the new store. It is styled along the lines of a 1960 supermarket when the large chains of National and A&P were evolving from little tea companies to huge supermarket that replaced separate trips to the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker and made all those products available under one roof. Those stores were tame compared to today’s mega stores so by comparison Mars has rolled back the clocks to simpler times – a few main brands including the house brand in canned goods, some standard cuts of meat, a couple of milk brands. Manageable space, quick decisions, go home with what you need – simplicity for the harried suburbanite. I do still have the choice of the very upscale stores. However most of the time, when all I need is the basic stuff, I chose Mars because I can complete the shopping for a week in ½ hour including check out. Their selection philosophy fits the research findings on choices in grocery stores. When a gourmet shop offered a tasting of six out of 24 available flavors of jam, 30% of the customers bought. When they offered a tasting of all 24, more customers rushed the tasting area but fewer bought – only 3%. Less choice, more buying. Contrary to common sense but true.

    We are all happier with less choice – that’s the paradox. More choice is good up to a point then you get declining returns on the investment of time of searching websites, trouping from one store to the next, shopping, selecting and of course the agony of buyer’s regret.
    “What if… I had gone to just one more store?”
    “Would I find the perfect gift there?”
    “Would the same item be on a better sale?"

    Thus, your emotions follow what researchers call an inverted U curve. If a capital letter U were turned upside down, your happiness would rise with more choices and then at a point would start to decline. Beyond that point we really don’t want more choices. Does a sixth grocery store in your community and more aisles filled with more brands make you happier and more grateful for all the abundance of Thanksgiving turkeys? Nope. It makes you nuts trying to decide on the sales, the specials, the brands. A few simple choices in turkeys are plenty --- frozen or fresh, large or medium, injected with extra fat or not. There you go; you are done.

  2. Hedonic treadmill. This fancy term refers to our brains’ tendency to adapt to levels of pleasant or unpleasant events over time. To illustrate, think of the last important purchase you made, maybe a car. You longed for it, saved for it, planned for it. You might have felt great when you drove the car off the lot. How long did that feeling last? Most likely it didn’t last very long, so your brain goes off in search of the next high – the next purchase that if only you made it, you would finally be happy.

    Next think about the last great vacation you took. You longed for it, saved for it, and planned for it. Then it came. It was over in a week or two. You probably had a great time. For how long after you returned home did you maintain that relaxed, glowing feeling? Most people stop recalling the pleasure of the vacation long before their tans have faded. But with some reminiscence you can keep alive the gratitude for the pleasure of the great vacation; Photos, journal entries, talking over the experience with friends and family; all will extend the pleasure of the experience longer that the experience of a purchase. By the way, the hedonic treadmill works for unpleasant events as well. Women joke that if mothers remembered the pain of childbirth accurately, no one would have a second child. Usually no one wants to keep alive the memory of an unpleasant experience. Who wants to be reminded of their last head cold? Understanding the concept of the hedonic treadmill reminds you that without the extra effort the pleasure of a pleasant experience that we want to remember will be lost quickly.

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How to Increase Appreciation and Tame the Holiday Blues
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  1. Lower your expectations. Barry Schwartz found that “maximizers” experience more stress and less satisfaction than “satisficers” when it comes to all experiences including shopping. Maximizers aim for the very best in every experience and every purchase. The best quality, the best price, etc. They are different from perfectionists who aim high knowing that they can never achieve perfection because it is not humanly possible to be perfect in anything. Maximizers really believe it is possible to operate at the highest levels of all experiences. They are constantly disappointed. Maximizers expect every holiday to be the very best while satisficers don’t expect a perfect holiday celebration. They enjoy the reality – some celebrations are better than others. Sometimes the best holiday is one where most of the guests show up, no one gets sick, and no one kills anyone.

    • Tip: Define what a “good enough” gift. Set your price range. Limit the number of stores or websites you visit. When you find the gift inside your price range, you’re done.

  2. Restrict your choices instead of expanding them. Maximizers expect every gift to be perfect. They research, they watch for sales and specials, they search online. Satisficers aim for “good enough” and reach it much of the time. Instead of shopping for perfect holiday gifts, satisficers aim for ones that fit their personal definition of good enough. They pick and choose how much life energy to spend on their various goals. Some of their goals get a lot of energy allocated to their completion, others get very little. Paradoxically, satisficers with their self-restricted choices are happier than maximizers who perceive that they have unlimited choices.

    • Tip: Imagine a gift giving ritual in your family of restricting holiday gifts exchanges to just the children or to only gifts below a certain price.

  3. Consider giving experiences rather than stuff. My readers in retail won’t be happy with this finding but because people rate experiences over purchases as more pleasurable over the long run, some of the best gifts are the means to create experiences. You might argue that pleasure from experiences is fleeting but that ashtrays last forever. You would be wrong. According to the pleasure research, appreciation for the experiences can be renewed long after the experience by reminiscing about the experience but knick-knacks collect dust, aren’t used, and go out in the next garage sale.

    • Tip: Dinner at his/her favorite restaurant and theatre tickets mean less trouping around for you and potentially more pleasure for the recipient.

  4. Help a person develop a personal strength, for example a class in a hobby area. Several years ago, my best friend gave me a subscription to a quilting magazine, a gift that brings me pleasure every month when I read the latest issue. Beyond the reading I also enjoy the time that the friend and I quilt together, borrowing ideas and inspiration from the magazine.

  5. Instead of giving a gift consider doing something nice for someone and not just in connection with the holiday. Making a dinner when your gift recipient is pressed on a work deadline. Offer to watch her kids so that she can get out with her husband for an afternoon date.

  6. If your work life involves offering goods or services consider offering fewer items on sale or in a package. Lessen the choice for your customers/clients and you might help them make easier choices.

  7. With all the time saved in shopping and putting together the best holidays ever, work on developing a grateful heart. Here are some suggestions my clients and readers have found helpful.

    • At the end of the day ask yourself, “What three things am I grateful for today?”

    • When thanking others be specific, mentioning who, what, when, where.

    • Thank three people a day. On a quiet day alone with your spouse or best friend, thank that person for 3 things either qualities you admire or actions they have taken on your behalf.

    • To get even more disciplined, keep a gratitude log where you list the items above.

    • After a month of doing these activities, they will become easier and more automatic.

    • You might still need to remind yourself of these lessons from time to time especially when distracted by all the brain numbing stimulation of media.

Here are some reminders of what to appreciate:

  • Appreciate nature.

  • Appreciate your own gifts

  • Appreciate meaningful work that lets you use your gifts in ways that you value.

  • Appreciate relationships Intimates Customers/clients/patients Mentors Vendors: when you are an appreciative customer of your vendors, they become great referral sources. Support: your staff is your marketing team whether you define their role that way or not.

  • Appreciate adversity which can increase resilience depending on how you chose to handle it. Resilience is the ability to withstand stress and continue to function. It develops from working through adversity.

  • Appreciate the sacrifices other people make for you.

Appreciation of your right to choice can give you more control over your stress. Choosing not to restrict your choices is a powerful assertive step toward a better life. Poet Mary Oliver wrote: “What are you going to do with your one precious life?” How will you choose to spend your life energy in the coming weeks?

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Conclusion
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Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate that holiday and for all of you, may your fall and winter holidays be “good enough” --- whatever you decide that means.

Grateful for all of you, Susan Robison

References:
Barry Schwartz. (2004). Paradox of Choice. New York: Free Press.

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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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Leadership and Management in Non-profits for the master’s program at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.

Other talks in 2005 on work, meaning, money, happiness, leadership: to be announced

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BossWoman 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 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 publisher’s permission.

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