Monthly Archives: October 2012

5 Ways to Be More Self-Reliant

They say that no man is an island, but it’s just as true that no man should rely on others in his life for things that he could handle on his own!

No matter what field you’re in, developing self-reliance is an important part of being taken seriously and being deemed able to handle the additional responsibilities that come along with promotions and career advancement.  And from a personal standpoint, nobody wants to be the team member who’s seen as being unable to carry his own weight!

If you feel like your self-reliance skills could use a little brushing up, give any of the following ideas a try:

Idea #1 – Take responsibility for yourself

Think about the most self-reliant people you know.  Chances are one of the things that makes them appear so self-reliant to your mind is that they take responsibility for their actions instead of blaming others for their mistakes or misfortunes.

A self-reliant person says, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake and I’ll fix it” – not, “I swear, it wasn’t my fault!”  It’s incredibly easy to take responsibility for yourself when things are going well, but learning to develop self-reliance in the face of challenging situations is much more of a challenge.

To get in the habit of taking responsibility for yourself, pay special attention to your thought and feelings whenever your competence is being challenged.  You’ll probably feel the desire to shift the blame others, but force yourself to stop this behavior.  Instead, get in the habit of accepting blame (when it’s due) and refocusing your energies towards making things right in order to appear more self-reliant.

Idea #2 – Grow your savings account

In many ways, being self-reliant is a mind-set.  When you decide to be responsible for your thoughts and actions, you automatically become more self-reliant than someone who seeks to blame others for his problems.

However, there’s one concrete, measurable way to increase your self-reliance – and that’s by bumping up the size of your rainy day savings account.  Having an extra cushion in the bank allows you to make decisions and absorb unexpected expenses without needing to rely on others to pick up your slack.

Again, developing self-reliance in this way isn’t exactly easy.  If you want to grow your savings, you’re going to have to make some hard decisions about cutting expenses in other parts of your life.  Ultimately, though, being able to rely on yourself to cover surprise costs will more than make up for the challenge associated with setting more money aside.

Idea #3 – Have a plan for everything

A big part of self-reliance is feeling confident in any situation – and in general, you’ll feel more confident in these encounters when you have a plan ready and waiting in your back pocket.

One place to start is with emergency scenarios.  Do you have a plan in place for what you’ll do if you’re confronted with a natural disaster or other emergency at home or at work?  You don’t need to go as far as mapping out routes or buying several months of MREs, but challenge yourself to think through what you’d do if your daily routine was unexpectedly disrupted.

Over time, you’ll find that this attitude of constant planning carries over to other aspects of your life.  As an example, you may find that you’re more comfortable brainstorming “worst case scenarios” for projects at work, leading others to view your professional self as being more prepared and more self-reliant.

Idea #4 – Stay informed

Education is a key part of self-reliance.  The more you know, the better you’ll be able to take care of yourself and confront unexpected challenges.

Within the workplace, staying informed on company politics and changes might give you the heads up on upcoming changes needed to put contingency plans in place.  If, for example, you hear that a major contract has fallen through or that your project may be terminated, staying abreast of internal news may give you the time needed to put an escape plan in place.

Without the pursuit of this necessary information, you won’t be able to act in a self-reliant way in order to protect yourself and your livelihood.

Idea #5 – Learn new skills

By most definitions of the word, true self-reliance includes things like foraging for your own food and sewing your own clothing out of handmade fabrics.  And while you can definitely take self-reliance to this “Doomsday Prepper” level, start your journey to self-reliance by focusing on skills that are more relevant to your daily life.

For example, are there any tasks at work that you rely on others to do that you could learn to handle yourself?  If you rely on others to send you data sets for analysis, is there a way you could pull this information on your own?  Or if your department relies on another for certain materials, is there a way you can help to expedite the process?

As a rule, the more skills you have, the better you’ll be able to take care of yourself in whatever situation may arise.  And, really, it doesn’t get much more self-reliant than that!

