There’s probably a simple reason behind your problems

A dog sitting on a mat, yawning.

We tend to come up with complex explanations of why things are so.

We haven’t acted on our business idea yet, supposedly because we don’t have a particular skill, or because the market isn’t ready for it, or because we want to get more work experience first. In reality, we’re just scared.

We are having trouble getting anything done at work today, supposedly because we’re looking forward to the weekend, because our manager hasn’t given us clear instructions, or because we are worried about a situation at home that we haven’t resolved yet. In reality, we just slept poorly last night.

It does happen that there are elaborate reasons for why something is so. But more often, there is a simple reason. (And sometimes, there is no reason at all.)

That means that, to make progress, we should start by addressing the simple explanations. Talk about your business-starting fears with someone else. Get a good night’s sleep. Make sure you’re not hungry. 

In other words, start with the basics.

One problem I’ve run into and that I see others running into as well is that we don’t want to fix the basics. We wish that if we got good at this one particular thing, we’d feel super confident about starting our own business. That way we wouldn’t have to address our fears. We wish that our lack of productivity were our manager’s fault, because then we wouldn’t have to fix anything ourselves.

Wishful thinking doesn’t work, though. There’s probably a simple reason behind your problems, and sooner or later you’ll have to tackle it head-on.

Yours,

— Peter

P.S. Having trouble following through on your plans? Let’s work on that together in my coaching program.

Honesty is good for your career

A woman gesturing while she is in conversation with a man with a beard.

Can you be honest with the people you work with?

When your boss asks you whether you’re enjoying working on this project, and you don’t, do you feel comfortable saying “not really”?

When your coworkers are not doing their job, are you able to tell them “guys, I feel that your work could have been better recently—let’s sit down to talk about it”?

Honesty is good for your career because it weeds out bad matches between you and other people, between you and certain projects, and between you and certain jobs. Honesty can also open up new opportunities: if you’re not happy about your work, but you never tell anyone about it, why would they suggest different work to you?

Being honest is easier and less stressful to boot.

One caveat is that it is possible to come off as abrasive when you speak your mind or when you answer questions honestly. In some corporate cultures—in some societal cultures, in fact—people do not appreciate honesty and frown upon confrontation. (Fortunately, being Dutch and living in The Netherlands, I don’t suffer from this problem. 😉)

If you work in a culture like that, you can still be more honest by practicing speaking your mind graciously. Or, if all else fails, you can “vote with your feet”: work somewhere else, where honesty is appreciated.

Often, when you’re honest, you trade short-term pain for a long-term gain. Learn to be honest with grace and you’ll be much happier in the end.

Yours,

— Peter

The peril of having expectations

A young woman sitting cross-legged on the edge of a bed.

We all have expectations every day. 

In fact, we can think of our brains as sophisticated machines that recognize patterns and predict the future, creating expectations.

Sometimes, expectations are useful. We expect people at a certain party to be dressed formally, so we also dress formally, to fit in. Simple. Useful.

Other times, our expectations cause problems.

For starters, our expectations are often wrong. We might be nervous all morning about an important afternoon meeting, expecting that we’ll have trouble justifying our work choices. But the meeting gets canceled and our worries were for naught. 

More insidiously, our expectations of potential future events can actually affect those future events. Let me give you two examples from my own life.

First, I climb regularly. If I expect to have a bad climbing day, and my first few attempts at scaling the wall are poor, I tend to buy into the narrative that the day is lost—and things spiral downwards from there.

Second, like many people, I sometimes worry about being able to fall asleep.  This is especially true when I try to take a nap during the day. Even if I close the curtains, put away my devices, and get comfy in the bed, I often stay awake because I’m paying too much attention to whether I’ve fallen asleep yet. Yet when I sit down to meditate and I try to pay attention to my breath, or to whatever else is happening around me, I nod off into sleep without trying or wanting to. What the heck, brain?

(On a side note, these two examples also illustrate a key lesson I’ve learned in the past few years: often, trying less hard produces better results.)

You might have other expectations that sabotage you. For example, many people expect that they will fail if they start a business, so they don’t try. Or they try, but then interpret any setbacks as signs that the business idea is doomed—a case of confirmation bias, just like when I prematurely judge my climbing day to be bad.

So how can we stop our expectations from sabotaging us? The key is to be aware of our expectations. With awareness, we can let expectations go, or cling to them less strongly. And as usual, we can train awareness by meditating.

Yours,

— Peter

P.S. Are your expectations holding you back? Let’s talk about it in a free 30-minute introductory session for my coaching program.

Are you listening to your body?

A basset hound whose ears are being held up by two hands.

Do you know how your body feels right now?

It’s quite common to not know. Or at least, to tune out of bodily sensations. This is particularly true for people who primarily work by engaging their brain, rather than their hands. (There’s a good chance you belong to this group.)

But what your body tells you matters, even if your work mainly involves writing reports, creating spreadsheets, attending meetings, and sending emails.

Your body can tell you what is the wise course of action. For example, I notice the following patterns:

  • When I find myself yawning during daytime, that means I need to sleep more. 
  • When I have low energy for an extended period, that might mean I need to move my body, or spend more time in the sunshine, or get some fresh air.
  • When I begin to slump into my chair, it’s time to take a break from work.
  • When my hands begin to shake, I have waited too long to eat.
  • When I get clumsy—bumping into things, knocking things over—that means I am tired or stressed. Either way, I need to spend a little time doing nothing, a.k.a. taking a break.

Some of these clues are universal. If you frequently yawn during daytime, you body and your mind really do need more sleep. Other clues will be particular to you.

Which clues do you notice in your body and what do they mean?

Yours,

— Peter