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Posts Tagged ‘support’

Last week I wrote about some of the symptoms of being a people pleaser, and I promised to share techniques I’ve used to move away from that behavior. I wish I could write an article entitled “How to Become the Happier and More Assertive You in Four Easy Steps,” but the truth of the matter is that it probably won’t be easy, and some of the strategies I’ve used might not work for you. Whenever we set out to change ourselves, especially in such a significant way, we are engaged in the personal equivalent of scaling Mount Everest. Should we set such lofty goals for ourselves? YES! But we also need to pace ourselves, be gentle to ourselves, and expect some setbacks along the way.

I’ve found the following to be helpful:

1. Blogging: Yes, you already know how in love with blogging I am. But there’s a neat side effect that helps with assertiveness. In order to write a decent blog, I have to share my thoughts and opinions on a regular basis. Twice a week, in fact. And people read them. After blogging for over nine months, I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable sharing my thoughts and opinions in person as well. It’s begun to feel natural because I do it so often.

And for those of you saying, “But no one would read my blog,” I would respond that what matters the most about this technique is that you’vre sharing your opinion and you’re making it public. Even if tons of people aren’t reading, they could read anytime in the future. Especially if you link your blog posts to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, which I think you should do. It’s about the practice of entering a certain frame of mind more than it’s about page view numbers.

2. Providing structure: When we know that we are people pleasers, there are certain aspects of our behavior that we can predict. For example, I know that I’m going to struggle to say no in many situations. Especially in situations that regularly repeat themselves, we can create a framework to help us behave in the way we want to behave rather than the way we tend to behave.

Even though I’m a people pleaser, I started a service-oriented business. Can you imagine all the things that could go wrong with that combination? But right from the beginning, I was extremely dedicated to my business policy. I spent a few years tweaking it until it worked the way I wanted it to work, and then I made every client sign the policy before we’d start lessons. That way, whenever I had to say no–and there were many, many such times–I had a template I could fall back on. “I hear that you want x, but I’m afraid that my policy states that I don’t do x.” This also protected me from worry stemming from being overly conscientious and making excuses for my clients, because since they had signed the document, I knew they knew what our agreement was. (Other examples of creating structure might be a weekly scheduled and inviolate “me time” or a strict definition of when a certain task is “finished” to avoid over perfectionism.)

3. Insisting on respect and surrounding ourselves with supportive people:This is a tricky one because as people pleasers, we aren’t very good at this. We want to believe the best of everyone, we want everyone to like us, we want to help everyone because we have such an overflow of empathy, and we attract people who are at best inattentive and at worst may be trying to take advantage of an easy target. Sometimes it is easy for us to believe that everyone lives like this. Well, news flash: They don’t.
Interestingly, what I’ve found is that when I’m able to present myself in a more confident and assertive manner, I stop attracting many of the people who want to take advantage of my niceness (and those I do attract, I tend to recognize more quickly). And I’m able to present myself better when I’m not weighed down by said people. A bit of a Catch-22, isn’t it? We don’t want to let go of our unhealthy relationships because then we’ll be lonely, but until we do, we won’t meet more supportive people, and guess what? We’ll still be lonely.That’s why I use the word “insisting” above. Do you know how many times a week I tell myself, “Amy, you deserve to be treated well” or “Amy, you are interesting and worthy of respect” or “Stop being so hard on yourself, you’re doing the best you can?” Well, it depends on how bad a week I’m having, but it’s usually many, many times. I’m in the process of reprogramming the way my brain responds, so the more repetitions, the better. Eventually I begin to really believe it, and then I find myself arguing with the car salesman who is being rude to me (something I would never have done even a year or two ago). Even though it’s difficult at first, I think aggressive setting of boundaries can be very helpful when people pleasers are trying to create an environment for themselves that involves more mutual respect.

4. Exploring root causes and putting your foot down: Ultimately there is probably a reason (or many reasons) why we are people pleasers. Our behavior had to start somewhere, right? At some point we had to decide (often unconsciously) that being a people pleaser was a good life strategy. Maybe we had an important role model who was a people pleaser. Maybe our people pleasing behavior was rewarded in certain ways (or maybe other behavior was punished). Maybe our contributions were devalued, or perhaps we took society’s “good girl” myth a little (or a lot) too far. If we address our behavior from its root cause, the results can be dramatic. Once we’ve identified the cause, we have a better understanding of our behavior, and from understanding comes empowerment. (Sometimes we’ll do this backwards, acting in an empowered way as we’ve been practicing, and then realizing the root cause from the results. Either way works.)

