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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™


OCT 2006, No. I, Sec. II
 


Main Essay:


Citing past and present experts in the field, the Stress Doc lays the groundwork for challenging common misconceptions and misguided paradigms on the subject of expert performance.  In this two-part series the Doc will then show you how to GLIDE into peak performance.   Beginning with "G" the art of SMART (short-term) "goal-setting" is posited. Then the concept of long-term goal setting is illustrated by the truly uncommon vision, conviction and determination of a past president.


GLIDE-ing into Performance Excellence:  Part I
Key Tools, Techniques and Tips

Who wouldn't like to achieve performance excellence in a professional arena or in an area of personal interest or study?  But why does that objective often seem so daunting or elusive?  How many believe they just don't have the requisite talent or aptitude?  Perhaps you have caught yourself thinking, "Even if I practiced till the cows come home I could never gain real mastery"?  According to two performance experts you may be operating under a faulty premise and a misguided learning paradigm.  As for the premise, decades ago sports/performance psychologist, George Leonard, noted that searching for the path to mastery is an illusion.  For someone dedicated to his or her field or profession, art or craft there never is "once and for all" mastery.  There is the potential for ongoing learning and refinement as well as innovative integration.  Pursue the "path of mastery."  (Unless you reach that inescapable "is this all there is?" boredom stage, what I call the Bjorn Bored Syndrome (BBS).  BBS is named for the Swedish tennis great, Bjorn Borg, who, after winning numerous back-to-back French and Wimbledon championships, burned out on the circuit before turning thirty.  The Bjorn Bored Syndrome:  "When Mastery times Monotony provides an index of Misery!")

The second challenge to the notion of excellence being out of reach comes from a contemporary prominent researcher in the expert performance movement.  According to Anders Ericcson, you can acquire news skills, even ones requiring talents you didn't think you possessed.  For most individuals expertise and excellence emerges less from genetics or God-given talent and more from the willingness to put in the practice.  For Anders, "Experts are nearly always made, not born."

So how do you embark on an expert learning path and sustain your sense of purpose and passion?   How can the practice blood, sweat, tears and joy provide both a physical and psychological challenge and help evolve your whole self?  How do you channel mind-body performance energy through focus and flow?  Actually, let's go beyond focus and flow.  Consider these "Key Tools, Techniques and Tips for GLIDE-ing into Performance Excellence":

1.  G = Goal Setting.  For me there are two types of goals - short-term and long range.
a) Short-term goals need to be fairly specific, measurable and most important relevant and achievable in a reasonable amount of time.  This is vital because if you have not been able to make noticeable progress in reaching your goal, (or, conversely, achieve a goal too quickly because of it's superficial nature) then perhaps your short-term goal is not realistic or not sufficiently or substantively defined.  Maybe a time-line needs to be tweaked.  So you need some fairly objective way of assessing whether or not goal-related progress is being made.  In fact, sometimes the most desirable occurrence is quickly realizing that you have made an error around operational or outcome expectations or you have underestimated the resources needed to meet the mission.  For now you have some goal-related experience and can adapt or refine your trial and error short-term goal path accordingly.  (Alas, the Bush Administration's "stay the course" mentality never seemed to grasp this vital reality.)  Actually, there's an oft-cited acronym that captures these goal-setting essentials -- SMART Goals:  Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Sensitive.

b) Long-term goals, not surprisingly, may lack the same definitional and operational precision as their short-term counterpart.  There are too many variables still up in the air.  You may not have a clear understanding of the necessary means or path to an endpoint, an outcome that in the early planning stages may appear elusive or be unrealistically and rigidly conceived.  In my experience, most people underestimate the length of time to achieve a significant long-term goal.  For example, five years ago if you had asked me to self-evaluate as a speaker, I would have said I was very good, if not great.  Now, with awareness being forged almost daily with greater opportunity, I better understand how basically clueless I was about achieving such a lofty performance status on a consistent basis with diverse audiences (both in size and in composition) across a myriad of presentational settings.  Also, with respect to the financial viability of my speaking and training business, several years ago I would quip about soon becoming "a twenty year overnight success."  (Alas, more recently I've modified the timeline to twenty-five years; with a little luck I won't have to amend it to thirty!)  Though a the long-term target is clouded by desires and dreams, fears and fantasies your ultimate objective and destination needs to be sufficiently compelling to overcome start-up self-doubt (or self-delusion) and to sustain ongoing, trial and error exploring and learning.

A Melancholic and Humble, Ethical and Historic Vision

I can't think of a more compelling example than the historic struggle to realize a revolutionary, mid-19th century singular vision and progressively evolving, far-reaching goal.  This long-term, if not ongoing, goal was founded on one man's unwavering conviction, personal yet self-effacing ambition, his philosophical-legal conservatism and "constitutional" certitude while all infused with an uncommon humanity.  I'm referring to Abraham Lincoln and "The War Between the States."  (The following passages are based on fairly extensive readings over the past year on Lincoln.  In particular I recommend these two works:  Lincoln's Virtues:  An Ethical Biography (Vintage Books, 2003) and Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln's Melancholy:  How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled his Greatness (Houghton Mifflin, 2005).

