Practice Makes Perfect

Fall is here and we’re stocking up on firewood, cooking soups, raking leaves, and watching football.   As I write this, Tom is addressing the citizens of the town he grew up in at the homecoming community pep rally for the local high school football team. He was in town to celebrate his 40th year high school reunion where his classmates have also asked him to give a speech. I was surprised at how nervous he felt about it. Good thing he’s married to a speech coach!

He’s nervous because he wants to do a good job. He cares about the people he’s presenting to and they’ve honored him by selecting him for this occasion. He doesn’t do this all the time and he hasn’t had a whole lot of time to prepare so it feels slightly uncomfortable. We can all relate on some level.

When we are trying to learn a new skill or get better at one we know… practice is the key. But who has time? And who loves to “role play?” Most would rather stick a pencil in their eye.

But, there’s no way out. Practice is how we build the muscle memory of anything we want to strengthen. Case in point: In our Leaders of the Pride Leadership Workshop, we spend a good amount of time learning about how to have Courageous Conversations. I outline the simple framework and teach the process. I demonstrate it with people in the room. Then, because there is so much I want to cover with the group… I would move on to new material. But I discovered in my workshop debriefs that this was the most important skill they came to learn. I had taught it and they had heard it but … they had not really learned it. What was missing was practice.

In the last workshop, I asked for a volunteer to try it on. One popped up right away (there’s always one!) and she did pretty well but when she received feedback from the group, she was surprised at how many steps she had missed. She said, “This seemed so easy but now I can see I’ll need more practice to really have it become and feel like my natural response.”

The truth is… it is easy. But, its new. So as master trainers, we now put the group to practice with only one step at a time, adding steps along the way as they got stronger and stronger. By the time the session was over, you could feel the sense of accomplishment and mastery in the room. The amount of practice makes the difference.

The same was true for Tom. He nailed his pep rally speech because we spent several nights practicing. While looking for a quote for him to use, I ran across this one by Frank Leahy: “Lads, you’re not to miss practice unless your parents died, or you did.” For winning coaches and teams, practice is everything.

What skills do you wish your team performed better? What skills do you wish came more naturally to you? The steps that make practice work are:

  • Break the skill down into small steps and layer them on as you gain traction.
  • Remember this is practice… not performance. Make it okay to fail and start over as many times as you need.
  • Don’t start (or let anyone else start) with the hardest examples first. Begin with the simplest and easiest and then add on the complexities as people’s confidence rises.
  • Make it a habit. Create 10-15 minutes at every team meeting to practice a skill so that practice becomes common place and a team sport instead of a rare and scary event.

If you want to improve the way you help people practice essential skills, learn to coach your people more effectively, or really nail your Courageous Conversations in business and life, consider joining us in San Diego next month for our Leaders of the Pride workshop. We have a few seats left… You and your team will be glad you did!

“Practice puts brains in your muscles.”

~Sam Snead

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Answer First, Story Second

Last week, I had the privilege of being interviewed by media and advertising specialist, Randy Alvarez, for his show The Wellness Hour.  As we prepped for the show in the “green room”, Randy and I talked through some of the potential questions he would be asking me.

When he asked, “Is downloadable audio the only way an administrator or practice can get your “Have Them at Hello” telephone skills training program?” Katherine and Randy Alvarez I answered, “Well, it is our most popular program and lots of practices have commented how easy and effective the audio training program is.  It’s a great way to get the foundational information but sometimes a practice wants more personalized and practiced training so we created some additional ways for them to receive that…”

Randy stopped me.  And then gave me a piece of communication advice that I found simple and profound:  Give the answer first.  Then, tell the story.

He had asked me a straightforward question, and I was deep into my story before I ever came close to answering it.  He rightly warned that I would risk losing my audience’s attention, and possibly their patience, if I did not quickly answer the question and then go on to tell my story.

I ruminated on this advice on my drive home from the studio and thought about all the times I observed a patient in a client office asking a simple question of a doctor or team member such as, “Will this hurt?” … only to have the professional launch into a “story” about it before simply answering, “no” or “not much.”  We so often wish politicians would do this more:  Answer the question.  Then, tell us your story.

We are all striving to make our communications clearer and more effective.  I think this simple tip from Randy is a mighty powerful tool to help us do that.

Do I think it will make a difference?

Yes. (Answer.)

Because I’ve been testing it with success all weekend with Tom.  (The story.)

Answer first.  Story second.

“The more we elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.”  
~~ J. B. Priestley

This week we are recycling a favorite MMS. Our new subscribers will enjoy Katherine’s story and the lessons she took from the experience. And to all of our MMS readers who have been loyal subscribers from the beginning… you’ll remember why we love seeing the world of business and life through the eyes of The Lioness.

