Archive for the ‘Emotional Intelligence’ Category

When Conflicts Arise

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Is there someone with whom you’re harboring an unresolved conflict?

Pause for a moment and think about this someone.  Maybe they’ve recently wronged you, or hurled hurtful words, or showed you disdain or disrespect. Possibly they simply don’t agree with you and have been adamant about letting you know.  OK–got this person in mind? Focus on his/her face, and the last expression you saw in their eyes. Does your heart begin to race? Do you feel your anger rising as you begin to ruminate about that last conversation you had with them? Do sarcastic, hurtful words come to mind which you would like to say to them if ever you got the nerve? If you were to describe this person to me, what adjectives would you use?

Now, stop thinking about them and get back to what you were doing. Easier said than done?

If you experience strong, negative emotions when thinking about an unresolved conflict with someone, whether friend or perceived foe, there may be more at stake than just the two of you’s relationship. Though it’s definitely easier to side step differences, sweep issues under the rug or just avoid the person altogether, running from conflict resolve may not be the healthiest choice. Barring unsafe people who you must protect yourself from, learning and practicing conflict resolution is a brave thing to do — and can help you lead a healthier, happier life.

“Bravery is the choice to show up and listen to another person, be it a loved one or perceived foe, even when it is uncomfortable, painful, or the last thing you want to do.”  ― Alaric Hutchinson

We all are pretty good at making a connection between eating healthy foods, sleeping well, and exercising and our physical and mental well being. But how many recognize the value of positive social connections and their impact on our health?

Those experiencing unresolved conflict often become frustrated because there seems to be no workable solution, which can result in stress, sleep issues, loss of appetite, or overeating. Headaches, stomach aches, shoulder and neck pain, and a general down-in-the-mouth demeanor can deem you unavailable and unapproachable to others, thus negatively affecting relationships, both at work and at home.  And how about that ruminating piece?  Ever find yourself talking and talking (and talking) about the unresolved issue with anyone who’ll lend an ear? I daresay after a few sessions of this, friends, family, and coworkers may tire of having to hear about the same ole’ issues making their rounds in your conversations, and one by one will become less and less available as your sounding board.

It matters whether or not we get along with others.  Dr. Dana Avey is a Marriage & Family Therapist and explains how this works.  “Overall, having a social network of friends with whom one can spend time is noted to have significant mental health benefits, particularly as evidenced by experiencing an improved mood, both when in the company of others but also in the aftermath of the time spent socializing.  It can become very easy to become isolated with one’s own thoughts and feelings and connecting with others can offer objective feedback and support.” A study done by Deborah Umberson and Jennifer Karas Montez showed that poor social relationships present serious ill-effects on our health. One of their findings showed that both the quantity and quality of social relationships affect our mental health, health behavior, physical health, and our risk of mortality. A striking sub-study by Berkman and Syme in 1997 revealed that the risk of death among men and women with the fewest social connections was more than twice as high as the risk for adults with the most relationships.  They also found that solid social ties reduce mortality risk among adults — even those with poor health. (research.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150158/).

In an interesting study done by House, Landis, and Umberson, the researchers uncovered that a lack of social connection has a greater negative impact on our health than smoking, obesity, or high blood pressure!  http://science.sciencemag.org/content/241/4865/540

On the contrary, healthy social connections can lead to a 50% chance of living longer, strengthen our immune systems, and help us recover more quickly from disease (https://emmaseppala.com/connect-thrive-infographic/).

As if this isn’t enough evidence to encourage us to work out our conflicts and strengthen relationships, consider this:  One of the negative, lasting effects of being in an unhealthy  relationship is a steady erosion of your self-worth. Says Claire Arene, MSW, LCSW, staff writer for healthyplace.com, “It is not unusual to find individuals with serious personality disorders as a result of the insidious effect of unhealthy long-term associations.”(https://www.healthyplace.com/relationships/unhealthy-relationships/the-impact-of-being-in-an-unhealthy-relationship)

If you have unresolved conflict with someone, it’s time to take action. Your physical and mental health is at stake. Even if the other party is not willing to make amends, the path toward healing can begin with you.

“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.” — William James

Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Become self-aware of your own emotions and where they are stemming from. List out how you are feeling, using as much detail as possible, and attempt to determine if what you are feeling is a direct result of the conflict — or are there other factors at hand? Understanding what you’re feeling and why will lead to greater insight into why this conflict arose.
  • If your emotions are running on high, consider stepping back for a moment to let yourself cool down. When we lash out in anger or a negative emotional state, it’s very likely we’ll say something we’ll regret.  Take a walk, journal, talk to a counselor–whatever it is you do to get your emotions in check — before you attempt to reconcile.

“Speak when you are angry – and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret. –Laurence J. Peter

  • Tune in to what the other person may be feeling. Understanding where they are coming from and where their emotions are stemming from can help you develop empathy for their point of view. How to do this? Ask open-ended questions to discover the whys behind their words. Try to put yourself in their shoes and see things from their viewpoint.
  • Improve your listening skills. Stop thinking about how you will respond and really listen to what they are saying–and what they are not saying. Watch their body language and ask question for clarity when needed. When they finish, ask them if there’s anything else they’d like to add before you pipe up.
  • Withhold character judgments. When someone opposes you in a combative manner, it’s easy to self-protect and convince yourself that they are a bad person. Try to focus on the issues at hand rather than trying to become a judge of their morality by focusing on the problem not the person.
  • Speak without finger pointing. When it’s time for you to speak up, take care to avoid blatant insults, nicely-hidden put-downs, or assigning blame. You are there to express your viewpoint, not make assumptions as to what they are feeling or thinking.
  • Keep calm and cool. Agitated body language and words laced with negative emotion can put the other person on the defensive before you even get started.  Slow down, lower your volume, and choose your words carefully. Check your facial expression. Even something as simple as softening your expression by raising your eyebrows and removing that frown can ease the tension.

“A soft answer turns away wrath.” — Ancient proverb

  • Try to find common ground. Though there is obvious disagreement, is there anything you agree upon? Finding issues you both connect and agree upon can form a bond and build trust. A “me too” attitude provides a sense that you’re on the same team…partners in collaboration vs. opponents in battle.
  • A little laughter goes a long way.  Unfortunately, our sense of humor is one of the first things to go into hiding when we’re agitated. When you laugh with another, a positive bond is formed which provides a buffer against negativity (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships-communication/managing-conflicts-with-humor.htm  ). However, avoid sarcastic humor at all costs.
  • Remember, you can’t control the other person.  Despite your best efforts, the person you’re clashing with may not respond in the way you hope. Your role is not to control their reactions, but to manage your own behavior in a way that lends a hand toward resolution. Sometimes, you may have to do the right thing and let go of the outcome.

It’s not easy to solve conflicts, but making attempts toward peace and understanding is worth the effort. Who will you start with today?

“Every conflict we face in life is rich with positive and negative potential. It can be a source of inspiration, enlightenment, learning, transformation, and growth-or rage, fear, shame, entrapment, and resistance. The choice is not up to our opponents, but to us, and our willingness to face and work through them.” — Kenneth Cloke

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Want to measure your emotional intelligence?

It’s been said that “Learning is like the fuel that moves the machinery of your body towards its destination of success.”

What new thing have you learned this month to fuel your success?

Registering today for our free webinar on social + emotional intelligence is a great way to increase your learning this month!

Whether you’re learning about social + emotional intelligence for the first time, or this is a refresher for you, the information and insights you glean will prove valuable to your relationships, both with yourself and with others.

