Ending the Year with Celebration

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

It’s been quite the year. The thought of looking back on 2020 with a celebratory outlook may seem like a joke. A bad joke. If I asked you to name for me all the negative things which have happened this past year, I’m guessing you could rattle off a dozen or two without effort. Me too. It makes sense that we may not find reason to celebrate this past year, in any shape or form.

But it’s no joke. Though the heartaches and disappointments we’ve experienced are very real–not to mention the powerful, negative emotions which accompanied them–they don’t encompass everything we’ve experienced. Sprinkled throughout the bad have been very good things, though they may take a little more work to remember. And learning to reflect on the positives alongside the negatives of this past year can have a great impact on how well we launch the coming year.

If you’ve been a human on this earth for very long, you are well aware that life is a jumble of joys and pains, happys and sads, positives and negatives. And without the lows we can’t fully experience the highs.

But be aware of this: our brains have a negative bias. Think about the last time you felt really, really discouraged or down. Maybe it was this morning. Did you notice how easy it was to ruminate on the negative, and how those thoughts affected other thoughts and actions you entertained during the negativity? It’s like we get tunnel vision and nothing seems to go well. It’s normal because our brains are wired to function this way. Kendra Cherry, in her article, “What is the Negativity Bias?”, notes, “It is the “bad things” that grab our attention, stick to our memories, and, in many cases, influence the decisions that we make.” In one study, researchers found that the cerebral cortex, the part of our brain which plays a key role in perception, awareness, thought, memory, and consciousness, registered a much strong response to negative images than positive ones. Originally, this leaning toward the negative was probably a survival adaption, in times when danger was ever-present. Those who were attuned to potential danger had a greater chance of survival. But for many of us, we no longer in constant physical harm. Yet the negative bias remains. If we’re not careful, this slant can have a harmful effect on our relationships and decision-making. [https://www.verywellmind.com/negative-bias-4589618]. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill, Founding Co-Chair of the Association of Positive Emotion Laboratories, and President of the International Positive Psychology Association, has done extensive research on the power of positive and negative emotions. Her work shows that negative emotions narrow our minds, to the point of seeing fewer options, diminishing our creativity and problem-solving skills, assets we most need when times are tough. [https://www.huffpost.com/entry/positive-thinking_b_351220].

“This bias toward the negative leads you to pay much more attention to the bad things that happen, making them seem much more important than they really are.” — Kendra Cherry

We also have the ability to choose a positive mindset, and make a choice to celebrate our wins, no matter how small or few and far between. And in doing so, we can begin to see our way through the tough times. I’ll never forget the example of this I experienced when I was in Africa, on a mission trip. Our small team paid a visit to a home (a one-room structure made of mud bricks with a dirt floor, which housed a family of seven), where one woman offered up the most heartfelt prayer of thanks I had ever heard. As she enthusiastically expressed her gratitude for their “overflowing and abundant blessings”, I looked around me and saw nothing but poverty…a rusted bicycle with a flat tire, the dilapidated house, children in ragged clothing with flies crawling on their dirt-encrusted skin, broken, cracked cooking pots, and an array of old, yellow gas cans scattered across the hard-packed ground, to be used for gathering water…yet she exhibited more joy than I had ever witnessed. This amazing woman chose to see the good aspects of her life and celebrate her wins despite her tough circumstances. She made a lasting impact upon me.

James Clear, in an article entitled, “The Science of Positive Thinking: How Positive Thoughts Build Your Skills, Boost Your Health, and Improve Your Work”, says this: “When you are experiencing positive emotions like joy, contentment, and love, you will see more possibilities in your life.” In turn, positive emotions allow us to build new skills and resources vital to navigating tough circumstances. [https://jamesclear.com/positive-thinking]

So, choosing to ruminate losses or celebrate wins is a choice. We get to decide which mindset we’ll make a part of our everyday routine, and no one can make the choice for us. If we decide to focus on what’s gone wrong, we’ll be walking in step with most humans who are bent on negativity. However, if developing a celebratory mindset is appealing, here are a few ways to get started:

Reflect on what went wrong. What went wrong? Yes, it’s a surprising one, but ignoring negativities won’t help. Acknowledging your struggles and allowing yourself to experience grief from losses can actually help you move forward. Write these down and/or find a close friend or counselor to talk through them with if needed.

Note the emotions you felt during the tough times. Try to name them, specifically, and connect each to the why. For example, you could say, “I felt disappointed, and angry, because my company let me go and I had live off of unemployment. This resulted in me feeling downhearted and cynical.”

With each wrong, list one good thing which came along with it. This may be a stretch to discover, but they are there. For example, if you lost your job, maybe you were able to get more sleep due to the extra time off work, which improved your physical health. Maybe the process sent you on a job search to find a career you actually enjoy. Possibly you were able to encourage others who were in the same shoes as you. Find the positive side effects of the negative events and write them down.

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.” – Og Mandino

Express gratitude for the things that went south because of the joys which came along with them. There are many ways to express gratitude, but simply saying “Thank you” aloud is a good place to start. You could write an “I’m thankful for ____” list, or have a conversation with a friend and share your appreciation for the good and the bad with them.

Now remember all the things that went well. These may be as trivial as finding a mask in your coat pocket when you thought you’d forgotten to bring one to the grocery, or as grand as business successes or relationship wins. Write these down, tell them to a friend, add them to your journal. Be sure to acknowledge the people who contributed to your successes, and personally thank them.

Don’t underestimate the impact you are having on others. Even if you think others aren’t watching, you may be surprised how the simplest of actions affect others. Try this one on for size: Post a negative comment on your social media page and sit back and watch how many people chime in with negativity. On the flip side, phone a friend simply to let them know how much you appreciate them, and be specific with your words. Watch and see whether this causes them to feel discouraged or encouraged. Just as negativity breeds negativity, positivity breeds positivity. If not for yourself, embrace a positive mindset to encourage others.

“Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.” – Elie Weisel

Remember that adversity builds resilience. There’s the old fable of the donkey whose master no longer wanted him, so he threw the poor animal into a deep, dark pit and began scooping shovelfuls of dirt to bury him. Instead of letting this terrible act of unkindness defeat him, the ingenious donkey instead tamped the dirt down with his small hooves and built a staircase, upon which he used to ascend out of the dark pit. How can you repurpose the troubles of 2020 to construct solutions and climb out of your pit?

