Archive for the ‘Life Coaching’ Category

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.

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.

Don’t miss the view

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

I woke early and hopped on my bicycle, barefoot, and pedaled over to the beach in the first rays of the morning light. Pinks, oranges, and purples danced across the water’s surface. Sea gulls flocked together on the shore and sat silently looking seaward, dreaming of discarded sandwiches and half-empty bags of chips. A lone heron stood on one foot, stately and elegant, and a silvery fish jumped with a splash.The waves rolled in gently and the breezes whispered promises of peace and hope. Early mornings on the beach are the stuff dreams are made of.

That is, if you look past the trash strewn across the sand, remnants of yesterday’s revels. Broken glass, empty soda cans, bags of garbage, diapers, broken chairs, plastic sand toys, dismantled canopies, busted umbrellas, fast food wrappers, grocery bags, cigarette butts, and oh, those plastic water bottle lids by the dozens.

Here’s a thing I was thinking about. If I only focused on the garbage, and believe me, there was a LOT, and reflected on what kind of people would leave such a mess, the whole beach experience would be pretty crappy. I could get on social media and yell about it, criticize, and make snide remarks, making it clear I am not “these type of people”, and how the world is going to h-e double hockey sticks because of it. I could pretend “it’s my duty to inform you” of how degenerate people are and describe in detail their dastardly ways so you, too, can jump on my bandwagon. I could word my posts in such a way which breeds fear and panic about how polluted our world is, where no one would ever want to venture out to that dangerous, scary place called the beach again.

But look at this picture. Despite the messiness, the vista was breathtaking.

With a focus bent on the negative, I could have missed it.

Or, I could consider a different perspective. I could shake my head, then get busy picking up some trash. It’s not fun. It’s actually kind of gross. It hurts my back a little, too. But doable. Instead of scorning “them”, I could choose to offer forgiveness to those who don’t know better (or maybe do and make a choice to care about things different from me). And all the while, soak in the stunning beauty which surrounds me.

Every day we read and watch nothing but negative behaviors on our news feeds. There’s some pretty awful stuff going on, hurtful and shocking and scary. Is it tainting your view of all humans? Of our country? Of this world?

And what are you doing about it? Are you helping pick up the broken pieces during these crazy times, or just kicking them around, making an even bigger mess?

I know, the trash is real, and it’s ugly. And there are dangers associated with it, and things are not as we’d like them to be, and we’re scared. But try to keep living, humanely, despite it all. It’s easy to kick around the anger, fear, and worry, spreading it to everyone you know. It’s harder to bend down and pick it up, and put it in its place.

If you feel at a loss as to what you can do to help in these unsettling times, consider picking up some of the residue left by others who are hurting, angry, and struggling. Grab a bag and carry it for them, and find a place to discard it, even if you don’t think they deserve it. Maybe it comes in the form of sending encouraging words in a text. Maybe send some money anonymously to help someone who is struggling financially. Maybe share a positive post. Maybe make someone laugh. Maybe let them know you value them. Maybe share a meal, send a gift card, or ask someone how they are doing, and take time to really listen. Discover their needs, their fears, their dreams, and figure out how to help clean up the mess. Because we all end up in messes sometimes. And we all need others to help when we find ourselves in that messy place.

And while you’re doing that, look up.The sunrise is amazing. Sure, these days you have to look a little harder to see it, but it’s there, every morning, the dawning of a new day. So lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, to the north, and to the south, and to the east and to the west. You won’t want to miss the view.

Offering kindness: An innovative way to lead

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

Not sure about you, but I’ve never once been inspired by someone’s angry, political rant. Oddly, I’m not moved to action by someone shouting at me to do/not do something. Accordingly, when someone hurls insults, calls names, or attempts to shame…again, strangely, I don’t find that motivational. Over the years, I have changed my viewpoint and actions exactly zero times as a result of that sort of behavior. You? Maybe I’m just stubborn that way.

