Professor Destressor eNews |
Combining productive work lives and balanced personal lives
Our goal is to bring you news, insights, and information about
leading a balanced and productive life while making a difference.
In this issue, you'll find:
- Happy New Year
- Professor Destressor coaching
- Up and coming workshops
1. Happy New Year
This familiar greeting as we transition to a new calendar year
may seem like a mere social ritual. Yet a deep wish and longing
lie beneath it – namely, that we yearn to have a happy life and
wish the same for others. This time of year, you will be reading
lots of sidebar articles in print and online publications about
New Year’s resolutions. I have written in previous newsletters
(Jan. 2002) about why making resolutions doesn’t work but this
year I want to give some reflections on what you might do to
take a different approach to the New Year – what constitutes
a “happy new year” and what you can do to have one. Research
from the new subfield of positive psychology has provided
scientific evidence that people can do something about raising
their happiness level. I have organized some of the main research
findings into three areas or strategies for happiness: the three
M’s: Meaning, Mastery, and Mindfulness.
Positive psychology researchers led by Martin Seligman at the
University of Penn describe three paths to happiness:
the pleasurable life, the good life and the meaningful life.
They are all important to living a rich and full life with the
most important being the meaningful life. The Pleasurable Life
involves pleasures such as a nice house, good food, and recreational
activities. We all know people for whom this is their only path.
They can’t wait until 5 o’clock for real life to begin –
whether it is stopping for a few beers at the neighborhood pub
or riding their motorcycle – they seek one pleasurable experience
after the other without much substance in between.
The Good Life relates to achievements whether from the deep
satisfaction of a job well done or time spent in intimate
communication with friends and family. When one is between
achievements or things are not going so well, people who use
this path as their main route to life satisfaction feel a bit
empty like something is missing.
The Meaningful Life pulls everything in your life together
like a connect-a-dot puzzle providing a foundation for all
you do. It answers the question: “Why do I do what I do?”
It might include your philosophy of life. It might include
your values and how they inform your life decisions. It might
include beliefs in something outside of yourself whether a
Higher Power or a sense of community. It guides your moral
compass and it answers, when all is said at the end-of-life
question: “Was it all worth it?”
When I coach people to develop the Meaningful Life as part
of a happy new year and a happy life, I ask them to construct
their personal Pyramid of Power with four horizontal strips
placed on top of each other from the bottom up: purpose,
mission, vision, and goals.
- A statement of purpose. It answers the question,
“Why am I here?” It is usually short, abstract, and, once
articulated, changes very little across your lifetime. Some
examples that my clients have come up with:
- “I am a bridge connecting ideas and people for the
- “I manifest God’s love for his people.”
- “I bring order and beauty to an ugly and chaotic world.”
Writing such a statement sounds deceptively simple. It often
takes awhile and sometimes follows writing the other pieces
that form your Pyramid of Power even though it is the bottom
strip of the Pyramid.
- A mission statement. This statement answers the question:
“How shall I live out my life?” It also answers the question,
“If I were to live my purpose, what would I be doing?” Longer
and more concrete than a purpose statement, it is meant to serve
as a guideline for about 3-5 years or 6 months whichever seems
most viable. It will get rewritten when it is achieved or when
it gets out of date given new opportunities and interests.
I like to use a formula developed by Laura Beth Jones in
“The Path” including: *3 verbs of what you are good at:
- 3-8 values that you hold dear;
- 2-3 groups of people that you serve.
Here is what one client, a medical researcher, came up with
for her mission statement:“I research, promulgate, and teach
about coronary artery disease to students, colleagues, and
patients who value clarity, integration of ideas, and hope.”
- A vision statement. A vision statement answers the
question: “If I work on my mission, “What will result?” It
represents outcomes hoped for, dreams conceptualized. It will
be the longest of these pieces, actually composed of
substatements based on categories you create out of dreaming
big about your mission and its results for you, your immediate
world, and the wider world of your business, family or the
globe. Sometimes my clients start with categories such as home,
work, family, friendships, or hobbies and then generate how
their mission would be articulated into an outcome in each area.
