It’s a very rare thing to find someone who has never been dissatisfied with their job. There are, of course, a range of intensities when it comes to dissatisfaction.
On one end, you might have a bad encounter with someone at work and feel dissatisfied with the situation. On the other end, you may have the Sunday Night Blues – dreading the thought of going into the office because you are so dissatisfied with your job.
What I want to do today is give you some tips for how to effectively deal with dissatisfaction. No matter how intense your feelings of dissatisfaction are, having some tools you can use will help you get past it faster.
In High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way, the author Brenden Burchard, talks about how high performers are really good at recognizing their feelings. They manage their feelings rather than letting their feelings manage them.
Step 1: Recognize Dissatisfaction
Sometimes the most important step is to just recognize the fact that you are experiencing dissatisfaction in the first place. For some of us, recognizing the emotions we are feeling can be a challenge.
Dissatisfaction isn’t one of those emotions that is in-your-face.
If you are scared – you know it because our body has the fight or flight reaction that is designed to get our attention.
Being excited is also pretty in-your-face. It is hard to be excited about something without knowing it – that big grin on your face is clue #1.
Dissatisfaction isn’t so obvious. It has a tendency to creep up on you.
Its like the frog in the pot of water that is brought up to a boil. You don’t realize it is happening until the bubbles start.
So, the 1st thing you need to do is to learn to recognize what dissatisfaction is for you. What does it feel like? What are the things that trigger it? How do you respond to it?
Dissatisfaction is different for all of us. Something that makes me dissatisfied may not make you dissatisfied.
There isn’t one specific answer. You need to learn to recognize when it happens for you. What are the signs for you that you are becoming dissatisfied?
Step 2: Label It
There are a lot of studies that have shown that the best way to deal with emotions is to label them. If I’m feeling a negative emotion and it is making me uncomfortable, if I can label it as dissatisfaction then I’m making myself aware of exactly what the problem is.
Labeling feelings helps us accomplish several things. First, once you label it, you can decide how you want to deal with it.
Back to High Performance Habits, Buchard talks about being intentional. You are having this feeling – now set your intention for how you want to deal with it.
If the dissatisfaction is minor, for example, you don’t like the tone of the email you just got, you can set the intention that you will treat this as a misunderstanding. Tone doesn’t come through well in email, so rather than be dissatisfied, you can let it go.
If the dissatisfaction is not so minor, maybe your boss is treating you in a disrespectful manner, you can still determine your intention. You can set the intention of being resentful or confrontational or avoiding it all together.
High performers are intentional when dealing with emotions.
In order to go through the process of setting your intention, you must start by labeling the emotion.
Step 3: Take Action
Now that you can recognize and label dissatisfaction, you can start to address it. I like to think of dissatisfaction as a cycle. You are dissatisfied, you take action, you experience satisfaction, something changes, and you are back to dissatisfaction.
A job change is a perfect illustration of this cycle. Most people are very excited when they start a new job. If my LinkedIn feed is any indication, every single person is “excited to announce” that they’ve taken a new position. Only in the most extreme circumstances is someone disappointed to announce that they’ve taken a new position.
So, you are starting this new job and you are excited about it. Time passes, and the job progresses in whatever manner it progresses. At some point, you are going to become dissatisfied with it. There could be a million reasons why – some good, some bad – but regardless of why, something changes and dissatisfaction comes. Eventually, you take action – you make the decision to find a new job. The new job puts you back to a place of satisfaction and the cycle begins again.
Dissatisfaction is Normal and Temporary
One of the important things to remember is that this dissatisfaction cycle is natural. It happens to everybody. It isn’t a reflection on you personally. It is just a reflection of your current state.
It isn’t permanent. It Is the state before growth, so when you are feeling dissatisfied, you can remind yourself that something great is on the horizon. You only need to identify which action to take that will move you from dissatisfaction to satisfaction.
Find something that is causing you dissatisfaction and think about it in terms of a cycle. You are in the dissatisfaction stage of the cycle right now. What is the action you will take to move you to the satisfaction part of the cycle?
Episode 34: How to Get Unstuck
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This week, I’m replaying Episode 18: Building a Reserve. It is a topic I’ve been talking about for over 10 years, and I really feel that it is core to managing stress in your life.
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Today I’m going to lay out a case for a philosophy that I’ve believed in for a long, long time. I believe it solves a myriad of problems, so I think it’s a tool everyone should have at the ready. The philosophy is – do one thing differently.
Doing one thing differently is a way of triggering creativity.
It is a way of triggering momentum.
