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Diffusing family feuds over the holidays

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

If you dread holiday gatherings because you have to spend time with your family, you’re not alone. I’ve talked with so many who say they wish they could just skip the holidays so they don’t have to ‘deal’ with certain family members. And if you’ve ever had conflict with someone you’re ‘supposed’ to get along with, you know how rough that can be. With certain members of your tribe, you probably can even predict exactly how long it will take before a disagreement will begin–10 minutes after walking in the door–as soon as you sit down to dinner–when Uncle George brings up politics–it seems to happen at the same time and around the same issues, year after year.

Unless you’ve opted to ditch the family altogether and hop a plane to a tropical island, it’s most likely you’ll be interacting with the clan a good deal over the next few days. But it doesn’t have to be a place of arguing and bickering. I’d like to offer an alternate solution…something you can do to help to keep negative situations from escalating into an all out family feud. But before we go there — I want to suggest three things you can’t do:

  1. You can’t control what others think of you.
  2. You can’t control what others say about you.
  3. You can’t control what others do.

In other words, you can’t control others. No matter how much you may want to, you don’t get to be a puppeteer and pull the strings to make everyone act in a way you would like. But what you can do is control your own thoughts and actions, especially your own communication skills. Choosing to be intentional about how you communicate with your family can have a direct influence on the nature of  interactions at your upcoming holiday celebrations.

Communication is the ability to listen deeply to understand what others are saying, and in turn send clear and convincing messages back to them. It can take the form of verbal or non-verbal — often people say as much with the expression on their face as with the words that come out of their mouth. And again, though you can’t control how others communicate with you, you can manage how you communicate with them.

What does it look like to be a good communicator?  Some seem to think if they talk loudly enough to command others’ attention that they have this competency down pat. But I beg to differ. People who have strong communication skills often aren’t the ones doing most of the talking. They are able to put others at ease so they feel comfortable sharing openly. They are effective in give-and-take, knowing when to talk and when to let others speak. They listen to understand, as opposed to listening to prep what they want to say next. They are able to hear feedback without becoming defensive, can deal with difficult conversations straightforwardly without the need to retaliate or run away, and make others feel valued for their opinions and outlooks, even if they differ from their own.

Those who struggle with communication–and a few particular family members may immediately come to mind–can be difficult to connect with and come across as unapproachable. They may interrupt, or talk too much, or fail to listen when you speak–and isn’t it so easy to tell when someone’s not listening? They lack tact when expressing their opinions and tend to think it’s their way or the highway. They often don’t ask open-ended questions or seek to understand the why’s behind what someone is saying. They rarely make good eye contact and often won’t pause to let others respond or jump in. They may even ridicule others or have emotional outbursts when things get heated.

Sound familiar?

Again, you can’t control those who are poor communicators. And that should come as a relief. Knowing there’s not a thing you can do to keep Aunt Ethel from sharing too much information about her bowel troubles, or to prevent Cousin Mike from bragging about his recent promotion, or to prevent dad from hurling insults about your career aspirations (or lack of) is very freeing. It’s hard enough to control yourself, let alone attempting to herd everyone around you. Who has time and energy for that? What you CAN do is manage and modify your own behavior to make interactions with family members as pleasant as possible.

“One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.” Lucius Annaeus Seneca

It takes effort to be intentional about your conversations, and preparing ahead of time can help. Thinking about behaviors which can enhance conversations as well as knowing which ones to avoid will enable you to walk through that door with confidence, no matter whom you’re about to face. Then, in the moment, you get to choose to act appropriately despite what others say or do.

To keep conversations positive and prevent them from going downhill this holiday season, here are some behaviors you can try:

  • Smile.  Sounds simple, but mustering up a genuine smile when you first see the family can help diffuse negativity from the start. Your body language communicates attitude far before your mouth forms words. As well, a warm hug, when appropriate, can work wonders. Research has found that a 20-second hug actually releases oxytocin, one of the feel-good hormones, into our system, which can work miracles toward melting down tension and negativity. I realize that long of a hug may be a little awkward–and not appropriate with some–but you get the idea.

“Peace begins with a smile.” ― Mother Teresa

  • Ask to understand. Think of conversations as a portal to learn more about the other person, rather than a chance to speak your peace. A good rule of thumb is to ask more than tell. Instead of asking questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”, try asking the hows and whys.  “How do you like your new job?”  “Why did you choose [insert location] for your vacation?” “I’d love to know more about how you [insert topic]. ” Asking open-ended questions can make the other person feel valued and help you see things from their frame of reference.

“Empathy begins with understanding life from another person’s perspective.” –Sterling K. Brown

  • Actively listen. Have you ever caught yourself asking a question then not even listening to the answer? We all do it. Tuning into what the other person is saying, asking questions to clarify, and repeating back what you heard shows you care. Nod when you agree. Mirror their expressions as you hold eye contact. Try to picture what they’re describing (except maybe Aunt Ethel’s bodily function details!). Good listening makes others feel valued and enables you to learn more about them.