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Music Monday: Listen to the Music

You know you’re getting older when there are tribute bands everywhere representing the ones you most loved in high school and college. One of my favorite bands was The Doobie Brothers, and I was reminded of a song today that was perfect for my Music Monday message (always the first Monday of every month). I’m asking for forgiveness in advance from my Millennial and Gen-Xer subscribers because I’ve selected a song from the 70’s… my teenage years.

For the last few weeks, our country has been consumed by the Kavanagh hearings. It’s an important decision and as my week has been full of local travel, I have been following along on the radio while driving. But, this morning while running yet another errand, I thought… I need a break. I need some music. I need some fresh air and sunshine. Fall is definitely in the air, and I need to get out of the doomsday commentary and incessant bickering and breathe in the current moment, notice my beautiful surroundings and the changing of the seasons. I need to remember what I believe: That everything is fine, the timing is perfect, and life is always ultimately working out for me. So, I skimmed the channels and accidentally landed on Sirius XM’s “70s on 7”… and by divine providence, no doubt, this song by The Doobie Brothers came right on: “Listen to the Music.”

I hadn’t heard it in years and wouldn’t have thought I would have remembered the words, but they came back immediately, and I found myself singing along. The words held a much deeper meaning for me now than they did in high school and seemed to eerily mirror my current thoughts.

If you let yourself, you could get so far down the rabbit-hole of news and the attending commentary that dread and worry about the future can make you think the entire world is going to hell in a handbag with no hope of ever recuperating. When I start to feel this way, I try to remember that we’ve felt this way before as humans and as a nation… a couple hundred thousand times or so. I remember my paternal grandparents talking about the desperation they felt during the Great Depression. They wondered if we’d ever come out of it. My maternal grandparents worried about polio, Nazis, racial divides, and atomic bombs. Oh yeah… and the lasting detrimental effect of Elvis on our impressionable youth. I remember the lament of my parents as politicians were assassinated and impeached, the Vietnam War raged, and gasoline was rationed at the pumps. I remember feeling frightened by Nuclear bomb drills at school during the Cold War (as if the top of my desk would have helped me!) Imagine the pessimism about the future of our democracy that must have existed for our citizens during the Civil War.

It’s good to be informed. We should do what we can to steer our communities, our nation, and the world in a positive direction whether with our votes, our voice, or our actions. But sometimes, it’s just good to turn it all off and breathe- to remember how resilient we are as a nation and as human beings; to not be so consumed with our worry of the future that we miss the good, the positive, and the beautiful that is right here, right now, right in front of us; to reconnect with the good.

Given all that is going on in the world, our profession, and likely right in your own business and life… this week, don’t forget to listen to the music. Just for a while, invest a few moments relaxing, breathing deeply, and remembering that all is well, things will work out, and we’ve been finding our way for thousands of years. And, we’ll find our way in the future.

All is well. Life is good. And the music plays on… Don’t miss it.

The Doobie Brothers – Listen to the Music

Don’t you feel it growing, day by day
People getting ready for the news
Some are happy, some are sad
Oh, we got to let the music play
What the people need
Is a way to make ’em smile
It ain’t so hard to do if you know how
Gotta get a message
Get it on through
Oh now mama, don’t you ask me why

Whoa listen to the music
Whoa listen to the music
Whoa listen to the music
All the time

Well I know, you know better
Everything I say
Meet me in the country for a day
We’ll be happy
And we’ll dance
Oh, we’re gonna dance our blues away
And if I’m feeling good to you
And you’re feeling good to me
There ain’t nothing we can’t do or say
Feeling good, feeling fine
Oh, baby, let the music play


Like a lazy flowing river
Surrounding castles in the sky
And the crowd is growing bigger
Listening for the happy sounds
And I got to let them fly


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Sing a Song

Researchers in Austria recently discovered that funny people have higher IQs than their more serious peers. They argue that it takes both cognitive and emotional ability to process and produce humor. Their analysis shows that funny people have higher verbal and non-verbal intelligence, and they score lower in mood disturbance and aggressiveness.

Not only are funny people smart, they’re nice to be around. Evidence suggests that having a good sense of humor is linked to a high EQ (emotional intelligence) and is a highly desirable quality in a partner. Evolutionary psychologists describe humor as a “heritable trait” that signals mental fitness and intellectual agility to prospective mates. In studies of attractiveness, both men and women rate funny people as more attractive, and cite having a good sense of humor as being one of the most important traits in a long-term partner.

Turns out, our clients and co-workers enjoy it and are attracted to it as well.