Date: Friday, March 1, 2019

Time: 11 am – 12 pm Eastern Time (USA)

Link to save a seat: CLICK HERE

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It’s Lonely Near the Top: Challenges for Chiefs of Staff

Article submitted by guest author Ted Riter.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The role of Chief of Staff continues to grow in corporate and nonprofit America. While the responsibilities for this role vary from organization to organization, within organizations, and even between predecessors and successors, there are common challenges across the board for chiefs of staff. This paper presents both challenges for those in this field and recommendations for success as a Chief of Staff.

THIS STUDY

The background information for this study was gathered through interviews conducted November 2018-February 2019 with over three dozen current and former Chiefs of Staff. These Chiefs of Staff were in long-established corporations, startups, nonprofits, government agencies, and family offices[1]. They were in diverse fields, including high tech, pharmaceuticals, philanthropies, and higher education. Most Chiefs of Staff had served in their position for 12-18 months. Some had transitioned to other roles within the same organization or started their own ventures. A small number of Chiefs of Staff saw themselves as “career” Chiefs of Staff. Most Chiefs of Staff filled this role for a Chief Executive Officer. Some filled this role for other Executives or an entire C-Suite.

THE CHIEF OF STAFF ROLE

Chiefs of Staff are inspired and inspiring professionals, dedicated to the success of their Executives and their organizations They are eager learners, selfless with their time and energy, and masters of navigating sensitive situations. And, they are often placed in this role with great hopes, but little guidance or support for self-development.

Though a universal job description for Chiefs of Staff does not exist, Prime Chief of Staff, a leader in this field, breaks down the role of Chief of Staff into the following six functions: [2]

  • The Goalkeeper – Manage and triage workflow of the executive. Prioritize, delegate, and complete work on behalf of the executive.
  • The Operator – Add structure and process for better communication within the office of the executive as well as across teams. Ensure activities are running efficiently.
  • The Implementer – Drive business priorities from start to finish. Execute special projects or initiatives on behalf of the executive or the organization.
  • The Integrator – Create cohesion among teams and departments. Connect the dots across the organization for improved alignment and engagement.
  • The Proxy – Act on behalf of the executive for greater visibility and accessibility. Prevent bottle-necking and promote decision-making when the executive cannot be present.
  • The Advisor – Serve as a strategic thought partner, sounding board, and confidante. Inform organization strategy and decision-making.

These six functions are helpful when conceptualizing the role of a new Chief of Staff. Those interviewed in the field had a less nuanced view and responded:

  • I manage the staff – the CEO included.
  • My goal each day is to help connect people to people, people to ideas, and people to purpose. I spend 90% of my time helping people understand the “why.
  • I do a lot of listening and “pealing back the onion.” I’m the internal consultant/versatilist – I help every department scale.
  • I represent my CEO with special projects and make their life easier.
  • I am not chief of the staff, I am a chief connector

Chiefs of Staff routinely reported that their functions relied heavily upon both the needs of the Executive and their work and life experience. Mark Organ, Influitive CEO and thought-leader in the field of Chiefs of Staff, offers the following guidelines for hiring a Chief of Staff:[3]

  • A manager-level hire – This person would be responsible for typical administrative tasks like calendar management and booking travel, but he would also make important judgment calls on how the CEO should best spend her time and what meetings would be most valuable for her to attend.
  • A mid-career, director-level hire – This person may have 6-12 years of experience. He would be in charge of tasks like running town halls, preparing speeches and prepping the CEO for leadership meetings. He’s unlikely to take on any strategic responsibilities, however.
  • An experienced VP-level executive – This person is already an experienced executive who’s looking to become a CEO one day. She may meet with department heads to talk through goals and targets, and work on developing tactics for various parts of the business.

THE CHALLENGES

The Chief of Staff role is filled with challenges, some of which are unique to this position

Job Descriptions & Loneliness

Loneliness is not an uncommon experience for leaders. It often comes from a perception that they must “carry the burden” on their own. Chiefs of Staff report an added layer to this experience, often feeling that no one quite understands what they do in their organization.

In dozens of interviews, it was clear that day-to-day, no two Chiefs of Staff serve in the same role. Job descriptions vary greatly, and often do not even exist until long after the role is filled.

According to former Chief of Staff and author Tyler Parris, “…a chief of staff is a catch-all role, filled by someone with exceptional organizational and people skills, who handles all manner of tasks not covered by an existing member of an executive’s leadership team or administrative staff.”[4]

This difficult to define “catch-all role” can create confusion for executives, directors, and staff, especially when the role is filled for the first time.

Confusion around this role may result in pushback from those in the C-suite who see the Chief of Staff as a possible barrier to communication with the CEO. Staff might fear losing influence with the CEO and have uncertainty about their standing in the organization. This fear can easily be projected upon the Chief of Staff and lead to a creation of walls that hamper communication. Some staff members even outright express to the Chief of Staff, “I didn’t think we needed you.”

A consistent message from Chiefs of Staff, is that the most positive working relationships are based upon mutual agreements rather than expectations. One former Chief of Staff knew it was time to leave the role when it became clear that the CEO’s expectation was an 80/20 split between directly supporting the CEO and project management, while the Chief of Staff envisioned it as a 50/50 split.

Chiefs of Staff recognize that they have no real peers in their organization, unless they are in a larger setting with multiple Chiefs of Staff. The comradery that is often experienced in other positions may therefore be absent for Chiefs of Staff. A Chief of Staff for a Family Office shared that it “often feels like I’m on an island – it’s unlike any other job.” And, because of this isolation, one admitted, “I’m very frustrated. I don’t know how long I will be able to stay here.”

Even those Chiefs of Staff who excel in their position might feel unseen. One reported: “It’s very lonely. Because I’m so good at what I do, they don’t even see what I’m doing.” Another said, “I feel not seen and not appreciated.”

Many Chiefs of Staff spoke of the tremendous amount of privileged information they hold. This responsibility often makes it difficult to find colleagues and loved ones to confide in and count on for full support without breaking confidentiality. And, in fact, some Chiefs of Staff reported that their partners “know too much that is probably confidential.”

One Chief of Staff confided, “My CEO might be doing things that are unethical and I’m not sure what I can do about it.”

Social and Emotional Intelligence & Overwhelm

While the Executive might be a passionate leader with a big vision, the Chief of Staff often serves as a counter balance.

One Chief of Staff reported, “My job is to be an observer with my emotions removed, and then show what I see to the CEO, who cannot remove their emotions.”

This facility for social and emotional intelligence is critical for the success of a Chief of Staff, and yet not a skill that comes naturally to all in this role. As defined by the Institute for Social + Emotional Intelligence, “Social and emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of our own and others’ feelings – in the moment – and use that information to lead yourself and others” [5]

Some Chiefs of Staff, lacking these skills, commented:

  • I internalized all my frustrations and then I changed the way I did things. For instance, I stopped bringing many things to the CEO.
  • I’m a people pleaser, so difficult conversations are a big challenge.
  • I have a hard time initiating the conversations and then letting them go.
  • I get frustrated because I see the change but am not able to do anything about it.
  • I’m often the least experienced person in the room and this kills my confidence.

Many of the Chiefs of Staff who struggled with social and emotional intelligence, reported feelings of overwhelm and burnout:

  • I sometimes work 90-hour weeks and rejoice when it’s down to 60.
  • I recently took my first vacation in 4 years.
  • I don’t know how long I can continue here.
  • A Chief of Staff has to thrive in chaos, and I don’t know if I can anymore.
  • I have no time for my own health and relationships, let alone personal development.