“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”
― G. K. Chesterton

  • Discard distractions. Simply put, put your phone away.  There’s nothing more devaluing than someone glancing at their phone while you’re talking…so don’t do the same to others. Even better, turn it off for a few hours so you can really focus on the person in front of you.

“Cell phones bring you closer to the person far from you, but take you away from the ones sitting next to you.” — Anonymous

  • Build bridges. Look for “me too” moments–common ground upon which you can both agree. Listening for shared experiences, shared dreams, and shared emotions, and letting them know you can relate, builds rapport and connection. Focusing on what you agree upon can diffuse tensions that arise from being at odds.

“No matter what message you are about to deliver somewhere, whether it is holding out a hand of friendship, or making clear that you disapprove of something, is the fact that the person sitting across the table is a human being, so the goal is to always establish common ground. ” –Madeleine Albright

  • Resist rivalry. When someone says something that feels like an insult, it’s easy to come back with a retort of your own. If possible, try not to take things personally, even if comments sound as if they’re (or are!) directed to you. Usually when someone puts another down, it is coming from a dark and empty place within their own heart. Offering compassion and realizing they may in a struggle you don’t understand can help you resist the temptation to view them as an opponent.

“Don’t take anything personally.  Nothing others do is because of you.”  — Don Miguel Ruiz

  • Express appreciation. Everyone likes to hear a compliment. Try to find something about the person or what they’re saying that you like, even if most of what’s coming out of their mouth is annoying you. Offer a sincere compliment–it is better-received than any festively-wrapped gift.  It could be as simple as, “I like the way you think about that” or “I value the direction you’re going”, or “That was a thoughtful thing to do”, etc. A great sentence starter is, “Do you know what I like about you?”

“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” — ancient proverb

  • Find the fun. It’s hard to keep your sense of humor when others are stomping on your last nerve. But retaining your ability to ‘laugh at the craziness’ can go a long way in keeping things positive.  Of course your humor should never be demeaning or hurtful, but stepping back and grinning at the ‘uniqueness’ of each family member can help keep spirits bright.

“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” — Dwight David Eisenhower

Intentionally steering your conversations down a positive path this holiday can be a great start toward building better family bonds. It won’t be perfect…bad habits can take a while to break. But doing your part to create uplifting, engaging conversations is vital to developing authentic, amicable interactions with the family and can help avoid feuds. And you’ll feel better knowing you showed up with your best. Will it be easy? No. But will it be worth it?  Yes.

“Getting along well with other people is still the world’s most needed skill. With it…there is no limit to what person can do. We need people, we need the cooperation of others.” — Earl Nightingale

Putting a stop to poor behavior

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Have you ever reacted poorly to a situation that you regretted later?

Yeah, me neither.

Of course I say that tongue-in-cheek. If we are human and breathe air, we all have reacted in a way that could’ve left something to be desired, probably more times than not. When our ‘hot button’ is pressed, it is easy to slip down a path of hurtful, destructive behavior.  In the moment, reacting out of frustration or anger ‘seems’ to be the right thing.  But later, you know the sick feeling that sets in. Whether it’s when you’re cut off in traffic, or being disrespected by your manager, or during an argument with a loved one, it’s easy to allow someone else to trigger our bad behaviors.  But we are not helpless to our poor choices. Notice I used the word allow.  Others can’t make us act poorly — that’s on us.  We get to decide how we allow ourselves to react in difficult situations.

I don’t know how many people I’ve heard say, “This is just who I am” in response to being called out on poor behavior.  As if there’s nothing that can be done because it’s who they are, down to their DNA wiring. And that’s usually where the excuses follow: “My dad was this way”, or “that person made me mad”,  or “she disrespected me”, “I felt lonely”, or “it’s the only way I’ve known.” Think of the excuses you’ve heard when you’ve called someone out on poor behavior.  Or think of the excuses you use when someone calls you out. But reacting poorly does not need to define who we are — it defines what we do…actions, responses, behavior.  And the good new is, behavior can be changed.

Behavioral self-control is a competency of emotional intelligence and one that has a powerful impact on the quality of our relationships. Those who are strong in behavioral self-control are able to manage their impulsive feelings, even when distressed or in trying moments.  In times of pain or conflict, they can think clearly and remain ‘cool under pressure.’  They are able to restrain negative reactions that can be hurtful to themselves and others, and make the choice to not escalate the problem when attacked or provoked.

Those that struggle in this area — which is most of us — tend to react impulsively and respond to struggles in a non-constructive way. They tend to get involved in inappropriate situations because they don’t think they can resist temptations, and become angry, depressed or agitated when faced with stresses that trigger hurt feelings.

“He who blows his top loses all his thinking matter.” — Chinese proverb

If you’re one to tends to act poorly when under stressful or hurtful situations, take heart. Again, this is not who you are but how you’re acting.  Making an effort to  shift ways of thinking and behaving is something we are all capable of.  Self-awareness is a good first step. Do you recognize poor behaviors in your past?  Do you recognize any trends (are you doing the same sort of things when the same sort of negative events are encircling you)?