Case in point:

I’ve had many favorite necklaces in my life, but none have rivaled my bright, shiny red, sliced agate necklace on a simple gold chain with thin leather tassels (similar but even prettier than the one in this picture.) I racked more compliments with that one piece of jewelry than anything I’ve ever worn. It was totally unique, versatile, and elegantly beautiful. I wore it at least once a week for years. Until yesterday.

I never felt it come off or break but as I was getting ready for bed… I realized it was gone. Tom and I had just left the cabin after closing it for the season. We had a long 10 hour drive back to Southern California and typically we break it up by staying at a lovely bed and breakfast about halfway home in Bishop, CA.

At first, I thought it might be in the car. Nope. I checked my purse, the hotel room, and the parking lot and grounds in between. Nothing. As we had left the cabin, we had stopped to enjoy the beauties of the Sierras one last time for dinner at a quaint little mountain resort on our way out called Sorrensons. Maybe it was there?

In the morning, I called and an older sounding gentleman answered.

“Thank you for calling Sorrenson’s Resort. I’m just finishing up with a customer. Would you be able to hold?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Great! I don’t have any on-hold music so… just sing yourself a song and I’ll be right back with you.”

I don’t know why but it tickled me… and delighted me. Something so simple. A small bit of jovial humor but it was charming. I was on hold for a couple of minutes which can feel like an eternity to a caller. But, the gentleman’s playful remark left me feeling like I had not only agreed to the extended hold time but also to the silence (in which I quickly found myself singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame because I had just seen a friend post it on Facebook a moment before.)

When he returned, he was empathetic, kind, and helpful even though no one had found it. When I described the table at which we had dined and mentioned that I had visited the restroom, he said, “Oh, well… our toilet was clogged this morning so if that was the culprit, I’ll not charge you for the damages.” Another chuckle. Of course, he promised to look for it and put the word out among his staff. He took my name and number and promised to call me either way.

After I hung up, I was struck by a thought. At LionSpeak, we teach and coach teams on their professional verbal skills including telephone skills. We teach a 4-step method of un-scripted but well-crafted skills for managing and converting all kinds of new clients and patients. We take on challenging callers such as price-shoppers, insurance questions, potential cancellations, and demanding clients. We include basic telephone etiquette, on-hold remedies, and even outgoing calls. We have a fantastically supportive mystery shopper call program. I think we have a truly complete package.

And yet, I was reminded of something that I’ve known but often forget to teach… the power of appropriate playfulness and good humor. It takes the average call and makes it delightful. It heals. It bridges the gap. It portrays intelligence and even a degree of control. Professionals who are stressed or feeling like things are spinning out-of-control generally don’t joke around or have a sense of humor.

Of course, all professional humor must be appropriate and in good taste. It cannot have a passive-aggressive edge and it cannot be at someone else’s expense. However, when used correctly, it’s an under-utilized tool that many professionals, speakers, and leaders overlook.

This week lighten up. Discuss with your team where and how you could use humor more in your interactions with clients as well as each other. Use it to set you apart as a communicator. And, don’t forget… it will make you look really smart and attractive!

“Good humor is a tonic for mind and body. It is the best antidote for anxiety
and depression.  It is a business asset. It attracts and keeps friends.
It lightens human burdens.  It is the direct route to serenity and contentment.”
~~Grenville Kleiser

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All Roads Lead Back to Us

As LionSpeak continues to grow, my team must grow also. Apparently, this presents an opportunity disguised as a challenge for me.

Every time we add a new person, I’m eventually, if not immediately, confronted with my own personal leadership abilities (or lack thereof.) I learn and relearn that everything they contribute which delights and pleases me is due to a multitude of factors: Their own skill level, growth, work ethic, and passion for this work and, to at least a small degree, my own leadership communication about LionSpeak’s vision and standards. But I’ve also learned that when they do not perform to my standards or vision, it is a direct and proportionate reflection and result of a gap in my leadership abilities and communication skills. Everything. Every time. 100%.

When I really analyze it, usually I determine that I’ve not been as clear as I could have been or thought I was. Sometimes, there is behavior that I’m ignoring, tolerating, actually participating in, or a result of something to which I’m blind myself. This constant “in-my-face” reminder felt heavy at first and many times since at various intervals along my entrepreneurial journey. But I now perceive it as a freeing notion because if it’s me then I have some control; there’s something I can work on; something I can do about it.

I see personal leadership as the ability to actualize our potential, manage our emotions, reframe our circumstances, and make decisions. It’s also our ability to communicate our ideas, instructions, desires, and needs in a clear, non-judgmental, and inspiring way to others… no matter the circumstances and with all types of people. Our ability in this regard is as important at our dinner table as it is at the boardroom table.

