self-improvement

How to Develop Positive Working Relationships with Difficult Coworkers

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At some point in your career, chances are that you’ll end up working with at least one person who is a complete nightmare. Below I detail nine steps you can take to evaluate the situation and work to turn it into a positive one. You spend a lot of time with coworkers; you may as well make the best of it!

1. Don’t take it personally. Even if your coworker’s wrath seems to be directed at you, chances are there are others feeling it too. If you haven’t done anything to warrant the treatment you’re receiving, consider that maybe the person treating you badly is dealing with some difficult personal problems and may not be intending to treat you badly.

2. Keep it professional. Your coworkers don’t need to be your friends, so keep any personal talk to a minimum and instead, focus on work and upcoming projects with them. Regardless of what’s going on behind the scenes, you still have customers to take care of and a job to do, and that’s the top priority.

3. Be a rock star. Your company still has things that need to be done and goals to achieve, so don’t drop the ball just because you’re unhappy. Instead, challenge yourself to perform at your highest level. This will benefit you in multiple ways: no one will be able to legitimately complain about your performance and if you do decide to move on to another job, you’ve built a great reputation and track record to show your performance to another company.

4. Learn their expectations and rules. You may not agree with how a coworker or boss does things, but if you can at least understand their expectations and rules, it makes it much easier for you to stay in their good side and have a more positive work environment. For example, your boss might require you to arrive 5 minutes early every day but show up late every day themselves; it may not be fair, but if you know this expectation, you can follow it. Rebelling will be ineffective, but you can have the satisfaction that they’re making themselves look bad and you even better.

5.Talk to them about it. It won’t be a comfortable conversation, to say the least, but sometimes you need to just hash it out with someone to repair a relationship. Even if things have gotten extremely awkward, it’s okay to say “hey, I don’t know how we got here, but I don’t like it and would like to start fresh if that’s okay with you.” Then make every effort to stick to that fresh start and leave the past behind. If they’ve been struggling personally, they may not even have any idea they’re treating you poorly and this makes them aware and gives them the chance to repair relationships with others they may be unintentionally mistreating.

6. Talk to HR. If talking to them personally didn’t work, or if the situation has gotten so bad you can’t comfortably speak to the person about the issue, try discussing it with human resources. While they may not be able to fix the problem alone, they can at least act as a mediator during your conversation and help you resolve your issues. Be prepared with examples of any mistreatment, especially if it could be considered workplace bullying in case HR needs to start an investigation. Also be prepared with a couple solutions in case HR asks how you’d like to resolve it.

7. Talk to others. Are other people having problems with this person? This isn’t a time to team others up against this person, but instead see if anyone else is having difficulties with anyone at the company or if they notice any patterns of how you’re being treated. Having allies can help support you and be there while you work through the problem. If no one else is having problems with the person, take that into consideration as well.

8. Take a look in the mirror. Are you the problem? Try to look at your situation from the outside; does the person you’re having issues with have a legitimate right to be upset with you? Did you do something to them that might make them upset with you, such as get a promotion, take one of their customers or put them out some way? When we’re so involved in something, it’s hard to see it for what it is, but think of logical reasons why this person could be upset with you, beyond that they could just be a mean person. Sometimes we’re the problem, not others.

9. Move on. Sometimes there’s just no resolving the problem. Perhaps your problem is with one of the owners or their family members employed at the company or others aren’t able to see the problems you’re having with the person. Or maybe for whatever reason, someone(s) at your company wants you to leave, whether you’ve done something to deserve it or not. Companies are complex and when different people with different backgrounds are forced to spend most of their waking time together, there’s bound to be some problems from time to time. If you’ve tried everything and are still having issues, sometimes the best bet is to just move on.

You may be spending 40+ hours in close quarters with your coworkers, so it’s important to have positive working relationships with them. When coworkers within a company are struggling, it can be obvious to customers and affect sales, putting further strain on your company. if you’re going to stick around, take steps to make things positive for everyone. If you’re planning on leaving, build yourself up to be successful and positive so there’s nothing but positive things to be said about you once you move on. You never know when you might need to go back across that bridge.

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Motivation Challenge: Turn Anxiety Into Excitement

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Anxiety is something we all face and to some, it can be debilitating. Common advice when we are experiencing anxiety is to “just calm down.” But our bodies are designed to react in particular ways during particular experiences based on our primitive ancestors’ survival instinct. So when we feel anxiety, it’s because we are supposed to.

But what we do with that anxiety is something we can work to control. We can let it overtake us and build up excess worry, or we can channel it into something useful to help us get through a challenging experience.

So today, I challenge you to turn your anxiety into excitement.

Let’s go through two scenarios to capture these feelings:

The Exercise

Anxiety experience: Think of something that makes you feel anxious, perhaps speaking in public, dealing with a difficult customer, confronting someone who said something offensive to you or doing something risky, like jumping out of a plane. Put yourself in that situation, really picturing the whole scenario. Imagine the thoughts you’d be having and anticipate how you and anyone in the situation will react. Feel the anxiety this situation is causing, even the physical reaction. Maybe you’re getting a lump in your throat, your blood pressure is rising or maybe you’re even getting a little shaky.

These are normal, natural reactions. But what if you could channel that energy into something useful? Take that anxious energy and bring it into the next scenario:

Excitement experience: Think of a situation in your life where you have experienced intense excitement. Perhaps the way you felt on Christmas Eve as a child, anticipating a visit from Santa. Or maybe you went on a really fun trip that you were excited for or a time when you received really good news. Think about the emotions you felt, how time could not go fast enough and how you had so much energy focused on what was about to come. You almost felt like you’re going to explode from all the excitement and nothing could stop you.

See how easy it was to change your anxiety into excitement? This is something you can do on your own to take control of your life and your feelings to make your emotions work for you. Don’t let fear of the unknown slow you down, imagine all the possibilities and opportunities each experience brings to you!

