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By Polly Campbell on March 28, 2016
By Polly Campbell on March 21, 2016
“Life is so fast, that we have to deliberately slow it down,” said a friend of mine last week. Yes. That statement just landed. I resonated with its truth.
There is so much we can do, so much to access and take in, that sometimes I think I have to do it all. Nope. This trying to do too much in too little time leaves me unhinged. It feels noisy and chaotic.
Lately, in my efforts to stay grounded, I’ve had to say “no” to some things I care about, some things I really want to do. I’ve done the must dos — my obligations for work and family — and let the others go. Soon, I will feel grounded again and there will be activities I pick back up.
But for now, I’m deliberately slowing down. And as part of that, I’m taking the week off to spend time with my daughter over Spring Break. One thing at a time. This is my time with her. But, I’ll be back with new posts on March 28th. In the meantime, scroll through the others on this page for a dose of inspiration and information.
By Polly Campbell on March 18, 2016
Update: Right now you can jump start your Spring with the bestselling ebook How to Live an Awesome Life on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kobos!
By Polly Campbell on March 16, 2016
Practice Boosts Courage, Minimizes Risk
One of the ways people minimize risk is to prepare. They study, train, practice so that by the time they are ready to jump out of the plane, or take the trip, or start the business they have improved their chances of success, by reducing the odds that something will go wrong, as explained by journalist Kayt Sukel in her book, The Art of Risk.
This is also the way people build courage, according to Clemson University researcher Cynthia Pury.
In fact, the most successful business people and parents and doctors and writers and climbers — the most successful in any profession or task — aren’t simply the most talented, but they also work really hard. They prepare and practice and learn and practice some more.
Practice vs. Talent
Even the great moms I know didn’t graduate with a degree from the Mom Academy, (Lawd knows I could have used a Mom Academy) but they are open to new ideas. They talk to others, read books, look in to programs, listen to their kids, adapt their behaviors, try new things – they do whatever they can to learn how to stay sane and do the job better. This gives them a bit more confidence that they can handle whatever comes. Even the teenage years.
When Pury talks about the most courageous people, it’s the same deal. These are people that feel fear, but they learn, train, and practice like crazy to minimize the risks of failure.
But, and here’s the thing: how you prepare does make a difference.
Learning with Distributed Practice
According to a paper published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest reviewing different learning styles, the best way to learn and retain the info is through distributed practice.
Distributed practice is the fancy phrase for Not Cramming. Instead of filling your head full of material all in one night, you “distribute” (get it?) your study sessions. When we load up on info in a single session, most of that is lost after a few days. When we study the material over time, we tend to retain it. Then we practice it. But simply practicing the same steps over may not be as helpful as letting your imagination go.
In a study led by Tom Stafford, of the University of Sheffield, the people who improved the most while playing an online game were the ones who spaced out their practice sessions (though both groups had practiced the same amount of total time) or explored different aspects of game play early on. By experimenting a bit in the beginning and distributing their practice time, they were able to optimize learning.
And courage comes with that. When we minimize the risk, and our odds of success are greater, this give us the courage to continue, even when we feel afraid.
By Polly Campbell on March 14, 2016
Twenty years ago, I bought a green Mazda protegé. And, then I made the down payment on a house. After all the paperwork had been signed, I quit my public relations job to chase my dream. I wanted to be a writer.
To many people, including me now, assuming thousands of dollars in debt without any savings or paycheck seemed pretty risky and not at all sensible.
After all, risk, writes Kayt Sukel in her new book, The Art of Risk: The New Science of Courage, Caution & Chance is “a decision or behavior that has a significant probability for a negative outcome.”
And, when I think of it now, declaring myself a writer and taking on thousands of dollars’ worth of debt with no immediate income source had a pretty significant probability for a negative outcome.
But I wasn’t thinking that way then, I was too busy preparing to take the plunge.
Planning and Practice
And that, Sukel says, is what many BASE jumpers and poker players and firefighters and others who take big-time risks, do. They plan. They prepare. And they practice like crazy.
