Posts Tagged ‘Coaching’

The Choice No One Can Take Away

When we face difficult times, it’s easy to feel helpless. The tough events which happen to us are so often not what we’d choose to happen, and leave us feeling stuck, out of control, and left to react. I don’t know about you, but when things aren’t going my way, I don’t always react in the best light. Yet, while circumstances are at times dictated for us, robbing us of freedoms we are used to — we do have a choice over one thing, despite the circumstances: how we’ll behave in the middle of it all.

Behavioral self-control is a competency of emotional intelligence, and can be defined as simply keeping our emotions, impulses, and actions in check…especially the ones which are disruptive, hurtful (to ourselves and others), and damaging.

People who are good at managing their behaviors — even in the midst of tough times — notice their emotions, often before they feel them. Sound impossible? It’s not. They’ve simply learned to read the warning flags their brains send to their bodies when, say, stressors come to call. Think about the last time you felt very upset, or, say, worried. How did it show up in your body? Did you get a headache? Sick to your stomach? Flushed? Dry mouth? Shaky? Learning to recognize your bodily symptoms of oncoming stress can help you prepare for it, so, instead of simply reacting, you can choose how you WANT to act. Take a moment to note your own stress signals and where/how they show up in your body.

Another characteristic of those with strong behavior self-control is that they are able to stay composed and unflappable in trying moments. By restraining negative reactions, which, left unchecked can make a tough situation tougher, they are able to remain positive during tough times. It’s so easy to engage in negative, reactive behaviors — damaging self-talk, badmouthing others, overuse of food/alcohol/etc. — when things aren’t going our way. What’s your vice when you are at odds with others and/or the world? Notice it, and spend a little time noting how well it is serving you. Though hurtful behaviors may seem to bring some relief or satisfaction in the moment, they often don’t provide many solutions for the long run. So take pause, and ask yourself, “What are my reactive behaviors, and do they truly help or make things worse?”

Something I find admirable about those with strong behavioral self-control is that when they are faced with hostility, opposition, or aggressive confrontations, they are able to remain cool, calm, and collected. Just because someone else is acting poorly doesn’t mean they have to, too. They are able to choose to stay focused so they can think and reason clearly, restraining the tendency toward agitated reactions which escalate things. This includes keeping their mouth shut until they can cool down, something I strive to do more often!

Those who struggle with behavioral self-control instead, react impulsively. They don’t resist temptations and give in easily when pushed or provoked. They are often quick to anger, defensive, and go to extremes when they are faced with conflict and stress. Sometimes this appears as negative self-talk, such as, “This always happens to me”, and “I always mess up!”, etc., but often comes out as hurtful behavior toward others — saying and doing things which cause harm, whether physically or emotionally. 

Developing self-awareness is a first step in building more behavioral self-control. Notice the moments when you tend to “lose it”, and make a list of the things which trigger your bad behaviors. Maybe it’s when you turn on the news, or when you have a conversation with that one certain person, or when you hear of yet another change you’re expected to ‘roll’ with. Look at each trigger and think about a few ways which you could act differently — more constructively —  than your current go-to reaction. For example, if you get agitated when watching a particular news program, notice which emotions you are feeling, and name them. Then notice which thoughts follow closely on the heels of those emotions (e.g., “I hate that leader — he is an idiot!”). From your thoughts stem your reactions. If your reactive  behavior is to badmouth a particular leader on your social media feed, notice how you feel when you do that. Then, take an honest audit on what damage that behavior may cause. For example, you may discover you are losing friends left and right (no pun intended), that no one follows you online anymore, nor do they want to chat or hang out with you as a result — and you would like it if they did. This could be an indicator that the badmouthing others is not working so well for you. What is an alternate reaction you could choose — a better way of responding to a news report which upsets you? Jot these strategies down so you’re prepared next time your trigger button is pushed — because it will be. How might you feel if you reacted that way? What alternate outcomes might that behavior bring about?  The thought is that the next time you are triggered, you’ll be ready with a new, more beneficial action to try.

In heated moments, taking an emotional audit is a simple exercise you can do on your own, or with a group you work closely with, or with a close friend or significant other.  Here’s how it works:  When you feel triggered, practice the pause. Literally — count to ten, twenty, thirty, to put a little time and space between the stimulus and your response. Then, before you react, ask yourself and answer these questions:

1-What am I feeling?