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.” – Nelson Mandela

Know that you are stronger than you think. Robert Schuller, pastor, motivational speaker, and author, once said, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” Just as the positive emotions of joyful events eventually fades, so does the pain from losses. In other words, emotions come and go, but we are able to keep on keepin’ on. A 2002 study of widow and widowers proved this point, in which, barring those who experienced chronic grief, the data showed that most participants returned to their baseline of functioning after a year and a half. [https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1525/ctx.2006.5.4.22]. As my kids and I used to remind ourselves when times were challenging, “We can do hard things.”

Incorporating these practices into our day-to-day mindset won’t necessarily come naturally or easily. Embracing positivity takes effort, especially when the popular mindset is to focus on what’s gone wrong. But this shift can provide the fuel necessary to start the new year off on a good foot. Instead of looking back on 2020 as the worst year ever, consider reflecting on the past year in a new light. Find those positives — the new skills developed, the deeper connections built, the lessons learned, the insights incurred — and celebrate 2020 as the year you ________! (fill in the blank)

This positive-but-realistic mindset of celebration can frame the coming year with the fresh, innovative outlook needed to navigate what’s to come.

“It is only in our darkest hours that we may discover the true strength of the brilliant light within ourselves that can never, ever, be dimmed.” – Doe Zantamata

Don’t wait: Choose NOW how will you respond to election results

Article submitted by Amy Sargent

The U.S. election has been a source of worry and stress for many around the world, and tensions and tempers are flaring. It’s as if our society has lost its manners and sense of decency in how to treat others. Those guiding words we heard our moms say back in elementary school, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it”, have flown out the window. Families and friends are destroying relationships over differences of political viewpoints left and right, and spouting loudly about it on their social media pages. Name calling, insults, and degrading others for their opinions has become par.

It’s completely understandable that emotions are running high. There is a lot at stake and the issues on the table will have an impact on life as we know it. Feelings like fear, frustration, isolation, anger, dread, confusion, and even disgust are OK. We are wired as humans to feel emotions based upon what we’re experiencing, so know the emotions you are feeling are completely normal. What’s not OK is choosing to behave in a way which contributes to the division.

Which brings me to the point of this article: it is important we plan now how we will respond to tonight’s results. The outcome may or may not land in our favor. If we wait to see how we’re feeling, then react, our responses have a good chance of being a little over the top, and hurtful, causing more harm than help. And more harm is the last thing our country needs right now.

“But feelings can’t be ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they seem.”
― Anne Frank

However, these poor reactions aren’t entirely our fault.

Photo of Head Bust Print Artwork

Our brains are wired to respond to strong emotions in a way that keeps us safe. When we experience stimuli, there is a part of the brain called the amygdala which acts as a filter of sorts and decides if the emotions we feel require us to enact immediate action for protection. It’s that fight, flight, or freeze response we experience when a particular emotion hits hard and fast. If the amygdala gets flooded with emotions, it releases a cascade of chemicals into our bodies, and we experience what Daniel Goleman coined as an “amygdala hijack”. [https://hbr.org/2015/12/calming-your-brain-during-conflict]. The brain perceives danger, so the amygdala hijacks the cortex, the reasoning part of our brains, enabling us to fight, “flight”, or freeze, in the moment, to keep us safe. Imagine stepping out into the street then suddenly noticing a car is speeding in your direction. It’s not a great time to reason through all the options — “Hmmm, should I stay here, or move forward, or maybe step backward?” In that situation, taking time to process all the options would be ridiculous. We need to take action immediately, and thanks to the amygdala, we can.

Group of People Crossing Pedestrian Lane in Greyscale

The problem though, is that the amygdala doesn’t always make a clear distinction between real danger and perceived danger. Here’s an example. When someone posts something we don’t like or agree with, on their social media page, and we feel a flood of negative emotions, the amygdala may perceive that as a real danger. In an instant, we think we have to take action. That’s when we shoot off that hurtful text or smart-mouth post to “protect” ourselves, the action that drives us later, as we lie in bed that night, to think, “Ugh, why did I say that?” Was that truly a dangerous situation? Not really. But we sure reacted like it was.

Think back on the last time you felt really, really angry. How did your body respond? Maybe your hands began to shake or you felt unsteady, or experienced a burst of energy where you wanted to punch a wall or scream at someone. Maybe you felt nauseous, your stomach churning, or maybe your heart raced. Maybe your throat got dry, or your arms went numb. Learning to recognize our unique physical symptoms of an amygdala hijack can help us act instead of react when our emotions flood, and save us from the heartache of regret that often accompanies poor behavior.

So think ahead to tonight. Depending upon the outcome, do you foresee you’ll be feeling some strong emotions? “Of course!”, you’re thinking. Maybe just by me asking that you already feel those triggers brewing. That’s good. Take a moment, now, to think through the possible outcomes of this evening and how you might feel. Which outcome will trigger you most? How will it trigger you? What will it feel like in your body? Why will it trigger you? And as you foresee the responses of others, what words might someone say which will most set you off? Which news stations will make you the crankiest? Who in your peer group will be the most annoying?

Now, consider another option. No matter the outcome, what if you could choose how you feel when you hear the results? What if you could choose how you respond, what you say, and what you do? What if you could consider how would you like to feel when you lay down in bed tonight, no matter the circumstances, and how you would like to respond? And what if you could actually make that happen?

“Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely.”
― Roy T. Bennett

Though it may be normal for our body to react instead of act when we are triggered, there are things we can do to slow down and allow stimuli to pass through the amygdala and into the cortex where we can make decisions which make a lot more sense…and will serve us and others better in the long run. Here are a few to try:

Count to six (or sixteen, or sixty!) and allow the signal to move from the amygdala to the cortex so ‘reasonable responses’ can occur. If needed, literally count out loud, saying each number clearly and distinctly, focusing on the numbers rather than the stimuli.

Take deep breaths. Deep breathing acts as a soothing mechanism to ‘calm our nerves’. Fill the lungs with oxygen and release it slowly, then repeat, until the fight, flight, or freeze signals dissipate.

Change your scenery. In moments of hot emotions, the brain needs a fresh perspective. If possible, get up and go outside. Move to a different room. Pick up a book, turn on a favorite podcast, leaf through a magazine, anything to distract the brain (just for the moment) to give it time to get to a ‘cooler’ place.

Get some exercise. Physical movement floods the body with ‘feel-good’ endorphins which can boost our mood.

Acknowledge feelings. Emotions are vital intel as to what is going on inside. Stifling or stuffing down feelings only pressurizes them to explode later. Name the feelings and be specific. Determine the why behind them. Then thank them for letting you know something is off.

Reason with yourself. Are there facts which support the hot thoughts? Jot them down, and evaluate if they are truly the facts or fiction. Try using a tool such as the “Thought Log” to better process these heated emotions and thoughts.