This is a hard but rewarding journey. Some people in your life won’t be too happy about your growing self-respect. This is sad but inevitable, and will cause conflict (the conflict you may have been avoiding all this time). Other people will be cheering you on the whole way. And you may begin to feel more like the real you, an amazing person who’s just been waiting for a chance to shine.

And now, dear readers, it’s your turn. Any additional strategies or examples you can share? (I love examples because they allow us to visualize possibilities.) I’d love to hear from you!

Edit: I’ve written more about being assertive here.

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The weekend before last, I was having a writerly conversation with a group of writerly friends.  One of them was expressing heartfelt admiration of a mutual friend of ours, who, he said, had totally mastered the problem of emotion getting in the way of writing.

Even if you’re not a writer, you probably know about this little problem.  It’s when you have a to-do list a mile long, or angelic plans to clean out your closet today, or work projects to complete, or writing to accomplish.  And then something happens.  It doesn’t matter exactly what something is (a particularly disappointing rejection letter, bad personal news, someone wrote something nasty about your favorite hat on Facebook, or what have you); the salient feature of the something is that it’s completely upsetting and derails any work you had plans to accomplish that day (or that week, that month….)

Back to my writerly conversation.  I thought to myself, “Well, that’s great, but it’s not so difficult really.  After all, when I’m writing a first draft of a novel, I’m pretty reliable about cranking out my daily word count in spite of everything else going on.”

Be careful what you think to yourselves, my friends, because four days later, life took a swing at my head with an oversized and ridiculously colored hammer (I think it was fuchsia, but it took me so much by surprise I wasn’t at my observational best).  And before I knew it, I was eating my words.  Imagine me staring at the blank page that was supposed to be my blog post the next day.  Not so difficult, huh?  How could I possibly write an entertaining and interesting blog post with a pounding head (the hammer struck pretty hard, apparently) and emotional turmoil swirling in my brain?

Well, obviously I managed, since I published a blog post last Thursday.  And equally obviously, I’m managing again with this post.  But now this pesky problem has earned my interest.  Life is, in my experience, going to knock me down every so often; how do I keep my productivity in the face of these challenges?  Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

1.  Manage expectations. So maybe I won’t get everything done on the to-do list today after all.  But if I can prioritize the tasks that are really critical, or pick a couple tasks that I feel more confident I can manage (this may be errands, or reading the next chapter in my current nonfiction book, or cooking dinner), then I won’t completely lose momentum and will be better set up to deal with tomorrow.

2.  Take a break. Anything I need to accomplish will seem extra overwhelming while I’m in the heat of strong emotions.  If I can take a short break and do something soothing (play the piano, take a walk, read something fun, play mindless computer games), I’ll be in better shape to tackle what I need to do.

3.  Vent. I’ve recently read that venting actually makes a person more angry instead of less, but even if that’s the case, I find it helpful.  Just knowing someone is on my side comforts me to the point where I have a clearer head.

4.  Channel your emotions into your work. Maybe that anger can give you the extra burst you need to put all those packets together.  Or maybe your disappointment will encourage you to send out that story again.  Or maybe you can use what has happened as inspiration for your blog post (hmm, now you see what I’m up to, don’tcha?)

5.  Compartmentalize. If you can get this down, it can be golden (as long as you don’t take it to extremes, of course).  As I’m writing this blog post, I’m still upset.  If I stop to think about it, I can feel the headache, the neck tension, the tightness in my stomach, and I can dwell upon exactly why I’m feeling the way I do.  Or I can not stop to think about it right now and write this blog post instead.  It’s not that I’m not upset, it’s that I can push the upset off to the side while I complete this task, or even several tasks.  At some point, I’ll have to stop and deal, but it doesn’t always have to be right now.  Believe me, if what you’re upset about is important, it’ll be there waiting for you when you finish.

