The History of You

Article contributed by guest author Paige Dest.

Most of us probably never imagined just two months ago that we’d be in the place we are right now –  socially isolated from family, friends, neighbors, co-workers – those we used to be with every day. We each had our own things going on, though we stood beside each other. And now, we are together in a situation, though we can’t stand beside each other. There are emotions flowing around each of us that we hadn’t anticipated, some with which we may not know what to do. And that’s OK.  That’s being human. We’re allowed to be scared and courageous at the same time. Emotions, after all, are just chemicals in our body that give us information about the next action we may need to take.

But the question is – what action will you take? Will you focus on self-care? Taking care of others? Showing kindness, generosity, gratitude? Will you be creative? Will you teach, learn, or both? Where will you put your energy?

What will be the history of you?

This is the time to decide who you want to remember yourself as, in a year or in ten years. How you decide to “show up” in this time will help define you after this is over – and it will be over. You can take  the steps to be someone of whom you are proud. Someone who accepted their emotions but didn’t wallow in them. Someone who stepped up – whatever that means for you. Someone who used this “moment of pause” in the human condition to reflect, accept, and intentionally move forward. And whether that step is a small step or a big step, it’s still a step. A step that you will remember. So, I ask you, what will that step be? What will be the history of you?

A good way to begin figuring this out is to experience what your body is telling you and what emotions you are feeling. Name your emotion and be curious about the information it’s telling you. Use this information to strategize your available choices and opportunities. These could be around your own care and development or around assisting others. Or perhaps it’s both. In each moment, you are given a choice. Listen to your emotions and take each moment to pause and decide how you want to be. Once you know how you want to BE, you can make a better choice of what you want to DO. And in each choice, you are also deciding the history of YOU. Make it one of which you’re proud!

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

Letting go

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

Over the years, I have struggled with giving up things I loved…my spacious home filled with cherished stuff, financial security, my church, a job that paid well with benefits, someone to provide happiness for me, and all the privileges which came along with that lifestyle…because I had to. Instead, I’ve had to figure out how to live in a very small space, secure remote work, accrue some debt, get rid of most of my stuff, live on a very limited income, learn to enjoy my own company, develop a personal relationship with God, and find joys in the simple things. Now that I’ve let it all go, and choose this lifestyle, it no longer feels like a struggle, though to many I may seem poor.

But it sure makes the transitions called for during a times such as this a lot easier. Other than the need for a mask, and a deep compassion for those who are without food, are scared, and have lost jobs and loved ones, life without many of the typical conveniences feels normal to me, and oddly, I feel thankful for the rough times which led me here.

Crazy-thinking, I know.

I get it, right now it feels really hard. Because it is. But sometimes letting go of parts of life-as-you-know-it can be a breath of much-needed fresh air if you allow yourself to breathe it in and fill your lungs. With a mask, of course, for now. And down the road, without it all, you may just find a place of peace and joy you didn’t know was possible.

I’m not negating the struggle getting there. We’ve never faced something like this and losing beloved things like career, savings, freedoms, security, health, and loved ones is painful–terrifying, even.

But things may just turn out all right. On the other side of this, your life may look a lot different than what you dreamed or planned…and you may even ask yourself, “How did I end up here?!”, like I have, countless times. Yes, it will be a different life…but maybe, just maybe, all right.

Change is so hard for us humans, but it’s not going anywhere. Let today’s struggles give you the strength for the next wave of change which will hit, once this one ends. Keep your chin up. This is hard…but we can do hard things. You got this.

Because you never know, you might just like that place you find yourself on the other side.

We get to choose

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.
We’ve all had to modify our habits and behaviors in the past month, and because of this, it’s become increasingly important we tend to our emotional wellbeing.
 
