Get Off the Merry-Go-Round of Shame

Dear Springboard:

A few days ago, I made a mistake–that in retrospect wasn’t that big a deal–but boy, did I punish myself for it. It happened at the start of my work day and I obsessed about it all morning and into the afternoon. I couldn’t believe how careless I had been. I know better.

The point is that I went around and around in my head. This happens a lot.

I’m sick and tired of it.

Please help!

Stressed Out and Shamed


Dear SOS:

We all make mistakes. The key is how we handle it. Your signoff of “Shamed” offers valuable insight.

Just last week, I had a client who shared that she had done something she was sorry about. She too felt badly, obsessed over it, and . . . the feeling lingered. She noticed she was saying to herself, “How could you be so stupid!” and “What a loser. You keep doing the same dumb things.”

Then, she thought: “Now wait a minute. It’s not that big a deal. A year from now, I won’t even remember this. A month from now? Likely not. A week? I bet I won’t give it a second thought.”

So, her next thought was: “This is upsetting but not important in a lasting way. What can I do to let go of this faster and stop the feeling lousy about it sooner?”

Her awareness was a critical first step. It gave her some objectivity and she was able to step back and see the situation in a slightly detached way.

She remembered what she learned from Brene Brown and her work on shame and vulnerability. She had watched her TED talks on shame and vulnerability (the fourth most watched ever).

Spend a few minutes with one or both of those videos.

If you find them interesting, you might want to pick up one of her books. You could start with Daring Greatly published last year.

In the meantime, here are some top-line learnings.

Shame is more powerful than guilt. Guilt says I made a mistake. Shame says I am a mistake. And, further, be sure to hide this awful fact so the flawed person I really am isn’t exposed.

Brown offers some tools to combat shame.

  • Start with awareness and see if there is a pattern to the triggers that generate shame. Without awareness, shame is driving the bus and we don’t even know it.
  • Objectively look at the messages you tell yourself. Ask whether the behavior or goals you set for yourself are realistic or even desirable. Are you expecting yourself to be a superstar in all circumstances? Whose voice it that is so demanding?
  • Practice self-compassion. Would you talk to anyone else the way you talk to yourself?
  • Reach out to someone you trust and share what is going on. Shame is like a vampire – they both suck the life out of us and neither wants to be exposed to the light.
  • Own the story. Don’t resist but instead surrender to the fact that shame is part of the human experience. With that ownership, take control so you can write the ending of your own personal script.

It is important to be aware of our Inner Critic, or Gremlin, and what it is saying.

These steps can help develop shame resilience, which is the ability to objectively look at the situation honestly, acknowledge a mistake and any hurt or disappointment. And, at the same time, really hear an internal message that I am not the mistake I just made.

The way in is a willingness to be vulnerable and, just when we least feel like it. We need to courageously shine a light on the toxicity so shame’s power will fade.

While many shy away from just the thought of vulnerability, there’s great hope in noting that vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, love and connection in all its forms.

Thanks for writing.

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From the Water Cooler . . .

Doubt kills more dreams 
 than failure ever will.


Come here for your success

Just Say “I don’t”

Karen is at her wit’s end.  She feels worn out, stressed out and fed up.

She can’t say no.
Friends, family and colleagues ask her to help and she always says Yes.

She doesn’t want to disappoint.  She wants to help. Connections are important to her.

Plus, she believes the old saying that if you want something done, give it to a busy person.  So, she tells herself that taking on these extra tasks is actually helping her to get through her own long To Do list.

Karen feels busy, too busy to get to the things that really matter.  Her busyness is diluting the attention she can give to her priorities.

Every time she says Yes to something new, she is saying No to something else.  (It could be that important-but-not-urgent project, sleep, time alone, or spending time with friends and family.)

A solution to this kind of dilemma is to set limits and then employ a strategy to support the resolution.

Last month I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about personal policies and have been sharing about it ever since.  “Personal policies are an established set of simple rules that guide your decisions and action,” said the article written by Jennifer Breheny Wallace.

“I don’t eat dessert,” is a stake in the ground and aligns with losing weight.  A personal policy matters to the individual because it is honoring a personal value.

