The Self-Leader Way to Process Constraint

In this episode, we are jumping into the process of leveraging constraint. We explore each stage and I share a bit of my journey with constraint. Where are you in the process? Once you find out, you can take specific steps to move forward to get where you want to go with new perspectives and new energy. 


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Hello! I hope you’re having a fantastic week. What is your “normal” right now? Have you settled into a pandemic rhythm? We have for the most part.  My youngest was in school with a hybrid model and then it switched to all on line and now she goes back to the hybrid model again next week. The other three of us in the house are working at home full time. my youngest is just finishing up college applications. Then it’s just waiting to see where she will wind up next fall. And IB tests to wrap up her senior year. My husband’s busy season is wrapping up while mine is winding up but that’s okay. He’s pretty great and We shift the household responsibilities around according to our work schedules. My youngest grandson is teething, so my oldest daughter has her hands full.But  You know, life is chugging along. Sometimes that’s just perfect, we can rest a bit, restock our energy reserves. But sometimes when that regular rhythm of life has been steady for a while, we get comfortable and we lose energy on our goals., we need a little something to wake us up, engage us and help us move towards our objectives. That is part of self-leadership recognizing when to reenergize and when to get up and get going on those goals.  I think this is a great time .to talk about this as we’re fully into the first quarter of the year, whether you set resolutions or if you’re like me, I set out yearly vision and break that into quarterly check points, we start strong but as we get into the rhythms of the new year, we lose motivation and interest. Well, this season we’re talking about something that can help. That something is constraint. Yes, you heard me, constraint can help wake you up and when you connect it to strong motivation – you can slingshot forward toward your goals with new perspective, creative thinking and bold actions. Now I’m getting a little ahead of myself because we’re only on the second episode of the season, but I want you to grab hold of the rewards of doing this work with constraints. On episode 1 we talked about how we’re defining constraint and looked at examples of how constraint can be leveraged. We even started playing with constraint with our very own constraint challenge. So this week, i want to focus in on the cycle of processing constraint. We talked about it last week but as a reminder, our book for this season is A Beautiful Constraint by Mark Barden and Adam Morgan and if you want the BYF reading schedule you can visit the Boss Yourself First Facebook page and we’ll be talking about our reading inside the Boss Yourself Facebook Group which is completely free to join and we’d love to have you.  So remember last week we combined a couple of definition including one from our A Beautiful constraint to define constraint as a limitation or defining parameter imposed by outside circumstances or by ourselves that can stimulate creativity and innovation. I want to talk to you about the cycle of processing constraint and I want each of us today to figure out where we are in the process of dealing with a constraint. In Morgan and Barden’s book they identify three stages of processing constraint. I love this because it removes the idea that we do this work, and we will automatically feel great about working with constraint. The stages of processing constraint are victim, neutralizer and transformer and they break that down into actually two kinds of transformers that we’ll get into in a minute. It kind of reminds me of the stages of grief but as I thought it over it’s a little more like using a sling shot. Stage one the rock is placed in the sling and the sling is pulled back tighter and tighter creating tension and then you have Stage two that time while you’re aiming that you’re not adding or taking away tension and then stage three the release creates so much energy and momentum shooting that rock towards the target. So let’s talk about the victim stage Now Cambridge dictionary defines a victim as someone or something that has been hurtdamaged, or killed or has suffered, either because of the actions of someone or something else, or because of illness or chance:


The key to identifying as a victim according to this definition is being hurt or held back by something other than yourself. A victim is someone who believes that their circumstance is not due to their choice. Beyond their control. I don’t want to give a negative connotation to victim, victims are for real, blameless people get caught in damaging circumstances every day. However, no matter what the circumstance aside from catastrophic circumstances that result in immediate death, we get to choose how we respond. Back to our friend Victor Frankl from Season 1 that space between stimulus and response is where we choose to stay a victim or choose to move forward which in this conversation is the next stage of neutralizer.

