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Combining prosperous work lives and balanced personal lives
Sept/Oct 2006

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

In this issue, you'll find:

  1. Forming the Container
  2. BossWoman coaching
  3. Up and coming workshops

1. Forming the Container

WiseWoman: What brings you in today?

BossWoman: Stress.

WW: What kind of stress specifically?

BW: Everything is getting to me. I’m feeling overwhelmed in all the spheres of my life. I read your newsletter about “being the container” while stress goes on all around me and I want to know more about how to do that. I need some better tools than I’m currently using to maintain my cool when others are losing theirs.

WW: Let’s start by listing the areas that stress you or the people around you that are losing their cool.

BW: Well, my son for one. He’s three and a handful. He is very bright and independent. Every day, he wants to pick out his own clothes and make his own food.

WW: Sounds like that could be a good thing. Can you get him to make dinner for you, too?

BW: I wish but meanwhile mornings can be a nightmare. He loves his logo shirts like Halloween ghosts and skeletons and Thomas the Tank Engine and when they are in the wash he looses it and won’t cooperate and makes us late getting out the door to get him to daycare so I can get to work on time.

WW: Maybe you should teach him to do his own laundry so he has his favorite shirts available.

BW: That would be funny except that one day when I was working in my home office, he got up from his nap, carried down his laundry, pushed the stepstool over to the washer and started a load.

WW: And the problem was?

BW: Two problems really. First, he had a partial load and he used the setting for a large load and wasted all of that water. Then, he spilled about a cup of liquid laundry detergent and it took me over an hour to clean it up off the tile floor, walls and the side of the washer. When I saw the mess, I lost it and started yelling at him and sent him to time out. Later I felt terrible. When I went to apologize to him for losing it, he said, “I was just trying to help you out so you wouldn’t get so tired, Mommy.” Then I really felt terrible and started to cry. He thought I was upset with him and asked if he should go back to time out. I’m a terrible mother.

WW: Parenting is hard especially with such a headstrong child. Is it just with your son that you get upset?

BW: No, I screamed at my husband the other night when he used the wrong salad dressing on the salad I started and he finished. And then at work when things get busy and we are behind our deadlines, I get so overwhelmed that I can’t think straight.

WW: Do you get into difficulty with your boss over this?

BW: No, but that’s because I am the boss. I own my own business and my employees look to me for leadership and our clients look to use for service. We lost a big account because I hung up on a client who was checking to see that his materials would be delivered in time and in addition…

WW: …That’s ok. I think I have enough of the background. In all your roles, you feel like you fall short of your standards and let the stress of the situation get to you.

BW: Yes, that’s why I’m here, to stop this stuff. I’m tired of feeling terrible about how badly I am handling things.

Creating the Container
WW: Let’s start with some concepts and then we will get to the tools. Life can be very painful at times: disappointments, too much to do and not enough time to do it, people not doing what we want them to do, etc. There is a difference, however, between pain and suffering. Pain is about how hard things can be and how much effort they take to do. Suffering is the pain about the pain that we create when we judge ourselves as doing wrong. It is what psychologists call “second order” stress – when you get stressed about the stress.

BW: I don’t get it.

WW: Think about the incident with your son and the laundry. What was painful and hard about that?

BW: I guess that he was operating an appliance and he doesn’t have all of the necessary skills to keep himself and the house safe and intact.

WW: Anything else?

BW: He wasted water and created a big mess with the soap that I had to clean up.

WW: So on the surface, he was doing a helpful thing but then you evaluated his effort as not correct according to your expectations and then got upset with yourself for punishing him. What could you have done instead?

BW: I could have seen the humor in the situation that he is so independent he is trying to do his own laundry so he could wear his favorite shirts without hassling me. (Crying) Oh that was really sweet, wasn’t it? And I blew it. I focused on the mess and waste when, instead, I should have hugged and thanked him. Then I could have showed him how to use the machine but told him that he could only do so with adult supervision. He knows that rule about other things like crossing the street.

WW: If you had been able to do that how would you feel about yourself as a mom?

BW: Great, but that would have meant I would have had to step back emotionally and pause for just a second while I decided how to act instead of just acting. Is that what you mean by creating a container for the stress?

WW: Pausing is a powerful tool – so simple sounding, but so helpful. Just pause. Nothing changes in the situation – just your response and the timing. What else might have helped?

BW: I could have gotten less upset with myself.

