Archive for the ‘Life Coaching’ Category

Evolved EQ

Article and graphic submitted by guest author Joni Roylance

The journey to “achieving” Emotional Intelligence is a long one, and I have yet to meet anyone who says they have finished that journey. In other words, it’s an ever-evolving set of skills and qualities that are a direct response to the current culture, needs, and expectations of the American workforce.

The past almost two years in the workplace have been life changing for all of us, culture shaping for many companies, and have resulted in different expectations that talent has of their formal and informal leadership going forward. This infographic highlights some of the key shifts of what used to be acceptable EQ versus the elevated expectations of 2021 and beyond.

Please let us know your thoughts! 

12 Strategies for Conflict Management

Article submitted by guest author Rosalie Chamberlain

At some point when working with others, conflict arises. What do you do? Avoid it, jump in thoughtfully or jump in reactively?

To start, we must identify the real nature of the conflict. This is not always easy. Whether solving a problem or working toward a specific outcome, when there is a conflict that needs managing it is because of variations of perspectives and desired outcomes.

These tips can help you achieve an effective, mutual outcome.

  1. Be clear about your intention. Are you in it to win or to discover a win-win for all?
  2. Identify the issue or problem. In most conflicts, not all parties will see the issue from the same perspective.
  3. Separate the people involved from the problem. Personalities, history, emotional projection, and biases about others and circumstances often get in the way of staying focused on the issue.
  4. Invite perspectives with an open mind and empathy. Realizing that someone else’s experiences and/or fears play into the situation.
  5. Identify your own fears and concern. Is there data to back them up, or are they based on opinion instead of facts?
  6. What specific facts need to be addressed? Here is another opportunity to gather others’ perspectives.
  7. Come to a consensus. What is the ultimate goal that all parties want to achieve?
  8. Brainstorm actions. Think about the next steps to achieve the mutual goal.
  9. Explore the impact of any actions on the individuals and the organization (or family or community if utilizing the process on a personal basis).
  10. Identify what resources you have to achieve the goals and what resources will be needed.
  11. Set out tasks for parties to own and be accountable for.
  12. Have regular check-ins and discussions in the process, honoring the steps all have taken.

Handling conflict gives us an opportunity to recognize judgment and assumptions and suspend them. It allows us to step in with positive intention rather than avoidance or reactive emotion. It provides the groundwork to be the best we can be and assist others in being their best.

Journaling for Better Emotional Health

Article submitted by guest author Kelly Simmerman

When I was a teenager, I kept a diary hidden under my mattress. It was a place to confess my struggles and fears without judgment or punishment. It felt good to get all those thoughts and feelings out of my head and down on paper. The world seemed clearer.

Photo Credit Jeff James

I stopped using a diary when I got older. But the concept and its benefits still apply. Now, it’s called journaling. It’s simply writing down your thoughts and feelings to understand them more clearly. And if you struggle with stress, depression, or anxiety, keeping a journal can be a great idea. It can help you gain control of your emotions and improve your emotional health.

One of the ways to deal with any overwhelming emotion is to find a healthy way to express yourself. This makes a journal a breakthrough tool in managing issues such as:

–Anxiety

–Stress

–Depression

–Moodiness

–Problems, fears, and concerns

–Inner critique

Tracking feelings day-to-day is essential. That way, we can recognize triggers and learn ways to better control them. Also, identifying and calling out negative thoughts and behaviors offers clarity.

Photo Credit Ben White

Once you’ve identified your stressors, you can work on a plan to resolve the problems and reduce your stress, providing an opportunity for positive self-talk and better outcomes.

Researchers found that writing three to five times for 15 minutes a session was effective to help participants deal with emotional and even traumatic events. “Those who do so generally have significantly better physical and psychological outcomes compared with those who write about neutral topics,” said Karen Baikie and Kay Wilhelm, the authors of the article published by the Cambridge University Press.

I’m sure, as coaches and therapists, you know the basics of how to journal, so I won’t bore you with too many details about the how. I will say this… Journaling is most effective when you do it every day. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar or sentence structure. The only rule is that once you begin writing, you continue until the time is up.

Photo Credit Hanna Olinger

Also, notice your body as you write. Be aware of the experience of writing. Notice words that made your shoulders hunch as you wrote them, observe where you gripped the pen tighter, or your breathing eased. This is putting you in relationship with your writing and allowing you to witness your brain’s processes.

Putting a pen to paper is a cathartic and private way for you to deal with the stress of your daily life, whatever that stress might be. When you keep a journal, you’re able to approach and release the anxiety you have. Using a journal allows you to process your emotions in a place that is safe and secure like sharing secrets with a best friend who never judges.