This toll of overwhelm might be a surprise for some in an organization. Some Chiefs of Staff report that others see their travel schedule with an Executive or a fancy restaurant reservation and imagine glamorous and exciting opportunities not afforded to everyone. While travel can be to exciting places and access to the Executive enviable, this is by no means vacation, and most Chiefs of Staff express a desire to curtail their travel and spend more time at home.

One Chief of Staff offered, “I am envied by many because it looks fun. At the end of the day, it’s not a glamorous thing. I’m one of the hardest working people in the organization.”

Chiefs of Staff leave their position for many reasons, including acceptance of a predetermined tenure end-date, and following bigger dreams. However, many are burned out with no more to give in this position and gratefully move on to other positions in the current or different organizations.

SOLUTIONS

Most of the Chiefs of Staff interviewed self-identified as “successful” in their roles:

  • They are fully supportive of their Executive.
  • They feel supported by their Executive.
  • And, they believe they are helping the overall success of their organization.

And yet, even many of the successful Chiefs of Staff expressed a need for more support. With this added support, the role of Chiefs of Staff will continue to grow and benefit organizations across the globe.

Fuzzy Job Descriptions

Creating a job description for a Chief of Staff, especially for the first person to fill this role, is both challenging and worth the effort.

In addition to the measurable responsibilities for a Chief of Staff, the hallmark of a good Chief of Staff-Executive relationship is one built on trust. A high level of trust enables the Chief of Staff to predict the Executive’s behavior, understand the decision-making process, and allow the Executive to focus on the biggest priorities.

Recommendations to Build Trust:

Create measurable outcomes and goals from the beginning: One Chief of Staff suggested making a list of the top 5 tasks for the week and delegating everything else.

Schedule private time for direct communication: One Chief of Staff recommended undisturbed meeting time one to two times per week to give the Executive peace of mind so they can focus on what is most important for them to be doing.

Practice vulnerability: Vulnerability is not typically welcomed in the workplace because it is associated with weakness. However, vulnerability is an extraordinarily powerful tool for building trust in any relationship, including between an Executive and Chief of Staff.

There are many exercises for safely expressing vulnerability. The simplest practice is to admit and own mistakes without assigning blame to others.

Loneliness

Since there is unlikely to be peer support for Chiefs of Staff within an organization, find those who “get it.”

Recommendations to Alleviate or Prevent Loneliness

Join an established Chief of Staff network: New opportunities for connection are being created through the efforts of Prime Chief of Staff and a current Chief of Staff herself, Caroline Pugh. Together, they are hosting events around the country and have created an online community of practice[6]

Create a Chief of Staff network: As the role increases in the business world, there are more and more opportunities to find or create a local network with Chiefs of Staff from all sectors of the workplace. Formality is not necessary.

Find a mentor: Chiefs of Staff are generous with their time and energy even when they have moved on to other roles, and they are often open to mentoring others.

Social and Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman, a pioneer in the field of social and emotional intelligence, teaches that leadership is based primarily (85%) on emotional intelligence and (15%) on IQ. Fortunately, emotional and social intelligence are also skills that can be honed through training.

There are four areas of concentration that can be trained for Chiefs of Staff to excel in their positions:[7]

  • Self-awareness – knowing your internal states, preferences, resources and intuitions.
  • Self-management – managing one’s internal states, impulses and resources.
  • Social awareness – awareness of others’ feelings, needs and concerns.
  • Social skills / relationship management – ability to create desirable responses in others.

Many Chiefs of Staff have a very high level of social and emotional intelligence. They report:

  • I’m good at learning new skills.
  • I’m fearless when it comes to failure – I hop into the ringer.
  • I’m not afraid to put out a shitty first draft; zero to one is easy for me.
  • I am very often the youngest person in the room and try to make age irrelevant in a meeting.
  • I like to sit in the back of the room and take it all in.

Recommendations to Build Social and Emotional Intelligence

Hire a coach: The coaching industry is growing even faster than the Chiefs of Staff field. Good coaches might have good answers to a Chief of Staff’s questions. The best coaches will have good questions to a Chief of Staff’s answers.

Budget time and funding for professional development: Training pays dividends. The best professional development has a component geared for Executives as well as Chiefs of Staff.

Overwhelm

Overwhelm can be a result of fuzzy job descriptions, loneliness, and poor social and emotional intelligence skills. And, there are practices to prevent overwhelm on and off the job.

Recommendations to Alleviate or Prevent Overwhelm:

Practice self-care: Physical exercise, meditation, healthy eating, and time off might sound trite. However, they are recommended by every successful Chief of Staff interviewed for this report.

Practice embodied leadership: Our bodies are excellent teachers if we are attuned to them. However, we spend most of our day in our heads. Through training in embodied practices that stretch our nervous system, Chiefs of Staff can better hold the disruption and stress of the day.

Train for clear communication: Difficult conversations are inevitable in any leadership position. Learning clear communication skills is an art form that will be of benefit both inside and outside the organization.

RESOURCES

 Books Recommended by Chiefs of Staff (with some surprises in the mix):

  • Being You, Changing the World by Dain Heer
  • Chief of Staff: The Strategic Partner Who Will Revolutionize Your Organizationby Tyler Parris
  • Daring Greatly and Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
  • Difficult Conversations by Bruce Patton, Douglas Stone, and Sheila Heen
  • Discover Your True North by Bill George
  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
  • Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message by Tara Mohr
  • Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility by Patty McCord
  • Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio
  • Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott
  • Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happinessby Forrest Hanson and Rick Hanson
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  • Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Factsby Annie Duke
  • Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
  • The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis
  • Your Oxygen Mask First: 17 Habits to Help High Achievers Survive & Thrive by Kevin N. Lawrence

Books Not Yet In Print

In addition to recommending books, some Chiefs of Staff envision writing the following:

  • How To Do It All – Including taking care of yourself
  • I’m A Chief of Staff…Now What?
  • Paving the Way for Process
  • The Story of Creating This Place: Things that seemed so big, but in the end are pretty small
  • Things That Make Sense But Don’t Make Sense

 

FOR FUTURE CONSIDERATION

An Unexpected Finding

One of the unexpected findings of this study is that many Chiefs of Staff experienced difficult childhoods or other challenges in their formative years. Though this paper cannot make a direct link between a difficult childhood and success as a Chief of Staff, it is an interesting area for further exploration. When questioned about specifics, these Chiefs of Staff confided they were often the ones who mediated family disruption: Arguments, divorce, death, illness, crisis. Perhaps, the experience navigating these challenging situations made it easier to step into the Chief of Staff role and mediate the high stakes, big egos, and charged energy of the workspace.

Transitioning Into and Out of the Chief of Staff Role

As the role of Chief of Staff grows outside of government, it is becoming seen as a stepping stone to higher leadership positions.[8] Though a great proving ground for numerous C-Suite and VP positions, the transition is often not seamless. There is a training opportunity both in the time before stepping into the Chief of Staff role and upon exiting. There is also an opportunity for addressing the emotional impact of transitions felt by Executives and Chiefs of Staff as the relationships come to an end.

CONCLUSION

Chiefs of Staff are proving to be invaluable assets for Executives in business and nonprofit organizations, just as they have been for many years in the government and military. Those who participated in this study were smart, talented, energetic, and motivated for success. They were great ambassadors for their Executives, their organizations, and their roles as Chiefs of Staff.

As this position becomes more common, it is important to address the challenges unique to Chiefs of Staff and offer appropriate training and coaching to ensure continued success for both the role and for those who serve in these positions.