Practicing Calmness: Maintaining Control in Difficult Situations

Unfortunately, when it comes to facing stressful situations, Master Yoda, you are not.  Developing the type of Zen-like calm that will enable you to exit trying circumstances gracefully isn’t easy to do, but it’s vital.  If you’re prone to outbursts of anger or tears whenever you feel threatened, learning how to remain calm will ensure that you’re taken seriously in both your professional and personal lives.

So if you’re sick of being dismissed by others or feeling that you’ve let your anger get the best of you, consider the following 5-step process for managing your emotions in stressful situations:

Step #1 – Acknowledge when you’re feeling stressed

As usual, the first step to resolving a problem is to admit that you have one in the first place.  After all, you can’t learn how to maintain control in difficult situations if you aren’t able to identify when your reactions are getting out of hand.

Generally, there are a few key symptoms we can use to assess when stress is occurring.  Our pulses increase, our faces flush, our hands begin to shake and we feel a rush of emotion – whether anger, teariness or some other strong feeling.

The key to managing difficult situations is to detect these symptoms at their onset, before you become so overwhelmed that a graceful exit is no longer possible.

Step #2 – Excuse yourself from the situation

Now that you know which symptoms indicate that you’re becoming stressed, practice excusing yourself from difficult situations as soon as you notice them.  If you delay and try to force yourself to regain control, you’ll typically only compound your emotional response – making you even less likely to come out of the scenario in a calm, controlled way.

To do this, use the following template:

“I’m sorry.  I’m feeling [stressed, upset, angry, etc] because of [this situation].  Could we regroup in [a certain period of time] once I’ve had a chance to think more clearly?”

Sure, there are some situations that you won’t be able to get out of, but you’ll likely find that these are few and far between.  Most people will respect your ability to advocate for your own needs and will give you the space necessary to gain control of your emotions privately.

Step #3 – Analyze your frustrations

Once you’re alone, take a few moments to think about why you experienced the reaction you did, putting a particular focus on your personal emotions and rationale.  For example, complaining to yourself that, “My boss is such a jerk,” doesn’t give you much to go off of, since you can’t do much to change your boss’s personality.

However, what you can do is to identify which of the elements of your earlier encounter are making you upset.  As an example, while your boss might truly be a jerk, you might also be able to identify that what’s really got you frustrated is the way he gives your co-worker better assignments than you ever seem to receive.  Knowing exactly what’s got you upset will go a long way towards helping you to brainstorm potential solutions and eventually change your mood.

Step #4 – Identify potential solutions

Following with the example above, if you’ve identified that you’re upset over perceived favoritism, it’s now on you to explain to your boss that this is how you see the situation.  And quite frankly, that conversation is going to go over much better if you can pair your observations with some practical ideas for solutions.

In this case, you could be missing out on prime opportunities because your boss thinks you’re too busy to handle them.  As a solution, you could offer more frequent check-ins or ways that other priorities could be handled more efficiently in order to free up your time for higher profile projects.

Of course, not every difficult situation has a solution.  Your boss might just not like you, and if that’s the case, no amount of calmness is going to resolve the scenario you’re facing (though you might also take that as a hint that it’s time to find a new job…).  But really, nine times out of ten, excessive displays of emotion can be avoided by taking the time to calmly think through what’s really bothering you and what can be done to improve your situation.

Step #5 – Carry out necessary follow-up professionally

Finally, if you promised anyone involved in the difficult situation you faced initially that you’d follow up with them at any point, now’s the time to do so.  Don’t let your discomfort prevent you from sticking to your word, as that’ll do much more damage to your reputation in the long run.

With consistent practice, you may find that you don’t even need to excuse yourself and follow up with the people in your life at a later time.  As you practice keeping your cool when faced with difficult situations, you’ll find that you’re able to identify your core emotions and deal with them in a calm, rational way in the moment, preventing your feelings from ever getting out of control in the first place.

Are You Perceived a Self-Confident Person?