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”       

— Natalie Goldberg

Long Term Outcomes

• Improved mood/affect
• Helps prioritize problems, fears, and concerns
• Feeling of greater psychological well-being
• Reduced depressive symptoms
• Reduced absenteeism from work
• Quicker re-employment after job loss
• Improved working memory
• Track progress in coaching or therapy work

Why Does This Happen

Writing heals, empowers and transforms. Whether in a journal, a travel log, writing lyrics or poetry, to composing a love letter, writing allows us to clear our mind. And this uncluttering offers mind space so that we can get real with ourselves.

Rather than pushing parts of us away, we are instead creating an environment that allows us to simply loosen our grip. We don’t have to fix anything. All we’re doing is bringing tender, nonjudgmental attention to our thoughts and feelings and making room for whatever is living there. Journaling allows for this. So instead of trying to let things go, I invite the concept of– let things be.

“Journal writing gives us insights into who we are, who we were, and who we can become.” 

— Sandra Marinella

Something else is happening when we take pen to paper. Writing stimulates the Reticular Activating System, which filters through the many topics that your brain processes and determines which points to bring to the forefront. There is a connection between our hands, our arms, our eyes, our brains, and our emotions. We are all integrated beings. At times, it doesn’t feel like it, but all this is happening within one body. Journaling brings all those parts of us together to impact our emotional well-being and mental health.

Baikie, K., & Wilhelm, K. (2005). Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 11(5), 338-346. doi:10.1192/apt.11.5.338

5 Ways to Put Stress in its Place

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Stress is your body’s reaction to anything which requires attention or action. It often arises when that thing which requires attention or action is not something we want to do, or feel like we’re able to do. Fear of failure, and fear of being seen as a failure can spur our feelings of stress, and prevent us from taking positive steps toward resolving the issues.

Not all stress is bad

Stress in and of itself is not negative. Stress is a normal, human response and actually has many positive benefits. For example, research shows that stress can lead to improved cognitive function and build resilience, to name a few. [https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-stress-you-didnt-know-about] It can increase short-term immunities, and motivate you to get it in gear and succeed. [https://www.health.com/condition/stress/5-weird-ways-stress-can-actually-be-good-for-you]

It’s the prolonged, day-in-day-out stress which tears us down. Research show that this unmanaged, prolonged stress can cause ill effects such as headaches, digestive issues, insomnia, elevated blood pressure, and chest pain, diabetes, skin conditions, depression, anxiety, and other emotional disorders. And if you already suffer from a disease, unmanaged stress can make your symptoms worsen. [https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/effects-of-stress-on-your-body]

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”

– Sydney J. Harris

It may surprise you to learn what the real culprit of this unmanaged stress is. It’s not the negative circumstance — or the frustrating people involved — or the long list of to-dos which are surmounting. It’s how you respond to this prolonged stress which get you in trouble.

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”

— Hans Selye

Notice what your body is saying

A precursor to putting stress in its place is to learn to tune into your physical responses to stressful situations. How does your body alert you to stress? Some people experience a rapid heartbeat, while others get a sick pit in their stomach. Some report a dry mouth, clammy hands, or unusual sweating. Some get a headache, can’t eat, or eat too much. Some feel excessively tired, discouraged, and disheartened. Some get the cry feeling. Others feel something nigh to terror. What about you?

Next time you sense stress, pause to notice these physical “symptoms”. Not only do you want to note what are you feeling in your body, but where are you feeling it? Is it in your neck? Or maybe your shoulders? Tuning into these physical responses will put you on alert for when they come again…and they will visit again. These signals act as an early warning system enabling us to choose to act instead of react to the triggers.

Another facet to notice is how you treat others when you are stressed. You may go quiet, and become non-communicative, or you may resort to finger-pointing and yelling. You may throw yourself into work while avoiding important people in your life. You may act out in behaviors which damage relationships. You may hide your stress and pretend nothing is wrong, stuffing it inside (only for it to reappear later), or you may attack anyone and anything which comes within ten feet of you. If you can relate to any of these anti-social responses to stress, or are able to add your own, it may be time to try something new.

“The truth is that there is no actual stress or anxiety in the world; it’s your thoughts that create these false beliefs. You can’t package stress, touch it, or see it. There are only people engaged in stressful thinking.”

— Wayne Dyer

Learning a new way of responding to stress — putting stress in its place — can help us work calmly under pressure, push through tough times, and be able to use stressful events to improve our circumstances.

Stress Management Traits

Those with strong stress management skills accept that stress is inevitable and a part of everyday life. They are aware of how they feel when stress arises, and have adopted calming techniques in response. They can maintain their composure and make a choice to control aggressive, hostile, and irresponsible behaviors. They tap in to their vitality and strength to push back when needed, or let go. They take appropriate actions to alleviate the stress. They do not procrastinate. They choose not to sweat the small stuff and are able to keep things in perspective.

Those who struggle view stress as external and don’t realize that what they are feeling is their reaction to stress. They can feel unable to concentrate, become forgetful, and experience brain fog. They worry and tend to act impulsively, engaging in unpredictable, sometimes explosive or abusive behavior. Does this describe you?