 

What is an open heart?

Article contributed by guest author Rick Hanson.

The Practice:

Put No One Out Of Your Heart.

Why?

We all know people who are, ah, . . . challenging. It could be a critical parent, a bossy supervisor, a relative who has you walking on eggshells, a nice but flaky friend, a co-worker who just doesn’t like you, a partner who won’t keep his or her agreements, or a politician you dislike. Right now I’m thinking of a neighbor who refused to pay his share of a fence between us.As Jean-Paul Sartre put it: “Hell is other people.”

Sure, that’s overstated. But still, most of a person’s hurts, disappointments, and irritations typically arise in reactions to other people.

Ironically, in order for good relationships to be so nurturing to us as human beings – who have evolved to be the most intimately relational animals on the planet – you must be so linked to others that some of them can really rattle you!

So what can you do?

Let’s suppose you’ve tried to make things better – such as taking the high road yourself and perhaps also trying to talk things out, pin down reasonable agreements, set boundaries, etc. – but the results have been partial or nonexistent.

At this point, it’s natural to close off to the other person, often accompanied by feelings of apprehension, resentment, or disdain. While the brain definitely evolved to care about “us,” it also evolved to separate from, fear, exploit, and attack “them” – and those ancient, neural mechanisms can quickly grab hold of you.

But what are the results? Closing off doesn’t feel good. It makes your heart heavy and contracted. And it primes your brain to be more tense and reactive, which could get you into trouble, plus trigger the other person to act worse than ever.

Sometimes you do have to hang up the phone, block someone on Facebook, turn the channel on TV, or stay at a motel when visiting relatives. Sometimes you have to put someone out of your business, work group, holiday party list –or bed.

In painful or extreme situations, it may feel necessary to distance yourself utterly from another person for awhile or forever. Take care of yourself, and listen to that inner knowing about what’s best for you. You may need to put them out of your life. And you can see for yourself if you need to put them out of your heart.

How?

When your heart is open, what’s that feel like? Physically, in your chest – like warmth and relaxation – and in your body altogether. Emotionally – such as empathy, compassion, and an even keel. Mentally – like keeping things in perspective, and wishing others well.

Feel the strength being openhearted, wholehearted. Be not afraid and be of good heart. Paradoxically, the most open person in a relationship is usually the strongest one.

Get a sense of your heart being expansive and inclusive, like the sky. The sky stays open to all clouds, and it isn’t harmed by even the stormiest ones. Keeping your heart open makes it harder for others to upset you.

Notice that an open heart still allows for clarity about what works for you and what doesn’t, as well as firmness, boundaries, and straight talk. Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama are famous for keeping their hearts open while also being very effective.
Seeing all this, make a commitment to an open heart.

In this light, be mindful of what it feels like – physically, emotionally, mentally – to have your heart closed to a particular person. Be aware of the seemingly good reasons the reactive brain/mind throws up to justify this.

Then ask yourself, given the realities of this challenging person, what would have been a better path for you? For example, maybe you should have gotten more support from others or been more self-nurturing, so you wouldn’t have been as affected. Or spoken up sooner to try to prevent things from getting out of hand. Or managed your internal reactions more skillfully. Maybe you’ve done some things yourself to prompt the other person to be difficult. Whatever these lessons are, there’s no praise or blame here, just good learning for you.

And now, if you’re willing, explore opening your heart again to this person. Life’s been hard to him or her, too. Nothing might change in your behavior or in the nature of the relationship. Nonetheless, you’ll feel different – and better.

Last, do not put yourself out of your heart. If you knew you as another person, wouldn’t you want to hold that person in your heart?

Speaking the truth with love

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

A few years back I met a group of  loved ones honoring a deceased friend at a celebration of life gathering. There were old faces I hadn’t seen in years, and it was great to catch up, rehashing stories from college days, sharing about our kids, families, and travels. I found it delightful to engage in the rich, connecting conversations, and despite our sadness over the loss of our friend, joy abounded — except with one. She was not someone I ever knew well, but we shared many friendships and experiences. Within minutes of a conversation with her, she had turned off everyone unfortunate enough to be standing within earshot. Not only did she share a disapproving comment about our deceased friend’s children, she found fault with the food (lovingly prepared and donated by some kindhearted women in the local church area), and went on to share with us all how her personal eating and exercise regime is what made her look as good as she did.  Huh?! One by one, people made excuses to leave the conversation. I noticed she didn’t look any of us in the eye as she spoke, and didn’t pause to ask many questions. When one friend pointed out she was being a bit rude, she defended herself with, “I’m just being honest.”

Justifying hurtful words

How many times has someone used these four words to explain away their hurtful, negative, and damaging behavior, as if somehow honesty makes it OK?

I am not talking about telling lies to appease people, or about being dishonest to win friends. Being honest, up front, and speaking the truth are vital components of building trust with others, and trust is the foundation of meaningful relationships. Those that make a habit of telling untruths, whether about important or seemingly trivial matters, ruin their dependability and trustworthiness. Speaking with honesty is a very good thing. But how we speak our truth matters.

“The only way to tell the truth is to speak with kindness. Only the words of a loving man can be heard.” –Henry David Thoreau

You can’t have one without the other

Honesty and kindness go hand-in-hand, and those who don’t learn how to speak truth with kindness will most often go unheard. These are the people who come across as a little “rough around the edges”, and have an approach when tends to chill conversations. They may appear to be arrogant and unapproachable, and are often impatient, distant, and insensitive. Without even trying, they’re able to devalue others and are quick to jump to their own conclusions, eager to share their own opinions without consideration of the viewpoints of others. They often appear to be ‘too busy’ to slow down and really connect with others, and often struggle with a strong sense of self-righteousness.

Does this sound like someone you’d want to work for, or hire, or work alongside on a team? Those who haven’t learned the art of  building bonds are not the most enjoyable to be around, and often not someone we even want to connect with. The absence of people skills can leave them isolated and lacking in the friendship department. They may think others respect them where often it’s just that others avoid them. Though they may pride themselves in “speaking the truth”, this inability to connect with others can limit their success.

“Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart.” — Ancient proverb

What is kindness?

On the other hand, kindness can be translated as interpersonal effectiveness. It’s a competency of emotional intelligence that can be developed, and is a strong determinant of the quality of our relationships. It’s the ability to make others feel comfortable and put them at ease. People who are good at this are able to show compassion and empathy to build rapport…while they speak the truth.

How do they do this?

For one thing, they have a good understanding of how the social world works by tuning in to those around them. They’ve taken the time to understand and in turn, respect, differing cultural, religious, political, and socioeconomic belief system, even if it is not how they personally believe. They have learned to listen intently, reading body language as much as the verbal words they’re hearing, reflecting back for understanding, and use their words to build others up rather than tear down. They take a genuine interest in others and strive to understand who the other person is and why they do the things they do. They exercise solid conflict management skills and are able to diffuse high-tension situations with ease by being supportive and encouraging when they encounter strife. They’re not afraid to be vulnerable and share about themselves, because they’re being intentional about living a life that is above-board and honorable.

Developing good people skills

If you find that more often than not your truth lacks kindness, take heart. We’re talking about behavior, and behavior can be changed. Here are 7 tips to improve your interpersonal skills so that your truth spoken can be heard.

