A Recipe for Cultivating Passion

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I had the privilege recently of attending a performance of The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and Jon Batiste. Individually, the musicians had an immeasurable amount of prodigious talent, but collectively, the music was soulful and magical.  It was clear there was something ethereal happening; an energetic wave was born on that stage and washed over us all.  It got me wondering – what are the ingredients that generate this kind of passion and energy in our own lives?  And, what is the ripple effect into our communities when we tap it?
These questions were the basis of my graduate school dissertation and are ongoing for me.  Here’s what you need to know about how to cultivate more passion in work and life:

  • Nurture your talents and actively use your strengths – What are the talents, skills and abilities that come naturally to you, that are energizing and you cannot help but express in the world?How will you nurture them so they continue to grow? We often discover our passions by pursuing our strengths. When we connect with and use our strengths in service of our passions, we are more likely to engage in those activities, be resilient when we're challenged and generate better results.  
  • Focus, hard work and practice – Focus on what lights you up!  Work tirelessly and energetically toward improvement and mastery, knowing that a growth mindset, continued learning and practice will only make you better at what you love. 
  • Follow the path for its own sake – In terms of generating meaning and purpose in life, intrinsic rewards far outweigh the extrinsic ones.   Do what you’re passionate about because of the sheer joy it brings you, because time fades into the background, and because you cannot keep from doing it!  The activity is the reward. 
  • Architect a community of support – Who are the people who encourage and inspire you?  Who has complementary gifts, that when joined together, spark magic?  The whole is more than the sum of its parts.  Other people matter, and we need community for exponential impact and engagement.
  • It doesn’t need to pay the bills – While some of us will connect with passion through our paid work in the world, many of us will not, and that is perfectly okay!  What’s of the utmost importance is that we are cultivating our interests and passions in at least one domain of our lives.  Passion energy is a wellspring of positive emotions and meaning.  Do something ongoing that is energizing and brings you enjoyment and happiness. 

Watching the stage that evening, I witnessed passion coming alive in the foot tapping, bodies swaying, ear-to-ear smiling and harmonious sound.  A lifetime of nurturing talents, discipline and practice enabled that symphonic moment.  Those individual musicians, in ensemble, reverberated musical grandeur that touched the souls of everyone in that theater.  Thank goodness they showed up and shared it!  Here’s the bottom line: participate in and share your gifts with the world, for your own sake and the collective, we need them more than ever. 

In service and gratitude, Katrina 

Why the Pursuit of Perfection is Riddled with Flaws

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It doesn’t take much investigation to reveal why so many of us have been hooked by perfectionism.  Through bombardment of mainstream and social media – where so much of what is celebrated is airbrushed and what is showcased is a selective editorial of only our fabulous moments – the message is clear: being perfect, whether it’s having career success, physical beauty, or having the perfect family, is the path to happiness and worthiness.  Many of us received messages from the time we were small that perfect performance and behavior bought us love and attention.  Pressure to pursue perfection is pervasive, but the path is riddled with flaws.  It’s time we wake up and create a new aspiration to live authentically instead of perfectly.

I know you’re probably thinking that your boss wants you to be perfect at work, but I would guess you’re wrong.  Perfectionism has a dark side, and it’s distinctly different from being hard working, having appreciation of excellence, holding high standards, and being committed to results.  Everyday in my coaching practice with clients, I see the damage derived from perfectionism.  A few of its hallmarks are:

  • Holding yourself to an unattainable bar that sets you up for disappointment and the feeling of ‘never [fill in the blank] enough’
  • Overworking in an unsustainable way that leads to burnout
  • Not producing timely results because you’re over-iterating
  • Micromanaging your teammates in an attempt to control every detail
  • Adopting a self-critical and judgmental inner voice that is harsh on yourself
  • Playing it safe and not taking risks for fear of failure
  • Hiding mistakes and pretending you’re ok, even when you’re crumbling inside
  • Never asking for help for fear you’ll be found out as an imposter

For most people, all this striving for perfection strips us of true satisfaction, happiness and actually enjoying our work and lives.  Perfection is a dangerous path where people are especially prone to the error of thinking that self-worth is equivalent to the ability to be perfect.  In the end, perfectionism is an anxiety inducing, often obsessive, and disconnected way of living your life.

