A few years ago, I fell into a bit of a mental slump. My leadership development company, Equilibria Leadership Consulting, had just completed a two-year long project with our biggest client to date and we did not have another gig on the horizon. We did not have another gig on the horizon because I committed huge mistake #1 of owning a company: “forgetting” to do business development because I was too busy delivering.

I hate to admit it but my anticipatory anxiety flew through the roof. I feared the worst: we would not land another client, I wouldn’t be able to pay my employees, I’d have to close up shop, find a new career, divorce my husband, sell my car, move to the country, and raise cats. I was happy about the cat thing but pretty bummed about the rest.

I also felt extraordinarily guilty and stupid for committing “huge mistake #1” of owning a company. I felt like a complete failure.

It also didn’t help that I had just returned from my honeymoon and was probably dealing with a wine withdrawal, having spent the previous two weeks drinking in Italy and France.

Suffice it to say my anxiety over the business was affecting my ability to think clearly and objectively move forward. The fear and anxiety directly impacted my self-efficacy. I remember feeling mentally sluggish, lacking vigor.

Turns out this isn’t rocket science. Our self-efficacy directly impacts our motivation and ability to forge ahead. In short, our belief in ourselves (or lack thereof) influences how much energy you have to move through life and accomplish your goals.

The way you think about yourself makes or breaks your bottom line.

A 2011 study performed by Kathleen D. Vohs, Roy F. Baumeister, and Brandon J. Schmeichel found that if you are mildly exhausted and you have a strong sense of self-efficacy (one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task) then the mild exhaustion won’t affect your ability to forge ahead.

But if you don’t have a strong sense of self-efficacy then even a slight mental drain will join forces with your insecurity to ensure you drag yourself down and make you even more exhausted.

I’ve always been extremely driven and ambitious, waking up early and working steadfastly throughout the day, so this was an unusual state for me to be in; that further compounded matters as I couldn’t stop asking myself, “What’s wrong with me?”

There was an unhealthy cycle at play: fear I wouldn’t land another gig created anxiety, which created mental exhaustion, which affected my self-efficacy, which created fear I wouldn’t land another gig, and so on and so forth.

My husband, who normally needs career pep talks from me, was now the pep talker. We pepped and talked daily for a couple weeks until the fog lifted (and maybe the wine, cheese, and bread started to leave my system).

I can tell you from first-hand experience that when you are not feeling up to par professionally, you will need to bolster your lifestyle with every other possible gain to ensure you don’t drag yourself down a rabbit hole of exhaustion and self-defeat.

Since we can all feel less than at times, we need to either remember to eat, sleep, exercise, and laugh on a daily basis, or remind ourselves that our insecurities and exhaustion are joining forces to keep our productivity at bay.

So, in short:

  • Self-confidence increases your energy level and your immunity to the effects of mental exhaustion
  • Lack of self-confidence decreases your energy level and weakens your immunity to mental exhaustion

We need to think of our belief systems the same way we do our bodies and muscles. If you were going to run a marathon you would train. You’d build up your stamina. You’d run a bit every day. You’d stretch. You’d watch what you ate. You’d try to get the right amount of sleep. All of these factors play important roles to get into the right physical shape for the marathon.

Similarly, you need to prep the mind for the marathon that is your life. You need to get it in shape. So if you lack confidence, self-efficacy, or if you feel lazy, unambitious, and cynical – all of these factors are going to hinder your performance level.

If you’re getting enough sleep and eating well but still lack the energy to accomplish what you want to accomplish in life, take a look at your belief system. What are you telling yourself on a daily basis?

Are you filling your own head with doubt, insecurity, and cynicism? This type of negative self-talk will become a self-fulfilling prophecy as you drain yourself of the energy needed to accomplish the goals you are telling yourself aren’t possible in the first place.

Exhaustion we pretty much know how to deal with: sleep, the food you eat, exercise, etc. But what about self-efficacy? There isn’t a confidence diet, I’ve never seen an “Eat these three foods to believe in yourself” article.I offer the following three suggestions as a starter kit for keeping your self-efficacy intact:

  1. ACT. That’s not an acronym. I mean take action, even if they are small actions. Action begets action and as you accomplish small goals your confidence will rise. It’s amazing how great accomplishing a goal can feel. It removes so much anxiety. When we stagnate our anxiety increases and those two (stagnation and anxiety) will reinforce each other until the end of time. So don’t worry about the BIG goals. Instead focus on the small wins you can accomplish on a daily basis. Maybe it’s something as simple as registering a website domain. If you act in any way, shape or form, you’re way ahead of the majority of the world.
  2. Get a coach. If you lack the motivation to accomplish small goals on your own then you need outside help to motivate you, reveal your mental blocks to you, give you pep talks, and pump you up. Until you can self-motivate I recommend seeking outside motivation. A coach can give you the tools you need to prop yourself up when you’re alone.
  3. Talk to someone who is doing what you want to do. Learn how they got to where they are, what steps they took, what obstacles they faced. You might learn that they went through periods of self-doubt as well. Maybe they’ll share how they overcame them. When you meet another regular human being who has done what you want to do the road to the goal becomes less mysterious.

The two main actions that worked for me were talking to my husband, who served as a coach, and accomplishing small daily goals. Even though it felt like drudgery, the small daily actions kept me moving forward until the habit of moving forward was re-established.

The talking and the acting eventually broke the spell. Once the fog lifted I resumed my normal activity level, got back on track, and soon enough I started doing the work necessary to land some business.

I still recommend devouring as much bread, cheese, and wine if/when you find yourself in the south of France.

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A couple of weeks ago I went on a California vacation. I was excited to take a well-needed break from work and drive down the Pacific Coast Highway for a little wine tasting in Sonoma.

