Archive for the ‘Social Intelligence’ Category

5 Habits That Let Emotionally Intelligent People Adapt To Anything

Article submitted by guest author Harvey Deutschendorf.

The ability to stay flexible and open-minded in uncertain times isn’t just a personality thing. It also depends on what you do.
5 Habits That Let Emotionally Intelligent People Adapt To Anything

[Photo: Jurica Koletić/Unsplash]

Adaptability has always mattered in the workplace, but with automation on the march and many industries experiencing major upheavals, it may be a more crucial skill now than ever. Whether you’re an entry-level employee or the CEO of a company, knowing how to cope with change and uncertainty is pretty much nonnegotiable.

By now it’s hardly news that emotional intelligence is key to thriving in the future of work, thanks to the habits and behaviors it encourages. Here are five that highly emotionally intelligent people tend to practice–which anyone can tap into in order to adapt to change.

 

 

1. THEY RECOGNIZE WHEN THEY’RE GETTING TOO COMFORTABLE

When confronted with change, most people decamp back to their proverbial comfort zones. It’s a natural first instinct–staying with what you know–not to mention the easiest. But over the mid- to long-term, it can make you rigid and inflexible.

Emotionally intelligent people aren’t immune to this knee-jerk reaction. They simply tend to more aware when it’s happening. That’s the crucial first step toward overcoming the urge to stay with the tried-and-true and move instead into uncharted territory. After all, awareness precedes any possibility of action. Simply knowing your typical behavioral patterns and emotional drivers gives you an advantage in dealing with sudden new variables.

Brené Brown put this aptly in her 2015 book Daring Greatly: “Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement,” she writes. “Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”

If you can’t first recognize when you’re clinging to cozy habits–and, in Brown’s words, “engage with” your discomfort at the idea of changing them up–you’ll never find a way to break with the old.

2. THEY ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR NEGATIVE EMOTIONS

Change brings up feelings from both ends of the emotional spectrum: excitement and anxiety. In their just-published book The Power of Vulnerability, authors Barry Kaplan and Jeffrey Manchester point out the obvious perils of the latter: “The fear will tug at your sleeves and attempt to pull you back into a spiral of second guessing.” Their advice? Don’t try to suppress that anxiety. “Acknowledge it, be thankful that the presence of the emotion keeps you grounded, and then move through it.”

No one adapts to change and uncertainty by trying to ignore how it makes them feel. Recognizing your negative emotions is the prerequisite to managing and moving through them successfully. Not sure just how to do that? Here are a few ways to start.

3. THEY SOLICIT AND CONSIDER MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES

Instead of insisting on their way or looking for just one right way, emotionally intelligent people understand that their own point of view is merely that–and they aren’t discouraged by the knowledge that their beliefs have inevitable biases and limitations.

Grasping this reality is essential for considering new ideas, including those that may be totally contrary to whatever you’ve believed in the past. Needless to say, adapting to change requires approaching new and untried initiatives with an open mind, and a willingness to take risks on them. (It’s one reason why recruiting expert Yewande Ige recently shared with Fast Company that she asks every job candidate, “Are you willing to be wrong about your opinion on the world?”) Instead of increasing friction in the workplace, emotionally intelligent people serve as the lubricant for ingenuity to flow more freely in fast-changing times.

4. THEY READ NONVERBAL CUES

Amid any change, there’s likely to be resistance that can sabotage the process if it isn’t dealt with. Some may want to be seen as being open to new things and yet feel very differently inside. Emotionally intelligent people intuitively understand how group pressure might compel others not to voice their misgivings. So they try to predict wherever unspoken reservations might be lying dormant, then draw them out productively.

This takes an awareness of verbal nuances as well as nonverbal cues. It might sound like an odd habit for cultivating adaptability, but making a conscious effort to practice reading others’ body language can help you home in on and address what what your coworkers are feeling. This won’t just sharpen your own emotional intelligence, it will also help you win your colleagues’ support so you can all adapt to new circumstances together.

5. THEY DON’T REACT HASTILY TO SETBACKS

Anyone trying to succeed in a fast-changing environment will encounter surprises, setbacks, and failures. They key isn’t avoiding those obstacles, it’s handling them effectively. Emotionally intelligent people don’t automatically revert to the old way of doing things as soon as a new approach falls short. Instead, they typically avoid reacting until they’ve had a chance to think things through and decide how to move forward. Often doing nothing (for now) is better–and more difficult–than doing the wrong thing too quickly.

