February 20, 2022

How to break the addiction of significance

Of the three most common causes of stress – the fear of failure, the fear of rejection, and the fear of risk – which one is your biggest trigger?

For me, it’s the fear of rejection. Which makes it particularly tough to be truly vulnerable. And is a major reason why I have put off writing this post for weeks.

You see, my fear of being rejected causes me to avoid anything that will expose me in some way to negativity. It also causes me to do anything that will boost my significance. Most often, that is expressed in my professional life. I work really hard to “prove my worth” and “build my brand.”

Now, I’m not saying that positively contributing and having a solid reputation are bad things. But when you put them into the hands of an addict – well.

Fundamentally, I have come to learn that I will never be sufficiently significant. I will never reach a point where I can say, “that’s enough recognition.” At least, not while I allow my fear of rejection to have any strength.

And how am I dealing with this? I don’t know if it will ever go away, but I have found that my fear is shrinking dramatically as I invest in a completely different motion: accepting myself just as I am.

In other words, significance versus rejection is a false debate. Neither one of them really matters. No matter what I do, some people will think I’m awesome. And equally true, no matter what I do, some people will think I’m a jerk.

But people don’t define who I am. I do. And if I define who I am, then I have the ability to accept who I am.

If I choose to do this.

And what does that look like?

It looks like empathy for the journey I have taken. It looks like the recognition that no one is perfect and acknowledging that includes me. It looks like the peace that comes from fully loving myself because I have been fully loved.

When I do these things, I can accept myself. And my fear of rejection shrivels like a weed in the bright summer sun.

And then, I can fully accept others in a way I have never done before.

I mua. Onward and upward.

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January 16, 2022

How to break the addiction of success

Are you addicted to success?

In other words, is your confidence dependent on whether or not you are successful?

And if you are a leader, is your team’s confidence dependent on whether or not they are successful – because you have mandated success for all of their efforts? If they fail – at anything – how will you respond?

Because addictions do that. They go from affecting us as individuals to affecting all of our relationships. An addiction to alcohol never “only” affects the individual. An addiction to gambling never “only” affects the individual. An addiction to success never “only” affects the individual.

What does an addiction to success look like? Perhaps the most basic symptom is a nagging feeling of meaninglessness whenever the emotional high of success is not present. It’s the sense of dissatisfaction that eventually replaces the euphoria of winning. The bigger the addiction to success, the greater the sense of discontent. With ourselves and with our teams.

And in this state of addiction, we then immediately seek the next major achievement. The next pinnacle. The next high.

The problem with this pursuit is that it is relentless. And it will require even greater amounts of energy, resources, and time. At the expense of giving them to the relationships that matter most. At the expense of our team mates. At the expense of our partner. At the expense of our children. Or maybe at the expense of our health – making us suddenly weak and dependent on everyone.

Addictions never “only” affect the individual.

So, how do we break the cycle? As I mentioned in my last blog, to break the addiction to success, we have to learn how to attach confidence to our efforts. We have to make success dependent on our confidence – not the other way around.

We have to learn how to be comfortable doing our best – and letting that define us. We become known less for our achievements and become known more for our dedication. Known for our discipline. Known for our patience with others as we allow (and encourage) them to do their best.

This is not easy because authentic confidence requires vulnerability and openness. It requires that we stop trying to protect ourselves from failure. Instead, we embrace failure as part of the journey. We even accept the failure of others as part of the journey. Their journey. Which, by the way, is not our responsibility. We don’t have to make sure that they are successful, because their journey belongs to them, not us – even if our addiction screams otherwise.

Here is the crazy part, though. When we release others from success/failure as we do the same thing for ourselves, we increase the chances of positive outcomes. We increase the likelihood that our efforts will produce wonderful results. They just may not be the specific result we had targeted.

A failure becomes a life-changing lesson.

A failure becomes a breakthrough innovation.

A failure becomes a beautiful relationship.

All because we let confidence – doing our best and allowing others to do their best – lead the way.