Giving up routines
It’s hard to let go of our normal routines, especially routines we enjoy. It can be frustrating, annoying, and depressing. This disruption to our normal routines can be confusing and scary and _______ (fill in your own adjective). And many feel downright restricted, for good reason. Some of us can still get outside — some can’t. Some of us have huge houses to roam — some are cooped in very small spaces. Some of us get to work — some are getting paid not to work — and some can’t work at all. Some of us are financially sound — some are struggling to pay rent and feed our families. Some of us are alone — and some feel overwhelmed by all of the family members at home under the same roof. Some of us are sick in hospital beds — and some are still enjoying health. Some of us don’t know anyone personally who has succumbed to the disease — some have lost dear, loved ones.
 
How will you respond?
Noo matter our differing circumstances, we are in this together. We have all had to modify our lifestyles to some degree. And despite what some can do and what some can’t do, we have one thing in common. Choice. Choice as to how we respond to this upheaval of life as we knew it.
 
One choice is to let ourselves be filled with fear, worry, and dread, allow negativity to take hold, and complain, gripe, and blame. Many go down this path, and they can — it’s their choice. However studies show that consistent stress, fear and worry can take a toll on our bodies. If continued, it can wreck our immune systems and mental health — and have a negative affect on everyone we interact with.
 
Another choice is to choose emotional wellbeing. It’s not always the easiest route. It takes considerable effort to fight against the natural tendancy of negativity when times are hard.
 
This month I watched a video of a man who ran a marathon inside his tiny, dark apartment living room. Can you imagine the monotony of running ’round and ’round your kitchen table for 6+ hours? And think about being his neighbors in the flat below! I saw that a neighborhood conducted a socially-distanced dance party. I saw quarantined individuals singing from their balconies. I watched a dad who made his daughters laugh uncontrollably (and drove his wife crazy) by acting like a dinosaur every time his girls said the words, “dinosaur dad”. I’ve seen a boy smiling as he rides his bike outside my window every afternoon. I’ve witnessed moms getting creative with crafts to keep their kids occupied. I’ve participated in video conversations where people shared things they’re grateful for. My neighbors have been gardening. One friend has been riding her horse. Another friend initiated weekly virtual happy hours with her colleagues. My daughter-n-law, who was sick with coronavirus, got a new puppy, and shared the photos of her laughing at his antics, which brought us all joy, despite the extreme discomfort she was in.
These people, as many around the world have done, have chosen to find joy despite their negative circumstances.
 
Yes, times are difficult. We face so much uncertainty and it’s easy to let fear creep in and take hold. But have you ever been one to choose the easy route? Think back on all of your own past success, accomplishments you are really proud of, great and small. Was it easy to get there? Did it really take no effort? You can do hard things. You’ve done it before and you can do it again. We all have and can.
 
Finding Joy
What do you like to do? What makes you laugh? What makes your heart sing? Yes, I know — you most likely can’t do these things, right now, in exactly the same way you did before. But are there ways you can modify a bit and still make them happen? Maybe it’s a video chat with your best friend. Of course that’s not as good as being with them in person — but at least you can see their face and hear their voice. Maybe it’s opening your window and letting in some fresh air — even if you can’t go outside. Maybe it’s practicing yoga in your tiny apartment — not as good as your class at the gym, but better than nothing? Maybe it’s watching a funny movie at home instead of the theater. Maybe it’s getting creative with the limited food staples you have and coming up with a new dish…even if it turns out badly! Maybe it’s grabbing a pencil and sketching what you see from your front porch. Maybe it’s writing encouraging notes to friends to cheer them up. Maybe it’s having family members take turns creating a ‘restaurant night in’ so you feel like you’re still eating out.
 
And maybe it’s learning to find joy in the little things which may have gone unnoticed up until now.
 