  1. Just put on a happy face. Seems simple, but recent studies show that those who express a genuine smile are able to connect better with others. Researcher Kostandin Kushlev says, ““Smiling is a really powerful social lubricant. When somebody smiles at you, that indicates approachability,”((https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563218304643) )  The positive energy a pleasant demeanor creates, not only in yourself, but others, can do a lot in building rapport.
  2. Make eye contact and speak their name. Have you ever left a conversation realizing you never even looked the other person in the eyes? Or have you asked someone their name only to forget it immediately? This is a fairly simple place to start, but looking at others in the eyes and using their name goes a long way in building rapport. Dale Carnegie said, “There is nothing more pleasant to a man than the sound of his own name.” No good at names? Stop making excuses and get good at it, because it is important. Using name associations and/or jotting down someone’s name when you meet them can help.
  3. Say thanks. Robert Emmons, one of the leading scientific experts on gratitude, found that expressing gratitude does several things to improve social relations. It enables us to become more helpful and generous and leads us to forgive others of wrongs. Gratitude can even help us feel less lonely and isolated by prompting us to be more outgoing. (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good)
  4. Show you care.  Learning to tune into the whys behind what others think can help you understand what drives their actions. Become other-oriented. How? Ask them questions about the details of their day-to-day lives — inquire about their commute, their kids, and what they did over the weekend. Learn their dog’s name. Discover their hopes and dreams. People love to be asked about themselves (and talk about themselves!) so ask open-ended questions to draw them out. And in doing so, resist the temptation to turn the conversation back to you. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” — Steven R. Covey
  5. Be amiable and affable. People respond to a pleasant, friendly demeanor much better than when they feel criticized or judged. Even if you don’t like what they’re saying, or agree with them, there’s no need to be demeaning or rude.
  6. Learn to fight fairly. No one enjoys conflict, but sweeping it under the rug or becoming combative and/or defensive doesn’t do much to fix the situation. Attempt to listen to the other side of the story and let your goal be a win-win solution vs. getting your own way. There is an old proverb that encourages us not to let the sun go down on our wrath. If there’s someone you are at odds with, do your best to resolve the conflict sooner than later. Ignoring the issues at hand only encourages us to stew, ruminate, and plant a seed of bitterness.
  7. Lend a helping hand. Developing a servant-leader mindset can go a long way in developing strong relationships. If there’s someone you’re not getting along with, try laying your own hurt feelings aside and think of something kind you could do for them. Maybe it’s offering an encouraging word, or a sincere compliment, taking them out for coffee, or extending your help on a project.  As Arthur Ciaramicoli says in his book, The Stress Solution, “Doing good induces others to reciprocate.”

We all want to be heard, and learning to speak our truth with kindness can go a long way in enhancing our connections with others. As with any new habit, it takes hard work, and time, and consistency to  achieve results. But it’s worth the effort, as your success depends upon it.

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” ~ Henry James

 

 

A better way to fight

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

I’m bad at fighting.

Most of my life I’ve been a conflict-avoider, sweeping potential disagreements under the proverbial rug. But these days I seem to face contentions head-on, boxing gloves poised and ready. This is good, for the most part–running from conflict rarely solves anything. However, now that I’m not afraid to take on the hard conversations and can bring up the minors before they become majors,  I realize I could use some fighting skills. It seems I’m doing it all wrong — taking things personally, bringing up past issues that have nothing to do with the present, throwing in hurtful digs, albeit slight and ‘hidden’ (but not really). I shut down after I speak my peace and am closed-minded and judgmental when the other person expresses their side of things, wounding my dissentient and getting my own feelings hurt in the process.

So I write this article for me. And for any of you who struggle when it comes to conflict resolve.

We’ve developed bad habits

Of course, we don’t make fighting a goal. In a perfect world, we’d tune into our emotions well before conflict arises and use these wise old friends to guide us as we manage our behavior, thwarting tensions before they erupt into battles. But then again, we’re human, imperfect and immature and insensitive at times, so it’s highly likely disagreements will evolve into fights. Most of us have picked up some poor habits, as early as childhood, and haven’t learned there is a better way.

But before we look into acquiring some new fighting skills, let’s determine first if your conflict management needs some work. Here are some things you don’t want to choose to do when troubles arise:

  • Fail to listen to the other person’s point of view with an open mind
  • Instead of seeking to find common ground, fight for your own way or ideas
  • Do most of the talking in disagreements
  • Feel extremely uncomfortable when conflict arises
  • Don’t use tact when voicing your concerns, rather, you demean the other person and/or their ideas and/or use crass language to prove your point
  • Say things like “always”, “never”, and “everyone thinks this way…” (as if you know how everyone else in the world thinks or does things)
  • Bring up the past to prove your point of “Here we go again…”
  • Use put downs and demeaning words, saying things you know you’ll regret later
  • View the other person as an adversary or foe because they don’t agree with you
  • Think things like, “If only they would change, this could be resolved.”
  • Quit and run away before the conflict is resolved
  • Use dishonesty to put an end to the conflict rather than being authentic with your feelings
  • View yourself as more superior, smarter, or ‘a better person’ because of how the other person is feeling/acting

Which of these best describes your boxing tactics?

It starts with Self-Awareness

Whether you choose one or all of the above when conflict hits, learning a new way of fighting can take some work. As with any behavior, we can make shifts in a new direction, but it’s not always easy. But devoting effort to the development of conflict resolve skills will serve us well when the next battle comes along.

“Bravery is the choice to show up and listen to another person, be it a loved one or perceived foe, even when it is uncomfortable, painful, or the last thing you want to do.” ― Alaric Hutchinson

So where do we bad fighters start?

First of all, as with most things — becoming self-aware is a good initial step. Take note of the poor habits you use when fighting, write them down, and take a hard look at them. Do they serve you well or do they usually escalate the conflict, or cause further avoidance? How do you feel when you act that way? How does it make the other person feel when you act that way? Most likely the things you’re writing are not the most positive. It’s OK.  Recognizing the need to change often comes from acknowledging the hurt we are causing ourselves and others.

Managing our behavior

Now that you’re ready to make some shifts, simply acknowledging bad behaviors is not enough. And just erasing them won’t help either.  As with the breaking of any old habit, it’s beneficial to have a new toolkit at your disposal full of actions to replace ineffective behaviors.  Here are a few to try:

  • Separate the person from the problem.  Don’t let yourself go down the path of “this person is bad, wrong, selfish, etc.” because they have a differing opinion.  Fight the desire to label them and instead, focus on the disagreement at hand.
  • Lay down preconceived ideas. It’s easy to think you already have everything figured out before the conflict even begins. Be present and ask clarifying questions where needed so you’re sure you understand their viewpoint, not your interpretation of their viewpoint.
  • Take a deep breath and slow down.  An overload of feelings can cause an amygdala hijack.  The amygdala is the part of the brain that processes our emotions. Because the emotional processing in our brain happens much more quickly than the rational side, if the amygdala perceives the situation is at a “fight or flight” level of danger, it will trigger a response that shuts down the rational side of our brains, causing us to say and do things we’ll regret later. Trust me, this is something to avoid.
  • Listen to understand. Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next and tune in to what they’re saying, and not saying.  Watch for body language (are they agitated, are they scared, etc.) and attempt to hear what they need/want in this situation, not just what is coming out of their mouth.
  • Before speaking, ask yourself, “Will this help or hurt the situation?”  Sounds simple, but it’s very effective! Choose your words carefully and be sure not to throw out insults or put-downs in the heat of the moment.
  • Remind yourself that their way may be a better way. Be curious. Have an open mind and think of the conversation as a way to brainstorm creative new ideas rather than taking offense because they don’t agree with you.