I mua. Onward and upward, my friend.

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January 9, 2022

And now, some practical advice

Are you ready for some practical advice on how to eliminate the stress in your life?

Because while I have been laying down a foundation for the “why” and the “what” of stress, it was all necessary to get to the “how” of eliminating stress. So, let’s dive in.

Consider something that is causing you stress right now. It could be a relationship. It could be a situation. It could even be your own personal weakness.

Write it down. Give it a full sentence. “My (relationship/situation/weakness) is causing me stress.”

Now, let’s begin the advice part.

After your sentence, write the word “because…”

Have you done it? I’m serious; write it down before you go any further.

Now, pause.

What are you attaching to the relationship/situation/weakness? And specifically, I mean are you attaching one or more of the following:

  • Success?
  • Significance?
  • Control?

My own pressure test is to change the question slightly and ask myself:

  • Am I afraid of failing? (This is the direct result of attaching success)
  • Am I afraid of being rejected? (This is the direct result of attaching significance)
  • Am I afraid of risk/the unknown? (This is the direct result of attaching control)

If you get a yes to any of this, write it down after “because…” It would be something like this: “My (relationship/situation/weakness) is causing me stress because I am afraid of (failing/being rejected/unknown risk) and that will hurt me.”

This is the cause of your stress. Not the relationship. Not the situation. Not your weakness.

The cause of our stress is what we attach to it.

In other words, when we attach success/failure, significance/rejection, or control/risk to the moment, it makes the relationship, situation, weakness stressful. Think about that for a moment. If the situation isn’t going to lead to failure, rejection, or risk, would you still be stressed? I’m going to guess the answer is “no.”

Ready for an extra bit of advice?

This bit, for me, is huge. It has been THE key to minimizing – and even eliminating – stress in my life.

Instead of attaching success, attach confidence – the confidence that I am doing my best. Then success and failure don’t matter. Because I am doing my best. And my best is all that I can do.

Instead of attaching significance, attach acceptance – the acceptance of my full self (the beautiful and the ugly). Then significance and rejection don’t matter. Because I am not looking for other people to validate me. And who I am right now is enough.

Instead of attaching control, attach trust – the trust that I will get through this. Then control and risk don’t matter. Because I trust that I will somehow get through this. And I have what it takes to thrive when it’s over.

There’s plenty more to unpack, but that’s enough for now.

I mua. Onward and upward, my friend.

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December 26, 2021

Are you trying to satisfy your past or satisfy your future?

Are you the kind of person who makes New Year resolutions?

I am. And I am not.

I typically use the end of each year to slow down, reflect, and assess my life – end to end. If that annual reflection produces a resolution, fine. If not, fine. You see, it’s less about finding “something to change” and more about staying committed to the process. My process is driven by a question I learned decades ago: 30 years from now, what will matter most?

It’s a powerful question – and to be honest – it’s a question I have to constantly remind myself to ask beyond my annual ritual.

Because the “now” is SOOOO incredibly full/busy/chaotic/fun/dissatisfying/etc. “Now” is such an easy distraction.

But I am learning that my definition of now is actually neither present nor very mindful. My definition of now is actually tethered to my past. And the happiness I am pursuing is unconsciously biased to satisfy my past – not my future.

What I mean by this is that my ability to feel/think is limited to the neural pathways in my brain. And as I discussed in my last post, those neural pathways were often developed and reinforced by shame and blame. And if I am not careful, everything that I feel/think will be biased toward fixing something that, frankly, no longer exists.

In other words, I will try to be successful to prove that I didn’t fail. I will try to be significant to prove that I was worthy. I will try to be in control to prove that I will never be hurt by the unexpected again. That actually generates a lot of unintended stress.

And as the Teacher said, it’s all meaningless.

So, my resolution for this year (and for many, many more) is to make a powerful shift from satisfying my past to satisfying my future. That beautiful, hope-filled future that is literally overflowing with possibility.

And to feel/think accordingly.

I mua. Onward and upward.

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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.