Initially, Lincoln made strenuous efforts to engage the secessionist states and prevent the beginning of the Civil War.  Despite Lincoln's personal abhorrence of slavery, for the time being he was willing to accept the existence of the institution as it was defined in the Constitution of the United States.  This, of course, invited attack from the Abolitionists.  Lincoln, even before becoming President had drawn the line with expanding slavery into states above the demarcated latitude established by the Missouri Compromise of 1821.  The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 repealed this compromise.  Now the "people" of these new states could vote on the legality of slavery.  In fact, this act actually propelled Lincoln back into the political arena.   From 1854 on, his vision was clear:  no states had the right to secede nor was the unconstitutional expansion of slavery acceptable.  (Actually, it's not uncommon when attempting to forge a complex and unconventional consensus that defies emotionally patriotic "black or white" thinking to be attacked by all parties.)

While not free from racial bias, Lincoln's deeply sensitive, melancholic and non-dogmatic spiritual essence ultimately nurtured an ever-expanding humanistic soul.  And his belief in the potential for productive change in human nature, along with his complexly analytical mind helped forge both a deeper understanding and rationale for his sui generis goal.  For example, based on meticulous archival research for his famous 1860 Cooper Union speech, Lincoln demonstrated conclusively the overwhelming desire of the framers for the gradual dissolution of slavery.

Yet, along with this wellspring of compassion and penchant for compromise, on foundational issues the President's clarity and resolve was unshakeable.  Once the southern troops invaded Fort Sumpter, the War's historical trigger, Lincoln did not hesitate in countering the aggression with Federal troops.  (Though as a war leader Lincoln has been faulted for giving some overly cautious field generals too long a leash and tenure.  Actually, these generals, much to Lincoln's dismay, often were reluctant to take the battle to the enemy.  It wasn't till he discovered Ulysses S. Grant that Lincoln had a general whose tenacity matched Lincoln's steely resolve.)

And as bad as the news was from the war front in the early years, Lincoln would not compromise his long-term goal.   Despite the anguish and uncertainty weighing heavily on his gaunt figure, rapidly aging visage and oft-melancholic psyche, his November 19, 1863 "Gettysburg Address" powerfully and poignantly captures Lincoln's conviction, idealism and passion along with his humility and determination:

Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate -- we cannot consecrate -- we cannot hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


In fact, when he perceived conditions to be favorable (after some progress on the battlefield; though the outcome at this juncture in modern parlance was hardly a "slam dunk") and to be necessary (he knew the North needed increased manpower if the war was to be concluded successfully) he was not afraid to modify profoundly his goal and declare "The Emancipation Proclamation."

Challenges to achieving his goal were ongoing.  For example, when the tide began to favor the North on both sides there were self-serving, status quo ante bellum calls to end the war.  This was premature, illegal and immoral from Lincoln's visionary vantage point.  He would not accept any compromise to terminate the hostilities that included vestiges of secession or of the slave economy.  And while he would not accept anything less than unconditional surrender, our sixteenth president is perhaps most famously remembered for these eight words:  "With malice toward none, with charity for all."

Extrapolating from this historic episode and personality, it's clear that pursuing an ambitious long-term goal involves imagination and integrity, sheer doggedness yet openness to feedback, (hopefully, in your support circle there are one or two good listeners and objective advisors), a sense of timing, a reservoir of patience, along with a capacity to strike when the opportunity is hot.  And, finally, that you are buttressed by both rational belief and extra-rational faith.  Perhaps we can say achieving a long-term goal involves realizing your short-term objectives and eventually weaving these diverse objectives into a coherent long-term strategic goal path, a path sometimes momentarily clouded but ultimately illuminated by an overarching vision.

Of course, for most people long-term goals are not intertwined with such massive scale, socioeconomic and political-cultural issues as the destiny of a country and winning a Civil War.  (Though I must admit, as a former marriage counselor, I have been party to some divorce proceedings where the courtroom as life and death battlefield is not particularly a metaphoric stretch.)  Let me be more pedestrian.  For me, a long-term goal-setting image that comes to mind is of a briefly sketched treasure map:  you may or may not know what specifically lies at the end of the rainbow.  (Or you may think you know and be in for a startling or humbling surprise.)  And your travel guide may not contain a well-defined network of pathways, i.e., the specific means to the end.  But of the desirability for the end there is no doubt; both your head and your heart are convinced that your mission is just and necessary.  And perhaps most important, to achieve expertise, to pursue the path of mastery despite angst and uncertainty, your arduous preparation should be a labor of love.

Conclusion

And labor of love is where we will pick up in the second segment of this essay.  More specifically, Part II will examine the remaining letters of the expert performance GLIDE acronym:

L = Loving to Learn, Learning to Love
I =  Immediate Input to Insight
D = Deliberate Desire
E = Explore to Expand, Evaluate to Evolve

Until then, just remember…Practice Safe Stress!
 