2-What am I thinking as a result of these feelings?

3-What do I want to happen in this moment (what would be an ideal outcome)?

4-What am I doing to sabotage this outcome?

5-What do I need to do or say right now to get the outcome I want?

While we can’t always control our circumstances, we can choose how we’ll act. That’s a choice that no one can take away. With practice, and yes, it takes practice, we can begin to carve out the path we want to take in the new year — not in trying to control things which are out of our control (which, interestingly, causes more stress than anything!), but by controlling what is IN our control — our behavior.

Gratefully, Yours

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

For whom do you feel a deep sense of gratitude? Have you let them know?

It’s that time of year where we’re reminded to offer up thanks. And why not? Developing practices of gratitude is one of the simplest ways to improve life satisfaction. Research shows that expressing gratitude not only benefits the person receiving it, but also the giver, with positive effects sticking around for months.

Psychologists Dr. Robert Emmons (University of CA) and Dr. Michael McCullough (University of Miami) conducted a study asking one group of participants to write about things they were thankful for during the week. A second group was to write about daily frustrations and a third group was asked to write about anything. After ten weeks of this, the researchers found that those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt more positive about their lives. Interestingly, they exercised more often and paid fewer visits to the doctor that the other groups! [https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12585811/]

Another significant study on the benefits of gratitude was conducted by Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the Penn State Positive Psychology Center. He assigned study participants to write a gratitude letter and deliver it to the recipient. The participants who did this displayed a drastic increase in their happiness scores, and these happiness benefits lasted up to six months after they letter was written and delivered. [https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16045394/]

Gratitude is not only connected to reducing depression and worry-related anxiety, but boosts an overall sense of wellbeing and relationship satisfaction. When gratitude is expressed, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with our ability to imagine our future, becomes activated, allowing us to ‘see’ more optimistic outcomes. Additionally, exercising gratitude increases activity in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain which controls functions such as sleep, eating, metabolism, and stress management.  Know of anyone who could use some improvement in those bodily functions?! [https://draxe.com/health/benefits-of-gratitude/   and https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201211/the-grateful-brain]

In an article in Psychology Today, author Amy Morin outlines these seven benefits of gratitude:

1. It opens doors to new relationships

2. It improves physical health

3. It improves psychological health

4. It enhances empathy

5. It helps with sleep

6. It increases self-esteem

7. It increases mental strength

[https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude]

Still not believing it? Give it a try! Keep a gratitude journal for the next ten weeks. Or, take a moment to write a gratitude letter to someone who’s had a positive impact on you, and deliver it. If you can’t deliver it in person, set up an online meeting and read it aloud to them.

Then let us know how you are feeling!

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Becoming Trustworthy

Article submitted by Amy Sargent

“Do you trust me?”

It’s a familiar line from romcoms. The protagonist is getting ready to do something crazy and wants the heroine to go along with him. He reaches toward her with an open hand, hoping she’ll abandon all logic and jump.

And don’t we love it when she jumps?!

It’s fun to watch on the big screen, but in real life, trusting others can be tough. If you’ve ever been lied to (and, who hasn’t?), or betrayed, or deceived in any way, there’s a good chance you say, “No thanks, I’ll stay here and play it safe.”

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

Stephen Covey

Trust–or a Lack of–in the Workplace

In the workplace, trust can be especially difficult to navigate. First of all, there’s a professional persona we all put on when we head to the office. Much of professionalism lends to a healthy workplace, by setting appropriate boundaries, offering mutual respect, and using polished, effective communication skills. However the downside is that sometimes our professional self looks nothing like our real self, and can leave us (and others) feeling, well, nothing. And that cold, hard shell of inauthenticity can be both exhausting to maintain, and empty.

Secondly, there’s fear. Fear of all shapes and sizes can prevent us from trusting in professional relationships, and instead, choose to stay closed off, hiding behind our masks of inauthenticity. Fear of not getting that promotion. Fear of being fired. Fear of management disapproval. Fear of employees not liking you. Fear of looking silly. Fear of looking too confident. Fear of … you fill in the blank!

However, without trust, the workplace becomes nothing but a hollow movie set of actresses and actors, pretending, resulting in shallow, unengaged teams.  Imagine, instead, if we could build authentic, value-driven teams working together with integrity to achieve success.