It is a way of triggering a jolt to the system to re-direct focus.
And, doing one thing differently can be used for yourself or for others.
When you’ve got a problem to solve and the obvious things haven’t worked, you can use “do 1 thing differently” to try and get some momentum. For example a coworker and I were trying to create a report in Power BI and we weren’t quite where we needed to be. We had tried the obvious things and none of them worked. There was that awkward silence as we both tried to think of another option. I couldn’t think of anything else, so I decided to try and solve a different problem. So, I asked, “if we can’t get the info we want in the report, let’s talk about what the work around is. How else can I get the information?”
Rather than focusing on the problem, I was drawing our attention to a different problem. And, as we tried to define the work around, we found the solution to the original problem. We had both gotten so focused in on the problem that we had tunnel vision and we couldn’t see a more creative solution.
When you are problem solving, it is easy to get into a habit about the way you approach problems. I have a coworker who, when I go to her with a problem, she immediately goes into what I call “consultant mode.” She starts asking me questions that help tease out the details of the problem. Question after question, she is helping to narrow in on a solution. But, she never directly says “here is the solution.” Her questions help lead to an obvious solution.
I have another coworker whose approach to problem solving is more what I would call ‘throw out every option you can think of’ mode. When problem solving with him, the questions are already solutions – have you tried this? Have you tried that? He comes up with a lot of great ideas for fixing the problem and will give them to you in rapid fire sequence.
And another coworker solves problems in a more internal or subtle way. If I throw out a problem, there will be a long silence. She is thinking through the problem before giving any solutions. You probably recognize someone you work with in these scenarios. You might recognize yourself even. We all seem to have landed on our preferred way of addressing a problem.
So, next time you are solving a problem, catch yourself, notice what pattern you are using, and change the pattern. If you are a quiet deliberator, instead try just throwing out every idea that comes to mind. If you are a rapid fire idea generator, try asking questions that draw out answers rather than just giving the solutions you think of.
Another scenario where doing one thing differently can help is when you are trying to change behavior. Email is a good example for this.
People get so many emails that it is easy for yours to go unnoticed. If you want to make sure it gets read – what is something you could do differently?
One trick that I use is to put something in the subject line that makes it compelling or makes it clear what I need. In the past, I’ve used a subject line that says “I need you to read this today.” That definitely isn’t a typical subject line and is very hard to mis-interpret. Of course – you can’t do something like this all the time or else it doesn’t work – because of course, if you do it all the time then it isn’t different.
Think of a behavior that someone is doing that you’d like to change. Then, think about your response to that behavior. Are you accepting of it? Do you ignore it? Do you resist it? Now you’ve identified the pattern. Now, think about options for changing your response.
If you currently ignore the behavior, think of a way that you could acknowledge it. I’m not necessarily saying that you should confront it, although that is certainly an option. By acknowledge, I mean you do something different than your current pattern. It may be simple or subtle.
One of my favorites is to simply delay my response. A typical behavior that I think most people have is to feel that they have to respond to an email or direct message immediately. One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone marks an email urgent when it clearly isn’t urgent. We are hard wired to respond to something market urgent as quickly as possible. My ‘do 1 thing differently” solution to this is to not respond instantly to urgent emails that aren’t urgent. It takes a bit of discipline, but it is my way of trying to change the behavior of the person who mis-uses “urgent.”
“Do 1 thing differently” is a good tool to use when you are trying to get attention. If someone has a certain expectation of the way you operate, the way to get their attention is to do something differently.
If you always send an email, make a call.
If you always take notes in a meeting, ask someone else to do it.
One thing I started doing differently a few years ago to try and get attention is recording video emails. Instead of writing out everything in an email, I record what I want to say and then the email is simply a sentence that says “please watch this 2 minute video about an issue with a problem we are going to need to solve. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about this approach and I think it is because it is different enough that people pay attention to it.
Doing one thing differently is a tool to use in lots of circumstances. It is pretty low risk because if whatever you did differently doesn’t work, you just go back to the old way. The thing that really makes ‘do 1 thing differently’ hard is that it is hard to remember to do it.
So, this week, your homework is to be deliberate about looking for places where you can use this tool to make a change, solve a problem, or get attention. Try to catch yourself in a pattern that isn’t working for you and find 1 thing you can do differently to break that pattern.
It had been building for a while, but this week it all came to a head. I was so stressed out that I was becoming useless. I was behind on everything, worried about letting something slip through the cracks, and on top of it all new crises were coming up multiple times a day.
Does this ever happen to you?