What looks like impulsive action to everybody else, usually isn’t as big of a risk for the person taking it, Sukel explains.
In my case, I spent a year interviewing other writers and professionals in the communications industry. I introduced myself to potential clients. I went to networking meetings. Took classes. Read books. Joined a writer’s group. Researched magazine markets. Introduced myself to editors. Begged for freelance work. Connected with a mentor who helped me improve my query letters. I wrote, all the time. I planned. I practiced. And, by the time I walked off the job, it felt exhilarating. Exciting. And, yes, super scary and stressful.
Stress & Risk
Stress is a major factor in risk, Sukel writes in the book. Research shows that when we are under stress, we tend to make riskier decisions, decisions that could jeopardize the success of our goals. Again, some of that risk can be mitigated a bit by practice and preparation ahead of time so that when the worst happens – like you wake up freaked the next morning with no money and no work, just sayin’ — your training kicks in to help you solve problems, stay the course, survive, and continue on.
Still, no matter what you do, how safe you play it, how much preparation you have, life is always going to include some risk. That’s fine. We can handle it because, to some degree – though I am NEVER, EVER jumping out of a plane or climbing a mountain – we are all risk takers.
How we define, experience, and manage risk is dependent in part on our experiences, environments, preferences, and even our genes, Sukel explains. This is where the definition of risk becomes personal, because just as I won’t be climbing a mountain anytime soon, I knew a mountain climber who would never consider walking away from his day job.
Yet, when we learn to tolerate at least a little risk, we open the door to innovation, creativity, and growth. And the risk of failure sneaks in there too. Fear of failure alone can keep us stuck.
But when we are brave enough to risk failure, then we are free to learn what we need to know to climb the highest mountains and accomplish the biggest goals.
Mistakes are part of my daily landscape. (Um. Yeah. I misspelled landscapes the first time I wrote this sentence). Failure still so uncomfortable.
But the little car I bought 20 years ago with one of my last paychecks is still running. And so is this little writing business, I built. So, with a little planning and prep, risks can pay off.
What are you ready to risk to follow your dream?
By Polly Campbell on March 9, 2016
After she brushed her teeth, slid her binder in her backpack, and picked up the papers that had fallen on the floor Sweet P was done. Washed out by 8 a.m.
“Ugh. Sometimes life just feels so hard,” she said with a soap-opera sigh and eye roll.
Yep, sometimes it does. And usually it’s the little things — though I’m wishing my little things were as little as putting a binder in a backpack — that back up against the big things and push me over the edge from calm efficiency into overwhelm.
But, most days now, I can feel it coming. It’s the pressure along the back of my shoulders, the way I talk to my husband as I rattle through “all the things I have to get done,” and the heavy feeling in my head, like a brain fog settling into the neuropathways that make it hard for me to think clearly, that tells me when I’m close to feeling overwhelmed.
On my best days, I’ll catch it right there before careening over the cliff in my office chair. Not everyday is my best day, but when I am aware that my brain is cycling down an unproductive path, when it all feels hard, I have some quick interventions I use to mellow out, calm down, and feel better.
How to Get A Lot Done Without Feeling Overwhelmed
1. Quiet now and later. This is my fave. Sometimes, I have to escape to the shower, other times it can be a walk in the neighborhood, sometimes I’ll take a time out in the back corner f my bedroom and forbid ANYONE from entering. This approach works best when accompanied by a scary intense glare. I also get up to meditate, or sometimes sit in a stupor on the couch while drinking coffee, in the morning before anyone else is awake.
A moment of quiet without my computer, phone, television, a moment of quiet without others talking to me, without doing, is both a preventative measure and an intervention when you are in the thick of stress.
Take five minutes a day just to breathe and sit quietly. This works super good when you are in the car waiting for your kid to come out. Turn off the phone. Turn off the radio. Take deep breaths.
