Archive for the ‘Mindfulness’ Category

How to Better Manage Your Stress

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

Do you know anyone like this?

“Stress level: extreme. It’s like she was a jar with the lid screwed on too tight, and inside the jar were pickles, angry pickles, and they were fermenting, and about to explode.”  —Fiona Wood

It’s a great visual. My brothers and I used to come home from school on hot, August afternoons when Mother was canning bread and butter pickles. They were angry pickles. The acrid odor of vinegar engulfed the entire kitchen and we’d sprint, eyes watering and throats tightening to keep from gagging, out the back door in pursuit of a breath of fresh air. The thought of being around a jar of fermented pickles ready to explode today is enough to send me running.

Imagine your stress-induced emotions as acetous pickle juice just waiting to explode from a pressure-filled jar. Maybe it’s how you’re feeling right now…as if you’re on the brink of detonating into an eruption of anger, or find yourself jetting quickly toward an emotional melt-down. Prolonged stress can do that to the best of us. And while stress most likely won’t be going away any time soon, we can learn to make choices which will help us better manage it.

The Negative Impacts of Stress

Stress is a normal part of everyday life, but if we don’t learn to get a handle on it, it can wreak havoc on our mental and physical health. Based upon results of a stress study done by the American Psychological Association, 66% of people regularly experience physical symptoms of stress, and 63% experience psychological symptoms. Because our natural stress response is not designed to be continually engaged, we must find ways to shut it off.  Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered that prolonged stress disrupts the balance in the brain, throwing off the normal cadence of brain cell communication. (https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-stress-affects-mental-health/) A study done by Columbia University Medical Center researchers found that negative impact of stress could be likened to smoking more than five cigarettes a day! (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2250106/Stress-bad-heart-smoking-cigarettes-day.html).

“Learn how to cope, sweet friend. There will always be dark days.” — Kris Carr

Your Stress Triggers

Developing awareness around your stress triggers is a good place to start.  Grab a journal, ask yourself these three questions, and note your responses:

  • Which situations occur on a regular basis which cause you to feel stressed?
  • Which people in your life could you name as sources of your stress?
  • Which circumstances turn routine situations into stressful situations? (For example, do you feel more stressed when you haven’t eaten, or when you’ve overeaten? How does sleep (and a lack of) affect your stress levels? When you let your worries run rampant, do you find you’re feeling more stressed?, etc.).

If you can become aware of your triggers, there’s a good chance that you can avoid escalations, shifting behaviors before they turn toxic.

What are you feeling?

Do you recognize what stress feels like in your body? Those who have strong stress management skills are able to detect rising stress before it reaches a dangerous level. Physically, you may experience headaches, fatigue, or shoulder pain. Other common symptoms are stomach aches, excessive sweating, back pain, and a racing heart. Behavior-wise, you may find you are taking a habit to an extreme, like overeating or excessive smoking. You may find you’re short-tempered, grinding your teeth, or driving too fast. Emotionally, you may find you are bothered by unimportant issues, getting the cry-feeling more often, or feeling depressed and dejected. Cognitively, you may have trouble thinking clearly, or struggle to translate your thoughts into clear words. You may find it hard to concentrate or find yourself more forgetful than normal.

Learning to recognize how stress rears its ugly head in your body is something you want to tune into.  Next time a stressful situation arises, take a moment to notice what you’re feeling and write it down.

“Everyone has the ability to increase resilience to stress. It requires hard work and dedication, but over time, you can equip yourself to handle whatever life throws your way without adverse effects to your health. Training your brain to manage stress won’t just affect the quality of your life, but perhaps even the length of it.” –Amy Morin

Stress Reduction Techniques

Though you may not be able to make the stressful situation or person go away, you can learn how to control your own responses. Here are some techniques you can try to reduce the feeling of stress. Which of these could you undertake, in the moments when stress arises?