The choice is ours
Again, we can choose negativity. We get that choice. But our emotional health is vital during times such as this. So I’d like to encourage you to fight the tendancies toward pessimism. See if you can’t try at least one thing today which will lead to a positive outlook, even if it’s just for a moment. If you can’t muster anything up, simply write down a few things you’re thankful for. Then try it again tomorrow, and maybe extend the time you spend doing it. Each day, increase the number of things you write down, and begin looking in all the nooks and crannies of your life for more. Share these with others so they, too, can benefit from your walk toward improved an improved emotional outlook and possibly be encouraged to do the same.
 Choosing positivity is not being naieve, or silly. Trust me, we still will remain very aware of the trying circumstances which surround us all. Things like this aren’t something we can just block out.  This is tough, maybe one of the toughest things we’ve experienced. But despite what’s going on around us, most of which we have no control over, when we choose to engage in joy-producing activities, we can at least begin to exert energy toward the thing we have control of — our own emotional wellbeing.
We get to choose.

What Services Do Servant Leaders Provide?

Article contributed by guest author Dennis Hooper.

Sometimes leaders ask if I help organizations understand and implement “servant leadership.” Maybe the individual has heard of the concept but can’t imagine how it functions, considering his or her current beliefs about leadership. I love exploring existing perspectives with inquisitive people, helping them see a more effective model and allowing them to adjust their leadership behaviors.

The most common image of leadership involves the traditional pyramidal hierarchy. Developed centuries ago, the corporate organization chart clearly identifies what portion of the empire each leader controls. “These people work for me” is the operative mental outlook. Within this framework, many leaders find it hard to consider “what can I do to serve them?”

So, let’s start thinking about servant leadership by representing the organization through a different model. Imagine how we might use a tree as a more appropriate organizational metaphor.

Visualize that the individuals who do the work on a day-to-day basis are the leaves. They are supported by the branches, which are the organization’s managers and supervisors. Top management is the trunk supporting the branches and leaves and delivering water and nutrients up from the roots.

The trunk and branches provide substantial support for that portion of the organization where the “real work” is accomplished. When the winds of change blow, the trunk and roots provide stability, keeping the tree anchored firmly. The tree’s extensive root system collects revenue from customers, and the trunk delivers the needed capital equipment, raw materials, tools, and supplies to the leaves.

Through this simple paradigm shift, many individuals are immediately able to better understand the concept of servant leadership. The trunk and branches function collaboratively to ensure the health and growth of the twigs and leaves. A tree is a living organism; if any part becomes diseased, the life of the entire tree is in jeopardy.

If the organization remains healthy, the parts that do the “real work” are pushed higher, competing favorably with surrounding trees for sunlight. Growth, through increased production and reliability, is a natural desire among those doing the work. The trunk and branches grow only as much as is required to deliver the resources needed by the growing numbers of leaves.

Pyramids were never intended to grow; they were designed as tombs! Trees, however, are alive and beautiful. With apologies to Joyce Kilmer, “I think that I shall never see a pyramid lovely as a tree.”

Now, let’s consider the real-time services that you provide when you function as a servant leader. Let’s start with you as entrepreneur, gathering resources and sending up the first shoot. Leaves are added as survival seems viable. Growth occurs quickly in those first few years as the tender seedling seeks sunshine and manages to avoid consumption by insects and herbivores.

Once the organization matures, you as leader provide opportunity, resources, a healthy work environment, and clear expectations. Depending on the surroundings, you communicate direction so that everyone is empowered to achieve the inspiring vision of robust growth. When problems arise, you listen and collaborate to eliminate obstructions and obtain needed resources.

You offer coaching, feedback, respect, and expanded responsibilities. You inform everyone of the organization’s results and you invite new ideas. You offer encouragement, hope, balance, and clarity. You tell the truth. You plan so last-minute requests rarely occur. You keep promises that you’ve made. You ask people what they need, and you work to provide it.

Lest we take this model too far, let’s acknowledge that those doing the “real work” are accountable to your authority. However, the leaves rarely need to be reminded why they exist. They realize that their role–processing sunshine, water, and nutrients–is a critical function for the success of “the tree team.”

As a servant leader, you support and empower those who do the “real work” of the organization!