2. Change your pace. Sometimes this is as simple as washing my hands slowly and mindfully in warm water and just giving all of my attention to that moment. Other times, I’ll go outside for a few minutes and take in some deep breaths. Sometimes I’ll head to a coffee shop nearby, or go to the gym for a workout.
Whatever it is, my goal is to do something physically different, so my mind disengages from the repetitive negative thought patterns, worries, and rumination that contribute to that feeling of being overwhelmed.
When we move our body out of the environment where those concerns persist, our physiology changes. Its hard to be washing your hands in warm water or feeling the chilled air and not have some physical reaction, and when our bodies change, so do our thoughts.
This gives a break from the weighty thoughts that lead us feeling bogged down. So change up something in your environment and you change how your body feels and that will shift how you think , for just a moment. Just long enough to short-circuit stress.
3. Do what feels good. Seriously, eat the mac and cheese, take a nap, reach out to a friend, watch a funny video, pray, run, get a massage. Whatever. Just do something right now that feels good. Something that feels better than feeling bad and scared and too busy and too tired and overwhelmed.
Do something that feels comforting and nurturing and savor it for a second — or 15 to 30 seconds to be precise. That’s about the length of time it takes to soak in and start changing how we feel, according to research by Fred Bryant an others.
Overwhelm occurs when we feel like we are giving out more than we are getting in return. We begin to feel depleted. A moment of self-care or comfort, helps us to feel grounded, nourished, replenished or at least a little less crazy.
By Polly Campbell on March 7, 2016
We were about five minutes into the conversation – a conference call — and I was completely lost and confused. Like the kind of lost that left me grasping for something to say that wouldn’t make me sound as goofy as a cartoon character. I was feeling inadequate like I was the only one not getting it.
And things got intense. Disagreements between others in the meeting. Confusion about outcomes. Impatience. Half the time I was laying my head on the cool of the desk like a child in class trying to stay calm and giving thanks that it wasn’t a video call. The rest of the time I was taking notes frantically hoping to find a bit of information that I could hold onto, something I could make sense of when the call was over.
I had a hard time getting the information I needed to do my job and when I asked questions the answers seemed so foreign and unfamiliar and didn’t jive with what I was asking. Many of the points were derailed by emotion and frustration and after an hour of constant interruptions and yeah-buts I felt worn and defensive. I felt like my skills were being challenged and by the end of it, I wanted to get out AND go back in and find a way to fix it, to be understood.
I wanted to do something that would end the discomfort. But, I reminded myself that even though this felt uncomfortable, it was a little thing. A flaring of personality and mood and time pressures, but nothing personal. It wasn’t a big thing, until I let it become bigger. Until I took it in.
Hold On, that Feeling Is Gonna Change
And I did that for a bit. By the time I got off the phone I felt somehow responsible for every aspect of the job – even those I was not hired to do. And, then I felt like I should find some clear solutions for climate change and also develop the ability to grow money on trees. THEN maybe I would have felt better. Then I started getting a little mad thinking about it.
So, I fired off an email. I put all of my thoughts into that one little letter. DAng it! I will tell you what. Except, I didn’t. I took a timeout. Deleted the letter. Took a breathe.
Because the one thing I know about icky feelings is that they CHANGE. And often the best way to deal with them is to not do anything at all.
We don’t have to behave badly when we feel bad. We don’t have to contribute to the frustration or confusion. Often there isn’t even anything to fix, at least not right then.
Pause, Breathe, Carry On
Sometimes, often, communication goes bad because of the mix of moods and personalities and stresses others have felt during the day. And the way through that, isn’t to make little things big things. It isn’t to fire of a hurt or angry email or start doubting yourself or to eat a gallon of ice cream.
The best way to get through it is to pause. Take a deep breath. Come back with compassion for yourself and others and recognize that sometimes things just don’t feel easy, sometimes even the best of us can’t connect. Sometimes that’s all it is. It doesn’t have to be anyone’s fault it can just be a combo meal of bad juju.