The Challenge

Today, I challenge you to take a situation in which you feel anxiety and turn those feelings into excitement.

Take these steps to change your attitude and improve how you handle difficult situations:

  • Let yourself be anxious. While you’re going to stop anxiety from lingering too long, it’s important to do what your mind and body wants to do. If you feel anxiety, acknowledge it and prepare to move on from it before it takes over and decreases your confidence.
  • Focus on how good you will feel when you are finished with whatever is causing your anxiety. What helps us persevere through difficult times is to focus on the goal and how good we’ll feel when we reach our goal. Just like running a race, you may feel tired and a bit defeated partway through the race, but when you cross the finish line, the feelings of elation from your success outweigh the feelings of defeat you had during the race. Try to focus on what an honor it is that you were chosen to take on that particular task and how proud you and others will be of you once you complete the task.
  • Find something to be excited about. Maybe you have to make a difficult phone call or give a presentation. Instead of thinking about how anxious you are to perform the task, think about how excited you are. Maybe you found a new way to perform the task so you’re excited to see how well it works or maybe you know something your team doesn’t know so you are excited to share that with them. Find something to be excited about and replace the feelings of anxiety with your excitement.
  • Reward yourself. Whether you succeed or fail at whatever was making you anxious, reward yourself for making an effort and completing the task. Maybe you decided to finally apply for a new job and you got an interview, so reward yourself with a new outfit to wear to the interview. When you wear the outfit, you will remember that it’s a reward for doing something difficult and you can be proud every time you wear it.
  • Plan for the future: Once you complete a difficult task, think about how exciting it would be to do it or something similar again in the future. Think about things you could do to impress others or how you could anticipate questions or reactions they may have. This way, you are already creating an excited mindset in the event the situation arises in the future, making it easier to convert your anxiety to excitement.

Reflection

Chances are, if you make these changes and maintain excited thoughts toward challenges in your life, you will notice they won’t affect you as much and you may even decide to take on even more challenges to step out of your comfort zone.

The goal in this challenge is to change your mindset to work for you, instead of against you so you can complete tasks with confidence instead of fear. You deserve to be happy and by changing your anxious thoughts to excited thoughts, others will notice how well you can handle challenges. Don’t let your anxiety hold you back; focus on excitement and all the positive things in your life and your confidence will skyrocket.

If you took my challenge,  I’d love to hear how it worked for you and what you did to change your anxiety to excitement! Just let me know in the comments below.

Motivation Challenge: Change Your Attitude Toward Someone You Dislike & Be Happier

Most of us have to be around someone we don’t particularly like and it’s hard to have to work with difficult people. However, most of us don’t realize the power we have to change how we feel about that person. Instead, we maintain our ill feelings, hoping they will eventually realize their faults and change for the better or that they will just go away and leave our lives. That might sound silly, but we generally don’t think the situation through to that extent.

Before I go on, I want to acknowledge that there sometimes are people in our lives who are truly terrible people, perhaps they are abusive to others or doing illegal things. These are people who should be avoided and reported if they are doing bad things to others. What I’m talking about today is people who may have personalities different from ours, those we find annoying or challenging to befriend. Keep people like that in mind when reading this article.

When we expect others to pick up on our feelings and change for the better, we are handing the power of our happiness to them. They are the ones causing us irritation or annoyance and we leave them the power to them when we don’t do anything about it.

The Exercise

Think about someone in your life that you dislike. Now answer the following questions:

  1. Why do you dislike this person?
  2. Does this person dislike you?
  3. What are a few things they do that bother you?
  4. Do you treat them with kindness and respect?
  5. What do you imagine your relationship with this person will be like a year from now?

Considering the answers to your questions, do you have a valid reason for not liking this person? Maybe they have an annoying voice, ask too many questions, are grumpy or are a know-it-all. Maybe their sense of humor is different than yours and their comments just rub you the wrong way. But do you have a legitimate reason for not liking them? Have they gotten you in trouble for something they knew wasn’t your fault? Have they harmed you in any way? If they haven’t actually done anything to harm you, consider whether your feelings are actually valid.

Does the person dislike you? If not, why do you choose to dislike them? If so, why do they dislike you? Always consider their point of view and don’t leave yourself blameless in situations if you’ve done something to upset them. Finally, realize that maybe they don’t actually dislike you; maybe they’re shy or feel the negativity you put off and are just responding to that.

I actually had two friends who were acquaintances of each other and could not figure out why the other didn’t like them. They were paranoid about what they possibly could have done to upset the other. This went on for a couple years until their circles of friends merged and they were forced to face each other. They found out that neither actually had any issue with the other, they had just misinterpreted a look on the other’s face at one time or another and took that to mean they were disliked. Now they are great friends and laugh over the misunderstanding.

What are things the person does that bothers you? Are these valid reasons to not like the person? Maybe you don’t like the way they answer the phone, or maybe they talk too much or are too noisy. But are these valid reasons to be annoyed by the person? Are these things you can let go of and get over? It seems silly when you think about it to let someone change your state of mind just by answering the phone in a way you don’t like. Again, that’s giving them the power to control your happiness.

Do you treat the person with kindness and respect? This is a self-evaluation to determine whether you are faultless in the situation. Even if you are cordial to someone, if you are harboring negative feelings toward them, they can pick up on it and react accordingly. If you have negative feelings toward someone, it makes sense that they would have negative feelings toward you as well.

Finally, what do you imagine your relationship with this person will be like a year from now? Will it be the same or worse? Do you hope they won’t be part of your life for some reason? Do you hope they’ll just leave the company, neighborhood, group of friends or school you’re at, or do you plan to leave? Chances are, you’re going to have to deal with this person for a long time and if you don’t do anything to change the situation, there is no reason why the situation will change.