Here’s a thought: If you really want to influence the way someone thinks, convince them that your way is best, or lead people into action, maybe consider a different approach.

Do something kind for them.Tell them what you appreciate about them, in detail. Thank them for who they are. Forgive them of past wrongs. Anonymously send them money with an encouraging note. Pray for them (all the while asking to see how you might be ‘off’). Send them a gift in secret. Treat them to coffee, or dinner, and when you’re together, do nothing but ask open-ended questions and listen. Offer respect. Validate their differing point of views, even if you don’t agree. Encourage them.

And if that’s just asking too much, consider getting out and doing something wonderful for someone else today…not by yelling, ranting, or condemning, but by showing active love. It’s kind of hard…especially when times are tough…but we can do hard things.

Yes, be smart. Be wise. Be alert. Be discerning. Be shrewd. And be kind.

Then, when you stop for a moment and glance behind you, you might be surprised by how many followers you have, looking to you to lead them, wanting to know more of how you think and learn from you.

Or, keep shouting into that social media megaphone, attacking and demeaning. It’s a choice we each get to make.

No matter how many shut downs, lock downs, viruses, conspiracies, quarantines, curfews, scandals, wars, and rumors of wars, that’s one freedom no one can take away.

Navigating the storm

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

I think we all can admit things are tough right now. Life as we know it has hit a strong headwind and it feels as if we’ve been thrown into deep, uncharted seas. We have been launched out of our safe harbors and suddenly must figure out new ways of working, relating with others, and existing. Gone are the days of smooth sailing and we’re being called to exercise adaptability, resilience, optimism, and patience — to name a few — just to stay afloat.

It’s hard, because what is being required of us is to change, and change can be difficult, especially when resources are limited. Suddenly, reaching the goals we had previously set seems near impossible.  “How am I supposed to [fill in the blank with your impossible goal(s) ] when I can’t leave my home?” It’s a fair question, one which many are asking. The easy thing to do during times such as this is to cast blame. But doing so will only take the wind out of your sails, which, in rough seas, may be the very thing which causes you to sink.

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity, the optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” — Winston Churchill

As we’ve seen in the past few weeks, there are those who continue to accomplish great things, despite the difficult circumstances, while others have given up on accomplishing much of anything. Why the great gulf in response to tough times? Of course there are many contributors, but one factor to consider is achievement drive.

Achievement drive is a competency of emotional intelligence. Those with strong achievement drive have high standards, and strive to succeed despite setbacks and failures. Stephen Covey said it well: “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” In other words, no matter the state of affairs, there is still a choice whether to push forward or fall back.

People with a strong achievement drive tend to be results-oriented, with a high motivation to meet their objectives. They have a deep understanding of the values which are important to them and don’t make compromises. They set goals for themselves which require stretching instead of taking the easy route. They’re not afraid to take risks and are always looking for ways to do things better. And most of all — they’re not OK with OK. They are constantly looking for ways to improve.

Who do you know like this?

Not everyone can name achievement drive as one of their assets. Those who struggle with this competency tend to, either overtly or covertly, avoid firm, fixed standards of performance and instead, fit the results to their circumstances. These are the people who meet expectations, if needed, but don’t push onward and upward. They tend to put forth minimum effort, whatever is needed to get by. They accept the status quo, and pride themselves in not being one to “rock the boat”.  And personal standards are quick to be thrown overboard when whitecaps begin to form.

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” — Henry Ford

I’ll be the first to say that achieving goals when the seas are rough is not easy. But if you’re always waiting for the timing to be right, you’ll probably be waiting a long, long time. If you look back upon the life you’ve lived, you can’t help but notice that change is a part of life. And often, just when you think things are going to be easy for a while, a twist of circumstances can quickly turn your world upside down. Have you ever been saving money, making better choices as to your spending, and just when you’ve almost reached your financial goal, an unexpected burden arises and your resources are again tapped out? Yes, it’s hard to reach our goals when things aren’t easy. But we can do hard things.