Once you’re aware and decide that you’d like to make a shift, consider asking yourself these questions to move toward more healthy reactions:

  • What are my triggers? Write down the incidents and feelings that cause a negative response.  These may be the same situations in which you act on impulse, and it is good to name these.  At this point, don’t try to figure out why they are hot buttons–just write them down to get them out in front of you.
  • What am I feeling?  In these trigger moments, what are you feeling and where in your body are you feeling it?  Does your heart race?  Do you get a headache?  Do you feel shame?  Do you feel angry toward someone not involved in the current situation? Do you feel sick to your stomach or do your hands start to shake? Do you feel depressed or discouraged?  Start noting what you’re feeling in these moments of tension.
  • What am I telling myself?  Positive self-talk is vital to making a shift from poor behaviors to more constructive ones.  Note what that little voice whispers to you in the moments of stress.  Some common negative self-conversations are: “This [insert poor choice] is what I get  because I’m a bad person”, “I’ve worked hard so I deserve [insert poor choice]”, or “I always mess this up, so what does it matter if I [insert poor behavior]?” Be honest on this one — learning to hear your negative self-talk and stopping it when it happens can help you rewrite your behavioral story.
  • How do I react? Write down any typical behaviors you’ve engaged in when you feel those feelings and hear that negative self-talk.  Do you drink too much? Do you lash out at someone else?  Do you hide and withdraw from relationships? Do you seek out unhealthy relationships just to feel connection? Do you go shopping? Be honest with yourself and note the route you usually choose when your triggers are set off. Again, being aware of these is a great place to start.
  • How do these behaviors make me feel? In the moment, poor behaviors can give us a temporary ‘lift’ — but the guilt and regret that sets in shortly after often take away that high and can lead to self-loathing and depression.  Make a 2-column chart and label the first “what I do” and in the second “how I feel”.  It’s helpful to see the correlation between behaviors and the resulting feelings.
  • What damage have I caused? Take a moment to write out the cost of the hurtful behavior.  It may be “I blew my budget again”, “I had a terrible hangover”, “I’ve ruined my chance at a promotion”, or “I’ve broken someone’s trust”.  Whatever it is, the best thing at this point is to own it by recognizing damage done.
  • How could I respond differently? Again we’re back to choice — we get to choose how we respond.  For each of your triggers, write out an alternative response that could potentially bring about more positive results.  Knowing there are other choices to make can help when your button is pushed next time…and there will be a next time.  Coming up with new ways of responding is a way of preparing yourself for those future struggles.
  • How will I feel when I choose a better response? Self-worth, proud, happy, confident, etc. Come up with your own words, write them down, and post them somewhere you can see them every day.

Finding a trusted friend, counselor, or coach to help you stay accountable as you embark on this new path can be a great resource. Just speaking your intentions out loud to someone can help with awareness next time it happens. You don’t have to do this alone.

Finally, learn to forgive yourself. You’re going to mess up — we all do — and even though you had good intentions on reacting better, you’ll still find yourself saying or doing something you wish you hadn’t have from time to time. Apologize where needed, ask yourself the above questions again, spend some time talking to  friend, coach, or counselor, then get out there and try again. Author Steve Goodier says this:

“Bring it up, make amends, forgive yourself. It sounds simple, but don’t think for a second that it is easy. Getting free from the tyranny of past mistakes can be hard work, but definitely worth the effort. And the payoff is health, wholeness and inner peace. In other words, you get your life back.”

Some hurtful actions may have greater consequences than others, and you’ll have to deal with those. Poor behaviors, especially those you do on a consistent basis, can destroy friendships and break down relationships. Some relationships will need to be put to rest because some behaviors are too painful for the other person to deal with or forgive. But don’t let that keep you from getting up the next morning and trying again.

Remember that making shifts in a new direction isn’t something that happens overnight, and it’s not easy. It’s hard work, exhausting at times, and you may hit places of doubting whether or not you can ever behave any differently.  Stay in the fight. Your progress may be slow, but well worth the effort.  Your sense of self-value, knowing that you have control over how you act, is empowering and will open you up to healthier, happier relationships.  You got this.

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world, as in being able to remake ourselves.” — Mahatma Gandhi

 

 

Are you a trust builder or a trust breaker?

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Are you someone who builds trust or someone who tears it down?

The ability to build trust is a competency of high emotional intelligence. Being trustworthy means to be ethical when working with and relating to others. It means doing the right thing even when you know no one will find out. When you are a trust builder, others have confidence that your actions are consistent with your words and know that you have their best interest at heart — not only your own. If you are a trust builder, you demonstrate respect for others’ experiences, understand the hurt that deceitfulness can cause, and bring more value to relationships than pain.

Those who are strong in this competency tend to share information about themselves and don’t keep secrets. They treat others consistently and with respect, and maintain high standards of personal integrity. They maintain a lifestyle that they don’t have to hide from others. When you hear them talk about something, you know that their actions will match up with their words, and you can count on them to deliver on their promises and commitments.

