December 12, 2021

Stress is an addiction

In my last post, I ended with a question… Why would anyone shape their lives around pursuing something that would never be “enough?”

Well, it’s a long story…

Every one of us starts life with a fairly simple agenda – we want to live.

When we’re born, life pretty much reduces down to eat, sleep, and – uh – fill our diapers.

As life progresses, we start filling the spaces between those three essentials with experiencing the world around us. Voices, sounds, touches, smells, and so forth all become triggers. Not for thought, initially. They are triggers for emotion.

Because that’s how the brain works. We feel, THEN think.

We are not organic computers that rapidly process thought and then produce emotion. We are emotional beings that use thought to process what we are already feeling – and want to feel.

So why the breakdown of childhood psychology? Because it defined how our brains operate today.

You see, somewhere between dirty diapers and high school graduation, we developed some deep-rooted beliefs in what it takes to feel our best. And they weren’t exactly rooted in reality. They were rooted in perception.

Instead of recognizing that the people around us had issues (and maybe even needed some therapy themselves), we just knew that some of those people made us feel “bad.” And when we felt badly, we reacted. At first, we tried to understand why we felt badly. But at 5 years old, most of us had no clue about what was really going on. And we used 5-year-old logic to process some pretty mature themes. Hence the injection of what we perceived to be reality.

So, we landed on feeling either shame (it must be my fault) or blame (it has to be their fault).

But then we did something extra.

We added a layer of “I don’t want to feel this way again.” And for most of us, that layer was built with the bricks of success, significance, and/or control.

Brick upon brick, layer upon layer, we added complexity to how we feel/think. The kind of complexity that eventually becomes a brick wall. Or better said, an addiction.

An addiction to success/significance/control to avoid the feelings of shame and blame.

So, why would anyone shape their lives around pursuing something that would never be “enough?” We’re addicted to behaviors that will never satisfy our souls. And the greater the addiction, the greater we get stressed about it.

To be fair, not all of us are addicts. But we are all surrounded by them. We all have that family member, neighbor, co-worker, spouse… the list goes on and on. And if we can’t understand the addiction, we will never understand the cure.

Then again, we may be the patient with the greatest need.

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November 14, 2021

Why do we need more than we need?

My grandfather taught me a lesson many, many years ago: Why do you need more than you need? You can want more than you need, but why do you need more than you need?

It’s a powerful question and it gets to the heart of something that I’ve been pondering a lot lately.

Another way to phrase the question is this: How much is enough?

Is it enough when we hit our goals – or do we have to go past it and ignore that the goal was achieved?

Is it enough when other people recognize our achievements – or must we ignore the praise and immediately seek to achieve more?

Is it enough when everything is locked in and under control – or do we stress in the knowledge that everything could change tomorrow?

Too many people define “enough” as some form of success, significance, or control. The problem with those definitions is that the more we chase after success, significance, and control, the more we become addicted to them. And then enough is never enough.

So, the real question is this: do we actually NEED success, significance, and control?

In her Ted talk-turned-book, Kelly McGonigal talked about how we experience stress when we feel meaningless, isolated, or inadequate. Half a century before McGonigal, David McClelland talked about how we all seem to need achievement, affiliation, and power. And roughly 3,000 years before either of these people, King Solomon talked about the drives for success, fame, and power (in Ecclesiates).

And he called all three “meaningless, like chasing after the wind.”

If you even half-believe that Solomon was the wisest human to have ever lived, it’s pretty damning to hear one of the most successful, famous, and powerful characters in recorded history call success, significance, and control (my terms) meaningless. As in, you and I don’t actually need them.

But if this is true, why then would anyone be stressed about them? Why would anyone shape their lives around pursuing something that would never be “enough?”

Why, indeed…

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October 24, 2021

We all seem to have the same patterns…

In 2014, when my wife got cancer, I learned something about myself. And I didn’t like what I learned.

I don’t handle stress very well.

I mean, I thought I did. I thought that with a master’s degree in psychology, a lifetime of living on-the-edge, and even a handful of near death experiences… well, none of it mattered.

Because I had not learned what to do if I couldn’t influence what was causing the stress.

And to be honest, what I couldn’t influence, I would try to manipulate and control. And if I couldn’t control, I’d blame. Or withdraw. Or just beat myself up for failing.

That’s when I learned about adapting. About getting outside of the problem. And to serve my way through the stress.

In the years since that realization, I have shared my ah-ha moment with countless people and we all seem to have the same patterns.

One of those patterns is this: at our best, we are usually ONLY good at either getting inside the problem or getting outside of the problem.

In other words, if you are good at influencing, you probably aren’t a very good adapter. And if you are good at adapting, you probably aren’t a very good influencer.

Part of this is personality preference. Some of us are simply hard-wired to go at a problem, to conquer it. Others of us are simply hard-wired to pull away from a problem, to understand it. 