Will you let this storm bring your plans to naught, or will you figure out a way to paddle, if needed, through the waves and find a safe harbor on the other side?

The good news is that negative behaviors, such as a lack of achievement drive, can be shifted to follow a new course, despite the circumstances. It takes a mindset of growth, and a willingness to take risks, and even fail, and a positive outlook, along with some blister-forming hard work. But it’s worth the effort. Studies show that a negative mindset can squelch our  innovative ideas, and if we let it run rampant, motivate us to lower our standards, take an easier, lesser route or even worse, quit.

On the contrary, a positive outlook can help us see possibilities and fresh solutions needed to tackle the storms ahead. As Les Brown says, “In every day, there are 1,440 minutes. That means we have 1,440 daily opportunities to make a positive impact.”

Here are some ways to improve your achievement drive during rough seas:

  • Chart your course.  Do you set goals which are too easy to reach? If so, it may be what is preventing you from reaching your highest of heights. Raise the bar a bit. Nelson Mandela once said “There is no passion to be found playing small–in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” Choose a destination you actually want to get to! To coin the phrase from the 80’s, “Reach for the Stars!” Setting goals which feel a bit beyond your grasp will require you to extend your boundaries and pick up new skill sets. Check your goals by asking the simple question, “Is this excellent?” or, “Is this the best I could do?” If it’s a no, chart a new course.
  • Get in touch with your love of the sea. Tuning in to the emotional pull of what you want to achieve and why can create energy needed to accomplish great things. Someone once said, “Purpose is the reason you journey. Passion is the fire that lights the way.” Ask yourself these questions and take some time to journal about them: Why do you want to reach this goal? What about the journey draws you to it? What will you gain by achieving this goal? What benefits are there to going the extra mile? What will you lose by not taking action or going for more?
  • SMART Sailing.  SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed. Does your goal need some tuning to be a SMART goal? Again, writing about each of these can be effective in gaining awareness. Or, find a trusted friend or colleague with whom you can share your ideas to get some feedback. Sometimes an outside perspective can provide great insights. As you uncover areas of growth, list out ways you can make adjustments where needed.

“A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.” – Harvey Mackay

  • Name your adversaries.  What is holding you back from driving toward achievement? Is it a past story that is being retold, one which does not serve you well? Is it a fear of rejection, or may be failure… or a fear of succeeding? If needed, work with a counselor or emotional intelligence coach to help you recognize and name the forces which are opposing you, and learn healthy ways to move past them.
  • Inch forward, one knot at a time. Break down your goals into small, doable action items. Commit to doing one each day, no matter what distractions or interference you may incur. Keep on keeping on. Though your progress may seem slow, each step in the new direction counts. In time, these small gains add up to big gains, then you’ll be able to look back and see how far you’ve come. But only if you keep moving. Your determined, continued effort will pay off.
  • Keep a ship’s log.  Discouragement comes when we don’t feel like we’re making progress. It’s important to acknowledge that you are making headway against the strong winds. Keep a daily log of your achievements, small and great, and everything in between, and reflect on them at the end of the day, week, and month. Share them with others. Celebrate your successes and allow yourself to be encouraged by the progress you make along the way.
  • Enlist a crew. Your friends and colleagues may have skills which you don’t have. This is good. Think of your friends, colleagues, and family members. Who do you know who has high standards, who have set lofty goals and achieved them? Call them up and ask to meet in order to learn from them. Tap into their expertise and ask them to share their stories, tips, and suggestions.  Inviting someone else along for the ride also helps the struggle feel more enjoyable, and will give you much-needed accountability.
  • No need to walk the plank.  We live in a culture where perfectionism is thrust upon us as a norm. Which would be useful, if we weren’t human. Even the best of us miss sometimes, but it doesn’t have to result in quitting. You have to know that it is OK to make mistakes, especially if you use them to learn and grow. Some of the greatest individuals we know have stories of failure. Accept that getting off course and hitting reefs is a part of the learning process. And when you do mess up, apologize where needed, reset your course, and move on.  And a word to the wise: Skip the shame. Living with shame is like dropping an anchor and dragging it along the bottom of the sea as you try to move forward.  It will do nothing but slow down your progress and may even bring you to a halt. Instead, allow your mistakes to motivate you to try a different approach.