It’s not exactly a secret that people with higher self-confidence tend to better in life.  They’re more likely to stand up for the benefits they deserve, more likely to attract partners who treat them well and more likely to succeed in whatever jobs or activities they take on.

But while most people think of self-esteem as something you’re either born with or not (or, something that’s instilled in you by a lifetime of grade school “Participation Awards”), it’s actually a skill that can be learned – just like any other!

So if you feel as though you’ve missed out on opportunities on the basis of your low self-esteem, consider the following tips on how to project a more confident image in order to draw in the things you deserve.

Tip #1 – Dress well

Now, saying “dress well” doesn’t mean that you need to go out and buy designer clothes at top-dollar prices.  Dressing well isn’t about the label on your clothing or the amount of money you’ve paid – it’s about wearing clean clothing that fits you well and is free of rips, tears or other defects.

To determine whether or not your wardrobe needs some updating, think about how you feel when you wear the items found in your closet.  Do you feel confident?  Or do you feel uncomfortable because your clothing is out-of-style or ill-fitting?  If you fall into the latter camp, investing in some new wardrobe staples could provide you with a quick boost of confidence.

Tip #2 – Improve your posture

Once you’ve got a great outfit on, show it off by standing tall.  Perfecting your posture tells people that you’re self-confident and assertive – and much less likely to accept treatment that you don’t deserve.

It can be difficult to straighten out your spine after years spent hunching over on the couch or at a computer desk, but committing a little bit of effort to this pursuit will amaze you in terms of the difference in the way you’re treated.

Tip #3 – Smile more

Much of our low self-esteem comes from worrying that others perceive us incorrectly.  And while it really shouldn’t matter to your overall level of self-confidence what others think of you, there’s one surefire way to change this public perception to a more positive one – smiling.

People simply react better to those who smile more frequently, as smiling is an easy way to convey a pleasant personality.  Don’t go all Joker on the people around you and become an “over the top” smiler, but do make an effort to put a happy expression on your face whenever possible.

Tip #4 – Compliment others

If you’re insecure about how you’re perceived by others, shouldn’t it stand to reason that everyone around you experiences the same weakness at some point in time?  In fact, even the most confident people in the world struggle with low self-esteem sometimes, which makes this tip all the more important.

Instead of getting down on yourself for some perceived inadequacy, focus outward by giving someone in your life a genuine compliment.  Don’t fake it (or you’ll risk coming off as insincere), but do let the people in your life know what they’re doing well.  Not only will this make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside – boosting your self-esteem significantly – you’ll find that you’re treated better by those in your life who feel more valued as a result of your compliments.

Tip #5 – Practice gratitude

Feeling insecure?  Take a few seconds to brainstorm a list of the things in your life you’re grateful for.

Don’t just constrain your list to the physical possessions you’ve managed to acquire.  Taking the time to feel gratitude for your natural, inborn strengths is a great way to boost your overall self-esteem.

Tip #6 – Work out

For me, there’s nothing in the world that makes me feel better about myself than getting a good workout in the gym.  I’m not the world’s best athlete, but there’s something so inherently fulfilling about taking time out of your day to improve yourself that it’s hard not to experience a boost of self-esteem as a result.

Of course, working out doesn’t have to be lifting weights or running – it might be something as simple as a walk through a nearby park or an easy game of Frisbee with friends.  What’s important is that you’re taking the time to invest in yourself and demonstrate conclusively that you’re worthy of self-improvement.  When it comes to self-esteem, it just doesn’t get much better than that!

Tip #7 – Turn off your critical voice

Hopefully, the tips described above will help you to feel more naturally self-confident, although be aware that these activities alone may not be enough to shut off the critical voices inside your head.

We all have these voices – so there’s no shame in hearing an inner monologue that critiques your every mistake and misstep.  However, by learning to tune it out or to replace it with more positive thoughts based on the self-esteem behaviors you consciously adopt, you’ll be better able to position yourself as a self-confident person who is worthy of all the benefits listed above.

Learn to Remain Calm in Any Situation

These days, there are enough stressors in our modern life to raise the blood pressure of even the most devout religious monks!

However, learning to remain calm and change your mood in the face of these stressful situations is vitally important, as people are less likely to trust and respect the people they see flying off at the handle in the face of minor challenges.  Over time, being perceived as a person who can’t maintain control of his emotions can do serious damage to your personal and professional reputation – so take the time to implement any of the following tips to learn how to maintain a calm exterior:

Tip #1 – Take a deep breath

First things first, when you feel stressed out or anxious, pause and take a deep breath.  Not only will this increase the amount of oxygen flowing throughout your body – which provides an immediate calming benefit – it’ll also help you to avoid making rash and regrettable decisions.

Tip #2 – Put things in perspective

As you’re taking your deep breaths, take a second to put your situation into perspective.  On a scale of 1-10, with one being surrounded by unicorns and rainbows and ten being living in box on the street corner, how bad is your situation?  Chances are even if you’re facing a legitimate stressor, there are plenty of other things in your life that could be much worse.

Tip #3 – Compare your experience to the “worst case scenario”

If you’re struggling to keep your stressful experiences in perspective, get in the habit of imagining the absolute worst case scenario that could occur.

For example, suppose you’re facing rumors of possible layoffs at work.  While this is certainly a stressful situation, allowing your anxiety to influence your on-the-job performance won’t do you any good!  Instead, think through what the absolute worst possible thing that could happen to you would be.  In this case, if a layoff might be in your future, your worst case scenario might be losing your job, running out of money, being turned away by your parents and finding yourself in the “living in a box” scenario described above.

Now, take a closer look at each of those elements.  Could you lose your job?  Possibly, but there are also plenty of things you could do to either improve your performance or make it easier to find a new gig.  Might you be turned away by your parents?  I suppose, but even if this unlikely situation comes to pass, you probably have at least a few close friends who’d be willing to help you out of a tough spot.

By taking the time to envision the absolute worst possible thing that could occur, your own stressor will diminish in importance, allowing you to move on in a calm, clear-headed way.

Tip #4 – Give yourself a break

When faced with stressful situations, try to remember that your immediate reaction may not be your best one.  You might initially jump to conclusions that aren’t correct, or you may experience an emotional reaction that will change as you’re able to consider the logical, rational side of your dilemma.

So instead of reacting rashly, remove yourself from the situation and grant yourself the necessary space to process the stressor.  You’ll likely find that, after doing this, you’re able to return and address challenging situations in a much calmer manner.

Tip #5 – Take care of yourself

It should go without saying, but you’re a lot less likely to be stressed out when you take the time to get adequate rest, feed your body with nutritious foods and take part in regular exercise.  If you need convincing, think back on the last time you dealt with a stressful situation while you were tired or hungry.  How much more likely were you to snap or jump to conclusions as the result of external stressors?

By taking the time to ensure that you’re rested and healthy, you’ll be better prepared to remain calm in the face of challenging situations.

Tip #6 – Surround yourself with supportive people

Another great way to handle stressful situations is to build relationships with people who tend to be level-headed and calm.  While these people can help you to see the positive side of a stressful situation, you may also find yourself embarrassed to freak out in their presence.  It may not be the most honorable of motivations, but heck – I say, do whatever it takes to project a calm demeanor!

Tip #7 – Fake it

If none of these solutions help you to maintain a calm demeanor in the face of stressful situations, you have one more option – fake it ‘til you make it.

Because there are plenty of negative consequences associated with blowing up or acting rashly in the face of stress, you’ll find that you’re taken more seriously and that you’re more likely to achieve your desired ends by simply putting up a calm exterior.  Even if you’re seething on the inside, never let the people around you see you sweat!

Do you use any of these techniques in your personal or professional life?  Share your personal “remaining calm” strategies in the comments section below:

How Mitt Romney Won His First Presidential Debate

No matter what your political persuasion is, it’s hard to argue with the fact that Mitt Romney soundly defeated incumbent Barack Obama in the presidential candidates’ first debate meet-up on October 3rd, 2012.  In fact, according to a CNN/ORC International poll conducted immediately after the debate, “67% of debate watchers questioned said that Romney won.  One in four said Obama was victorious.”

That’s a pretty big margin for a candidate going up against a man known as one of the strongest orators of his generation!

Interestingly, Romney’s win can be largely attributed to his debate style.  His victory didn’t come as the result of a battle of wits (political organization ThinkProgress found that Romney told 27 myths in just 38 minutes) – and it certainly wasn’t the result of a detailed, well-articulated vision for advancing America (as nearly all political pundits agreed that Romney’s assertions and promises were pretty slim on actual substance).

Instead, Romney won by simply appearing more presidential than Obama – a fact that offers some interesting lessons for people who are trying to become more persuasive in their personal and professional lives.

Throughout the October 3rd debate, Romney aggressively attacked President Obama’s statements – even going so far as to interrupt moderator Jim Lehrer on several occasions in order to call for the time owed to his rebuttals.  While some viewers interpreted these behaviors as arrogant and condescending, most viewed Romney’s mannerisms as assertive and, well, presidential.

This came in sharp contrast to President Obama’s performance.  While Obama usually comports himself in a similarly eloquent, self-assured manner, his behaviors in this first debate were described by pundits as listless and lethargic.  Though some believe that Obama’s intention was to appear stately and dignified, the overall effect was of someone who’s been beaten down by the rigors of the country’s toughest job – certainly not as compelling a character as Romney presented.

So what conclusions, if any, can be drawn from the candidates’ performance and applied to our personal lives?  Here are three lessons that I believe should be addressed:

Lesson #1 – Style matters

Surprisingly, the winner of the October 5th presidential debate wasn’t determined based on the number of falsehoods claimed by either candidate, nor the visions for America’s future as presented by Obama or Romney.  In fact, Romney was hailed as the winner largely because of the style of his performance.

Where Obama was lackluster, Romney was fiery.  Where Obama’s body language signaled defeat, Romney’s showcased a man ready to take on a leadership role.  Again, it doesn’t matter which political party you support – either way, that’s some powerful stuff!

Keeping in mind the performance by both candidates in the debate, think about how your body language, tone and posture all contribute to the impression that people hold of you.  Whether you want to be perceived as authoritative, educated, free-spirited or competent, take these elements into consideration to ensure that your outward appearance matches your inner desires.

Lesson #2 – Perfect practice leads to perfect performance

Entering this first presidential debate, Romney did hold one significant advantage.  Throughout the rigorous Republican primary season, he participated in nearly 20 separate debates – all of which gave him the opportunity to hone his oratory skills and his ability to fire back when challenged.

Obama, of course, hasn’t had to participate in a debate since his first election in 2008 – and it showed!

From this, you should take away the importance of preparing for the challenging situations you expect to encounter in the future.  If, for example, you plan to ask for a raise in the future, which do you think will produce better results?  Approaching your boss to make your request without any prior planning, or taking the time to rehearse your pitch with several friends and family members before asking for the salary you deserve?

By building experience in these challenging situations, you’ll be better able to execute your ideas in a way that’s easily understood, without all the nervous habits that might otherwise betray your confidence.

Lesson #3 – Sound bites are valuable

Finally, keep in mind how powerful sound bites can be in the political sphere and attempt to capture this benefit in your own life.  To see how to do this, take a look at the following statement made by Mitt Romney in the first presidential debate:

“[M]y number-one principal is, there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit. I want to underline that: no tax cut that adds to the deficit.”

This statement is so memorable and well-crafted that it’s virtually guaranteed to stick in the minds of debate viewers.  Whether or not it’s actually true doesn’t matter as much – the statement’s real value lies in how likely viewers are to retain the message.

The same principle can be applied to your own communications.  People love to listen to stories, and we respond well to short, powerful statements like those used by Romney in the recent debate.  While it can be tricky to do this well when speaking normally in everyday life, it’s worth practicing conveying your thoughts in simple, to-the-point messages that are likely to stick with your listeners and bring about the changes that you want.

