Archive for the ‘Self Awareness’ Category

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

                                                                                        

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

Giving Thanks When You’re Not Thankful

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

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

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

But what if you’re not feeling thankful?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Applying Signature Strengths for Emotional Wellbeing

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

What do you do when you feel down?

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

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

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

Do you know what your “signature” strengths are?

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

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

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

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

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

An unpopular way to inspire

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

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

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

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

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

— John Quincy Adams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Albert Schweitzer

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

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

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

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

— Mahatma Gandhi

On a positive note

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which one of these could you use more of?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with friends/family/new people

Change your setting

Get outside and spend time in nature

–Find something that makes you laugh — and laugh!

Exercise (aerobic and cardio work best)

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

Activate your curiosity and learn something new

–Begin a gratitude jar/journal/letter

Reflect on a past achievements and celebrate them

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

Count your blessings and small kindnesses which happen every day

Savor moments, big and small

–Find flow (get lost doing something you love)

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

You and this world need your positivity.

Active Listening to Avoid Conflict

Article contributed by guest author Grant Herbert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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