If so, it may be time to make some shifts.

“Training your brain to manage stress won’t just affect the quality of your life, but perhaps even the length of it.”

— Amy Morin

5 Ways to Put Stress In Its Place

1-Just do it. Choose one thing you can do to tackle that stressful situation — and take one step. You most likely won’t fix it in one fell swoop, and at this stage, you’re not even trying to. Just elicit movement in a new direction. You know how good it feels to check something off of your to-do list? So…check something off of that to-do list! Breaking overwhelming tasks into bite-sized chunks make it easier to achieve a motivating sense of accomplishment, even if it’s something small.

“Doing something that is productive is a great way to alleviate emotional stress. Get your mind doing something that is productive.”

– Ziggy Marley

2-Flood yourself with positivity. Research shows that the more we exercise our signature strength(s), the more positive emotions we will feel. Do you know what provides you with positive emotions, such as joy, excitement, peace, hope, and contentment? Take the VIA Character Strengths assessment to discover your signature strengths. The report will list out your strengths. Take a look at your top three and brainstorms ways you can incorporate more of these things into your daily life – then do them, as often as possible. Not only will you feel better, this positivity will rewire your brain to be more creative and innovative as you search for ways to resolve stressful situations.

“In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive.”

Lee Iacocca

3-Try to relax. I know, it’s the last thing you’d think of doing when you’re stressed, especially when there’s already too much on your plate. But finding a way to relax your body and your mind can refuel you with the energy needed to tackle what’s next. Take a walk, do something you enjoy, talk to a supportive friend. If nothing else, breathe. Breathe in deeply, and slowly, then exhale. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

“It’s a good idea always to do something relaxing prior to making an important decision in your life.”

– Paulo Coelho

4-Reflect on your past achievements–and failures! Yes, what you are facing is tough. It may even seem insurmountable. But you’ve done hard things before. Think back on times of success, times you worked hard and made it through. What skills did you lean into to get through the stress? You’ve done it before so you can do it again. Also remind yourself of times you failed, and made it out the other side. If you are still here today it is a testimony that the failure didn’t break you. You are resilient and wired to handle changes which lead to stress. You got this.

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”

– Michael Jordan

5-Don’t quit. Prolonged stress can be exhausting, but giving up will not solve anything. The only way to get there is to keep on keepin’ on. If you’re struggling to hang on, reach out to a trusted loved one or confidant. Find a counselor, coach, or therapist to talk to, and if you find you’re entertaining thoughts of hurting yourself or others, seek professional help immediately. In order to persevere, you need to keep yourself refreshed. What provides refreshment for you? Maybe it’s getting more sleep, or reading a book, or hanging out with friends. Maybe it’s listening to your favorite music, or exercising, or taking a mini-vacation to somewhere warm. Do these things as often as necessary to keep your perspective and energy fresh.

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

– Winston Churchill

Handling stress is tough, but it can be done. Which of these will you do more of today?

“You can’t choose what life throws at you, but you can choose how you respond.”

― Maya Angelou

Why Can’t We Get Along?

Article submitted by Amy Sargent

Disagreements are a normal part of everyday life. Gather more than one person in any room, even a virtual room, and given enough time, there will be variances of opinions. And this can be a powerful thing. Many of our innovative ideas come when we are exposed to fresh perspectives.

The Blame Game

The problem arises when we let our differences erupt into conflict, and start playing the blame game. At this point, it’s no longer a matter of disagreement, but a struggle for power. And suddenly, we’re just not getting along.

Learning how to resolve conflicts can lead to more cohesive work teams and healthier relationships at home.

But getting along, especially with those we don’t particularly like, and definitely those we don’t agree with, is easier said than done. Many of us are conflict-avoiders, so when disputes erupt, we shy away from resolve. A common tactic to avoid conflict is to place blame on the other person.

We learn at an early age that blaming can sometimes get us out of trouble…at least temporarily. As a child, pointing the finger at one of my ornery brothers “saved” me, countless times, from getting grounded, which made it appear to be a lucrative strategy! As we move into adulthood, many of us do not learn conflict resolution skills, and carry this childish behavior into our grown-up relationships, both at work and at home. It doesn’t take long to realize that assigning blame becomes a hindrance to healthy, happy connections with others. Sure, the technique may seem to protect our self-esteem, but it does nothing to move us toward resolve.

In her article, Workplace Blame is Contagious and Detrimental, Susan Krauss Whitbourne shares this: “Unlike other games, the more often you play the blame game, the more you lose.” Other studies show that casting blame is contagious, and negatively effects creativity and productivity [https://www.livescience.com/8018-workplace-blame-contagious-detrimental.html]. Nancy Colier, in a Psychology Today article, says this: “[Blame] blocks your personal growth, damages your relationships, and gets in the way of your own well-being.” [https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inviting-monkey-tea/201601/4-steps-stop-blaming]

Avoiding Action

Blaming allows us to avoid action. Yet action is the very thing needed to heal rifts.