If strong leadership skills are missing or undeveloped, one thing I’ve learned is that we cannot coach ourselves. We can make small, incremental improvements but if we want to quickly and radically change our results and that of our team, we must seek coaching. We all have blind spots that other qualified professionals can spot and often coach us through. Investing in my own leadership growth and that of my people has been the lynchpin in our rapid development as a team and company.

One of my favorite LionSpeak programs to deliver is our Leaders of the Pride Workshop where we take owners, managers, team leaders, and even professionals who simply wish to be better individual leaders in their lives and put them through two days of a confronting, stretching, limiting-belief busting personal leadership training experience. People tell us it has not only been professionally profound but personally life-changing.

If you want a richer work experience, better business results, and a more capable and united team, consider investing in your leadership and/or theirs. We would welcome any of our LionSpeak community to join us in November in San Diego for our Leaders of the Pride Workshop. We promise to send you and/or your employees back into your workspace and lives with a fresh perspective about the privilege of work, the responsibility of personal leadership, and the joy of the journey to the best version of ourselves.

It’s a gift that keeps on giving in the best of ways.

“A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you
ee what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you always wanted to be.” 

~~Tom Landry

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The Stretch Zone

575207_388025557886007_144081868947045_1309811_1186988888_nLioness Learning (soon to become LionSpeak… Stay tuned!) is a communication coaching company specializing in coaching individuals, leaders, and teams, who wish to communicate with more clarity and inspiration to achieve remarkable results.  In other words, we help people communicate better in a variety of circumstances.  For example:

• An administrator wanting to convert more callers to appointments.
• A leader wishing to inspire their team to massive action.
• A manager needing to hold their team accountable without alienating them in the process.
• A sales rep preparing for an important presentation.
• An employee needing to ask their boss for a raise.
• A spokesperson wanting to handle a media interview with confidence.
• A trainer hoping that trainees will hit the ground running with their newly-attained skills.
• A team member wanting to solve an irritating conflict once and for all.
• A speaker wishing to perform better on stage.

What do all these folks have in common?  They all must find a way to communicate so that the people they’re addressing will walk away crystal clear about the information, requests, and reasoning as well as hopeful, motivated and inspired to take action.  And that, my friends, is what we do!

One of my favorite formats in which to teach these skills is an off-site team retreat.  A few years back, we were hired to facilitate an off-site retreat at an adventure park for a team in the Southeast.  Set deep within beautiful piney woods complete with a babbling creek and large pavilion in which to hold our meeting, the park had a fabulous challenge course as well as nine progressively difficult zip lines.  It was the perfect setting for a business which was welcoming a new associate; restructuring their team; moving into a brand new, state-of-the-art facility; and re-envisioning their future potential.

With the entire team assembled outside, I asked each member to describe what they were hoping to personally and collectively accomplish today.  More than one spoke about wanting to “breakthrough” some professional barriers within their company, community, or marketplace.  Then, with a stick I drew three concentric circles on the ground and labeled the inner circle the “comfort zone,” the middle circle the “stretch zone,” and the outer circle the “panic zone.”  downloadAs they imagined themselves scaling the upcoming 35-foot pamper pole or jumping for the 40-foot high-ropes trapeze on this adventure, I asked them to take the stick and mark where they currently found themselves within these circles. 

Afterwards, I asked them where they thought that most “breakthroughs” occurred?  They all agreed that it would not likely happen within either the “Comfort Zone” or the “Panic Zone,” but it would be somewhere within the “Stretch Zone.”  They were basically correct with one distinction… most breakthroughs happen right on the razor’s edge between stretching and panic.  It happens for most of us when we are right on the verge of “fight or flight,” but we dig in and discover something about ourselves, our abilities, or what’s possible that we wouldn’t have believed before. 

I’ve also heard these zones described as the green zone (comfort), the yellow zone (stretch) and the red zone (panic).  I’ll often do a check-in before, during, and after a training or coaching session with my participants because not only is it helpful for me to know where they are operating from but also because I know they will not get what they really want safely tucked away within the green zone or completely freaked out within the red.  My job is to carefully tug them into the yellow stretch zone and guide them ever so close to their outer edges so they can experience the ultimate euphoria of a true breakthrough.  From those experiences, neither the person nor the team is ever quite the same again. 

This week, as you meet with your team at home or at work, ask yourself which zone you are operating from and look for opportunities to step consciously into that juicy, rich, yellow Stretch zone where you grow and learn.  Inch yourself ever closer to that red edge as much and as often as possible.  It’s where all the good stuff resides and the place from which you will ultimately return to comfort but will never, ever be the same again!

