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Insights from a Year of Daily ‘Gratitude Journal’ Entries

Article contributed by guest author Dennis Hooper

We are approaching Thanksgiving, which means that Christmas is coming fast! It’s a special time of year for pausing and feeling grateful for our many blessings!

In October of 1863, during our bloody civil war, Abraham Lincoln issued an executive proclamation for a national day of Thanksgiving, to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. It was not a new concept, as a day set aside for giving thanks had been celebrated in a variety of locations for years. Lincoln and many others hoped that an officially sanctioned NATIONAL holiday would contribute to restoring peace to the suffering disunited states.

As we approach Thanksgiving this year, would you be willing to experiment with setting aside a small amount of time EVERY day to express your gratitude for some unique aspect of your life? I started doing that a little over a year ago. I was deeply grateful for the experiences in my life to that point–and for the opportunities that I imagined still lie ahead for me!

This article has two purposes. First and primary is to encourage you to start a gratitude journal and work to keep at it for a significant amount of time. The second purpose is to provide a report on what the experience has meant to me–the two key insights that a year of daily reflections has provided.
Long-time readers may recall a similar article from years ago, 2006 to be precise. (You can find “The Gratitude Journal Challenge” on my Article Archives–address below.) Every day for a month, I acknowledged five items in my life for which I was grateful. Identifying 155 items without repeating any was quite a challenge, yet I found it both doable and deeply enjoyable.

In this recent effort–begun ten years after the first experience–my intent was to identify one item a day for a year. I expected to write about half a page each day; most entries wound up being longer.
Now, let me advocate that you consider starting a gratitude journal with the guideline being whatever you define. You can do five a day for a month, one a day for a year, or anything else you so desire.
Would you like to start in a fun way? Gather family and friends to watch the classic Christmas film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” As soon as the movie ends, invite everyone to share examples of gratitude, affirming each other with enhancements and additions.

As the energy wanes, announce your plan to start a gratitude journal, explaining your intentions. Ask others to consider doing the same, to include perhaps periodically sharing what each of you have highlighted, appreciating your gratitude together.

Now, let me share my two overarching observations from a year of daily contemplations. First is that we’ve all been blessed with an amazing abundance of gifts that we did not earn, yet we’ve quietly accepted and treat as if they are entitlements. This awareness resulted in another article you can find on my website, “I Don’t Deserve This.”

My second recurring source of gratitude includes the many friends and family members who have meant so much to me throughout my life. I’m considering sending a hard copy of this article in my Christmas cards this year, highlighting my appreciation for the recipients. I am deeply grateful for both the good times we’ve shared and the hard times during which we grew together!

If you choose to generate a gratitude journal, I welcome you sharing your dominant insights with me. Maybe you’ll affirm these two. Maybe yours will be different. However, I can almost guarantee you that your daily outlook will be more positive than it is now.

That’s the point I want to make as I close. Yes, I’ve shared two content items that kept coming up for me from my daily reflections. However, what’s even more remarkable is that the process of daily focusing on blessings transforms over time from a challenge (“I can’t think of what to record tonight!”) to a contemplative choice (“Which one will I record tonight?”).

I won’t go so far as to say that “gratitude” becomes a habit. I will say that even in the most troubling of days, you’ll pick out blessings for which you are appreciative. Will your resulting attitude be one filled with more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control? Give it a try and send me a note, telling me how it has worked for you. I can assure you in advance, I’ll be grateful!

What the world needs now

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

“What the World Needs Now Is Love” was a song recorded in 1965, made popular by Jackie DeShannon. The chorus lyrics are as follows:

What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No not just for some but for everyone.

While there is no doubt in my mind that this world could use more love, I would like to propose one minor change to the words:

What the world needs now is emotional intelligence, sweet emotional intelligence,
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is emotional intelligence, sweet emotional intelligence,
No not just for some but for everyone.