Pat Ladouceur, in an article entitled, Who’s Fault Is It?, says, insightfully, “Blame separates people from your values, beliefs, and commitment. If the problem belongs to someone else, then you have a reason to dig in your heels. You miss an opportunity to grow, to stretch, to challenge yourself. You might miss a chance to change the way you think or act, or a chance to be deeply honest: by sharing your fear, or disappointment, or sadness in a heartfelt way.” [https://www.mentalhelp.net/blogs/whose-fault-is-it-how-blame-sabotages-relationships/]

Ladouceur goes on to say, “Blame creates inaction. When someone blames, it’s as if they’re handing over control of the situation. “I can’t change until you do,” is the implicit message. The solution is in their partner’s hands.”

Self-Awareness

We all blame others from time to time. It is a learned behavior, a very human behavior. But it is something we can learn to do less of. Self-awareness, the first competency of emotional intelligence, can pave the way toward growth. But sometimes we have blind spots, and may not recognize how often we’re making someone else carry the responsibility for our own actions.

“People spend too much time finding other people to blame, too much energy finding excuses for not being what they are capable of being, and not enough energy putting themselves on the line, growing out of the past, and getting on with their lives.

— J. Michael Straczynski

How do you know if you’re a finger pointer? Try the following test, developed by Nancy Colier. Ask yourself these questions, and answer with either yes or no:

  1. Would it be normal for you to respond to someone with a problem by telling him why he is to blame for his problem?
  2. In relationships with friends and family, do you often find yourself pointing the finger? Do you tell others how and why they are wrong, using phrases such as You did it, or, It’s your fault?
  3. When you confront difficulties or inconveniences, is it common for you to identify and ruminate over who or what is to blame? 
  4. When you are upset or in a difficult situation, do you frequently blame someone for making you feel the way you do? 

Colier states, “If you answered yes to any one of these questions, you are a blamer. If you answered yes to multiple questions, then your blaming behavior may very well be compromising your relationships, your well-being, and your personal evolution.”  [https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inviting-monkey-tea/201601/4-steps-stop-blaming]

How did you do?

If you’re a blamer, no shame. You are not alone. But if you are interested in growth, development, and relationship health, both at home and at work, at some point the blame has to stop. Whitbourne goes on to say this, “Learning to tell when you need to own up to your role in a bad situation will help you grow from your experiences, and ultimately help you achieve more fulfilling relationships.” [https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201509/5-reasons-we-play-the-blame-game]

Making Shifts

No matter how long you’ve been playing the blame game, you can start today to make a shift. Here are ten ways to get along with others better (and lay down the blame):

1-Set an intention to stop blaming. As with any goal, it’s helpful to be clear about your intentions. Say it aloud, share it with a trusted friend, write it down. It could be as simple as, “I intend to own my own role in my conflicts” or “I intend to stop blaming others.”

2-Tune in. Notice when you shift blame and take note. Is it when you are around a certain person? Is it only at work, or only at home? Is it when you know you’ve done something in opposition to your values? Is it when you are hungry, or tired, or emotionally spent? A great first step to stop playing the blame game is to simply notice when you blame, and why.

3-Develop your empathetic skills. It’s hard to show empathy toward someone when you’re angry with them…and it’s the last thing you’ll feel like doing! But try, difficult as it may be, to put yourself in their shoes. Ask open-ended questions as you seek to understand their perspective. Listen without judgement and ask clarifying questions. You don’t have to agree with what they are saying — you just want to validate their feelings. The emotions they are feeling — anger, frustration, irritation, injustice — most likely are very similar to what you’re experiencing. The feelings are legit — as are yours. Express clearly, emphatically, and often, that you understand how they’re feeling.

4-Seek a fresh perspective. Have you noticed that when you’re in conflict, it’s all you can think about? It’s the first thing which pops into your head in the morning, and the last thing you ruminate on when you lie down to sleep. Sometimes it can even prevent a good, restful sleep! This consumption can be detrimental to conflict resolve, because the longer you obsess on a particular topic, the bigger and more difficult it seems to become. You need a breath of fresh air. Get outside, engage in some exercise, talk to others (about anything but the conflict), watch a movie, read a book…anything to help you get your brain off the topic for a reprieve. Taking a ‘break’ enables you to step back and put your conflict into a larger-world perspective.

5-Name it to Tame it. Often when we shift blame, it’s to avoid uncomfortable feelings such as guilt, shame, hurt, disappointment, anger, etc. I get it. Negative feelings are no fun! Which emotion(s) are you attempting to avoid by pointing your finger? Be specific. Try to think of these emotions, as much as they may make you squirm, as dear friends, willing to tell you the truth. Emotions provide valuable insights into what’s really going on. Instead of stuffing them inside or pretending they’re nonexistent, allow yourself to name them, feel them, and note why they are there. Journal or talk to someone about these emotions.

