Successful People Often Feel Bad Too

For most of my adult life I have worked in roles where people told me the truth about how they felt. This privilege has meant that I know an important secret. The secret is that most of us have good days and bad days; good weeks and bad weeks, sometimes even good days and bad months. When I worked as a psychiatrist I thought that only my clients and I felt like this. But then I moved into executive coaching and discovered it was also true of people who, on the outside, look very successful.

Most of us know that we have times when we feel happy and times when we feel sad, anxious or angry. However, we can tend to assume this isn’t true about other people. Other people look like they have got it together and so we assume that they have. Which leads me to the second secret – most of us hide it when we are feeling bad. We spend a miserable evening feeling like s*#t and the next day we do our best to act like everything is okay.

So when all of our efforts to become happy, secure and confident seem to only work in the short term. When over and over again our confidence disappears and we feel scared, sad or anxious, we assume that there is something wrong with us. That we are some how more broken than other people.

A woman dries her tears as she says goodbye to friends emigrating to New Zealand, 1953 (We can all relate to the pain of loss) (Flickr http://flic.kr/p/5uBE8s)

So we hide our pain. And what is worse than feeling heartbroken, sad or frightened? It is the feeling of being alone in that suffering. The feeling that everyone else is out having a good time – happy and successful – whilst Rachel, the loser, stays home alone feeling overwhelmed and scared.

Next time that you feel like howling into the wilderness (or even just feel a bit sad and forlorn) remember that you are not alone. Somewhere out there in the seething mass of humanity will be someone who, at this very moment, is feeling a very similar emotion. And, likely, just like you, they will get up tomorrow and go out into the world and when someone says ‘How are you’ they will smile and say, ‘I’m fine’.

It is a myth that most of us are happy most of the time and it is a cruel myth. The nature of being human is that we have a tendency to suffer. We suffer often and sometimes we suffer deeply. However, if, when emotional pain turns up, we choose to take an open, curious, compassionate approach to our pain; we then seem to get less hooked by the pain. This means that in the very next second, we might just find ourselves feeling content… at least for a moment.

If we stop seeing emotional pain as something to avoid then we can get our life moving. We can take bold and courageous emotional risks and give ourselves a chance to experience joy too.

If You Knew You Would Succeed, You Could Enjoy The Journey

For many years I had this quote on my wall.

It was a reminder that I have a tendency to waste the current moment worrying about the future.

I would have enjoyed medical school much more, if I had known that I would pass all of my exams ( I did just sneak through pharmacology with a bare pass but that is another story!).

I would have enjoyed the time when my children were little so much more, if I had known that they would grow into delightful human beings. (Which they have, in my completely unbiased opinion!).

It goes on and on.

Even though I had this reminder stuck on my wall, I still found myself hooked by my worries.

I now take a slightly different ACT informed approach.

I accept that my mind has a natural tendency to worry. When worries come up I see them for what they are – my mind doing it’s best to look after me – and I let those thoughts play in the background. (This is called defusion)

I have a commitment to be mindful. I am training myself to notice where my attention is and to keep bringing it back to this minute now. This precious moment that will never return.

My definition of success has changed. Success now means living my values. Making moment to moment choices about the qualities I want to bring into a particular situation. (Rob has made a great list of values clarification exercises here). This shift changes everything. It means that in any moment I can move from being unsuccessful to successful.

For example, I value being authentic. So if I notice during a conversation that I am being inauthentic, I can choose what more authentic behaviour would look like in that situation and then in the very next moment, do it (which is sometimes incredibly scary!) and ‘Bam!’ I have just been successful. The interaction might go terribly or wonderfully but I have lived my values and that is my definition of success.

Even ACT Trainers Get Hooked By Their Thoughts

This guest post has been written by Annick Seys. A lovely ACT trainer based in Belgium. Annick has twelve years experience as a social worker.

A couple of weeks ago I gave a try-out training session for a few linkedin-connections. I prepared with a lot of help from Rachel and Rob (and Skype). The workshop was about getting to know ACT and what it can do for the wellbeing and level of performance of personnel at the workplace.

At a certain point in the session, I asked people some questions that were not so easy to get an answer to in an instant.  Things like: – ‘What can you see yourself doing that pulls you away from the things that are important in your life?’ and, ’What do you already do that brings you closer to what’s important in your life?’.

Participants became quiet, looked at each other, looked at me as if I was asking something very awkward.  Rob had suggested I say something at the beginning of the session about how this new conceptual framework would take some time to sink in, which I totally forgot to mention! The reason for that is simple: I was a bit nervous and thinking a lot of what my audience was thinking of me, I was looking for that moment where you can see people ‘getting’ ACT and when I couldn’t find that, I started looking for explanations for what was going on and how they probably didn’t get it and how this was my doing. Which of course meant that I was spending some time in my head instead of in the session! In other words, I wasn’t present in that moment at all!

Or perhaps this is too much of a judgment towards myself because the participants gave a lot of good feedback at the end, so everything worked out well. But… if I would have been able to focus more on the situation itself, I would’ve probably been able to ask the group much more quickly if something wasn’t clear, if I had to explain it again etc. Because everything that popped into my head was really not of much use during the session in my analysis after the workshop!

Do you recognize how you can be totally caught in your head, stuck in thoughts that really aren’t of any use and just cause distress? A good question to ask yourself is: is my behavior based on the situation I’m in right now or am I focused on my perspective of how I see the situation? And if you’re stuck in your head, do those thoughts get you closer to what you’re trying to achieve or do they really tear you away from that goal? Because if you’re making decisions based on what your head is telling you, then you could be missing out on the solution, which probably is part of the situation you’re in!

Thanks again to Rachel and Rob for helping me in the preparation of this session!

How to Pitch an Idea (or, How ‘Dragon’s Den’ Relates to ACT)

Dragon’s Den is a show where budding entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a group of successful business people in the hope of winning some investment.

The show fascinates me. I love spotting academic theories about influence and negotiation being played out in real life. The show also demonstrates how more psychologically flexible entrepreneurs tend to be more successful in their pitches. Professor Frank Bond has done some cool research at the BBC to support this idea.

There seem to be a few key principles if you want to get the approval of the investors.

1. Consider the perspective of the investors (Why would they want to invest? What will they gain?); potential customers (Why would they buy?) and competitors (How easy would it be for them to steal my idea?). Perspective taking is a key aspect of psychological flexibility.

2. Hold ideas like ‘This is a brilliant idea and I am going to be incredibly successsful‘ lightlyFusing with these sorts of thoughts seems to increase the risk of throwing good money after bad and doesn’t seem to convince others.

3. Understand the difference between solid, real world facts and what your mind is telling you. Others find facts much more convincing than your opinion. Smart business people consider the facts (Sales figures, profits, awards won) when they make decisions.

4. Learn to perform well even when you are feeling incredibly anxious. This is a great strength of the ACT approach. ACT teaches people how to perform even when they are feeling strong emotions. Rob and I have a course on this.

5. When you are having an important conversation – really listen to what the other person is saying. Get present with them and give them your full attention. Be open to their feedback and also be willing to give them facts that might change their mind.

6. Know your values and live those values in the interaction. You then come across as vital, authentic and trustworthy (assuming those are your values!)

7. Know how this ‘pitch’ fits with what you want your life to be about. Is this a drive to make money or does it connect to something deeper?

7. Demonstrate willingness. What are you prepared to do to make your idea successful? Live on very little money? Work hard? Face rejection? Acknowledge what you don’t know and ask for help?

Here is someone who nailed it – sadly he completely misses the reason he nailed it.