So, let me tell you how I got back on track. I’ve got 5 tips for getting through a stressful week.
Ask for Help
First, I asked for help. I identified the things that would be easy for someone else to do and I asked someone else to do them. Sometimes, we don’t think to ask for help because we think that if someone wanted to help us, they would offer.
Can’t they see that I’m underwater here?
Well – no, no they can’t.
The thing is – people are focused on their work. They have a job to do and they are doing it. They don’t spend part of their limited time focusing on whether or not others are in need of help. Although you are the center of your universe, you are not the center of theirs. I was the only person who knew how stressed I was because I was getting farther and farther behind. The only way for anyone else to know would be for me to tell them. Surprisingly my coworkers are not mind readers, and I’m guessing yours aren’t either.
So, when you are stressed, a simple step you can take is to ask for help. Shift some of the work to someone else. This works at home too, by the way. If the thought of shifting work to someone else has your inner voice telling you that other’s will think you are slacking – I would say that people know the difference between a slacker and someone who needs help but would also give help if the tables were turned.
What I did this week was ask for help by asking someone else to take over responsibility for completing a defined set of tasks on my behalf. This is also known as delegating.
But, there are other ways you can ask for help. You can ask for permission to just not do something on your list. If your list is too long, see if there is something on it that you can just no do and get permission from your manager to not do it.
This would take the form of saying something like “I’m really behind right now and need to prioritize in order to be able to get back on track. I’m thinking that X is something that would have the least impact if I can’t get to it, so I’m thinking about taking it off my list. Do you agree?”
Another way you can ask for help is by collaborating. If you are stressed or behind because a certain task is taking more time than you planned, you can speed it up by getting someone who is good at the task to work with you. For example, maybe you are having trouble putting together a presentation because you aren’t a powerpoint wiz. Get someone who is to help you organize the powerpoint. Something that is their strength will be easy for them but at the same time save you a ton of time. I am not very good at creating graphs in Excel. But, I have a coworker who is great at it. I will almost always send her my spreadsheet and ask her to help me make my graph look better. For her, it is a 2 minute thing because she can just look at it and know what to do.
Make a List
Another thing I did this week – and that I do anytime I get too stressed – is to sit down and write out a list of everything I can think of that I need to do. Now, although there is a benefit to having a nice tidy to-do list, that isn’t the main reason for the exercise.
What I’m really doing here is quieting my mind. When we get stressed, our brain starts to go into overdrive. It wants to keep track of everything that isn’t done and in order to do this, it starts repeating the list. Its like when you repeat a phone number so you won’t forget it while you try to find a pen to write it down. As your brain works on keeping track of everything, it is using a lot of energy, which u can’t afford to use because you’ve got so much to do. It is a vicious cycle, and sitting down to writ out a list of everything you need to do will break that cycle.
The added benefit is that you now have a nice tidy list that you can use.
Go Into Hyper-Prioritization Mode
The other thing I do when I’m stressed is that I prioritize. Or, more accurately, I go into hyper prioritization mode. If you’ve ever had a death in the family, or had a baby, or had a child fall and break an arm – you have experienced hyper-prioritization. Whatever else you had on your agenda for the day became absolutely unimportant the minute the event happened. The day my dad died, I had a full day of meetings scheduled – including a meeting that I was the host of that included around 20 people – all directors and vice presidents. When it comes to priorities, that meeting was at the top of my list. Until my dad died, and which point, it became completely not important.
The point is, priorities are contextual. What is important when you are working under normal conditions can easily become not important when you are stressed.
So, when you are feeling underwater with too much to do, you have to go into hyper-prioritization mode. This means that you are triaging tasks into categories such as: absolutely critical, important, and can wait. Th important and can wait tasks may be things that would normally gt done but because of your current situation, if they don’t the consequences will be small. You have to shift your context from what is typically a high priority to one where only the absolute necessities become critical. Think of yourself as the head of an emergency room during a natural disaster. This patient may need stitches – but stiches can wait because this other patient has internal injuries and could die without your immediate attention.
At the start of the week, I was literally operating in that mode. If it wasn’t something that had to be done within the next 60 minutes, I had to ignore it. Hyper-prioritization allowed me to get through the natural disaster.
Then, once I sat down and wrote up my list of everything that had to be done, I was also able to go through that list and prioritize. By putting things into categories, I was able to easily decide what next thing to work on as I went through the week.
Another tool to use when you are having a ultra stressful week is the power of ‘no.’ You need to be willing to tell someone no when they ask for your help.