Talk it out. We all could use someone to talk to when we’re upset. Maybe it is a close friend, family member, or a coach or counselor. Verbally processing the hot emotions and can slow down the hijack, especially if you choose someone who can remain neutral. Be careful, though, not to ruminate on the negative over and over. Talk it through then move forward.

Do something that brings joy. In the moment, we won’t feel like doing something fun. Oddly, there is something about us that seems to enjoy feeling miserable at times. But even when negativity is present, so is positivity. Remember that it’s not all bad. Getting out and doing something you enjoy can have a powerful impact on the negativity.

Don’t wait until tonight to see how you feel, then react. Now, before those hot emotions flare up, think through how you’d like to respond. What could you do to build up instead of tear down? What could you do to connect instead of disconnect? What could you do to be a part of our one nation, under God, indivisible?

“I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.”
― Oscar Wilde

I know, it sure would feel good to react based upon emotions. Letting our feelings take the steering wheel is a lot easier and, in the moment, seems to make us feel better. Poor behavior can feel temporarily satisfying. But what the world needs now is long term solutions, and our choices can be a part of that.

Each of us has the power, and responsibility, to manage our behavior and our relationships to unify our great nation, no matter how we’re feeling. We can use our emotions to empower us to make sound choices, rather than being slaves to them.

So if you sense tonight’s results will be a trigger for you, no shame, and welcome to the human race. Own it and plan your response ahead of time, before your emotions get the best of you.



Giving Thanks When You’re Not Thankful

“Gratitude is a powerful catalyst for happiness. It’s the spark that lights a fire of joy in your soul.”– Amy Collette

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

I’m guessing you understand the value of gratitude. You’ve been told how a thankful heart can change your perspective, open up possibilities, and produce positive emotions. You’ve learned that expressing thanks can lift your spirits and make others feel appreciated. You probably know that gratitude can help develop resilience as you go through difficult times. And as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, you’re reminded it is a time to be thankful.

But what if you’re not feeling thankful?

Times are tough. The fear, uncertainty, and sense of a loss of control over life as you once knew it can feel overwhelming. Just watch the news or scan your social media feed and you’ll see a plethora of negative stories and posts, with an ample supply of “2020: Worst Year Ever!” memes. The loss that people are experiencing seems to be present at every turn. You may have lost your job. You may have lost a loved one. You may have lost your social life. You may have lost your confidence in leadership. You may have lost your ability to get out and exercise at your favorite gym or enjoy a meal at your favorite restaurant. You may have lost your [you fill in the blank]. All of this loss can leave you feeling discontent and discouraged, and a far cry from feeling thankful. So how are you supposed to feel thankful when everything’s going wrong?

“Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, hostility, worry, and irritation. It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is present-oriented.”– Sonja Lyubomirsky

Waiting around for the feeling of gratitude to come along may prove to be a long, long wait. Instead, try taking a few steps in a grateful direction and see if the feelings follow.

1-Keep a thankful jar. Find a notepad and an old, colorful jar and place it somewhere you can see it and reach it conveniently. Each time something positive happens, no matter how great or how small, write it down on a small scrap of paper, fold it, and place it in the jar. Try to write at least one thing a day (or more). You may have to search for positives at first, but look closely. They’re there.

2-Use the words, “thank you” often in your daily vocabulary. Who can you thank? Maybe a friend shared a kind word, or someone opened a door for you. Maybe someone liked your post, or someone gave you that choice parking spot. Even if you feel something was owed you (like a client finally sending that payment!), make it a habit to say thanks.

3-Reflect back on past successes, and think about who helped you reach those milestones. Maybe your parents served as a source of encouragement, or you had a mentor who took time out of their busy schedule for you. Take a moment to send them a text to let them know how much you appreciate them. Be specific with your praise.

4-Notice the little things and savor. From where you’re sitting as you read this, look up and look around. Allow your eyes to fall on something beautiful, something cherished, something you value. It may be an expensive item or a small trinket — cost doesn’t matter. Take a moment to note why this item brings you joy. Try doing this when you take a walk outside or on your commute to work.

5-Share a positive story with a friend. Research shows that retelling a positive event you experienced enables you feel the positive emotions associated with that event again and again — as often as you tell it — and allows the listener to feel them as well! Think back on something which brought you a host of positive emotions and find a friend to share the joy.

6-Be kind to yourself. Many are feeling isolated these days, and have very little interaction with others. So who better to get in the habit of showing kindnesses to than yourself? Take good care of your body (sleep, eating, exercise) and celebrate your successes. Forgive yourself of past wrongs and appreciate yourself for the person you are and are becoming. Thank yourself for the efforts you are putting into growth and change.

“We don’t need to see things differently to be grateful, rather be grateful to see things differently.” — Niki Hardy

Gratitude may be a new skill for you. But as with any new skill set, practice makes perfect. The more you are able to incorporate exercises such as these into your daily life, the more gratitude you’ll begin to feel. Don’t wait for the perfect set of circumstances to begin down the path of thankfulness. Circumstances are not in our control, but our gratitude is. So get started today. Even if you don’t feel like it…yet.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melodie Beattie

Applying Signature Strengths for Emotional Wellbeing

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

What do you do when you feel down?

My go-tos are blueberry cake doughnuts and an adult beverage or two. While these bring short-term bliss, they work against my long-term goal of weight loss, so end up contributing to the blues, not helping.

Discouragement is a normal locale we visit often throughout life, sometimes for visible reasons and sometimes for reasons we can’t put our finger on. Most of us try to hide these negative emotions rather than tuning into them as vital intel, like a dear friend who is authentic enough to tell us a hard truth.

One thing these negative emotions could be trying to tell us is that we need more of our top character strengths in our life. Researchers have found that knowing and doing more of our highest character strengths are keys to life satisfaction.

Do you know what your “signature” strengths are?

There is a free assessment called the VIA Character Strengths survey, created by the VIA Institute on Character, [viacharacter.org/character-strengths-via] and by completing it, you can determine your strengths, so, when you’re feeling blue, you know what to do more of.

My top signature strength is “an appreciation of beauty and excellence”, which explains my incessant need to go looking for views so stunning, so spectacular, so satisfying, that they takes my breath away. I love being enveloped in nature’s beauty, its shimmering turquoise waters, its varieties of swaying palm trees, its stunning mountain vistas, and its orange creamsicle sunsets, and trying to capture the moment in photos and words to remember it by.