As I always do prior to a vacation, I put my out-of-office notification on. Then I boarded the plane and settled into my much anticipated, guilty-pleasure, marathon catch-up session of Scandal.

Then my phone rang. It was my doctor’s office.“I’m on vacation!” I shouted in my head and happily sent the call to voicemail. They’ll leave a message, I figured. Back to Scandal with my phone in airplane mode. Sayonara.

Except…

My doctor’s office didn’t leave a message. They decided to email me instead.

And then my out-of-office email responded to their email. And then their server responded to my out-of-office email with their automated “this email cannot receive replies” email. And then my out-of-office email responded to their “this email cannot receive replies” email, and then their “this email cannot receive replies” email responded to my out-of-office email.

These two emails soon became old friends, ping-ponging back and forth for the five hour flight. When I arrived in California I had over 2000 undeliverable emails in my Gmail Inbox.

“Oh my god!” I said out loud when we landed — 2,000 undeliverable emails, and they kept pouring in. But, with every ounce of my vacation-cool, I ignored it. I got back in the present moment thinking I would just batch delete them later.

Except….

The thousands of emails piling up in my inbox resembled a spam account, which triggered Gmail’s algorithms, and they (Gmail? Code? Bots? The Illuminati???) disabled my account. If you emailed the account you received a message that it wasn’t a real email account, and this was both my personal and professional account.

I run two businesses via this account, and any email account I’ve had over the years forwards to this account. I know, I know…this is a terrible practice, but when easy works, I like easy.

Panic is an understatement for what I started to experience.

Contracts. Contacts. Paper trails. Years of correspondence. History. Files. Folders. Memories. My life!

Gone.

How to remain intact when the shit hits the fan. 

These are the moments in life we hope never happen, but they always do. It doesn’t matter if you’re on vacation, or watching your kid’s soccer game, or having the worst week of your life. It’s not a question of if but when. And the choice in these moments is always the same — how will you handle it?

Yes, I thought about cancelling the vacation and flying back home. I thought about holing up in my hotel room until this mess was figured out. But this vacation was important to my husband and I. I needed to remain intact and present.

So, here’s what I did…

I paused and assessed what I could and could not control. This is called an internal locus of control: the belief that you can influence events and their outcomes; as opposed to an external locus of control, which is the belief that the external world controls you and is therefore to blame for whatever happens to you.

I took the necessary steps to reinstate my Gmail account. I filled out the reinstatement request form Gmail offers if you feel your account was wrongly disabled — a form that feels akin to writing the request on a piece of paper, putting it into a glass bottle and throwing it into the ocean.

I took to the Gmail forum message boards, searching for anyone who could help. I contacted friends and associates who might have insider access to the Google kingdom.

Whether Gmail would heed my calls and reinstate my account was out of my control.

So my next step was to look at cool art in Santa Cruz.

Of course, finding your internal locus of control is easier said than done, but there are a few things you can do to make it easier.

1. Give yourself space to freak out.

When going through stressful experiences I recommend a solid hour per day of what is known in the psychology world as a controlled freakout.

Ok, I made that up, but it should be a thing.

Each morning for the week we were on vacation, my husband would awake at about 5:30AM to the cool California morning breeze, the feel of crisp hotel sheets, and the sound of frenzied typing as I drummed up support on Gmail forums.

Then we’d talk about it. Talking helped me figure out my action steps, both physically and mentally. Without talking and processing, it all stays in your head and continues to grow. When you talk about it you release the anxiety.

Then I would move on. I was still alive, the earth was spinning, I was on vacation.

Every day I made a choice to find my internal locus of control.

2. Release anxiety by naming your emotions.

This is a process called “Affect Labeling,” it’s been around for awhile, but has only recently been named.

UCLA psychology professor, Matthew Lieberman, did a study that showed that labeling your emotions reduces the effect of the emotion. He coined the process “Affect Labeling.”

It works.

I talked about the situation with my husband, but also explained what I was feeling — sad, scared, anxious, and angry. But my emotions while watching this weird looking fish at the aquarium in Monterey were happy and curious.

By naming what I was feeling, I gained control over those feelings.

3. Recognize that you are in a period of intense learning.

I talk and write a lot about resilience and how it’s a major component for successful leadership, but I’m not Tony Robbins. I’m not always as resilient as I should be.

This was my opportunity to walk the walk. And a funny thing happens when you make a conscious choice to shift how you think about a situation: life becomes less scary.

In the moment, it often doesn’t feel like you have control over your emotions. But like everything in life, it’s a choice. Instead of living in panic, I chose to view the situation objectively, as one that would help me hone skills that are incredibly valuable.

Because the truth is, we should be activating our internal locus of control on a daily basis. It starts with recognizing that ultimate happiness doesn’t come from perfect lives or perfect vacations, happiness comes when we choose to take control over how we react to our emotions.

The shit will always hit the fan. How you respond is up to you.

Waiting, blaming, procrastinating, wondering, and self-pity will always make time for you. Inaction and external focus can bolster anxiety. Positive action, however, quiets the critical and anxious mind. When you take ownership and action, even if the end game is a losing one, you will know you did what you could do; you’ll sleep easier because you acted, you focused on what was in your control.

There’s a Buddhist saying that goes something like, “If you can do something about a situation then why get angry about it, and if you can’t do something about a situation then why get angry about it.” That’s some ancient leadership development for you.

Oh, and one bonus piece of advice — prevention is key. If you’re going to build your whole life and business on a single account, use one that has a customer service department, like G-Suite or Office 365.

And if you notice that your out-of-office notification starts going crazy, turn it off immediately!

And finally, if your doctor calls, answer the phone.


I would love to hear about your own coping mechanisms and times when they had to kick into gear!

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