Of course, it doesn’t have the same ring and flow of the original, but with reports of yet another mass shooting, and violence of varying degrees from domestic fights to conflicts at the international level, can anyone disagree that this world could benefit from a little more emotional intelligence? Imagine a world where we all could be aware of our how we’re feeling, whether negative or positive, and respond accordingly, managing our own behavior to have a positive impact on others? And add to that the ability to read how others are feeling, in the moment, and manage those relationships appropriately, improving competencies like communication, empathy, conflict management, teamwork & collaboration, just to name a few.  Can you dream with us about what a different world this could be?

Those of you who have been trained in emotional intelligence coaching are out there helping others realize that behaviors, especially negative ones, CAN be changed, and that we can ‘grow up’ in our social + emotional intelligence (S+EI). I have no doubt that you are making a positive impact on the clients, teams, and organizations you are working with to make this world a better place. We thank you and applaud you for your dedicated efforts to this cause.

But it’s not enough. As the lyrics of the song confirm, it’s not enough for just a few to possess emotional intelligence. It’s not just for some…it’s for everyone.

Help us spread awareness of the importance of S+EI and the positive impact it can have on our lives so everyone can benefit from it. Tell your friends and colleagues about it, share the articles we post on social media, and encourage those you know to start doing the work needed to change poor behaviors and raise our levels of S+EI. Present a workshop about it to your local Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club. Write a blog about it. Talk about it with friends over dinner. Teach your children about it. Offer to give a talk at a local school. Take an assessment with your spouse and work with a coach to improve your relationship. Share one of Daniel Goleman’s books written about it with a coworker. Recommend S+EI coach training to other coaches you know, or if you haven’t already, consider taking it yourself. Have a trained professional come in and speak on it at your next company luncheon. The more of us who are actively involved in raising the awareness levels around S+EI, the more people can be aware of their own and others’ emotions, the more people who can start doing the work to manage behavior to create healthier, happier lives.

Sound too heavy? Maybe so. But we at the Institute happen to be big fans of social + emotional intelligence and place great importance on its relevance and impact upon our world. And the more people that can help with this the better. Contact us with questions or to learn more about how you can measure your own S+EI, or about becoming a certified S+EI coach, and join in a cause that can make a difference.

No, not just for some, oh, but just for everyone…

Does your boss have empathy?

Article submitted by guest author Harvey Deutschendorf

3 levels of empathy…which one does your boss have?

Fiona was Corrie’s manager at a branch of a large financial institution that had branches across the U.S. Europe and Asia. They had recently come up with a new process that

Fiona was hoping that the organization would adopt throughout their operations. As Corrie was instrumental in developing the process and was a recognized expert in her branch on the topic, Fiona decided she would be the natural choice to present to the annual meeting of the U.S. division. While Corrie was very knowledgeable, she was somewhat of an introvert and not comfortable speaking to large numbers of people. The annual meeting would have up to 400 employees from various levels from all across the country. She meets with Fiona and discusses her concerns and anxieties concerning the presentation with her.

Corrie: “I’m not really good with talking to a lot of people. I get really nervous and have trouble concentrating on what I have to say. I wish someone else could do the presentation.” Below are 3 examples of how Fiona could have responded, indicating 3 levels of empathy:

Level 1

Fiona: “You’ll do fine. There’s nothing to it. You know this stuff better than anyone else around here.”

In this response Fiona showed a complete lack of empathy. She failed to even acknowledge Corrie’s anxiety over the presentation which would be the first basic step towards working towards a solution with her. Instead she dismissed Corrie’s feelings entirely leaving Corrie even more anxious and feeling completely unsupported and misunderstood. It has been reported that public speaking is one of the greatest fears that people have, even greater than dying. Jerry Seinfeld joked that at a funeral most people would sooner be in the casket than have to give the eulogy. Fiona should have been aware that Corrie’s fear was very real and normal. Corrie was an excellent employee who was not known for coming up with excuses and trivial complaints, therefore Fiona should have taken her concerns much more seriously.

