Career/Life Tips, Reflections & Questions, tips

Want less stress? Choose your words carefully.

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In a recent phone call with a friend, I asked how she was doing.

“STRESSED,” was her emphatic one-word answer.

“Oh yeah?” I asked. “What has you all stressed out?”

She then rattled off an impressive list of projects she was working on. As she talked about them, I could hear a smile creeping into her voice.

I asked about it and she admitted that she was feeling pretty good about all the work she had in motion – it was all positive stuff that could have a great impact to her business’s bottom-line, and she was proud to see her team stepping up to the challenge.

Because coaching practices die hard, I asked if I could share an observation. And because she’s my friend, she humored me and said I could. My observation was this: She didn’t actually SOUND stressed to me.

After a long pause, she said, “That’s actually right. I’m not stressed – I’m excited.”

As we continued the conversation, we talked about how it’s easy to develop verbal crutches – things we throw out without really thinking, like, “I’m so busy,” or “I’m stressed,” because they’re socially acceptable – without realizing what impact they have on us. And just like anything else – if you say it enough, you’ll start to believe it.

“So what’s something else you could say when people ask how you’re doing?” I prompted her, continuing in coach-mode for another minute. “Something that is accurate but doesn’t suck all the energy out of you?”

She came up with an answer fast: “We have a lot of great things going on!”

She liked it so much that she wrote it on a Post-It note and stuck it on her desk to help her break the habit, which was a brilliant move on her part.

When I talked with her a couple weeks later, I asked how things were going. Without missing a beat, she said, “So good! You’re going to think I’m just humoring you, but we have a lot of great things going on!”

The best part: I could hear her smiling.

How might your language choices be holding you back? Ask yourself:

  • What small stories am I telling myself and others repeatedly through my language?
  • Am I telling myself the whole story or only part of it through my language? (For example, it’s easy to tell people you’re working 60 hour weeks – but are you also mentioning that you get to choose your hours and you enjoy what you’re working on?)   
  • When someone asks how I’m doing, what is my typical response – and does it position me as owning my circumstances or a victim of them?
  • Chicken and the egg – am I actually stressed/frustrated/overwhelmed or am I feeling that way because I’m saying it so often?
  • What are other language choices I can make that will help remind me of the positive side of my circumstances?


leadership, Reflections & Questions

Three Magic Words You Can Invoke Anytime


I first was acquainted with these three magic words when I attended Georgetown University’s leadership coaching program: Up Until Now… 

At first blush, they might not sound that powerful, but – having used them with countless clients (and myself!) – I am now a believer.

Here’s the power of this phrase: It gives you permission to change. If something isn’t serving you, you can draw a line in the sand and say, “Up until now, THIS is how it’s been, but now, it’s going to be like THIS.”

One of the ways I’ve seen it used within the leadership context is in allowing leaders to go back to their teams and make a radical shift. Some of the transformations I’ve witnessed:

  • Up until now, I’ve been focused exclusively on our team’s results, but moving forward I want to also focus on our team’s happiness.
  • Up until now, I’ve tolerated under-performance because I like you and it’s too difficult to confront, but I realize I haven’t been doing you any favors, so moving forward I’m going to hold you accountable – because I want you to succeed and I know you can.
  • Up until now, I’ve been a workaholic, but moving forward I’m going to prioritize my health, so while you might see my schedule shift, know that I’m still committed to getting results – I’m just going to be working toward a better balance.
  • Up until now, I’ve been a micromanager, but moving forward I’m going to measure my success by my team’s ability to work without my interference.

See how this works? It is deceptively simple – and it’s arguably one of the best tools at your disposal if you want to make a big change. When I help clients sift through their narratives, I find that one of their biggest barriers to making an important change is that they feel they’ve established a precedent or expectation that is too difficult to undo.

Guess what? Nope. That’s why these words are so magical. They acknowledge that life is about constant change and we can arbitrarily hit the reset button whenever we realize that it’s not unfolding in a way that’s serving us. For everyone who has ever wished for the option of a do-over, this is it!


So What, Now What? Put It In Motion:

Now that you know the secret, what will you do with it? What have YOU done – up until now – that you’d like to move away from? Once you’ve identified the behavior or belief that needs to go, figure out who you need to communicate it to. It might be that simply saying it to yourself is permission enough to make the change – or you might need to make the declaration to others. Then put it motion. As with any behavior change, you might need to establish some systems to help form the new habit, but simply realizing you have the power to break from the past goes a long way toward laying the groundwork for change.

See why it’s magic? And you didn’t even have to go to Hogwarts!