And when it is, step away, send compassion and let it go for a couple of days. Then come back and take a clear look at what happened and what can happen next to make it easier to bear.
THIS DOES NOT MEAN IGNORING OR TAKING ALL OF THE RESPONSIBILITY. It does mean taking your share. And this is a whole lot easier to do when you are NOT feeling defensive or blamed or hurt or upset, or confused. It is a whole lot more productive when you can come back with compassion and a willingness to listen and look at thing differently rather than feeling muddled emotionally.
The way to keep little things from becoming bigger things is to notice what you are feeling with compassion and without blame and without adding to the drama. You don’t have to take it in, it doesn’t have to be about you, nobody has to be right or wrong. It can just be what it is, in that one moment. A difficult moment does not mean the world is falling or you are falling apart. It means only that it was a difficult moment. Don’t make it any bigger.
By Polly Campbell on March 2, 2016
Monday, I wrote about how we never know the WHOLE STORY. We never know what’s truly going on in someone’s life so it’s best if we just lead with kindness. Even if others seem a little snarky and irritating, we don’t know their deal, so instead of making up some big story, or gossiping about their behavior, it’s best to be kind and not judge.
And it got me thinking about the stories we tell ourselves. How do we judge or criticize ourselves. What excuses do we make? And how do the stories we tell about ourselves, change how we engage in our lives?
I wrote this post (below) awhile ago and I think it’s worth looking at again today, because our success is usually a product of our beliefs and judgments and behaviors and those things always evolve from the stories we create about who we are and what we are capable of. So make sure your are creating a good one.
When things go haywire and life takes a scary, irritating, messy turn – how do you talk about it?
Do you dwell on the drama and despair? Or do you tell a story about how you can figure it out and thrive?
What is the story you tell?
When we’re caught up in what feels like a negative circumstance — a divorce, job loss, illness, or even just an irritating incident, it’s easy to draft a negative, dramatic, victim story around it. This gives our bad-news story energy and makes it feel real and insurmountable.
Often it’s the story we tell about that hard stuff that makes it even harder.
I thought of this a lot when I was diagnosed with melanoma. I knew that how I talked about the experience to myself and others would go a long way to determining how well I managed it in the real world. If I told a sad story about sickness and despair and anxiety – I could create that in my life. Or, I could stick to the facts: I had a malignant mole removed from my knee. That’s all it was. I didn’t need to speculate about outcomes or deconstruct all my fears about the future, time and time again, by telling stories about it. I felt some stress, but didn’t dwell on it or create a bad-news story around it.
Instead, I took a realistic look at what I needed to do to heal. Then I created a good-news story around that. I visualized how I wanted it to go. In my plot, I ( the heroine naturally played by Nicole Kidman) would overcome every adversity with panache, power and really good hair. The experience would teach the heroine greater compassion, it would help her become a better writer and land her on Oprah to talk about how people can transcend even the toughest times. THAT was the story I told myself.
Our stories influence our beliefs and those are the thoughts that determine our reality. Every time. Whether the beliefs are true or not, we often act on them and that creates tangible outcomes known as our lives.
If you’re telling scary stories, you’re likely to get some scary outcomes in your life. But, you can revise your story at anytime. Here’s how:
State what is – without judgment or opinion or projection. Just say what happened.
Drop the blame. Leave out all the bad things you feel about what happened and why. End the drama. No need to go on and on about how overwhelmed you and how nothing will be right again. It’s not true. And if you’re going to be making things up, go for the plot that propels you into a bright future.
Create the new story line. Write the story how you want it to be. Have fun with this. Play. Imagine the clothes you’ll be wearing when you get your new job. (Check out those shoes, girl.) See all the money falling out of your new designer purse. Experience the energy and that beautiful complexion that comes from the vibrant health you will enjoy. Feel the love from all the wonderful people in your life and reflect on the learning and all that you gained from the adversity. Notice how resilient you are. You can bounce back from anything. Imagine it all. Not only will you feel better, but surprising things will happen.