By answering these questions honestly, you will will get a real perspective on the situation and find ways that you can change to make things better.

The Challenge

Today, I challenge you to start changing your attitude toward this person. Are you resisting? Maybe you think they should change how they act or maybe they should just go away. Don’t give them the power. Take over the situation and own the power over your happiness.

Take these following steps to change your attitude and improve your relationship with this person:

  • Think kind thoughts about the person. As often as possible, find something positive about the person. Maybe they’re wearing a nice outfit, or maybe they’re really good at some part of their job, or they’re considerate of others. Find the good and focus on it. Make a list, if it helps. Just try to seek out the good in the person. They will feel your positive attitude and feel less apprehensive toward you.
  • Be kind to the person. Is there something you can do to make their life a little easier? Can you give something to them earlier to make their job easier or bring them something to save them a trip? Challenge yourself to find things that you can do to make them happy and they may start doing the same in return.
  • Compliment the person. Maybe you’ve never really said anything nice to this person so they have no reason to think you’re a nice person. Change their perception of you by saying nice things to them. Let them know what a great job they did on a project, how nice they look today or how amazing their homemade lunch smells. Just be sure to be genuine and they will have no choice but to think how nice you are.
  • Speak kindly of the person to others. Chances are, you may have said some negative things about this person to others. By doing so, you may feel you are getting them to be on your side to team up against the person, but instead, you’re making yourself look bad. Start giving the person credit for good things they have done or how they have helped you. In changing your attitude and the attitude of others, you will build a positive circle of support to help you change your attitude.

Reflection

Chances are, if you make these changes and maintain positive thoughts toward those who challenge you in life, you will notice they no longer bother you and you may even develop great friendships with these people. There is also a chance that no matter how hard you try, the person just won’t warm up to you. That’s okay.

The goal in this challenge is to change your own mindset so the actions of others no longer controls your happiness. You deserve to be happy and by maintaining positive thoughts toward others, you will radiate positivity and happiness, which will attract people to you. Don’t let a coworker ruin an otherwise good job for you with their negative attitude; focus on your happiness and all the positive things in your life and your happiness will multiply.

If you took my challenge,  I’d love to hear how it worked for you and what you did to change your attitude toward someone! Just let me know in the comments below.

How I Became an Accidental Mentor (and Improved My Own Life While Helping Others)

For some people, making new friends is easy and something they can do naturally and frequently.  At times, I envied people who had large circles of friends and endless opportunities to be social.  For me, friends have always been few, but close.  I was raised to always take time to be alone so I could learn to be content without the need to always be around other people.  This proved extremely helpful during the years I lived alone and I continue to seek solace in quiet times, uninterrupted by others.

Making friends was never a strong suit for me.  I’m great at making acquaintances, possibly because growing up, I switched schools fairly often and while I’ve mostly grown out of it, I was quite shy as a child and fearful of being teased so I tried to blend in and just keep a few friends.  Even as an adult, I moved around often, including across the state.  It was difficult to keep in touch with people, especially with the internet and cell phones still being new and nowhere near as mainstream as they are currently, so I got used to having temporary friends, and was okay with it.

Currently, I’ve lived in the same neighborhood for about six years and have developed some strong friendships.  But one of my more recent friendships evolved into a type of relationship I’ve never had with anyone—a mentorship.  I’ve given advice as long as I can remember, hopefully good advice, but this turned into much more than that.  I became part counselor, part life coach and close friend.

This friend is dealing with a lot of difficulties right now and her world has pretty much turned upside down over the last year.  Chaos runs rampant from all directions and her need to please people is exhausting her.  While it’s been overwhelming at times, I feel so fortunate to have been put in a place where she and I could meet and develop this friendship.  While I give her motivation and advice regularly, she is teaching me a lot about myself as well, like how I can calm people down and take wisdom I’ve learned and apply it to life.

It’s not always easy, but being an accidental mentor has improved my life greatly and I’ve never been happier.

Here are some of the best things I’ve learned and practice that have made me happy:

Be positive.  Life is rarely all kittens and butterflies, but that doesn’t mean we should live in a constant state of misery.  When you are negative, you will be more vigilant of negativity in your life and it can snowball until you have a meltdown.  Instead, channel your positivity and you will notice more and more positive things happen in your life.

For example, if you look at what your Facebook friends are posting, you may notice some always have something to complain about and nothing seems to go right for them.  Maybe they slept in, got stuck in traffic, had a bad day at work and are “just so done with today…ugh.  #annoyed”  Just writing that caused me to feel a touch of negativity.  Because they tend to focus on what’s going wrong in life, they’re missing out on all the good in life.  Maybe they needed the extra sleep they got when they overslept.  Maybe they would have gotten in an accident if they hadn’t been stuck in traffic.  Or maybe the reason their day went so bad was because a coworker was dealing with the loss of a loved one and treating everyone poorly as a reaction.

If you seek out negativity, you will certainly find it.  However, if you make an effort to find something positive in every experience, you will notice that good things just keep happening in your life.  You will grow to appreciate the bad times because they teach you lessons on how to succeed and truly value the great times in life.

Look for the good.  Something that helps support a positive attitude is to look for the good in every situation.  Two years ago, my husband was in a bad accident and totaled my vehicle.  It was extremely upsetting and threw our lives for a loop.  But we maintained a positive attitude and tried to always find the good.

  • My vehicle was pretty old and would probably have needed replacement or heavy repair in the near future
  • The insurance company gave me at least double what I could have gotten had I sold my vehicle myself
  • It was good he was in my vehicle because mine had the safety features that helped him survive the accident, where his vehicle was much older and lacked these safety features
  • In replacing my vehicle, I was introduced  to a company that I ended up applying to work for and have been happily employed at for over a year
  • We learned all about medical billing and insurance to give us better knowledge of both in the future (whoopee, right?  But seriously, this is good stuff to know.)