Those who aren’t so strong in this competency aren’t able to build open, candid, trusting relationships. They’ve most likely developed a reputation for lacking integrity, and often make promises that they do not keep.They will do what serves them best even if it means undermining another person to get what they want. They lie about little things, and lie about big things. If you ask them what their values are, you may get the ‘deer in the headlights’ look, as they often have troubles defining their standards in the name of being ‘open-minded’ or ‘non-judgmental’. They tend to blame others for their mistakes and withhold information to keep them out of ‘trouble.’

“Earn trust, earn trust, earn trust. Then you can worry about the rest.” –Seth Godin

It’s impossible to lead without being able to build trust.  When others begin to doubt you, they will think twice about following you and question whether or not you are worth teaming up with. They will mistrust your ideas and direction, and worry that you may be putting YOUR best interests before their own.

It’s true that it takes a long time to build trust but only an instant to destroy it.  One self-centered lie or act of deceit can ruin how others view you for days and months to come.

Why are some trust breakers? For many, the practice of deceit stems from deep-rooted fears…fear of being accepted, fear of being known, fear of punishment, fear of self, fear of being held to expectations, fear of letting others down, fear of being disliked, fear of being an disappointment…the list goes on and on. The thing is, we all have fears. We all want to be liked and accepted and valuable in others’ eyes.  But the difference between trust builders and trust breakers is that the trust builders face their fears by understanding that honesty and authenticity are what bring about those results, where trust breakers think dishonesty will get them there. But a life of deceit won’t bring about deep, meaningful relationships that we all desire.

“It is true that integrity alone won’t make you a leader, but without integrity you will never be one.”  — Zig Ziglar

Not sure if you’re a trust builder or a trust breaker?

Look over these statements, and give yourself a score for each, using this scale: 1= Always, 2=Almost always 3=Occasionally 4=Almost never 5=Never

  1. I share my thoughts, feelings and decision-making rationale.
  2. I am able to establish trusting relationships.
  3. I am open to others’ ideas and willing to be influenced by others.
  4. I treat people with respect.
  5. I am able to influence others as a result of talking with them.
  6. I have developed a reputation for integrity.
  7. I treat all people fairly.
  8. I say what I believe rather than what I think people want to hear.
  9. I strive to behave consistently with my expressed beliefs and values.
  10. I practice what I preach.
  11. I focus on solving problems rather than blaming or hiding.
  12. I admit my mistakes.
  13. I deliver on promises and commitments.
  14. I ask others for their opinions.
  15. I listen to people’s thoughts, feelings, and concerns, and am able to feel empathy.
  16. I solicit feedback about my performance.
  17. I acknowledge the contributions and worth of others.
  18. When there is a problem, I work directly with those involved to resolve it.
  19. I treat people consistently.
  20. I follow through on the things I commit to do, even if it’s not convenient for me.

Now, add up your scores and see where you land, below:

1-20 – Your ability to build trust is high

21-40 – Your ability to build trust is moderately high

41-60 – Your ability to build trust is moderate

61-80 – Your ability to build trust has room for improvement

81-100 –  Your ability to build trust needs serious improvement

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” –Stephen R. Covey

If your ability to build trust needs some work, take heart. We are talking about behavior–what you do, not who you are. Behaviors can be changed. If you would like to shift from being a trust breaker to a trust builder, here are some developmental tips to try:

  • Team up with an emotional intelligence coach to help you set goals and hold you accountable as you begin this journey.
  • Practice listening to others in a way that allows you to know what’s on their minds and in their hearts.
  • Always deliver on your commitments.  No excuses. If you are one who tends to promise then cancel –stop making the promises in the first place.
  • Be emotionally available to those around you — share the things in your heart without stretching the truth to make yourself look good.
  • Never knowingly mislead or lie.  If you catch yourself doing it — stop and admit the truth.  It’s so very freeing and you’ll find people respect you when you admit it in the moment.
  • Articulate your values to those around you and ask them if your actions match up.
  • Admit your mistakes without blame or shame.
  • Get in the habit of putting others’ needs in front of your own.
  • Check to see if what you do in secret matches up to your public persona — if not, in which arena are you not being true? Then ask yourself why.  Just being aware of the gap is a good start to changing behaviors.
  • Forgive yourself of past mistakes.  If you’ve spent a lifetime lying, it’s never too late to come clean and make a fresh start.

The next time you find yourself in a situation where you’re not sure if you should be honest or not — keep this in mind:

“For every good reason there is to lie, there is a better reason to tell the truth.” — Bo Bennett

Putting aside your patterns of lying, deceiving and hiding, and stepping into the brave new world of integrity will open up the doors of opportunity for stronger, healthier relationships. Yes, it’s going to take some work and effort. It may feel uncomfortable to begin to let others truly know you. You may face rejection and at times, disappoint people. But though it’s can be a difficult process to shift behaviors, it’s worth it. Becoming someone others can trust will help you develop the connection, both at work and in your personal life, that you need and desire.

The perfect gift

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

In many countries, ’tis the season for finding the perfect gift for your friends and loved ones.  It truly can be a special time of thoughtfulness and giving.