Level 2

Fiona: “Lots of people have a fear of public speaking. I used to until I went to Toastmasters. Now I’m okay, even though I get a little nervous. There’s nothing wrong with being a little nervous. You know your stuff well, so you’ll be okay. “

In the second response Fiona at least acknowledged Corrie’s anxiety. She did not address it, however, only speaking about it in general terms and talking about her own experience. She did not invite Corrie to help her look for ways to lesson her anxiety. As a result Corrie still feels that her concerns were not taken seriously and addressed in a caring manner.

Level 3

Fiona: “Sounds like you are feeling really stressed over the thought of having to do this presentation.”

Corrie: “Yeah, I get knots in my stomach and tongue tied when I have to talk in front of a group of people.”

Fiona: I remember feeling like that up to a couple of years ago whenever I had to present something. Since I started going to toastmasters a couple of years ago I’ve been able to lose a lot of my anxiety, although I still get a bit nervous. Have you ever considered going to something like toastmaster? It really helped me.”

Corrie: “I probably should. I’ve heard good things about it. A friend of mine has been with them for 5 years and always wants to take me as a guest. This presentation is only a couple of weeks away and toastmaster won’t help me this time.”

Fiona: “Is there anything I or anybody else on the team could do to help. Would it help if you did a trial run at our unit meeting this Thursday? You don’t have any problems talking to our group and it might help you feel more confident. If you want I can set up a meeting with Garret in Communications. I hear that he has some good exercises that you could work on that might take off some of that anxiety load that you’re carrying. If you want more practice I can talk to the folks in unit C about doing a trial run of your presentation at their unit meeting next Thursday. You know all of them pretty well and the more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll become. That’s the way it’s always worked for me anyways.”

Corrie: “Sure, I’ll give it a try. Maybe once I’ve done it a few times in front of people I know I’ll feel better.”

In this instance Fiona showed good empathic listening skills. She responded directly in a caring manner that indicated that she understood where Corrie was coming from. Corrie felt that she was heard, understood and cared about. Having been in Corrie’s shoes, she used this to build trust and understanding towards working towards a solution that they both could live with. She explored with Corrie some ideas that she had that might help her get the fear monkey off her back, or at least lighten his weight. It would have been better if Fiona had let Corrie come up with her own solutions to her anxiety. In this case, Fiona felt that Corrie’s anxiety would limit anything she could come up with on her own. Besides, time was running out and they did not have the luxury of a long term plan. Overall it was a great example of the effective use of empathy. Chances are Corrie will become more confident and will do a good job in the presentation. She knows she had the support of her boss and coworkers and her relationship with Fiona will become stronger. If things go well, she will come away feeling more self- confident. She may also feel grateful to Fiona for believing in her enough to not take the easy way out and give the presentation to one of her coworkers.

How To Be Assertive Without Being Rude

Article contributed by guest author John Drury.

Have you ever walked away from a situation where you wanted to say something straight to someone but decided against because you did not know how to be assertive without appearing rude?

Just this week I have become aware of several work situations where this has happened. The awkward conversation has been avoided, again, for fear of causing some kind of offence.  Instead of being assertive and talking through an important relationship issue the whole thing was left unsaid with one party feeling frustrated and the other largely unaware.

Consider this: two sales team members who are bringing in 80% of the income into a small business and both have grievances with the owner that could impact severely on their future in the business. Expectations about incentives for their future employment have been left unclear for months. They are both hard working people who do not like to cause a fuss. However, both of them are becoming more frustrated and disillusioned every day.

I have seen ridiculous situations develop in workplaces because of the fear of being assertive. Such as: a position being made redundant because a boss did not know how to have a difficult discussion with an employee who was not performing; a person resigning from a job they enjoyed just because they were unable to discuss an issue with their supervisor; and a company changing suppliers because of a misunderstanding with a new salesperson. All of these could have been resolved with a simple conversation. Avoidance was perceived easier than risking conflict.