  • Practice gratitude.
  • Take long, deep breaths.
  • Exercise.
  • Get some extra zzzz’s.
  • Remind yourself that this too, shall pass.
  • Rediscover your sense of humor and laugh.
  • Listen to relaxing music.
  • Spend some time in nature.
  • Meditate.
  • Become a realistic optimist and focus on positive outcomes of the current situation.
  • Have a good cry.
  • Forgive…yourself and others.
  • Eat healthy food and resist junk food/stress eating.
  • Do something you find to be fun.
  • Slow down.
  • Practice boundaries (learn to say no when needed)
  • Forgive others’ poor behavior.
  • Refuse to let irrational ideas and thoughts swim around in your head.
  • Visualize yourself in a peaceful place.
  • Pray or other spiritual practices.
  • Quit procrastinating and tackle some items on your to-do list.
  • Call a friend who is able to put you at ease.
  • Fill in the blank (what works for you?) __________________________.

Create an Action Plan

Now that you’re aware of your triggers, understand what you’re feeling, and have a few techniques to use,  it’s time to create a plan. Grab a journal and write about these prompts:

1-The stress symptoms I need to notice and pay attention to are:

2-My current stress triggers, including both situations, people, and circumstances, are:

3-How do I currently deal with these stressors?

4-What’s a better way I could respond to these stressors?

5-What is one technique I can incorporate to remind myself to engage in stress management, as I begin to recognize my symptoms?

6-When do I anticipate the next stressful situation to happen?

7-What will I do when it occurs?

If you’re struggling with creating an action plan, consider teaming up with a social + emotional intelligence coach to walk alongside you.

I get it–changes are hard–but remember the jar of pickles. Who wants to be splattered by pungent negativity every time you lose control of your emotions? Sure, it’s tough to adjust how we respond to the stresses of life, but well worth the effort to learn to open your jar of emotions slowly and carefully so you and others can enjoy its contents.

“You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway.” —Steve Maraboli

 

A lesson in emotional intelligence–from the critters

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

I built a little pond on my plot at my community garden last year. I’ve put a lot of loving work into it, gathering and arranging rocks, purchasing a bubbling solar fountain, and nudging plants to life around its perimeter. I collected cattails from a nearby stream and replanted them along with a few lily pads and other water plants. One of my neighbors even put fish in it which we both feed.

So you can imagine my frustration arriving every day to discover the rocks have been thrown in, plants are torn up and knocked over, and the pump is disassembled in pieces at the bottom of the pond. The foam pump float has been ripped apart, full of tiny fingernail imprints. Grrr! Who would do this?!

My garden neighbors have a wild child whom I caught several times last year playing in my pond, throwing rocks, trampling plants, etc. The parents would yell at him to get out but he paid them no mind. So my assumption–of course–was to blame this hellion for the daily destruction. I know it’s a small thing in the big scheme of life, but I found myself getting really cranky that these parents would not discipline their child enough to keep him out of other people’s stuff! All the ‘facts’ matched up: he is an unruly kid and needs to stop.

Just when I had developed a real attitude about the poor little kid (and his parents), I read an article about the damage that raccoons can do to a garden pond. Raccoons! And as I started looking a little closer at all the signs, I see now that it is obviously one of these masked critters who is the culprit and not the little boy! Especially because the parents assured me (yes, I spoke with them) they haven’t even brought him to the garden this summer! Here I spent a few stressful weeks dissing on these parents and the kid, in my mind, and even talked to the garden manager about it, in my ‘kindhearted righteousness’. So imagine my chagrin at the realization.

Which got me thinking…

Sometimes we make negative judgments of people when we really don’t have all the facts. We think we do. But we don’t. We create a story in our mind based upon our views and outlooks and determine it is the truth…when it’s just not. It’s easy to do. And it’s hurtful. And wrong. And it’s a good way to ruin relationships and assure our hearts will become bitter.

