Posts Tagged ‘Behavior Change’

Emotional Spring Cleaning

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

In some parts of the world, springtime is just around the corner. And as the weather turns warm and the sun peeks out from behind the grey, winter clouds, many of us turn our attention to spring cleaning. Something about the nesting we tend to do during a long, cold winter creates an innate desire to clean house and get a fresh start with the budding of spring. We open up the windows, organize a closet, and clear out the clutter. We get rid of things that no longer serve a purpose or are slowing us down.

Our emotional homes need a similar ritual of spring cleaning. When is the last time you spruced up your emotional well-being?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of how we are feeling, in the moment and respond accordingly. As well, it includes social intelligence, the ability to read how others are feeling in the moment and to manage your relationship with that person appropriately.

Emotional intelligence differs from our intellectual quotient in that it can be modified and improved. It’s all about behavior and behavior can be changed! Increasing our emotional intelligence is a great way to clean house, emotionally, to rid ourselves of stumbling blocks and open the windows to the refreshing scent of emotional health.

What behaviors are you seeing in your own life that no longer serve a productive, positive purpose? Maybe it’s an old hurt that you allow to continually rise to the surface and trigger anger. Maybe it is a cutting, sarcastic tone that causes damage to those on the receiving end. Maybe it is an inability to see your own worth and lead others with inspiration. We all have our areas that could use some sprucing up. But while most of us know how to use soap and water to clean our physical homes, where do we start to freshen our emotional homes?

Often the cleansing process begins with some accurate self-assessment, to pinpoint the things that are weighing us down. In the words of Cyla Warncke, freelance writer and journalist:

“By taking the time to identify and understand our baggage and making a conscious decision to let go we free ourselves to experience life in a richer, deeper, more meaningful way.”

What are some ways to begin your journey of accurate self-assessment?  There are many tools on the market that can help. Here’s an online quiz created by LiveHappy.com you can take to see how much emotional baggage you are carrying around: http://www.livehappy.com/self/quizzes/quiz-how-much-emotional-baggage-do-you-carry. You also can dive more deeply into your self-assessment by working with a life coach to help you discover the areas that could use some work. Good coaching, teamed up with an assessment such as the Social + Emotional Intelligence Profile® created by the Institute for Social + Emotional Intelligence® can give you an accurate, detailed evaluation of your current emotional state: (take our assessment free at http://www.theisei.com/PreviewVideoforCertCourse.aspx).

Once you’ve established the areas of your emotional health that need refreshing, the next step is to make sure you have the right tools to get the job done. There are four tools that anyone in an emotional cleanup project will need:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Other Awareness
  • Self-Management
  • Relationship Management

Howard Gardner laid the framework for these four quadrants in 1983 with his theory of multiple intelligences, and in 1998 Daniel Goleman introduced these quadrants as keys to emotional growth. But just knowing the tools you need doesn’t necessarily get them into your hands.  A shopping trip is in order. Again, I can’t stress enough the importance of having a good coach, counselor, or colleague who you trust and can speak honestly into the crevices of your life that may be collecting dirt. Sometimes it just takes an outside eye to spot the cluttered areas that we don’t notice on our own. And if you’re at a loss as to where to start with finding someone to serve as a guide, here at the Institute we have a team of trained coaches who are experts in the field of social and emotional intelligence who can offer insight and direction down your emotional housecleaning.

If you’re not ready to work with a professional on your emotional spring cleaning, there are many self-cleansing practices you can incorporate to jump start your emotional well being.

“Nourishing yourself in a way that helps you blossom in the direction you want to go is attainable, and you are worth the effort. ” – Deborah Day

Many are just basic self-care for our physical bodies that quickly transfer to our emotional health. Get more sleep. Take a yoga class. Drink water. Check your diet and begin to replace unhealthy choices with more nutritious ones. Exercise. Meditate. Learn something new. Serve others. Dream. Spend time doing things you enjoy. Rest. Journal. Practice thankfulness. With a quick search on the internet you can find a multitude of resources to begin to give better care to your emotional self. Many creative ways to nourish your spirit can be found in this enjoyable read by Alison Miller:  http://alisonimiller.com/spring-cleaning-for-the-soul-25-ways-to-nourish-your-spirit/.  In addition, here at the Institute we offer online courses in social + emotional intelligence that can not only help you clean up your own emotional house but train you how to nurture it in others.  Learn more at www.the-isei.com and click on the Classes tab.