So if you see me posting beautiful pics of amazing places I’ve discovered as I’m out adventuring, please don’t judge it as bragging, but rather, recognize I’m just doing some emotional health self-care. I’ve come to accept that I need a boost of positive emotions daily, and since it really does lift my spirits, spend my free time in pursuit of these wonders.

Research also suggests that sharing our character strengths with others is another way to boost those positive emotions. It’s one of the reasons many of us like posting on social media, especially during times such as these when getting together with friends is a bit harder to do.

If you complete the assessment, I’d love to hear what your top strength is, and how you plan to incorporate more of that in your life.

An unpopular way to inspire

In a world where everyone appears to be shouting loudly (whether verbally or through the written word in their social media posts) to push others to think differently and act differently, it can seem as if forcing one’s hand is the only way to bring about change.

How did this become the norm, and when did the art of inspirational leadership lose its foothold?

It was the 14th century when the word inspire first came into use, carrying much of the same meaning then which it does today: to influence, move, or guide, not by force, but by a divine power, empowering followers to action. It was a metaphorical use of its Latin root inspirare which means to breathe or blow into to create something new. We figuratively refer to this when we say things like, “that vacation was a much-needed breath of fresh air”, or when a particular confrontation is stifling, “I need to get some air”.

I can’t help but think of a blow-up life raft, which, when uninflated, is rather useless, but when filled with air, is capable of fulfilling its intended purpose of floating upon turbulent waters to carry its passengers where they need to be. Inspirational leadership is like that. It’s the act of breathing life into others so they are then capable of being their best self, not only fulfilling their intended purpose, but motivated to rise above to create and achieve great things.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, and do more, you are a leader.”

— John Quincy Adams

Back to the yelling. When you hear inflamed insults, name-calling, and outbursts of verbal venom spewing forth, do you feel inspired to dream more, learn more, and do more? Do you experience inspirare, your heart and soul filled and brimming over with the oxygen-rich motivation to become your best self and accomplish bigger, better things? Or instead, do the angry affronts leave you feeling rather deflated?

Inspirational leadership is the ability to mobilize individuals and groups by articulating a clear, compelling and motivational vision for the future. Those who possess this superpower (I jest, we all are capable of it, with some superpower effort!) are able to bring people together in unified efforts to reach an intelligible, enthralling objective. And one very effective way to do this is to be a servant leader.

Servant leader. It’s a phrase first coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970 in his essay The Servant as Leader. It’s not the most provocative phrase, is it? Where’s the passion, the persuasiveness, the power that we so often associate with leadership? For many, the word servant evokes images of weakness and ineffectiveness. If this is you, I challenge you to allow for a paradigm shift, for this humble, quieter style of leadership may very well be the most powerful breath of fresh air needed to inspire others.

Leaders who practice servant leadership focus on others’ needs and objectives, and seek to understand the why behind those needs and objectives. They are able to see and appreciate others’ perspectives. They actively look for ways to increase others’ satisfaction and make themselves available, with gladness, to offer assistance.

Think of someone you know who truly understands you, who ‘gets’ your hopes and dreams, and actively does as much as they can to help make them happen. They listen to you. They validate your viewpoints. They take time out to be with you, show an interest in your life, and truly care. When asked, they are happy to offer support to help you be successful. They celebrate your achievements and mourn your losses, by your side.

If you are so fortunate to have someone like this in your life, a servant leader, you understand the positive impact of the inspirare they provide. Imagine if all of us had these life-breathers encircling and lifting us up. In his article in the Small Business Chronical, Fraser Sherman outlines how servant leadership, in the workplace, can boost morale. He notes “Employees feel valued and they know you are looking out for them. That inspires them to work with more enthusiasm and [better] serve the customers, which benefits your bottom line.” Servant leaders also encourage a collaborative workplace, and provide a model of authenticity where employees, in turn, feel safe enough to be authentic, deepening levels of trust within the organization.

Palena Neale, Ph.D., writes in her Forbes article, “Why Servant Leadership is More Important Than Ever“, that our current “new normal” with different ways of operating, sickness, layoffs, furloughs, and at-home employees make this novel style of leadership vital. She writes, “Wider societal impacts include adverse effects on the global economy. This calls for a more comprehensive, communal leadership approach: leadership that is focused on serving others.”

In contrast, think of leaders you know who are not on the lookout for the needs of their teams. They focus on their own objectives and often diminish the needs of others. They don’t make time for those ‘beneath’ them, and when they do interact, they are distracted, quick to give quick, “off the shelf” advice or solutions, hurrying the conversation along. They fail to go above and beyond, and team members find themselves saying things like, “I hate to bother you…” or “I’m sorry to take your time but…” at the start of any ask. These individuals tend to speak poorly of others (leaving you to wonder what they say about you when you’re not there), point blame away from themselves, and rarely stand up for the underdog.

Sadly, leaders such as this leave their teams feeling deflated and discouraged.

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know; the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”

— Albert Schweitzer

It’s easy to point the finger at those in leadership. “If only leaders would figure this stuff out!”, we say in exasperation. However, we’re talking about emotional intelligence here — that ability to exhibit self-awareness and self-management, and tune into others’ emotions and manage our relationships with them appropriately. If you’re ever tried to control someone else’s behavior, you probably know how well that turns out. We can only change ourselves. So instead of waiting on those who bear the title, let’s instead take the brave task of looking inward as to how we can improve our own inspirational leadership skills. Here are a few tips to get started:

  • Get to know people. Ask others how they are doing and really stop to listen. Use open-ended questions to understand the why behind their needs, hopes, dreams. One of my favorite coaching questions, after someone has shared, is,”What else?”
  • Keep an eye out for small ways you can be of service to others. Open the door for someone, offer up the best parking space, spend an extra 5 minutes listening. Offer to buy a colleague’s coffee. Give a sincere compliment. These little gives can help build a new habit of service.
  • Schedule time for others. I know you’re busy. We all are. If it helps, set aside a small amount of time each week on your calendar as ‘Others’ time, so doing something for others actually DOES fit into your schedule.
  • Adopt a yes attitude for a while. When others make requests, think how you CAN help them instead of all the reasons you can’t. If it’s a no, it’s a no, but before you commit to the no, consider alternate ways you could turn it into a yes.
  • Keep your promises. Nothing sucks the air out of someone like a broken promise. Be realistic in what you can do and if you do agree to help someone, make that the priority. You will always have ‘better’ things come up…other opportunities and demands which compete for your time and attention. Though those things may be more attractive — stick to your word.
  • Become an over-deliverer. It’s one thing to meet someone’s needs, but going above and beyond can inspire others to new heights. Again, start small. If someone needs five minutes of your time, offer them ten. If they ask to have coffee, take them out to lunch. If they need an hour off work to tend to stressful events at home, if possible, tell them to take the day.
  • Develop the habit of follow-up. We all appreciate it when someone gives us the time of day, but if it’s a one-off incident, the value of that connection begins to fade with time. Follow up with them. Check in with them, and ask about details you discussed last time. If you’re one of those people who says, “I’m not good with names — let alone details!”, write down the things they share with you and review before your next encounter.