Have anyone you’re judging today based upon YOUR set of facts? Someone you KNOW is in the wrong, and has bad intentions…so you think. What if…what if you’re wrong? What if there’s a different perspective, some whys you might not be aware of, some facts you haven’t noticed, which are missing from the narrative you’ve so carefully crafted? I’d like to encourage you to learn from my mistake…and let’s all take a lesson from the critters. Give someone the benefit of the doubt. Quit pointing the finger. Accept that maybe your own closed mindedness may be the real ‘bad guy.’

I’ve got some apologizing to do.

Then I’m going to forgive myself.

Then I’m going to go water that garden.

Why It’s Important to Create a Safe Place to Fail At Work

Article contributed by guest author Lindsey Leach.

This past week I found myself, yet again, in wonderful conversations with other leadership and organizational development professionals – actually multiple. I still have to pinch myself when I remember I am one of those professionals now #impostersyndrome. This past week’s discussion was focused on student and adult learning via a panel of four professionals in the space. They were asked questions on challenges they are currently facing with students, how we can better serve a variety of students as they enter the workforce, and how education is changing as we speak. So, naturally, I got inspired.

After the panel, we got into small groups to collaborate. We ended up chatting about what are the right questions to ask candidates during an interview to determine if the individual truly has the skills and abilities that meet the role responsibilities and current needs of the company. Everyone tends to project (or tries to) their best selves during an interview, so how do you dig deeper? How do you figure out if they mean what they are saying or are full of it and simply telling you what they found online to be the best way to answer? It’s natural to study up on a company/job you are interviewing for, but are you applying for the right reasons? Are you the right fit? What makes someone the right fit? Every job and company differs.

I’ve accidentally done this because, as an introvert, I used to think I needed to fit into a box that I believed to please the interviewer. I’m a recovering people-pleaser in every area of my life. I was also down a road in life that I thought I was passionate about, and fast forward, I was walking down that road for the wrong reasons. Subconsciously, I believed being introverted was not acceptable in most work environments. There’s a lot I could get into there, but I want to stay focused on the topic at hand. I tend to highly commit to my work with passion and immense work ethic. If I don’t know how, I’ll figure it out. If I’m terrible, I keep trying. Truth be told, often that mindset can become unhealthy without proper balance and awareness. Great work ethic and the ability to adapt to personalities and situations in order to problem solve and create something exquisite is something I am proud of. I found my balance in being true to who I am, my core values, and following my own true north. I value my alone time equally to my sincere, meaningful relationships, meetings, and collaboration time with the beautiful people in my life. I thought it wasn’t okay for me to value my needs as an introvert, which is so beyond the truth and a belief I no longer hold. It feels so good to have released those thoughts and expectations that NO ONE but me was ever actually holding. It was always okay for me to be me. I just wasn’t in the best position or at the best company for me and my needs. Those who mind don’t matter, and those who do don’t mind. I’m grateful for all of the missteps that got me here because without them, I don’t know how I would have ever found what was right for me. It’s certainly more about the journey than the destination.

I’ve also found my balance in challenging myself to do what I love most, with incredible and healthy people that I learn from daily, and still find my peace in processing alone thereafter. You’re okay, and I’m okay. Introverted is okay. Extroverted is okay. Everyone is okay.

While putting myself in a box in order to take a stab at making everyone else happy, I discovered some interesting external factors that impacted me. I was quick to blame myself, but it takes two to tango. What I was reminded of in the small group discussion about interview questions this week was that there must always be a space and opportunity to fail when you’re learning and growing. I think this is indefinite, but especially as a young professional. Often I was put in situations without training and essentially told to sink or swim. “Fake it ’til you make it” were often words to live by. I’ve always found this interesting, and disheartening. Now, granted, these positions weren’t a fit for me and they weren’t utilizing the skills I wanted to regularly, but when your company is actively not giving you anything but benefits, paycheck, a ping-pong table, and a promotion here and there….often now, new generations will only put up with that for so long before they are bored or just the opposite, over-worked but unsatisfied. Their managers don’t understand what they need or want, and often they’ve never asked. Or if they have, the person hearing the question lacked trust in themselves and their leader and therefore, wasn’t honest and was looking for that promotion outside the company.