* * * * * * * * * *
This week we are recycling a favorite MMS . Our new subscribers
will enjoy Katherine’s story and the lessons she took from the experience.
And to all of our MMS readers who have been loyal subscribers from the
beginning… you’ll remember why we love seeing the world of
business and life through the eyes of The Lioness.
* * * * * * * * * *

“Every challenge you encounter in life is a fork in the road.
You have the choice to choose which way to go –
backward, forward, breakdown or breakthrough.”

~~ Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha,
Overcoming the Challenges of Life

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Love Labor

Most of us associate Labor Day with the official end of summer, but Labor Day was actually a holiday created in 1894 to celebrate the social and economic achievements of the American workers. A creation of the labor movement, it constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

And yet our current culture largely gives labor and work a bad rap.

Typically, this would be “Music Monday” (the first Monday of every month) where I select a song that inspires me from which to craft my message. And I did try… really, I did. I searched my large iTunes library (nearly 10,000 songs!). I scoured the Internet and YouTube. I asked people I knew who were music lovers like me. But I was hard pressed to find any songs about “labor,” “work,” or “the workin’ man” which were positive tributes to it.

Oh there were plenty which weren’t… think Dolly’s “9 to 5” (it’s all takin’ and no givin’), Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It” (nuff said!), Huey Lewis’s “Working for a Living” (damned if you do, damned if you don’t) or BTO’s “Takin’ Care of Business” (start your slavin’ job to get your pay)… but finding a song that celebrated the fact that we, as free Americans, get to choose our profession, work, employer, level of contribution, and destiny was going to take more hours than I had to give. How sad.

I’d like to offer some different ways of framing the concepts of labor and work:

(1) Living “at choice”: The most empowering way to live your life is to know at the core of your being that you are always “at choice,” meaning you understand that at any time in your life, you have choices. Feeling like you live at someone else’s choice is the most disempowering way to live. You may not decide to change your current course, but that’s your choice.

     It’s not always been this way in this country, but I believe today we all have the freedom to make our own choices. We may choose to stay with a company we don’t like or continue working for a boss we don’t respect or make a commute that negatively impacts our well-being for a variety of reasons but nobody puts a gun to our head and makes us do it. There are always choices and, yes, consequences that accompany each one. In this country, we get to decide which consequences we will accept. Taking full responsibility for your choices and their subsequent consequences is the height of emotional maturity. Blaming others, including bosses, managers, coworkers, or clients is the antithesis

(2) We are wired to be productive: Meaningful, satisfying, and productive work is to our lives what oxygenated blood is to our bodies. It keeps the life force flowing through our veins. Without it, we start the process of decline. Ever notice how many people who finally retire from work and don’t replace it with a hobby, interest, cause, or some way to contribute or some project to complete, begin to slowly (and sometimes swiftly) lose their will to live? Our life force is powered by our desire and our wanting to feel satisfied. Being productive gives us that feeling and moves us in the direction of that which we desire. Whether it’s a beautiful flower bed, the perfect heirloom tomato, a creatively thrown piece of pottery, a well-executed financial discussion with a patient, or a cutting-edge website design… we derive meaning and purpose from work. Without it, we would rest, relax and do nothing for only so long before we became bored and restless. It’s just how we are wired. It’s how our species continues to evolve and survive. So consider blessing not only your work but your own proclivity and desire for work.

(3) We live in the age of unlimited possibilities and endless resources: Say what you will about the millennials, but I believe they represent a generation who finally believes at their core that life and work should not be separate pieces of a whole. They are demanding and creatively finding ways to blend being happy both at work and at home. They are expecting that work will not only pay the bills but provide them with a sense of contribution and significance. I bless them because they are forcing baby boomers like me to rethink the way we have structured workplaces, compensation packages, and the rules by which we communicate and are governed at work. They have changed the entire conversation and professional landscape in ways that will shape an unlimited future for how we blend and balance our lives. There has never been a better time in the history of this country to write your own ticket in business, education, healthcare, hospitality, public service, or retirement. There simply is no reason to accept work long-term that does not support your life goals… nothing except our own limiting beliefs. It is possible to find the money, investors, platforms, customers, and resources to build your own business if you have a good idea, product or service. It’s also possible to find amazing employees, coworkers, incredible bosses and spectacular companies to work with and for…. Places and people that make it feel not like mindless work but rather like a truly satisfying part of your life.

To prove the point and in lieu of a song, I’ve attached a video of an interview with the 3rd generation owners of Canlis, the famous high-end restaurant in Seattle, who are radically changing what it means to work for a restaurant or any company for that matter. Any of us could choose to become this kind of leader or make the choice to work for someone like them.