Servant leaders have a desire to be the change someone else needs. These days, it’s not the most popular way of leading, and surely won’t get you a lot of attention. And for most of us, it doesn’t come naturally, and it doesn’t come easily. But it is a skill set worth developing. Not only will your efforts breathe life into those around you to be their best, they just may inspire you to discover your own purpose and direction as well.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

— Mahatma Gandhi

Five Simple Ways to Develop Your Child’s Emotional Self-Regulation Skills

Article contributed by guest author Stephanie Pinto.

We’ve all seen those kids in the supermarket who meltdown when they aren’t allowed to have some lollies. The children who appear to bully others because they are so unhappy. The teens who mope around because they didn’t get invited to a party, and “it’s like, the end of the actual world”. For some of us, maybe that’s OUR kids. Maybe it was us when we were younger.

My point is, everyone has difficulties managing big emotions at one time or another. Even as adults we often need a friend’s shoulder to cry on, or a partner to confide in. We just cannot always solve things on our own. And hey, that’s okay.

Building emotional intelligence in kids requires a solid foundation of being aware of one’s own emotions. This allows them to start learning how to manage them appropriately. Let’s look at five simple ways to develop our child’s emotional self-regulation skills.

1.     Co-regulate to self-regulate.

We must allow our kids to co-regulate first – this means we allow them to stumble and trip, whilst navigating their emotions. We can’t expect them to regulate big emotions on their own. Be there for them when they need it. Allow them to cry and be upset – but come from a place of teaching and supporting. Show them ways to cope. Brainstorm how to solve the problem. Help them sit in the emotion without judging or hurrying. Hold space by allowing the flow of anger, frustration, or whatever is coming out. And tell them you will figure this out together.

2.     Model emotional regulation for them.

We are our kids’ best teachers. They watch us, without even realising, and pick up traits and habits that we display. Are we showing behavioural self-control ourselves? If we are modelling volatile, snappy behaviour when stressed, how can we expect our kids to keep calm? I like to model emotional language during and after emotional events too. “Wow I am getting so frustrated with this!”, “I was pretty embarrassed before, I think that’s why I snapped at you”. And of course, apologising. “Sorry buddy, I was feeling disappointed with something else, and I accidentally ignored you”. And lastly, modelling how you deal with emotions, goes a long way to helping kids learn what to do: “I know what I need, space and quiet time to calm down”.

3.     Develop their self-awareness.

At a really early age, we can teach our kids how to be aware of their body, thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Use parallel talk to help map out what they might be feeling or thinking. “Wow seems like you’re feeling overwhelmed”, “I can see you have lots of energy in your body right now”, “Looks like you’re starting to get anxious and jittery?” When we talk about what is going on for our kids (parallel talk) it helps them to identify it in themselves as they grow. It may seem unusual but kids won’t notice. With time you will start to notice your child monitoring their own feelings and what’s happening in their body – and this shows good self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

“Kids can actually be quite creative in finding their own calming strategies.”

4.     Brainstorm coping strategies.

Explore and build a toolkit of coping strategies for your child to use when they are feeling stressed. Kids can be really creative with finding ways to calm themselves, but initially they may need some prompting to discover strategies. Google has an amazing array of coping strategies posters available. Feel free to get creative and make your own with your child, cut and paste, colour in and list 10 to 20 things your child loves to do. Keep this somewhere handy e.g. on the back of their bedroom door or on the fridge.

5.     Making Mistakes is OKAY!

I include this in many lists and articles I write because it is so powerful! We must actively teach our kids that making mistakes is NOT bad, it is actually GREAT! Even as adults many of us fear getting something wrong and the judgement that comes along with that. When we can’t make mistakes, our creativity, happiness and confidence are stifled! Let’s celebrate mistakes that our kids make, and model being okay with our own errors or mishaps too. This allows our kids to better regulate negative emotions when things go wrong.

Which one of these 5 top tips will you use with your kids this week?

On a positive note

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Times such as these can feel overwhelming, far too trying and tiresome to attempt to maintain a positive outlook. With ever-changing restrictions, guidelines, and perspectives which continue to constrict their grip on life as we once knew it, many report feeling utterly exhausted. Mix in fear, uncertainty, and grief, and it’s a recipe for negativity. Add in a little financial struggle and a heaping lack of in-real-time social interaction, you may find yourself completely spent at the end of each day. Who can muster up the effort for a positive mindset with all of this going on? Choosing optimism can feel like just one more thing on your to-do list. It’s much easier to allow dejection and depression to curl their dark tendrils around what’s left of the light inside of you and choke out any positivity you have left.

But realistic optimism during tough circumstances is the very salve needed to soothe our wearied souls.

What does it mean to be realistically optimistic? To better understand, let’s take a quick exploration into the field of positive psychology. Jeana Magyar-Moe, Ph.D., defines positive psychology as the scientific study of optimal human functioning. Optimal human functioning. Let those words sink in. Would you describe your life right now as optimal human functioning? Most likely not! Martin Seligman, Ph.D., defines it as the scientific and applied approach to uncovering people’s strengths and promoting their positive functioning. Do you feel your strengths these days are being revealed in a way which promote positive functioning? If you’re anything like me, quarantines and stay-at-home orders have instead revealed how weak my character is when it comes to things like eating well and exercising. Oh, why is that fridge door so easy to open, and why is Netflix is so much easier to choose than a yoga workout? Similarily, Chris Peterson, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, says positive psychology is the scientific study of what goes right in life, happiness and joy, what makes life worth living, and the good life. Nice. For him. All it takes is one glance on social media to see most everyone around us telling us what is NOT going right in their lives.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not seeing a lot of people who are living out positive psychology these days.

Whichever definition you most connect to, there’s no need to argue which is best. We have plenty of other newsworthy items to argue about. I think we can all agree that an increase of positive emotions is something we all could use more of. But how to find that in a world swarmed with negativity?

Realistic optimism is not about pretending nothing bad is going on. It’s not hiding our heads in the sand, or looking the other way when negative events occur. Life is tough right now, no need to pretend that it’s not. But would you believe that a positive spirit is not so much about what’s going on around us?