The key is being able to sit with a problem long enough to think through the best way forward. It takes patience, composure, and listening skills to bring everyone together and come up with a solid group consensus. Instead of looking to lay blame for setbacks, they’ll be focused on solutions.

 

Why show empathy, anyway?

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

We hear a lot about the need for empathy. Empathy is that ability to sense others’ feelings and to take an active interest in their perspective and concerns. People who are good at this listen for the unspoken emotions in a conversation. They are attentive to a wide range of emotional signals which clue them in to being sensitive to understanding what the other person really wants and needs.

“If there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put yourself in the other person’s place and to see things from his point of view — as well as your own.” — Henry Ford

Those who struggle with empathy — and this may be you — have a hard time reading people and picking up on what they are thinking and feeling. They tend to be literal in hearing only the words which someone says and don’t know how to decipher the other communication that is going on through facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, etc. People with low empathy tend to stereotype others based upon outward appearances and show little deference to others’ opinions and ways of thinking. An unempathetic person can come across indifferent and uncaring.

Why does this matter in the workplace? A Gallup study done in 2015 reported that about 50% of the 7,200 adults surveyed left a job “to get away from their manager.” The study also found that employees whose bosses communicated with them directly and regularly (up to 3 times per week) — not just about work issues but who took an interest in their personal lives — felt more enthusiastic and dedicated to their work. But a lack of empathy — a boss that doesn’t show that he/she cares — can result in company money down the drain. In an article by Suzanne Lucas in CBS News’ Moneywatch (November 21, 2012), she wrote, “For all jobs earning less than $50,000 per year, or more than 40 percent of U.S. jobs, the average cost of replacing an employee amounts to fully 20 percent of the person’s annual salary.” She also shared that in lower-paying jobs (under $30k), the cost to lose an employee is only 16% of their salary — but still. Those dollars add up.

And what about outside of the workplace? “Empathy is truly the heart of the relationship,” said Carin Goldstein, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Without it, the relationship will struggle to survive.” In his book Social Intelligence, author Daniel Goleman writes: “Our experience of oneness – a sense of merging or sharing identities – increases whenever we take someone else’s perspective and strengths the more we see things from their point of view. The moment when empathy becomes mutual has an especially rich resonance.” (Social Intelligence, Goleman, p. 110)

“Relationships often suffer because people get so caught up in their own experience that they simply can’t relate to what someone else is going through. They assert their opinions and hand out advice – all the while not truly appreciating the other person’s struggles.” – Leslie Becker -Phelps, Ph.D.

People with empathy are able to show a sensitivity to what the other person is going through and take action to help make the situation more tolerable for that person. Empathy truly is one of the ways we can begin to connect deeply with others.

I know it all sounds good. We should be more empathetic. But showing empathy is easier for some than others. If you come up on the short stick of empathy, do you just shrug and say, “Oh well. I’m no good at that.”? Empathy is a competency of emotional intelligence, specifically, social intelligence, the ability to discern others’ emotions in the moment and respond accordingly. Empathy is a behavior, and the good news for those of us who struggle with it, behavior can be changed. If you are self-aware enough to realize you may not be the most empathetic person, here are some developmental tips you can try to begin to make a shift in a new direction:

  • Listen. Becoming a good listener is the foundation. Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next and really tune in to what the other person is saying — and not saying.
  • Ask questions to clarify meaning. Sure, you heard what you think you heard, but asking a few questions not only shows the other person you are interested in learning more but provides clarity to truly understanding what they are trying to express.
  • Put down that phone. When someone’s talking, it’s easy to be distracted by other things going on around you. Let’s be honest, people don’t always pick the most opportune times to walk into your office to talk. Show them respect by putting away distractions while they’re speaking — put down your cell phone (and turn it over so you’re not tempted by the screen or even better, turn it off), close your laptop, and make eye contact as they speak.
  • Tune into the emotions behind the words. Sometimes what the person across from you is really looking for in a conversation is masked behind their words. Listen deeply to find the real meaning behind what is coming out of their mouths.
  • Suspend judgement. You may possess the gift of keen discernment and have that ability to pick up on the subtle nuances of what someone is trying to communicate, but with that can come the ability to pass judgement too quickly. Catch yourself if you are quick to criticize or dismiss the opinions of others. Often the other perspective can offer you fresh insights which you may not have been able to come up with yourself.