I don’t want the threat of “I’ll get fired if I fail” looming over my every last move while simultaneously being told to go figure it out with little or no training. I want the space and opportunity to learn and know that if I fail, no one died and they are ecstatic you took the risk to try. The feeling will still sting, but that also means you care about what you do. You failed, but you learned and are better for it. AND the company gave you the proper tools and resources to feel set up for success and supported. I understand some professions seem not to allow for this space. I’m not discussing that particular kind of work here. As humans, we make mistakes all of the time. I know, as a recovering perfectionist, that’s a hard sentence to read, accept, and swallow.

I am investing myself, my time, and my best efforts into the company I so choose. I want the company to also invest in me, or I might as well start my own business and create that for myself plus have freedom and flexibility. I believe this to be why leadership and talent development are key and so pivotal to success. That investment is much like a relationship. I choose you every day, and you choose me. We choose each other. We both are choosing to be the best possible version of ourselves each day with the understanding that neither are always going to be perfect.

Neither are going to grow without learning experiences and ups and downs. I tink you’ve already heard me say nobody likes anyone perfect anyway. 😉

I wanted to get into HOW you create space for mistakes, but this article became longer than I anticipated….so look out for a Part 2 on this soon! Ciao!

#foodforthought #thoughtfulthursday #introvertuncensored #creatingspace #failingisokay #roomtogrow #investment #impostersyndrome #safeplacetofail #bestversionofyourself #bestversionofourselves #workinprogress #millennials #introvertisokay #extrovertisokay #leadershipdevelopment #organizationaldevelopment #collaboration #inspiration

When Disappointment Hits

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”  — Ancient Proverb

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

If you’re human, you’ve most likely experienced the feeling of let-down when something you hoped for didn’t work out. Maybe it was that perfect job you wanted but didn’t get, or that relationship that finally seemed like the right one yet fell apart, or an offer you made on your dream house which wasn’t accepted. Maybe it was the chagrin of watching your teammate get promoted instead of you. Whatever the reason for your disappointment, the feelings of despair that accompany it can wreak havoc on your soul.

Unfortunately, when disappointment hits, we tend to turn inward and allow our self-doubt to be triggered.  “What’s wrong with me? Why does this always happen to me? It’s because I am ____ (fill in the blank with your go-to negative quality)!” are just a few of the responses that may be going round and round in your head.

“There are some things in this world you rely on, like a sure bet. And when they let you down, shifting from where you’ve carefully placed them, it shakes your faith, right where you stand.” ― Sarah Dessen

Though disappointment can be difficult, there’s no reason to let it leave you disillusioned. If you’re in the middle of a heart-sick event, here are some things you can do to help with the healing process:

  • Feel what you’re feeling.  Instead of trying to stuff your emotions inside, or pretend you’re not hurt, allow yourself to feel. Name the emotions you are feeling and accept them as part of the process. It’s OK to let the tears flow. “Crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system and restores the body to a state of balance.” (https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/is-crying-good-for-you#1). So grab the box of tissues and open the floodgates!
  • Write it out. Grab your journal and write about what went down. Include as many details as possible, and as you describe what happened, use “I” statements, telling the story from your perspective. Describe the feelings it evoked. Can you make a connection to what you felt and why you felt it? Write about that, too. Sometimes just getting it all down on paper can help you make sense of the event.
  • Talk it out.  If appropriate (and safe!), and your feelings are in control, you may want to have a conversation with those involved in the offense. Lay your judgments aside and try to have an open mind to their viewpoint. Try to use “I” statements when talking about the event (“When you said this, I felt…”, etc.) and ask them questions for clarity. Avoid name calling, yelling, and finger-pointing. Remember the purpose of this conversation is to come to an understanding of both sides of the story.
  • Find a friend. Often it’s helpful to have someone outside of the situation to talk to about the upset. Find a trusted friend, counselor or coach, to discuss your feelings. If you can, try not to defame the other person(s) involved, instead, focusing on the role you played in the situation. Having someone else listen, nod, and say “I see why you’re feeling that way”, can bring much comfort and assurance that you’re OK.
  • But be careful with whom you talk to. It’s one thing to find a trusted friend or counselor for support, but be wary of sharing the story over and over with everyone you meet, opening up the opportunity to trample upon those involved. There’s no need to make the situation worse by spreading it around. You may think it makes the other person involved look bad, but it’s really a negative reflection on yourself. Posting about it on social media, especially before your heart is healed, is probably not a good idea, either.
  • Try not to ruminate. It’s easy to replay the scenario of disappointment over and over in your mind, which only will reproduce the negative feelings you’re working through. It happened. Once. No need to keep reliving the event if it’s not serving you well to go through it again and again. When you find yourself ‘going there’ in your mind, try moving your thoughts to something more uplifting.
  • Avoid always and never. When disappointment hits, it’s easy to think “this always happens to me”, or “this will never get resolved.” If you can, eliminate these two words from your vocabulary and recognize that this particular instance is a one-time event. Instead, focus on possible positive outcomes.
  • Don’t play the blame game. When we feel bad, blaming someone else for the incident can seem like an effective pain reliever. However, research says differently:  “Unlike other games, the more often you play the blame game, the more you lose.” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201509/5-reasons-we-play-the-blame-game). This goes for yourself, too. Yes, own the role you played, but don’t go down the road of letting blame turn into shame.
  • Accept that it happened.  What’s done is done. Though you may wish you could roll back time and make it go away, accepting that it happened–and putting it in your past– will help you move forward. We all make mistakes — you do, others do, and we all are capable of hurting each other with our words and actions. Accepting that disappointment is a normal part of interacting with others can help relive the anger and resentment you may be feeling.
  • Choose your ending. Ask yourself, “How can this help me grow? What is one thing I can now do that I couldn’t before the incident? What did I learn and what will I not repeat? How can this have a positive effect on my empathy? In a perfect world, what would my next steps look like?” Though the event is probably not one you would’ve picked out for yourself, you can choose how the story ends.  Brainstorm all possible positive outcomes, and if you’re struggling to come up with any, ask a trusted friend for help. Sometimes those on the ‘outside’ can see the bigger picture and remind you of reasons why this may be a good thing in disguise.
  • Forgive — yourself and others. Easier said than done, I know, but deciding to move on will bring you the peace of mind you need and deserve. Forgiveness isn’t about pretending it didn’t happen, but letting go of the need to punish yourself or others for the wrongdoing. “To err is human, to forgive, divine.” ― Alexander Pope

I get it. It’s tough to experience disappointment. But we can do hard things. And the rewards of working hard to move through and on past your disappointment will be well-received.

“Disappointment will come when your effort does not give you the expected return. Failure is extremely difficult to handle, but those that do come out stronger.”―Chetan Bhagat

Managing Work-Related Stress with EQ

Article contributed by guest author Deb Westcott.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is critical to being able to manage stress. Out of all the major EQ competencies, the most powerful tool at your disposal is self-awareness. It allows you to know what your body is telling you, as well as be mindful of how you are adapting internally to outside stressors such as headaches, muscle tension, unsupportive self-talk, worry, and fatigue.

Here are 8 simple things you can do from the comfort of your own desk to combat stress every day:

1. Deep Breathing
The no. 1 most important and most successful stress reducer— resets your body and produces a physiological response.

2. Engage Your Senses
Listening to music, using scented lotion or candles, looking at vacation pictures, playing with stress balls – all of these actions reduce cortisol and increase oxytocin, which disrupts the stress reaction in your body.