When we imagine our life how we want it, (visualization exercises are a powerful way of doing this and something I’ll be writing about Wednesday) the Universe (including your unconscious beliefs) shifts to make it happen. A positive story line leads to self awareness, inspired action and powerful intention. Those are the things that make fantasies come true.
So, what story are you telling?
By Polly Campbell on February 29, 2016
There were about 25 people in the audience. I was talking about awe and they were sharing awesome moments in their lives. We were nodding and smiling and connecting and afterwards we nibbled on cookies and I signed books and it was all very polite and cheery. It felt good.
It looked like we were doing fine, all of us. Like we were happily, managing this life thing well, thank you. And I know that is the truth. At least, part of it.
Then, a few minutes later, a woman came to the table to buy a book and she shared some threads of her story with me. Hard divorce after years of marriage. The man behind her in line then told me about how stressed he was after a recent move. And a friend of mine was there too, in the audience just a few hours after receiving some very difficult news about a relative’s diagnosis. Life is challenging. That is part of the truth too.
We all have a story. And our stories are complex and vast and layered. They are filled with goodness and love and cheer and AT THE VERY SAME MOMENT, they are daunting, grief-filled, painful and challenging.
And this is how life works. We can be cheery and engaged and AT THE VERY SAME TIME reeling from the challenge of life.
Find the Better in the Bad
Often the challenges we experience consume our entire focus. They take everything. We worry and ruminate and stress and complain and then we actually have to DO stuff, like practical appointment making and work juggling and money saving to get through the things that can be so hard to bear emotionally. We are BUSY and we keep going. We keep getting dressed, and smiling, and showing up, and paying bills and doing what we must, like we always have even though it feels like our entire life has changed.
We are so busy in fact, that we forget to see the beauty and the goodness and the BETTER THAT IS RIGHT THERE TOO, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BAD.
We’ve got to go looking for it of course, the good news during the difficult, but it is so worth doing, because it keeps us sane, you see? To see the awe in the awful reminds us how good life can be too, and that helps us to ease the stress that catches us up and hang on to the hope AND THAT keeps us moving and going and believing that we will make it through.
And we will make it through. Of course we will.
Kindness All the Time
But let’s do offer each other this: Kindness. Kindness. All the time.
Even if I do something stupid and cut you off on the freeway or say the wrong thing, please be kind to me. I just wasn’t paying attention because I’m dealing with stuff. I’m just trying to find my way through. Please give me a little space. Maybe a little compassion if you can spare. I can use all the help I can get.
And I will do the same for you because I know you are dealing with big stuff too. I know you are wading through muck that I will never know about. I know you are there, like me, trying to make sense of stuff that feels so hard and confusing and big; working to find your way through difficult things.
So, if we bump up against each other, I will be kind. Because without knowing what you are going through, I know what you are going through and I will do my best not to make it any harder. I don’t want to contribute to the challenge.
Both Things are True
The night of the reading, looking out at the audience filled with awesome, smiling, smart, well-dressed people; people who drove nice cars and shook hands and smiled and acted like everything was grand – which of course it was – were also the same people who were ALSO right then, struggling and hurting and dealing with real stuff in a real world that felt hard and scary – which of course it also was.
Because for all of us both things are true in every moment – peace and pain, happiness and sadness.
So, let’s do this, can we? Since we never, ever truly know what another is dealing with, let us just lead with kindness, always. We can do that for each other. We can make sure that we are always contributing to the beauty and not adding on to the pain.
We can go gently, even when others aren’t. We can be kind, even when others aren’t. And when we do, we will be that one little snatch of light for someone in a darkening day.
I like the thought of that. I like knowing that I can bring a little light through kindness.
How will you keep hope alive when dealing with your own challenges this week? And how, can you bring the light for another?
By Polly Campbell on February 24, 2016
A few weeks ago, after my coach Andrea Mather asked me to send her a weekly brag about something I had accomplished or felt good about, I decided to challenge my Facebook friends to do the same.