Though growing in empathy can take some work, your efforts can lead you down the path of healthier, happier relationships, both at home and at the office. If you feel you need some help, consider employing a social + emotional intelligence coach to walk alongside you on the journey.

“Maturity begins to grow when you can sense your concern for others outweighing your concern for yourself.” — John MacNaughton

Upcoming Online Course – The Resilient Leader: Instilling Grit

Businessman Weathering The Storm

Class dates: Thursdays, April 12 – May 17, 2018

Class time: 12-1pm ET, 10-11am MT

Cost: $795

Class meets once a week for 6 weeks

Grit, or resiliency, is a competency of emotional intelligence based upon one’s passion for a long-term goal that’s coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve that objective, despite setbacks, barriers or limited resources. It’s that ability to bounce back well when things don’t go the way we hope. It’s the courage and resolve to tackle what we set out to accomplish. And the truth is, some people have it — and some people don’t.

Grit proves to be a valuable skill in the professional world as we navigate the challenges that come with running a business, meeting deadlines, and reaching quotas. And no one can disagrees that grit is required to keep our personal relationships in good health. The good news is that grit can be learned and taught.

Participants receive an online workbook and 6 recertification credits from the ICF or HRCI.

The Institute for Social + Emotional Intelligence® | www.the-isei.com | info@isei.org

Do you play well with others?

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

“This job would be easier if people weren’t involved.”

It’s one of my favorite tongue-in-cheek sayings.  While true, as most of our conflict comes from interactions with others (though we all do struggle with self-conflict from time to time), most of us wouldn’t have a job if it weren’t for those around us — peers, colleagues, supervisors, employees, customers, clients are a vital part of any business. But working collaboratively with others can be difficult, frustrating, and downright annoying at times.

At some point in most relationships, conflict is going to happen whenever there is more than one person in the room. And our conflict management skills, which are a competency of strong emotional intelligence, are what can make the difference between frustrating, unresolved disagreements or enabling conversations where all parties can pursue the best possible solutions.

We all have a role when it comes to conflict, whether we are the vocal one who loses our temper or the quiet doormat that stays silent.

“Conflict cannot survive without your participation.”  — Wayne Dyer

It’s no monkey business:  learning how to navigate conflict can increase our sense of well-being and job satisfaction and contributes greatly to the quality of relationships both at work and at home.

How well do you play with others?

Ask yourself the following questions and see how many you can answer yes to:

  • I can see potential conflict before it arises and help de-escalate the situation.
  • I can handle difficult people with tact.
  • I can lay down my own expectations and be open to hearing the perspectives of others.
  • I can manage tense situations with diplomacy.
  • I can create a safe space for all parties to share their perspectives.
  • I can help all parties involved understand the other perspectives in the room.
  • I can hear diverse opinions and find a common ideal.
  • I can orchestrate win-win solutions.

Five Conflict Styles and when to use them

We all have our own ‘style’ when it comes to conflict resolve, but that doesn’t mean we can’t grow and learn other approaches that may better serve us and the situation at hand. In 1974, Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilman created the Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument, which identifies five styles of conflict. There are situations that arise when some styles work better than others. Here is a quick guide:

1-Competitive/Controlling – A quick and decisive action is needed (vital in emergency situations), or the other party would take advantage of cooperation on your part.

2-Collaborating – The issues (and/or relationship) are too important to be compromised and the objective is to integrate differing viewpoints.

3-Avoiding – There are more important things to tackle, there is no chance of achieving your objectives, the parties need time to “cool down” or take time to gather more data.

4-Accommodating – You realize you are wrong, or understand that the issues at hand are more important to the other person and/or you need to build ‘credits’ with that person.

5-Compromising – It’s too risky to be too controlling, both parties are committed to mutually exclusive goals, you need a quick or temporary solution under time constraints.