6.  Find the silver lining. Yeah, I know I just wrote about this, but it too belongs on the list.  Finding a good point, any good point, can be crucial for managing your mood, especially once you’re over the initial shock of whatever is going on.  And if you can manage your mood, then writing (or project planning, or programming, or making phone calls) won’t seem quite so hard after all.

Anyone else have any ideas on how to keep on task in the face of emotional difficulty?  Anything you find particularly effective?  I eagerly await hearing about your experiences.

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A few weeks ago, I stumbled across this article listing the five common traits of successful artists.  If you’re an artist or love an artist, go read it now.  I promise it is short and worth the time.

I agree with all five points Lori McNee makes: passion, business sense, work ethic, resilience, and support.  We’ve already talked a bit about her fourth point, resilience, when we were discussing disappointment.

Today I want to talk about her fifth trait: having a support system of people who believe in the work.  The longer I am involved in artistic endeavor, the more I realize how important this component can be, if not to “success” than at the very least to my own personal well-being.

There is a special kind of zaniness that many artists have, a weird sort of marriage between egotism and insecurity, self confidence and self doubt, ecstasy and despair.  The roller coaster is a lot easier to ride out when you have people cheering you on from the side … or riding that roller coaster with you.  Getting negative reinforcement, not from critiques of your work (this will hopefully help make you better at your art) but from the mere fact of undertaking the work in the first place, can plunge the artist into the depths of angst.  You might even be convinced to give up.  Having powerful positive forces to help balance this out is essential unless you have an especially thick skin.

I think it’s no accident that I begin work on my most ambitious artistic endeavors when there is someone in my life actively rooting me on.  Beginning serious study of music: my mom.  Applying for and writing a senior recital: my best friend Francine.  Writing a song a week: my friend Jimmy.  And once I started dating my now-husband, I started my musical and then my novels.  I am not convinced I could have accomplished what I have without the support and energy of these fabulous people.  It’s possible I would have done it anyway, but it would have been a lonely path.

Nowadays, I’ve connected so firmly to other writers, in both the speculative and kidlit communities, that I no longer depend on one person.  This is the ideal situation for a number of reasons.

  1. Other writers understand me.  They understand what I’m going through, they understand the different steps of the process, they understand why I’m happy or sad or neurotic.
  2. Some of the writers are ahead of me in their careers and therefore can be turned to for sage advice.  Some of the writers are behind me on the path and I can help them out and pay it forward.
  3. When one person has life happen and doesn’t have time for mutual support, I can easily turn to someone else, and there are no hard feelings.
  4. I can watch and be inspired by others’ successes.
  5. I have opportunities to learn and improve my craft: through conferences and conventions, through workshops, through critique groups and sessions, through reading other people’s works and hearing about other people’s struggles.

I have to put a quick caveat about family and other firmly entrenched nay-sayers.  If your family is actively supportive of your art, hug them extra for me and realize you are extremely lucky.  However, we do not get to choose our biological families, so some of us may find that our choices baffle our relatives.  (This also holds true of certain old friends, random acquaintances, and business associates.)  Ignoring what they say about our passions can be difficult and frustrating, but it just makes having a support system all the more important.  Trying to change someone’s point of view about art (or anything, really) is an uphill battle that will often end in defeat.  Instead, I try to ignore any defeatist messages I hear, and rant about it later to someone who will understand (usually my husband, who has infinite stores of patience for listening to this sort of thing).  Do I shut these people out of my life completely?  No, not usually, and sometimes it’s impossible to do so.  Do I limit my time with them and try to steer the conversation away from potentially damaging remarks?  You betcha.

I’ll even take the assertion of spending time with supportive people one step further.  The more time I spend with people who are creative dynamic thinkers, whether they be artists, entrepreneurs, scientists, or what-have-you, the more energized and inspired I become.  Seeing other people’s accomplishments brings them firmly into my own reality frame.  I hang out with my friend who started his own tech company, or I hear about a high school classmate who started his own nonprofit, or I get sporadic updates from a college friend about the circus troupe he’s touring with, and I see beyond my own limitations of vision.  These people’s lives show me what can be possible, and they inspire me to think big and then figure out how to make the idea a reality.  I strive to be like these friends of mine, someone who can lift people up and have the courage to make bold decisions about life.  This is what I think it means to be a practical free spirit: to dream big and then create and implement a plan to make it happen.

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