5 Keys to being assertive without being rude

  1. Get your emotions under control – It is important that you deal with yourself first. If you are too nervous or upset you may be afraid that you will say something you regret. If you follow the steps below it will give you a process to follow that will take much of the emotion out of things for you.
  2. Have a clear objective – Clarify in your own mind what it is you want to speak about. Know what it is you want as the outcome of the conversation. E.g. the sales people from the above example want to clarify their incentive agreement with their employer and ensure that verbal promises have a time frame for implementation.
  3. Frame the conversation clearly – The best way to ensure a person takes you seriously and listens is to ask if you could have 5 – 10 minutes to speak to them to clarify something. Make it clear what the conversation is about. Stick to the issue you raise. Have a clarification mindset rather than a confrontation mindset. Aim for an outcome that works for both of you.
  4. Be respectful – As the instigator you are leading the conversation. Be assertive, but stay respectful and clear headed, and you will stay in your power. Do not ever make personal remarks. Hold any anger. Have an expectation that things can be worked out. However, consider what your non-negotiables are and do not allow yourself to be talked into something to which you cannot agree.
  5. Summarise to conclude –  Say, the following. “Thank you for discussing (insert issue) with me today. I understand we have agreed (insert agreement). Do you agree? Is there anything you would like to add?” If there are any remaining differences at the end of 10 – 15 minutes say, “I want to respect our agreement around time. I understand there are still some differences (summarise any unresolved differences). Do you agree? What do you suggest we do from here?”

The reason why conflict escalates and arguments develop is usually because people wait too long to speak about things. They have a few unspoken small issues bubbling away under the surface. They are waiting for an ideal time to talk to the appropriate person. Trouble is the ideal time rarely comes. Rather, something happens that causes them to snap and suddenly words are spoken with an emotional force that confuses and complicates the real issue.

I have discovered that unresolved relationship problems tend to grow larger. They are always easier to resolve early on. Don’t wait and allow them to become larger and more complicated.

If you follow this simple process you are being assertive. You are taking the initiative. You are far more likely to resolve awkward issues quickly and cleanly without being rude.

The result – healthier functioning relationships.

L-O-V-E: How to make it last

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

L, is for the way you look, at me
O, is for the only one, I see
V, is very very, extraordinary, and
E, is even more than anyone that you adore…

Most likely you’re familiar with the jaunty 1965 Nat King Cole song. It’s been the theme music in romantic comedies and played on radio stations for generations. It so very well describes the giddy, elevated feeling we experience when falling in love. Whether it be in a romantic relationship, a business partnership, a friendship, a new work team, or a new job — the sparkling freshness at the beginning of a relationship can send you down the hallways dancing and humming. But it’s not long after the wear and tear of life sets in that those feelings can quickly turn to disillusion and discouragement.  We’ve all experienced it. What starts out as the opportunity of a lifetime turns into the ball and chain around our necks, similar to how that new car smell is so quickly replaced by the odorous aroma of abandoned fast food wrappers left lying on the floor. Falling in love doesn’t seem to be the issue. Staying in love is another story.

How do we prevent the adversities of life from ruining our relationships? Jack Canfield, an American author and motivational speaker, says this:

“Successful people maintain a positive focus in life no matter what is going on around them. They stay focused on their past successes rather than their past failures, and on the next action steps they need to take to get them closer to the fulfillment of their goals rather than all the other distractions that life presents to them.” 

Research shows that people who are able to maintain a positive mindset have better relationships. Robert Ackerman, researcher at the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences (University of Texas), worked with middle school students to assess how well they resolved conflict with their parents, and videotaped the subjects for over 17 years. With nearly 20 years of data at his fingertips, he discovered that kids who grew up with loving, supporting parents, exercising positive communication and warmth, were more likely to experience adult romantic relationships that were positive.* To quote Ackerman:

“I think that studying more positive behaviors is important because it may shed more insight on how to better enhance romantic relationships.” 