The article also notes that language makes a difference.  Saying “I can’t” doesn’t have nearly the weight as “I don’t.”

An experiment with a group of young women on a wellness challenge of exercising more and eating better showed a dramatic difference between the strategy of saying, “I don’t” vs. “I can’t.”

While our emphasis so far has been on saying No to lighten the load, a personal policy can also support our intentions to say Yes, and especially when our resolve might be challenged.  For example, “I don’t say No to  . . .”  requests for help from close friends and family.

It’s only the end of January with 90% of the year still to come. If you have already abandoned your 2016 goals or even if you never made any in the first place, it’s not too late to start your year over.

I have created a personal policy for myself – just one. I don’t work on Saturdays.  This is new and, honestly, it’s a little uncomfortable to let go.

Given that this involves letting go of a habitual way of being, it’s not surprising that there may be some discomfort.  I look to the underlying value that led to the personal policy in the first place.

As a solopreneur, it is a slippery slope to just check my email land allow the gravity of my inbox to pull me in.  It leads to working seven days a week and that schedule doesn’t have space for recharging.

I believe really not working one day a week can enhance my sense of well being.  It will make me available for new things.

With the desire for a break and the belief that breaks are actually refreshing and lead to greater productivity, I am looking forward to more movies, matinees, socializing, golf and tennis this year.

My personal policy expressed as “I don’t” is a gracious and empowering way of making my life more enjoyable and a bit simpler.
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From the Water Cooler . . .
I was so mad that I wasn’t getting 
 what I wasn’t asking for.
get the success you deserve.

Trust and Be Free

I have an ongoing fascination with resilience. I see it as a core competency for thriving in today’s world.  

It means being open to new ideas, being flexible and adaptable. It also means being self aware, having a strong sense of self and a purpose.

My mother died on September 2 and was a great example of resilience – she overcame adversity with determination, grace, acceptance.

I am including below an edited version of the eulogy I delivered at her memorial service.

Betty Vilas Hedblom

Eulogy – September 2015

Our mother was resilient.

She didn’t just make it to 97, she was in remarkable shape and mentally with it right up to the end.  She was high-fiving her great grandchild Crawford from her hospital bed – while in hospice care, at home – only a week before she left us.

Thirty years ago she said she wanted to grow old gracefully and it’s fair to say she accomplished that.

She survived and even thrived in the face of a long life – full of both joy and significant adversities.

She had strength, determination, plus a quiet and unwavering sense of purpose.  She was nourished by her relationships and deeply rooted in her spirituality.

She was born in January 1918.  WWI still had 10 months to go.  Like many of her generation, the impact of the Great Depression lasted her whole life.

She remembered the stock market crash and she often recalled how challenging those years were.  She told us how her dog’s water bowl froze overnight in her bedroom.  That people were willing to do anything – anything at all – to earn a buck.

Tree in rock

It was around this time that she first showed her strong sense of caring for people in need. During those Depression years she befriended some people on the street (something she continued to do for decades).

She was secretly bringing them food from home.  This went undetected until she gave away several of her father’s shirts and he noticed his closet was getting thin.

She was frugal her whole life and lived by the motto: Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do.  After she was married, a friend joked, referencing my father, “Betty’s loosening up.  She’s letting Carl take the toll road.”

Her early years weren’t all innocence.  She proudly told me that she smoked cigarettes, and gambled away her allowance to her older cousins. But ultimately, she found redemption – when she was 11!

Growing up, she had a strained relationship with her mother. Taking a resilient tact, she found a substitute and formed a very close relationship with an aunt.

She adored her father, who she thought would have preferred a son.  Being adaptable, she was something of a tomboy and learned to shoot a gun and drive a car by the time she was 12.

Later, as a college student, when her mother wanted her to have a coming out party, she was a rebel, sticking with what she believed in and chose a path of service and social work over being a deb and dilettante.

As the mother of three, she could set her own limits. Before I was born, my father said if I was a boy, he liked the name Mark.  He also was interested in getting a German Shepard.  So, my mother’s response was to get a Black Labrador and name the dog Mark.