Taking the time for emotional spring cleaning will not only give you a mental ‘lift’ but will clear away the clutter that may be preventing the emotional-well-being you long for.  So as you get out your broom and dustpan this spring to tackle the task of cleaning your home, don’t forget about doing some spring cleaning in your emotional home as well.

Change Your Habits. Change Your Life.

Article Contributed by Guest Author Doreen Lima, MBA, EIC

If I had to choose one word that has the power to transform lives in meaningful and substantive ways I would choose the word habits.

I have an incredibly talented client who is recognized as an emerging star in his field. He’s never held a 9 to 5 job, punched a clock other than his own, or depended on a corporate salary. Grateful to have found his calling early in life, he’s enjoyed great success doing what he loves and has a natural aptitude for. In fact, in the early days of his career everything seemed to happen effortlessly. However, years of coping with last minute changes in the scope of work, client expectations, and deadlines led him to develop some self-defeating habits that affected his work and personal life. As a result his creative output became rushed, predictable and joyless. He said to me, “My muse used to kick in and inspire me to create. Where has she gone? Why isn’t she doing her job?”

Distraction Limbo

While his muse had not abandoned him there’s no question that it was difficult for her to be heard over the din of the distractions he had built into his life. Habits of thought and action were keeping him trapped inside a perpetual mind and behavioral loop, one I choose to call distraction limbo.

A typical morning would find him sipping a cup of coffee while reading the morning papers. Then he would get online to check his emails, but he wouldn’t respond to them, preferring to deal with them later in the day. Next he would check social media sites, online magazines, newspapers, and forums. Then some of the postings or information he read would lead him to look up word definitions, viral videos, trending topics, or an article that caught his attention. This would last for hours or once in a while, an entire day. In between there would be long winded phone calls or the occasional extended lunch. Engaging in these time wasters resulted in being last on the conference call, late to a meeting or forgoing trips to the gym and social engagements. Suddenly many of his projects were getting done in reaction mode, with little planning or scheduling taking place. Only when he was really pressed by a request or a deadline would he get down to execution, usually sometime late into the evening.

How Habits Are Formed

Helping people like my client overcome self-sabotaging habits requires some understanding of how habits become habits in the first place. We know that repetition plays a role but science and study have shown forming a habit is more complicated than just repeating something over and over again. There’s a lot going on behind the mental screen. Some of the keys to habit formation are emotional intelligence skills such as self-awareness and self-regulation, coupled with a dose of brain chemicals that make us feel pleasure or avoid pain.

An excellent book that clearly lays out the science behind the formation of habits is The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. In his book, Duhigg, an investigative journalist and New York Times reporter makes the case that habits are the brain’s way of taking a break.

Duhigg’s assertion makes sense. A habit is basically an automated action that allows the brain to get on with the higher level business of dealing with more complicated and intricate endeavors like making a decision, doing math or thinking about how to solve a problem. And because they are automated, once we ingrain a habit, it’s with us for life whether we engage in it or not. The saying “falling into old habits” is not just a cliché. It takes vigilance and commitment to maintain new ways of doing especially if we’re looking to replace disempowering habits like the type my client had grooved.

Cue. Routine. Reward.

As discussed by Duhigg, there are three parts to a habit; a cue, a routine and a reward (positive or negative). For example, your dog wakes you up every morning at the same time with a bark. That’s a cue. His bark signals you to take him out for a walk. Pulling on your sweats, looking for the leash and walking over to the dog park for 30 minutes of playtime is a routine. The reward for practicing the routine might be that you meet other dog owners with similar interests. When your brain receives the realization of the reward, for example the possibility of expanding your social circle, your brain releases chemicals that make you feel good, which in turn reinforce the routine. The upshot is that the next day you will gladly get up to take the dog out for his walk.