How is your positivity–or lack of–affecting your relationships?  If you struggle with letting negativity get a hold of you when life gets tough, here are a few things you could being to look at:

  • What are your core beliefs about adversity?  Do you see it as fate or something you can control?  Do you see suffering as part of being human or a result of particular actions?  Do you see setbacks as having long-term effects or are they short-lived?
  • Start listening to your self-talk when adversity strikes. Do you tend to go to an “I can do this” place or a “I’m doomed” place?
  • Ask an honest question:  is there anything about the drama that accompanies adversity that you enjoy?
  • Can you look back on past adversity and see that you overcame the obstacle and moved on, or are you still experiencing negative effects from that event to this day?

We all know it’s not about having a happy, trouble-free life that brings joy. It’s more about our ability to roll with the punches (resiliency) and allow the event(s) to shape us into better human beings. Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese-American artist and poet, put it this way:

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see in truth that you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

Finding a life coach to work with you to combat negative tendencies can be a good first step of heading down the road of positivity, which can lead to healthier, happier relationships.  Though it doesn’t happen overnight, behavior can be changed, and with some help you can begin to shift your focus from the negative to the positive.

Two in love can make it
Take my heart and please don’t break it
Love was made for me and you
Love was made for me and you
Love was made for me and you.

  • (2013. Study finds good marriages more likely for teens of happy homes. University of Texas at Dallas News Center (n.d.): n. pag. Web. http://www.utdallas.edu/news/2013/3/21-22501_Study-Finds-Good-Marriages-More-Likely-for-Teens-o_article-wide.html?WT.mc_id=NewsHomePage).

Leadership in Times of Chaos

peaceArticle Contributed by Amy Sargent

We are all saddened and disturbed each time we hear of another mass shooting or act of terrorism on this beloved planet we inhabit. The violence is unfathomable and the seeming lack of emotional intelligence by the perpetrators is repelling. Our hearts, thoughts, and prayers go to the families of those who suffer each time there is a loss of loved ones.

As our minds attempt to process the chaos, we are often quick to blame those in leadership. I witness this phenomenon all the time. The Broncos lose, it’s Peyton’s fault. The bus breaks down, it’s the driver’s fault. Our kids fail a test, it’s the teacher’s fault. We have conflict in the office, it’s the boss’s fault. I clumsily trip and fall on the ice, it’s obviously the city’s fault for not clearing the sidewalks. Finding someone on which to peg responsibility somehow seems to help us make sense of why bad things happen.

Though leadership does play a vital role in determining the course of our nation, teams, schools, and offices, this knee-jerk reaction of tagging blame on others can prevent us from developing our own conflict management skills. During times such as these, it’s a good practice to look at our own lives and assess both how we are managing our own emotions and how we are leading those in our realm of control. Are we practicing integrity in the office? Are we reacting appropriately when things don’t go our way? Are we working to resolve conflict in a healthy manner? Are we actively spending time coaching and mentoring others, building bonds and strengthening our interpersonal skills?

Let’s take some time at the start of this new year to do some self-assessment of our own leadership patterns affecting the peace of our current relationships, both at work and at home. Becoming aware is a good first step in appropriating change toward the better.  Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • How am I handling the difficult people in my life?  Am I working to resolve the issues at hand or using avoidance tactics?
  • Do I tend to help deflate arguments or spur them on?
  • What is one potential conflict on the horizon in my personal life?  What can I do to bring it into the open before it escalates?
  • Do I truly understand the perspectives of those with whom I am at odds with? How can I discover what factors are motivating them to come together to a place of better understanding?