6-Learn to say “I’m sorry”. Yes, they’re two of the hardest words to say when you feel wronged, yet so very powerful. Obviously, conflict is rarely one person’s fault. The Latin root of the word speaks for itself. Conflict comes from assimilated form of com “with, together” (see con-) + fligere “to strike”[https://www.etymonline.com/word/conflict#:~:text=conflict]. Remember, it takes two to tango. Own your contribution to the problem –even if you didn’t ‘start it’ — and apologize for the hurtful things you’ve said and done. Don’t wait for the other person to apologize first, because you may be waiting a long, long time. You can’t control their actions, but you can control yours.

7-Take Constructive Action. Instead of ruminating ’round and ’round on who’s fault it is, instead, shift your focus on what you can do to turn things around. Read a book on conflict resolve. Enroll in a class. Take on a new project. Help them out. Offer a kind word. Treat them to lunch. Not only will constructive actions help you focus on something other than the conflict, your energy will be repurposed elsewhere, pointing the way to personal and professional growth.

8-Decide to forgive. There is a phrase, “Hurt people hurt people.” Each of us have been hurt at some point or another, and each of us (whether wittingly or unwittingly) have hurt others. Recognize that conflict happens, and, even if someone is not owning their role in it, you can still choose to let go of trying to bring some sort of punishment or penalty upon them. It doesn’t mean you need to become best friends. But you can free yourself by forgiving yourself, and the other person, for the poor behavior.

9-Seek out the help of others. Don’t feel like you have to go it alone. Behavior change is much more palatable — and effective — when you have others walking alongside you. Enlist the help of a coach or counselor. Find a trusted friend or colleague who will speak the truth, and spur you along your new path. Choose a mentor and spend time learning from them.

10-Celebrate your wins. Congratulate yourself when you are able to own your role in conflict, and stop assigning blame. Big changes consist of small, day-to-day steps in the right direction. Try reflecting on your improvements at the end of each week, and keep a journal detailing your growth. Share your successes with a trusted friend, family member, or mentor and find ways to celebrate your growth.

Shifting habits such as blaming others can be difficult to do, and does not happen overnight. Offer yourself grace as you move in a new direction. You may never reach ‘perfection’ (does it even exist?), but keep moving, step by step, toward a new way of behaving. In doing so, you’ll begin to experience new levels of health in your relationships — and find that you actually can get along with others…even if you don’t agree with them!

“Everybody is responsible for their own actions. It’s easy to point the finger at somebody else, but a real man, a real woman, a real person knows when it’s time to take the blame and when to take responsibility for their own actions.”

— Marcus Smart

Managing Your Emotional Intelligence — Amygdala Hijack

Article contributed by guest author Awaz Ahmed

Different parts of the brain perform different functions. However, to take control of your emotions, it’s important to understand the amygdala’s function. To put it simple, the amygdala is the emotional part of the brain. The amygdala plays an important role in emotions and behaviors.

The amygdala is best known for the fight or flight response — the heart rate is increased and prepares for action. Oftentimes, it’s an automatic response, and individuals react quickly without any thought. So, when you feel threatened, the amygdala automatically activates the fight or flight response. This is triggered by emotions such as fear, anger, stress, and anxiety.

So what’s an amygdala hijack? Well, the prefrontal cortex receives input from different parts of the brain and helps process the information to adapt accordingly.

The way I like to describe the prefrontal cortex is “the CEO” of the brain. Amygdala hijack occurs when the amygdala is disabled from the prefrontal cortex. Without the prefrontal cortex, you’re unable to think clearly, make rational decisions and take control of your responses. Amygdala hijack triggers a much significant emotional threat with symptoms like crying, stomach ties, sweaty palms, and heart race. Managing your emotional intelligence helps you recognize, understand, and manage your emotions.

Tips On Preventing An Amygdala Hijack

  1. Engage your prefrontal cortex. You want to disengage the amygdala (the emotional part of your brain). This area is deep within the brain that sets off the fight or flight response.
  2. Count backward from 10 to take control before the amygdala takes control.
  3. Count to 10 and then respond.
  4. Try to pause and breathe to refocus yourself.
  5. Change scenery.
  6. Do any exercise for a rapid heart rate.
  7. Go for a walk.

Catalyzing Change and the Brain

Article contributed by guest author Sandra Marin

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Since the beginning of time, people have liked routine. We like the known. It makes us feel in control. Safe and comfortable. Boy does this ever resonant now during these Covid times. So, it is no surprise that many of us resist change. Even if we are not 100% satisfied with status quo, we will hold onto it. Better the devil we know than the devil we don’t. But maybe not….

Our resistance to change is not because we are stubborn or want to be difficult (at least not you or me). It is a reflection of our brains. The brain loves to make sense of the world and helps us control our lives. This is an excellent thing. It keeps us safe.  And, like so many things, if overdone, can be harmful. The inability to change or grow can result in stagnation. No progress. Not good for an individual, a society or a country. 