9 Ways to Build Bonds (even in times of crisis)

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Many of us are facing unprecedented circumstances with the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, and suddenly find ourselves in isolation from coworkers, friends, and loved ones.  Research shows that the long term effects of not being able to connect others can be damaging.  In an article by Stanford Medicine’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research Education, Dr. Emma Seppala says this: “People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. In other words, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.” [http://ccare.stanford.edu/uncategorized/connectedness-health-the-science-of-social-connection-infographic/]

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”― Herman Melville

Somehow, we must figure out how to continue to build bonds despite the constraints of social distancing and quarantines.

What does it mean to build bonds with others? Those who are good at this competence of emotional intelligence tend to be nurturing and good at maintaining relationships. They seek out and cultivate mutually-beneficial friendships from a wide network of people. But we’re not talking about shallow, superficial relationships. People good at building bonds connect on a deep, if not spiritual level of understanding and compassion which leave others feeling valued and appreciated. They’re able to build rapport and earn the trust of those who interact with them. They value individual perspectives even when they differ from their own. And they’re willing to take time to do what it takes to reach out and check in with others.

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tired into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”― Martin Luther King Jr.

Those who struggle with building bonds may have a hard time relating to those who are different than them. They fail to recognize — and respond — to the needs and/or concerns of others, and view colleagues, friends, and even family members as competitors. And when things get heated — they easily let go of once-meaningful relationships to avoid the conflict.

When we don’t have a strong network of close relationships, and experience times of stress or crisis, we become ineffective at accomplishing goals or completing tasks because we are limited in who we can turn to for help.

What’s encouraging about emotional intelligence competencies is that they can be developed. In other words, if you’re doing a poor job in the moment at building bonds — there’s hope! With some efforts you can begin to tune into your emotional drivers and alter behaviors which prevent you from making connections, especially during times like this when meaningful relationships are needed most.

Here are a 9 ways to get started on developing deeper bonds with others:

  • Determine who’s who. Decide upon the people you wish to connect with, whether it be someone you already know or someone you’d like to get to know better. Write down their names, and a few personal details you know about them for starters. Note, for each, why you’d like to strengthen the relationship.
  • Know thyself. Self-awareness is key to building bonds with others. Make a list of the positive traits you have to offer in a relationship.  If you’re not clear on your assets, consider taking the free VIA Character Strengths survey to determine your signature strengths.
  • Move beyond the chit chat. To build bonds with others, think about learning who they are vs. what they do.  Ask open-ended questions with the goal of better understanding the motivations behind the actions. Here are a few examples: “How are you — really?”,  “How did that make you feel?”, “How is that tough circumstance tripping you up the most?”, “What are you most excited about, and why?”,  “What makes your heart sing, and why?”, “When is the last time you laughed really hard, and what was it about?”, “What are you most scared of, and why?”, and my favorite, “What else?”.
  • Share authentically. In order to help others feel safe in opening up, you’ll want to to share authentically as well, relating your own stories about the above questions. Just be sure to wait until they are finished talking, and before you jump in, let them know you heard what they said by asking clarifying questions.
  • Show empathy.  It’s important you reflect appropriate emotions in reaction to their words. Obviously, you don’t want to burst out laughing when they’re sharing something sad. Instead, saying something like, “That sounds really hard” can go a long way. Try to feel what they’re feeling and think about how it would be if you were in their shoes.  Let them know you care and believe in them.
  • Be consistent. Check in with others on a regular basis. A simple, “How are you?” every few days reminds others that you’re thinking of them. Remember what they told you in the last conversation and ask how things are going around that. And don’t forget to reach out on special events — at the completion of an important project, after a doctor’s visit, before a tough conversation they need to have, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. If they shared something they are worried about, or really anticipating, be sure to ask about it.
  • Learn to listen.  Getting to know someone requires some good listening skills. Really try to focus on what they’re saying, and make a note to remember the details.  Pull out your phone and make a note if needed.  When they pause, instead of jumping in to speak, again, get in the habit of simply asking, “What else?”.
  • Become a servant-friend. Are you aware of their current needs?  If not, ask, then try to think of ways you could lend a helping hand…then go do it. It’s a little more difficult now that we need to practice social distancing, but with the many delivery services, online ordering, and ability to send money via the internet, you could probably come up with a creative way to help. Having an attitude of service can go a long way in strengthening friendships.
  • Fix the flat tire. Is there unresolved conflict which needs to be taken care of?  Letting the “elephant in the room” exist too long can dampen any relationship and prevent you from moving to a deeper connection. Though it may be easier to avoid the issues between you, having an open and honest conversation to work toward resolve may be necessary if the relationship is to move forward. If this seems impossible, consider enlisting the help of a coach or counselor.