 

“Each and every human being on Earth has both the responsibility and the privilege of viewing themselves as Divine beings with the power to bring about peace.”
– James Twyman

Happy Holidays!

happy holidays from the isei

The Neuroscience of Resilience

Article Contributed by Guest Author Sandra E. Clifton, M.Ed., PCC, CEP, ET/P

This past summer, in order to earn “core competency” hours to renew my ICF-credential as a Professionally Certified Coach (PCC), I attended a seminar at the Cape Cod Institute called “Bouncing Back:  Rewiring the Brain for Resilience and Well-being,” taught by Linda Graham, MFT.  Linda has been a marriage and family therapist for 25 years, and specializes in attachment, trauma, and mindfulness.  This five-day seminar was full of rich research that Linda embedded with personal anecdotes and practical exercises for professionals in the field of mental health, from states as far away as Texas.

One of the themes running throughout the course was the idea that, “You can’t stop the waves—but you can learn to surf,” a quote from Jon Kabat-Zinn and an apt visual for our location by the sea.  Participants in this workshop learned that resilience requires embracing upheaval as a catalyst for growth and that we can learn new ways to ‘ride the wave of change’ for optimal personal and professional progress.  Linda explained that the brain learns best “little and often”—in baby steps.  For example, research indicates that just five minutes of meditation a day is more effective that an hour once a week.

Each section of this course was framed with the “Six C’s of Coping”:  Calm, Compassion, Clarity, Connections, Competence, and Courage—with the idea that flexibility and neuroplasticity invigorate these coping skills.  In fact, the brain can actually encode new wiring and neural pathways to trump negative experiences with positive ones, when we work with a practiced therapist to help rewire trauma with new and positive experiences.  The goal of our work with clients is always integration, and Linda highlighted that, through positive attunement with our clients, a single dose of the “happy chemical,” oxytocin, can improve the entire chemistry of the brain.

If you are interested in learning more about resilience, you can find Linda Graham at http://lindagraham-mft.net/.  As well, the Institute for Social + Emotional Intelligence has an upcoming 6-week online course entitled The Resilient Leader:  Instilling Grit beginning October 20th.  Click here for more details:  https://isei.worldsecuresystems.com/BookingRetrieve.aspx?ID=35693

 

Sandra E. Clifton, M.Ed., PCC, CEP, ET/P

www.cliftoncorner.com

Change Your Habits. Change Your Life.

Article Contributed by Guest Author Doreen Lima, MBA, EIC

If I had to choose one word that has the power to transform lives in meaningful and substantive ways I would choose the word habits.

I have an incredibly talented client who is recognized as an emerging star in his field. He’s never held a 9 to 5 job, punched a clock other than his own, or depended on a corporate salary. Grateful to have found his calling early in life, he’s enjoyed great success doing what he loves and has a natural aptitude for. In fact, in the early days of his career everything seemed to happen effortlessly. However, years of coping with last minute changes in the scope of work, client expectations, and deadlines led him to develop some self-defeating habits that affected his work and personal life. As a result his creative output became rushed, predictable and joyless. He said to me, “My muse used to kick in and inspire me to create. Where has she gone? Why isn’t she doing her job?”

Distraction Limbo

While his muse had not abandoned him there’s no question that it was difficult for her to be heard over the din of the distractions he had built into his life. Habits of thought and action were keeping him trapped inside a perpetual mind and behavioral loop, one I choose to call distraction limbo.

A typical morning would find him sipping a cup of coffee while reading the morning papers. Then he would get online to check his emails, but he wouldn’t respond to them, preferring to deal with them later in the day. Next he would check social media sites, online magazines, newspapers, and forums. Then some of the postings or information he read would lead him to look up word definitions, viral videos, trending topics, or an article that caught his attention. This would last for hours or once in a while, an entire day. In between there would be long winded phone calls or the occasional extended lunch. Engaging in these time wasters resulted in being last on the conference call, late to a meeting or forgoing trips to the gym and social engagements. Suddenly many of his projects were getting done in reaction mode, with little planning or scheduling taking place. Only when he was really pressed by a request or a deadline would he get down to execution, usually sometime late into the evening.