If you’re having trouble finding good things each day, get a notebook and every evening, write down 5 good things that happened that day.  They can be as simple as having a good hair day or receiving a compliment on your outfit to more major things, like getting a raise or promotion.  This will help you get in the habit of appreciating all the good things that happen on a regular basis.

Turn anxiety into excitement. Anxiety and stress are natural feelings we all experience.  When we panic, we’re told to stay calm.  However, that is an unnatural reaction to a natural feeling.  Instead of fighting the feeling, find a way to turn it into excitement and you will feel a wave of energy and motivation that will help you move on.

For example, if you are anxious about giving a presentation at a meeting, instead think about how exciting it is and use that excitement to grow your confidence and think about how happy you will be when you’ve succeeded.  Or maybe you’re nervous about an upcoming trip to a place you’ve never been.  Think instead of how exciting it is that you get to go, all the fun things you’ll get to do and how lucky you are to be going on the trip.  This will quickly change the negativity surrounding the anxiety with positive excitement.

Tackle things – including time – in small pieces.  Most people have heard the saying used in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings of “one day at a time.”  If you really stop to think about what that means you will see how applicable it is to everything in life, not just dealing with drinking.  It’s the idea to not get overwhelmed by the big picture, because let’s face it, the big picture of life is extremely overwhelming.  Even a week can be overwhelming.  When you feel like there’s too much to handle, stop right there, and tackle a small portion at a time.

When you’re overwhelmed by a massive task, it makes it that much harder to even get started.  However, if you focus just on completing just the first step, you will find yourself moving right along completing the project.  For example, if you know you have a really busy day ahead of you, with lots of meetings, deadlines and expectations from others, it can be very difficult to imagine how you will get anything done.  But if you compartmentalize your day into little chunks (i.e. “what can I accomplish in the next 30 minutes?”) the challenge will be much less overwhelming, you’ll be able to focus more efficiently, and tackle each task with a clear mind.  At the end of the day, you will then get to delight in the feeling of accomplishment you have from getting so much done.

Be honest.  I was raised, as many were, under the saying “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  My mother taught me how to be polite, cordial and appear genuinely thankful when receiving gifts that were truly horrendous.  It was important to make sure others feel good and to always try to avoid saying anything that would upset others.

This is wonderful in theory, but not very realistic.  And as I stuck to always trying to say the right thing and be polite, I noticed that I was suppressing my true, honest, real feelings and it didn’t feel so good.  It would get to the point where I would just bottle everything up and explode when I hit my boiling point.  It actually ended up causing me health problems, having to be treated for ulcers when I was just 23 years old.

One of the most amazing things this friend—my mentee—has enabled me to do is to be absolutely honest.  It’s unfortunate how much work it has taken to get to this point, and I still struggle, but it feels so amazing to be able to tell her exactly what I’m thinking and what I suggest.  When she has contacted me crying, devastated and feeling hopeless, I can calm her down and tell her to stop panicking, try to find the positive and that she has no choice but to keep moving on and get over this rough patch rather than just sympathize with her and exacerbate her despair.

At first I felt awful not being more sympathetic, but I realized what she needed was strength, motivation and hope that she would soon feel better.  By being honest, i not only make her feel better, but I feel better myself because I’m able to say what I really feel.

Now understand there’s tactful ways and rude ways to be honest.  The goal isn’t to tell everyone exactly what you think of them, it’s to vocalize words that will be helpful and appreciated.  Find a way to speak the truth in the same manner you would appreciate receiving it.  Don’t hold in your feelings when things are unjust, but be aware of how you are reacting.  It may feel strange at first, but even try telling the truth to the mirror in a way you’d like to be told.

Be a good example.  It may sound a little narcissistic, but try to live every day as if people are watching you.  Because they are.  It is your employer’s job to make sure you are acting in a way that best represents their company and that you are performing at an acceptable level.  But many other people watch you—children, customers, family and friends.  Understand that your actions, beliefs and moods affect everyone around you.  You are a pretty powerful person with influence on those you encounter each day.

Just think, if you go to your favorite coffee shop and the barista seems to snub you a little and you react to her.  Who knows why she acted that way—maybe she just got bad news, maybe she has a headache or is extremely busy and overwhelmed.  Try not to take it personally because chances are her behavior has nothing to do with you.

  • Here’s two scenarios:
    • When she snubs you, you think “well what’s up with her attitude?” and give her a dirty look.  Maybe she takes a little longer than usual because maybe they’re out of soy milk and she has to go to the back room to get more and it was recently mopped back there so she has to be really careful to not slip.  And maybe they just ran out of your favorite muffin so you have to settle for a bagel.  After a slightly longer than normal wait and not getting what you want, you’re frustrated so you don’t bother tipping at all.  She’s frustrated and you’re frustrated and you both pass that attitude along to the people you encounter who then pass it along as well.  Negativity snowballs and spreads.
    • When she snubs you, you smile at her and mention that it looks like the shop is really busy today.  Maybe she reacts kindly or maybe she has attitude.  Either way, you maintain a positive attitude and have happy thoughts toward her.  You give her a slightly larger tip than usual or slip her a gift card and wish her a great day.  The next time you go in, she’s friendly and upgrades your drink from a tall to a grande at no charge.  You’re surprised by her generosity, so you decide to surprise something with your generosity by paying for their drink.  And you continue to have a positive relationship with the barista and you both spread kindness to all you encounter the rest of the day.

Now which scenario sounds better?  Spreading negativity to all you meet or brightening the day of everyone you encounter?  It may feel like strength and power to carry a grudge and be angry, but it’s a weakness that turns you into a bitter, unhappy person, and it can even lead to health problems caused by raised blood pressure from the anger adrenaline and tension.