But just to mix things up, I’d like to challenge you to give a unique gift this year… one that has a great kick-back incentive. It’s not a store-bought gift or one you order online, but one that comes from your social intelligence — the ability to be aware of those around you and manage your relationship with them. This gift is empathy.

Empathy is a competency of emotional intelligence and one which can be easier to offer to some than others. Empathy is not only sensing others’ feelings and perspectives, but it is showing an active interest in their concerns.

For those we care about and love, showing empathy comes easy.  When a friend is in trouble, we hurt with them and want to do what we can to help out.  But have you tried showing empathy toward those who have disappointed you or let you down?  Easier said than done.

There is no magic formula to doing this. Offering the gift of empathy toward those who are not on your “Nice” list is difficult. We naturally tend to withhold kindness toward those who’ve been hurtful and even can find a sense of twisted satisfaction when we choose to not forgive their wrongdoing toward us. But we all know it’s us who suffers most when we choose anger and resentment. And opting not to forgive someone, to not put ourselves in their shoes and try to understand the why behind their behavior, instead skipping down the path of resentment, damages our own well-being.  In an article published by John Hopkins Medicine, Dr. Karen Swartz, M.D. at John Hopkins Hospital says this: “Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure and  immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions.”  (https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_connections/forgiveness-your-health-depends-on-it)

Dr. Swartz goes on to say, in contrast, “Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health.” Anger toward someone who’s been hurtful is normal.  It’s just not a place you want to hang out for long.

Who are you holding a grudge toward or harboring anger toward?  I’m guessing someone’s name came quickly to mind. Try writing down that name on a piece of paper and, for a moment, attempt to lay aside their hurtful behavior. List out all the positive things about them you can come up with. (There’s no need to write down the hurtful behavior — no doubt you’ve replayed that in your mind countless times!) Your list of positives might be short. That’s OK. But looking at their whole person instead of focusing only on the hurtful behavior can help shift your perspective, even if just a bit. Then write down what you know of their current situation — what are they going through? Are they lonely? Are they depressed? Are they scared, worried, or trying hard to impress others? Are they financially burdened or seem full of themselves? Are they struggling with insecurity? Most of our poor behaviors occur when we’re not in a good space.  Attempting to understand their situation and offer a little understanding can have tremendous power over the anger in your heart.

“As human beings, we all have reasons for our behavior. There may be people who have certain physiological issues that dictate why they make certain choices. On the whole, though, I think we’re dictated by our structure, our past, our environment, our culture. So once you understand the patterns that shape a person, how can you not find sympathy?” — Forest Whitaker

To begin to heal, you may need to have a conversation with this person to let the know the pain they’ve caused. You may need to journal about it, talk with a friend, work with a coach, or see a counselor to sort things out. Whichever action you need to take to put this behind you and move on, do it. Every minute you hang on to  resentment and anger is one more minute you are robbing yourself from living a full life.

You don’t have to become best friends with the person.  In fact, in situations of severe hurt, it may be best to not have contact with them if possible. But whatever your ongoing relationship with them may be, there’s no need to keep replaying their destructive behavior over and over in your mind.  Why relive something so pain-filled? It happened. Past tense. No need to keep bringing it into your present. Offering a little empathy — not in any way justifying what they did — by attempting to understand why they did it, can help you begin to move forward again.

Offering the gift of empathy doesn’t make light of the pain, nor does it give license for the person to continue to inflict damage upon you.  Forgiving someone doesn’t tell them what they did was OK. It tells them that you’re not going to punish them (and yourself) any longer for something in the past. It can free you from the hurt and enable you to move forward again…with or without them.  In fact, offering someone empathy isn’t really for them — it’s a gift of love to yourself.  Yes, your empathetic behavior may bring about a shift in that person’s mindset–but that’s not your concern. Your emotions and behaviors are the only ones you can truly manage. Think of empathy as a gift you give to others which comes with an incredible kickback incentive — healing for your heart.

Empathy is probably the most perfect gift you’ll find this season. And I promise, it’s a gift you’ll never want to return. Why not give it a try?

Gratitude for a new life

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

If you’re a regular consumer of social media, you’ve most likely seen this question pop up on your news feed: “What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you were thankful for today?” It makes us all stop and think, in the moment at least, and offer up a few sentiments to the universe before going on with our previously-scheduled programming of stress, worry, and negativity.

But what if you considered making gratitude part of your everyday life?

Gratitude is a positive emotion.  While some define it as “the state of being grateful” or “expressing thanks”, I like this definition best:

“Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.” — Harvard Medical School

However you elucidate it, feeling and expressing gratitude has a positive impact on both you and others. I challenge you to find an article or video describing the ill-effects of gratitude. There are many reasons why we’d want to develop a heart of gratitude, and here are just a few.