“When we aren’t curious in conversations we judge, tell, blame and even shame, often without even knowing it, which leads to conflict.” — Kristen Siggins

  • Don’t attach judgments about their character because of their opinions. Again, separate out the issue from the person and fight the urge to jump to conclusions about their moral integrity just because you don’t like what they’re saying.
  • Be aware that the other person is experiencing his/her own set of emotions.  There may be drivers going on that you’re not aware of — past hurts, disappointments, or struggles that the other person is dealing with.  Offer some grace, in the moment, as you seek to understand the why behind their actions or words.
  • Find a way to say something valuing about the other person. Even if you don’t agree with them, making the other person feel valued for who they are, in the heat of an argument, can do wonders to diffusing anger and frustration levels. A great sentence starter is, “You know what I like about you?” then fill in the rest with a sincere, kind word.

“A soft answer turns away wrath.” — ancient proverb

  • Remember that the goal here is coming to a solution that works for both parties, not getting your own way. This may mean you have to reach a compromise where both of you give up a little to arrive at a peaceful outcome.

I know, easier said than done. If this list seems daunting, pick just one goal and focus on it for the next few weeks. Talk to a coach or counselor about the areas you struggle most with and seek an outside opinion on how you could begin to make some shifts. Then get out there and practice.

For those of you (us) who have done it all wrong, going back to that person and offering a sincere, “I’m sorry” can do wonders to soften pain of the blows you delivered. It takes humility and courage to admit our errors and ask forgiveness of the other person. They may reject you, scoff at you, or even attempt to continue the fight — but these three magical words can do as much for your own angry heart as it can the other person.

Unless you live on an uninhabited, deserted island, where you have no contact with others, there will be conflicts on the road ahead. Coming prepared with healthy, helpful tactics will enable both of you to stay standing at the end of each round. Even better, as you work on your own conflict management skills, you may come to realize that it was never a fight at all, but a passionate interaction between two unique and worthy individuals, on the same team, working toward the same goal, each offering the gift of learning something new.

“We meet aliens every day who have something to give us. They come in the form of people with different opinions.” — William Shatner

Does it matter if others like you?

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

How often have you heard someone say, “I don’t care if they like me, as long as they respect me”?

With friends and family, we seem to understand the importance of caring, compassion and connection. We grasp that exhibiting interpersonal skills can go a long way toward building effective, lasting personal relationships. But what about at work? Why is it that some, in the professional realm, think that the components of successful work relationships are somehow different, often replacing rapport, empathy and authenticity with stiff, formal mannerisms we label as professionalism?

Interpersonal effectiveness is a competency of emotional intelligence and is vital to connecting with others. It means being attuned to others, showing sensitivity and understanding in their interests, putting them at ease, and being able to relate well to all sorts of personality types. Those with strong interpersonal effectiveness are empathetic and seek to understand others. This competency involves using diplomacy and tact — in other words, learning people skills and putting them to use.

Those who are good at getting along well with others have an understanding about how the social world works. They know what is expected in social situations and pick up quickly on social cues. They know how to take a genuine interest in other people, what they do, and why they do it. They are curious about how others think and have developed excellent listening skills.

“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” — Theodore Roosevelt

You can tell you’re good at this if you stop and listen to yourself in conversations. Do you ask more open-ended questions than closed ones, and let others do most of the talking? If so, you’re probably demonstrating strong interpersonal effectiveness. You most likely are good at building new relationships and mending broken ones. You respect differences in others (religious, gender, political, socioeconomic, communication styles, etc.) and know how to mirror others to build rapport. People strong in this competency have a contagious, positive, enthusiastic outlook and others want to be around them.

Do you know anyone like this in your workplace?  If yes, do you like being around them and working on projects with them? If you could name one quality you appreciate most about them, what would it be?

On the other hand, some have difficulty connecting to others. These are the type we describe as being a little ‘rough around the edges.”  They may come across arrogant, insensitive, unapproachable, or cold.  In meetings, they may demean others’ ideas and be quick to jump in with their own opinions and solutions before hearing others out. They may keep to themselves and not take the time to build rapport, because they’re either too busy or don’t see the need.

Can you think of anyone like this in your workplace? If yes, do you like being around the and working on projects with them?

“I will pay more for the ability to deal with others than for any other ability under the sun.” — John D. Rockefeller

But does it matter if our colleagues like us?  It does. According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, vibrant social connections at work help you be more productive, and can even ramp up the passion you have toward your work — causing you to be less likely to quit. In another study, by Officevibe, researchers found that 70% of the participants said having friends at work is the most crucial element to a happy working life, and 58% of men said they would refuse a higher-paying job if it meant not getting along with coworkers. (https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/workplace-friendships).

Relationships are relationships, whether personal or professional. And all relationships require nurture and effort in order for them to be successful. Whether you are a good team player or not, you’re not going to get far trying to go it alone.

“Each contact with a human being is so rare, so precious, one should preserve it.” — Anais Nin

Interpersonal skills are something we can all develop, if we devote some time and energy into learning a new way of interacting. Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Self-awareness is always a good starting point.  Consider completing a 360 assessment that measures your social and emotional intelligence skills to serve as a launchpad to your growth.
  • Notice how others respond to you when you walk in the room or open your mouth to speak. In order to do this, you’ll need to make eye contact. Do others seem nervous, speaking quickly or stumbling over their words? Are they too quick to agree with you (out of fear of upsetting you) or rarely speak their mind? Watch for verbal and non-verbal signals.  This practice of noticing will help you begin to focus on others in each moment.
  • Seek to understand. When you speak, is it all about communicating your own ideas, or are you open to hearing what others have to say? Asking open-ended questions which draw others out will help you understand the why behind their behaviors and actions.
  • Get rid of distractions. Put down your phone when you talk with others and stop multi-tasking when others speak. Show them that you can make time to listen to them and that what they have to say is important.
  • Share about you. You don’t have to tell every person your entire life story or the play-by-play of your current drama, but let your teams and colleagues know the why behind your decisions, or the methodology of how you got there.  Splash conversations with bits of  your personal life and ask about theirs. As you model authenticity, you’ll encourage others to feel safe in opening up to you.
  • Be open to learning.  It’s OK to admit your interpersonal skills may be lacking. If needed, take a class, read a book, or talk to a coach about how to grow in this area. Think of someone who is good at getting along with others and seek advice from them.
  • Start today. Even if your interpersonal skills need work, you can still get started today by taking small steps. Simple things like smiling, expressing gratitude, putting down your phone in conversations, and using appropriate humor are a few ideas you could try as you get started.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Practice your new-found skills with everyone you meet, whether it’s your boss, a coworker, or the janitor who cleans your office. The more you try out your people skills, with all types of people, the more natural they will feel and become.

Remember, to begin to interact with others on deeper levels, you’re going to need to slow down. If you normally work through lunch, consider asking a colleague to join you once a week. If you work with your door closed, try leaving it open sometimes so others know they can pop in if needed. Take an extra five minutes each day to ask your coworkers and employees about their personal lives — their kids, their dogs, their last vacation, what are their holiday plans? People feel valued when you take the time to get to know them and it builds trust.

You may think you don’t care if others like you. And you may think all that matters is that you have others’ respect. Yet I find that often when people like you (and know you, and understand you), the respect comes naturally, as a next step, and they begin to value the real you. If you have any hopes of being a leader–a good one, that is–growing in interpersonal effectiveness is an invaluable skill set you simply must take the time to develop.

“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.” — Mahatma Ghandi

 

3 Quick and Easy Mindfulness Practices to Help you Stay Sane while Parenting a Twice-Exceptional (2e) Child

Article contributed by guest author Dayana Sanchez.