Time for a Shift

How do you know when it’s time to shift your approach to conflict resolve? Simply put, when your approach is not working.  Losing friends left and right? Colleagues can’t stand you? Coworkers shut down and won’t share their perspective with you? Feel agitated and stressed when conflict is discussed? People walk all over you in meetings?  You are the only one talking in meetings? You get what you want but no one is alongside you to enjoy it?  If you find yourself in a confusing or disturbing conflict, try asking yourself these honest questions:

  • How was my behavior received by others?
  • How did I feel during the conflict?
  • How much do I care about the outcome?
  • What were my expectations of the situation and did they match up with reality?
  • What judgments did I make about the others during the conflict and were they accurate?
  • What did I want to see happen? What did they want to see happen?
  • What is my investment into this situation? What is theirs?
  • Am I acting in an old pattern of behavior that no longer serves me?
  • What can I say/do going forward to optimize the outcome?

Which of the five conflict resolve styles is your primary ‘go-to’ when faced with conflict?  Does it serve you well in all situations or could you stand to develop a new approach? If you struggle in the area of conflict resolve, good news! Behaviors in conflict resolve are learned and can be changed. Finding a social + emotional intelligence coach to walk alongside you to make behavior shifts can be a great place to start.

“When team members trust each other and know that everyone is capable of admitting when they’re wrong, then conflict becomes nothing more than the pursuit of truth or the best possible answer.” —  Patrick Lencioni

Emotional Intelligence in the Age of Robots

Article submitted by guest author Joni Roylance.

There is an interesting shift in our world occurring right now. It is the kind of shift that rubs elbows with the invention of electricity, the television, the internet, and even the cell phone. In other words, this moment in time will be one that those of us alive to witness will have to explain what life used to be like to those who come after us.

We are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or, put more simply, a technological upheaval at such speed and scale that it is going to change the way we work, the way we live and how (and who/what) we connect with in a truly dramatic fashion.

So, what role does Emotional Intelligence play in a world that is increasingly automated and artificially intelligent?

The real answer is no one knows for sure—not Google, not Amazon or Microsoft, not any organization that is truly honest about how new and rapidly evolving these technologies are. Researchers are just barely completing studies that reveal insights about the impact of screens on human development and social behaviors. Most experts don’t even agree on the definition of intelligence yet!

However, there are some known factors that should be considered, and as much as we should be asking ourselves about what the technology can and can’t or should and shouldn’t do, we simultaneously need to think critically about what those capabilities, duties and applications mean for humans, and how we can prepare now for the new realities of what it means to work and be human in the age of robots.

The reality of the future of work is the skills that will be needed most are those that a machine or software or algorithm simply cannot perform—they are emotional and relational in nature[1]. That’s good news for most of us—especially those of us already attuned to the value and impact of EQ. Unfortunately that awareness is not widespread and we’re becoming increasingly bad at EQ thanks to our preference for digital over live connection. In fact, “face to face interaction has dropped to third behind texting and IM/FB messaging in the so called ‘iGeneration,’ or those born from 1990-1999”[2]  and as a result, “ ‘digital natives’ […] are already having a harder time reading social cues.”[3] So, as practitioners, the time is now to up our game in creating tools and trainings and promoting awareness of the value proposition of Emotional Intelligence and its vital role to the next era of humanity and work.

Here are three ways in which EQ is going to be more fully utilized in the AI revolution (at least at present):

  1. Handling Complex Emotional Scenarios
    1. Chatbots are one of the most popular entrees into Cognitive Solutions. They are cheap, can be built and launched in a matter of weeks, and they can relieve humans of repetitive, mundane work (on a 24/7 basis, no less). A popular application of these tools is to leverage them to service basic customer questions or needs. This is a fantastic and preferred solution for basic questions and inquiries. However, research shows when a customer is truly dissatisfied or upset with their experience, their preferred channel for resolution is to connect with a human[4], presumably because a human can actively listen to their problem, empathize, and find the fastest path to the best solution. At least at present, even if a robot employs affective computing[5] techniques, humans do not yet believe a chatbot can fundamentally understand or relate to human problems, so escalated service issues are still best handled by flesh and bones, and EQ.
  2. Designing Loveable Cognitive Experiences
    1. Humans of today are impatient. We are an instant gratification culture and our digital prowess and global access make us pretty intolerant of less than ideal experiences. In the world of adopting cognitive technologies, like a chatbot, we are no more patient. In fact, when a bot doesn’t do what we expect it to, we generally give up on the thing within 1-3 attempts. Similarly, about 80-90% of downloaded apps are deleted after one engagement[6]. This is the case for applying experience design to the development, build and deployment of cognitive tools. It is only through subjective, qualitative human insights that experiences can be enhanced from functional to delightful, from perfunctory to memorable. Connecting with humans to collect such valuable data is a human activity, requiring the ability to be curious, creative and contextually aware.
  3. Securing Human Trust
    1. Lastly, humans are not rational beings. Even when given research and facts that tell us a right answer—we will “go with our gut” or ignore logical conclusions and make emotion-based decisions (even when we think we are being logical)[7]. The same will be true for technology—especially in high stakes scenarios. I do not care how fool proof a medical algorithm is—if it says that my child is unlikely to live through, say a cancer diagnosis—I absolutely do not care how fact-based or research backed that algorithm is. I would never give up on faith and hope that my daughter could beat the computer, and I would expect medical staff to act the same. When the stakes are high, even when machines are more reliably right, humans are not likely to believe them, even though logically they are more reliable (which is not to say without a margin of error). So, if you want to deploy cognitive tools in a space such as hiring, where there are sensitivities around hiring bias and diversity, it will still be expected that somewhere in the process, a human is validating or quality checking the decisions of the tools, with an increasing demand for what is known as “Explainable AI.”[8]