Sometimes people start with the specific dreams and categorize
later into 6-8 categories that act as umbrellas for catching
and holding new dreams and goals. The substatements are stated
in the present tense even if they are not currently true.
This grammatical form creates immediacy and propels one’s
One client wrote one of her statements about caring for
herself: “I am a good steward of my health in body, mind,
- Goals. In order to achieve the vision of doing your
mission, you will need goals. Most professionals already
have lots of goals – more than we can complete in a lifetime.
Some of the traditional New Year’s resolutions are goals.
What is different here is that the goals are anchored to the
rest of the Pyramid of Power instead of floating around by
themselves. They relate to a Big Picture of why you are here,
what you are doing while you are here, and what you hope
results from your actions. Your goals are ways to carry out
Once these elements are created, I help people create a
Life Management System to organize, track, and evaluate
the elements. It could be in a 3 ring folder so that pages
can be moved around, or on a planning wall, or in a computer
project management file. These devises should be reviewed
and revised periodically such as weekly, monthly,
or quarterly. Many of my readers have already developed
their Pyramid of Power in the workshop where we first met.
Perhaps now is the right time to consider spending a few
minutes at the start of this New Year reviewing and
revising your Pyramid. If you have not yet taken me up on
my offer of a complementary coaching session to get these
elements in place, this might be a good time to gift
yourself with a session.
Most of my readers are busy professionals with active work
lives. A Happy New Year often means some element of success,
prosperity, or productivity. The high performance literature
is rich with theories about success depending on effort,
education, talent, or dedication. While these things are
all important, the data don’t support the claim that these
factors account for success. There is one variable that shows
up in the peak performance literature that accounts for more
predictability of success than any other. It shows up in the
sports data, business sales data, and even predicts the
accuracy of certain medical procedures such as colonoscopies.
That variable is mastery, the level of achievement that comes
from doing things well consistently. It is attained by one
strategy, that of repeated practice with feedback.
Even if you ignore professional sports stories as I usually do,
you probably know basketball’s Michael Jordan’s story. Cut
from his high school team for lack of talent, he dedicated
himself to practice. Sure he was somewhat coordinated. Sure
he was motivated but what really made him a star was practicing
shooting, dribbling, and rebounding over and over again way
beyond the hours when most people would have gotten tired
and given up. In his field the natural outcome measure was
baskets made. The ball either drops through the hoop or
doesn’t – being close doesn’t count. Even when he finally
was drafted by the Chicago Bulls, what made him a star on a
great team was that he consistently practiced 2-3 hours past
the work day of his teammates. He got good because he practiced
with feedback, number of baskets made, until he got a groove
that he could count on, until his whole body learned how to
shoot successfully from every angle.
If you are a gastroenterologist doing colonoscopies, your
outcome measure will be polyps removed. Removing polyps
translates into lower risks for colon cancer for your patients.
According to research published in 2006 in the New England
Journal of Medicine, gastroenterologists working on mastery
take just a little more time to get from the endoscopic
camera. Their effort pays off in their own sense of mastery
and in lower long term risks for their patients.
If you want to be successful in sales, ask your satisfied
customers what made the sale. Ask your non-buyers what would
have made the sale. In addition seek feedback from a sales
coach who can watch a video tape of your approach with
If you want to be a successful teacher, ask your students
for specific feedback. Not, “Did you like the class?” but,
“What did you like about the class? What did you learn?
What do you wish we had done differently?” Get a master
teacher to visit class or view a video tape to give you
feedback. Practice new techniques until they are second
nature, until you can facilitate discussions easily or
give instructions for a lab exercise that your students
can actually understand and follow.