The good news and bright side is that with courage, self-awareness, openness, and willingness to experiment and dispute your thinking, you can unravel and eventually undo perfectionism.  Here are some tips and actions to help you along your path to authenticity:

  • Become aware of your inner voice – notice how you talk to yourself and begin talking to yourself like you would a sweet friend, with compassion
  • Embrace that what you do, how you look, what others think of you, how successful you are, etc., does not equal who you are – you get to create your identity and self-worth
  • Ask for help when you need it – and pay attention to what happens
  • Take a risk or try something that feels out of your comfort zone – we learn so much through new experiences and mistakes
  • Admit your mistakes – especially at work, your team wants to know you are human.  It gives them permission to be honest about their mistakes with you
  • Know when good enough is enough – challenge yourself to prioritize what needs more attention and what does not
  • Don’t boil the ocean – focus on the 80/20 rule – what 20% of activities will give you 80% of the results
  • When someone else comes up less than perfect, be compassionate - none of us are perfect
  • Reach out and get support to build resilience – share what you’re working on with a friend, trusted colleague, mentor or coach – ask for accountability 

When we hang up perfection for authenticity, we make way for courageous connection, richer learning experiences, cultivation of a growth mindset, honest living, and perhaps the best gift of all – an improved, more loving relationship with ourselves. Let's let the ivory tower of perfection fall!

May you embrace your imperfections today, and may you still be perfectly enough, Katrina

Habits Take Hold

Photo by stanciuc/iStock / Getty Images

In January, we learned the difference between tactical and transformational change, and why the latter makes change so hard. You can read the article here.  This month, we’ll examine the physiology of habits, how their powerful automation takes hold in the body, and what you can do to reshape and create new habits for positive change.
In his terrific book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, author Charles Duhigg explains the neurological loop of habits as beginning with a cue, which leads to a routine, and ends with a reward.  The cue - routine - reward loop, when repeated, becomes automatic in the brain and body.  It concretizes when the body begins to crave your participation in the habit.  Each time you complete the habit loop, your brain releases feel-good chemical neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin, to the body.  Next time the cue arises, your body anticipates and craves the feel-good reward, and that biology is a tough contender against willpower.

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This happens for good evolutionary reason. The vast majority of what we do is automated; only a small percentage is effortful and intentional.  In the morning, do you think about how to tie your shoes or brush your teeth?  No, you just do it.  Habits and automation regulate and preserve brain power and body energy – glucose – so it is available when we need it.  And it’s a good thing, as the executive functions of our brain that are used for effortful thinking – like decision making, focus, prioritization and judgment - require high levels of glucose to function.  When you find yourself in a new and challenging situation, you often feel tired and more quickly depleted, right?  That’s because the effort required is using more energy – you’re not on autopilot.
What habits aren’t serving you?  Do you reach for a sugary treat in the afternoon, gossip to colleagues, or watch too much TV on the couch instead of going to the gym?  Many of my clients are actively managing work-life balance issues and tell me they feel like Pavlov’s dog at home every time their smartphones ding, indicating new messages.  Sound familiar?  Do you feel the strong craving to check and respond to that email?  In this case, the cue is the phone’s notification, the routine is the checking and responding, and the reward is something you need to identify for yourself – maybe you feel a sense of accomplishment or connectedness, or maybe you’re just bored and want a quick distraction?  Here's my advice: turn off all notifications!
Duhigg suggests the following steps for redesigning habits:

  • Identify the routine
  • Experiment with reward
  • Isolate the cue
  • Have a plan and change the routine