So the good news is, there is still plenty of work for humans to do. The opportunity is, as you surely know, the existing lack of awareness and strong skill base among the workplace regarding core Emotional Intelligence Competencies—skills that were valuable ten years ago, but are imperative for the next ten years.

[1] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/02/employers-are-going-soft-the-skills-companies-are-looking-for

[2] https://medium.com/musings-of-a-writer/social-media-the-death-of-real-world-interaction-5e2f33cfd8ee

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/fashion/02BEST.html

[4] https://pr.liveperson.com/index.php?s=43&item=496

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affective_computing

[6] https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/16-percent-of-mobile-userstry-out-a-buggy-app-more-than-twice/

[7] http://bigthink.com/experts-corner/decisions-are-emotional-not-logical-the-neuroscience-behind-decision-making

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Explainable_Artificial_Intelligence

 

Free 1-hour webinar on emotional intelligence

Join us for an interactive hour of insight into social + emotional intelligence–its relevance to well-being, impact on company bottom line, and how you can grow your coaching practice by adding the unique of S+EI coaching to your toolkit.

 Thursday, March 1, 2018

3-4 pm Eastern Time (USA)

The first 20 to register will receive a free Social + Emotional Intelligence Profile (SEIP)®, one of the most statistically-reliable S+EI assessments on the market today!

Even if you can’t attend this live session, please go ahead and register and we’ll send you the link to the recording after the webinar.

 

How does empathy (or a lack of) affect your love life?

Have you been in a relationship where your partner, in a particular moment, lacked empathy? Unfortunately, many of us know the scenario all too well.  You tell him about something you are struggling with, that thing that is frustrating you, and you just want him to hear you out and acknowledge that what you’re going through is hard. Instead, he puts on his Mister Fixit hat and gives you solutions and advice on how to change the situation, which leaves you feeling not understood. I think one of the funniest videos I’ve ever seen on this subject is the one where the girlfriend literally has a nail sticking out of her forehead, and she’s trying to talk to her boyfriend about how painful her head feels, and how it aches, and throbs, and how some days it causes her great consternation, and he’s looking at her in disbelief – with this nail sticking out of her head – and is so wanting to point out to her that what she is feeling may be because of this nail —  but she just wants him to show her some empathy.  (Have a watch – and a laugh — CLICK HERE).

As difficult as it may be for some of us, empathy is one of the most influential factors in building a healthy relationship. And empathy is a key competence of emotional intelligence.

Merriam-Webster defines empathy as the capacity for understanding, being aware of, sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another –and reacting appropriately. (www.merriam-webster.com) Empathy is the capacity to know – emotionally – the feelings and experience of others, and being able to express or communicate our feelings of understanding. Empathy is an integral component of a healthy relationship. When people feel listened to and understood at a deep emotional level, and when that understanding is acknowledged or communicated, they feel affirmed and validated.

“Relationships often suffer because people get so caught up in their own experience that they simply can’t relate to what someone else is going through. They assert their opinions and hand out advice – all the while not truly appreciating the other person’s struggles.” – Leslie Becker -Phelps, Ph.D.