A Healthier Body

According to Robert Emmons, leading researcher on gratitude and its effects, those who practice gratitude in a consistent manner report a host of benefits including stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, and are less bothered by aches and pains. (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good). In an article published in the National Communication Association’s Review of Communication, Stephen M. Yoshimura and Kassandra Berzins explored the connection between the expression of gratitude and physical health. They found that gratitude consistently associates with many positive health states and reduced reports of negative physical symptoms. (https://www.natcom.org/press-room/expressing-gratitude-makes-us-healthier-who-wouldn%E2%80%99t-be-grateful)

“Gratitude can be an incredibly powerful and invigorating experience. There is growing evidence that being grateful may not only bring good feelings. It could lead to better health.” – Jeff Huffman

Peace of Mind

Gratitude can also benefit our mental health. Emmons conducted multiple studies linking gratitude and mental well-being. His findings were that gratitude can increase happiness and decrease depression. And a study published in 2014 in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that athletes can increase their self-esteem, an important component of mental wellness, by expressing gratitude. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022440507000386)
“Results indicated that counting blessings was associated with enhanced self-reported gratitude, optimism, life satisfaction, and decreased negative affect.” In a separate study, children who practiced grateful thinking showed signs of more positive attitudes toward their family and at school. (Froh, Sefick, & Emmons, 2008).

Sleep Tight

And how about that elusive but necessary thing called sleep? A study done in 2016 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that more than one third of Americans don’t get enough sleep. (http://www.healthcommunities.com/sleep-disorders/overview-of-sleep-disorders.shtml) Struggling to doze off, waking in the middle of the night, tossing and turning, starting the day feeling exhausted– sound familiar? Try gratefulness as a sleep aid. One study showed that those who were grateful fell asleep quickly and slept more soundly, supporting evidence that more grateful people may sleep better because they have more positive thoughts when they lay down to go to  sleep. Gratitude predicted greater subjective sleep quality and sleep duration, and less sleep latency and daytime dysfunction.” (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022399908004224). And in a 2008 study by Alex M. Wood, “Gratitude predicted greater subjective sleep quality and sleep duration, and less sleep latency and daytime dysfunction.” (https://www.jpsychores.com/article/S0022-3999(08)00422-4/fulltext)

Make new friends

Gratitude can help with creating new relationships. A study led by UNSW psychologist Dr Lisa Williams and Dr Monica Bartlett of Gonzaga University showed that the practice of thanking a new acquaintance for their help makes them more likely to seek an ongoing social relationship with you.  “Our findings represent the first known evidence that expression of gratitude facilitates the initiation of new relationships among previously unacquainted people,” says Dr. Williams.

But how?

Gratitude acts as a strengthener of our positive emotions, like exercise for the muscles. This practice of appreciation eliminates feelings of envy and angst as it allows our memories to be happier. Through gratitude, we experience positive feelings, which in turn help us thrive after disappointments and failures. It shifts our attention away from toxic emotions and makes it harder to ruminate on negative events. In a study done by Joel Wong and Joshua Brown in 2007,  involving 300 subjects who were seeking mental health counseling, they found that when people are more grateful, they experienced brain activity which is distinct from neurological activity related to a negative emotion such as guilt. In addition, they exhibited a greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with learning and decision making. (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain)

Now what?

Though we may understand the many benefits of expressing gratitude, incorporating it into our day-to-day lives can be tricky.  Life’s pressures bear down on us and staying thankful often doesn’t come naturally…negativity does. But with a little effort, it is possible to maintain an attitude of gratitude.  Here are some ideas to try:

1-Eat thankfulness for breakfast.  Literally, don’t allow yourself to get out of bed until you’ve said, out loud, at least 5 things you are thankful for, whether great or small.  Pause after each and soak in the warm, positive feelings that are associated with each. It’s a healthy and optimistic way to start each day.

“Wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.” — Kahlil Gibran

2-Fill a thankful jar.  Find a colorful jar at a local thrift shop and set it somewhere you can see it throughout the day. On a scrap of paper, jot down anything and everything that happens each day that makes a positive impact on you:  a kind word from a colleague, a surprise gift from a loved one, the beautiful sunrise on your way to the office, the aroma from your pumpkin spice latte. Wad these up and throw them in your jar, then, at the end of the year, spend an evening reading through each special moment.  You’ll feel like the richest person in the world.

3-Say it.  Get in the habit of saying “thank you”, to everyone you interact with…the barista, the security guard, your coworkers — even those you don’t get along with.  And don’t forget to thank yourself — self-love is an important part of maintaining a positive outlook — and taking time to appreciate your own accomplishments, achievements, and successes can help with that.  “I appreciate you” is a great ending to almost any email or text!

4-Let gratitude tuck you in at night.  Before going to bed, try opting out of scrolling through what everyone else in the world is doing, and instead, journal about a positive event from today. It may be as small as, “I got out of the house without spilling my coffee”, or as grandiose as realizing a long-term goal — but no matter the significance, get in the habit of writing the positives down.

“Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.”– Henry Ward Beecher

And who knows, your own attitude of gratitude may be just the encouragement someone else needs. Don’t be surprised if, as you grow in expressing gratitude, that others will want a piece of the pie.  Joy is contagious and when others seeing you living a life of physical health, mental health, sleeping deeply and enjoying healthy relationships — to name a few — they will want to learn your secret.  If not for yourself, consider developing a heart of gratitude to be a light to others and encourage them to live a new life.

