|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
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
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In this issue, you'll find:
- Gratitude and Choices
- BossWoman coaching
- Up and coming workshops
1. Gratitude and Choices
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
Why Is It So Hard to Remember?
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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
How to Increase Appreciation and Tame the Holiday Blues
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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,
- 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
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
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,
Barry Schwartz. (2004). Paradox of Choice. New York: Free
2. BossWoman coaching
About the publisher: Susan Robison, Ph.D. is a
professional coach, speaker, author and seminar
leader. She loves to coach women who want
If you are feeling stuck on the way to your ideal
life, give Susan a call for a complementary
half-hour coaching session.
- 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:
She offers her audiences a follow-up coaching
session because she knows that workshops don’t
- leadership strategies for women,
- work-life balance,
Contact Susan for your coaching, speaking, or
seminar needs at Susan@BossWoman.org or at
3. Up and coming workshops
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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© Copyright 2004 Susan Robison. All rights reserved.
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