By making an effort to always be a good example to all those around you, you will find it easier to remain positive and surprised by the opportunities that come your way because of your good attitude!

Don’t take things so personally.  It’s easy to think the way a person treats you is directly caused by their feelings toward you.  The truth is, when someone’s having a bad day or are upset, their mind focuses on the issue at hand and they are often not even aware of how they appear to or treat others.  It’s actually pretty self-centered to think you hold that much power in another person’s life that they would change all of their behavior just because of you.  I realize this seems to contradict my previous point about mistreating the barista, but even in that situation, it’s temporary—the barista is not actually angry with you, she’s upset about something unrelated.  your mistreatment (or kindness) is temporary until you leave, but chances are, unless you are truly horrible to someone, you’re not going to be the reason their day is ruined.

The key to remember is if someone mistreats you, it’s very likely unrelated to you and the best thing you can do is be that spot of sunshine in their day, even if they decide not to enjoy it.  Let them be miserable and certainly don’t let it ruin your day.

Think kindly of others. We all have to deal with people we don’t particularly like from time to time or even on a regular basis.  But fostering negative thoughts toward others poisons our mind and starts to make us bitter and negative.  While some people are just genuinely awful, it’s important to examine why we don’t like someone and determine whether it’s valid.

Now even if it is a valid reason, holding ill feelings toward others is counterproductive to happiness.  Since it can be difficult to change others (and maddening!) make an effort to change your own mindset.  It’s easy to focus on their faults, but that leads to continually looking for their faults and continually finding more and more to irritate yourself with.

Instead, change your mindset by focusing on positive things about people, especially people you aren’t fond of.  Maybe they look nice today or they did something generous or they’re really good at something.  Start focusing on those characteristics instead of their flaws and you will notice how they become easier to be around and how many more positive things you start noticing in them.

To take it a step further, start complimenting them on these positive things.  Obviously we can’t read each others’ minds, but we can sense when others don’t like us.  So when you think bad things about someone, they generally can feel your negativity.  So as you start to become more positive and start projecting that on to them, they will often return the positivity.  And if they don’t, then just keep your positive thoughts to yourself, let them do as they please and continue to be positive.

Start every day with something motivating or positive.  The best way to keep a positive mindset is to start first thing every morning.  Nearly every morning, I play some kind of motivational YouTube video to listen to while I get ready.  I listen to TedTalks or just search for “motivational success” and see what comes up.  If the video seems relevant to a friend, I’ll send a link along so they can be motivated as well.  This has been one of the most influential things I have done this year to really get me off to a positive start each day.

I also started waking up an hour earlier.  This way, I have plenty of time to get things done in the morning and don’t feel rushed or stressed if I encounter heavy traffic on my way to work.  I get to work a bit early so I have time to get settled in before having to start my day.

Changing what I listen to on the way to work has made a difference as well.  I had gotten into the habit of listening to local radio stations with morning shows that didn’t have the greatest quality and actually, quite a bit of drama.  I realized these were causing me a bit of stress, which sounds silly, but it was unnecessary drama and not a peaceful way to start my day.  Ideally, I shouldn’t have any noise when I’m driving so I can take the time to reflect on my day and just listen to my thoughts.  So instead, I started listening to an instrumental CD of peaceful, beautiful music.  It puts a sense of calm on me so I arrive at my destination relaxed and positive, not stressed out.

Reflection

These are just some of the behaviors I’ve been practicing that I have found to really improve my life and have really helped my friend get through many tough times as well.  And I find that the more I practice these behaviors, the more positive and happy I feel as well.  I always look for the positive things each day and try to get excited about what the future holds.

Perhaps some day I will become a true mentor to someone, but for the time being, I’ve learned that it’s something I’m capable of and it can truly improve my life!

Motivational challenge: Step Out of Your Comfort Zone & Succeed (Video)

Morning motivation: today I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and try something new.

Oftentimes, we don’t take chances and try new things because we are afraid we might now know how to do something,  that we might fail, that we might be ridiculed or because it makes us feel uncomfortable. But the less we try new things, the more closed in our world becomes and the less we’ll want to do.

So today, I challenge you to do something out of your comfort zone, whether it’s wearing a new outfit that isn’t your usual style, speaking to someone you’re interested in, or doing something along, like eating along at a restaurant or going to a movie by yourself.

Every time you try something new, you prove to yourself that you are capable and you give yourself a chance to succeed. Because even if you don’t get the result you hoped for, you succeeded in trying something new and you gained a life lesson! The only way you can fail is if you don’t try at all.

Every time we learn something new, we allow ourselves to grow and improve, slowly moving toward our ideal self.

So try it today and feel the success of a new accomplishment!

Click here to check out my recommended reading list.

Fixing the Dryer: How to Tackle a New Project and Succeed

Throughout my life and career, I’ve been tasked with completing projects with neither the knowledge nor the resources needed.  Growing up without a lot of money, I became accustomed to learning how to do things on my own and always looking for practical, inexpensive solutions to everyday problems.  If something at home broke, I’d ask my parents what to do and they’d help me figure out how to fix it.

Recently, our on-its-deathbed dryer finally stopped tumbling.  It had been making sounds which we should have investigated, but alas, sometimes the saying “if it ain’t (completely) broke, don’t fix it.”  We had been expecting to have to replace the dryer sooner than later and I had planned on finding a working, second-hand one at the local Habitat for Humanity store.  We figured we could get one there for less than $50, which is less than what we’d pay to even have someone come take a look at our dryer.  Granted, our dryer was nice, but not worth spending a couple hundred repairing.

Me, being stubborn as I am, decided to see if we could fix it ourselves.  The thing was still heating and partly working, it just wouldn’t tumble.  Maybe it was a broken belt.  We figured the dryer was already broken, the worst we could do was break it a little more then give it away to someone who knew what they were doing.