Since most of us are practicing social isolation at the moment, research the different platforms on which you can connect virtually, and give them a try.

A note of advice: When attempting to take any relationship to deeper levels, make sure the connection is reciprocated. Do they, too, have a desire to get to know you better? Friendships don’t work real well when they’re one sided, and it’s tough to get to know someone if they’re just not interested. Try to practice ‘other-awareness’ — tuning into how the other person is feeling, and notice whether they are also interested in building bonds with you. If the relationship is not mutually beneficial, it can fall flat and your efforts can become a source of tension. If so, no harm, no foul. It’s OK.  Not everyone can be a friend. Let it go if needed and move on.

In trying times like these, having close connections will do wonders for your soul. Taking the steps to deepen your relationships can provide the emotional and physical resiliency needed in times of trouble.

“Connecting with others gives us a sense of inclusion, connection, interaction, safety, and community. Your vibe attracts your tribe, so if you want to attract positive and healthy relationships, be one! Staying connected and getting reconnected feeds the flow of goodness which empowers our humanity.”― Susan C. Young

 

Turning Mistakes into Motivators

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

I don’t know anyone who enjoys making mistakes.

Perfectionists or not, when we mess up, we feel bad. Embarrassment, self-loathing, and shame often accompany mishaps, emotions strong enough to tackle the strongest of us. “Are you really this dumb?!” or “Seriously, you did that again?!”, we ask our inward self, and our inward self often answers with self-defeating agreement. In fact, the feelings we associate with making mistakes can wield enough negative power to prevent most of us from ever trying again.

Think back on the last time you missed. Do you get positive, “warm fuzzies” when you reflect upon it? Is it something you are proud to share with others? I’m guessing not. We usually want to hide or attempt to cover up our errors, and sometimes choose negative behaviors such as lying or passing the blame to do so, neither of which benefits us in the long run. Responding this way gets in the way of success, not only our own but for others. It’s no wonder we avoid mess ups like the plague.

Having a bias for action is a competency of emotional intelligence. It’s that ability to create and seize opportunities, not allowing a fear of mistakes prevent you from missing out. Rather than waiting for good things to come your way, or procrastinating, it’s having the inclination to act before you have to, to foresee necessary changes and take steps toward new endeavors. One aspect of taking initiative is being persistent. Persistence is the quality of “continuing firmly or obstinately in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.” [https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/persistent]

“If you wait until you’re ready, you’ll wait forever.” ― Will Rogers

Many successful people have made mistakes at one time or another, and had the choice of quitting, or, exercising persistence to motivate them toward success. Consider for a moment the story of the confectioner, Milton Hersey.

His last name should give it away. We know him as the founder of the company that produces those delicious chocolate bars wrapped in foil and brown paper, the Hershey Chocolate Company. At an early age, Milton discovered the value of persistence, despite mistakes and perceived failures, a trait which would later contribute to his success.

At fourteen years of age, Milton dropped out of school and was working as an apprentice at a print shop in his home town. But he was let go for accidentally dropping his hat into one of the machines! After taking another job at a nearby candy factory, and subsequently losing it, he decided to step out on his own and open his own candy store. The business failed. For the next 15 years–yes, 15 years!–, Milton moved from city to city, job to job, searching for success, but not finding it. When he ended up in New York City, he decided to sell candies as a street vendor, which proved to be unsuccessful as well. Just when most of us would have quit, feeling the painful pangs of failure, Milton moved back to his hometown, where an old employee, Henry Lebkicher, offered him lodging and gave him a loan to ship his candy-making equipment from the city.