Researchers have found that our circumstances only make up 10% of our happiness levels! I find that shocking. What do you mean, my ability to experience positive emotions is not based upon what is or is not happening to me? Oddly, studies show that 85% of the stuff we worry about ends up having a positive or neutral outcome? Think back on the last thing you were really worried about — did it actually come to pass to the degree you expected?

And while 50% of our happiness results from our genetics, the remaining 40% is up to us, through our choices and actions!

You’ve probably heard of emotional intelligence — that ability to perceive the emotions you an others are feeling, in the moment, and manage your behaviors and relationships appropriately. The competencies which make up emotional intelligence are really about behaviors — behaviors based upon the emotions we feel. Two of these competencies, realistic optimism and resilience, are closely connected to positive psychology. Realistic optimism is expecting success instead of failure, seeing opportunities instead of threats, expecting the future will bring positive change. Resilience is perseverance and diligence in the face of setbacks. I sure like the sound of each of those. But easier said than done.

Why have a positive outlook? Through her work around the science of positivity, researcher and author Barbara Fredrickson and her colleagues discovered that positive emotions have superpowers. They can broaden our awareness, attention and cognitive abilities. They can build our creativity and resiliency. They allows us to see a wider range of possibilities, unlike negativity, which tamps down our innovative ideas. Positivity helps us be more socially connected and build stronger relationships, and has actually been proven to undo the psysiological damage that persistent negative emotions can cause. [https://positivepsychology.com/broaden-build-theory/].

And all of that can happen despite the negative circumstances which surround us!

I know, it’s hard. Honestly, I think it’s easier to allow negativity to take rein, allowing our emotions to run amok, without any awareness or management. Think back on a time when someone recently made you very mad. Remember the physical symptoms you felt? Maybe your heart was racing, your mouth became dry, and you felt a sick pit in your stomach. Maybe your face flushed, your jaw clenched, and you found your hands became fists. And the thoughts which result from that hard-hit of negative emotions! It’s probably not a good idea to mention them here.

These emotions which lead to thoughts are what lead to our actions. Actions which, often, later, when we lie down in bed and think back on our day, make us cringe. It’s much easier to let negativity rule than take hold and choose positivity. Consider this, for example. When you read a post on social media that makes your blood boil — which is easier, in the moment: to type something smart aleck or cutting, or to choose to tell them something you appreciate about them?! Negativity is a much easier choice. However, if we continue to let negative emotions take the lead, we’ll quickly and easily end up in Debby Downer’s neighborhood. But who wants to live there?

How do you know if you could grow in realistic optimism? See if any of these ring true for you. People who struggle with an positive outlook tend to see failure as permanent and that difficulties, when they arise, will last a long time. They demonstrate inflexible thinking, and, as a result, can feel powerless and helpless. They expect the worst and often dwell in the past, engaging in negative self-talk. They operate from a fixed mindset and often believe that every misfortune is their own fault and attribute their success to luck rather than their own capabilities. They blame their circumstances for their misfortune and love to tell you about everything that has gone wrong over the days, months, and years. Does this sound like you?

On the other hand, those who possess a positive spirit see unfortunate events as temporary, and use each struggle to develop better coping skills. Their self-talk speaks to them of success because they believe they will succeed. These individuals operate from a growth mindset, believing negative events are temporary and happen to everyone. They are unfazed by defeat and bounce back after disappointments. They’re flexible, adaptable, and look for ways to allow failures to teach them resiliency. Do you know anyone like this?

Carol Dweck speaks of these two mindsets in her book, Mindset (2015). She describes a fixed mindset as one which assumes our character and intelligence are static, and our success is based upon of inherent intelligence, one that’s set at a fixed standard. In other words, there’s no room to improve or grow. Those with this mindset avoid failure at all cost to maintain their sense of worth. In contrast, Dweck notes that a growth mindset “thrives on challenges and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence, but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.” Do you see the difference?

She also goes on to say, “Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behavior, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness.” [Mindset, 2015]

In other words, most of the goals we think will make us happy, often don’t. In contrast, it’s our mindset which determines our level of happiness.

The beautiful thing about a positive spirit is that it can be developed, no matter how negative you’re feeling today, and no matter the ugly circumstances swirling around you. A model to follow is PERMA, developed by psychologist, educator, and author Martin Seligman. Each letter of PERMA represents things we need in our lives to experience more positive emotions. Seligman coined the phrase, “Learned Optimism”, because a positive outlook for many of us does not come naturally. We have to choose PERMA, to learn it, and not wait for it to just happen by some act of fate.

Which one of these could you use more of?

Positive Emotion. In order to have a positive outlook, we need to feel positive emotions. Experiencing emotions like joy, hope, contentment, excitement, and giddiness, on a regular basis, can increase our levels of positivity immensely. Take note of the emotions you feel most strongly each day. If the negatives outweigh the positives, take some time to do the things which create positive emotions for you.

Engagement. Do you absorb yourself in your activities fully or are you a multi-tasker? If the latter, your ability to engage may be limited. Research shows that it really is difficult to multi-task — though you may be doing two things at once, one of them is getting more focus and attention which means the other is put on the back burner. Learning to focus on one thing at a time and relish the experience with all of your senses — engaging — is vital to building positivity.

Relationships. Experiencing deep, meaningful relationships, and taking the time to connect with those we care about, is probably the foremost way to build positivity. Make a list of those you love being around, and note why. Figure out ways to reach out and connect with them on a regular basis. Need more friends? Seek out ways to make new connections and build relationships, whether it’s joining a social group or expanding your friendship circles to include new faces.

Meaning. What is your life purpose, and how does that show up in your day-to-day activities? Can you connect that purpose to the work you do? Does it show up in your personal relationships? Knowing why you do the things you do and aligning them with your values can add meaning to everything you do. Try writing down your values, the things which are most important to you, and see what shifts you need to make to better align your life with those values. Seek the help of a coach or counselor if needed.

Accomplishment. If you’re a to do list-maker, you know how good it feels to check off a box when you complete a task. Accomplishments, both great and small, make us feel good. And they increase our motivation to continue to be successful. Looking back on past accomplishments can spur us toward greater goals. Try it. What did you accomplish today? Write them down, and circle the items you are most proud of. Share an accomplishment with a friend. Celebrate your wins. Try this for a week, or a month, and watch your positivity grow.