I found dryer repair videos on YouTube so I learned a few tips on how to do repairs, and firstly, how to open the dang thing.  Once I got the dryer open and we slowly took it apart, we discovered that dryers aren’t so complicated inside.  We found the problems and less than $80 worth of parts later, our dryer is running in better shape than it has in years.  And we feel confident to make repairs on it in the future.

Had we never made an attempt to fix it, we never would have know how capable we were at doing it on our own.

Self-reliance has been one of the most valuable skills I’ve learned and it is applicable to nearly every situation in life.  When I did have to call a professional for help, as annoying as it may have been, I stayed in the room, watching what was being done and asking questions about the job.  If I had to pay someone several hundred dollars to repair my furnace, plumbing or an appliance, I wanted to know what the problem was, what caused it and how it could be fixed.

The same thing goes for complications that arise at work.  I’ve developed a mindset for requests of “tell me what you’d like to accomplish and I will find out if it’s possible.”  So many people are quick to shoot down ideas, which can actually complicate them more because if you only do bits and pieces of a project, you’re extending the time and energy it takes had you evaluated the request as a whole.

For example, a coworker wanted me to put together an order form in Excel that would allow his customers to calculate full container loads of a variety of products that were not only different sizes, but different designs and categories.  Originally, this had been done by a back and forth exchange in which the customer gave an overall request of what they wanted, my coworker would look up dimensions, minimum order quantities and product availability, consult with the customer about increasing or decreasing items to  fit and so on.  It was about a week-long process and very understandable why an automated order form would be highly desirable.  These were huge, once a year orders.

I spent weeks working on the spreadsheet.  There were so many factors to include, minimum order quantities, case packs, availability of design, products that could not fit on certain containers, etc; it was extremely complicated.  I had to generate item numbers, existing as well as contingent on a customer selecting them.  There also had to be a meter to show the container reaching full capacity and drop down lists that gave options off a previous selection.

I knew that once I completed this Excel order form, ordering was going to be so much easier.  The customers could order exactly what they wanted and do so quickly.  The salesman wouldn’t spend time trying to translate the customer’s order, the order processor wouldn’t spend time trying to determine item numbers or pricing—everything would be consistent and simple for everyone involved.

Every time I think I’m good at a software program, someone challenges me to stretch my abilities.  It seems the more I learn about Excel, the more I realize I’ve barely broken ground.  So I spent a lot of time Googling formulas and have pages of notes on how I performed my calculations.  I used data validation, vlookup, hlookup, lists, if, named ranges and countless other formulas to finally compile a near perfect form for the salesman.

It worked pretty well the first year, but with a few bugs.  It worked even better the second year and was near perfect.  I was even able to start training others on how to make changes, what not to change and successfully passed along my work in progress to my predecessor.  It was a success and because I put effort into making it happen, I saved weeks of work for the salesman, the order processor, supply chain, and most importantly, the customer.

The moral of my story is to never limit yourself because you think you might not be able to do something.  If you don’t try, you won’t know.  There’s a wealth of knowledge on the internet to explain how to do things, so take advantage of it!  Always take precautions and stop if you find that you truly are unable.  But if you don’t try, you’ll never know whether or not you can fix a dryer yourself.

Regaining My Brain: A Journey Through My Education, Career and Beyond

10 years ago, I was halfway through my Masters in Business Administration program.  It was challenging, especially since I was in school full-time, working full-time as well as a part-time job and attempting to maintain somewhat of a social life as a young 20-something.

But I was brilliant, at least in my own mind.  I started school a year earlier than most, excelled in high school, with a 3.86 cumulative GPA, taken honors classes and even achieved the National Math Scholar Award, and this was with minimal effort as I had never really mastered the art of studying.  I didn’t fare such high grades in college, graduating with about a 3.4 GPA, but I was enrolled in the honors program, worked and had a social life.  I was anxious for what the world had for me and earned an internship at the Washington News Council through winning a mock trial I had participated in, in my media ethics course.

But the world wasn’t offering what I was expecting.  Growing up, we were always told that if we went to college and participated in extracurricular activities, we’d get a great job, but by the time I got out of college, I realized it wasn’t going to be that easy.

My internship was amazing, but it wasn’t enough to pay a living.  I had several interviews, but I was naive and unsure of what I wanted to do with my life so I failed at making a good impression.  My interests were working with animals and writing, but neither panned out much of a career for me.  I was ready to make it big time in some field, I just didn’t know where.  After several months, my internship ended and I ended up taking a job at a pet grooming salon.

It was hard work, physically, but not mentally stimulating for my fresh from college brain.  There were days when I would spend 8 or 9 hours just drying dogs, unable to talk to anyone over all the noise and not requiring much thought.  I felt like my brain was slowly dying.  The hours were long, the work was physically demanding and I ended up not having much energy to do anything once I got home and showered my day off.

That’s when I decided my degree wasn’t enough.  I had tried, working hard every day to land my dream job, whatever it happened to be.  I was a bit insecure, never having had worked anywhere for more than a few months, which had been my strategy through my early career.  While in college, I never kept a job longer than a semester so I could experience a variety of jobs.  It was a smart move in my opinion, because it gave me the variety of abilities I still hold to this day.  It got to the point where I’d just go to the job board, scout out the highest paying job and apply for it.

I spent my first year of college doing web design for different departments.  My second year was spent as a freelance writer, radio dee-jay and paid note-taker.  My third year working in the barns and at the vet school, and my senior year as a waitress.  During the summers, I would work at a local chain of pet stores, giving me retail experience.  In just 4 years, I’d had almost a dozen different jobs in a variety of fields.

I felt well-rounded as an employee, ready to tackle whatever a job brought my way.  I just needed a job.  Or something.  Anything.