Before we jump into defining the next stage, let’s define what Adam and Morgan mean as a victim in the context of constraint. I’ve already mentioned the stages are Victim, Neutralizer and transformer and each definition is a progression of how a person or company adjusts their ambition when confronted with a constraint. And it’s a process because depending on the severity of the constraint. For example, how many of you when the pandemic first started shutting things down, and schools closed paused most activities and watched the news, for me, I soon realized that the news perpetuated my victim feelings and I moved on to comfort food and binge-watching The Great British Baking show, that could only go so long because that behavior was not paying my bills or educating my children or serving my client. I moved to figuring out new ways to accomplish my priorities. And here we are with a podcast. But it was a necessary for me to work through the process and I found with myself and my clients that we each have our own rate of working through the process.

Okay back to Adam and Morgan’s definition of victim as person who when confronted with a constraint lowers their ambition. So referring back to my example, when things shut down, I lowered my ambition to watching the television and eating whatever I craved. It was a pretty low bar. The next stage is Neutralizer so for this stage when a person is confronted with constraint, they keep their original ambition but look for a different approach to fulfill that ambition. For me that meant team trainings on Zoom instead of in person. Rearranging the rooms in our home to accommodate learning and working for four people. We joked about having a university in the dining room, a coaching company in the office, a high school in an upstairs bedroom and a consulting firm in another bedroom we converted into an office. 

That takes us to the third stage of processing constraint and that is a Transformer which Morgan and Barden define as a person who when dealing with constraint sees it as an opportunity, even increasing their original ambition. I’m going to break with my dealing with the pandemic illustration to a different constraint that I dealt with in 2019. This was a health constraint, in early May of that year I contracted a serious respiratory virus, with violent coughing that lasted well into July, tearing rib and abdominal muscles. In June this manifested in a way that caused my airways to suddenly close where I couldn’t breathe or talk to explain what was going on. It did open as I was seeing spots and on the verge of passing out, but we followed that experience up with a trip to the ER in case it happened again. Well, that began a series of steroid, misdiagnosis and medications that continued through to September. And during that time, Iost my voice. It would work intermittently but I had to suspend my clients work. Eventually we got to a diagnosis that seemed to capture what was going on, called Paradoxical vocal-chord dysfunction which can be triggered by a vicious virus. The treatment was vocal therapy so finally in November of 2019, I was on the mend and my voice was becoming more stable. I bring this up because not speaking was a constraint I had never considered facing. I had been a singer and performer and of course a coach. Part of my recovery involved not trying to talk or whisper for a few weeks just to let my throat heal and we quickly found out that I am most often the instigator or conversations in our household. However, during this quiet time, I began writing my book. I refused to believe that I couldn’t support others with my work and so I wrote it out. In working on the book, I realized that I wanted to play with the concepts more and so I started this podcast. To continue to grow and explore self-leadership. My ambition actually expanded because of my voice constraints.

Remember I told you that Barden and Morgan actually divided the transformer stage into two categories and those are Responsive transformers – where a person or company is responding to a constraint as an opportunity for new solutions and the Proactive transformers who actually impose constraints to catalyze a better approach or solution.

So now my challenge for you, to think about a constraint you’ve faced or are currently facing. Can you see these stages in the process? There is no judgement here. We each deal with different ambition and different constraints at different speeds.

I’m going to leave you with a quote from Morgan and Barden in their book, A Beautiful Constraint “Moving from victim to transformer will require strength in mindset, (do you believe it’s possible?), method (do we know how to start doing this?) and motivation (how much does it matter to us)”

I think those are great questions to consider this week. First, do you believe constraint can be leveraged for advantage so much so that you welcome it and consider it beautiful? Second, Does it matter to you? Do you care enough to do the work of learning to leverage constraint for advantage? Is the cost worth the reward? And lastly, do you know how to do it? How to move forward with the power of constraint? That’s what we’re here learning, that’s why Barden and Morgan wrote the book. So that if we don’t know, we can figure it out.