“At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” – Albert Schweitzer

What would bear lots of fruit?

Article contributed by guest author Rick Hanson.

The practice:  Water your fruit tree

Why?

My wife and kids tease me that the title of this practice is corny – and it is. Still, I like it. If you don’t nourish the things that nourish you, they wither away like a plant in dry stony ground.

Looking to the year ahead for you – a year that can begin whenever you want –what’s one key thing that will bear lots of fruit for you if you take care of it?

There is usually one thing – or two or three – that you know in your heart is a key factor in your well-being, functioning, and how you treat others. It’s often a seemingly small thing in the rush and complexity of a typical day. It could be getting that 15 minute break each day with a cup of tea and no interruptions . . . or writing in your journal . . . or feeling grateful for three blessings in your life before falling asleep . . . or asking your partner questions about his or her day and really listening . . . or taking your vitamins or eating protein with every meal . . . or getting home in time for dinner with the kids unless you’re traveling . . . or getting up an hour earlier each day to start writing that book. It could be finally now making that shift for which your heart has been longing.

For me, one thing that pops off the page is going to bed early enough to get enough sleep plus be able to get up in time to meditate. Doing this sets up my whole day and makes it better.

As you know, most New Year’s resolutions are worse than useless: they don’t lead to real change and we feel bad about not sticking to them. But if you think of this as feeding yourself, being good to yourself, giving yourself a big wonderful gift each day, nourishing something that will pay off big for you . . . well, it sure is a lot easier to keep treating yourself well in this way.

How?

What’s on your own short list of the things that would make a big difference for you? Perhaps you, too, would benefit from getting to bed earlier. Or from listening to someone for five minutes or more each day with no expectations. Or from regular exercise, meditation, or prayer. Or from dropping one bad habit, or from picking up that guitar again. Perhaps making art would make a big difference for you, or staying calm with the kids, or finally beginning to spend a few hours each week on starting your new business.

Take a moment to imagine the rewards to you and others if you did this one good thing for yourself tomorrow. How would you feel at the end of the day? What would be the benefits? And then imagine those benefits coming to you and others the day after tomorrow . . . and the days and weeks and months after that.

Of course, all you can do is tend to the causes; you can’t control the results. You can water a fruit tree but you can’t make it give you an apple. But no matter what happens, you know you have tried your best.

Keep coming back to the feeling of nurturing yourself. It’s OK to take care of yourself in this way. Try to feel the warmth for yourself, the strength to gently guide your future self – the one who will be doing this one good thing tomorrow, and the days after that – to keep watering this particular fruit tree.

And know that you can water more than one tree. But it helps to zero in on just one or a few things to focus on for a year.

And then a year from now, looking back to this day, you’ll likely be enjoying a beautiful sweet rich harvest!

https://www.rickhanson.net/writings/just-one-thing/just-one-thing-simple-practices/

 

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Tips to Maintain Passion and Stay Focused at Work

Article contributed by guest author Patricia Conlin.

(Adapted from original posting in October on EMinfo.com)

Without a burning daily sense of purpose, sometimes we start to get lazy or even worse give up on personal and professional goals. When we are driven by purpose, we can navigate through set-backs and challenges better than if we are just motivated by the need of paying bills or buying a new car. What is your purpose? What purpose will get you out of bed on chilly days or dreary days or slow days? What will fuel your passion to pick up the phone, connect with an old customer, reach out to a service provider or book a weekend conference to connect with fellow colleagues? It is well worth the time to think about some of your key values that you want to incorporate into your work, develop your own personal mission statement as well as setting financial and personal goals. I have said many times that writing down goals is powerful and even more powerful is visualizing yourself achieving them for a few minutes every day. Our brains can be hard-wired for success by daily action steps as well as lifestyle upgrades that help us maintain high levels of energy to achieve our goals.

Here are some tips to maintain passion and stay focused at work to be the best you can be:

1. Stay inspired

Any meaningful project or work takes a large amount of daily focus. Before setting goals, ask yourself why you should do it and what will keep you motivated. It is for your kids, husband, wife, friend, community or dog? What emotions do you imagine feeling when you succeed? Pride, joy, peace, excitement, confidence? Find ways to make the journey towards your goals more fun, like allowing your creativity and imagination to flourish while involved in your work. Look for ways to put your unique stamp on your work or to change the way your approach things daily to avoid falling into the rut of uninspired and poor effort.

2. Create small daily goals or action lists

Create a daily “to do” list that is achievable and works towards both short-term and long-term goals. It’s always helpful when you have your list of tasks beside your computer so you can always see it, and check off completed tasks for a sense of accomplishment. You can keep daily lists in a handy binder so you can see it or use your PC or mobile device if you prefer that way. Remember to also create quarterly and annual goals (and even 5 and 10 year goals) and refer to them on a regular basis.