We live in a culture where it is normal for people to not only interrupt you, but to expect a quick response. There is no consideration of your priorities – if I send you an email, I assume it automatically becomes a priority for you to answer it. If I send you a chat, I expect you to drop what you are doing and respond to me. When you are underwater and feeling stressed, it is easy to let other people’s priorities add to your stress. But, it isn’t effective. It just makes you that much more stressed which puts you deeper underwater.
You have to be willing to say no. How you say no will depend on the situation. I suggest that you come up with your ‘no’ responses when you aren’t in a stressed out state so that you have them ready to use when you need them. For example, when someone sends me a chat and says ‘do you have a minute?’ my response is ‘actually, I don’t right now. Can you send me an email so I can get to it later, or feel free to put time on my calendar.’
Believe me that is not what I feel like saying in the moment – when I’m stressed, but because I have the canned response, I can pull it out and us it when I need it.
Finally, the other thing I did this week as I was at a level 10 stress was have fun. I forced myself to take a few minutes here and there to enjoy a moment with my coworkers. Having those moments took me away from getting dug out of the hole I was in – but the benefit out weighed that impact. Recharging my batteries every once in a while kept me from burning out more quickly. It also reminds me that my relationships with my coworkers are going to matter long beyond this stressful week.
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The circle of influence is a concept popularized by Stephen Covey in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Although Covey takes no credit for the idea, he was a master at explaining it in a way that is so clear and actionable that it has become part of our business lexicon.
Today, I’m going to do my level best to explain it to you in a manner that will allow a light bulb to go on and for you to be able to walk away from this episode and put a new habit into practice. Even if you think you’ve got the concept down, I encourage you to listen to this episode. It is always good to have a refresher.
I fall into this category myself. If you were to ask me if I live or embody the concept of circle of influence I would have said yes. I think of and employ the concept frequently. I’ve talked about a lot of the ideas in one way or another on previous episodes. I would describe this concept as a core of my philosophy and personality. And yet – I just re-read the chapter in 7 Habits and found myself learning more. Being reminded of little nuances I’ve forgotten. Being shown a different way to approach it. So, there is always something more you can learn.
Let’s start by defining the circle of influence. Think about your world in 3 buckets:
This you can’t control
Most people are pretty good about how they deal with the things they can’t control. There is a recognition that you can’t do anything about it, so you adjust your behavior in whatever way is relevant and you move on with your life. The majority of people recognize this situation the majority of the time.
The weather is a classic example. You can’t control the weather. You know it and, although you may be disappointed when an even gets cancelled due to the weather, you don’t let it eat away at you.
Another example I like to use is a sports example. When a referee makes what you think is a bad call, there is literally nothing you can do about it. You can yell and scream and post as many bad tweets as you want, it isn’t going to change the outcome. The reason I use this example is because I think it is an example of where people who otherwise generally recognize situations where they don’t have control temporarily lose sight of that fact.
When it comes to the things you can’t control, your best option is to recognize as quickly as possible that you have no control, which takes away their ability to control you. If you feel like this is an area where you need to so some additional development work, I suggest you listen to Episode 20 about Productive and Unproductive Worry.
Things you can control indirectly through influence
Within the circle is the circle of influence. These are the things you can control indirectly through influence. These are things that other people are responsible for, but for which you can impact their actions. Your circle of influence with your children, if they are still young, is pretty large. And, although it decreases as they get older, it is still a very large part of your circle. Your circle of influence at work is likely smaller than your circle of influence at home, but you still have influence. Your objective should be to increase your circle of influence to be as large as it can be.
I believe influence is a mindset issue. You need to 1. Believe you can influence the situation and 2. Take responsibility for your actions or response. The way you know if you are doing this is by looking at the language you are using:
Is the issue someone else’s fault?
Do you feel like you are the victim?
Are you talking in terms of ‘onlys’? If only I had a better boss. If only I had this certification. If only management understood that our customers are impossible to deal with.
You have influence over each of these if only’s. And you can take action to influence them. When you give up your right to take action, you’ve made the choice to dis-empower yourself.
“If only I had a better boss.” What about your boss do you have a problem with? What can you do to build a relationship with your boss to gain influence that will change the impact? If they are a micro-manger, it means that they need a high level of detail to be comfortable. Increase the level of detail you provide when you communicate with them. By proactively doing this, they will become comfortable with you – they will trust in the work you are doing and will no longer feel the need to micro-mange.
“If only I had this certification.” If you think you aren’t getting considered for a role because you are lacking a skill, what are you doing to go get the skill?