3. Visualize a Happy Place
Seriously! It changes your mindset and hits the “restart” button in your body.

4. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
A long phrase for listening to where your body is hurting and actively working on relaxing those muscles, one by one. Roll your shoulders, stretch your arms above your head, touch your toes.

5. Laugh
Laughing not only releases endorphins and fosters brain connectivity— it tends to be contagious!

6. Take a Break
(Okay, so there’s one of these that you shouldn’t do at your desk.) Stand up, walk outside, and let your eyes focus on something in the distance. A change of perspective can do you good!

7. Self-Awareness
Stop, listen to what you are saying to yourself, and make sure it’s supportive and positive.

8. Change How You Communicate With Others
Say no, set boundaries, be assertive, and ask for help.

Unless we are present, our bodies and minds react to stress. Knowing ourselves and creating a pro-active plan to reduce stress is our best tool.

When the Rain Comes

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

This afternoon, at the garden, I kind of on purpose got caught in the rain, which turned into an all out downpour. I knew it was coming–I could hear its distant rumblings and smell its warning in the stirring breezes, but I kept on digging…until it hit. And it hit hard and fast. By the time I took refuge in the nearby gardening shed, with the shovels and rakes and wheelbarrows, swathed in the scent of freshly cut grass and newly-turned soil, I was drenched to the bone, hair dripping and clothes stuck to my wet body. I happily sat on an upturned bucket in the makeshift shelter and watched the torrent of rain soak our garden plots, splashing upwards in the newly formed puddles, transforming the dry, dusty soil into a wet, moisture-rich haven, mother’s milk for the tender, newborn plants struggling to survive their first weeks of life. Everything turned a brilliant green.

The lightning flashed, the thunder rolled, and I couldn’t help but wonder: if plants need a good drenching from time to time, wouldn’t it do us good, too? Maybe it’s my frame of thought after witnessing baptisms at church the other day, or maybe it was from watching all the people out near the street hurrying, shoulders hunched, hands over their heads, attempting but failing to flee from the rain. It’s our first instinct — Run! Cover up! Hide! It makes sense: rain ruins our clothes, smears our makeup, flattens our hair, and washes away all the outward appearance we work so hard to put on and wear all day.

When the lightning lessened, though it was still raining, I went back to my gardening, mud sticking to my Crocs and working its way in between my toes, dirt speckled the back of my legs, my hair a damp mop, until I got chilled and sought the comfort of my warm car. I glanced in the mirror and saw a bedraggled plain girl looking back at me, makeup long gone and hair in tangles, dirt smeared on her face… but eyes wild with wonder. I felt alive, giddy from the craziness of being out in the elements.

I think staying out in a rainstorm is like life itself — we can run and hide when the storm hits or stay out there and learn how to weather it, soak it in, and though we may get a little beat up in the process, come out on the other side more alive and resilient. It’s easier to cower, keeping our lives all neat and tidy and dry and safe, but then I think we miss out on the adventure riding on the edge of the wind and the rain, beckoning us to try something new, step out in faith, bear through tough times…and grow.

Is your communication obsolete?

“Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.” –Robert Frost

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Do you know your communication style?

The DISC assessment, based upon the theory of psychologist William Marston, and developed into a behavioral management tool by Walter Clarke, measures our style of relating to others, which directly effects how we communicate.  Of the four styles, which do you lean toward as you communicate with others?

1-DOMINANCE.  These communicators provide direct answers and tend to be brief, and to the point.  They ask “what” questions instead of “why” or “how” and stress logical benefits using factual information. They can tend to be blunt and demanding at times, and may seem to lack empathy or basic social skills. You won’t find these folks spending too much time with chit chat.

2-INFLUENCE. Those who communicate with this interactive style are relaxed and sociable, and enjoy verbalizing their ideas, thoughts, and feelings.  They enjoy social activities and will bore quickly if you dive into the details. Their communication is inclusive and motivational.  They like the limelight, and will quickly shut down if others attempt to persuade or influence them.

