Work-Life Brilliance: An Interview with Denise R Green

The notion of work-life balance has long fascinated me. As someone who studies and teaches topics related to technology and work, I find the workplace changes of the last two decades concurrently empowering and downright scary. No longer do we need to run to the office to get work done à la the Mad Men era. As I write in Message Not Received: Why Business Communication Is Broken and How to Fix It, we can work anywhere anytime—but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Technology’s tentacles reach far and wide. Where and how do we draw the line between work and leisure? How do we keep our personal lives personal? How do we decompress? And how can we ensure that work is ultimately satisfying and now overwhelming?

With these questions in mind, I recently sat down with Denise R, Green, a speaker, writer, and executive coach. We discussed her new book Work-Life Brilliance: Tools to Break Stress and Create the Life and Health You Crave. The following are excerpts from our conversation.

PS: What was your motivation for writing the book?

DG: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel like a book was hidden inside me. While my clients were the inspiration for the book, the motivation came from wanting to help people on a massive scale, as only books can do. I’ve been inspired and changed by books, and know how the right phrase at the right time can positively change the trajectory of someone’s life.

Author photo
Author photo

PS: You write about the perils of “victim mode.” Explain what you mean, why it matters, and how to reverse it.

DG: Victim mode is a place that our brain loves because it’s easy—it takes very little energy to blame other people or circumstances for our circumstances. The problem is, we become powerless to change our circumstances while in victim mode. Another problem is that it fills us with emotions like resentment, entitlement, anger, self-loathing, and regret. You can’t reach your potential while stuck in victim mode.

To reverse it, first recognize that you’re blaming something or someone. Notice the futility of that thought, and feel the emotions that come along with it. Become curious about who you’d be and how you’d feel if you accepted responsibility. If you’re blaming someone—a boss, spouse, friend, neighbor, relative, or co-worker—you get triple bonus points if you drop the resentment and forgive. Then, find your part in creating the situation and find something you can do about it. I often point my clients to Covey’s brilliant and simple “span of control” model. Instead of lamenting about things you can’t change (which is as useful as complaining about gravity), find something in your span of control that you can do to improve your situation. Then, take some small action immediately. Then take another. In this way, you build momentum and replace the ugly emotions with a sense of empowerment, pride, and possibility.

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PS: You are not a fan of “should-do’s”? Why not?

DG: That’s an understatement! My clients often call me the “should police.” Anytime I hear the word should, I know that someone is debating reality, expecting to win the argument. What good does it do to tell yourself that someone should do something? Do they ever magically do it? Our should stories fill us with guilt when we tell them about ourselves (“I should lose weight”), and resentment when we tell them about others (“He should help with the dishes”). Who would you be if you dropped the shoulds about others? Who would you be if you dropped the shoulds about yourself and honestly assessed how you got where you are? Ask yourself the question with kindness instead of judgment.

I take my coaching clients and workshop participants through the “should do” exercise that’s in the book. Once they’ve done the life satisfaction assessment and are clear on their priorities and values, I have them go back and pick only one thing from their should do list and upgrade it to a must do. Then I have them cross out all other should do’s. You can hear people sigh with relief and see them go from a tense expression to a relaxed smile. As I say in the book, shoulds don’t get done. They only make us feel like crap.

PS: Talk to me about the import of daily routines?

DG: We’ve all heard that “we are what we eat.” I believe that we are what we repeat. We all have unintentional routines that may include eating too much sugar, sitting too long, complaining, worrying, and blaming. But we can create intentional daily routines that help us become our best version of ourselves. Any person who lives a brilliantly integrated life with wonderful health, emotions, thoughts, and relationships has routines that paved the way. For example, daily meditation can help calm our nervous system and become more aware of our thoughts. Gratitude practice helps our emotional state. Calling a friend or family member regularly helps us build nurturing connections. And exercising daily helps us feel more energized, calm, and confident.

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