But for some reason, natural influencers become blamers and/or eventually withdraw completely. Natural adapters become manipulators and/or eventually wallow in shame.

As a parent, I see this with my kids all the time. One is a natural influencer. The other is a natural adapter. The influencer will shift to blame the moment influence isn’t working. The adapter will shift to shame the moment adapting fails.

I see this in marriages. And co-workers. And celebrities. And on and on…

So, here’s a mirror moment for you: what is your pattern? Do you flip from healthy to unhealthy – or do you rise above it and stay in that serving mindset? And what do you see in others?

With that said, there is good news. We can change the pattern. We can be good at BOTH influencing and adapting. We can avoid the unhealthy stuff. My kids and I are working on it. Maybe you are, too.

But it takes self-awareness to even begin the journey.

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October 17, 2021

Serve your way through stress…

Let’s be realistic: stress is inevitable. And frankly, some of it can actually be good for us.

But as I mentioned last week, there are six main responses to stress and only two of them are healthy: influence or adapt.

What makes these responses healthy? Let me offer two main thoughts.

First, both influencing (getting inside the problem) and adapting (getting outside of the problem) force us to operate from the creative, problem-solving part of our brains. This is important, because the unhealthy alternatives will take us to the self-centered, potentially self-destructive part of our brains.

Where we think defines how we make decisions. If we go to the wrong part of our brain when we are experiencing stress, we can’t make good decisions. We won’t wind up in a good space. That’s what unhealthy looks like.

Second, true influencing and true adapting are driven by the desire to serve. This serving mindset helps us connect with the people around us – even while the stress continues. In other words, when we feel connected to each other, we operate at our best. When we don’t feel any connections, we operate at our worst.

The serving mindset also provides a boundary for the situation. As long as we can serve, we stay. But if we can’t serve any more, it’s a sign to leave the situation and/or the relationship. Staying in a situation and/or relationship that you can’t truly influence or adapt is unhealthy.

So, what’s the bottom line here? Serve your way through stress.

Serve through influencing. Serve through adapting.

We cannot serve through shame, manipulation, blame, or withdrawal. It’s just not possible.

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October 10, 2021

Every single one of these responses is a sign that we got stressed.

Did you get stressed this week? I know I did.

What was the trigger?

Was is someone or something? Was it an unfulfilled expectation or an unexpected disruption?

I’ll get into what causes our stress later, but this week I’d like to talk about our response. Or rather, our responses.

I have learned that there are basically six main responses to stress. And only two of them are healthy.

The healthy ones are simple: influence or adapt.

They are both driven by an attitude of serving – which is what makes them healthy.

Things get unhealthy when we go into survival mode.

Unhealthy response #1: Shame.

This is when we say to ourselves “I don’t belong.” Or even say “nothing I do is good enough.”

It’s usually not true, actually. But it’s hard to think/feel clearly when we’re stressed.

Unhealthy response #2: Manipulation.

This is when we try to force the outcome. It’s not serving anyone but ourselves – even if we don’t see it that way.

We use anger, perfectionism, pouting, and a host of other techniques. But the outcome is always the same: get things settled the way we want them to be.

Unhealthy response #3: Blame.

This is when we say to ourselves “it’s not my fault.” Or better yet “it’s their fault.” 

It produces a false sense of certainty. Usually by projecting all of the shame-based uncertainties we feel about ourselves into someone or something else.

Unhealthy response #4: Withdrawal.

This is when we disconnect – physically, emotionally, intellectually, socially – to be “safe.” It’s driven by a sense of avoiding blame, especially toward ourselves (“you can’t blame me because I wasn’t involved”).

So, why the big breakdown of unhealthy behaviors? Every single one of these responses is a sign that we got stressed.

And if you, like me, take a moment to look back on the past week to see how many responses were generated – we’ll see how much stress we’re under.

And whether or not we’re as healthy as we want to be.

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October 3, 2021

“It’s time to change the narrative…”

I think the most dangerous thing about stress is that we have become so used to it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Stress is something that will never go away.

But the sheer volume of it today – the constant presence of it – makes me shake my head in disbelief.

The crazy part is that we all know this is bad.

So, why do we allow it to roam so freely in the wide open spaces of our souls?

I have been wrestling with this question ever since my wife got leukemia. I wrestled with it all the way through her chemo. I wrestled with it all the way through her recovery. I wrestled with it all the way through the cancer coming back and eventually taking her away from us. And I’m still wrestling with it now.

With that said, all of the wrestling has taught me a few things. Things like:

Stress leads to poor decision-making. When we’re stressed, we shift from the pre-frontal cortex of our brains and go to our amygdala – the so-called “lizard brain” in the middle our heads. We know this is happening because we immediately get angry or afraid. Some of us just freeze.