Years later, on our drives to Michigan, she insisted that there be no talking – not a word – for the first hour.  And a minute later, sibling fights would start.

When she was on a search committee for a rector and there was a short list of three – two married with children and one never married – she said the best choice would be someone who had been traumatized by teenagers.

After my father died, she had to find a new purpose. This was not retiring, meek widow.

She had a quiet discipline and created good habits.  That included quiet time in the morning and daily afternoon walks – no matter even if it was windy, wet and frigid!

One of the great lessons my mother taught me was that life is essentially about our relationships.  Not material belongings, status or ego.

Instead, she emphasized the comfort and joy of connecting.  She loved to have friends who you can pick up where you left off.  And, she had many friendships that lasted decades.

She proved to be resilient in the wake of the untimely deaths of her father, mother and her daughter (and my sister).

I believe it was her strong spiritual connection that helped carry her through.  She struggled for years with the enervating effects of illness.  The remarkable thing is that she ultimately emerged stronger, healthier and lighter – and this was when she was in her 70s.

Resilience - ball bounceHer poetry was another example of her resilience.  She started writing poetry as an outlet to cope with caring for our father who had a decade-long bout with dementia.

She found writing to be a challenge. Even so, she started writing poetry as a coping mechanism. The writing was cathartic and she discovered her inner poet.

She continued to write and it served as a way for her to communicate and connect with so many people.

She was a rebel and spiritually a radical, too.  She believed it’s all about energy, and Godde was in everybody and every thing.

It wasn’t all earnest.  My wife remembers a hair-raising golf cart ride down our driveway. My mother made the sharp turn at the bottom never once so much as even tapping the brakes.  She liked to go fast – pure joy!

She was ahead of her time in many ways.  I was a teenager in the 70s and when feminists came on the scene, I remember thinking, “What’s the fuss about?”  I thought equality was the way the world already was and should be with my mother as a role model.  She was also naturally inclusive of the LGBT community decades ago.

My mother was a big fan of St Francis and, without overstating it, I think she evolved to become an embodiment of his well known prayer – seeking to understand than to be understood, emphasizing giving over receiving.

She had a calm presence, was open to new ideas, and had a positive attitude.  She connected with warmth and affection. I think she sometimes brought out the best in us.

We are a little better for having spent time with her.



Recent blog posts.

•   Take The Wheel From Your Saboteur

•   Your Path to Greater Fulfillment

•   Promise of Possibilities

Success is yours today


Take the Wheel  from Your Saboteur

Sandy was walking down the hall to the office of his boss Jim.  He was ready to present his big idea. It could make a significant difference to the company and be a game changer to his career. He had worked late nights and weekends to polish it.

As he got closer, he thought: Jim might think my idea is off base…maybe way off base.  No way would the company take a chance like that.  Who am I to be upsetting the way we do things?  Jim isn’t going to be comfortable with the risk and will get mad — at me.  This could be bad for my career, even my job.  This is a mistake.

So . . .

Sandy stopped in his tracks and went back to his desk.  He put the carefully prepared document in a file and closed the drawer.  He never proposed the idea that might have catapulted the company over the competition and launched him to a new level of responsibility.

What happened in that hallway?

An internal voice, we call a saboteur, inner critic, gremlin or The Committee, whispered in Sandy’s ear and planted a big dose of doubt.

So, as Sandy made up a negative story that his next move was going to be dangerous, maybe even a career-killer, his dream crumpled.  Worst of all, his saboteur convinced him to do nothing, to not even try.

Who or what was that saboteur and where did it come from?

The saboteur is that inner voice that serves as an internal warning system to avoid danger.  It means well in trying to keep us safe but is woefully out of date and actually can do serious harm.

Some believe the source of this voice goes way back to when we were prehistoric hunters.  That rustle of leaves might have a large and dangerous animal behind it; an internal voice said don’t go investigate and so live another day.

Others believe we devise coping strategies when we are very young children and then continue to use them despite being adults in radically changed circumstances.

While not the first to expose the pernicious saboteur, Shirzad Chamine has written a very accessible book, Positive Intelligence, and offers a free assessment as well.