Wondering why your key players are quitting? Maybe it’s a lack of trust. Shelley Smith, in an article she wrote for Forbes entitled Lack of Trust Can Make Workplaces Sick and Dysfunctional, notes, “Team members who don’t trust their leaders are likely working the bare minimum and planning to get out.” She goes on to say, “If you don’t trust your team, you’re likely either micromanaging or withholding information and working on initiatives on your own or with a select group of people. This can create a vicious cycle, as your team may respond by pulling back even further, so you’ve created a perfect storm in this self-fulfilling prophecy of distrust.”[https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2019/10/24/lack-of-trust-can-make-workplaces-sick-and-dysfunctional/]

On the contrary, a workplace embedded with trust enables team members to feel safe — safe to be innovative, safe to achieve, safe to take risks, safe to fail. Paul Towers, Founder at Task Pigeon, shares this wisdom in his blog: “Successful businesses are built on relationships. Relationships between employers and employees, staff and customers, internal stakeholders and external stakeholders. At the foundation of all relationships is trust.” [https://blog.taskpigeon.co/workplace-trust-trust-important-workplace/]

What is trust?

What does it mean to be trustworthy?

It’s a way of behaving which creates a bond, or connection, with others which is appropriate, empowering, and safe. A trustworthy person is reliable and dependable and others feel enabled to speak their truth(s) and be themselves. Those with this competence of emotional intelligence encourage and participate in appropriate self-disclosure. In other words, they’re not afraid to share information — about themselves, about the project, about the company, when appropriate.

Trustworthy individuals are willing to be influenced by others, and are open to changing their minds in conversations with others. They are known to maintain high standards of personal integrity (doing the “right” thing, even when no one is looking), and their public behaviors match up with their personal behaviors. They treat others fairly and with respect. They genuinely care about others. They make good on their promises.

Would you want to work for/with professionals like this?

And if we asked them, would your colleagues, clients, and customers use these descriptors when talking about you?

Tell-tale Signs that Trust is Lacking

When trust is absent from relationships, it rears its dubious head in several ways. Do you notice any of these behaviors in your day-to-day interactions?

  • You’re not that great at establishing open, candid, relationships
  • You’ve developed a reputation for lacking integrity
  • You tell lies, often
  • You blame others for your mistakes
  • You say one thing and do another
  • You make promises which you can’t — or don’t intend to — keep
  • Your behavior is erratic, and inconsistent
  • You treat some people poorly
  • You’ve undermined others for your own gain
  • Others never come to you as a source of guidance or wisdom

If you can relate to any of the above, it may be time to do some work on developing the skills which build trust.

Trust Makers

Building trust, as in all emotional intelligence competencies, can be developed. Here are some ways you can begin your journey toward becoming more trustworthy:

  • Develop personal relationships with others by working on your listening skills. Ask open-ended questions, and tune in, carefully, to what’s on their minds and in their hearts.
  • Be accessible. Do others feel safe popping in your office to say hi, or talk about something which is important to them? We’re not talking about having no boundaries. But within your office hours, be sure to schedule time when you can be available to others.
  • Develop integrity. Check to make sure you’re doing the right things, even when others are not looking. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a counselor or a social and emotional intelligence coach to help build new behaviors where needed.
  • Always deliver on your commitments. If you say you’ll be somewhere, be there. If you say you’ll do something, do it. Let cancellations be a rare event, not something others expect with you.
  • Never knowingly mislead others or lie.
  • Know your personal values, and consciously articulate and demonstrate them in your day-to-day activities. It should be obvious to those who work closely with you and/or have a close relationship with you as to what you esteem and believe in.
  • Admit your mistakes. Own your missteps, and refrain from pointing the finger at others. Learn to express a quick and heartfelt, “I’m sorry” when you miss.
  • Don’t badmouth others. Let your words edify and lift up, both in person and when, on the rare occasion, you are talking about someone when they’re not in the room. It’s possible to openly discuss areas of growth without shaming or belittling.
  • Treat others with respect, no matter their title or ‘status’ within the organization.
  • And finally, be consistent with all of the above. Being trustworthy is not a one-time event. It’s a recurring and iterative way of behaving.

Rebuilding Trust

“Trust is the easiest thing in the world to lose, and the hardest thing in the world to get back.”