But regardless of our response, we immediately become focused on ourselves. And only ourselves. We start surviving – and stop serving. In other words, every solution we come up with, and every decision we make, is focused solely on “me” – which only injects toxicity into the situation. The good news is there is a way to completely change this response, but only IF we intentionally master it.

Stress leads to poor health. Many of us – especially Type A personalities like me – will often fake our way through the moment, only to let it all out once we get home. We somehow delay self-centered gratification until we walk through the door and crash – physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually. We call it “I’m in a bad mood” or “I’ve had a really hard day” – then proceed to drink/eat/consume what we shouldn’t. Or unload on our partners and children. Or disengage completely, withdrawing from the very connections that nurture our souls. The list goes on and on…

The outcome is always the same: we’re not healthy. We eventually have a hard moment with the doctor, the therapist, or the lawyer. Again, there is a way to completely change this response, but only IF we intentionally master it.

And perhaps the most important thing that I have learned from wrestling with stress is this: Stress keeps us from becoming the best version of ourselves.

When I get stressed, I stop being the me that I want to be. I undo the progress I have made. I reinforce habits that I’m trying to kill. It’s like climbing a metal slide that is covered with oil.

Which is why I’m reviving my blog. I have found many friends – and even strangers – who understand the struggle with stress all too well.

Business leaders, stay-at-home parents, pastors, and students. Whatever the label, stress has become too big to ignore. Too common. Too “normal.”

And it’s time to change the narrative.

If you want to join me, please follow this blog and join the conversation. Let’s turn this struggle into a victory.

My blog has moved…

Friends, after being almost completely inactive for two years while working heavily on a special client project, I am reviving my blog!

But not here.

If you would like to follow the journey, please subscribe to my new blog here. You will receive a weekly email from me that covers:

  • My latest blog
  • Links to other people’s blogs that my team and I thought were worth sharing with you
  • Special announcements

For the less adventurous, you may hesitantly explore my new blog at

Personally, I really hope you hit the subscribe link so that we can stay engaged…

I mua. Onward and upward.

A Lesson for Grief

Recently, I have been having a lot of conversations with people who are grieving.  Big griefs. The loss of a little sister. The loss of a husband. The loss of a career.

Every instance is one that pulls my heart strings. I tangibly feel the weight of each story.

And I am reminded of my own journey. I know grief. I know what it feels like to have the world suddenly turn itself upside down, to have the sky itself surge upward and away while the earth drops beneath my feet.

Chances are, you know grief, too.

So, this post is for you.

In a recent letter to a friend, I wrote this:

First, there is a question I have for you.

What path are you on: the path to survive all of this or the path to healing? Because I have learned that they are very different paths.

I cannot recommend the path to surviving. It is our most natural choice, but is does nothing for us, especially since it never ends. Ever. The life of survival never allows us to tell our story without pain, without grief. Sure, we can “move on,” but we never truly do. And we then carry the wounds of our past as burdens, susceptible to any bump/scrape/trip that would cause them to flare up and shut us down.

The path to healing is very different. It leads us to be able to fully serve again, without any hesitation or pain. It’s a liberating path, full of breakthroughs and newfound peace. It also involves a tremendous amount of transparency, the kind of personal vulnerability that can never be experienced on the path to survival.

So, if I may ask you again, which path are you on?

If you’re on the path to healing, I would offer you one more learning… Blame will automatically push you to the path of survival.

Trying to blame the people who have hurt you (whether they be drunk drivers, false accusers, or even the randomness of Life), will always take you away from the path of healing.

Sure, we want justice. We want truth. We want the lies to be exposed and we ultimately want to be vindicated of whatever blame we feel… So, we push that blame back at the players within our painful story. We create airtight arguments in our minds that both soothe us and trap us at the same time. We search for the willing ear who will hear our tale and join us in condemning the evil against us. This is the insidious part. It feels good to blame. It helps us survive. And keeps us from healing.

I don’t know where you are at today. I may not even know you at all. But hear me in this: you can heal. You can do more than survive. You can eventually thrive in such a way that your story ends with peace. Beautiful, heavenly peace – the kind that transcends our current situation and gives hope to others.

Thanks for listening.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

Good Metrics vs Worthless Ones, Part Two

(Warning – this post might get a little snarky. Well, okay, a lot snarky.)

In my last post, I hammered on the idea that a metric is not a goal. I got a little bit of pushback on that, so let me briefly reiterate my point.

DruckerIf I wasn’t clear enough (which is entirely possible) on the idea that metrics are important, well… Goodness. They’re critical. As Drucker famously pointed out, what gets measured gets done. (Which by the way, is not actually what he said. Drucker said, “What gets measured gets managed.” But then again, the idea of “what gets measured gets done” might actually go back to a dude named Rheticus – the sole pupil of Copernicus. But I digress.)