If you want to have a Happy New Year in your work life,
aim for mastery in one small part of your professional
life or other area of your life. Mastery does not mean
a relentless pursuit of perfection, though, but merely
the targeting of one small area of improvement through
a bit of extra practice. It might involve target something
in your work life that could be improved. Or this might be
the year where you attain mastery in an aspect of a hobby
like one year when I did a ballroom dance showcase with
my teacher. Unlike the stars on Dancing with the Stars,
I didn’t take off from work and family to devote 8 hours
a day. Instead I spent 3-6 months mastering the techniques
and choreography of a cha-cha routine by taking one lesson
a week with my teacher during which he gave me feedback
and practicing at home in front of mirror where I got
immediate visual feedback. Closer to show time, my teacher
and I also practiced with a coach who gave us feedback.
While the process was hard work, it was enormously satisfying.
I was happy that I mastered a difficult routine and danced
it in front of an audience. Is there an area of your work
or hobby life where mastery can increase your happiness
Meaning and mastery sounds like such serious business,
you might wonder what happened to the Pleasurable or
the Good Life. Can’t we have any fun in the New Year?
Where is the balance?
The key to successful balance is not in carving out equal
portions of your waking time to each aspect of your life.
It is in emphasizing what you want to emphasize in each
portion. This may change from moment to moment, day to day.
That is why you need to be mindful of where you are in
the process. I offer to you that most busy professionals
need to be mindful of the three kinds of time segments in
a typical day or week:
- Thinking Time
- Doing Time
- Buffer Time
Thinking Time is when you plan, track your goals, and assess
your successes. It is when you reflect on your Pyramid of
Power or goals for mastery and decide what is needed next.
It might be when you write a sales presentation or a
Doing time is when you do what you do. Taking care of kids
is doing time. So is meeting with your employees or faculty
to discuss trends in the field. Doing is busy; it is productive
- as long as it is guided by your Pyramid of Power.
Buffer Time is the in-between time. Commuting, picking up
the dry cleaning, going to doctor’s appointments, getting
hair cuts represent things we do in Buffer Time. We need this
time. Without it our lives get chaotic and fall apart. We also
fill Buffer Time with activities that do not add to our
happiness level such as watching TV in Buffer Time, gossiping
at the water fountain or faculty lounge, sleeping in,
or eating or drinking too much. That is why Mindfulness is so
important. Asking, “Is this activity adding to or subtracting
from my quality of life?” will bring you up short to see if
you are using your time to live a fun, successful, meaningful
life. Asking, “Am I having enough fun for my effort,” is
another good question. Sometimes doing nothing and just
hanging out is important Buffer Time; sometimes it is wasting
time. Only you can evaluate which is which.
Mindfulness requires periodically hitting the magic restart
button on your brain with time for reflection, relaxation,
or meditation. Realigning your neurons with these activities
allows you to have more focus in a scattered world. Add in
the one activity found by the positive psychology researchers
to be especially helpful in deepening your happiness by
asking at the end of the day, “What am I grateful for?”
It will bring you full circle to connecting all the dots of
your Happy New Year: the meaning, mastery and mindfulness
of your life.
Have a Happy New Year. A really happy one!
2. Professor Destressor Workshops and Coaching
About the publisher: Susan Robison, Ph.D. is a
psychologist and an independent educator. She is
professor of psychology at the College of Notre Dame of
Maryland and offers services as a professional coach,
speaker, author and seminar leader. She loves to coach
professionals who want improvement in:
If you are feeling stuck on the way to your ideal life,
give Susan a call for a complementary half-hour coaching
- work-life balance,
- strategic career management,
- time management,
- increasing productivity.
Susan provides keynotes and seminars to colleges,
universities and professional organizations on the
She offers her audiences a follow-up coaching session
because she knows that workshops don’t work… unless the
participants apply their learnings.
- work-life balance and stress management,
- faculty development,
- time management,
- leadership strategies for academics,
- relationships skills at home and at work,
- change strategies.
Contact Susan for your coaching, speaking, or seminar
needs at Susan@ProfessorDestressor.com or at 410-465-5892.
3. Up and coming workshops
I am currently accepting speaking invitations for work/life
balance and leadership workshops for late winter and spring.
Contact me if your group needs a speaker on any of the topics
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© Copyright 2008 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The
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