Is your world ending? Shouldn’t it?

It’s November 21st and, according to the folks at this website, the end of the world may be upon us just one month from today. If you are a student of Nostradamus or the Mayan administrative assistant who quit work before finishing the calendar project, you may be stockpiling canned goods as we speak.

But for those of us not on the 12212012 bandwagon yet, perhaps we should take notice.

Are you strong and healthy?  Are your relationships supportive and mutually satisfying? Is your work gratifying and meaningful to you?  Do you experience moments of joy?  Are you living a purposeful life?

If not, perhaps you should end your world as you know it.

I work with folks who are stuck.  Stuck in a soul-sucking job.  Stuck feeling unmotivated, unengaged and unappreciated.  Stuck in a battle they are fighting on the way up the down escalator.  The first step is to want something better.

Augusten Burroughs, author of “This Is How”, wrote about contemplating suicide.  When he explored what he wanted to accomplish through his death, he writes: “I realized something. It wasn’t that I wanted to kill myself. What I really wanted was to end my life.”

Each of us is accountable in this way.  Not only for acknowledging where we are today but where we want to go, who we want to be.

Take stock of where you are. What’s working?  What’s not?  Envision what you want.  Know you can have it.  Ask for help.  Make a change.  Take the leap.

When Rick and I were married twenty two years ago we chose for our wedding song: “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” by R.E.M..  It was.  End your world and begin anew.  It’s scary, but it’s worth it.  And you can do it again and again until you get it right.

Courageous Participation

It is my pleasure to welcome Doris Roach, Courage Specialist, as this month’s Uncommon guest blogger.  Doris and I met in 2010 when she attended our Motivation Factor® Certification where she contributed her smart, generous and thoughtful intellect to our discussions.  She is not only a talented coach and facilitator but an accomplished artist as well.  In her post, she gives us a taste of her characteristically straightforward, well-reasoned guidance. Thanks, Doris!


Courageous Participation by Doris Roach

I recently was involved with a group that had some difficult dynamics.  Members seemed more invested in proving how much they knew versus sharing ideas and learning from one another. Struggling with whether or not to continue with the group, I spoke with a wise friend who said three elements must be present for her to participate in any group:

  1. She must be able to retain her dignity;
  2. act with integrity, and;
  3. be professional.

Retaining your dignity means maintaining self-respect. If the group dynamics, culture, or participants make you feel uncomfortable, put down, or just drive you crazy, it may not be worth your time to continue.

Acting with integrity is perhaps the most important element. This means trying to find ways to address issues honestly and directly. You might try expressing how you feel to the person that is overpowering your voice. Or you could speak to the facilitator about how another method could be more culturally competent. But when those tactics fail or aren’t possible, it is courageous to value yourself enough to walk away.

Tied into integrity is being professional.  Among other things, this includes presenting your ideas and comments in appropriate and respectful ways.  Sometimes, this may mean holding your tongue when you want to lash out.  Timing is key and maintaining civility is paramount.  You never know when you will have to interact with members of the group in the future so you don’t want to burn bridges.

Using these factors as guideposts, I eventually decided to leave the group.  Sometimes group dynamics can be so ingrained and so complex that the healthiest thing to do is to remove yourself from the situation. To courageously exit a group, try to tie up any loose ends by saying goodbye to the facilitator and any participants you interacted with. You may want to explain why you are leaving, but if it doesn’t seem productive, you don’t have to. Resigning as amicably as possible is essential for maintaining good relationships. Give yourself the closure of knowing that you did what you could and that people won’t be wondering what happened to you.

Most of all, remember that leaving isn’t giving up, it’s being courageous.

Doris Ferrer Roach, J.D. is a coach, facilitator and courage specialist™. As a courage specialist™, she supports leaders, teams and individuals to courageously think outside of the box, be more authentic, take risks and change the status quo.  For more information about Doris, visit her website at



Five New Year Resolutions for Your Brain

Calm.  Clear.  Creative. That’s what you can be when your brain is happy.

When we are stressed and feeling overwhelmed, our brain is in threat response.  When we’re in threat response, our ability to think rationally and be creative is compromised.

Here are five things you can do to make your brain happy in 2012:

1. Constructive Venting: Something bothering you?  Vent it! Those of you familiar with Motivation Factor know that we use this technique as part of our Energy Drainer exercise to help calm the brain’s threat response and prepare us to generate forward-looking options and actions.  In order to think rationally and creatively about a problem, you’ve got to get out of fight/flight mode.  Take a few moments to list all the ways the problem is affecting you or causing you frustration. Who or what is letting you down?  What are you putting up with?  Write until you run out of steam.  That’s a sign that your amygdala is getting calm and you’re more ready to think.