From a 20,000 feet view, here are a few ways to cultivate PERMA:

Challenge your negative thoughts about past events and why they happened.
-View negative experiences as neither personal nor permanent (“this too shall pass”)
-Consider the worst-case scenario and come up with actionable strategies to avoid it
-Remember bad things happen to everyone (the grass isn’t always greener)

And on a more down-to-earth level, here are some practices to incorporate PERMA into your day, week, month, and year, proven to increase your positive emotions:

Connect with friends/family/new people

Change your setting

Get outside and spend time in nature

–Find something that makes you laugh — and laugh!

Exercise (aerobic and cardio work best)

Do something kind for someone else– giving back, community engagement, volunteering, etc.

Activate your curiosity and learn something new

–Begin a gratitude jar/journal/letter

Reflect on a past achievements and celebrate them

Set a new goal and jot down how you’ll get there

Count your blessings and small kindnesses which happen every day

Savor moments, big and small

–Find flow (get lost doing something you love)

By choosing just one of these to start doing each day, with repeated practice, you will increase your positive emotions. Don’t believe me? Give it a try and find out. It can’t hurt to try. Your weary soul deserves a little positivity. And what an amazing example you could set for others who think they have to sink into the downward spiral of negativity. Who knows, your positive emotions may inspire them to do the same.

You and this world need your positivity.

Active Listening to Avoid Conflict

Article contributed by guest author Grant Herbert.

Do you fail to listen, interrupt, or always find fault in what others say, or do you welcome mutual understanding by listening intently and allowing the sharing of information?

One of the most powerful skills that we can all have is genuine listening. It’s the key to effective communication. And for healthy relationships, it’s important to hear everything that’s being said and to be a tuned into what’s not being said so that we get the full picture and we’re able to interact and have mutually beneficial communication. This is one of the most important ingredients in Empathy.

When we get this skill to where it’s going to help us and give us a triple win, a win for us, a win for them, and a win for the greater good, we are not only interested in what we have to say and what our opinion is, but we’re open to what the other person or people have to say. And we filter that information in our logical brain to make sure that we have the entire picture to avoid misunderstanding and to avoid conflict.

Well, we’re still learning to do this well. We might be someone who interrupts all the time, where we’ve got our own agenda and we’re pushing that, and we’re not really all that interested in fully listening to what the other person’s saying. We might be giving the opinion that we are listening with our ears, but our body language and our response and reaction says that we aren’t really interested.

When we do this, we’re able to have conversations that are effective, that are mutually beneficial, and that allow us to be involved with Compassionate Empathy; to not just understand, but to be a part of the solution as well. 

So, let’s talk about some of the things that we are listening for. As we’ve already said, we’re listening to what’s being said, we’re also listening to what’s not being said. We’re listening to what’s not congruent, what doesn’t seem to add up. A lot of times, I’ll be having conversations or I’ll be communicating and what I’m saying here isn’t lining up to what I said here, and that creates confusion.

We listen for what’s needed, what’s missing, and we listen to what their goals are, what they want to achieve. By actively listening, we can also be attuned to what their strengths are so that we know where we can add value and where they’re doing okay.

So, let me give you three key tips that you can use to help you to be a more active listener and therefore, have more effective communication.

Number one, set aside your own agenda. When we have our own agenda out front, we’ve got all this noise and all this clamour going on in our mind. So, even though we are doing our best to listen, we’re not hearing. We’re filtering it through our own agenda. So, the best thing that we can do is to be totally focused on them, set aside our own agenda, and listen fully and be fully present. 

Number two is to avoid jumping in. A lot of times when I was learning to be a better communicator, someone would be talking and they could tell that all I was doing was waiting for them to take a breath so that I could jump in. I’d be trying to jump in and go, “Yeah, okay.” And every time they said a point, I’d have something to counter it with or something to add. 

So, when we avoid jumping in and leave the conversation open and collect the information in a logical way, not collecting it in a way that’s comparing it to what our beliefs are, we’re able to get the full picture. 

And number three is to reflect back what you heard. Remember last week, we talked about the communication process, being someone who is a sender, encoding their message, and sending it to a receiver. The receiver receives that information through the noise and then they decode what they thought they were communicated. And that’s where the confusion can come in.

What they then do is they encode their reaction or their response and they send it back through the noise to the original sender who is now the receiver, who decodes what they think they heard. The challenge with all that is we can make assumptions. We can think that we heard this and therefore make a belief around that, give that a meaning when in fact it may not be what was said at all.

So, by reflecting back what we think we heard, we were able to get clarification and or confirmation so that we can then move forward effectively; simple phrases like, “So, what I heard you say was…,” and then repeating what you thought they said. Now, this can be done, whether it’s verbally or whether it’s written text.

And that gives the person that you’re communicating with the opportunity to go, “Yes, that’s exactly what I said,” or give clarity and either go deeper to give further understanding or go, “No, that’s not what I meant at all. This is what I meant.” 

So, when we use these three tips, when we actively listen and we do it without assumption, we do it without jumping in, and we reflect to get clarity and confirmation, we take out all the misunderstanding and all the conflict. Active listening is a crucial component of Empathy, and one of the competencies that we teach in the work that we do in Social and Emotional Intelligence. 

Listen to the podcast here: https://youtu.be/xIxfZUKAb1o

The road to resilience

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

These are tough times, worrisome times, exhausting times. For many, taking the path of least resistance can seem like a good choice as we navigate the road ahead. However, a tough go of it may be the very thing needed to help us build a competency of emotional intelligence which is vital to our ability to thrive during these stressful times.

This competency is resilience. Resilience is the ability to recover and bounce back after tough circumstances. It’s represented by perseverance and a “don’t quit” attitude in the face of setbacks. It’s the ability to cope with difficult circumstances, move past hurdles, and be resourceful when resources are limited. Those who are resilient are able to rebound quickly from disappointments. They tend to be flexible, adaptable, and open to change. They see setbacks as temporary and failures as isolated, short-term events.

People who exercise resilience may experience the same negative, stressful situations as the next person. It’s not a lack of negative circumstances which cause them to fare well, it’s the ability to adapt and keep going.

Laura Malloy, the Successful Aging program director at the Harvard-affiliated Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, says resilience is associated with longevity, lower rates of depression, and greater satisfaction with life. “There’s a sense of control, and it helps people feel more positive in general,” she says. [https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/ramp-up-your-resilience]

On the other hand, those who are not resilient tend to see failures as permanent. They demonstrate inflexible thinking, dwell in the past, and become frustrated when change is required. These individuals tend to get ‘stuck’ and can’t move forward when creative, innovate ideas are needed in the midst of tough circumstances. They tend to engage in negative self-talk when things go poorly. We often describe this as a ‘victim mentality’.