How Habits Are Formed

Helping people like my client overcome self-sabotaging habits requires some understanding of how habits become habits in the first place. We know that repetition plays a role but science and study have shown forming a habit is more complicated than just repeating something over and over again. There’s a lot going on behind the mental screen. Some of the keys to habit formation are emotional intelligence skills such as self-awareness and self-regulation, coupled with a dose of brain chemicals that make us feel pleasure or avoid pain.

An excellent book that clearly lays out the science behind the formation of habits is The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. In his book, Duhigg, an investigative journalist and New York Times reporter makes the case that habits are the brain’s way of taking a break.

Duhigg’s assertion makes sense. A habit is basically an automated action that allows the brain to get on with the higher level business of dealing with more complicated and intricate endeavors like making a decision, doing math or thinking about how to solve a problem. And because they are automated, once we ingrain a habit, it’s with us for life whether we engage in it or not. The saying “falling into old habits” is not just a cliché. It takes vigilance and commitment to maintain new ways of doing especially if we’re looking to replace disempowering habits like the type my client had grooved.

Cue. Routine. Reward.

As discussed by Duhigg, there are three parts to a habit; a cue, a routine and a reward (positive or negative). For example, your dog wakes you up every morning at the same time with a bark. That’s a cue. His bark signals you to take him out for a walk. Pulling on your sweats, looking for the leash and walking over to the dog park for 30 minutes of playtime is a routine. The reward for practicing the routine might be that you meet other dog owners with similar interests. When your brain receives the realization of the reward, for example the possibility of expanding your social circle, your brain releases chemicals that make you feel good, which in turn reinforce the routine. The upshot is that the next day you will gladly get up to take the dog out for his walk.

Positive & Negative Rewards

As we know not all habits are derived from positive stimuli. This was true of the habits my client employed to enable and reinforce procrastination. Distracting himself by engaging in mindless activities helped him avoid feelings of anxiety and stress but also shut down his access to higher level thinking. Unfortunately the quality of his work suffered because he was paying less attention to it and this in turn fed the fear that he’d lost his talent. He hadn’t. His feelings of stress were further compounded when he had to argue with himself to get work completed. The inner dialogue that resulted from this self-argument began to blanket his life with a sense of malaise and futility. He was doubting his abilities because he couldn’t get on with the job of creating.

It’s to be noted that overriding a habit formed by negative stimuli is a little more difficult because of the way our brains have evolved over time.

Choice: The Midbrain or Prefrontal Cortex

To further understand the formation of habits it’s helpful to know that the midbrain, the epicenter of the rewards circuit, and the pre-frontal cortex, the place where reasoning lives, are often at odds with each other when we’re determining what course of action to take.

The midbrain is the place that drives us to search for things like food and shelter. This is where fear and anxiety hang out. The midbrain is older than the pre-frontal cortex and as a result, thanks to its more established circuitry, will often (but not always) triumph over reason.

For my client, the first step toward disabling his habits of procrastination was to pose and answer the question “what is the real cost of frittering away my time?”

Based on the overwhelming feelings of anxiety and fear he was experiencing, his immediate in-denial answer was, none. His choice to engage in mind numbing distractions like watching YouTube videos was deemed necessary to keep his anxiety at bay whether he was conscious of his decision or not.

The rational viewpoint on the other hand held that my client’s relationships, earning power, client base and creative projects were left wanting due to his increasingly time consuming habits of procrastination. He also suffered from insomnia because all of the feelings he was trying to tamp down during the day occupied his thoughts when he tried to sleep. In addition, opting to spend time on the internet in lieu of exercising had begun to impact his health. The consequences of his actions were measurable.

Answering the question about the real cost of his habits led him to fully understand and acknowledge the impact of his choices, but interestingly didn’t incite him to take action or make changes. If anything, it caused more anxiety because he wasn’t taking action.