People who are empathetic:

  • are tuned-in to a wide range of emotional signals
  • listen for and sense the felt, but unspoken emotions of others
  • show sensitivity to others’ perspectives
  • will take appropriate actions based upon their understanding of others’ needs

In his book Social Intelligence, author Daniel Goleman outlines, “…the word “empathy” is used in three distinct senses:  knowing another person’s feelings; feeling what that person feels; and responding compassionately to another’s distress.” (Social Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, 2006, p. 58).

In other words, we notice others, feel what they are feeling, then act in a manner that helps them.

“Empathy is truly the heart of the relationship,” said Carin Goldstein, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Without it, the relationship will struggle to survive.”

Also from Social Intelligence (p. 110), Goleman writes: “Our experience of oneness – a sense of merging or sharing identities – increases whenever we take someone else’s perspective and strengths the more we see things from their point of view.  The moment when empathy becomes mutual has an especially rich resonance. Two tightly looped people mesh minds, even smoothly finishing sentences for each other – a sign of a vibrant relationship that marital researchers call ‘high-intensity validation’.”

Maybe empathy is not one of your strongest qualities – you tend to problem-solve for others when really what they need is to be heard. But empathy, like many behaviors, can be learned and developed.

Here are a few things you can try:

  • Learn to listen. Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next, and truly focus on what the other person is saying, both verbally and non-verbally. “Tell me more” is a great response when someone is trying to express their feelings to you.
  • Ask clarifying questions (without advice) so you truly understand what they are trying to tell you.
  • Develop sensitivity. Do you know the difference between behaviors that validate others and those that invalidate others? Diminishing, belittling, judging, or dismissing others and their feelings make others feel demoralized. Begin replacing invalidating, insensitive behaviors with sensitive behaviors.
  • Tune into hidden meanings. What is it he/she is really wanting, despite what they’re saying? (to be respected, to be included, to be acknowledged, etc.)
  • Learn to pick up on the emotions that accompany the other person’s statements.  Don’t just listen to the words, listen to the feelings that are being expressed.
  • Acknowledge what you think you’ve heard. Paraphrase, repeat back, and clarify the emotions you think you are hearing (i.e., “That must be really frustrating,” or ”Sounds like you’re pretty excited about this…”)
  • Withhold your judgments; when tempted to criticize or dismiss the opinions of another, stop. Step back and consider, on an emotional level as well as a cognitive level, what the other person may be experiencing and what merits another’s point of view may have.

“If there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put yourself in the other person’s place and to see things from his point of view – as well as your own.” – Henry Ford

 

A Fresh Start

Article Contributed by Amy Sargent

I’m always amazed how at the end of the year so many with disheartened hearts post about how ready they are for the coming year. Something about the end of December gives us renewed hope in the reset button which, with the dropping of the shiny ball in NYC, will assure us of a fresh start for the year ahead.

As I strolled along the sunny California seashore over the holidays, I realized that I too needed a fresh start. The last few months of this year I felt as if I was swimming, frantically, just to keep my head above water in churning, turbulent ocean, and by mid-December, caught a wave that dumped me into the sand like a discarded, broken shell. There I lay, exhausted and discouraged, on a lonely beach, thinking someone, something would scoop me up as their prized treasure, with the same delight a beachcomber has when he eagerly retrieves that perfect shell half-buried in the sand. Instead, I felt as though the sea had disappeared and in its place a hot, dry desert, barren of the refreshing waters of life I so enjoy, spitefully appeared. And ever since I have been wandering. My mouth is dry and my feet are burning and I am tired. Tired, of walking, walking, walking and getting nowhere, not finding that oasis I so long for. And I know many of you are feeling the same.

What I noticed at the beach this week is that at the end each day, as the sun sinks low on the horizon, the used-up, trampled-upon sand is littered with imprints of all shapes and sizes: bare feet footprints and dog footprints and shoe footprints, a stripe from a beach chair leg being dragged along, a flattened swath where a beach towel lay. Seaweed strewn across water-logged driftwood with a million bugs swarming the dark green mass. A forgotten plastic shovel and an abandoned sandal. A seagull pecking at a dead, rotting fish. Discarded sand castles, their towering walls dismantled and washed away by the relentless waves. And broken shells. Lots of them. It’s a summary of the day’s happenings, the highs and lows, the ups and downs, the wins and losses. Each of us has a colorful backstory and I reflected upon how we spend most of our life trying to hide it from others, some of us doing a rather good job in the facade. But the beach tells all. You can’t take a step there without leaving a trail.