Offerings:

1. Consultation-Counseling-Coaching Service from the Stress Doc ™

Expansion of Service:  In-Office, Phone or Online

The Doc's areas of expertise as a consultant, counselor and speaker include:

+ Stress and Burnout and Rebuilding the Fire
+ Anger Management and Managing Difficult People
+ Growing from Loss, Grief and Depression
+ Couple Counseling and Family Issues
+ Career/Life/Relationship Transition
+ Conflict Resolution and Team Building
+ Executive and Management Coaching
+ Organizational Downsizing and Change
+ Time Management and Personal Organization
+ Motivation and High Performance/Anxiety Issues

Flexibility in length and availability for coaching-consultation sessions; day and evening times.  Fee to be determined during the first contact/consultation.  The first phone or online contact/consultation (up to 15 minutes) is free.

For more information, call 301-946-0865 or email stressdoc@aol.com.

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2.  Stress Doc Books:

Pay by Pay Pal from website - www.stressdoc.com or

Make check to:  Mark Gorkin
Send to:

9629 Elrod Road
Kensington, MD  20895
---------------

a) Really Hot:  The Paperback Version of Practice Safe Stress:

Practicing Safe Stress:  Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout, & Depression; Stress Doc Enterprises

Published:  2004; Pages:  372

Price:  $20 + $5.00 priority shipping in US; $7 for shipping in Mexico and Canada; other international destinations to be determined

E-book Price:  $15

Practice Safe Stress tackles the "Toxic-Traumatic Trio" -- stress, burnout, and depression.  Learn practical and playful, inspiring and insightful strategies for transforming these toxins into life-affirming energy, creative focus, and goal-achievement.  Bringing a personal, professional, and organizational perspective, the book is alive with imaginative language and memorable "how to" ideas for:

§ Understanding the "Four Stages of Burnout," the "Erosive Spiral"
§ Rebuilding your fire and developing "Natural SPEED"
§ Achieving liberation through "Emancipation Procrastination"
§ Reducing conflict as a healing or motivational "psychohumorist" ™

There are satirical essays on "lean-and-MEAN" managers and on mismanaged downsizings.  Learn to "laugh in the face of layoffs" and ponder the possibility of "Van Gogh, Prozac, and Creativity."  The Stress Doc also shares his his own trials, errors, and triumphs in battling the "Toxic Trio."

Safe Stress provides many discrete "Top Ten" lists and "strategic tips" essays useful as educational/informational handouts.  To quote the Internet Newsroom:  Your Guide to the World of Electronic Factgathering:  "The most outstanding feature…is his 'psychohumor' essays.  Always witty, thought-provoking, and helpful."  With this easy-to-follow, fast-paced, and fun health and wellness guide, you'll return often to Practice Safe Stress.
----------------------

b) The Four Faces of Anger:  Model and Method
Transforming Anger, Rage and Conflict Into Inspiring Attitude and Behavior

The "Four Faces of Anger" presents an elegantly simple yet intellectually powerful model that will challenge your beliefs about anger -- both regarding its range of emotion and its potential for positive communication.  The book is a dynamic blend of popular psychohumor articles, essays, case examples and short vignettes, as well as Stress Doc Q & As and even "Shrink Rap" ™ lyrics.  You will gain ideas and tools, skills and techniques for personal control, playful intervention and conflict mastery.  Learn to:

Ř Identify self-defeating styles of anger and violence-prone personalities
Ř Transform hostility and rage into assertion and passion
Ř Confront directly or disarm outrageously critics and (passive) aggressors
Ř Bust the guilt not burst a gut
Ř Prevent emails from becoming e-missiles

And finally, his years as a multimedia psychotherapist and as a Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service yield a survival and spiritual mantra at the heart of the "Four Faces of Anger":

Seek the higher power of Stress Doc humor…May the Farce Be With You!

Published:  2004; Pages:  116  [Book size:  9"x12"]

Paperback:  Price:  $20 + $5.00 priority shipping in US; $7 for shipping in Mexico and Canada; other international destinations to be determined

E-Book:  $15
 


Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, is a psychotherapist and "Motivational Humorist" whose Interactive Keynotes and Kickoffs draw wide and "amazing" acclaim - from Fortune 100s and Federal Agencies to around the world with Celebrity Cruise Lines.   An OD/Team Building Consultant, Mark is the author of Practice Safe Stress:  Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression and of The Four Faces of Anger: Transforming Anger, Rage, and Conflict Into Inspiring Attitude and Behavior.  Also, the Doc is AOL's "Online Psychohumorist" ™ running his weekly "Shrink Rap ™ and Group Chat."  See his award winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com (cited as a workplace resource by National Public Radio (NPR).  Finally, Mark is an advisor to The Bright Side ™ -- www.the-bright-side.org -- a multi-award winning mental health resource.  Email for his monthly newsletter showcased on List-a-Day.com.  For more info on the Doc's speaking and training programs and products, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 301-946-0865.

(c)  Mark Gorkin  2006

Shrink Rap Productions