Common toxic life-rules and how to break them

So, you’ve come a long way in your personal development. Your self-leadership skills are well developed, you’ve made friends with your values and know your overdeveloped strengths. You know what drains you and what makes your dopamine flow.

Suddenly the growth stops.

Your coping strategies become ineffective, the stress management techniques useless and you fall back into negative habits.

Behavioral scientists call them dysfunctional core beliefs, the often-toxic life-rules that cause negative stress and stand in the way of your development. They are deep-rooted principles telling you what you ‘must’ and ‘should’ do to be successful, loved, or happy. These beliefs are often inherited or formed early on in life. They are central to your self-image and breaking them can be both painful and necessary to continue your personal growth.

Some common dysfunctional life-rules

      • If I don’t succeed, I have not put in enough effort
      • If I express my needs, I am selfish
      • I must be strong, whatever it takes
      • If I have a lot going on, I am successful
      • If I say no, people will not trust me again
      • If I fail, they won’t respect me

I can certainly relate to many of these. Throughout my career in fast-paced consumer goods organizations, I was convinced that if I only worked harder and showed up stronger, I would climb faster than everyone else.

It worked well. Until I crashed spectacularly.

Today I am an Executive Coach, speaker and leadership consultant specialized in helping high performing individuals and teams find a more sustainable way to perform.  Many of my clients call themselves achievement addicts and want to learn how to be successful on their terms, go the distance and become more effective leaders. Without burning out in the process.

We start by taking a long, hard, and honest look at their life-rules.

Most life-rules are useful and help us make daily decisions without too much thought. However, when your core beliefs dictate your behaviors without flexibility, they are dysfunctional and can limit your growth and well-being.

The worst thing with toxic life-rules is that they appear to be truths – it’s just how the world works, right? Therefore, we are often not fully aware of them.

5 steps to challenge your life-rules

      1. Decide to challenge a life-rule in a small way. For example, choose to go for a walk instead of answering work emails tonight (Rule: If I don’t succeed, I will be criticized)
      2. If the feeling of discomfort creeps in, remind yourself that it is not bad or dangerous to feel uncomfortable, on the contrary, it means that you are challenging a rigid rule.
      3. Breathe, observe what is happening without judging (and keep your hands off those emails!). When the stress reaction goes away, you can focus on enjoying the walk.
      4. Write down: when does this life-rule serve you and when are you’re better off overruling it?
      5. Be thankful for the work you just did to build flexibility and resilience.

In short, dysfunctional life-rules can hinder your personal development, they are difficult to notice and can be unpleasant to break. These core beliefs are the root cause of many dysfunctional behaviors. By being aware of them, challenging them and analyzing your reaction, you can increase your resilience and grow into a better version of yourself.

Happy overruling!

The Constant Achiever – (over)achievement archetype 4

This is probably the achiever archetype I identify the most with. People who are Constant Achievers (and I at times) live by the motto:

You can rest when you’re dead’.

The constant achiever is a multi-tasker who always juggles several big projects. If you identify as a constant achiever work is always on your mind and you are likely checking emails around the clock.

In your spare time, you renovate your apartment, take a language course or prepare for a marathon (yep, yep and yep)

Everything you do has a purpose and a goal. Your to-do list is your comfort blanket and you likely to most things in life very quickly. As a consequence the constant achiever is rarely in the moment and at high risk of burnout.

Drivers and Fears:
      • Achievement as a safe zone.
      • Addiction to the ‘high’ of achievement.
      • It is uncomfortable to take it easy, laziness is frowned upon.
      • Fear of stopping development.
How to overcome:
    • Get clear on the negative consequences of constantly achieving. List what it does to your health, relationships, and results.
    • Practice self compassion. Start with: Avoid saying and thinking judgmental things about yourself, spend time doing things you enjoy, Letting go of external validation.
    • Behavioral Experiments: This part was central to the ‘achievement detox’ I did a few years ago to limit the damage my achievement addiction. I embarked on a 1 year experiment during which I took on a very junior role at work and banned all achievement focus from my life. It was an eyeopener but also a very painful experience. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy we instead recommend smaller experiments such as:
      • Post on LinkedIn and stop yourself from checking the results for 24 hours 😉.
      • Have a dinner party without meticulously preparing the food.
      • Swim on the slowest lane and allow yourself to be overtaken by everyone

Yep, have tried all three and for a Constant Achiever, it’s hard work and something we need to keep practicing.

Next up: The Competitor

 

 

 

The Worrying Problem Solver – (Over)achiever archetype 3

‘Spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions’

This achievement strategy is about never leaving anything unresolved. If you identify as worrying problem solver you often experience anxiety and negative stress when facing a challenging problem.