2. Password Protect Your Hot Buttons: My phone had a habit of reaching out and touching someone on its own before I password protected it.  Our hot buttons do the same thing sometimes.  When someone inadvertently presses one, before we know it, we’re lashing out at them for some perceived offense – without any rational intent on our part.  Much like unintentionally dialing a client at 3am in their time zone, our hot-button-fueled, knee jerk reactions put our brain into threat response.  To avoid hot button mayhem (and to keep relationships healthy), practice the half-sec-pause.  It takes just a half second to name the offense (disrespected, embarrassed, dishonest, disorganized, etc.)  – like a password – to have a positive and calming effect on the brain’s stress response mechanism.  Then, you can respond just a tad more rationally.

3. Zone Out: “Meditation” can sound too heady and unattainable.  Relax.  Seriously, just relax.  That’s all your brain wants.  You know the difference between wearing a tight belt and being in sweat pants?  Picture your brain taking off that tight belt and putting on a nice pair of fleece sweats.  Aaaahhhhh.  That’s it.  Just get comfy and zone out for 5 minutes or more.  Recent studies show that insights (those “aha” moments) only happen when the brain is quiet.  Maybe you’ll have more of them.

4. Do What You Love: Did you know your brain lights up when you do what you’re best at?  Doing what you love also triggers feel good hormones, putting us in better moods and states of mind.  Are you creative? Bring more creativity into your work and life.  Love winning? Compete more.  Enjoy communing with nature?  Get the heck outside.  Doing more of what you love is restorative.  It’s good for the soul – and the brain.

5. Ask (and Answer) “Why?”: Why do you do what you do?  The best cocktail for the brain is made by combining equal part skill and challenge (shake, garnish with purpose and serve).  The brain is most balanced and alert when we are doing something that a. we have some skill at (ie we’re not totally overwhelmed or in over our heads); b. challenges us to learn or stretch (ie we’re not totally bored) and c. has some meaning to us.  Whether that meaning is in the doing itself (“I help save lives”) or an indirect result of the doing (“this awful job feeds my precious family”).   Whatever you do, are you doing it purposefully?  Your brain likes that best.

What do YOU do to keep YOUR brain healthy?


One great interview question you’re probably not asking

Technical skill, accountability, responsibility, innovation, great attitude – all qualities you want to get a sense for during your interviews with candidates.  But how do you get a sense for motivation and engagement?  The ability to stay the course, pick one’s self up by one’s boot straps and keep on truckin?

Here’s a great question for your next interview:

“Tell me about a time when you lost motivation for or became disengaged with a project, team or company.  What prompted that loss of motivation or disengagement and what did you do about it?”

In their answer, you get a sense of:

  • what it takes to affect the individuals level of motivation or engagement
  • the things they value (respect, being heard, freedom, etc.)
  • the extent to which the individual takes responsibility for his or her own motivation and engagement
  • how effective they are at noticing and correcting a drift away from the goal
  • what you can expect if they become demotivated or disengaged at your organization



The Price of Disengagement

My work is about inspiring purposeful engagement in meaningful work.  I do it because I know I can make a huge positive difference in people’s lives.  That makes me happy.  But why should YOU care?  Here’s some “Engagement Nerd” data for you:

Gallup research has shown that”engaged employees are more productive, profitable, safer, create stronger customer relationships, and stay longer with their company than less engaged employees.”

The consulting firm, Blessing White says that “Engaged employees are not just committed.  They are not just passionate and proud.  They have a line-of-sight on their own future and on the organization’s mission and goals.  They are enthused and in gear, using their talents and discretionary effort to make a difference in their employer’s quest for sustainable business success.”

Hewitt Associates has reported that high engagement firms had a total shareholder return that was 19% higher than average in 2009.  In low engagement organizations, total shareholder return was 44% below average.

Similarly, Gallup found that organizations with comparatively high proportions of engaged employees were much less likely than the rest to see a decline in EPS in 2008 and Wharton’s analysis of the Best Companies to Work for in America indicated that “high levels of employee satisfaction generate superior long-horizon returns”.

A recent national poll by the Conference Board found that job satisfaction is the lowest since the poll began in 1987 with only 45 percent of employees satisfied with their jobs.

Disengaged managers are three times more likely to have disengaged employees.  This data from the 2009 Sirota Survey Intelligence Study.

Studies over the past few years have consistently shown that 60 percent of workers plan to look for new jobs as soon as the economy provides opportunities. This data becomes more relevant to the average manager when paired with the fact that replacing a departing employee can cost as much as 1.5 to 3.5 times their annual salary, posing a threat to the success of any organization in a fragile recovery. (Salaries Looking Up, John Dooney, HR Magazine, October, 2009).

Get The Flu On Purpose

Bone-twisting, fever-raging, cold sweat flu.  You’re not going into work.  Not today.  Not tomorrow.  Maybe the next day.  But you can’t even think about that because your hair hurts and your teeth are aching.