February’s “coffee chat” topic, hosted by The Institute for Social and Emotional Intelligence was Catalyzing Change. This is one of the 26 competencies that make up their social and emotional intelligence model. 

During our chat we talked about many things and what I want to focus on today is the benefit of becoming more of a change catalyzer and less of a change resistor. In particular focusing on one critical benefit that may not be the first one that comes to mind: the positive impact of change on brain health. Yup, change can help our brains remain agile throughout our lives. 

Neuroscience: 1 second intro

Our brains grow and change naturally. Often quite dramatically until around our mid to late 20’s. Historical thinking about the brain was that once we became adults our brains were “hard -wired” and stopped changing. The die was cast. Or so we thought. Recent neuroscience research shows that our brains are much more flexible than we first thought, hence the term neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is the term that describes the brain’s ability to create new neural pathways and ignore or lose those that are no longer used. We can change our habits, biases and behaviours. Not easy, but possible.

The main benefit of becoming a change catalyzer is that change can help keep our brains agile throughout our life. We can lead richer, happier and healthier lives. In fact, according to neuroscientist and author David Eagleman the single most important thing we can do for our brains is to cognitively challenge them. And that means embracing change. 

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Embracing Change: So what can you do to become more of a change catalyzer and improve the health of your brain? Start small to build your comfort level with change.

For example:

  • Take different routes to and from frequent destinations.
  • Try new restaurants and new types of cuisine.
  • Switch hands for common tasks such as brushing your teeth.
  • Expand your horizons in general. This can be listening to music, reading books, watching movies from styles and genres that you normally wouldn’t.

Of course the small things are not enough. Move on to more challenging activities and behaviours. Such as:

  •  Learn a new language or instrument. 
  • Embrace mistakes. We learn through trial and error. Think less about failing and more about exposing yourself to new activities and experiences. 
  • Practice, and more practice. Simply doing something once is not enough to create a new pathway in the brain. Try, try, and try again. If not perfect, practice does make better. 
  • Be open to new ideas and practices.  Maybe you have heard someone (not you of course) say “ if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” or “ we’ve always done it this way.” Resist the urge to stop there.  Go further and ask “ so what if it did change?What then?” 
  • Focus. Be present. Breathe. Deeply. Forget multi-tasking. Our brains are not wired for that. In fact the more we take on, the more our bodies are flooded with the stress hormone cortisol. Take up yoga, meditation or simply go for a walk in nature. 
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“All change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end.” Robin Sharma

I hope I have whetted your appetite for more on neuroscience, change and emotional intelligence. Please feel free to share your comments, questions, tips.

Resources 

There are many excellent resources on neuroscience. Here are three that relate to this article. 

 “The Nun Study”. This study showed that multilingualism and linguistic ability may reduce the risk of developing dementia. Science Daily September 12, 2019 University of Waterloo.

 “The Four Underling Principles of Changing your Brain “Tara Swart, neuroscientist and author, Forbes March 27, 2018.

 “Livewired” by David Eagleman 2020

The Power of Good Intentions

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Good intentions often get a bad rap. As T.S. Elliot once said, “Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.” Angela Blount, in her book, Once Upon a Road Trip, observed, “Well-meaning people are sometimes the most dangerous.” And how many times have you had good intentions, only to watch those plans fall by the wayside when the first obstacle arose?

And then there’s this one: “The road to [h-e-double-hockey sticks] is paved with good intentions.”

Linking evil, danger, failure, and eternal suffering to good intentions doesn’t necessarily make intentionality sound like a trait worth pursuing.

But being intentional is a competency of emotional intelligence, and, despite what you may have been told, a good intention is the fuel which powers a goal. Neal Shusterman, an American best-selling author, puts it this way: “But remember that good intentions pave many roads. Not all of them lead to hell.”

Intentionality can be defined as thinking and acting deliberately, choosing a path flocked with purpose. Those who are intentional know what it takes to determine outcomes, and feel they have some control over their path and future.

You may know people like this. They are good at making decisions, decisions which actually lead them toward their goals and objectives. Their actions are consistent and they are able to stay focused on their intentions and manage distractions well. They are clear about what they want in life and make concerted effort to bring it to fruition. Their day-to-day choices are aligned with their values and guide them to reach both short and long-term goals.

These kind of people set intentions, good intentions, and carve out a lifestyle which leads them there.

Those who are not intentional — guess what? — do not lay out intentions. They tend to shy away from setting goals and allow themselves to be “tossed by the prevailing winds of life”. They are easily distracted from their ideals, whether it be personally or professionally, and seem to head down paths which lead nowhere. If asked, they struggle to define their values, are unclear about the outcomes they seek, and don’t seem to have a plan as to how to get where they want to go.

“Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice.”

–William Jennings Bryan

If this describes you, take heart! Emotional intelligence is something which can be developed. With some concerted effort, you can begin to shift toward being more intentional. You may be tempted to wait to start when the timing is better, or when your tough circumstances change. However, today is a great day to start.