3-STEADINESS. Those who communicate in this style are agreeable, cooperative, and value knowing their individual role within a team setting.  They show appreciation with their words and focus on the “how” and “why”.  They tend to enjoy sincerity and a friendly, approachable manner of speaking. They may have difficulty prioritizing their ideas as they can be people-pleasers, but respond well to clearly defined goals and objectives, and thrive when assured follow-up and support.

4-COMPLIANCE. These communicators value accuracy and like to skip the socializing piece. They thrive on the specifics: precise expectations and uniform standards.  They’ll provide you with the straight-up pros and cons, support their ideas with accurate data, and communicate in a systematic and focused manner. They may resist vague or general information and you may find them double-checking everything you say or do.

Knowing yourself and your inclinations are a good first step in improving your communication. And understanding the communication style of others can help you better work as a team player and support them in becoming their best self as you learn to communicate in a way that enables their natural tendencies. But though each of these four styles can be effective, they also can become obsolete — depending on your behaviors.

The question to ask is not which style do I utilize, but “How well does my style enable me to listen deeply and send clear, convincing messages to those I’m communicating with?”

Here are some indicators that your way of communicating may need some updating:

  • You talk more than you listen in conversations with colleagues or loved ones
  • You fail to hear what others say, even though you thought you were listening
  • You catch yourself interrupting often
  • You don’t connect well with others and struggle to establish rapport
  • You judge the ‘why’ behind what others say before finding out their true motivations
  • You rarely ask for others’ opinions or insights
  • You fail to make eye contact or give non-verbal feedback when someone else is talking
  • Threats and emotional outbursts are a mainstay of communicating for you
  • You sometimes lack tact and diplomacy
  • You can come across dogmatic when expressing your own ideas
  • You refuse to let others change your opinion — even if you realize they may be right
  • You ask very few questions in conversations

No matter your style of relating and communicating with others, these negative attributes are behaviors — and behaviors can be changed.

“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.” — Brian Tracy

If you find you’re at a place where your way of communicating needs some updating, try some of these on for size:

  • Learn what an open-ended question is, and start using them in every conversation
  • Become a good listener. Make eye contact, tune in to what is being said, and ask questions for clarification.
  • Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next so you can focus on the person who is talking
  • Use positive body language like smiling, uncrossed arms, and nodding where appropriate to welcome others’ ideas and input
  • Hold back your judgments if you don’t agree and seek to understand the why behind what they are saying
  • Practice speaking your words with clear enunciation and well-thought-out ideas if needed to ensure accurate delivery
  • Express gratitude and appreciation often; validate what the other person is saying
  • Match your emotions to the situation  and refrain from outbursts of negative expressions of feelings
  • Be patient when others speak and give them the time they need to express their thoughts.  Try not to finish their sentences or sum up their words before they are done speaking.
  • Fill in the blank: What is one additional behavior you can try this week to improve your communication skills?  ___________________________________________

Now get out there and practice, practice, practice!

“Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people.” –Jim Rohn

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

5 Steps in Healing a Broken Heart

Article submitted by guest author Lindsey Leach.

Among the emotions of being heartbroken, this title might feel impossible depending on where you are with your steps of grief (shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, acceptance). In the past couple of months, I have been healing from a broken heart in more ways than one. I am working through a break up, and I lost my job a month ago. It’s been a struggle of loss, and naturally, this all started the day after my birthday in November and throughout the holidays. So, while many are traveling, enjoying time away, and with loved ones, I’ve been simultaneously crying myself to sleep while trying to pick up the pieces and do something about it. No time to feel sorry myself. I knew what I needed to do to start achieving my career goals, having some fun, and shaking it off to start a new chapter.