Of course, it is easier to succeed when the sun is shining and the waters are smooth. But unfortunately — or fortunately — that’s not the way life works. No matter your circumstances, you have the choice to move forward. It may be a different route than you originally planned, and you may face new obstacles and be forced to discover new ways of doing things. But if you don’t move forward, you’ll be tossed to and fro until you’re seasick!  Don’t give up.  I know, it’s hard.  But I encourage you to push on, despite the rough seas, and be someone who makes it to the other side. Keep driving yourself to achieve.  Once you’re there, in that safe, sunny harbor, not only will you realize your own dreams, but you’ll be able to turn around and throw a life buoy to those still struggling, and help them move forward as well.

It’s tough right now. It really is. But if you can use these difficult days to pursue high standards of excellence, through this storm, you’ll build resilience and grit, competencies which will serve you when the next squall arises. Which will arise, you know. This isn’t the end of it. There will always another wave coming sooner or later. So use today’s struggles to get ready for it.

Sail on. You’ll be glad you did.

“Do what you can with all you have, wherever you are.” — Theodore Roosevelt

A Spark of Creativity

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

If you’ve ever watched fireworks, whether as a small child or as an adult, it’s likely you’ve experienced moments of awe at the grandiose pyrotechnics illuminating the night. What’s even more amazing is that all it takes is a relatively small, smoldering stick to spark the explosive array of color, sound and light overhead.

When it comes to creativity, it seems some are able to come up with innovative ideas comparable to a dazzling display, where others of us can’t even seem to get the match to light. And it’s true: some people are more creative than others. However, each of us have the ability to improve our creativity, and all it takes is a small spark to light things up.

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” –Peter F. Drucker

We often think of creative people as those who can draw, or paint, or pull off an amazing performance on stage. At the office, the creative gene may seem to be limited to those in leadership. Or maybe you see ingenuity as the role of those on the creative team in the marketing department. At home, it may be assumed that it’s your significant other’s role to keep things new and interesting. I like to think that creativity spans a broader demographic, and is a behavior which can be achieved by anyone who puts their mind (and effort!) to it. Consider creativity in a more comprehensive sense. For example, it could be as simple as being open to and actively pursuing novel ideas. It’s being willing to take on new approaches, and seek out fresh ideas from a variety of sources. It’s being able to consider new solutions to old ways of doing things, and being willing to ask questions which generate new ideas–and encouraging others to do the same.

Creativity can be about taking risks to test out a new idea to see if it’s a worthy one. It’s about being curious. People who are creative tend to be flexible and adaptable, and view ‘failure’ as feedback instead of a setback.

“If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong.” –Charles Kettering

Looking at it in this light, how creative are you? Here are some questions to ask yourself.  If you answer yes to any of the below, your creativity could probably use a spark:

  • Do you worry about impending yet necessary change in your personal or professional life?
  • Do you respond negatively to new situations?
  • Are you one to complain when changes occur?
  • Do you take an inflexible stance when new ideas are introduced?
  • Are you hesitant to take on new challenges?
  • Have you ever said, “That’s not the way we do things”?
  • Do you drag your feet toward change even when you recognize the ‘old ways’ aren’t working anymore?

If you have more yes’s than no’s, there’s no need to write yourself off as hopeless. Creativity and innovation are competencies of emotional intelligence, that ability to be aware of our own emotions and those of others, then manage our behaviors accordingly. And the good news about emotional intelligence is that it can be improved, with some effort.

But first, why develop your creativity? Research shows that increased creativity can:

  • lift us out of ruts
  • sparks new ideas
  • provide fresh perspectives
  • open up better ways of doing things
  • give us a positive outlook
  • connect us with others
  • create a sense of accomplishment

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”–Albert Einstein

Most of us who don’t think we’re creative allow ourselves to get stuck behind one or more of the following hurdles. Which one of these is preventing you from sparking something new?

1-Negative self-talk. “I’m just not creative,” you may tell yourself. And based upon what you’re thinking, it may seem as if it’s true. But in all verity, each of us can be creative in some shape or form. In his article, “Challenging Negative Self-Talk”, Ben Martin, Psy.D., suggests we start by testing the accuracy of our negative self-perceptions, by asking one or all of these four questions:

Just because someone has criticized you in the past doesn’t mean you have to wear their stamp of disapproval like a scarlet letter. Allow yourself to see yourself as imaginative despite the negativity of others.

2-I choose distractions. Would you rather mindlessly scroll on your phone or carve out time for innovative thinking? Here’s a quick test:  Yes or no – do you pick up your phone every time you have a free moment? If so, you may be limiting your ability–and time–to think creatively.  In an article entitled, “Why You Should Put Your Phone Down”, author Alexandra Hayes notes that “Allowing your mind to wander is a prerequisite for having a eureka moment, and when your gaze is perpetually glued to your phone, mind-wandering is nearly impossible.” [https://thriveglobal.com/stories/brain-body-benefits-less-screen-time/?]. Next time you pick up your phone, consider setting it back down and allowing your mind a little freedom to wander, and wonder.

3-I’m too busy. When my kids were little, they’d tire of a game or activity and whine, “I’m bored”.  Instead of fixing it for them by providing a new, engaging activity, I’d often respond with, “OK”.  It wasn’t long before they’d find something else to do, on their own. As adults, we tend to stay so busy that we never allow ourselves to feel bored. However, boredom can spark creative ideas. “Bored people feel that their actions are meaningless and so they are motivated to engage in meaningful behaviour,” concludes Wijnand van Tilburg, co-author of the paper, “Bored George Helps Others: A Pragmatic Meaning-Regulation Hypothesis on Boredom and Prosocial Behaviour.” [https://www.theguardian.com/science/2011/may/06/boredom-good-for-you-claims-study].

So consider freeing up your schedule for some ‘nothing time’, allow yourself to feel bored, and see what happens next.

4-Innovative ideas are not safe in this environment. Your surroundings may not feel like a safe place to exercise creativity. You may have a boss who disregarded an idea you had, or a significant other who laughed at your last novel suggestion for a fun, family activity. It makes sense why you may choose to shut down your creativity. In an article entitled, “Why A Culture of Innovation Doesn’t Work When People Are Afraid”, author Pere Rosales points out that when our work environment conditions us to keep quiet and do what we’re told, instead of exercising creativity, employees are concerned more with not coming across ignorant or incompetent. The result? “People keep everything—from big ideas to good questions—inside,” severely limiting new and innovative ideas for growth. [https://inusual.com/en/blog/why-a-culture-of-innovation-doesnt-work-when-people-are-afraid].

If you are in a situation such as this, it may be time to have a conversation with your manager or human resources professional, or, at home, with your significant other about how it is important for you to feel you have a say in helping to create new direction when needed. As well, be sure you are doing your part to create a safe environment for creativity, making sure not to criticize or ridicule new ways of doing things.

5-I don’t know where to start. Sometimes getting started is the biggest hurdle in sparking creativity. In Josh Spector’s article, “How to Start a Creative Project When You Don’t Know Where to Begin”, he speaks of the importance of recognizing there are two aspects to every creative project: ideas and execution. Sometimes we get overwhelmed by the actions we’d need to take that we shut down. Spending time on a simple brainstorming exercise can get the ideas flowing, thus helping us launch.

When you’re ready to ignite your creativity, here are a few prompts to journal about or discuss with a close friend or coach:

  • In which areas of your life are things feeling stale or stagnant? How does it make you feel?
  • What is one shift you foresee needs to be made in your workplace? At home?
    • What is your role in preventing necessary changes at work? At home?
  • If you were to make changes, who else would it involve and how would the changes potentially impact them?
  • What conversations do you need to have and with whom to initiate change?
  • What is one thing you can do today to start in a fresh direction?

Making the smallest of effort towards creativity may be just the spark you need to create your own fireworks display!

“There’s a way to do it better – find it.” –Thomas A. Edison

A Fresh Start

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

“When the path ignites a soul, there’s no remaining in place. The foot touches ground, but not for long.”

― Hakim Sanai

Have you ever gone for a walk in freshly-fallen snow?

There’s something magical about taking those first steps onto the pristine white canvas of a serene, snow-covered landscape. A few years back, I had a mile walk between the city transit stop and my office, and often, after a snowstorm, I’d be the first to traipse through the deep snow which had accumulated overnight. The soft crunch under my boots blended with the dazzling sunlight dancing on the frozen terrain brought much delight on cold, wintery days. At the end of the day, I’d notice that many other footsteps had joined my own on the new path I’d blazed that morning.

It’s often like that when we decide to venture out in a new direction of life. With each brave stride, our footprints carve a way for us and others to make a shift toward fresh perspectives and experiences.

What better time to do this than at the start of a new year?

When is the last time you ventured down a new path? If you’re like most of us, change can be disconcerting. Many of us settle into our habits and get so comfortable that any disruption to ‘the way things are’ can throw us for a loop. It’s easy to fall into this routine of not only resenting change, but avoiding it at all costs.

But life seems to be chock-full of continual change, and it’s nearly impossible to tread the same path year after year, without incurring negative outcomes. Unforeseen circumstances — and the emotions which accompany them — can hit with the ferocity of a bitter winter storm, and if we’re not ready to plow through it, we can get ‘snowed in’ to old patterns and ways which don’t serve us well.

Part of being open to change is seeking out opportunities to learn new things. Whether you are a coach, an HR professional, a leader, or an individual looking to grow, I’d like to propose Social + Emotional Intelligence Coaching, a unique niche to add to your coaching skill set. Learning to coach others to improve their self-awareness, self-management, other awareness, and relationship management can bring about more life satisfaction to you and those you lead. Taking this new step can help you forge a passage though the ups and downs of life, making the way a little easier to navigate for both you and those who follow.

So bundle up, don your snow boots, and consider exploring the new path of social + emotional intelligence coaching in the new year. We offer online courses each month to certify you as a Social + Emotional Intelligence Coach and equip you to administer the Social + Emotional Intelligence Profile. Not only will you be giving yourself the gift of a fresh start, you’ll be able to turn around and lay the course for those you work with and lead as they attempt to cross their own barren landscapes.

Learn more in our monthly free one-hour webinars. Click here to learn more or register today!

http://www.the-isei.com/certificationcourses.aspx

8 Essential Components of Personal Transformation

Article contributed by Brian Baker.

Today we are talking about personal transformation. These 8 strategies can help you become the person you’ve always wanted to be.

1. Identify your core values. You won’t be happy if you create a big change that puts you in conflict with your values. Most people have never really taken the time to identify their values. Take a day to consider the values that are most important to you. Write them down.

2. Create a vision of the future. Think about the end result of the transformation you want to make. What would that look like? What direction would you like your life to take? Is your transformation reasonable for you? For example, you might not be able to make a trillion dollars, but you could still build great wealth.

3. Determine why. Why do you want to make this change? Create a long list of reasons why you want to transform. Get excited and dream big!