While working at the grooming salon, I decided I needed additional education so I could finally land a really good real job.  I started looking into getting certified to teach and one night, my dad suggested I look into the University of Phoenix program one of his coworkers had told him about.  I looked up the Masters in Business Administration program and it seemed right up my alley.  I wanted to work in a business, right?  And having a Masters degree would definitely earn me even more money than a Bachelors, right?

I started the MBA program in January of 2003, having taken a semester off  college.  I was actually too young for the program, but had enough work experience; I just had to have a note from my employer.

I came in to the program thinking I was hot stuff.  I’d just come out of college less than a year ago, was very familiar with current software and the internet.  Most of my classmates were a minimum of 10 years older than me and some old enough to be my parents.  They came with decades of experience, yet somehow I thought I was going to school them in how things are done since I was so freshly educated.

They were very respectful of me, more so than I had expected.  I came into the program defensive, thinking they were going to take one look at my youthful face and wonder what on earth I was doing in the program.  They took time to listen to me and were thankful that I could teach them how to use the software that didn’t exist when they had been in college.  Many had been limited to typewriters and a library versus my computer and world wide web of resources, albeit even I didn’t have nearly what is available now.

The beginning was rough.  I couldn’t handle criticism well and hated to be bossed around by anyone.  I was smart and I was right.  Wrong.

We worked in teams and mine had a great mix of members that evolved throughout the course—a couple 30-somethings, a couple 40-somethings, one of the oldest people in our program and me, the youngest.  I remember specifically during one of my early courses how one team’s presentation was being criticized by our instructor and the team members were feverishly taking notes on what was being said.  Feverishly!  I couldn’t believe the weakness they were showing.  They did a great job, why should they be criticized?

That’s when I started to truly learn constructive criticism and the power it has in making us better people.  They took notes so they wouldn’t make the same mistakes again in the future.  It’s important to use every chance we get as a learning experience to continually learn and improve ourselves.  A successful person will never be done learning.

As the courses went by, I also started taking notes about what I could improve and our team grew and improved substantially.  I’ll never forget the look on our Marketing instructor’s face when we blew him away with one of the most exceptional presentations I’ve ever been a part of.  That was why it was important to learn and continually strive for improvement.

As my brain grew to be more mature and educated, my desire to move on professionally did as well.  In May of 2003, I took a job as an Administrative Assistant in the office of a cold storage warehouse.  It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it was a step in the right direction.  I didn’t enjoy the job all that much, especially when I was cut to part time the day after I signed my very first lease on my own apartment in an expensive county.  After paying all my bills, I was left with about $20 a month to live off.  I took on a part time job, but it was difficult to get many hours in while working and going to school full-time.  It was rough, but thankfully I had student loan money to live off (and get to pay back after I graduated).  But it got me through for the time being.

In December of 2004, I had completed my Masters program.  I wasn’t instantly promoted as I thought might happen.  Just slightly acknowledged that I had completed a huge feat in addition to working full-time and how proud I must be.  The reality was, the company expected me to quit when I got my MBA so they didn’t bother considering a future for me there.

I worked that job for exactly one year before starting a sales job at a Uniform Company.  It was a great place to work and I have so many fond memories working there.  It was a smart company, starting all employees in operations, shipping & receiving inventory to learn the back end work that was done.  We had a great team, great customers and it was an enjoyable place to work.  I was excelling and making a name for myself, even having a position created to use my knowledge of sales and operations to make things run smoothly for our 5 locations.

Unfortunately, several devastating things happened in my personal life while I worked there and I got to a point where I couldn’t handle things as well as normal.  I was stressed out and difficult to be around.  Working in my position was great for me at the time because I got to do my own thing, but I didn’t like who I had become and I needed to get out of my funk.  A position in purchasing at the main office in Seattle opened up, so I applied and got it.  I missed my team and my amazing manager, but I wanted to move up, and felt this was the perfect opportunity.

I quickly found out that I hated commuting 60 miles a day, especially when it often took longer than an hour to go just one way, and sometimes up to 3 hours to travel 30 miles.  I also found out that I was not cut out to work in an accounting position, even though the math and analysis sparked my brain cells, it just wasn’t a good fit for me.

I ended up finding a job just 2 miles from my apartment and accepted it.  The day I gave my notice, the entire region froze over and I spent 7 hours driving the 30 miles home.  I was fried and ready to move on.  I finished my two weeks and started at my new company as a sales assistant.

The company I moved to was a sports ball manufacturer.  It was a fun environment, although fairly stressful at times.  After just a few months there, I moved into operations working with an amazing manager.  He was such an optimist and our brains worked similarly.  We took on implementing lean manufacturing practices into the entire company.  I was tasked with writing procedures for multiple departments, analyzing the processes and cutting out any unnecessary steps to make our processes flow together as smoothly and logically as possible.  It was great, like a huge puzzle.

With any change comes resistance and I was met with plenty.  I was involved in training seminars and enforcing proper flow at times.  In dealing with resistance from those who felt there was nothing wrong with the way things had been done in the past, I learned how to work better with people and get them excited and accepting of the changes.  It was challenging and a great learning experience as well as a position that reinforced my habit of documenting all the procedures involved in my jobs.

A position in the nearly non-existent marketing department opened and I jumped at the chance.  With lean processes implemented, there wasn’t much left of my job and I wanted to move in the direction of my BA.  I wasn’t too sure of the person leading the department, as he was my age and newer to the company than myself, but even if I only held the position for a year, it would give me the experience I needed to move on.

The department grew immensely during the 5 years I was in it.  I learned new things every day and was forced to find solutions on a small or non-existent budget.  I’ve always been resourceful, so I took it as a challenge.  It was an overwhelming position to be in, as I retained several responsibilities from my previous positions in addition to my new responsibilities.  It was oftentimes difficult to get help because the person in the company who would be best to help me was myself.