On top of the anxiety the issue with this approach is that it’s very ineffective. When the brain’s threat system is switched on you are unlikely to find constructive solutions.

The result is a behavior that is motivated by getting rid of discomfort. In the short term, it feels better to dwell on the problem than to leave it.

Drivers and Fears:
      • The dopamine kick of solving things.
      • Inability to deal with the discomfort of disappointment.
      • A tendency to catastrophize.
      • Fear of failure.
How to overcome:

1.Recognize the difference between worrying and productive problem solving. Here are some signs that you might be worrying:

      • You dismiss all your solutions as ineffective.
      • You are tense, distressed, and upset.
      • You spend a lot of time focusing on how things could go terribly wrong.

2. To get out of worrying-mode. Try taking some slow breaths from your diaphragm and relax. If that doesn’t help, take a break (go for a run, Clean the toilet). Come back to the problem when you’ve had a chance to settle down.

3. Put negative thoughts into a drawer. If you still find yourself slipping into negative thinking. Let the thoughts come, then mentally put them into a drawer, lock it and tell yourself you can open the draw again in an hour. In the meanwhile focus on positive ways to solve the problem.

Have you experienced periods of worrying and anxiety? What tips would you give to someone who is a worrying problem solver?

Next up: The Constant Achiever

6 (Over)Achievement Archetypes

Overachievers can accomplish great things but always need to do more. As they constantly raise the bar, the cost for reaching their goals eventually outweigh the rewards. Although overachievers tend to do well early on in their careers, at some point they start questioning the value of their constant hustle. In addition, research shows that achievement-orientation significantly increases the risk of burnout*.

Learning how to achieve sustainably is not only critical to our performance and well-being but affects the people we work with as well.

Overachievement Archetypes. © 2021 Emma Vallin. All rights reserved.

In a series of posts, I will discuss six achievement archetypes or patterns, identified through years of coaching high achievers and from my own ‘achievement detox’.

Which archetype (if any) do you most identify with?
      • THE COMPARISON JUNKIE. Lives by the motto: ‘Grass is always greener…’
      • THE CONTROLLER. ‘If you want a thing done well, do it yourself’
      • THE PERFECTIONST.  ‘Anything in life worth doing is worth overdoing’
      • THE COMPETITOR. ‘Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing’
      • THE CONTANT ACHIEVER. ‘I will rest when I’m dead’
      • THE WORRYING PROBLEMSOLVER. ‘Spend 55 min worrying about the problem and 5 min thinking about solutions’

I will share the drivers and fears behind each archetypes and would love to discuss what strategies you use to balancing them out.

I would love to have your input and hear your reflections on this topic!

Importantly, it’s NOT about giving up on being a high achiever, it’s about developing a dimmer to your superpower so that you can achieve sustainably, on your terms.

I use this framework a lot in my Achievement Detox Coaching Program and  when coaching business leaders. I find it very useful for identifying underlying fears and drivers and changing negative behaviors.

Happy reading!

*Canadian Journal of Nursing 2019, Vulnerability and Stressors for Burnout

Spring is in the air – time to invest in yourself?

Japanese Cherry Blossom season is soon upon us. ‘Sakura’ reminds us that life is precious and short and must not be wasted. The beautiful blossom which last only for a couple of days is a reminder to focus on what is important.

Do you want to find ways to reduce negative stress? Are you interesting in sustainable achievement? Or perhaps you are exploring career options?

After a year of homework and family bubbles, many are seeing light in the end of the tunnel and starting to think about new challenges and goals.

Offer: 3 coachingsessions for SEK1800

I’m currently offering a package of 3 sessions for SEK 1,800 (Value SEK 2,700) to new clients. Sessions are 50 minutes and done over Zoom. (Friskvårdsbidrag valid in Sweden).

Coaching can help you:

      • Clarify purpose and goals
      • Challenge negative behaviors and patterns
      • Prevent burnout
      • Get a clear plan with support and motivation for change

Interested? Get in touch on: kontakt@emmavallin.se +46 709195374

Feedback from previous clients:

”I am progressing through a change in career, exploring new opportunities in maybe even new sectors. Coaching with Emma have provided me with interesting tools and exercises to explore the right direction. I would strongly recommend anyone in a similar situation – taking on uncertainty – to explore this type of positive and unconditional coaching.” Willeke, UK

“During our conversations Emma was always committed, well prepared and ready to challenge me. I experience Emma as an incredibly warm, humble, curious and driven person who is genuinely interested in helping other people. I could really recommend Emma as a coach! Kristin, Stockholm

*Offer valid until March 31st 2021. Purchased sessions to be used within 1 year. New customers only. Digital coaching calls via Zoom. Payment by Swish or invoice. Appointments booked on kontakt@emmavallin.se or +46 709195374. 24h cancellation policy. 