Most worthwhile things in life take work. Think back on the last thing you accomplished which you are most proud of. Was it an easy road to get there, or did it take hard work? Most likely, your success required a great deal of perseverance, trouble-shooting, and resourcefulness. There were probably times when you wanted to quit — but you didn’t. 

“Show me someone who has done something worthwhile, and I’ll show you someone how has overcome adversity.” — Lou Holtz

Instead, you made a choice to stick with it, despite the challenges. One of the most beautiful things about competencies of emotional intelligence, such as resilience, is they can be developed and broadened with the choice to do the work. So if you struggle with resilience, rather than waving the white flag and throwing in the towel, consider choosing to take one small step in a new direction.

Here are a few places to start down the road to resilience:

  • Practice healthy living. It sounds simple, but if you’re not getting sufficient sleep, or eating nutritious meals, or getting physical exercises, it can be tough to develop a resilient mindset.
  • Note your negative self-talk. Engaging in negative self-talk is a good way to tear down your resilience. Take note of when these conversations take place and look for patterns. Is there someone in particular who triggers this negative talk? Why might that be? See if you can’t isolate the negative talk and ask yourself, “Is this belief based upon facts? What evidence do I have to back it up? Is this belief serving me and others well? What is a different way I could view this situation?” 
  • Replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations. State your goals with “I can…” or “I am…” or “I will..” sentences which give credence to your ability to be successful. Write them down. Say them out loud. Share them with a friend.
  • Remind yourself that setbacks are temporary and need not be viewed as long term and permanent. Picture each challenge as a hurdle which can be jumped over, instead of a brick wall which will bring you to a halt. Envision yourself leaping over that hurdle and moving forward.
  • Look to others who are resilient. Identify people in your life who exercise resilience and learn from them. Ask them how they move forward when they face obstacles. Seek out their advice and ask them to share stories of times when they persevered.
  • Don’t go it alone. Surround yourself with a team of  people who support your efforts to become more resilient. Shy away from those who validate you as being a victim and instead, seek out others who know the value of hard work and aren’t afraid to tackle hard things. These could be colleagues, managers, family members, friends, a coach, etc.

“We can do hard things”. — Anonymous

Building a resilient mindset takes work and time. Allow yourself mistakes along the journey, being quick to forgive yourself and others, and keep that chin up, always looking ahead. When you stumble, remind yourself that everyone gets tripped up from time to time. When you fall, get back up and keep moving. The road to resilience is tough, but the reward is worth the effort.

Power Up

Article contributed by guest author Marnette Falley, ACC

Want to feel calm, cool, collected—and like you’re the one who’s in charge of your life? Use these 5 strategies to tap into your personal power.

No one wants to feel like a doormat—and you don’t want to be a bull in a china shop, either. You do want to say what’s on your mind without blowing it or blowing up. You want to feel confident. You want to feel prepared for life’s challenges. Who doesn’t?

Getting closer to those beautiful (and sometimes lofty feeling) goals grows out of self understanding. Labeled more specifically, these behaviors reflect “personal power.”

In fact, personal power is one of 26 Emotional Intelligence (EQ) competencies. Emotional intelligence describes your ability to notice, understand and manage your emotions and your behavior. Strength in emotional intelligence puts you in a position to make clearer and more satisfying choices in challenging situations and in your relationships with others.

People who demonstrate lots of personal power feel a calm conviction about who they really are. They’re confident that they can get the things they want and need in life. They tend to define their view of themselves internally, leaning on their strengths and capabilities to fuel their self image rather than leaning on external factors like their title or social standing.

On the flip side, if you don’t exercise your personal power as much, you may find that you hesitate to try new things, pull back rather than saying what’s on your mind, and struggle to set clear boundaries.

As with all areas of emotional intelligence, practicing personal power is not a characteristic that you get or don’t get. Instead, it’s a set of behaviors that you can practice. Try these five strategies to stretch in this area:

  1. Celebrate your successes

Make a list of the 10 most interesting things you’ve ever done. Then make a list of your 10 biggest wins. And remember, they don’t all have to be about work or school accomplishments. (Although, feel free to include those!) Think about what you’ve achieved as a member of your family, in your hobbies, as a volunteer, or related to your personal development.

We’re wired to remember negative experiences more easily than the positives of our day or week. So I also recommend keeping a weekly list of wins. Leave a little space on your weekly to-do list, and write down at least one thing that went well every day. When I look back at my own list, I regularly see I had far more wins that I would otherwise ever remember. If you do this consistently, you can look back over a month or six months and see all the great progress you’ve made that you might otherwise discount or take for granted. Pausing to notice what went well and reviewing your wins periodically fills your confidence bucket.

2. Acknowledge your strengths

It’s easy to take our own super powers for granted and wish for the ones we don’t have. But you have strengths that everyone else wants, too. You may hardly notice that you’re doing something that’s hard for other people, because it’s so easy for you. Take a minute, and really appreciate those special talents, aptitudes and skills that you bring to the table. Maybe you see trends in data or behaviors. Maybe you’re the glue that holds your groups together. Maybe you have a special gift for inspiring others to get things done. Or maybe you’re the one who can keep the trains running on time. You do great things. Take a minute to remember that.

3. Explore the gap.

It could be that you tap into your personal power in some kinds of situations, but not in others. Think about the times when you’ve struggled to hit the balance you’re looking for on assertiveness. What do those situations have in common? How could you feel more confident in those situations? Maybe there’s specific training that would help you feel more armed. Or maybe more preparation for those moments would help you stay centered and focused on your goal for the conversation or the meeting.

4. Learn from your best outcomes.

When were you at your best? Make a list of times that you achieved or came closest to achieving your perfect level of assertiveness. You said no, and so nicely that everyone still left smiling. You stepped up and pointed out a weakness in your bosses idea without getting fired. What can you learn from that peak performance? What did you do that time that you could try again the next time you’re preparing for a situation where you feel like you struggle with personal power?

5. Find someone else who does this well.

There’s usually at least one person in any company or organization that can have the conversations that the rest of us shy away from. Who’s that person in your life? What do they do differently than you? What can you learn from that? As you think about this, remember to focus on their behaviors, not on their characteristics.

Remember, no one hits their perfect mark 100 percent of the time. Even if you’re focused, you’ll have times you wish you’d been stronger in your presentation and times when you’ll feel like you pushed too hard. This isn’t a win-lose situation—you’re learning what works for you. And the more options you try, the more opportunities you have to expand the range of strategies that work for you.

Confidence. You’ve got this.

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