You had stuff on your calendar.  You had a To-do list the length of California.  You had people and projects depending on your presence.  But you’re not going to be there.

You’ve got the FLU.

You’ll never get those days back.  You’re not even going to have the benefit of being well rested because you will have been fighting the nasty bug AND worrying about all the stuff you have to do to catch up.  Seems like a waste all around, doesn’t it?

Instead of running yourself to a raw nub just waiting to be taken out by a germ, what if you planned a different type of flu?  One that restored you, boosted your productivity, re-energized your commitment and improved your performance?  One that even prevented that other nasty kind of flu.  I mean, if you can take a few days off for a raging unproductive fever – seems like a no brainer to try a different approach, yes?

Get your calendar out right now and plan 2 – 3 days to FLU: Fortify, Lighten and Upgrade. Here are some ideas:

Fortify: Wake up late, play with your pets or kids (or someone else’s pets or kids), take a walk outside, go for a swim or ski, meditate, stretch, loll about in your jammies, call a friend, eat good healthy food, get some sleep, read a book, listen to a new piece of music…

Lighten: Clean your office (you don’t necessarily have to be out of the office to FLU), straighten the garage, call the plumber/doctor/oil company/bank and get that junk off your mind, write thank-you notes, call your gram, create a space or time just for you…

Upgrade: Take a course, learn a skill, listen to a leader, view a webcast, watch a TED video, browse through your “read later” folder, install that time-saving application you downloaded six months ago, plan the hiring (or firing) of a staff member, update your resume…

Scheduling a few days for yourself two or three times a year to replenish your resources, straighten up your surroundings, or learn something new offers immeasurable benefit.

Running yourself ragged gets you the real flu.  Taking the time to recharge gets you healthy physically, mentally and emotionally.  If you’re thinking (as I have on occasion) : “Oh, if only I could get the flu – a really bad case – where I could just sleep and not feel guilty…”, you need to schedule a FLU day STAT!  You deserve it.  And you can’t be your best self without it.


Tangled Necklaces

Behold: the hopelessly tangled necklace – the thin and delicate chain somehow snarling itself into a tiny unyielding ball of fused metal; relegated to the back of the jewelry box to languish in the vain hope that someday, someone will have the patience to unleash it from its sad tight bonds.

I must have a specific strain of OCD that compels me to take on the tangled necklace.  I can’t let it be.  I can’t let it go.   I WILL unknot that knot.  I WILL unsnarl that snarl.

How to unsnarl a tangled necklace:

1. Find a clean, clear, white table or counter with lots of light as a workspace. Place the necklace on the work surface.

2. Using the ball of your fingertip, roll the snarl around gently to take stock of your challenge and to begin to loosen the bonds

3. Using your fingernail, tap gently on the snarl until the chain begins to loosen.

4. Using your two pointer fingers/finger nails, continue to tap and spread the chain as it begins to loosen.  Do not attempt to unsnarl the chain yet.

5. Continuing to spread the loops of chain out on the work surface and begin to notice how the chain is twisted around itself.  If there is a clear twist, carefully untwist that one loop careful not to disturb the other loops. CAUTION: Though you may feel relief and excitement as a result of this small progress, do not pick up the necklace and do not attempt complex untwisting.

6. Continue to gently tap the knots and spread the loops until you expand the mess to the ends of the necklace.  At this point it may become clear that the ends of the necklace can now be drawn over/under/through the loops.  Take care to address one loop at a time and keep the necklace on the work surface so as to avoid screwing it up. (Note: “screwing it up” is a technical term in untangling)

Untangling a necklace takes time and patience.  More importantly, it takes will.  Many of us live with sad tight snarls in our work and in our lives and relegate these important parts of ourselves to the back of the jewelry box. Over time, we no longer have the resources to get new necklaces or to unsnarl the ones we have.

(Are you responsible for motivating and engaging others?  Do you need a new way to move individuals and teams tangibly forward? Find out more.)

Wanted: Ability, Responsibility and Accountability

It has never been more important for our schools, our businesses – even our society – to develop individuals who are responsible and accountable for their own career success.  But how do we develop the ability, responsibility and accountability for doing good work?

 The industrial economy is over.  The days of “paying your dues” and “climbing the ladder” are over.  The dues are never paid and the ladder no longer exists.  The days of steady, routine work are over.  Technology is changing everything, the globe is shrinking and the tables are turned – daily.  The information/services economy demands much much more from us as individuals.

What skills are needed to compete in the information/services economy?

The jobs our present day students will eventually hold have not even been invented yet.  You can’t study for them.  The expectations of professionals will be less about what you’ve done and more about what you can do.