We got up early the next morning and strolled alongside the gentle surf. The sun was new and bright as its clear light cast its first rays across the sparkling waters. And the beach! I was awed by the transformation that had taken place in the night. The once-littered sand was washed smooth by the powerful waves of the high tide. Yesterday was gone. As far as I could see, a clean slate lay before me, eagerly awaiting today’s adventures to leave their mark. I felt alive and giddy and full of hope and wonder for what the new day would bring. I found a tiny perfect sand dollar in the sand.

It’s beautiful how the beach gets a redo each morning. A fresh start.

A few days later, we arrived back home after a long, tiring car ride. The kids left to go to their dad’s, and as I sat here alone in my little apartment, I again felt the dark tug of this year’s disappointments, disillusionment and discouragement grasping at my sun-kissed heart, wanting to pull me back down into the dark waters. Something about it was familiar, and I realized how easy it would be to slip right back. For some reason it is easy to hang on to our hurts, and return to that familiar place of pain, even though it’s so far from the brightness of where we really want to be.

But I don’t want to go back there. I can’t. I refuse to look at last year’s beach littered with disappointments, discarded dreams, and discouragement another moment. Let’s resolve, together, to let the night’s waves work their magic and gift us with a clean canvas, eagerly awaiting our first strokes of paint. Let’s let the past be past and look ahead with anticipation and hope and wonder. Let’s revel in the beauty of the unknown that each new day holds and not get caught up in the fear of what may be. Let’s start walking, boldly, letting our tender feet feel the inviting warmth of the soft white sand spread before us, and let the adventure of a new year unfold. I’m stepping forward. And I hope to see your footprints in the sand next to mine.

May your 2018 be rewarding and joy-filled. Happy New Year!

Give the gift of Emotional Intelligence

Still looking for that perfect holiday gift for a loved one, colleague…or yourself? Consider giving the gift of emotional intelligence! Purchase a class registration today!

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How to experience holiday cheer when you’re single and alone

Article Contributed by Amy Sargent

The telltale signs of the holiday season are here – colorful, twinkling lights, shoppers bustling, melodic music in every store, people smiling, and laughing, holding hands and kissing, joy and peace everywhere you look. It sure is lovely. But is this your reality?

As much as we may long for the picture-perfect scene from a Currier and Ives painting, honestly, it can be a tough time of the year. More accurate may be a slowdown in business causing financial strain, which can lead to frustration, worry, and depression, and boy do these have an impact on our relationships. Arguments over petty issues, impatience, and ugly words we can’t take back are so easy to fall prey to when we’re stressed. Before we know it, the merry Christmas season can become a time of fights, loss of love, breakups, and marital strain. Which doesn’t exactly make for a holly jolly Christmas.

In an article printed in the Healthline newsletter, the author writes:

Depression may occur at any time of the year, but the stress and anxiety during the months of November and December may cause even those who are usually content to experience loneliness and a lack of fulfillment.” (Holiday Depression, https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/holidays#1). And what is the biggest predictor of holiday depression? Social isolation.

Maybe you’re one of those people who is blessed to be in a healthy, happy relationship, surrounded by positive friends and family. If that’s the case, I’m so glad. Really. It’s the ideal, without doubt. Enjoy it, relish it, and continue to be thankful for the riches that abound around you.

But if you’re one of those who finds yourself alone, the holiday season can be difficult. Feelings of isolation, loneliness, uselessness, lack of purpose, and just plain sadness can envelope you and before you know it, you find yourself on Team Grinch. Personally, this season I’m experiencing the delightful duo of empty nest syndrome and a painful breakup, and I’ll just say that decorating the tree this year wasn’t exactly what we see on the Hallmark channel movies. Replace the perfect, smiling couples in lovely Christmas sweaters, falling in love as they hand each other ornaments, with this picture-perfect scenario: a weary, single mom struggling with the tree base, (the tree only tipped over twice before I got it up!), lights in tangled knots and missing bulbs, throat tightening over each ornament that reminded me of earlier days with the kids, a glass of wine in hand with tears streaming down my face. I wonder if Mr. Currier and Mr. Ives would’ve like to paint a picture of that?!