Sept 7 MMS Canlis
I love my work. Not every single aspect of it but almost. And I’ve given up some things to have it and to feel this way such as predictability, security, and anyone to blame for what happens. But I wouldn’t trade any of that for the freedom, joy, growth, or ability I have to impact my income, schedule, and my significance to the industries and people that I serve.

This week, consider reframing your internal and external conversation about your labor and your work. Operate fully “at choice,” embrace the joy in being productive, and if you are not currently satisfied with your work choices… cut yourself some slack and know that while you may have your reasons right now for continuing, you fully own your choice and you blame no one. And just begin to look for the openings and the potential to make a change for the better.

This year, celebrate Labor Day for all the reasons it is good and all the ways it serves us, our clients, and our amazing country.

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“Let us realize that the privilege to work is a gift,
that the power to work is a blessing,
that the love of work is success.”

~ David O. McKay

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Moving Forward

My friend, Mary Fox, and her husband just spent four days with us at our summer cabin near Lake Tahoe. Besides being one of my besties, Mary is a licensed counselor and certified coach with a sense of humor that rivals any other person I know. Having her around is always an experience full of rich conversations and side-splitting belly laughs… a perfect combo in my book!

During one of those conversations, she said something that I thought was worth passing along. She mentioned that in counseling, when people are ready for a real change in their life, there are two important tenets to keep in mind:

  1. You cannot change the past. You can only accept it and learn from it.
  2. Focus on moving forward and on creating a future in which you can thrive.

It struck me that there are opportunities all around us every day to apply these two important principles. Being stuck in the past, whether through blame, guilt, shame, anger, hurt, or regret ultimately cripples us from living fully in the present moment and certainly from creating a future where we can ultimately thrive. Professionally, personally, politically, and spiritually, the idea of accepting and learning from our past and then moving on by using those lessons as a catalyst for launching a better future is a true lesson worth remembering.

When we keep the limiting stories of the past alive and active in our conversations and thoughts, we keep ourselves stuck in a continually limited space. If we want to thrive, we must develop the muscle of squeezing out the lesson, accepting, and even blessing the experience or person that taught it to us, and then we must move on toward a more informed and positive future.

This week, notice the limiting stories of the past that you keep alive, either in actual words to others or inside your own head. Ask yourself, “What’s the lesson for me?” Then, work on accepting it as a part of your life story and turn your attention to applying the lesson toward a future where you can thrive.

And, as my funny friend reminded me when I called to clarify her words for this blog (because, after all, it was originally discussed over Happy Hour), “Dang, sometimes I say the most brilliant things … and then I try to get out of the car with my seatbelt on.”

Did I mention she was smart, funny, and humble?

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
~~Soren Kierkegaard

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Something to Live For

I’ve hardly met anyone whom this terrible opioid epidemic has not touched in some way. We know this from the tremendous response that continues to pour in from all corners of the world and from every walk of life since my last two Monday Morning Stretch blogs. We have already been recommended for two state dental meetings and have scheduled several interviews in the last two weeks. The need is great, both for answers and for hope.

Following our story two weeks ago, I promised to discuss the two things that Austin described as turning points in his recovery from which I believe we can all learn. The first, which I wrote about last week, was a courageous conversation I had with him a few years ago for which I sought some highly effective coaching. The second was a moment, mostly discovered with his drug counselor, which Austin describes as the mind-shift of hope.

He was clean and doing fairly well. But, as many addicts can attest, there is a constant voice from within that plays with their mind and their will. Luckily, he shared with his counselor that the longer he remained clean and sober, the more the memories surfaced along with the realization of what he had done to himself, the people he loved, friends, and indeed sometimes total strangers. This caused massive amounts of guilt, regret, low self-esteem, and shame, and all made him want to use again. When his counselor asked why he thought he hadn’t relapsed and used, Austin replied, “because I don’t want to go back to who and what I was.” What he had been (in his mind anyway) was a lying, stealing, conniving, reckless, hurtful, abusive, ugly excuse for a human being. He had also been sick, suicidal, and admitted to the hospital with a near overdose twice. He told the counselor the only thing keeping him from using again was the fear of more shame, less to live for, horrific withdrawals (which seemed to be far worse every time he tried to get clean) … and outright death.

After a long moment, his counselor thoughtfully replied, “What if you decided to stay clean because of what you would gain rather than what you would avoid? What if you focused on what you could live for instead of what you could die from?”

For Austin, it was a light-bulb moment. He felt the shift deep in his inner being. It was the beginning of the longest period of sobriety he’s had since the entire ordeal began. It was the beginning of tying his hard work to the benefit rather than the cost… to the positive upside instead of the negative downside.