3. Prioritize Work Projects daily

The first hour at work is where most people are productive. This is because all energies are yet to be spent. So put all the taxing, difficult and challenging tasks on your agenda during the first hour. Follow these with the high priority calls and then end with those routine administrative tasks that you find boring. Do this and you won’t be stressed with important projects at the end of the workday.

Another potentially time consuming and distracting activity is email. Let’s face it: We all get a lot. It’s likely a heavy mix of personal and work correspondence, promos and some spam. One good way to a whole day spent on emails is to have a separate email address for work and one for your personal email. Have them both powered to filter all emails for junk. Once you have free time on hand, check emails again and unsubscribe from senders who you could live without. Make sure you limit your email time to set hours during the day as well so you aren’t distracted during phone calls or typing in the background!

4. Make phone use a priority

Phone conversations can build powerful bonds between you and others and can help sway a client to use your service. When you make a regular habit of phoning others, they feel more engaged and will open up more for better long term relationships. Personal calls during work hours can take away from focus and productivity and should be kept to breaks or lunch hour if possible. If you receive an unexpected call with important news and need to think about how to respond, try writing down all the details and telling the person that you will call them back later to give yourself time to better prepare a response.

5. Keep your desk de-cluttered and comfortable

Many people find working exhausting even if it’s done seated most of the time. An uncomfortable work environment will make working more difficult so don’t lose precious time and be distracted with discomfort. Get a really good chair with great back support. Also make sure you get up every 20 minutes to stretch to avoid cramps and fatigue. Try to avoid staring at your computer for hours so you avoid eye strain. Keep clutter to a minimum as it can prove to be distracting. To stay focused at work, only have the things you need neatly piled on your desk and put the rest away or file it where you can find it when required. Leave personal belongings on a separate space nearby.

6. Stay away from social networking sites

These sites aren’t meant to be checked all the time. So discipline yourself to log in only when you have extra minutes free. There’s a strong tendency that you’ll stay much longer than planned with most social networking sites. Not only will it defeat your purpose of staying focused at work, but there’s plenty of information there that could get your mind unnecessarily irritated or occupied which will distract you from your daily goals.

7. Stay properly hydrated

Drinking water isn’t only healthy, it refreshes you as well. Once you feel the first sign of fatigue or hunger, a glass of water can push them away. Getting up to go to the water cooler helps stretch your legs and refocus for the next task. Recent studies indicate that up to 80% of the population doesn’t get enough water which leads to chronic dehydration and fatigue!

8. Eat healthy protein rich snacks

Like having water close by, healthy and protein rich snacks will settle a hungry stomach and balance blood sugar levels for a boost in energy. Nuts, seeds, yogurt or protein bars are some good options and if you have a sweet tooth, opt for dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate as an upgrade.

#Success #Passion #Potential

 

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Personal Power

Article submitted by guest author Laura A. Belsten, Ph.D.

Personal Power. What is it? Do you have it? How do you know? Test yourself with this quick quiz. For each question, give yourself a score from 1 to 10 points, with 1 being “I never feel this way” and 10 being “I feel this way all the time.”

  1. I am fully aware of my professional strengths and weaknesses.
  2. I am in full control of my life.
  3. I know what I want and go after it.
  4. I understand and respect myself.
  5. I can make things happen.
  6. I have the ability to get what I want.
  7. I am decisive; I can make decisions despite uncertainties and ambiguity.
  8. I feel completely comfortable voicing views that are unpopular.
  9. I go out on a limb for what is right, even if it means jeopardizing my car
  10. I’m living my life exactly as I want.

Total your responses, and see where you come out in the categories below:

High personal power (91-100): You are among the elite who have a strong sense of your own worth and capability. You live life with an “inner knowing,” a calm conviction about who you are and your ability to get the things you want and need in your life.

Moderately high (81-90): You have a greater sense of personal power than most people. Moderate (71-80): You are doing well in some areas, but may need to work on a few others.

Look back at your lower scores. Is there a theme? Can you resolve to work on this?

Moderately low (61-70): You are exercising personal power on a more limited basis, and probably need to look at specific actions you can take to boost your scores.

Low personal power (60 and below): Don’t despair! This score simply explains why life seems overwhelming and difficult at times. As you work to increase your personal power, you will experience dramatic results in how you view, respond to and address life’s challenges.

People with a highly-developed sense of personal power believe they can set the direction of their lives. They define themselves from the “inside out” (I am capable, I am creative, I speak up and do the right thing) rather than from the “outside in” (I’m a corporate executive, I’m an attorney).

The opposite of personal power is helplessness or hopelessness, crippling self-doubt, and a lack of conviction to tackle life’s tough challenges.

Personal power is a critical emotional intelligence competency that reveals itself in strong  personal presentation, in the ability to confidently take on new challenges, and quickly master  new jobs or skills. People with high personal power are catalysts, movers, and initiators who don’t hesitate to take on controversial issues and stand up for what they believe despite opposition and disagreement. Quite simply, personal power is the degree to which you believe you can meet life’s challenges and live the life you choose.

Do you have a strong sense of personal power?

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