“If someone offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!” ― Richard Branson

Milton began to experiment with his own chocolate recipes, using condensed milk which was readily available from the dairy cows on the farm. It wasn’t until 1893, when Milton was 36 years old — over 20 years after he dropped that hat — he created the Lancaster Caramel Company. Seven years after its birth, he sold the company for one million dollars, and in 1900, established the Hershey Chocolate Company, which today still stands as one of the most famous (and best-tasting) brands of chocolate on the planet. [https://www.wanderlustworker.com/48-famous-failures-who-will-inspire-you-to-achieve/]

Now that’s some perseverance! I am very glad he didn’t quit (she says, as she bites into a mouthwatering chocolate bar).

One thing we can learn from this story is that mistakes don’t have to lead to failure. They can, instead, propel us forward. As we develop a mindset of persistence, we can begin to look at errors as stumbling blocks from which we can learn. And as we figure out how to clear these hurdles, we will begin to develop the grit it takes to bring about success.

“Your limits are YOUR limits” ― Daren Martin

Remember the fable about the old donkey who was no longer wanted by his master? The disgruntled owner dug a deep pit, threw the poor donkey in, and began filling in the hole. But with each shovelful of dirt intended to bury him, the ingenuous donkey tamped down the dirt and stepped up, building his own staircase, until he could step right out of that dark place.

Taking initiative despite mistakes takes some effort. If you struggle with this, you may find you procrastinate on things you need to be doing, then feel bad about falling behind schedule. You may be resistant to work that falls outside your ‘required duties’, and give up easily. You may find you are always in ‘crisis mode’, reacting instead of being proactive and reaping the benefits of planning ahead. You may find you postpone decisions due to being overly-cautious and afraid to take risks.

Want to learn how to tamp down the dirt that comes your way and step up and out past your mistakes? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Feel the feels.  If you messed up, it’s OK to feel bad for a while. It’s normal, and shows you are human and possess empathy. Instead of tuning out those feelings, use them as a valuable source of information as to what’s going on inside of you. Notice the emotions you feel, and name them. Acknowledge them and connect them to their source, listening to what they are trying to tell you.
  • Reflect. Looking back on the error, determine which parts (if any) actually went well and which went south. What can you learn from these? What will you repeat next time, and what will you choose not to repeat?
  • Listen to your narrative and sleuth out the truth. Are you retelling the story of your mistake based upon untruths? Challenge yourself to lay down a negative bias and run through the facts — not your perceptions — of the situation. This is a good time to remove any assumptions you have made about what others are thinking of you. If you’re struggling with this, ask trusted friends or colleagues — those who want to help you grow — who know the situation for their perspective.
  • Adopt a positive mindset. No matter how poorly you may feel about the mishap, remember that you have the choice to behave differently next time. Replace your negative, self-defeating thoughts with positive affirmations. Instead of, “I can’t ____”, figure out what you can do. Instead of “I always ___”, try saying, “I can change by ____”. Your words matter. Speak words which breathe positivity, hope, and success.
  • Stop victiming out. OK, so you messed up. We all have. If you find yourself playing the role of the victim, not only is it going to stunt your own growth, but you’ll drive everyone else around you crazy as well. Instead, visualize yourself as victor. Again, you have the choice to change. Spend some time dreaming about what would it look like if you chose not to repeat the poor behavior. What are some ways you could do it differently next time? Describe what it would feel like to succeed. Take a moment to journal about this or talk to a trusted friend.
  • Apologize then move on. You can’t keep beating yourself up for a past mistake–it only causes you and others to relive the pain over and over. Figure out who your mistake(s) hurt, and how, then go to them and do your best to apologize. Don’t expect them to become your new best friend or immediately forgive you. They may not be ready to let it go, but offering a sincere apology will help you let it go.
  • Start snacking every day.  The change needed to move on from a mistake may seem overwhelming or daunting. Remember that small bites of large tasks are much easier to chew. Figure out one small thing you can to today to get started, and take small steps forward from there, every day. As Henry Ford once said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” Start now.
  • Find your superhero.  Who do you know who has made a mistake, yet bounced back with vigor and resiliency? Find successful people and talk with them, ask them questions about how they overcame their past to move past mishaps.