I hope you are enjoying our second season of the self-leadership podcast. We learn and reflect and challenge ourselves to become the next better version of ourselves – not just to serve ourselves but to make the world a better place one leader at a time. If you are enjoying this and getting value from the work, please take a few minutes and leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts. And if you haven’t already done so, you are invited to subscribe to the Mind Your Monday newsletter to be the first to know all of the BYF happenings and to expand on the work we’re doing on the podcast. Also, I’d love to hear about your self-leadership journey and your wresting with constraints. You can find me on the boss yourself Facebook page, Instagram or LinkedIn. I hope you reach out and connect and I hope you have a great rest of your week, until next time, take care.


The Freedom of Constraint

Today we’re introducing our topic for Season 2. This season we’re exploring constraint. While freedom and constraint may seem like opposing forces, we’re going to spend the next couple of months exploring the way self-leaders can leverage constraint to increase creativity and innovation. We’ll learn to use the power of constraint to free up and even accelerate forward movement. Today we define constraint, introduce this season’s book club read and challenge ourselves to start playing with the power of constraint.  Join us, it’s going to be a great season and we’re just getting started!


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Welcome to season two of the Boss Yourself First podcast! I hope you had an amazing holiday season. I know it was probably different, I know it was for us but we got creative about how to connect with family and still take precautions to protect everyone from Covid. And that creativity to work around limits leads me right into this season’s topic. This season we are talking about constraint and how self-leaders can leverage constraint to move forward. As I just mentioned, most of us encountered or imposed constraints on our holiday celebrations so it feels like a timely pursuit. I’m so excited to jump into this season’s topic! I have a long history with constraint and I find the mindset and the process of leveraging constraint really freeing. Which sounds a little paradoxical – constraint and freedom but I think they are a powerful pairing. My constraints have generally come as physiological conditions. But I have had three major constraints I mean I have some of the normal ones of finance and busyness, but the health constraints felt the most impactful.  In fact, the first one showed up in my early 20’s the next in my 40’s and the most recent one in 2019. I’ll unpack these a bit more later in the season but I can track my self-leadership skill development by my exposure to these constraints and how deftly I processed constraints to leverage them for forward movement. Also, my relationship with constraint has really informed my client work in ways that my training and certifications never could. And I hope to bring the forward here this season as we explore and learn about constraints together.

As we do for each topic we explore, I want to get really clear on how we’re defining constraint. So Today we’re going to unpack our definition of constraint, explore why it is helpful and then share a challenge with you at the end of the episode. The first definition I found when I began to prepare for this is a limitation imposed by outside circumstances or by ourselves that materially affects our ability to do something. Well circle back to that definition soon,

But before we do, I want to tell you a couple of stories that can help focus our ideas about constraint.

I want to take you back to 1930 in Uruguay where a young teacher named Juan Carlos Ceriani devised a game similar to soccer but that could be played inside for his students. He named the game “futsal” The most noticeable difference between futsal and soccer is the size of the field. Futsal happens in a much smaller space. Ceriani’s game caught on and in the 30’s and 40’s became really popular in Brazil. Interestingly, today more people in Brazil play futsal than soccer and there are a number of speculations about why this is. A dominate one is that because of space limitations, futsal is easier to accommodate in Brazil but there was an intriguing side effect of Brazil’s love affair with futsal. Because many Brazilian children start playing futsal and later transition to soccer they develop extraordinary agility in ball handling along with quick reflexes and game decision making skills. The smaller playing area of futsal requires the athletes to speed up in their reactions, decision and movements. Check this out, during the 12-year span from 1958 to 1970, Brazil won three of the four World Cup Championships. The constraint of futsal brought innovation to the athletic training of Brazilian Soccer players.