Positive & Negative Rewards

As we know not all habits are derived from positive stimuli. This was true of the habits my client employed to enable and reinforce procrastination. Distracting himself by engaging in mindless activities helped him avoid feelings of anxiety and stress but also shut down his access to higher level thinking. Unfortunately the quality of his work suffered because he was paying less attention to it and this in turn fed the fear that he’d lost his talent. He hadn’t. His feelings of stress were further compounded when he had to argue with himself to get work completed. The inner dialogue that resulted from this self-argument began to blanket his life with a sense of malaise and futility. He was doubting his abilities because he couldn’t get on with the job of creating.

It’s to be noted that overriding a habit formed by negative stimuli is a little more difficult because of the way our brains have evolved over time.

Choice: The Midbrain or Prefrontal Cortex

To further understand the formation of habits it’s helpful to know that the midbrain, the epicenter of the rewards circuit, and the pre-frontal cortex, the place where reasoning lives, are often at odds with each other when we’re determining what course of action to take.

The midbrain is the place that drives us to search for things like food and shelter. This is where fear and anxiety hang out. The midbrain is older than the pre-frontal cortex and as a result, thanks to its more established circuitry, will often (but not always) triumph over reason.

For my client, the first step toward disabling his habits of procrastination was to pose and answer the question “what is the real cost of frittering away my time?”

Based on the overwhelming feelings of anxiety and fear he was experiencing, his immediate in-denial answer was, none. His choice to engage in mind numbing distractions like watching YouTube videos was deemed necessary to keep his anxiety at bay whether he was conscious of his decision or not.

The rational viewpoint on the other hand held that my client’s relationships, earning power, client base and creative projects were left wanting due to his increasingly time consuming habits of procrastination. He also suffered from insomnia because all of the feelings he was trying to tamp down during the day occupied his thoughts when he tried to sleep. In addition, opting to spend time on the internet in lieu of exercising had begun to impact his health. The consequences of his actions were measurable.

Answering the question about the real cost of his habits led him to fully understand and acknowledge the impact of his choices, but interestingly didn’t incite him to take action or make changes. If anything, it caused more anxiety because he wasn’t taking action.

When he explored a second question “what are you really searching for” he realized something he hadn’t considered. He was living a lonely professional life. There was no one to bounce ideas off of; no one to help sharpen his thinking. Although he employed a virtual assistant as well as the occasional personal assistant, they weren’t enough to amp up his game where projects were concerned, and because he passed some of his days without an in-person interaction of any kind, spending time commenting on blog posts, chatting in forums, and tweeting gave him a sense of belonging and connection. What he hadn’t counted on, what he hadn’t realized, was just how much he needed regular real-time, in-person connections with his peers to challenge and inspire him.

Learning of this need was the reason his pre-frontal cortex won the day. He made a deliberate and conscious choice to stop feeding the habits of procrastination. He sensibly concluded that if he found ways to increase moments of face-to-face contact with peers in his industry he could replace his “time frittering” habits with new ones that would empower him and bring him back to a more productive way of being.

New Habits

The key to establishing these new habits began with a support group. He brought together local professionals he knew or had heard of, working under similar circumstances. Since its inception, this group meets once a week for breakfast to discuss issues, workloads, ideas, and opportunities. The goals of the group are similar in some measure to the intentions and structure of a well-run mastermind group. In addition, every month two members pair off as accountability partners. They trade off calling each other on weekday mornings and speak for a total of 15 minutes (they set a timer) to review their daily agendas and share the previous day’s accomplishments. The buddy pairings have positively influenced and reinforced one of my client’s new productivity focused habits. The cue is the phone call. The routine is the daily agenda review. And, the reward is the ability to connect positively and constructively with another person every day. Good friendships and award-winning work collaborations have resulted.

Today my client still does some meandering on the net but it’s driven by professional need or scheduled as a reward break. Another new habit: twice a week he meets up with friends or participates in social, professional or community based events. Although this sounds like a relatively easy transition from one habit to another, it was not. His new habits are reinforced by a continued willingness to self-examine and remain self-aware, to look for solutions appropriate to the situation at hand, to engage the help of a support system, and to demonstrate a continued commitment to the routines required by his new habits of productivity. His rewards have been many and the voice of his muse has returned but my client is clear that his old habits survive in the crevices of his brain waiting to be called into action again if he so chooses.

 

 

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