When he explored a second question “what are you really searching for” he realized something he hadn’t considered. He was living a lonely professional life. There was no one to bounce ideas off of; no one to help sharpen his thinking. Although he employed a virtual assistant as well as the occasional personal assistant, they weren’t enough to amp up his game where projects were concerned, and because he passed some of his days without an in-person interaction of any kind, spending time commenting on blog posts, chatting in forums, and tweeting gave him a sense of belonging and connection. What he hadn’t counted on, what he hadn’t realized, was just how much he needed regular real-time, in-person connections with his peers to challenge and inspire him.

Learning of this need was the reason his pre-frontal cortex won the day. He made a deliberate and conscious choice to stop feeding the habits of procrastination. He sensibly concluded that if he found ways to increase moments of face-to-face contact with peers in his industry he could replace his “time frittering” habits with new ones that would empower him and bring him back to a more productive way of being.

New Habits

The key to establishing these new habits began with a support group. He brought together local professionals he knew or had heard of, working under similar circumstances. Since its inception, this group meets once a week for breakfast to discuss issues, workloads, ideas, and opportunities. The goals of the group are similar in some measure to the intentions and structure of a well-run mastermind group. In addition, every month two members pair off as accountability partners. They trade off calling each other on weekday mornings and speak for a total of 15 minutes (they set a timer) to review their daily agendas and share the previous day’s accomplishments. The buddy pairings have positively influenced and reinforced one of my client’s new productivity focused habits. The cue is the phone call. The routine is the daily agenda review. And, the reward is the ability to connect positively and constructively with another person every day. Good friendships and award-winning work collaborations have resulted.

Today my client still does some meandering on the net but it’s driven by professional need or scheduled as a reward break. Another new habit: twice a week he meets up with friends or participates in social, professional or community based events. Although this sounds like a relatively easy transition from one habit to another, it was not. His new habits are reinforced by a continued willingness to self-examine and remain self-aware, to look for solutions appropriate to the situation at hand, to engage the help of a support system, and to demonstrate a continued commitment to the routines required by his new habits of productivity. His rewards have been many and the voice of his muse has returned but my client is clear that his old habits survive in the crevices of his brain waiting to be called into action again if he so chooses.

 

 

The Resilient Leader: Building Strength Through Adversity

We are offering an exciting specialty course in Social + Emotional Awareness starting May 6th entitled The Resilient Leader:  Building Strength Through Adversity and would love for you to join us!

In today’s world, fundamental change occurs in seconds, whereas twenty years ago it took months.  Resilient leaders are now a necessity and the demand for them is exploding.  Human capital challenges were the #1 CEO concern in 2013 and most are associated with employee and manager capabilities.  Companies are searching for ways to lower employee stress and stop the accompanying decline in individual performance.  This is our “new normal.”

Be on the leading edge and be able to develop your own proprietary model for Resilience Coaching.  The course content for The Resilient Leader:  Building Strength Through Adversity is founded upon the works of Drs. Seligman, Reivich, Schatte, and Seigler, and the U.S. Army’s extensive work with the University of Pennsylvania.

Here’s how this course differs from others you have taken elsewhere:

  • There is abundant theory matched with both application and the opportunity to practice in a learning environment
  • You will create your own “Resiliency Coaching Framework” and have the chance to employ it
  • If you put your “all” into this program you will finish with a high degree of confidence in your ability to help clients build their resilience
  • You will have the tools and the resources to grow in this critical coaching focus area
John MooreThis exciting class will be facilitated by Colonel (Retired) John Moore, CEO of Moore Strength Executive Leadership and Business Advisors.  John is an ICF Credentialed Professional Certified Coach (PCC) and an ACTP Certified Executive Leadership, Business, and Marketing Coach (John Moore Bio).   The cost for the class is $795 and you can earn 6 CCEUs from ICF or 6 re-certification credits from HRCI.
Register today for The Resilient Leader:  Building Strength Through Adversity
Tuesdays, May 6-June 10, 3 PM ET  
We hope to ‘see’ you in class!
Upcoming Classes