One of my intentions is to help parents of 2e children, not just to survive, but to thrive. If you are the parent of a gifted or 2e child, you have a big mission in this world. It is not an easy one. It is ongoing hard work, day after day.

How can you keep up with the ceaseless demands of life in addition to figuring out how to support the needs of your uniquely gifted child? Therapies, extracurricular activities, tutoring, play dates, IEP meetings, and the list goes on. How do you take care of yourself in the midst of it all? What practices do you have in place to help you stay centered and grounded?

Your role in the development of your child’s talents is a big deal, and the world needs you. If you are thriving, your child will do so too. Take a moment to imagine a world in which your child is flourishing and contributing their gifts to society. Pretty awesome, right?

I’d like to share some daily mindfulness practices that help me stay grounded in the midst of anything. I believe in these practices so much that I’m certain they would make anyone’s life easier. Whether you have gifted children, 2e children, or no children, incorporating these simple mindfulness practices will help you manage stress, release tension, and navigate the daily challenges and difficulties of life with more ease and clarity.

While the word mindfulness may make you think of long hours of painful cross-legged sitting, you don’t have to be an experienced meditator to reap its benefits. Mindfulness is a portable practice. It is something you can practice any time of the day and even on the go.

I like this definition by Jon Kabat-Zinn because he is a scientist who has been doing research on the benefits of mindfulness for decades. Simply put,

“Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

So, the trick here lies in purposely paying attention to whatever is happening around you, in your body, or in your mind. You choose what to pay attention to. As long as you are consciously bringing awareness to whatever is happening in the present moment, you are practicing mindfulness.

When there is a gifted child in your family, life can get very hectic, and it can be easy to get lost in a frantic atmosphere that builds up stress and agitation on a day-to-day basis. By creating mindful routines within your regular routines, you exercise your attention muscle and cultivate more awareness in your life. This opens up space within you that allows you to move away from reactivity and be more present and available for your child, your family, and yourself.

Try incorporating these practices one by one or all at once. Your choice. Make it fun and stay with it. If you forget to do it one day, just pick up where you left off and move forward. Mindfulness is also about being kind to ourselves, so make it an experiment and try not to put pressure on yourself. Explore, see what feels right, and get ready to enjoy the benefits.

Create a Daily Ritual

I started experimenting with a morning ritual inconsistently for a few days and began to notice its benefits almost immediately. Since I started doing it every day, this has been a game changer. This practice is one of the things that have made the most impact on my daily attitude and mood.

So, what happens during a daily ritual? It is up to you. The idea is to intentionally set aside a few minutes during the day, every day, to become present and connect with yourself. First, make a conscious choice about what you want to create as part of your ritual. You can use it for some self-reflection, intention/goal setting, or to enrich your day with some inspiration to influence your state of mind positively.

You could write down some questions to ask yourself and post them in a place where you are likely to see them every day, ideally, at the same time. These could be questions that would help you tune into what’s going on in your mind, your body, or within your emotional landscape. Although it is not necessary, writing some questions or affirmations ahead of time will help you with your intention to engage in your ritual every day.

A daily ritual doesn’t have to be in the morning. You can have one at night or during the middle of the day. Just choose a time when you are more likely to stick with it.

There are a couple of advantages of having a ritual in the morning. Have you ever tried laying in bed for a few minutes before the pressures of daily life come rushing in? That feeling of newness and excitement about what the day will bring is something we can only get in the morning.

The first thing you do as soon as you wake up will set the tone for the rest of your day. I have been guilty of the horrible habit of grabbing my phone and checking my emails first thing in the morning, but we don’t know how bad something is for us until we stop doing it and replace it with better habits.

If it is possible for you, take some time every morning to slowly transition to your physical world. Take advantage of those first few minutes of a brand new day when your brain is still producing alpha waves. Stimulation of these waves has been linked to boosting creativity and reducing depression. This state of transition can be a great opportunity to tap into our inner wisdom and is a perfect time for a daily ritual.

Do Nothing

Life has periods of doing and periods of non-doing. It cannot be all about doing, doing, and doing some more. Living this way is not sustainable because we eventually crash and end up losing a lot more time recovering.

Taking care of yourself and your emotional well-being is like maintaining a car. If you are using your car recklessly, not paying attention to what it needs, and constantly draining the gas tank, your car is going to end up in the shop sooner or later, which can be pricey and dangerous.

The same goes for the way you treat your mind and body. Making time for rest is a necessity. Often, in our action-oriented culture that values multitasking and over-achieving, rest seems like something we should be ashamed of. It’s almost as if we have to hide to take a break. But rest is not only our right; it is our responsibility.

Those of you who have traveled on a plane before have heard this time and time again: In case of a flight emergency, you need to put your oxygen mask on yourself before helping your child put theirs on. Not the other way around. Pay attention to your needs so that you can have the mental and physical energy to pay attention to your child’s needs. Take time to replenish and make it a regular practice.

To practice not doing anything you have to set time aside for it. You only need two to five uninterrupted minutes during your day. Schedule it on your calendar and make your family aware of this. If just the thought of this is too overwhelming for you, try to start with a few days a week. Treat this time as something sacred and whatever you do, do not feel guilty! This takes practice.

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” ~ Blaise Pascal”

And what are you supposed to do when doing nothing? If you have never practiced doing nothing, this may seem strange at first. The Taoists call this ancient art of doing nothing, Wu Wei, which means “the action of no action.”

You can start by going in your room and taking a moment to sit still for a few minutes. Relax your shoulders and start to slow your breath down. Begin to notice where there is tension or tightness in your body and do some light stretching if it feels right for you. Continue bringing more attention to your body and physical sensations. Let the breath be your compass. If you find your mind drifting away to thoughts of obligations, commitments, or other things, just gently guide your attention back to your breath. Notice the pauses between your exhalations and inhalations. Focus on the ebb and flow of your breath. Simply observe.

You can set a timer and just notice what happens during this time. The art of doing nothing should be effortless, so the only effort required is in finding the time to do nothing.

Have a Daily Check-In

Another short and simple practice to incorporate into your daily routine is taking a moment to check in with yourself. At any time of the day, we can pause and intentionally bring our awareness to our body, surroundings, feelings, emotions, or breath. You can practice this anytime, anywhere; while waiting in line at the grocery store, after dropping the kids off at school, during dinner, etc.

Simply stop for a moment and observe. What is happening in your mind at this time? Are you going over that ever-increasing to-do list or are you present with whatever is happening around you?

You can set a reminder or an intention to remember to do this every day. I have a daily reminder on my phone where I ask myself, “Am I present?” Most of the time, I am not. Having the reminder serves as a tap on the shoulder to become present, even if it’s only for a moment. With practice, our periods of being present become longer and longer.

You don’t have to be perfect at this. In fact, no one is. I believe being present is the ultimate challenge for us human beings. So, when you do find yourself being present, pat yourself on the back because you are doing some profound work. This is the kind of inner work that can help you find more clarity and harmony in your life, which will be reflected in your daily interactions with your family and loved ones.

Mindfulness invites us to observe things as they are without any judgments of how things should be. It is a powerful tool that can reveal to us our behavioral and thinking patterns and the ways we typically interact with our environment and with those around us. It can also provide a great deal of information about how we relate to ourselves as well as the kinds of inner dialogues that tend to inhabit our minds. While these revelations may not be entirely fun or pleasant at the beginning, the good news is that it gets easier the more we do it. The more mindful we become, the easier life becomes.