Today, managers want employees who are accountable for their work.  Tomorrow, they will have to be.

Today, employees want to feel more in control of their employment.  Tomorrow, they will have to be.

Today, change agents complain that their clients won’t adopt their recommendations.  Tomorrow, they will be held accountable for the results.

Today, students learn and memorize and practice curriculum that was written at the cusp of agrarian and industrial society.  Tomorrow, they will be woefully unprepared.

Are you a manager or Human Resources leader looking to boost productivity?

Are you a coach, consultant, trainer looking to facilitate real change?

Turns out, you can’t do it yourself.  New research has given important insight into how individuals can become motivated to move, engaged in shared goals and – yes – responsible and accountable for that motivation and engagement.

The four steps to motivation and engagement are:

  1. Acknowledging and addressing the obstacles in your way
  2. Managing your own and others’ triggers and behaviors
  3. Leveraging your natural talent for brain boosting effects
  4. Personally connecting and committing to the purpose of any objective, goal or mission.

The first two steps are like finding and releasing the emergency brake on forward movement.  But, ironically, we’ve been trained for years to ignore them.

The second two steps tap into individuals’ personal “best” – like aiming a laser beam at your goal.

Even more exciting – for the first time – we’re not just able to give people the “tools” to manage or motivate others.  We now have the ability to transfer the necessary skills to the individuals themselves.

And good thing.  Because today those skills are a “nice-to-have” for teams, organizations and change efforts. Tomorrow, they are a need-to-have for the people in them.

Can a team change its stripes?

Can a person, a team, or an organization TRULY change its stripes?  These folks think so.  How about you?

On getting along: ” We saw immediate progress with interpersonal relationships and working as a team.”; “We broke through long standing assumptions and conflicts that were detracting from the goal.”

Teams are people too, right?  I mean, we all come to work with our “stuff”: our peeves, our problems, our personalities.  We come to work patient or we come at the end of our tether.  And then, no matter how we come to work, we have to deal with everyone else’s peeves, problems and personalities.  The better we are at managing the impact of our own stuff, the better we are at managing the stuff others dish out.  And, by the way, there’s a pretty aggressive business goal to be met and being fussy with each other isn’t going to help reach it any faster.

On being strategic: “We moved our discussions away from being so reactive and task-oriented to being more strategic”

Finding problems is easy.  Finding solutions can be hard.  Finding solutions is a lot harder when everyone is busy finding problems.  Shift the focus to the goal and strategy and then let the good strong brains of the team do their good strong work.

On management: “Management time is less spent on unproductive exchanges, organizational conflicts and silos and is more focused on work.”

Managers most often become managers because they are good at solving the technical problems of their field.  Hopefully they are also chosen because of their relatively good rapport with people.  Unfortunately, to be a great manager one MUST NOT SOLVE a lot of those problems. “What!?”, you ask with incredulity.  Yes, a great manager guides others to solve those problems for themselves thereby freeing up management time for creating goals and maintaining an environment that supports and stretches those people to solve even more.

On learning how: “I have to say this entire process is the first thing I’ve seen in 20 years that’s new and different and positive, and that gets at the root cause of the things that suck the life out of an organization.”

When you can get at the root cause of things that suck the life out of an organization, there’s more room for better things to grow.

On finding out more:

Visit the website to learn how to bring these programs into your organization or practice and, if you are a change agent responsible for moving individuals, teams or organizations forward, register here.

PS: Click here for a fast and easy way for managers to STOP SOLVING PROBLEMS they shouldn’t be solving

Forget Positive Thinking

We’ve been beaten repeatedly about the head and shoulders in recent years to remember to “think positively”.  Woe to the team member who voices concern.  The trusty contrarian is now disdained and the nay sayers are summarily silenced.

Ironically, by squashing these Negative Nellies we are slowing down positive progress toward our most critical goals.

Research shows that our human brains are wired against change.  Introducing a new direction (information, competition, pace, etc.) causes a physiological stress reaction against the change.

The Value of Venting

Interestingly, one of the fastest ways to reduce the emergency brake effect of this stress reaction is to allow a bit of venting.  “What don’t we like about this news?” “What problems will it cause?”  “What can go wrong?” “Why is it stupid?” What may not have been taken into consideration?”

Our stress response is linked to survival.  Adrenaline is triggered which sets off flight/flight/freeze behavior.  At work this takes the form of the contrarian who fights back, the star team member who dusts off her resume to prepare for flight, the long timer who’ll bide his time, frozen in place.

Brain scan technology shows that just naming the threat – thinking it, saying it or, even more effective, writing it down – counteracts the threat response.  By giving credence to the stress factor and addressing it, we return out of threat mode and can enter a more rational state.

Once all the big bad stuff has been vented, we are in a physiologically more receptive place to ask: “How will we handle this?”