It was AWESOME. People! WE ARE DOING GREAT THINGS! And I loved hearing about EVERY SINGLE ONE.
One friend became a mother for the first time, adopting two children who had lived their first 10 years in foster care.
Another started a new business. One woman had a great interaction with her teenager. Others shared workout successes. It went on and on and on. Dozens of amazing responses. People bragging about the goodnesses they are bringing to the world. Shouting them OUT! And it was so fun and so uplifting. Obviously, I’m still thinking about it.
Shout Out the Good Stuff
And yet, we are so careful about sharing our own amazing. There is a fine line between bragging and sharing and it’s tough to know where is sits.
I felt so uncomfortable when Andrea first asked me for a weekly brag, and I’m not even an overly modest person. I think I am working hard to do good things and I’m proud of my accomplishments and equally as open about my failures.
But, it’s hard to know how to talk about it.
“Culturally, we bond over trading complaints, instead of sharing good things,” Mather says, from her Colorado office. “I want to shift the way we connect with each other. Sharing our successes inspires each of us in ways complaining doesn’t. It dares us to act on our dreams.”
And we need practice doing it she says. “Women seem to need more encouragement to build their bragging muscles. Think about how when we were growing up that the messages were often, ‘Don’t show off.'”
“But it is also good for women to see other women celebrate their successes. Then we can celebrate it with them and it inspires us to go after our dreams. That said I do know several men who would also benefit from the practice.”
What I Learned from Bragging
And while it was both uncomfortable and fun to share my carefully placed brags with close friends, my husband, and a few others, something else surprising came from the exercise.
“You suddenly realized you were exactly where you wanted to be and that you worked damn hard to get there,” Mather says. “There’s a real value in seeing and celebrating these moments instead of focusing on the next big goal(s). Otherwise, what are we chasing?”
By identifying where you are and all that is going well, you may just come to realize you’ve been doing what you set out to do all along. That’s a powerful insight.
But still, most of us won’t be spiking the ball and doing the dab in the end zone after a major score. It looks a little out of place during the wine bar happy hour. So how can we share our accomplishments without turning others off?
Here are some safer ways to brag:
Provide information, do not go all Kanye and tell us how great you are. If you have done something awesome, I want to know about that thing and your role in it. But, do I want hear you declare yourself the next Picasso with better hair than the rest of us? No, not so much. Keep your brag short and specific.
Go one and done. I want you to have THE BEST DAY EVER. But, most people probably don’t need to hear Every.Single. Detail. Give me the highlight.
Express sincerity and gratitude. I cannot tell you how MUCH I APPRECIATE every single person who has EVER shown up at one of my readings. I mean it. It matters so much to me. I’ve been talking about the book A LOT. Promoting on social media, doing radio and appearances and I worry that the news gets old and tiresome and braggy. But I do it, as gracefully as I can, because I care about this book and its message and I am going to get behind it. AND, then when someone actually comes to buy the book, or hear me talk about it, THAT IS A GIFT. When I brag about how great the event was, I also try to share my deep gratitude for ALL THE PEOPLE who made it a success. We are not doing this alone.
Find your people and listen up. I can share with my coach, Andrea. My husband and daughter and my mom. Of course my mom. I also have a few besties that enjoy my success as much as I do, and I theirs. Once in awhile, when it’s book-related achievement I’ll share it on FB. Most of my friends there are writers and they get it. Other friends have been encouraging from the get go and have helped me so much that I want to share my success with them. But, I’m very aware of who I’m bragging too and what I’m saying. And every time I have a brag, I want to be careful to listen to the brags of others. My friends and family members are doing great things AND I want to hear it. ALL.
And remember this: just because YOU HAVE GOT IT GOING ON doesn’t mean others are going to care. It’s okay. How others react is not your business, nor does it diminish the good stuff in your life. You can share your success, but don’t be attached to what others’ have to say about it. Don’t measure your success based on how many “likes” you get, but rather what YOU liked about your achievement.