Understanding the psychology of feeling stuck and powerless, and how to address problems more effectively

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Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

In 1972, Martin Seligman published a paper in which introduced a troubling psychological phenomenon. It explains why a lot of well-meaning people get stuck in bad situations. It’s the reason why we find ourselves feeling unable to change our circumstances. It’s what keeps us from making changes, getting creative, and innovating.

The phenomenon is called learned helplessness.

Seligman demonstrated it with a simple experiment. He set up a room in which dogs were given shocks, but as soon as they crossed a designated barrier, the shocks would stop. Those dogs quickly learned why the shocks were happening, and learned that they could prevent them. …

On communicating more elegantly and effectively in an age of attention scarcity

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Photo by Cookie the Pom on Unsplash

I received an e-mail the other day from a salesperson. It began with two introductory sentences, then a third which read “I’ll keep this brief.”

What followed was two dense paragraphs rich with detail, names, and data. A third paragraph following them was one sentence with a vague “it’d be great to connect” wedged in there. No call to action, no specific request of how and when we might connect. Just an inkling that it would be “nice” to “connect”.

I don’t plan to respond the e-mail.

Why? I have no idea what the objective is. I lost it somewhere between the author’s initial promise to “keep it brief,” him smashing that promise to pieces in the 2 dense paragraphs following that, and the concluding sentence which seemed like the equivalent of wishful navel-gazing. …

The one decision that makes 1,000+ decisions.

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Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

We’re all pressed for time and low on energy these days. We all have important decisions to make-things that require us to weigh pros and cons, think though possibilities, and strategize. But we often find ourselves pushing off that work because we’ve spent a lot of our mental energy on other decisions throughout the day.

Enter the idea of a strategic intent. Greg McKeown sums up the power of strategic intent in his classic book Essentialism:

“Done right, a strategic intent is really one decision that makes 1,000 decisions.”

There’s no better strategic decision than establishing a personal code of conduct. It is that one decision that makes a thousand (or more) decisions. When you decide upfront what kinds of things you will and won’t do in general, you limit the mental energy you spend later. …

A guide to letting things go, so you can move on and move up

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Photo by Junior Karrick DJIKOUNOU from Pexels

There was a time where I lived in a fairly downtrodden boarding house in a downtrodden city in the Midwest. As it turns out, the time I spent there was cut short. That wasn’t because I found a better place, but because that place had bedbugs and a few other “quirks”. You know, that kind of place.

Needless to say, that was a “transitional” period in my life — to put it nicely.

During that time, I was the proud owner of a Pace bus pass. There didn’t seem to be anything cool about the bus pass at that time. After all, I had previously owned a car, so this was a step down. What was cool about having a bus pass is that it afforded me the opportunity to have a few memorable conversations with people I wouldn’t have otherwise talked to. …

The distinction that makes all the difference

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Ask any successful person how they got where they are, and they’re likely to have one answer in common: “hard work”. This has led us to believe that we need to put in strenuous effort — give it 110% — in order to rise to higher levels of performance.

But we don’t actually have to put in a ton of strenuous effort. We don’t have to break our backs to extract the blood, sweat, and tears — just to do great things. We do, however, have to do the kinds of things that others aren’t doing and probably won’t do.

To put it another way, you don’t have to work hard to be successful, but you do have to do hard work. And there is a difference between those two things. Understanding that difference is more than half the battle. …

My 37 years on this planet have provided me with some hard-won principles that continue to help me grow

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Photo by Casey Schackow on Unsplash

I’ve learned a lot of things in my life. Some things I learned from reading or hearing them. Other things I learned the hard way — by experiencing their lessons. Some of those lessons came from loss; others came from risks that paid off.

It can be hard to tell which things you learn in life are the most valuable. Which lessons are the most important probably depends a lot on your particular circumstances and personality. So much of life is the process of sifting through the dirt of your experience to find the gems worth keeping.

But there are some gems of hard-earned wisdom that are worth sharing no matter who might read them. I consider these 10 to be among the most valuable I’ve learned. …

From humble acts to tiny bits of time, some of the biggest impact comes from things we’d never otherwise thing about

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Photo by Akshar Dave on Unsplash

I was watching the surprisingly good Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso tonight, when I was hit with a realization. Upon arrival to coach a failing soccer club in England, coach Ted Lasso-who has only previously coached American Football in the midwest-tries to gain the alliance of the skeptical players.

One tactic he attempts in the beginning is to put out a suggestion box. He asks the players to put in whatever kind of suggestion they’d like, from the texture of the towels to the quality of the vending machine snacks. As he sifts through it with his assistant coach, they find an array of insults, and not much of use-except for one thing. …

Become more confident and decisive — and stop putting things off — using the Eisenhower Matrix

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Photo by Artem Verbo on Unsplash

Procrastination is a killer.

It kills projects. It kills opportunities. It can even kill an entire company. It kills slowly and quietly — by sapping your time, energy, and money. It also saps the self-confidence and effectiveness of individuals who could be doing great things.

But it is possible to defeat procrastination. You just have to adopt one simple habit: decisiveness. You have to consistently make decisions and stick with them with a high level of commitment.

How do you do this? It helps first to have an understanding of what procrastination really is. Once you have that understanding, you can adopt a framework for preventing it. The framework helps you make decisions with confidence. You then begin making decisions you’ll stick to. …

Each of us engages in these negative habits every day, but it’s possible to overcome them

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Photo by Radu Florin on Unsplash

Do you talk to yourself? Before you answer that, allow me to answer it for you. Yes, you do. You just don’t realize just how often you do it.

It’s not actual talking out loud to yourself. Rather, it’s an internal monologue — sometimes to yourself, other times about yourself. Sometimes it’s encouraging and helpful, but much more often, it’s not. The unhelpful internal monologue is called negative self-talk.

Negative self-talk plagues us all at times. It’s our tendency to think about ourselves, our choices, and our actions in critical and negative ways. …

The fine art of stumbling and fumbling your way into greatness

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Photo by Trym Nilsen on Unsplash

I was raised — as I suspect many of us were — to believe in the idea of the straight and narrow. Go to school every day, do your homework, go to college, follow the rules, play it safe, work hard, and eventually success will come.

It didn’t quite work that way for me. In fact, if it works that way for anyone, it would be the exception, rather than the rule.

The rule is that the straight and narrow is usually neither straight nor narrow. …


Mike Sturm

Author of “The Wabi-Sabi Way” and “Be, Think, Do”. Subscribe to my newsletter “Woolgathering”: https://goo.gl/UhzUYL.

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