4. Identify the qualities and skills you’ll need to develop. If you want to transform your body, you might need to learn more about exercise physiology, nutrition, and develop some discipline. Consider what it will take to accomplish your transformation.

5. Identify the resources you’ll require. Do you need a personal trainer, gym membership, and a blender? Maybe you need money and a life coach for your transformation. Figure out the resources you’ll need.

6. Make a plan. Start at the end and keep working backwards until you reach a step that you can do today. Avoid worrying about every little detail of the future and work in the moment. Don’t get ahead of yourself.

7. Audit your plan. Imagine following your plan and note how you feel at each step. You’re bound to feel some emotional resistance at one or more points. If you didn’t, you would have made the transformation long ago.

a. It’s important to address each of the issues that creates emotional discomfort. You’re likely to quit if you don’t.
b. Either come up with a plan to work around those issues or just relax and let the negative feelings go.
c. You’ll know you’re in a good place when you find yourself chomping at the bit to get started. Procrastination is a sign that something is awry.

8. Don’t quit! This is the most challenging part for most people. You fail if you quit. You can’t fail if you don’t. Keep on going no matter how bleak things seem. You can always do better tomorrow than you did today. A little bit of progress each day or week is all you need.

Start your transformation today. Build a vision and create a plan. Stay the course until you’re satisfied with the changes you’ve made.

The pursuit of “perfection” can lead to “procrastination”

 

Article contributed by guest author Stephanie Wachman.

Striving to be perfect has its good side, but let’s be honest: perfectionism, paradoxically, can paralyze us and zap productivity. It often leads to missed opportunities, blown deadlines, massive stress, and frustration with ourselves and others. If we can learn to tame the voice in our head that says, “It’s still not good enough,” then we can free up our minds and schedules to conquer other important tasks and initiatives. The net result of “perfection” is usually “procrastination”.

If you have a pattern of blowing deadlines or not starting on a project, ask yourself why you are holding off. From my experience in working with professionals I have heard three consistent answers.

  • I’m not sure what I’m doing
  • I don’t know where to start, and
  • I’m not sure it will be good enough

By holding off on starting a big project or by frequently missing deadlines, you are actually sabotaging yourself and your success. Ask yourself if you have a pattern of behavior that causes you to hold back on delivering work on time.  Some of us are willing to accept the consequences of being slapped on the wrist for a blown deadline then the risk of turning in work we think is “imperfect”.  I refer to this predicament as Perfection Paralyses.

Although you won’t find this syndrome in the official book of psychological disorders, this is a real problem that’s not easy to overcome—unless you are perfect.

The pursuit of “perfection” can be an elusive ideal as “perfection” is hard to define for ourselves but ultimately leads to procrastination.

4 tips to overcome procrastination:

Sometimes good is good enough:  In some cases, doing a good enough job is the right choice, especially when you consider the consequences of not meeting your commitments.

Find a starting point: When you are overwhelmed with the task at hand, start by making a list of all the things you have to do pertaining to the project. Drill down as far as you can go and then pick one item to start with.  Often, we just need to get started somewhere in order to get the work flow going.

Set a timer: Blocking a short period of time on your calendar and setting a time for it will help you with focus. Make it into a challenge, where you play beat the clock.  I often say that if you are really blocked then start with 20 minutes and just begin with brainstorming.  This will warm up the mind and get thoughts flowing.

Ask for help:  If you have taken on a project that is more than you can handle or you are truly not equipped to do it, then find someone who can help you.  It might even be a colleague who isn’t in your office. Asking for help can be a lifeline when you need it most.

Getting past procrastination and the consequences that go along with it will help you improve your work performance as well as decrease stress.  Leaving things undone can increase the amount of frustration and disappointment you have in yourself. The good news is you can overcome it by being deliberate in how you take steps to get beyond it.

Managing Work-Related Stress with EQ

Article contributed by guest author Deb Westcott.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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