“It is always your next move.”

–Napolean Hill

Here are a few ways you can work toward becoming more intentional:

  • Recognize that today is a new day. If you haven’t been especially intentional until now, it’s time to lay that behavior aside and make a fresh start. Instead of holding yourself to an already-established identity (“I’m just not a goal-setter”), give yourself permission to become more intentional. Start with a simple statement and say it out loud: “I can and will become more intentional.”
  • Identify a few areas of your life in which you’d like to improve. Write them down. Then, step back and ask yourself, for each, “In an ideal world, what would I want to see happen here?” These are your good intentions. This is a brainstorming session, so try to suspend judgement and let the ideas flow. Write down anything that comes to mind. If you get stuck, start with long-term goals (10+ years down the road) and then scale back to shorter-term goals.
  • Align your values. In order for intentions to be good intentions, they need to align with your values. What is most important to you? What qualities do you respect most in others? What do you value most in yourself? What things would you sacrifice all to preserve? List out your top ten values and be specific. Take a moment to note why each value is a priority to you. Then look back at your intentions and make sure they allow you to live out these values.
  • Take note of your typical distractions. What are the things that have caused you to veer from your goals in the past? What hurdles do you often trip over? Is it fear? Is it a lack of resources? Do you get bored easily? Jot these down and familiarize yourself with them, so you can recognize them when they decide to show up. In addition, what obstacles do you foresee coming up which may slow you down or keep you from reaching your goals? Take note of these as well.
  • Turn each intention into a goal statement. Use phrases like “I will…” and “I plan to…” . For example, if you set an intention to become a better public speaker, you could say, “I will improve my public speaking skills.” Speak them aloud and write them down.
  • Decide what steps you need to take to accomplish each intention. Be specific. Don’t worry about the order of operations yet — just write down all of the steps you can think of which would be needed to reach that goal, no matter how fantastic or untouchable they may seem. For example, you may need to take a class, read a book, or save some money.
  • Create a plan. Which of the above steps would be the easiest to do first? Which one makes the most sense to start with? Which one will give you an instant sense of accomplishment? This can be tough to determine on your own, so don’t be afraid to ask a colleague or close friend, or enlist a coach to help.
  • Adopt the belief that you are in control of your destiny. As American business executive and writer Jack Welch once said, “Control your destiny, or someone else will.” No one but you is responsible for your success. Owning the process allows you to recognize your ability to choose the direction(s) you’ll take.
  • Take that first step. Often, the hardest part of a plan is taking that first step in a new direction. Break larger tasks into bite-sized chunks and do one thing, today, to get started. Once you get moving toward change, the momentum will power you along down the path of intentionality.
  • Celebrate wins along the way. Don’t be afraid to celebrate small successes as you work toward your larger goals! This can provide a boost of positive emotions and feeling of success which can keep you going forward.
  • Keep walking. At the start of each day, determine the one step you’ll take before the sun sets. Then take that step. Imagine, after one month, you’ll have taken 30 steps toward your goal!

Living the life you want starts with setting good intentions.

Why not lay out some good intentions today?

“Be proud of yourself. Be proud that your heart and intentions are good. Be proud of the fact that you are trying.”

–Richelle E. Goodrich

                                                                                        

Becoming a Change Agent

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

“If you do not create change, change will create you.” — Unknown

A change agent is a person who initiates, promotes, and supports a new way of doing something, whether it’s the use of a new process, the adoption of a new structure or bringing about the transformation of an old way to a new one. In business, some are given this title to bring about the necessary change within an organization, whether it be in management processes or structure or a shift in the business model. But whether or not it’s in your job title, in some form or another, we all are called to be agents of change.

If you are change resistant, it may surprise you to learn that change happens whether you like it or not. Take aging, for instance, that process which happens to us all which is associated with biological, behavioral, physiological, and social processing changes. In her article entitled, The Science of How Your Body Ages, Nicole Saporita explains how change is continually shaping our bodies. Her words? “Aging is happening on a cellular level at every moment”. [https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/wellness/a27630177/aging-process-signs/].

And as your body reshapes itself, day by day, so does your brain. Dr. David Eagleman, neuroscientist, believes that our brains arrive in the world unfinished, and it takes a lifetime of experiences to further wire it. In his words, our brains are “rewriting themselves all the time.” You can read more about this at https://www.gettingsmart.com/2015/09/we-are-wired-to-learn-change-and-engage-the-brain-with-dr-david-eagleman/.

And I don’t think there is anyone who can disagree that the world around us is changing at rapid, if not alarming, speeds.

Being able to catalyze change when needed is a competency of emotional intelligence. People who have this ability demonstrate the mental agility needed to consider new ways of doing things. They recognize the need for change, picking up on early signals and signs which communicate a shift is needed. They are willing to take ownership of change initiatives, and when barriers arise, are quick to figure out ways to move them out of the way. They are open to challenging the status quo and aren’t afraid of resistance or opposition. Not only do these change agents champion change, they are able to inspire others to join in its pursuit.