You may already be familiar with the next story but a writer was challenged by his publisher, to create a children’s book limiting himself to 225 words chosen for him from  6-7 year-olds vocabulary lists. His goal was to make something more interesting and challenging than the current Dick and Jane books used in education at that time. The writer grew frustrated with this list and gave himself a further constraint. He would choose the first two words on the list that rhymed for the foundation of his story. Those two words? Cat and Hat. Yes, the writer was Theodor Geisel also known as Dr. Seuss. He leveraged constraint to focus his creativity. If that wasn’t enough, Geisel’s publisher then challenged him to create a children’s book using 50 words –they bet $50 and Geisel once again gave himself another constraint and utilized 49 one syllable words and 1 three syllable word at the end – 9 months later, (no one said it was quick or easy leveraging constraint) Geisel presented his publisher with what became Green Eggs and Ham.

So constraint! Now you know that I choose a book to go along with our season and I’m not choosing Dr. Seuss but that’s always a fun read, so maybe we’ll have to add it in. If you want to read with our group you can join the BYF Face Book group where I will post a reading schedule and we will discuss what we’ve read during the season. This season’s book is A Beautiful Constraint, by Adam Morgen and Mark Barden. And you’ll hear me refer to it throughout our season but one reason I chose it, is I really appreciate it’s approach to constraint is the recognition of the cycle we work through when dealing with constraint. Which we will jump into in episode two. Right now, I want to bring us back to our definition of constraint which is is a limitation imposed by outside circumstances or by ourselves that materially affects our ability to do something. Now Morgen and Barden want to amend that definition just a bit they would like to define constraint as “’A limitation or defining parameter, often the stimulus to find a better way of doing something.”

I like this focus on the effects of constraint so for our season we’ll be defining constraint as a limitation or defining parameter imposed by outside circumstances or by ourselves that can stimulate creativity and innovation.

As our definition states, there are two kinds of constraints external – limitations imposed by outside forces or circumstances – like the weather Ceriani encountered motivating him to design inside activity for his students, or the space restrictions that motivated Brazilians to embrace the smaller, inside game. The other kind of constraint is internal – a limitation you impose on yourself to focus and inspire your thoughts like Geisel did with choosing the first two rhyming words and then later limiting himself to one syllable words. I find it really interesting that most external constraints have a negative connotation while most internal constraints have a negative connotation. I’m sure you’ve already noticed what might be contributing to that difference. Choice. We feel empowered by choice and disempowered by the lack of it and who wants to feel disempowered? There are so many different facets to explore and variety of skills we can develop around constraint. I hope you feel empowered and use that power to choose to tune in for our whole second season. The best way to ensure you don’t miss an episode is to subscribe where ever you listen to podcasts and I would be so grateful if you would take the time to leave a review. It helps others find the podcast and it really encourages me. On our next episode, we’re talking about the cycle of processing constraint and the self- leadership principles to move through that process. Now before you go, I want to give you a challenge that I gave myself so we can start playing with choosing constraint. And there is a bit of a story behind the challenge. And it is really a myth, the origins of the story are questionable but it sets up our challenge well. Once again we’re traveling back in time this time to the 1920’s to a crowded restaurant at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City where Ernest Hemingway made a $10 dollar bet with some other writers that he could write a six-word short story. After composing the story on to a napkin, he passed it around the table and collected his winnings. His story read, “For sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.” My love for this story is not really diminished by it’s debatable veracity. The constraint of those 6 words allows Every reader to bring their own context to the story. So my challenge for you is to answer two questions using only 6 words in each answer. The questions are: How would you describe 2020? How do you hope to describe 2021? I’m no Hemingway but here are mine. In answering How I describe 2020 in 6 words I wrote “And the whole planet stayed home.” In how I hope to describe 2021. Gratefully, I left my mask behind.  I hope you accept the challenge and I would love to hear your answers. You can email them to me at or post them on the Boss Yourself First Facebook Page or comment on a boss yourself first post on Instagram. C’mon take the challenge! And until next time, take care!