The key idea is that metrics have a secondary value, at best. The primary value lies with the actual goal – the desired outcome that the metrics are trying to serve.

So, if we can agree on that, then it’s time to move into some metrics-related best practices that I have uncovered over the years.

Let me begin by saying that all of the classic concepts are still valid/true. Great metrics are accurate, on time, benchmarked, strategic, credible, used, shared, blah blah blah. Not that I want to make fun of it, but I have a short attention span and I hate to drone on about what (I hope) is obvious to you.

That wouldn’t qualify as very insightful, right?

So, here is my first best practice: great metrics validate the goal.

What do I mean by that? Picture something like measuring how many demonstrations a sales person gives to potential clients. Sadly, I see this metric all of the time. If it was a great metric, it would show the value of giving a demo. But it doesn’t. Not at all. It simply measures if something that the salesperson called a demo (and maybe even the customer called it a demo) occurred.


Here’s why.

The purpose of a demo is NOT to simply show your product off. It’s to explore and validate the requirements of the potential customer. It’s to create a 2-way dialogue between that customer and your sales person. Maybe even pull in other folks from both sides of the table. But you aren’t measuring that. You’re measuring the number of times a rep scheduled a demo – which usually turns into a monotonous, painful “watch me show you every feature/benefit possible” demo.

Which is not what was originally wanted.

Which actually invalidates your goal.

See what I mean?

A great metric will validate the goal, speaking to the heart of the desired outcome. Instead of measuring the number of demos, measure the number of times that it worked. Measure the number of times that requirements were validated with a demo or the number of times that a demo opened the door to the next stage. Use the metric to reinforce the goal, to illuminate it. Not hijack it.

My second best practice is this: great metrics provide an insight that leads to action.

Nothing is more worthless that a piece of information that you can do nothing with.

Days without a safety incident, anyone?

Seriously, I jumped on this last time, but it is such a classic example of what I am talking about. Beyond trying to achieve new records, there is nothing that I can gather from a metric like days without an accident. Are we safe? I have no idea. Are we at risk of something bad happening? I couldn’t tell you. Are people engaged and looking out for each other? Maybe, maybe not.

And we see it in other parts of our business all of the time.

Like, what is our current revenue when compared to last year at this time? Tell me – what insight do you get from that? And more specifically, what action do you want me to take? If you say “work harder…”

Bulls Eye 3Great metrics will drive toward an insight.

And this is where it gets a bit trickier. Because getting insight from a metric requires that you are measuring the right thing. Which implies that your goal is the right goal. That you have actually taken the time to diagnose what the problem is – and that your solution to that problem is getting measured. And that you made a legitimate goal out of it.

But if you are not actually measuring the solution to a problem, what are you measuring? Why is the metric so important? And please don’t say because we have measured that very thing for decades.

Which is why we have metrics overload. We have dashboards full of metrics where EVERYTHING is important – so none of it is. We overwhelmed any and all possible insight that could have been identified. Because the goal was not to generate insight. It was to collect and report data.

My third best practice is this: great metrics collect lagging, leading, and leadership data.

Let me explain.

Let’s say you want your sale people to sell to the C-suite more. Lagging data (what is produced at the end of the process) would be the overall number of C-suite sales. You could also go after C-Suite revenue or profit. Leading data (what is produced during the process and leads directly to the lagging outputs) could be the number of C-suite interactions. Or perhaps the percentage of overall sales in a rep’s pipeline that are C-suite interactions. Leadership data (what is done by the leaders of the people being measured) would be what the sales managers are doing to ensure that the sales reps are producing the right outcomes in the right way. You could measure the number of times reps are coached on C-Suite interactions. Or maybe the number of joint sales interactions with C-Suite buyers (be careful with this – you could be guilty of invalidating the goal by making the manager hijack the conversation to hit a “metric”).

Leader coachThe essential principle is that you are layering the role of leaders into your measurement equation – which isn’t done often enough.

Look at it this way, what would you think if you saw that C-suite revenue was low and C-suite interactions were up? You could think a lot of things. But what if you also saw that sales manager coaching was non-existent? I think you’d be a bit more equipped to get things on track. Fast.

Adding in a leadership metric makes a massive difference in both the level of insight you are getting on performance, but also in the very energy that drives performance to begin with. You create accountability and emphasis on teaming – even if the teaming is one-to-one, manager and player.

And yet, too often, we have no idea (beyond simple anecdote) if our leaders are the root cause of the problem – or the key to success. Unless having engaged leaders is not a goal of your organization.

So, there you have it. Three of the best darn best practices I know of. Let your metrics:

  • Validate the goal
  • Provide an insight that leads to action
  • Collect lagging, leading, and leadership data

What metrics-related best practices do you have that I may have missed?

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai