Category Archives: Techniques

How to Answer Difficult Interview Questions

Under even the best of circumstances, interviewing for a new job is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences ever.  If you’ve been out of work for any amount of time or are anxious to escape a bad employment situation, these competitive processes can cause even more anxiety.

For this reason, it’s important to prepare for the toughest interview questions you’ll encounter.  While being prepared won’t help to soothe your nerves entirely, it will make it easier to make a good impression and respond to your interviewer in a calm, professional way.

Here’s how to handle some of the most common difficult interview questions as effectively as possible:

Question #1 – What are your biggest strengths?

This common question, asking you to describe the specific skills you would bring to the organization, is likely one of the first queries you’ll encounter in any job interview.  But although it might sound straightforward, it’s actually more difficult to answer well than you might imagine!

There are two things to keep in mind here:

  1. Keep your answer experience-oriented.  Most human resources professionals believe that past performance is the best indicator of future success, so don’t just say that you have a certain skill – give examples that prove it.
  2. Relate your answers to the organization’s needs.  Having a stock set of strength-based responses won’t do you much good if they don’t match up with what the company is looking for.  Do the necessary research before your interview to find out what challenges the company is facing and then tailor your strengths to suit these needs.

Question #2 – What are your biggest weaknesses?

Once you’ve successfully answered the “biggest strengths” question, you’ll likely be hit with its corollary – describing your biggest weaknesses.

Now, let me be clear…  The absolute worst thing you can do here is to pseudo-brag about how you “just work too darn hard” or are “just too detail oriented.”  That’s a load of bullshit – you know it, and most HR professionals know it as well.

A far better approach is to focus on skills you haven’t yet had a chance to develop.  For example, if you know that the position you’re interviewing for will include presentations or public speaking roles, you could say something like, “I haven’t had as much opportunity as I would have liked to develop my public speaking goals, but I’m excited about the chance to push myself to learn these new skills at your company.”

Question #3 – Why did you leave your last job?

Handling this common interview question can be tricky, considering that many of us have left jobs due to incompetent bosses, inept coworkers and a host of other reasons unrelated to our performance.

But bring these complaints up in your interview (whether or not they’re valid), and you’ll be immediately branded a whiner.  Instead of focusing in on your credentials and merits, your interviewer is now wondering whether or not you’ll make the same complaints about his organization after you leave!

To answer this question appropriately, put the onus of your decision to leave your most recent job entirely on yourself.  Even if it isn’t entirely accurate, it’s a far better approach to claim that your decision to leave was due to your desire to “expand your knowledge base” or “develop new skill sets” than to put the blame on your previous employer.

Question #4 – What are your salary expectations?

Be warned – discussing salary expectations during the interview process benefits your interviewer, not you!

As a general rule, the best time to negotiate salary is once a job offer has been made, demonstrating that the company wants to have you on the team.  This gives you significantly more leverage to negotiate higher rates than if you throw out a random number to an HR lackey who’s only trying to filter out candidates based on their salary expectations.

Since your best bet here is to stall, consider any of the following lines to delay discussing salary until you’re in a better position:

  • “I’m flexible in terms of salary, but would rather discuss it later on in terms of total compensation.”
  • “I’m open to discussing salary in the future, but would like to learn more about what the job entails before determining what the appropriate compensation would be.”
  • “Do you have a salary range in mind for this position?  If so, is that range flexible based on employee experience?”

Question #5 – How many ping pong balls can you fit into a 747 airplane?

Finally, keep your ears open for oddball questions like this one, which was made famous by Google’s HR team in the 1990s.

The purpose of questions like these isn’t to determine what specific factoids you’ve memorized – it’s to see how you think on your feet.  If you’re hit with one during your interview, take a second to think and then talk your interviewer through the process you’d use to come up with an answer.  Even if you can’t provide a final value, you’ll demonstrate your ability to think clearly and flexibly while challenged – a major asset to any organization.

Of course, as the job market becomes even more competitive, interview questions will naturally become more challenging.  If you’ve got a great story of a tough interview question you faced and how you handled it (whether good or bad), share it in the comments section below!

How to Form New Habits Quickly and Easily

Although we all have goals and dreams, the reality is that if it were easy to change our habits, we’d be a nation of skinny, attractive people with great jobs and great personalities!

Of course, the fact that few of us have succeeded on all of these levels doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to change our habits.  Really, it just means that we need to be more conscious of the struggles involved in meeting goals through the creation of new habits.  Here are a few habit-forming tips you’ll find useful if you’ve ever struggled to adopt a new lifestyle:

Step #1 – Set realistic goals and timelines

Before you can start changing your habits, you’ll want to identify the major goals that you’re working towards.  Although goals and habits are two sides of the same coin, it’s important to note the distinction between these two concepts.  Goals are the overarching visions you have for how you want your life to be different; habits are the specific actions you take in order to bring about these changes.

For example, if your overall goal is to lose weight, the specific habits you’ll want to change might include taking a walk every afternoon or cutting out fast food.  Alternatively, if you want to be more persuasive, making it a habit of speaking in assertive tones or using positive body language are the habits you’ll want to adopt.

Now, in general, one of the biggest traps that many people fall into when it comes to goal-setting – and, consequently, determining which new habits they’ll attempt to implement – is to try to do too much, too quickly.  Realistically, if you want to lose 100 pounds, you won’t be able to do it in a few short months!

Instead of setting yourself up for failure by attempting to do too much, pare back your goals to more realistic timelines.  As a rule of thumb, try to change no more than 3-5 habits at a time.  Only when you feel comfortable with the new habits you’ve adopted should you try to add more!

Step #2 – Break desired changes down into measurable pieces

Once you’ve identified the overarching goals you’re working towards, you’ll need to identify the individual habits you’ll need to either adopt or eliminate in order to achieve the visions you’ve created for yourself.

To do this, closely examine your own lifestyle and the existing habits you have that have led to your current, undesirable state.  Unfortunately, because everybody’s unique challenges are different, there’s no single set of universal habits that can be adopted in order to bring about positive lifestyle changes.

As in the case of our weight loss goal above, one person attempting to lose weight may need to focus on adding regular exercise to his daily routine, while another person may benefit more from consistent dietary changes.  Only by taking careful note of the unique factors in your own life that have led to an undesirable state will you be able to identify the specific habits you’ll want to change.

Step #3 – Make use of accountability systems

Once you’ve identified the habits you want to change, you’ll need to find some sort of system to keep yourself accountable to the goals you’ve set for yourself.  Fortunately, there are plenty of different options available to keep you on track!

If you’re a fairly self-motivated individual, consider a mobile app like “Way of Life” or “The Habit Factor” that’ll give you a place to record your habit-making progress.  The best apps in this category offer motivating tools and reporting features that show how well you’ve managed to stick to your goals.

On the other hand, if you respond more to external encouragement, consider a website like StickK.  Through this program, you’ll partner up with an accountability coach and put money on the line in order to motivate you to stick to your new habits.  If you’re afraid you’ll be tempted to fall off the wagon, check out the StickK feature that will send money to a charity you dislike if you don’t follow through with your chosen habits!

Finally, while the process of creating new habits and breaking bad routines can be made easier by following the steps listed above, keep in mind that integrating positive changes into your life isn’t always easy.  It takes regular, consistent effort to make meaningful changes in your life – especially if you’re shooting for a goal that’s a tremendous departure from your present self.

For this reason, if you happen to fall off the wagon when it comes to regularly practicing your new habits, don’t be too hard on yourself.  Instead, pick yourself up and remember that every new day gives you an opportunity to adopt the habits that will bring about the changes you desire.

5 Ways to Make Your Cold Calls More Effective

No one likes making cold calls.  No one ever wakes up in the morning thinking, “Wow – what a great day to call up random strangers and ask them to buy something from me!”

But unfortunately, cold calls are often a necessary part of business.  So why not take steps to make them as effective as possible?  The following are some of my favorite tips for improving the quality of your cold calls:

Tip #1 – Refine your goals

Effective cold calling requires that you have a specific goal action in mind that you’d like the person on the other end of the line to take.  If you aren’t operating with a stated goal, there’s simply no way to tell if you’re converting an appropriate number of contacts into customers or if all your efforts are going to waste.

However, when it comes to setting your goal action, it’s best to avoid asking for the sale while on the line.  Instead, come up with a less intimidating action – like setting up an appointment, agreeing to receive marketing materials or signing up for a newsletter list – that’s more likely to result in successful calls.

Tip #2 – Better target your prospects

Do you remember the scene in “The Pursuit of Happyness” where Will Smith’s character is asked to go down a list of names and call each and every person on the page?

Don’t be that guy!

One of the biggest factors in the success of your cold calls is how well you’re targeting the people you’re contacting.  If you’re seeing a low success rate with your communications, it could be that you’re delivering your pitch to the wrong people.  Spend some time analyzing your existing business model in order to identify key characteristics that your current customers have in common that can be used to target future prospects.

Tip #3 – Ask for help

Once you get on the phone with a targeted contact, one of the best ways to secure buy-in from your prospect is to ask for help in some way.  To see this in action, consider the two following statements:

“Hi Mr. So-and-so.  My name is Mike Smith and I’d like to tell you more about how my new line of products can dramatically improve your bottom line.”


“Hi Mr. So-and-so.  My name is Mike Smith and I’m hoping you can help me.  I’m looking for business owners who want to improve their bottom lines – does that sound like you’d be interested in?”

By asking prospects to help with something, you’re taking advantage of a part of basic human psychology that compels us to assist others who are in need.  Even if no formal offer of help has been given, the simple act of implying that help is needed is often enough to trigger this connection.  When used properly in the context of sales communications, this technique can be incredibly effective!

Tip #4 – Time your calls correctly

Take a second to picture yourself at work at 4:00pm on a Friday afternoon.  How productive are you being?  And based on that image, how receptive do you think you’d be to receiving cold calls with the promise of the upcoming weekend looming over your shoulders?

In general, the best times to schedule your cold calls are between 8:30-10:00am (use the local time of the business you’re targeting), Tuesday through Thursday.  Avoid both Mondays and Fridays, as both of these days tend to have their own productivity hang-ups – for obvious reasons!

In addition, making your calls early in the morning (but not so early that you catch people while they’re still getting their coffee and getting settled in) has two benefits.  First, you’ll be more likely to capture a prospects’ attention before he’s tied up in daily meetings and projects.  At the same time, calling early will give you the best odds at beating the corporate gatekeepers who could otherwise limit access to the people you need to reach.

Tip #5 – Develop rapport with your prospects

Part of the problem that business prospects have with receiving cold calls is the misconception that all salespeople operate like the snake-oil selling, used car dealers stereotypes that pervade pop culture.  For this reason, developing a disarming appeal that instantly builds rapport with your potential customers can go a long way towards improving your cold calling results.

So how do you do this?

First, come up with a cold call pitch that focuses on how your prospect will benefit from taking action with your company.  Removing yourself from the process entirely in order to speak to your future customer’s unique wants and needs makes you instantly more relatable.

At the same time, work on your vocal inflections.  Don’t speak to quickly and aim for modest, humble tones that don’t give the impression you’ve given your pitch 1,000 times already.  Practice giving your sales pitch with a smile on your face and your warmth will shine through to your prospect, increasing your chances of closing the deal.

Do you have to make cold calls as a part of your job?  If so, share any other tips you’ve developed for making this communications as effective as possible in the comments section below!

Controlling Your Anger: What You Need to Know

Are you an angry person?  Do you find yourself experiencing anger frequently as the result of frustrations in your life?  Does this anger ever cause you to take actions you later wind up regretting or to alienate the people you’re close to?

If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, you might have an anger problem!

Anger itself is a normal human response to negative stimuli.  But when this reaction is left unchecked, it can do serious damage to your relationships and to your personal brand.

Fortunately, it is possible to take control of your anger through a combination of techniques.  The reality is that anger isn’t an uncontrollable process – it’s a habit that we’ve allowed ourselves to get into for dealing with unpleasant experiences.  And just like any of the other habits in our lives, it’s one that can be changed with patience and concerted effort!

So if you’re tired of feeling like your temper is always getting the best of you, consider any of the following anger management techniques:

Technique #1 – Identify and avoid your anger triggers

Because we can think of anger as a habit we’ve developed (rather than a biological response we have no control over), it’s also possible to identify the specific elements in our lives that trigger anger.  Knowing what your specific triggers are is an important part of learning how to cope effectively in an unpredictable, often-stressful world.

Just as an example, many people struggle with road rage, which can produce anger through a wide variety of triggers, such as being cut off or being stuck behind a slow driver.

Once you’ve identified your own anger triggers, take the necessary steps to avoid these situations.  In this case, as a driver, you can choose to leave a wider cushion between your car and other vehicles to minimize the chances of being cut off, or you can choose to travel on roads with multiple lanes to avoid feeling trapped behind others.

Technique #2 – Map out better approaches to dealing with triggers

Of course, no matter how conscientious you are, you’ll never be able to avoid every single one of your anger triggers – that is, unless you stay inside your house all day with no exposure to other people!

For this reason, it’s important to have other coping mechanisms in your toolbox that allow you to diffuse tension on the fly as needed.  One way to do this is to map out better responses to the unavoidable triggers that provoke you to anger.

Start by listing out the anger triggers in your life that you’re unable to avoid.  Road rage triggers meet this criteria, as do frustrations you encounter at home or in the workplace.  Next, in a separate column beside your list of triggers, take a few seconds to write out why you feel angry in response to these situations.

Continuing with our previous example, if one of your unavoidable anger triggers is being cut off in traffic, you might write, “I feel angry because the other driver acts like he’s more important than me.”

Chances are you’ll find that some of your responses sound pretty silly.  That’s why the final step in the process is to come up with alternative approaches to dealing with these triggers.  In our driving example, a better response to the frustration of being cut off might be something like, “I can choose not to get angry when I’m cut off in traffic because it’s more important to me to be safe.”

Technique #3 – Develop an anger mantra

One final technique to consider when it comes to anger management is the development of your own personal anger mantra.  We’ve discussed the power of affirmations on this site before, and while they might not work well in all circumstances, having a set saying you can repeat to yourself in times of anger and frustration can be quite calming.

There are a couple of things you’ll want to keep in mind about anger as you’re developing your own mantra:

  • Everyone in the world is human – just like you!  Just as you make mistakes or say stupid things, other people do as well.  Choosing patience in light of other peoples’ failings instead of anger is an important part of treating others the way you’d like to be treated.
  • Getting angry hurts you, as well as others.  Experiencing anger results in physical symptoms of illness, including increased blood pressure and higher cortisol levels.  When you allow yourself to choose anger as a response, you’re inflicting harm on yourself (in addition to the harm you cause others as a result of your actions).
  • No one can “make” you angry.  You have the power to choose anger as a response, just as you have the power to let frustrating situations go in order to maintain your own mental health and sanity.

With these factors in mind, create your own anger mantra that can be repeated during times of stress.  For example, getting in the habit of saying something like, “I am in control of my feelings and choose to let go of anger,” whenever you find yourself getting angry can provide the mental stimulus needed to alter your behavior towards healthier, anger-free practices.


How to Master Making Good First Impressions

It sounds cliché, but you really only do have once chance to make a first impression.  And although you might be sick to death of hearing your parents spout this platitude, the reality is that your network and connections can make or break you in this competitive business world.  In general, you’ll find it’s a lot easier to form the relationships you need in order to be successful if you’ve taken steps to ensure a good first impression – rather than having to compensate for a bad beginning!

If you aren’t having any luck when it comes to networking and contact building, at least consider that these failures could be due to the impression you make when meeting new people.  Then, take the following steps to improve your introduction skills and master the art of making good first impressions.

Step #1 – Check Your Physical Appearance

Before you even open your mouth to greet a new contact, the way you’ve chosen to present yourself is already communicating volumes about who you are as a person.  So even if you’re the most well-spoken, articulate person on the planet, your odds of making a good first impression will be diminished substantially if you sabotage yourself with an incongruous physical appearance.

Now, just because your physical appearance matters when it comes to making a good first impression doesn’t mean that you need to walk around in perfectly-pressed, business casual clothing at all times.  However, there are a few ground rules you’ll want to follow in order to present an appearance that is consistent with the impression you want to make:

  1. Dress for the job you want.  Again, this might sound a bit cliché, but when selecting your clothing, aim for attire that suggests the role you see yourself in.  Doing so will prevent your new contact from experiencing the cognitive dissonance that occurs when your clothing and business goals seem out-of-sync.
  2. Dress for your body.  Simply altering the cut of your clothing to better fit your unique shape can go a long way towards creating a good first impression.  Don’t blindly follow trends, but instead adapt the looks you like to suit your figure appropriately.
  3. Keep clothing in good repair.  Wearing dirty, worn, wrinkled or frayed clothing is one way to instantly create a bad impression, so take the time to clean your clothing correctly and either repair or replace pieces that have broken down.

Step #2 – Practice Confidence Signals

Now that you’re looking good, make sure your physical mannerisms match the level of confidence you want to project when meeting new people.  Pay special attention to all of the following aspects of personal behavior, as each of these elements has the potential to disrupt the appropriate physical appearance you’ve constructed:

  1. Keep your hands still and at your sides.  Fidgety hands convey an impression of discomfort, so watch out for fingers that fiddle with small objects, touch your face or hair repeatedly, or twist around each other.  Keeping your hands resting calmly at your sides makes a much better first impression!
  2. Roll your shoulders back.  Appearing more confident in your first interactions with a new person can be achieved by simply rolling your shoulders back in a confident posture.  Slumping the shoulders forward and slouching conveys a sense of low self-esteem, while a rigid, formal posture presents an aggressive front.  Find a happy medium between the two by maintaining an erect, but casual posture.
  3. Practice your “pass the salt” voice.  To make your voice sound more confident, imagine yourself asking a friend to pass the salt at the dinner table.  You wouldn’t passively whisper this request, nor would you aggressively shout your demand.  Instead, you’d ask for what you want in a clear, confident tone – a tone which can be practiced and used when meeting new people to give off the impression of confidence.

Finally, there’s the single most importance confidence signal to consider when meeting new people – the handshake.  You’ve probably heard this advice before, but since the effect of this single motion can have such a tremendous bearing on the first impressions you make, it’s critical that you take the time to practice.  For best results, think:

  • Whole hand (no “kissing the Queen’s fingertips”),
  • Firm grasp (no limp fish hands here!), and
  • “Two pumps and done” (you aren’t trying to take this person home – get in and get out!).

Step #3 – Develop Situational Awareness

The final key to mastering good first impressions is learning to be aware of your surroundings at all times.  Truly, first impressions can happen anywhere – from officially-sanctioned business networking events to the men’s room after the game.

(Of course, I’m saying you should approach every restroom visitor as a potential business contact.  Don’t be that guy!)

Situational awareness means being on your best behavior when out in public, as you never know when or where a potentially lucrative introduction could occur.  As an example, you’ll find it much easier to make a good first impression if you’re the guy a new contact spotted picking up trash in the parking lot – not the one errantly tossing wrappers out his car window!