The routine is the behavior you want to change.  Let’s use a relatable example – every late afternoon at the office you walk up a floor to the vending machine and buy an unhealthy snack.  What reward are you getting from this routine? Are you satiating hunger, relieving boredom, giving yourself a quick break?  Experiment with different rewards by changing the routine – instead, go for a walk around the block, keep a healthy snack at your desk, or put on some uplifting music.  Were you able to subdue or overcome your cravings with any of these alternative actions?  How did they make you feel (reward)?  If a brisk walk did the trick, then this habit is not actually about hunger.
Isolating cues is often the hardest step because many triggers may be at play – time of day, location, emotional state, who’s around, what you were doing right before, etc.  Targeting rewards and isolating cues requires some experimentation.  In our example, maybe the cue is a particular time in the afternoon, or maybe your officemate opens a crinkly bag of chips every afternoon, and the sound is your cue.  Pay attention to the possible factors.
Have a plan.  Now that you’ve got all the pieces of this puzzle, create a plan to assure you’ll change your routine - behaviors and actions - in the future.  Set an alarm for 3pm and take a 10-minute brisk walk around the block for the next week instead of ascending the stairs to the vending machine.  It may feel effortful at first, because it’s not yet a habit, but after some consistent practice, you’ll automate the activity and hopefully your trips to the vending machine will be a distant memory.  Even better, where your former habit made you feel satisfied in the moment but guilty later, your redesigned habit will leave you feeling healthier and energized.
Wishing you habit makeovers that lead to healthier, happier and more productive times ahead!

Why is Some Change so Hard?


Happy 2017!  I love the New Year.  It’s a natural time to take stock of the past and look hopefully into the future.  And, in addition to the cold temperatures and over-packed fitness classes, the New Year also brings those dreaded resolutions!  I say dreaded not because I don’t believe in making commitments and declarations, I do (!), but because for so many of us resolutions create intentions that we fail to follow through on.  And that leaves many of us feeling stuck, disappointed, unhappy, and unkind to ourselves.

Why is some change so hard?  What is that one BIG thing that you have been declaring to change forever, and yet you’ve made no progress?  Maybe you want to get healthier, become a better listener, take more risks, or better manage your piling commitments?  Regardless of what IT is, any goal we have comes with a set of tips, steps, best practices and associated actions.  Want to lose weight? Eat less, exercise more!  Simple, right? But it isn’t… 
There are 2 important ways we process change:

Way 1: The Tactical Change – In this case, creating a change is as simple for you as learning and applying some new information, skill or competency, and putting it into action.  This change is something you don’t have any baggage or hang ups about.  There’s no underlying resistance to trying and adopting the change.  When my tennis forehand needed improvement, I followed my coach’s instructions – “Stay sideways, Katrina.  Watch the ball hit the strings!  Follow all the way through!”  I did, and the forehand got better.

Way 2: The Transformational Change – This is the category for those failed intentions.  It’s the case when you know what goals you have, but even after you learn the skills and steps, you don’t do them or stick with them.  Why?  More than likely, you are resisting the change because of underlying, competing commitments and assumptions you hold dear, of which you may not even be aware. 

Through our experiences and evolution as people, we develop organizing principles to understand the world around us.  Think of it as your internal operating system or worldview.  Through your unique lens, you use your way of knowing your experiences to make decisions, judgments and sense of the world around you.  Where you’ve had traumas or negative experiences, you create shields of protection to ensure safety in the future.  Know this – we all have a field of vision, and we all have blind spots.  And, outside that field of vision is a new world of possibilities and ways of being and doing. 
Here’s a 5-step discovery process to support transformational change – set aside some time to consider and write down:

  1. Identify your most important 2017 goal or commitment that you have been stuck on or unsuccessful achieving for some time.
  2. List what you do and don’t do that doesn’t support your goal.
  3. What are your hidden competing commitments and worries that stand in the way of you achieving your goal?
  4. Go deeper now – what are your underlying personal assessments and assumptions that stand in the way of you achieving your goal?
  5. Dispute your assumptions through real-life experiments.  Create a plan to test a new way of being, doing and thinking that opposes your assumptions and supports your goals.  Take note of the data you receive, and use it to broaden your field of vision.