R.M. Williams

If you’ve broken someone’s trust — which we all have at some point in our lives — know that it can be rebuilt. It won’t happen overnight, and it takes work to establish a trusting relationship again. A formula which seems to work is consistency + time. The person who lost faith in you must be willing to trust you again, and if they’re not, you may need to let that relationship go. But if they are, they will need to see consistent, trust-building behaviors over a long period of time in order to trust again.

These developmental tips must be practiced regularly to turn them into habits. This can take time. But becoming more trustworthy is the only way to develop deeper, more meaningful relationships, both at work and at home.

“Trust is like love. It can’t be seen, but its value is immeasurable.”

― Frank Sonnenberg

Evolved EQ

Article and graphic submitted by guest author Joni Roylance

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

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

Please let us know your thoughts! 

12 Strategies for Conflict Management

Article submitted by guest author Rosalie Chamberlain

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

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

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

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

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

11 Characteristics of an Effective Ally

Article contributed by guest author Rosalie Chamberlain

There is much written these days about being an Ally and Allyship. They are necessary to elevate the visibility, opportunity, and equity for marginalized groups.

Allyship is defined as “a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people.”

It is an active process – not just a name or an idea.

An Ally is someone who actively works to end systemic inequity in organizations and communities, the country, and the world. They actively support members of marginalized and oppressed groups.

These 11 characteristics will boost one’s ability to be an effective Ally.

1. Self-Awareness

There must be deep awareness of one’s own biases, assumptions, limiting beliefs and pre-judgments that happen in an instant, mostly unconsciously. Biases create obstacles to being able to see the real needs, potential and circumstances of those in a marginalized group.

Understanding our own biases and the impact of inequity is the impetus to address and change policies, procedures, behaviors, and habits that are often taken for granted – policies that have a negative impact on underrepresented individuals.

Predetermined beliefs get in the way of active listening and can lead to Gaslighting – “trying to get someone…to question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories.”

2. Commitment

There must be full commitment to actively do the work needed to advocate and support. Without active involvement, it becomes another check-the-box statement with no action, which is too often the case.

3. Facing Reality

The reality we must face is that the playing field is not level. Giving everyone the same thing (equality) is not the same as equity, which means providing someone access to opportunities that they need to succeed.

4. Accepting One’s Privilege

An Ally uses their power/privilege to help others. Privilege can come in various forms, including seniority and/or being well-connected. If you are part of the white majority, you have an inherent advantage when you walk into a space. Accepting one’s inherent privilege is not denying privilege earned because you had to work hard.

5. Vulnerability

Allyship requires getting out of your comfort zone and getting comfortable with discomfort. It requires speaking up for someone even when they are not in the room.

6. Prioritizing

It requires stopping making excuses such as there is not enough time for allyship. I work with many clients in very fast-paced industries where time is a commodity. A mindset of insufficient time does not recognize that people are resources that need support.

7. Bias Interrupting

It requires knowing the difference between microaffirmations,  microinequities and microaggressions and being aware when these inequities and aggressions take place and stepping in and speaking up.

8. Courage

It requires courage to challenge the status quo and a willingness to get in the weeds to change systemic issues.

9. Accountability

We need more people taking on the role of Allyship. It requires individual responsibility and consistency. It takes top-down leadership, and it also takes action from the bottom up across an organization.

10. Empathy

Empathy opens the door for one to take action as though another’s struggle is their own – to work to understand to the best of one’s ability to say Enough!

11. Compassion

Compassion is the ability to see another person, understand their situation and pain and caring deeply enough to actively do something to assist in their circumstances.

Explore where you can make a difference, take action, and create change. Another’s success could depend on it!

5 Ways to Put Stress in its Place

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

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

Not all stress is bad

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

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

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

– Sydney J. Harris

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

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

— Hans Selye

Notice what your body is saying

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

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

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

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

— Wayne Dyer

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

Stress Management Traits

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

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

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

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

— Amy Morin

5 Ways to Put Stress In Its Place

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

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

– Ziggy Marley

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

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

Lee Iacocca

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

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

– Paulo Coelho

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

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

– Michael Jordan

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

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

– Winston Churchill

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

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

― Maya Angelou

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

No alt text provided for this image

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. 

No alt text provided for this image

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. 
No alt text provided for this image

“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