WW: What caused you to get so upset with yourself?

BW: I got interrupted from trying to meet another work deadline. I was irritated that I let myself get talked into some projects that I couldn’t complete in the time I had promised. I hated myself for the way I yelled at my son. So I guess I yelled at him on the outside while I was yelling at myself on the inside for not being caught up with the laundry and being too busy for my son.

WW: In other words, you created suffering out of pain by judging yourself so harshly.

BW: But I have high standards. It is what makes me good at what I do and why my company has won awards.

WW: Your standards are not the problem. It is the pain you cause yourself when you or someone does not meet the standards. There is a difference between a commitment to excellence and being a slave to perfectionism. The first helps to create a good life. The second creates a tyranny of unreachable “shoulds.” Here is another way to think about this. You will make mistakes. Everybody does. You will miss the mark sometimes because of your mistakes and sometimes because of circumstances. The key is to merely observe what is happening without judging. Brain researchers are finding that different parts of our brain are used when we make judgments about a scene versus merely observing it. The first causes stress; the later does not.

BW: It sounds hard. How do I learn how to do it?

WW: It is hard but the parts of your brain that participate in observing can be developed like the parts of your brain that learn a foreign language. It takes practice but you can’t wait until the stressful situation to practice. You have to practice ahead of time. I’ll suggest an exercise to practice daily or almost daily and then we will meet again. We will do this exercise here so you get to try it out before doing it at home.

Probably, you will want to close you eyes at first but you don’t have to. Just notice your breathing especially your “out” breath. Don’t change your breathing or try to breathe better. Just notice the breath..... Within a few seconds you will discover mind chatter in the background. It might be saying, “This is ridiculous. I never heard of anything so stupid.” It might be thinking about the grocery list or the errands to be run. It might be reviewing a meeting and saying, “I should have told him…” The chatter goes on constantly because we are alive and our brains are always working even when we are sleeping. Each time you notice the chatter, say to yourself, “Ah thinking,” and then draw your attention back to your out breath. You will repeat this many times as you continue to observe your thoughts and draw your attention back to your breath. Try it for a minute yourself and then when you are ready open your eyes and we will talk....... How do you feel?

BW: Wow, relaxed. It was hard but I could see myself wanting to yell at myself for a bunch of stuff. When you mentioned reviewing a meeting, I almost giggled out loud. You must have read my mind.

WW: Nah, I just read mine. It is so universal, the brain chatter. We worry about the things we have to do in the future and fret about the ways we handled things in the past. It is part of being alive. There is nothing wrong with doing that but psychologists are finding that people who practice the type of meditation that we tried, called mindfulness meditation, get better in their everyday lives at lowering their stress even when their stressful life events stay the same or worsen. In other words you become the container for stress instead of becoming stressed. Now let’s review what you have got so far.

BW: Well, I am going to try to pause and think about what I want to do before I act and I’m going to practice this mindfulness exercise of observing without judging for a couple minutes a day. Then I’ll let you know what happens.

WW: Just remember, you don’t have to do any of this perfectly. If you leave and think, “That was a dumb session,” just say to yourself, “Ah, thinking.”

BW: (Laughing). Thank you.

If think this is a dumb newsletter, just Observe, “Ah, thinking.”

If you want more details about my “container” stress management program, contact me for a complementary coaching session.

Susan Robison

For more information on the research on mindfulness and stress see:
Brach, Tara. Radical Acceptance.
Hayes, Stephen. Get Out of Your Mind and into Your Life.

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 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.

3. Up and coming workshops

I have booked a number of work/life balance workshops for the spring that are not open to the public. Contact me if your group needs a speaker on any of the topics listed above.

Title: “Staying Sane in Insane Places: Managing Diverse Faculty
Responsibilities with Clarity, Balance and Ease.”
Date: October 25-29, 2006;
Place: Professional and Organizational Development Network
Conference; Portland, OR

Title: “Playing Well With Others: An Introduction to Communication
Skills in the Workplace.”
Date: November 3, 2006
Place: Johns Hopkins
Registration, fee, and directions: Linda Dillon Jones, Ph.D., Director, Center for Training and Education: 443-997-6800

To start receiving the BossWoman e-Newsletter send an email with “Please send BossWoman” in the Subject to: Susan@BossWoman.org. To stop receiving send an email with “Stop BossWoman” in the Subject to: Susan@BossWoman.org.

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 2006 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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