It is a lesson we can all learn from: Doing hard work we care about to avoid some serious or negative consequence can be effective but it is different than doing hard work because of the positive results we could achieve. Studies show we are more likely to continue to exercise, eat well, choose healthy habits, resist destructive behaviors, finish a project we’ve procrastinated, or pick ourselves up after a failure if we focus on the positive outcomes we could receive rather than the negatives one we would avoid.

It’s simply a flip-side of the same coin but for Austin it made the difference and still does to this very day. He told me recently that when the desire to use again reoccurs, and he remembers the shameful reasons he doesn’t want to give in… he plays the game of switching the mental movie to the pleasure he feels as his parents continue to breathe easier and express pride in him, as his friends continue to reconnect, as he excels at work, and as his body continues to feel healthier and more alive. He imagines the home he will own, the job he will love, and the family he will have in his future. He told me that the image of my face as I hold my first grandchild is a picture worth staying clean for… worth living for.

This week, what for you is worth living for versus running from? What are the images you can keep at the forefront of your mind that are grand enough and beautiful enough to keep you doing the hard work you need to do to realize them?

PS: In advance of our upcoming podcasts and presentations, I’ve done some research on the current stats and resources surrounding the opiate crisis in our country. The results have literally blown my mind:

  • 200 people die every day of an opioid overdose… one person every 11 minutes. Last year in 2017, 72,000 people died of a drug overdose. 50,000 of those were from opioids. (CDC) In 2016, the total was over 42,000 people. (US Department of Health and Human Services) This makes the current drug epidemic more deadly than gun violence, automobile accidents, or AIDS… none of which have ever killed as many people in a single year.
  • Since 2000, opioid overdose deaths have increased by more than 200%. (CDC)
  • Nearly 80% of heroin addicts started their abuse by using prescribed opioid painkillers. (National Institute for Drug Use)
  • 96% of people 12 years or older who misuse opioids obtained them from a family member or friend from previously prescribed but unused medications. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • The opioid epidemic has had an economic cost in US of $504 billion dollars. (US Department of Health and Human Services)

There is some good news to report. Since 2013, the nation has seen a 22% decrease in the number of opioids prescribed by doctors and surgeons. But even still, just six months ago, as I left an out-patient surgery, I was handed a prescription of thirty Oxycodone pills without one question about my pain-management preferences or past prescription history, or one word of caution or education about the dangers of these drugs, or any directions about the necessity or methods to properly dispose of the 29.5 unused pills that still reside in my medicine cabinet six months later. As a communication coach primarily in the healthcare industry, Austin and I would like to change that protocol and communication skillset within today’s healthcare teams.

If you know anyone who might be interested in our presentation, an interview, or an article, please spread the word by sending us an email to Our working title is: The Monster in the Mirror: Why You Should Care About the Opioid Crisis and What Everyone Can Do to Help. We’d love to know what you think and hear any ideas or suggestions you might have.

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Courageous Conversations

Well, if we had any doubts about how important, relevant, and appreciated discussing Austin and my experience with his opiate addiction and subsequent recovery would be… we don’t anymore. The response from last week’s Monday Morning Stretch was literally overwhelming. We received a record number of responses, Facebook posts, phone calls, and texts. Comments ran the gambit from praising our honesty, to encouraging our future efforts, to asking for our advice in fighting the battle within their own family. We’re so grateful to everyone who shared stories of friends, loved ones, and colleagues who have battled, or are currently battling, a similar beast. We grieved with those who shared their losses of loved ones who did not make it through. We are appreciative of the words of encouragement from so many to share our story with a larger audience and contribute what we can to the masses of people on the frontlines of this war.

As promised, this week’s Stretch focuses on one of the two pivotal moments that Austin describes as a turning point: a “courageous conversation.” I believe this conversation between Austin and myself is an example and model for the conversations that many of us need to have when boundaries have been blurred, behaviors are unacceptable and even dangerous, and our love needs to be tough on behalf of another as well as ourselves.

It happened after Austin had been using for quite some time, had been in and out of rehabs, and had relapsed repeatedly. He was living at home with me, a newly single mother. It was also after countless conversations which had escalated into angry and hateful words, accusations, heavy judgement, fits of hysterical crying, slamming doors and other assorted things, heavy doses of manipulation, and threats which were ultimately without teeth. I felt out of options and completely stuck. I knew something had to be different because what I had been doing was definitely not working, for him or me.

I decided to reach out for help. Mary, my coach, did what all great coaches do: She reminded me that the coaching was not for Austin but for me. It was me who held all the responsibility for what was happening in my home. She led me to my own answers with a line of perfect, if not challenging, questions: What did I truly want, for myself and for Austin? What did I deserve? What did Austin deserve? What boundaries were necessary for that to occur? What boundary would I be willing to stand behind fully, without compromise? What was I robbing Austin of if I did not allow him to find his own answers, his own strength, and his own way? What was I afraid of?