Have you ever made a bad first impression that’s come back to haunt you?  If so, share what happened and how you recovered from the situation in the comments section below!

Your Personal Style: What Your Clothes Say About Your Personal Brand

If you think the phrase, “The clothes make the man” is wildly off-base, just try showing up to a formal dinner party in a Hawaiian shirt and sandals!

Realistically, the clothes that you wear and the way you present yourself say as much about you as the words that come out of your mouth and the body language that you use.  For this reason, it’s important to invest some time in determining whether or not the clothing you’ve chosen for yourself is consistent with the image you want to portray – or whether your fashion choices are subtly sabotaging your personal branding efforts!

To conduct this self-analysis, take a moment to look at yourself in the mirror – quickly, before you have a chance to change what you’re wearing to influence the results of this survey!  As you examine your clothing, ask yourself – based on clothing alone – what you think a stranger would say that you do for work?

While you might think that your “funky” jeans and t-shirt combination gives off the impression that you’re a carefree business person, what are the odds that a stranger walking down the street would associate you with your desired characteristics of dedication and commitment to business success?

Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to be entirely rigid in your choices.  For example, just because you want to be taken seriously as a business person doesn’t mean you need to spend every waking moment of your day in a suit, tie and button down shirt!

However, first impressions go a long way and you’ll have a much easier time of establishing your personal brand if the image you portray outwardly is at least somewhat in line with peoples’ expectations.  This eliminates the sense of cognitive dissonance we experience when, say, we see Facebook’s billionaire CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrive on Wall Street in his hoodie and sneakers.  Given his success, he can overcome these mixed messages – you might not be so lucky.

The following are a few ways you can incorporate your own style into different personal branding choices.  If you want to appear…

  • Professional – Maintain a business casual appearance at all times.  Make sure that the clothing you choose is up-to-date and stylish, which conveys the impression that you’re technologically savvy and prepared for anything the real world might throw at you.
  • Creative – Add colorful flourishes with your ties, scarves, jewelry and shoes.  While you may be able to dress more casually than your business counterparts, don’t go too far off the deep end.  There’s a big difference between nice jeans paired with a professional top and worn jeans set against a ratty old sweatshirt.  Be casual, but classy at the same time!
  • Traditional – Depending on your age or desired position, you may want to use your clothing choices to convey a more traditional brand (this can be especially useful if you’re gunning for a position that you’re considered to be too young for).  In this case, think maximum coverage – including dress shirts and pants for men, and long-sleeve blouses and long skirts for women.  Keep excess scents, makeup and jewelry to a minimum to convey a more traditional aesthetic.

Of course, no matter what styles you choose or what type of personal brand you wish to convey, there are a few “hard and fast” rules you’ll want to follow to keep your style choices in line with your personal vision for yourself:

  • Clothes must be fitted – Even if you’re wearing top-of-the-line clothing in the latest styles, the effect of your trendiness will be minimized if your clothing doesn’t fit appropriately.  For men, this means choosing sleeves and collars that are the right size for your body.  And for women, this often means having both the waists and hemlines of long pants fitted.  Very few pieces of clothing fit perfectly off the rack, which is why a good tailor can go a long way towards making you look as good as possible!
  • Clothes must be clean – Again, you could be wearing an Armani suit, but if the scent of worn clothing, nights out or – worse yet – body odor – precedes you, your personal branding will suffer.  For this reason, it’s vitally important that you take the time to wash all of your garments appropriately, following whatever instructions are described on their labels.
  • Clothes must be pressed – Unless the personal brand you’re trying to convey is “indigent,” have your clothing pressed.  Any dry cleaner in your area should be able to help you do this, but to minimize wrinkles on your own, get in the habit of folding and hanging laundry immediately after removing it from the dryer on wash days.

Are you conscious of how the clothing you wear reflects your personal brand?  If so, share how you attempt to make these connections with your fashion choices in the comments section below:

3 Ways to Easily Diffuse Family Tensions

No matter how much you love your family, there’s always that one family member with whom you consistently disagree.  Maybe it’s your Aunt Martha, who consistently harps on your weight or your marital status, or maybe it’s your Grandpa Joe – whose inflammatory religious or political views take center stage at every family get-together.

But while you can’t change your family, you can change the way you behave and the impact you allow their words to have on your mental well-being.  To learn how to quickly and effectively diffuse these family tensions and improve the quality of your get-togethers, consider the following techniques:

Technique #1 – Identify and avoid triggering behaviors

In most cases, negative family interactions are triggered by specific sayings or behaviors.  By identifying these connections and taking steps to avoid the triggering behaviors in the first place, it is possible to eliminate family tensions altogether.