Nominate a leader for the Executive Coaching Program


Are you leading your organization through change?

Do you want to become a more resilient, self-aware, and effective leader?

Or do you work with a super talent who would flourish with dedicated personal development support?

I’m offering up one spot on my Executive Coaching Program for free

The program includes an EQ-i 2.0® assessment and report + individual coaching. Apply in the link below. (Value € 1,950)

As an ICF-certified coach and certified EQ-i 2.0 practitioner I help leaders around the world develop a sharp vision, lead with authenticity, and create sustainable teams. With my 15+ years of corporate-and NGO leadership experience I support AND challenge leaders to raise their game.

Why is EQ critical to the success of today’s leaders?

Emotional intelligence skills are critical for problem solving, leading yourself and others as well as for building resilience.

The World Economic Forum has ranked Emotional Intelligence as one of the top 10 skills needed for the fourth industrial revolution.

And a recent Harvard Business Review article, “The EI Advantage,” states: “Corporate cultures that lack EI are becoming a major liability as business environments change.”

This year has certainly shown us the importance of adapting the change. Reflecting on my own 2020 there have definitely been a few big ones – starting my own business, leaving the corporate world, launching my Achievement Detox Program and going all digital with webinars and workshops.

Take this opportunity to nominate yourself of someone who wants to raise their game in 2021.

Best of luck!

Application

Program start Jan 2021. Winner announced by 15th Jan 2021. All coaching via Microsoft Teams. Appointments booked on kontakt@emmavallin.se, 24 hour cancellation policy.

Is your ambition putting you at risk for burn-out?

The stress-vulnerability model is often used to understand the causes of mental health issues and burn-out.

As you can guess, two dimensions are involved: “Vulnerability” refers to our basic sensitivities and is determined by our genetics as well as life experiences. “Stressors” refers to the situations or challenges faced in our lives.

Many employers are focusing more time and money on preventing negative stress instead of treating already burnt out co-workers. Great for the individual and the bottom line!

However stress prevention is often focused on the situational stressors, such as workload with very little attention given to understanding individual vulnerabilities.

A study from 2019 published in the Canadian Journal of Nursing Research found that ambition or “being passionate about doing well” is a strong vulnerability factor for burn-out. Key themes for situational stressors were “teamwork,” “manager,” and “work and personal circumstances.”

In summary the study shows that a discrepancy between individual vulnerability (ambition) and situational stressors can lead to burn-out. Therefore, burnout prevention needs to target the individual’s vulnerabilities as well.

Through my own Achievement Detox and coaching of high performers, I have learnt a couple of things when it comes to ambition and burn-out:

    1. Like any overused strengths your ambition or achievement superpower can damage your health, relationships and even your results.
    2. Learning to control your need to achieve does not mean turning your ambition off, you’re simply using it in a smarter way
    3. By taking your achiever hat off once in a while and letting other unique personality traits such as your creativity or kindness shine, you become a more interesting and productive person.

Do you or your team want to work smarter to prevent burn-out? Book a webinar, workshop, or coaching session with me.

Source: Vulnerability and Stressors for Burnout, September 2019. The Canadian journal of nursing research 

An unexpected cure for ‘Hurry Sickness’

Are you the kind of person who cleans the bathroom while brushing your teeth? Move from one check-out line to another when shopping? Sit at the back of the room during work presentations so that you can finish that budget sheet? Chances are you’re suffering from ‘hurry sickness’.

People with ‘hurry sickness’ are multitasking masters, they think, walk and speak fast

What Is Hurry Sickness?

Two American cardiologist first came up with the term when they found a correlation between typical type A behavior and heart disease. People with ‘hurry sickness’ are multitasking masters, they think, speak and even walk fast and get very impatient with anyone or anything wasting their time. Sounds familiar? You’re not alone – a London Business School study found that 95 percent of the managers in a study suffer from the condition.

Is it really that bad for you?

Being busy is often seen as a virtue but when it becomes a constant time urgency you lose your ability to stop and think, and as a result become less effective. You lose sight of the “big picture,” and risk alienating people around you. Not to mention the physiological and mental health risks that come with constant stress.

Quitting the hurry game is really about finding a dimmer for your ‘get-shit-done’ superpower

 

Why is it so hard to quit the hurry game?