“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”Benjamin Franklin

Don’t feel bad if you’re not strong in this area — many are not. How can you tell? You most likely are happy with the status quo and find yourself saying often, “But this is the way we’ve always done it!” or, “Things used to be better in the old days…”. You may have a bit of a closed mind when it comes to innovative ideas and those new employees with all the fresh ideas? They may really get on your nerves. While it’s normal to resist change, this fixed mindset can result in a failure to be adequately prepared for the future and keep up with changing times.

How do you know when it’s time to make a change? One of the primary signals of a necessary transition is the feeling of being stuck. Often in life, we hit places where we feel like we aren’t making a difference, or can’t, or feel as if life is just a series of dull routines which have no significant outcomes. You may feel bored. Frustrated. Disheartened. When you are experiencing that ho-hum feeling, it can be an indication that change may be just what the doctor ordered. And though there are some things in life you just can’t change, as we mentioned above, there are many choices we do have to bring about change.

“Resistance to change should be a thing of the past if we could develop growth mindsets and create organizations with growth cultures.” ― Paul Gibbons

Consider these simple changes which may create some movement for you in a new direction:

1-Change your scenery — It’s time to take a break from looking at your phone and computer. Most of us can agree we spend way too much time looking at screens. Get up, take a break, and get a fresh perspective. Work from a different room in your house, set up an outside desk if possible, or simply face a new wall in your home office. Take a walk down a path you’ve never explored. Drive along a different route than usual. Try a new restaurant. Read a new book. Take a weekend trip to somewhere new. Altering your surroundings can be an easy first step toward embracing change.

2-Change your media intake. Do you have the news on 24/7? Or always listen to the same podcaster with the same opinions? Try a new source of news, or listen to a podcast with a unique perspective. Even bolder, try turning off media for a while, or make a decision to stop scrolling on social media for a period of time. Listen to an audio book instead, chat with a colleague, or crazier yet — try enjoying some silence. Sometimes our best insights come when we create space to really hear.

3-Change your social interactions. Making new friends may be tough right now, but new connections can boost your spirits and spur a growth mindset from the sharing of ideas. Join a local social group, or a special interest group (kayaking, birding, book club, social justice, etc.) and join their next virtual meeting. Get to know a colleague better who shares a similar vision. Make a point to deepen a connection with a family member or neighbor, or simply ‘show yourself friendly’ with the next human you come into contact with.

4-Change your order of operations. We tend to develop routines and stick to them, and this can be a great asset toward accomplishment of goals. But don’t be afraid to mix things up once in a while, to stay open to new perspectives. For example, instead of always sitting at your office desk for work, try working from a coffeeshop or a shady spot in a nearby park. Instead of always eating at 5 pm, try a late-night dinner. If you always go on a run for exercise, consider trying a new sport or activity. Changing up the routines can fire new neurons in your brain which can boost creativity and innovation.

Learning to embrace change (and even initiate it) can add value to your life, bringing about advantages such as personal growth, flexibility, strength, and resilience…all qualities which help us get to the other side of tough times.

“So I beg you to think of change more positively. When we say “This is a game changer,” that connotes something good and positive.” — Allen Karl

In his article, 20 Reasons Change Is Good For You, Allen Karl outlines a number of benefits of change. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Change helps avoid stagnation
  • Change forces us out of comfort zones
  • Change introduces adventure
  • Change conserves energy (it takes more energy to fight change than to embrace it)
  • Change brings about learning
  • Change enables you to see possibilities
  • Change provides fresh opportunities
  • Change forces you to move in a new direction
  • Change can help you overcome fears
  • Change is a harbinger of possibilities

[https://www.allankarl.com/everything-must-change%E2%80%A620-reasons-why-change-is-good/?]

If becoming change agent is a competency you’d like to develop, you may find John Kotter’s book, Leading Change (Harvard Business School Press, 1996) , a good place to start. Kotter came up with eight steps to bring about successful change. You may want to start with number one and work your way up, or, notice which step you’re stuck on and brainstorm ways to gain traction in just that area.

  1. Create a sense of urgency
  2. Collaborate with others and build teams
  3. Establish the vision
  4. Communicate clearly to win your team’s buy in
  5. Empower team members to take action
  6. Figure out ways to celebrate short-term wins
  7. Build upon gains to push forward
  8. Anchor the change so it sticks

What is one area of your life which needs a change? As you ponder each step above, jot down a few notes around how each could move you closer toward your goal. As with most things in life, change can only happen when you begin. So start small, with one, forward-moving step.

What will you do today to initiate forward movement in an area of your life?

“Only in growth, reform, and change, paradoxically enough, is true security to be found.”Ann Morrow Lindbergh

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

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