After giving these practices a try, let me know what you start to notice in your life. New and unexpected things may emerge for you. Feel free to reach out if you need some guidance on how to apply this or if you would like to learn more about mindfulness. I have been practicing it for more than ten years, and I’m very passionate about bringing mindfulness to families and children.

How to have an emotionally intelligent weekend

 

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

“I know that you have worked hard all week, so I got you a little present. It’s called Saturday & Sunday. I hope that you enjoy it, and put it to good use.”  —Anthony T. Hincks

TGIF! Finally, it’s Friday, and the weekend is just around the corner. You’ve been working hard all week, dealing with stress at the office, leading your teams, accomplishing goals. The thought of curling up on the couch, large bowl of snacks at hand, and relaxing while chain-watching your favorite show may sound like a very, very good idea.

And it very well may be. Weekends (for those of us who don’t have to work weekends) are designed to give us a break – a refreshing, of sorts, of the mind, body, and spirit. Sometimes, at the end of the workweek, we just need to crash, unwind, and relax. But there are many other activities a weekend can hold which may provide even richer rejuvenation for you. Learning to tune into your feelings can help you design your weekend so it is specialty ordered, just for you.

“No weekend, all weakened.” — Toba Beta

Emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of how you and others are feeling — in the moment — then using that information (what you’re feeling) to guide your decisions around behavior. Learning to listen to your feelings and manage your behavior can help you make choices that allow you to live a life teeming with emotional health and vibrancy. So though a TV-watching binge may just be the thing for you this weekend, consider tuning in to how you’re feeling before you decide.

Check In

Take a moment to assess how you’re feeling, in the moment. Grab your journal, find a quiet place, and stop. Close your eyes. Breathe in deeply, then exhale. Do a body scan by assessing each region of your body and noting what you’re feeling in each. Headache? Stiff neck? Tight shoulders? Stomach upset? Restless legs? Because we tend to carry a lot of our stress in our physical bodies, it’s important to start noticing where you carry yours. Breathe in again, then out, and allow the exhale to quiet your racing mind. When you begin to feel a bit of calm, open your eyes and begin to write down all the emotions that you’re experiencing. Be specific.  For example, instead of saying you’re “mad”, it may truly be frustration, irritation, hurt, or disappointment. Instead of “happy”, consider excited, giddy, nervous, or anticipatory. If you discover you’re only writing negative emotions, also try to come up with a few positives, no matter how minute and hidden they may seem. Dig deep, again, mentally scanning each area of your body, and continue to jot down any new emotions you are feeling.

Recognizing how you’re feeling in the moment is a good first step.

Ask yourself this

Now, using that information, here are a few questions to ask yourself which can help you discover which activities this weekend should hold for you:

  • Am I mentally tired? Mental exhaustion comes from too many demands, shifts in attention, and interruptions, usually when we have too many things going on at once. To restore your mental well-being, try to ‘turn off’ work when you get home.  Resist answering those emails that come in after hours and take the night off from working on that project. Find something that makes you laugh — maybe a funny movie, or an entertainer that cracks you up, or hanging out with fun friends.  Laughing can do wonders to release tired, negative energy.
  • What impact has screen time had on my current mood? How much time have you spent staring at a screen this week?  Most of us spend hours every day doing nothing but. Possibly it’s not the content of what you’ve been viewing (work-related issues or what others are eating and doing socially) that’s wearing you thin but the fact that it’s all been delivered via screen. This weekend, consider laying down your phone for the evening, well before you go to sleep, and make a point to not pick it up as soon as your eyes open in the morning. Try spending a block of time tomorrow (2+ hours at least) not looking checking your phone — longer, even, if you can. Taking breaks from our phones and computers can do wonders to lift our spirits.
  • Have I moved my body this week? Exercise produces endorphins which are natural pain and stress fighters. If you’ve been relatively inactive, the weekend may be a great time to get some exercise in. Go on a hike, hit the gym, or take a class at the local rec center. Just getting out the door and taking a walk can positively impact your mental outlook.
  • Am I  tired — or just bored? Sometimes we’re truly worn out mentally — but other times it’s  boredom, known as one of the enemies of happiness. To combat the rut of routine, try something new this weekend. Take a class. Try out a new restaurant. Drive down a road you’ve never taken before or visit a new museum or art gallery. Mixing up the routine can give you a psychological lift.
  • How many spiritual moments did I have this week? Tapping into your spiritual self can broaden your perspective and drive you to seek meaningful connection with something larger than yourself. This results in positive emotions like gratitude, peace, and wonder.  Spend some time in nature, go to church, take a meditation class, or engage in whatever it is that helps you feel connected to a higher power.
  • Have I had meaningful social interactions this past week? All humans need positive relationships to thrive…even if you’re an introvert! If your work keeps you isolated or you’ve had nothing but superficial conversations all week, the weekend may be the perfect time to connect on a deeper level.  Attend or plan a small dinner party, meet a friend for coffee, spend quality time with your family, or attend a new social group activity. Spend more time asking questions than talking, with the purpose of understanding where the other person is coming from. On the other hand, if your job is an extroverts’ dream, you may decide on some quiet, alone time this weekend.
  • How much sleep have I gotten? Most adults need 7-9 hours a night to feel rested. You may get by on less. But if you’ve been skimping on this vital activity, you’ll know it. Take some weekend time to darken those windows and get caught up. Go to bed early tonight. Turn off your screens well before bedtime and sleep in if you can. Relish an afternoon nap. Then do the same thing the next night.
  • How healthy were my food choices this week? Many who eat well during the week like to reserve the weekends for ‘cheat days’ — where there are no limits on what is consumed — it’s the weekend, right? And though a few cheat days here and there don’t seem to do a lot of damage, as long as your eating and drinking is not excessive, making good food choices can do wonders to boost your well-being.  If last week’s diet consisted of doughnuts and coffee, and the brownies the thoughtful coworker brought into the office, consider celebrating the weekend by eating healthy, nourishing foods instead.
  • What’s one thing I can do for someone else this weekend? Research shows that doing something kind for another boosts our mood and levels of positivity.  Think of someone who could use a kind word or encouragement. Give them a call, take them out to lunch, put together a care package and leave on their doorstep, or slip a $20 in an envelope and send anonymously.
  • What have I done lately that makes my heart sing? Do you even know what makes your heart sing? Ponder the activities make you feel giddy, excited, and happy–maybe it’s ice skating, or checking out local art, or playing your guitar. Whatever it is, reserve some time this weekend for that activity.
  • How messy is my personal space? Using weekend time to declutter and organize can give you clarity and create space for new ideas and innovations. They say that making your bed each morning starts your day off on the right foot. What other areas of your life could use some cleaning up?  If you despise cleaning and organizing, try inviting a friend to help and put on some fun, upbeat music while you work.
  • How much time have I spent outside? Spending time outdoors can relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety. Take a blanket down to the lake and relax in the sunshine, take a walk along a mountain trail, or dip your feet in the ocean. Open your windows and let the fresh breeze waft inside. And if you’re getting hit with bad weather, bundle up and go sledding or build a snowman.
  • How have I used my creative juices this past week?  Creativity reduces stress and anxiety, and is a great way to boost your mood this weekend. Take a painting class, build something in the back yard, try a new recipe. Go thrift shopping to search for abandoned treasure. Tapping into your creative self, freely and expressively, can diminish self-doubt and creates a sense of contentment.

You may still decide to binge watch your favorite show this weekend. But before you plop onto the couch, consider these questions and alternate weekend activities to ensure you feel rested, refreshed and rejuvenated come Monday.

 

 

 

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