From an early age we are rewarded for doing, achieving and winning. In high paced industries and corporate environments, it’s often a prerequisite for success, as many of us can relate to. Getting lots done is a kind of superpower that has likely made you pretty successful in your career. So why doesn’t it take you further or make you happier? Think of it as running a marathon at sprint pace. It might give you a lead early on in your life or career, but it certainly won’t make you either successful or indeed, alive as the race goes on. It’s less about quitting the hurry game and more about finding a dimmer for your ‘get-shit-done’ superpower. You need to learn how to dial up and down your hurriedness. Of course, it’s great to be able to switch it on for that big deadline or when you’re trying to get 2 small children out the door. But the default setting in your life needs to be less rushed and you need to learn how to dim the light completely.

The unexpected cure – being pregnant!

I’m a classic hurry sick person who have spent my life chasing efficiencies and trying to do things faster and better. From doing my Kegel exercises in the lift to conference calls in the gym. It wasn’t until I got pregnant with my first child that I learnt how to live slow. I suffered from severe pelvic girdle pain and could hardly walk. From being someone who would always walk /run up the tube escalator, I suddenly missed my bus every day for being to slow. I even found myself being overtaken by seniors in the slowest lane in the swimming pool. I have often thought it was natures cruel way to cure me from my hurry sickness before having children. I have to admit the relief was temporary, as a mother of 2 children under 3 years of age I often find myself multitasking in the most ridiculous ways. But I am now a sober hurry addict and I can dial up and down my busyness and speed. I finally have a dimmer!

Other ways to cure hurry sickness

If pregnancy with pelvic girdle pain doesn’t sound temping or just isn’t in the cards for you, here are some tips on how to fight hurry sickness:

    1. Practice doing one everyday thing slowly – it could be the dishes or walking to work. How does that make you feel?
    2. Question the value of your urgency – What difference will it make if you answer that email tonight? How important is it in the grand scheme of thing?
    3. Write down the flip side of your hurrying. What are you missing out on when you rush around? What effects on your health do you see? Who are you hurting?
    4. Trick the system with breathing right. When you’re feeling particularly flushed, take some deep breaths (inhale for 3 counts, exhale for 5). This activates the parasympathetic nervous system (the break system) and reduces the stress hormone cortisol.

Let’s make 2020 a slow year!

The art of a stress-free life

There’s something in the old saying, to stop and smell the roses. Noticing and enjoying the simple and beautiful things in life. But to be able to smell those flowers, you must plant and nurture them. You must take charge of your life – which in itself can be excruciatingly stressful.

So how can you get rid of negative stress?

We know that talented, driven and self-critical people are high risk for stress-related exhaustion disorders. But killing your ambition is difficult. Redirecting it however, setting different goals, can be life-changing. Use that drive and your performance personality to form and achieve new goals. Feel-good goals. It can be to laugh out loud every day, meet a new inspirational person every month or meditate once a week. Then go out there and deliver -like only you can!

There’s no vaccine for life crisis and unforeseen drama. You can however control how you handle setbacks. Choose to be kind to yourself. Try to see every obstacle as fertiliser for your roses; without shit in your life, there will be no personal development :).

To stop living a stressful life can be as difficult as becoming debt free or getting rid of an addiction. It requires conscious actions and sometimes you need help. Maybe book a couple of sessions with a coach. Hint hint me!

Be normal or be yourself

As we constantly project a polished, normal and successful life and are exposed to others’ equally amazing lives in our feeds, we risk forgetting who we really are.

Does the courage to be different come with age? Does the confidence to be original develop over time, with different experiences? Or do we need self-esteem to be ourselves?

As we constantly compare ourselves with others, do we risk diluting our beautifully weird and amazing personalities?

The world is more boring, less creative and dare to say; a worse place, the more normal we try to be.

Pregnancy – a hotbed for comparison stress?

  • Why do I get upset over the size of my bump during pregnancy yoga?
  • Will having a baby make the old performance anxiety to flare up again?
  • Why is it frowned upon to have entrepreneurial plans during maternity leave?
  • How do I avoid getting stuck in the baby gadget-trap?

I’m pregnant with our first child and it has triggered a lot of thoughts around conformity, society norms and stress. It seems pregnancy and parenthood often comes with a big helping of self-judgment and doubt.

What will it be like for me? This blog is an experiment. I want to use it for reflection around stress from comparing yourself with others, conformity and expectations of society on parents. I plan to write about pregnancy hang-ups, the pregnancy body, health and parenthood. But also about start your own business during early parenthood and about performance anxiety.

Hopefully I learn a lot that I can use in my role as a professional coach. Perhaps this blog will become a sort of vaccine against parental stress or instead work as fertiliser in the hotbed of comparison stress. Let’s see.