Here’s an example to bring this to life:

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In the above example, a Step 5 disputation experiment could be to commit to proactively sharing an expert opinion in a situation where the contribution is different than what is being offered by the group.  Through at-bats like this, it may be realized that diverse contributions are valued, and that bringing alternative points of view does not lead to dissention – breaking the connection between sharing as a pathway to disapproval, conflict and likeability.  Eventually, a stronger leader will emerge, who steps up to add more value, and is seen as an advisor in the organization. 

Often, we don’t change because we haven’t uncovered and faced the column 4 forces – the underlying assessments and assumptions – that are keeping us stuck.  Surfacing them can feel scary, risky and vulnerable.  What do you have to gain by facing those fears?  You have the possibility to free yourself from their hold, achieve new heights, and continue to learn and grow.  Transformational change requires courage and commitment, and it leads you to becoming a more fully realized version of your best self. 

Test it for yourself, and send me a note to share your experiences! Don’t go it alone!  Tell the people close to you what you’re working on, and ask them for support.  Involving others gives you buoyancy, help and accountability in the process. 

My coaching practice is designed to support and accelerate transformational change.      Please contact me to set up a complimentary coaching session to begin your discovery.

Here’s to your journey in 2017!  May you let nothing hold you back! 
Happy New Year, Katrina

Reference: This article was inspired by and adapted from Immunity to Change, by Kegan & Lahey.

Are You Still Fun?

        A few years ago, my husband and I went to a destination wedding of a college friend.  The maid-of-honor was larger than life in a way that was absolutely and ridiculously playful, hilarious and downright silly.  Her charm gravitationally pulled everyone in through the wedding weekend – she brought out in each of us our hidden self that dances like no one is watching, laughs until our belly hurts, and plays with reckless abandon.  That wedding weekend was so inordinately fun, that it gave me pause. I turned to my husband on the drive home and said, “Am I still fun?”  It wasn’t that I didn’t fully enjoy my life; it was that the weekend had been so standout fun and playful, it made me wonder if I had become too serious in my adult life?  Had I forgotten what it was like to channel my inner child?

        It turns out the majority of us have done just that.  Children laugh an average of 400 times a day – adults, just 17 times.  Integrating play into their activities is effortless and natural, as is curiosity and questioning.  The volume of questions adults ask steeply declines as we approach adulthood, and with it, our creativity.  Organizations that rely on innovation are tuning into this and intentionally creating cultures that hone creativity and design thinking to solve difficult problems by welcoming curiosity and questioning. 

        Since play is linked to creativity, happiness and productivity, gone are the days we should work in order to play.  Instead, we should look for ways to infuse play into our work.  What type of work day do you enjoy more – one that is all-business or one that allows you to enjoy a laugh with your colleagues and have some fun in the process?

        What I found to be good news was that there’s more than one way to play, so if your kind of play is not the Maid-of-Honor, life-of-the-party-type, there’s hope for you!  Yes, you can still have fun and be fun.  In his book Play, Dr. Stuart Brown explains that play comes in a variety of formats - it can be social, imaginative, involve objects or rough-housing (think sports!), or be experienced as a spectator. 

        The bottom line is that regardless of how you experience play, we all need more of it.  While research on play and the brain in humans is burgeoning but still limited, we know from research on mammals that those who play more live longer, have better survival instincts, and develop more complex brains.  Signals from others of playfulness - from body language, voice or facial expression - communicate that we are safe in our company and help to establish trust.  And when our brains do not detect threat, we decrease our stressors and are free to enjoy the feel-good stuff in life and express ourselves more authentically.


        Let’s help each other to play more, laugh more, to not take ourselves too seriously, to be unencumbered, and to reconnect with what brings us joy!

Here’s to more LMAO, dancing-like-no-one-is-watching moments!