As an example, if you notice that bringing up your government job is the trigger that launches your Grandpa Joe into a tirade about the overreach of big government and the current administration, you can choose to avoid this topic of conversation entirely.  Alternatively, if you notice that your Aunt Martha uses comments on her own expanding waistline to transition to attacking your current size, try changing the subject before the conversation rolls back around to you.

Obviously, avoiding triggering behaviors and topics isn’t a totally ideal solution, as this may mean keeping parts of your life from the people who claim to love you most.  However, if your family get-togethers escalate to the point where the tension of arguing over heated subjects is worse than the effort of keeping elements of your life private, you may find this approach to be the lesser of two evils.

Technique #2 – Choose to release your anger

Of course, in some situations, it may not be possible to identify or avoid triggering behaviors.  For example, if you have a relative who’s proficient at turning even the most innocuous comments into perceived accusations, it may be impossible to isolate and avoid the specific topics that will lead to family tension.

In these cases, it’s up to you to choose to release your anger in a healthy way, instead of allowing it to dictate the experiences you have with your family.  Just because family tensions have occurred doesn’t mean that you need to internalize them to the point where they affect your own judgment and the love you have for your family members.

However, in order to release your anger and approach tense situations from a more mature perspective, it’s vital that you remove yourself from the frustrating encounters until you can cool down.  When you feel yourself getting flustered, excuse yourself politely and take a walk, retire to another room or simply sit in your car for a few minutes.  Giving yourself space to breathe and work through the emotions you’re feeling – instead of taking your stress out on your family members – will make it much easier to release your anger before things boil over.

Technique #3 – Replace an angry mindset with positive ones

Another technique that’s vital to managing family tensions in a healthy, mature way is learning to replace your angry emotions with a positive mindset.  Remember – you are the one who’s in control of your thoughts and emotions.  Although your family members may influence these things with their own behaviors, it is ultimately up to you to choose how you deal with frustrating situations.

To learn how to swap out angry feelings with more positive ones – which will enable you to minimize tensions and protect your own mental health and well-being – try an anchoring technique that allows you to associate a positive set of feelings and emotions with a specific color, mental image or physical action.

Begin by calling up a memory when you felt peaceful, positive and in control of your emotions.  Your goal should be to find a memory that represents the way you want to feel when handling family tensions – so whether that’s assertive, cool, collected or some other emotion, make sure the memory you call up is a strong one that helps you to relive your desired state of mind.

As you allow this memory to fill you up, begin pairing it with a specific “anchor.”  This could be a physical action you take (for example, squeezing your thumb) or a mental image you create (a specific color or symbol works best here) – either way, the important thing is that you begin to call up this arbitrary signal alongside your desired mental state.

Practice calling up your chosen memory, pairing it with your specific symbol and then releasing both mental images.  Over time – and with consistent practice – simply visualizing your anchor symbol should be enough to subconsciously promote the positive feeling you desire.  Once the association is strong, firing off your anchor behavior in the face of family tensions will allow you to eliminate negative emotions and replace them with positive feelings that allow you to handle frustrating situations in a healthy way.

How to Get the Voices in Your Head on Your Team

All of have voices in our heads that provide both insight and criticism on our thoughts and actions.  Don’t worry – it’s not a type of mental illness.  In fact, these voices are actually our subconscious minds chiming in on whether or not we’re behaving in ways that are consistent with our core values and principles.

In an ideal situation, these voices allow us to moderate our behavior and bolster our self-confidence.  Unfortunately, in too many situations, they take on an ugly, negative tone.  Over time, consistently having the voices in your head speak to you in this way can trash your self-esteem and allow doubt

For this reason, it’s imperative that you take the time to get the voices in your head on your team.  When you’ve got a supportive, confident group of mental cheerleaders encouraging you and reassuring you that you’re valuable and worthwhile, you’ll be nearly unstoppable in whatever activities you decide to pursue!

If that situation sounds appealing, check out the following process for transforming your mental critics into positive supporters:

Step #1 – Identify negative thought patterns

As with so many things in life, the first step to fixing the problem of overly-negative mental patterns is to admit that you have a problem in the first place!

Unfortunately, identifying the specific instances in which negative thought patterns occur can be challenging, as it requires a level of consistent mental awareness that few of us are used to maintaining.  To get into the habit of identifying negative thought patterns, practice pausing every time you feel upset or uncomfortable and taking note of what the voices in your head are telling you.

For example, suppose you’ve recently broken your current weight loss resolution and chowed down on a towering piece of chocolate cake.  At first, you might feel angry, upset or just a vague sense of unease that you’ve done something that’s inconsistent with your stated goals.  As soon as you feel one of these sensations, take a second to tune in to the voices in your head.

If you listen closely, you might hear them saying things like, “I can’t believe you just ate that, you fat slob!” or “You don’t deserve to be happy if you can’t stick with a simple resolution like this!”  Don’t panic if your mental voices sound crueler than you initially anticipated – we’ll get around to squashing them in the next two steps!