“If only management understood that our customers are impossible to deal with.” How can you help them understand? Are you documenting the scenarios that come up? Have you investigated the steps necessary to address the scenarios? Have you asked management for what you need to address the scenarios?
And, taking responsibility for your actions means that if you feel you’ve tried to influence and the outcome is still not acceptable, then you take action to move on.
Things you can directly influence
Which takes us to the final part of the circle of influence – things you can directly control. These are your habits, your mindset. Taking responsibility for your actions proactively is one of the key things that sets highly productive, highly effective, people apart. Taking action on your own behalf is a fundamental skill. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that you believe that you are the architect of your career.
As human beings, one of the things that sets us apart from other animals is our ability to be self aware. Our freedom to choose how we respond to a situation. When there is some sort of situation thrust upon us, we are the architects of our response. I’m not trying to imply that by having a positive attitude, you can turn a bad situation into a positive situation. Bad things happen. Sucky things will always suck. But, you have 100% control over how you choose to respond. You can let bad things eat away at you, impacting the rest of your life, or you can let bad things be one part of your story rather than the whole story.
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We’ve all had a failure at work. It is inevitable, so the most productive thing you can do is to have a set of tools to draw from when you are faced with the fall-out, which we will outline here:
Look at the failure as a learning opportunity
Although it doesn’t take the failure away, if you can reframe it in your mind, you can more easily move past it.
What did you learn from this failure that you can benefit from in the future?
Look at what behaviors DID succeed
Identifying what behaviors worked within the failure can help point you to areas of strength.
Understanding the areas where you are strong will help reinforce those behaviors in the future.
Don’t feel like you have to be good at everything
Failure may be an indication that you need to move on to something else. Is this area something you really need to succeed at?
Put the failure into perspective
Think about failures from the past. With hindsight, are they as bad as you thought they were at the time?
Rank the failure from 0 to 100 where 100 is nuclear holocaust.
Remember that other people are caught up in their own lives
Worrying about what others think about your failure is usually a waste of time because other people probably don’t even notice what you’ve done.
Those that do are likely close to you. In that case, project the failure onto them. What you your reaction be if they had been the one who failed?
What can you do to create a positive outcome?
Recognizing the type of worrying you are doing can help you get out of the worry loop by understanding what steps you can take. In this episode, we cover some common types of worry and how you can tackle them:
When you find yourself worried about what someone else is thinking, you are mind reading. To fight this worry, you need to find the thing that you can control.
For example, you think Henry doesn’t like you. You don’t know this for sure because you can’t read Henry’s mind. So, what can you do? You can ask Henry if he doesn’t like you. If you aren’t willing to do that, you can decide that there is nothing you can do to change Henry’s mind and move on with your life.
Focus on what you can control.
When you are worried about what the future might bring, you are fortune telling. There is no way that you can know what the future might bring because you aren’t a fortune teller.
For example, you might worry that your company is going to have layoffs and you are going to lose your job and end up homeless.
Not only do we worry about the future, we usually expect the future to bring the worst possible outcome.
Cognitive Distortion— people have a tendency to worry about a future that is bleak.
Ask yourself how probable the outcome is. Think about the chain of events that would have to be true for the outcome to occur. In our example, first, your company would have to have layoffs. Next, you would have to be on the list of people who are being let go. That means that you have to either be a poor performer, or in a role that is no longer necessary. Then, you’d have to be unable to get another job. And you’d have to run out of money. And you’d have to have nobody else to go to. And, and, and.
Once you see that the probability is a tiny fraction, you can stop worrying about it.
Worry about all of the things that you should have done. This means that you aren’t accepting the present as it currently is.
For example, maybe you catch yourself worrying that you should have been promoted by now.
Recognize reality as the place you have to start from. Then, determine what changes you need to make to get where you want to be.
What action can you take to move yourself toward promotion?
Worrying about ‘What If’ scenarios that will never have a satisfactory answer.
What if I have cancer? You can get tested and still not trust the results.
Identify the best possible, most likely, and worst possible outcomes. Then answer each one. What would be the next steps for each?
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Also, learn about productive worry in this episode of People Move Organizations.
Learning to recognize unproductive worry will help you eliminate stress that you are manufacturing for reasons you can’t control.
When you find yourself worried about something, ask yourself:
1. Are you worrying about something that doesn’t have an answer?
2. Are you making up a chain of events?
3. Are you looking for the perfect outcome?
4. Do you feel like you overlooked something?
5. Are you trying to control everything?
In this episode, we talk about how to identify unproductive worry and turn it into productive worry by taking a few simple steps.
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