I don’t tell you this to evoke pity. I have a blessed life. I have three lovely children who adore me and try to get home on the holidays. I have an extended family that supports me and a daddy that holds me as the apple of his eye. I have an engaging profession, brilliant colleagues, dear friends who love me, a safe place to live, all the necessities of life, and a whole lot of positive thinking. As alone as I feel at times, I know that it is temporary. The pain of loss will eventually move along and be replaced with joy soon enough. I’m not negating the hurt – it’s tough and I’ve let my share of tears flow. But I know this won’t last. However, not everyone can see the light at the end of the dark, Polar Express tunnel.

If you’re one of the charmed ones this season, surrounded by loved ones, please take a moment – or two or three or ten – to be on the lookout for your friends who may be struggling. Please, especially check in on your single friends. Invite them over for dinner, take them out for drinks, buy them a cute pair of snowman socks and drop a surprise gift at their doorstep. Think of things you can do to make sure they feel loved, included, and cared for. It’s easy to take it for granted when you’re not alone, but remember many single people don’t have that special someone who is thinking of them this time of year, and if you don’t look out for them, no one will.

 “To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” – Mark Twain

And if you’re one of those of us who are alone, you’ve got some homework, too. Sorry, but you don’t get to wait around for someone else to reach out to you. First, be sure to tune into how you’re feeling. Emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of how you’re feeling, in the moment, and to use that information to manage behaviors. Don’t hide from those feelings of sadness, desperation, anger, or disappointment. Don’t bottle them up – instead, let them serve you. Our emotions are terrific indicators of what’s going on inside, so listen up. This may sound counter-intuitive, but if you’re grieving, grieve. If you’re hurting, hurt. If you’re worried, worry. Pretending we don’t feel the way we feel won’t get us anywhere. Experience your emotions– cry it out, punch your pillow, journal, write that email then delete it, whatever you need to do that’s safe and non-damaging to express how you’re feeling – then get up, wipe your tears, and get out. Spending too much time alone in social isolation will increase feelings of depression and increase your awareness of being alone.

Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.” – Daniel Goleman

I know you don’t feel like it (the pulls of Netflix are strong), but you’ve got to make yourself get out, with the purpose of getting the focus off yourself and onto others. Slip into a fun holiday dress or tie. Stop in the coffee shop and buy a stranger a drink. Sign up for a social event with groups like Meetup to meet new friends. Volunteer at the food bank. Take a walk along the brightly-decorated downtown streets. Press $10 in someone’s hand and wish them happy holidays. Buy gifts for your friends and take the time to wrap them in beautiful paper with ribbons and string. Invite a friend to a movie. Host a holiday gathering at your house…and if you’re short on funds, ask everyone to bring an appetizer or drink to share. Wear a silly Santa hat and make people smile. Build a snowman. Leave an extra-large tip for the waitress. Go to the Christmas parade. Invite some friends to go sledding. Find an outdoor ice skating rink and wobble around on blades. Attend the local tuba concert (yes, these exist!). There are so many fun events around town this time of year just waiting for you to enjoy! I know, it’s not what your dreaming of, being cuddled up by the fire with that special someone as Bing croons Silver Bells, exchanging gifts from Jared’s. I get it. But getting out and around others and doing fun activities will do wonders to lift your spirits and get your focus off yourself. Sure, you’ll cry again when you get home, but at least you’ll get a reprieve from the self-pity and enjoy the sights and sounds of the holiday season with others for a few moments.

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.Charles Dickens

I can only recommend the above activities because it’s what I’m doing this holiday season. I’m still sad, and alone, but am having bits and pieces of fun in between the tears. And my outlook for the future is getting brighter with each strain of Baby It’s Cold Outside I hear.

Of course, if you are feeling depressed and/or are experiencing overwhelming negativity, thoughts of inflicting harm to others or yourself – or suicidal thoughts – seek professional help immediately. Don’t mess around with that one. Sometimes we can’t pull ourselves up out of the slump alone and we need the help of others. No shame there – but don’t hesitate if your pain has taken a turn down a dark path. Get help.

Whether this is turning out to be the best holiday season ever, or looking a little bleak – we can all experience the joy of the season with a little extra effort in looking out for one another, reaching out to others, and living outside of ourselves. Whether you’re alone or with that special someone, you can practice kindness, a giving heart, and selfless love this season. Why not give it a try?

 

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