Step #2 – Explore the impact these patterns have on you

As you become better able to track and monitor the negative thoughts that are occurring within your mind, begin to commit an equal amount of time identifying the impact these thought patterns have on you.

Following our previous example, if you hear the voices in your mind commenting negatively on your inability to stick to a diet resolution, take a moment to identify how these statements make you feel.

Do you feel worthless?  Humiliated?  Inadequate?  Unconfident?  Over time, you’ll begin to notice patterns in the way your mind responds to negative situations and experiences.  Maybe you typically respond to the voices in your head by getting angry, or maybe you’re the type who tries to drown out their noise with food, alcohol or other substances.  Don’t beat yourself up about the way you respond – at this point, it’s important just to observe how you interact with the voices in your head.

Step #3 – Replace negative thoughts with positive ones

Now that we’ve identified both the specific negative things our mental voices are saying and the way these statements make us feel, we can start the process of replacing bad thoughts with positive ones using the swish pattern!

Begin by calling up a memory of a situation in which the voices in your mind spoke to you negatively.  Really allow yourself to embrace this memory, bringing up all of the feelings, emotions and sensations you experienced at that point in time.

Once this memory is clear in your mind, release it and replace it with the image of a stop sign.  Spend a few seconds visualizing this stop sign before releasing this second image and focusing on a chosen affirmation that reframes your mental criticisms in a positive way.  For example, a few potential affirmations that could be used in this process include:

  • I am a valuable, worthwhile person.
  • I always try my hardest to improve my situation.
  • I am worthy of self-respect.

Tailor your specific affirmation to the negative feelings that you usually experience in response to the voices inside your head, and practice this process whenever you feel an undesirable response coming on.  Over time and with consistent effort, you should be able to banish these harmful thoughts and replace them with positive mental voices by simply visualizing the stop sign image you practiced with – allowing you to get the voices in your head on your side once and for all!

Affirmations: BS or Valuable Personal Development Technique?

If you’ve read my past posts, you know I think that the “Law of Attraction” – by itself – is pretty much bogus.  I mean, really – you can sit around on the couch all day, wishing and hoping for a fit body, a million dollars and a supermodel girlfriend.  But until you actually take action to bring about these dreams, you’re not going to get an inch closer to achieving your goals.

Unfortunately, the universe isn’t just sitting around, waiting to fulfill your every desire.  Instead, you’ve got to bring about the changes you want through a combination of concerted effort and mental re-programming.

Focusing on both of these elements is key.  Say you’ve made it your goal to earn a million dollars.  Obviously, you’ll need to take a specific set of actions to bring about this reality, whether that’s starting your own company, gunning for a big promotion or simply winning the lottery.  But at the same time, you’ve got to get your mental processes on track.  If your subconscious is constantly telling you that you’re destined to be a failure, you’re going to find it pretty darn hard to stick to your defined action plan!

One tool in our NLP toolboxes for promoting these mental process improvements is the affirmation.  Basically, an affirmation is a statement you repeat to yourself that embodies the traits or characteristics you want to bring about.  Following our example above, if you’re attempting to build a multi-million dollar company, an example of a helpful affirmation might be, “I will be successful because people want to buy from me.”

In order to be effective, successful affirmations must meet all of the following criteria:

  • Repeatability – For best results, your affirmation should be repeated several times a day, including at both the beginning and ends of the day, as well as when you feel your self-confidence waning.  For this reason, good affirmations are those you can remember easily and repeat frequently, without requiring the need for prompts.
  • Clarity – Good affirmations should be specific.  If you plan to use affirmations to power your weight loss goals, be sure your affirmation clearly states how you envision achieving these results.  After all, if you simply state, “I will lose weight,” this end result could be brought about by a healthy diet and exercise plan or a bout with a serious disease – your choice!
  • Appropriateness – The best affirmations are those that relate to specific aspects of your behavior, as these items fall within your control.  Using your affirmation to ask for a supermodel girlfriend isn’t nearly as appropriate as employing this technique to change your own self-conscious or shy behaviors.
  • Tone of voice – As you repeat your affirmation to yourself, pay special attention to the tone of voice you use while doing so.  Is your internal monologue full of conviction?  Or does your inner voice sound as self-conscious and dispirited as you feel?  By altering your inflection to deliver your affirmation in a confident, self-assured way, you’ll see much better results using this technique.

Finally, be aware that affirmations – on their own – are a relatively weak NLP technique.  Although the repetition of motivational phrases can be used successfully to promote positive mental changes, some NLP practitioners have likened the practice to using a table knife to cut down a tree.  Just as a chainsaw would be a much better solution for this particular need, there are plenty of other NLP techniques that can bring about the same results much more effectively.

Two examples of these tactics include embedded commands and NLP presuppositions – both of which provide the necessary framework for both defining ideal behaviors and mental processes and providing the impetus needed to change.