I was proud of how well I knew the company and its functions.  I could assist in nearly every department and did my best to serve as a resource to anyone who needed help.  When things got stressful, I’d stop and take a breather.  It got to the point where I’d even spend my lunches at the gym to take a break from the mental challenges and work on physical challenges.

After 5 years there, word started to spread that a move may be in the future.  The current location was almost 20 miles from me, but not too terrible of a commute, but a move to the north would make my commute a nightmare again.  Finally, a location to the north had been chosen for the relocation and there was no feasible way for me to get there without dealing with daily traffic jams.  It wasn’t going to work for me and I would not be compensated for the additional mileage and travel time incurred.  It was time to take what I had learned and move on.

In the fall of 2012, I found a position at a dealership where I had purchased a vehicle earlier that year after my husband had totaled mine in a bad accident.  Although I had been under a lot of stress while buying my vehicle due to my husband being off work and badly injured, the experience had been quick and pleasant.  The staff was friendly and the dealership had been around as long as I could remember, a place with a good reputation and potential for professional growth.

I started in October of 2012.  It was a fun environment to work in, always something new going on and really great staff.  My work was a bit different than I had expected—while at my previous company, I was used to doing everything myself, the design, planning, everything—and here we actually had a marketing budget so we could outsource at times.

It took a few months to learn how things worked and I slowly gained more responsibilities as I learned.  After a year, I was doing things easily that had been a big challenge to take on initially.  I felt confident and optimistic.

The only problem is after changing companies multiple times through my career and not necessarily moving up any ladders, I felt my degrees hadn’t been as beneficial as I once thought.  They hadn’t earned me any special privileges or massive pay, they were just a few years of my life and some black text on my resume.

I realized I hadn’t really been using much of what I had learned in grad school, and all these years, I had talked about what a great education it was and how I would recommend it to anyone wanting to better themselves.  I wasn’t so sure I would say that after all these years.

The thing is, I’m still paying every month for my Masters degree.  Each month, Sallie Mae sends me a reminder of the time I spend trying to improve myself for an exciting future that I thought would make earning the degree easier to afford.  And every month, I realize I’ve fallen into a pattern of learning just what I need to know to complete my work each day and maybe a few new things to keep on top of my profession.

Right after Christmas in 2013, I started feeling very ill.  I felt really bloated, although I hadn’t eaten much and I was nauseated.  I started getting a high fever and couldn’t keep anything in.  I ended up spending New Year’s Eve day in the ER, getting fluids and trying to stay alive.  I felt awful.  I spent almost a whole week dealing with a terrible stomach virus and focusing only on getting healthy.  Nothing else mattered to me at the time.

While I was couch-bound during that week, I had a lot of time to think about where I was going and what I was doing with myself.  When you’re that sick, everything gets put into perspective.  I was no longer going to make unhealthy choices and waste my time being average, I was going to do everything I could to make the most of my life.  Because you never know how long your life is going to last.

I started planning out my goals for 2014.  Not just the generic goals most of us come up with, but specific goals.  My first goal came about from staring at the same book for over 6 months, knowing I needed to read it.  My boss wanted everyone in our department to read it and I had been chosen to start.  While I read daily, it was more articles and fun stuff like on cracked.com, not books.  I enjoyed reading books when I did, I just didn’t read them often.  So that was the first thing I was going to change.

When I finally started feeling better, I sat down with the book and started to read it.  It wasn’t one I would have chosen for myself, but I didn’t have a choice, I needed to read it. (Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead)

Part of my problem with reading is my tendency to not retain what I read because my mind wanders off.  As part of the new me, I decided that I was not going to let that happen to me anymore.  So I grabbed a notepad and started taking notes on everything I read.  I finished the book in one night with pages of notes to refresh my memory.

Reading that first book set me on fire with a passion to learn more.  I was on a mission to get smart again.

I went through our book shelves to find my next book.  I went on Amazon and loaded up my Kindle account with every inspiring book I could find.  I gathered notebooks and created my own reading areas where I could just sit, drink tea and take notes.  I felt my brain growing and my intelligence increasing.

My vocabulary started opening up.  The appropriate words came to my mind much quicker, I started speaking more eloquently.

I decided to make additional changes in my life to continue along this path.  I stopped listening to brainless, garbage radio programs in the morning and instead listen to NPR or instrumental music.  I opt to read my books and take notes rather than rot in front of the TV watching Dexter marathons.  I started talking to others about the improvements I was making and started acting more professionally to match my self-improvements.  I finally subscribed to Fast Company magazine.

As part of my goal setting, I decided vague goals weren’t going to cut it for the new me.  Read more books is a nice idea, but read 1 book a week is a goal that can be measured and achieved.  Write in my blog more is vague, but publish a post once a week is measurable and achievable.

It’s hard to reach goals if you don’t make them reachable.  By putting a number and a time frame to your goals, you will be much more likely to achieve them.

While we’ve just started the third week of the year, already, I am starting to feel the fire that pushed me so many years ago.  My brain is recharging and I’m eager to continue learning and improving myself.  I’m making reachable goals and feel rewarded each time I accomplish one.

I’m honestly not sure where I’m going and I haven’t quite figured out what it is I want to do when I grow up.  I don’t have a career path planned out just yet and I’m not sure what the future holds for me.

I do know that with these changes I’m making, I’m actively taking control of my life and my learning to become the best person I can be.  I’m keeping it fun and exciting so reaching my goals will be that much more rewarding as I reach them.  I’m also doing my best to inspire others to challenge themselves to make improvements and live fulfilling lives so they can feel the passion for life I’m experiencing.

Never stop learning.  Never stop growing.  There is always something new and exciting to achieve if you make self-improvement part of your daily ritual.