Noting that our mind can be our friend or our enemy, Chamine’s assessment determines one’s Positive Intelligence Quotient, a score represented as a percentage of how much of the time your mind is your friend or your enemy.

His research has determined that a score of 75 is a tipping point.  It means that your mind is serving you about 75% of the time and sabotaging you 25% of the time.  Above 75, we are uplifted by the internal self talk and below that, we are being dragged down.  He says that a dramatic 80% of individuals and teams score below this critical tipping point.

What are some strategies to deal with this saboteur?  Start with awareness.  When we notice an internal message holding us back, we have a choice to override it.  Without the awareness, the saboteur is driving the bus and making decisions for us.

Consider the difference between:  “I think I’m going to make a mess of this.” and  “My lying saboteur thinks I’m going to make a mess of this.”

The challenge and the opportunity?  Take the wheel from your inner critic.

Chamine offers his assessment for free at  The feedback is nuanced and worthwhile.  Your results are immediately available and will be followed up with a series of unobtrusive emails offering messages and brief exercises to reinforce the awareness and learning.

As we increase our awareness of that inner voice, we give ourselves a chance to restore choice.

Full disclosure:  I let my own saboteur be loud and bossy while writing this, causing the post to be delayed.

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Recent blog posts.

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From the Water Cooler . . .

Self pity:  Resentment (resistance) about what is

Compassion:  Acceptance of what is

Success for you 

Mind the Gap: Your Path to Greater Fulfillment

Bob’s keynote at the conference went well.  As the clapping died down, the rush of elation felt like a victory.

By lunch, his mood had slumped and he was feeling alone and, actually, a little resentful.

Two days later, he noticed himself thinking, “I put a lot into that presentation and I didn’t get any help at all.”

When Bob contacted me about coaching, he was restless and irritable.  He said he was working as hard as ever and feeling discouraged.

The long hours at the office and time on his computer at night was taking a toll on his family life.  His wife felt slighted and his kids mumbled that he was grumpy all the time.

His routine felt like a grind.  All that effort at work and the results were good but there didn’t seem to be any teamwork or appreciation for what he saw as his sacrifices.

To get our coaching started I asked him to complete an exercise called the Wheel of Life, which offers a simple and effective way to gauge someone’s current level of satisfaction.

Think of a pie cut into eight wedges, where each wedge represents a major domain of your life.  The categories include:

  • Career
  • Money
  • Friends & Family
  • Significant Other/Romance
  • Fun & Recreation
  • Health
  • Physical Environment
  • Personal Growth/Spirituality

Then rate your current fulfillment for each one on a scale of 1 to 10. It’s quick, easy and provides a “snapshot” of today’s level of satisfaction.

Bob reported moderate to low satisfaction with his job (5), his relationship with his wife (6), his family time (5), and even with fun and recreation (3-4).

For the second part of the exercise, I noted to Bob the rating of 5 that he gave to Career and asked him to imagine what a 10 for him would look like.

This is a basic coach technique; we invite a client to imagine an ideal outcome and then hold that vision as a goal. Next, after acknowledging where we are now, we collaborate and devise a strategic action plan to close the gap and make the vision a reality.

The Wheel exercise helped Bob get in touch with his current level of discontent and start the process of identifying solutions.

We quickly pinpointed the focal point as time.  Bob had been promoted into a bigger job with more responsibility and he hadn’t fully embraced his new role.

We worked together on establishing priorities, improving time management; and then, delegating and coaching his direct reports to take on more ownership.

The transition took some time.  As Bob’s staff members took on more responsibility, they developed new competencies.

Bob got out of the weeds and began to lead more and manage less.  He felt less stressed out and was able to enjoy his family again.  He also stopped bringing the ghost of an unhappy home life to the office.

We know that simply completing the Wheel exercise will not turn around major issues.  It can be a useful tool, however, to highlight areas of dissatisfaction and facilitate the process of identifying paths to greater fulfillment.

The challenge is to mind the gap.

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From the Water Cooler . . . 

Don’t be a prisoner of your past. 

Be a pioneer of your future. 

Lead for your success.