Do you agree that Mitt Romney won the debate?  Share your viewpoint in the comments below, as well as any other lessons you feel can be drawn from the two candidates’ performance.  (Just be sure to keep it civil – this is a blog on becoming more persuasive, not a place for heated political discussion!)

Image: Austen Huffold

How to Become an Expert in Any Subject – Fast!

These days, there are plenty of advantages to being seen as an expert in your industry.  If you’re pursuing a traditional career, your in-depth knowledge is likely to lead to promotions and raises due to your perceived value as a leader amongst your peers.  If you run a blog, authority figure status means more website traffic and more income from the products you sell, simply because you appear more exciting to prospective customers.

But fortunately, while the process of becoming an expert in any subject might seem overwhelming, the amount of information available for free on the internet makes it easier than ever to attain this recognition.  Don’t worry – you don’t need to go back to school for your PhD.  Instead, simply take the following steps in order to boost your own perceived authority:

Step #1 – Identify the authority bloggers in your subject

In order to position yourself as an authority figure in your industry, you first need to know what these experts look like.  What kind of subjects do they talk about?  How do they interact with their followers?  What resources do they recommend that you can take advantage of?

Depending on your familiarity with your industry, you may already know who the top bloggers in your niche are.  If not, use tools like Google’s Blog Search or the recommendations of your friends and colleagues to identify the current experts with the biggest, most robust web presences.

Step #2 – Read their most popular posts

Aim to find at least three authority figures that you can follow, and then take the time to read through at least 5-10 of the most popular posts on their websites (which are typically listed on the site’s sidebar).

As you read these posts, pay attention to both the specific topics covered in the articles and the “words of wisdom” shared by the authority figure.  If the site allows comments, read through these as well to gain additional insight into the opinions and concerns of other members of your niche.  Because you’ve taken the time to identify the most popular posts, written by the most popular people in your industry, you’re earning a great deal of insight into the subjects that matter most to your new audience.

Step #3 – Find the three most popular books on your subject using Amazon

Next up, head to Amazon and use the company’s lists of most popular books and recommendations from past purchasers to identify the most popular books on your desired topic.  As a general rule, these books will give you a greater level of industry oversight, compared to the shorter, more immediate concerns of individual blog posts.

Step #4 – Read them (or scan their tables of contents if you don’t have time)

If you have the time, purchase these books (or check them out from your local library) and read through them, taking notes along the way to highlight new ideas or topics that bear further research.

If, on the other hand, you don’t have time to read through three separate books, take the time to at least scan through the index of each book.  These pages are often published for free on Amazon or Google Books, and should give you a brief overview of the topics you’ll want to familiarize yourself with in order to be taken seriously as an expert on your chosen subject.

Step #5 – Ask and answer three questions that have come up in your reading

Finally, once you’ve finished the readings described above, go through and identify three specific items on which you need further clarification.  Maybe you’ve encountered a term that you didn’t immediately understand, or perhaps on blog post referenced a related topic you’d like more information on.  Whatever the case, write down these three questions and use the internet to find the answers you need.

Now, will this process make you a Nobel prize winning expert on any subject?  To be fair, no.  Perusing blogs and reading books on your chosen topic simply isn’t the same as studying for years upon years in order to deepen your knowledge in a specific field.

However, I’d also argue that in today’s digital world, that level of expertise isn’t always necessary.  In nine cases out of ten, attaining perceived expert status in any field simply involves keeping a step or two ahead of the people you hope to reach as an industry expert.  And given how many people make absolutely no effort to better themselves through the pursuit of knowledge, this isn’t that difficult!

So follow the process above, and repeat it from time to time.  Deepen your knowledge by pursuing other resources you encounter that interest you, and share your newfound insight with others in conversation or in digital communications.  Often, there’s no better way to improve your own mastery of a subject than to teach it to others, so get out there and start sharing your new wisdom.  You’ll quickly be on your way to expert status!