I dislike all of the down time, but it’s allowed me to work through all of the emotions and not judge myself when I suddenly start crying while doing dishes. And now I am finally putting more time and effort into what I love most, which is impacting others, writing and creation, social and emotional intelligence, and self-improvement. The fact that my blog is up and running, and I’m able to share with you all is making my heart the happiest.

Every heartbreak is different and for me personally, this break up was especially difficult for me to process because it wasn’t due to a fading of feelings, not feeling the same way, or determining we didn’t have a future together for whatever reason. Our break up is due to time and timing. At the end of the day, I have to choose to not judge myself for the pain I feel from losing my best friend and take every small step forward possible so that each day feels even just a sliver closer to healing. The negative self-talk gotsta go.

1) Feel how you feel when you feel it.

This is definitely the INFJ in me, but the healing won’t begin if you just suppress what you’re feeling. Everyone has to work through this on their own terms, but longer you suppress, the more you’re just suppressing the inevitable and you’re probably going to explode or implode in some way further down the road. This isn’t healthy. It’s hard to collapse into our feelings. Many are taught this at a young age, and in some cases it is what’s best. It’s not the easy thing, but it is the thing that’s best for your next relationship, for all of your loved ones around you, and for your healing process.

2) Do all the things you love most and take care of yourself.

Put yourself first and do things that make you happy – like how my blog and sharing with you all makes me happy. Workout. Read that dusty book on your shelf you’ve been putting off. Cook. Clean out your closet (get rid of all of things that remind you of them!). Write or journal. Do that thing on your to-do list you’ve been procrastinating. Grab a drink with your best friend. Take a bath. Put on a face mask. You got this.

3) Train your thoughts.

There will be darker moments than others. Some days it will be harder to wake up and get out of bed than others. If you train your thoughts in these moments so you KEEP GOING, you’ll remember the power of your thoughts. Do you miss them desperately? Do just want to hear their voice? Do you just want to go see them? Do you want to text them? And then does your mind wonder and hope they aren’t moving on and meeting someone else before you? In these moments when you go down a rabbit hole, you have to be able to shift your focus, train these thoughts, and shift them positively. If you call them, THEY GET to hear you voice. If you text them, they get to see your name come up on their phone. If you go see them, they get to see how WELL you’re doing. Remember how beautiful you are inside and out. If they broke up with you, no matter the circumstances, when they did that they eliminated every right to deserve any of the above. If they can’t prioritize you, pick up the phone, put in the effort, be what you need, express their love, whatever the matter then why should you be putting in the effort? In these moments, as harsh as it sounds, I have to slap my wrist to snap out of it and ask politely for my self-respect back please.

4) Write.

I know not all of us like to write as much as me, but it’s therapeutic for everyone. Write down what you learned from this relationship. Write down your deal-breakers, like-to-haves, and must-haves for your next relationship. Write down casual questions you’d love to ask the next person you date. I think it helps to get all of your thoughts outside of your head and then use that as personal power to move forward and think about how your next relationship is going to be so much stronger because you learned all of this valuable insight on yourself and what you want.

5) Don’t forget to slowly but surely still put yourself out there in some way.

Heartbreak can feel lonely. I haven’t wanted anyone to feel burdened by my temporary sadness, so I tend to keep to myself. I don’t want anyone to have to deal with my tears and sadness. The people you consider your true loved ones want to listen, they want to help however they can. So say yes to that happy hour, say yes to trying that free month of Class Pass and going with a friend, stay active, get out of your apartment/house, and say yes to trying that new bar/restaurant/coffee shop, and keep going. You. Are. Not. Alone. Most have experienced a difficult period in their life, but “this too shall pass”.

If you’d like to share your love loss story with me to help with #4, I’d love to hear it. Maybe none of these resonate because of the phase of grief you’re in, but you will get there. You don’t have to do it alone. Reach out to someone who knows you best. This past month would have been impossible without new and old friends.

#heartbreak #heartbroken #socialintelligence #emotionalintelligence #selfimprovement #healing #healingabrokenheart #stepstohealing

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