If you have a beating heart and breathe in and out each day, you’re going to make mistakes. It’s part of being human. As a result, you may find yourself in what seems to be a deep, dark pit. No need to stay there. Learn to tamp down the dirt and step up. Pick up your hat, and move on. Allow your errors motivate you toward better choices next time, becoming someone who is known for his/her persistence.

“Dreams don’t work unless you take action. The surest way to make your dreams come true is to live them.” ― Roy T. Bennett

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

How do you sabotage your success?

Article contributed by guest author Brian Baker.

Everyone has had the experience of self-destructing. It’s a strange feeling to know that you ruined the very thing you were trying so hard to accomplish. Most self-sabotage is the result of discomfort. It can be the discomfort of failing, succeeding, or having to perform tasks that are uncomfortable.

You may have heard the saying, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Unfortunately, most of us are well-practiced in the art of avoiding discomfort. This is the most common way we sabotage our success.

Are you sabotaging your success? Consider these points:


1.  Distractions. The tasks that need to be done in order to be successful are typically less appealing than watching TV, surfing the internet, or spending time with friends. We’re experts at distracting ourselves, and the urge to seek out distractions increases with the unpleasantness of the task.

  • Solution: Allow yourself to have distractions, but control when, and how long, you engage in them. You might give yourself 30 minutes of distraction time after three hours of work. Or, you might limit distractions to the evening after your work is done for the day.

2.  Procrastination. Distractions are one way of procrastinating, but there are countless ways to procrastinate. The general theme is that you’re doing something other than what you should be doing.

  • Solution: Be clear on what needs to be done and why.
  • Focus on just getting started, which is often the most challenging part of working.
  • Use a timer and see how much you can accomplish in 30 minutes.

3.  Indecisiveness. Indecisiveness is a success killer. When you can’t make up your mind, progress comes to a stop. If you wait until you have all the wisdom and information necessary to make the perfect choice, you’ll be waiting a long time. You have to pull the trigger and move forward.

  • Solution: Be clear on what needs to be done to accomplish your objective.
  • Give yourself a time limit. You might give yourself 10 minutes or a day to make a decision. Then just decide and do your best.

4.  Negative thoughts. For many people, the closer they get to success, the more negative thoughts they experience.

  • Solution: Take control of your mind and think thoughts that are useful to you. Cheer yourself on rather than criticize your actions.
  • Ignore the random noise of your mind. You don’t have to engage with your random thoughts. You can choose to ignore them.

5.  Focus on low-priority tasks. We like to work on our projects but avoid the most important tasks. The most important tasks are often the least enjoyable, so we avoid them. We tackle the less important tasks because it allows us to feel like we’re still making progress.

  • Solution: Have a list of tasks to do each day ordered from most important to least. Start at the top of your list and work your way down.

6.  Quitting. This is the ultimate way to sabotage your success. You can’t achieve anything if you quit before you’re successful. Many people have a habit of quitting right before achieving success.

  • Solution: Develop the habit of finishing what you start. Avoid caving into the fear that crops up when you’re about to find out if you were successful or not. Remember that you can always try again, regardless of the outcome.

Self-sabotage is a great problem to have because you don’t need to try to change anyone else. In fact, the entire issue is your responsibility! This might sound disheartening, but it’s easier to change yourself than it is to change someone else.

Remember this, the person responsible for your successes and failures is staring at you in the mirror each day.

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