Looking back, that last question was the turning point for me. What was I so afraid of? It was easy to answer: If I stood my ground and pulled the trigger on the boundary of zero tolerance for Austin using drugs if he lived in my home, I was afraid that he would choose the drugs and truly leave. Ultimately, I was afraid that I would get a call in the middle of the night from the coroner saying that my child was dead of an overdose. I feared living the rest of my life with an unspeakable guilt and despair.

She listened and then asked, “What do you know for sure about his addiction while he’s been at home?” That was simple. He uses. Period. “And what do you know for certain about his addiction when he doesn’t live at home?” That was not so simple… mainly because I had always eventually let him come back home making it easy for him to use again and again. Classic co-dependent behavior.

The lightbulb suddenly went off. At home, he used. History had proven that without a doubt. The sobering truth was that the call I dreaded if I held my ground was actually the call that could come, and likely would come, at any time if he continued to live at home. What I didn’t know was what Austin would be willing to do if there was no safety net to support him… The beautiful home provided by hardworking parents with a refrigerator full of food, transportation, a cozy room of his own complete with a television, cell phone, and comfy queen-sized bed. I was, in fact, actually helping him toward that bitter end of which I was so afraid.

If I really loved Austin, I suddenly knew what I must do. Mary helped me to find my courage and to mold and practice a conversation which would express my boundary clearly and definitively without judgment… without anger… and without the likelihood of being triggered by an assortment of responses from Austin. It was also a conversation that would be filled with a mother’s undying love, great hopefulness, immense belief in him, and steadfast faith in his underlying desire, ability, and probability to choose a better way.

The time came and I was ready. It happened just as Mary warned it might. Initially, Austin reacted with anger and disrespect. Unlike his many attempts in the past, this time it didn’t work, which completely disarmed him. Next, he tried humiliation and blame… calling me out as a bad mother who never really loved him or supported him in the first place. When that didn’t work, he begged, he pleaded, he played on my sympathies. Finally, he circled back around to anger, packed his bags, found a ride, and left.

The weeks that followed were some of the longest of my entire life. The not knowing is frightening and caused an automatic second-guessing, regret, and intense worry. But Mary was there encouraging and supporting… helping the mother in me to hold tough, hold steady, and hold Austin up to the highest version of himself.

He eventually resurfaced, and it would be several more years of manipulating other family members until they drew a similar line, horrific withdrawals and getting clean, followed by predictable relapses until all his resources were finally exhausted. After almost six years, his recovery finally started in earnest when he found his own program, sought his own drug counselor, and created his own plan for recovery. Eventually, he landed a good job, made his own money, began to pay back his debts, and became responsible for his actions. It was then that he actually began to feel his own strength, confidence, and personal pride returning. He now began to see a future. He now had something to live for that was of his own making.

So, here’s what I learned and have used with success ever since:

  1. You can’t give true personal pride or real confidence to anyone. They must give that to themselves. You can’t rid them of their shame. They can only find that forgiveness themselves.
  2. Real courageous conversations are not about the other person as much as they are about us. I had to face my fear and find my own strength, boundaries, worthiness, and confidence.
  3. The best way to love someone is to give them the freedom to make their own mistakes, face the consequences, and uncover their own gifts and strengths. It’s also the hardest way to love them.
  4. Judgement is crippling. When Austin said he hated me, I said, “I know. And, I love you.” When Austin said, “You don’t understand.” Or “This is so unfair.” Or the countless other statements that he used to trigger an irrational response from me, I was able to hold a steady line of love, support, and unwavering belief and faith in him without judgement about him or his behavior.
  5. The words, “I believe in you and in your ability to eventually chose what is right and best for you” is a powerful statement.
  6. Connecting that statement of belief to the statement of what you need from someone with “and” instead of “but” is a simple but important word choice: “I love you, I believe in you, and you cannot live here anymore.”
  7. Anticipating and practicing how you will unemotionally answer a variety of responses is very helpful. I practiced, “I know and this is the way it has to be. I’ve made my decision.”
  8. Justifying pulls you into the need for agreement. It’s important not to justify what you know you need to do or have. There’s no need to give reasons or convince others of your point of view when you have decided something needs to change. We aren’t asking for permission or necessarily agreement. We are simply stating what we need and have decided must be done.

Austin will tell you that, while he did not get it right away, that courageous conversation was a turning point for him. What he doesn’t likely know is that it was also a turning point for me. My future conversations with many important people in my life including clients, family, and friends, will forever be better, more powerful, more successful, and far more courageous.

This week, who do you need to have a courageous conversation with? Doing it well could change their life for the better… and yours.

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