For this reason, if you do decide that using affirmations will be a helpful motivational tool for you, be sure to integrate embedded commands and NLP presuppositions into the specific statements you decide to focus on.

For example, let’s say your goal is still to build a multi-million dollar company and you’ve decided to use affirmations to help you get over your crippling procrastination.  Combining the aspects of successful affirmations described above with both embedded commands and NLP presuppositions, you could come up with the following affirmation:

“I have all the tools I need to become the focused, productive owner of a multi-million dollar company.”

Not only will this affirmation be helpful because it’s based on personal behavior and clearly defines the desired process and end result, it also incorporates the NLP presupposition that we have all the tools necessary to bring about our own success and the embedded command “become the focused, productive owner of a multi-million dollar company.”

Following these criteria, try coming up with your own affirmation message.  Then, repeat your chosen statement to yourself at least three times a day for a week and see if you can identify an improvement in your performance!

Image: stevendepolo

3 Techniques That’ll Get You a Date

In today’s ultra-connected society, getting a date just isn’t as easy as it used to be!  Pick up lines are overplayed, while the constant stream of information provided by popular dating websites makes screening potential partners easier than ever.

So if you’re struggling to find love in this frustrating situation, consider the following NLP techniques:

Technique #1 – Anchor Yourself

If you’ve ever built yourself up as “Rico Suave” in your mind, and then crashed and burned when it came to approaching a real-life dating prospect, you know how easy it can be to feel confident in your mind and have your actions betray you in person.

To remedy this situation, we can use an NLP technique called “anchoring.”  Essential, an  anchor allows us to call up a specific mental state or set of physiological processes at a moment’s notice, through the use of an anchoring behavior.

For example, suppose you want to be able to instantly call up the feelings of confidence and assertiveness needed to get a date in today’s crowded singles scene.  By creating an anchor that’s triggered by a specific action – say, pinching your left palm – you’ll be able to activate these powerful emotions on-the-spot, making your pick up attempts more likely to succeed.

To create an anchor, you must first identify memories or past experiences in which you felt the way you’d like to be able to recall on a moment’s notice.  For best results, these memories should be as powerful as possible.  Take some time to simply re-live and experience these sensations, allowing them to fill you up with the chosen sensations you’re trying to anchor.

Then, at the peak of your experience, fire the physical signal you plan to use as your anchoring behavior.  If, following our example, you’ve chosen to use a quick pinch to your left palm, repeat this action several times before ending your recall.

Repeat this process over a few days to enhance the connection between your desired mental state and your anchoring behavior.  Once you feel the association is strong in your mind, trying firing the anchor in a neutral situation by engaging in your anchor behavior when you aren’t actively recalling your chosen memory.  Ideally, if you’ve set up your anchor correctly, you should be able to call up your desired sensations quickly and easily – even in the stressful situation of approaching a potential date.

Technique #2 – Positive Anchors

In addition to creating your own anchors to improve confidence and assertiveness on the dating scene, you can also implant subtle anchors in the singles you encounter.

The key to doing so effectively lies in recognizing that all of our interactions with another person contribute to the mental image of us that this person retains.  For example, if you approach a potential date and consistently complain about your job, how hard it is to get a date or other problematic aspects of your life, you’re creating a negative anchor in your partner’s mind that associates you with complaining and  poor outlook.

Instead, for maximum success on the dating scene, we want to create anchors that associate us with good things, increasing the likelihood that our potential partners will be interested enough to move forward with the relationship.

To do so, try to control the conversation in a way that makes you appear charming, charismatic, intelligent, funny or any other positive characteristic you want to be associated with.  You can achieve this by sharing stories, talking about your interests or even asking questions about what makes your target date happy.  If you feel a complaint or negative statement coming on, excuse yourself until you can regroup to a more positive mental state to avoid decreasing the potency of your anchor.

Obviously, the anchors you encourage in other people won’t be nearly as strong as the ones you create for yourself.  However, by creating positive associations to you in the mind of the person you’re trying to pick up, you’ll increase the chances of getting a date by simply implanting the suggestion that you’re a good person to be with.

Technique #3 – Embedded Commands

Finally, there are embedded commands – one of the most commonly referenced “seduction techniques” in NLP.  When using embedded commands, you implant an instruction within a more innocuous question or statement so that it can slip – undetected – into your potential date’s mind.

As an example, you could embed the command, “We should be together,” inside the seemingly harmless sentence, “Isn’t it funny that we should be together like this,” after running into an acquaintance you’re trying to connect with.

Be aware, though, that using embedded commands in a dating situation requires a serious level of proficiency that novice NLP practitioners may not have grasped.  Not only do poorly-executed embedded commands blur the line between acceptable usage and intrusive pseudo-hypnosis, they can also come off as downright cheesy when used improperly.

So if you do decide to make use of this persuasion technique in the dating world, practice in advance to maximize your chances of a successful outcome.

Image: Alex E. Proimos