Posts Tagged ‘EQ’

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

Managing Conflict with Emotional Intelligence

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

It takes two to tango. It’s an old, overused phrase, yet one which still accurately illustrates the fact that conflict doesn’t happen in isolation. Think of the last conflict you experienced. Was it about you, with you, against you — or was another person involved?

Conflict is defined as a serious disagreement or argument. It can also be defined as an incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, or interests, or, a word to describe when two people are at a variance. In more simpler terms, conflict means to clash. [https://languages.oup.com/google-dictionary-en/]

Do you clash with anyone these days?

A common way of dealing with conflict is to point the finger at the other person’s misses, flaws, and faults. It’s most likely the most preferred way of ‘handling’ conflict. However, you’ve probably discovered that finger pointing doesn’t make the conflict go away, and sometimes, exacerbates it. Another way we deal with conflict is through control — trying to control the other person. But try as you may, you probably realize it’s nearly impossible to make someone else do/be what you want them to do/be. There’s only one part of conflict you can control: you. Margaret Paul adds, “When it comes to control, it’s important to remember that the only thing we actually have control over is ourselves, our attitudes, our beliefs, our behavior – our intent.”

This should come as good news. It is tiring to attempt to control others. If you’ve tried it, you know what I mean.

“Attempting to constantly control everyone and everything around you is not only exhausting…it is also futile. The only real power you can achieve in this life is being in control of yourself.”

― Anthon St. Maarten

So, let’s talk about the emotional intelligence competency of behavioral self-control as it relates to conflict. What is it, and how do you know if you’re doing well with it, or struggling?

Behavioral self-control simply means keeping disruptive emotions and impulses in check. It’s not about not feeling certain emotions…or pretending they are not there…or stuffing them inside. It’s actually about fully feeling emotions — but not letting them have the driver’s seat. Instead, we feel them then choose how we want to behave.

A controlling nature

Trying to control others is a primary hurdle to developing behavioral self-control. If it’s always someone else’s fault, and if only you could make the _____ (fill in the blank), where is the space for you to look at your own areas of improvement to make a shift. You may be thinking, that’s not me — I don’t try to control others. What does a controlling personality look like? If you can answer yes to any of the following, you may be a bit of a controller:

  • I usually think I am right in most disagreements
  • It’s important for me to be right
  • I criticize others, either to their face or behind their back — or in my mind
  • I always have a better solution and offer it freely, even when not asked
  • I clearly see others’ faults, but don’t notice my own
  • I think things will be better if we do them my way
  • I’m often telling others what they should be doing vs. what they are doing
  • I have a hard time saying sorry (because I’m rarely wrong!)

[https://www.innerbonding.com/show-article/553/self-control-vs-controlling-self-and-others.html]

Sometimes having a controlling nature is a form of self-protection. Maybe you’ve experienced trauma where someone robbed you of your freedom or safety at one point in your life, and now, the only way to maintain any control is to control others. Controlling others may simply be a way to cope. If that’s the case, no shame. Seek the help of a professional therapist or counsellor if this resonates with you to further explore what’s going on.

“You always seek to control others when you are not in full ownership of yourself.”

― Cicely Tyson

Controlling rarely brings the relationship results we’re looking for. Instead, focus on something(one) you can control…yourself.

People who shine in behavioral self-control

People who are strong in behavioral self-control are good at managing their impulsive feelings and distressing emotions well. They stay composed, positive, and unflappable even in trying moments. They restrain negative reactions and stay focused under pressure. They are self-aware enough to maintain their stamina and performance in emotionally-charged situations. Instead of being a victim to tough circumstances, they choose not to escalate a problem when attacked, provoked, or aggressively confronted by another.

While there are some people who have mastered this, most of us struggle with one or more of the above. Which one of those would you like to improve upon? What benefits might you experience if you were to grow in that area? Which of your relationships would it positively effect?

Raven Ishak says, “While you may believe that you can control a lot in your life, the reality is that you really only have control over one thing: your emotions.”[https://www.bustle.com/articles/147204-6-ways-to-let-go-of-control-enjoy-life-more]

Think back on your last conflict. Which one of the above could have helped with the disagreement if you or the other person could have exercised more of it?

People lacking this competency

How can you tell if you struggle with behavioral self-control? You probably won’t be surprised, but those who could grow in this competency tend to:

  • React impulsively
  • Get involved in inappropriate situations because they can’t resist the temptation
  • Respond to problems in a non-constructive way (yelling, hurling insults, etc.)
  • Are quick to anger
  • Tend to be defensive
  • May become angry, depressed or agitated when faced with conflicts and stress on the job (may even think of quitting)

Again, no shame here. We all have areas in which we can grow. If you could choose one to work on first, which one would you choose and why?

Development tips

Self-awareness is the first step to developing stronger behavior self-control. Once you’ve identified an area (from the list above) you’d like to work on, make a list of things that cause you to “lose it” – your triggers or “hot buttons”. Note who pushes those buttons most. When is the next time you will be in contact with them? Then, write out a strategy to deal with each of these issues the next time they arise. If you’re struggling with ideas, consider enlisting the help of a social and emotional intelligence coach.

Having a plan of attack will help you to choose a more constructive response when issues come up in the future.

And while you do this, watch your self talk. That little voice in our head is really great at doing everything it can to justify poor behavior. Instead, tell yourself what it looks like to stay composed and calm. Describe to yourself what an optimal outcome would look like, and what you could do to achieve that. Then tell yourself you can do this.

That way, the next time you hear the phrase, “It takes two to tango”, you can make it about dancing, and not about conflict.

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.

Journaling for Better Emotional Health

Article submitted by guest author Kelly Simmerman

When I was a teenager, I kept a diary hidden under my mattress. It was a place to confess my struggles and fears without judgment or punishment. It felt good to get all those thoughts and feelings out of my head and down on paper. The world seemed clearer.

Photo Credit Jeff James

I stopped using a diary when I got older. But the concept and its benefits still apply. Now, it’s called journaling. It’s simply writing down your thoughts and feelings to understand them more clearly. And if you struggle with stress, depression, or anxiety, keeping a journal can be a great idea. It can help you gain control of your emotions and improve your emotional health.

One of the ways to deal with any overwhelming emotion is to find a healthy way to express yourself. This makes a journal a breakthrough tool in managing issues such as:

–Anxiety

–Stress

–Depression

–Moodiness

–Problems, fears, and concerns

–Inner critique

Tracking feelings day-to-day is essential. That way, we can recognize triggers and learn ways to better control them. Also, identifying and calling out negative thoughts and behaviors offers clarity.

Photo Credit Ben White

Once you’ve identified your stressors, you can work on a plan to resolve the problems and reduce your stress, providing an opportunity for positive self-talk and better outcomes.

Researchers found that writing three to five times for 15 minutes a session was effective to help participants deal with emotional and even traumatic events. “Those who do so generally have significantly better physical and psychological outcomes compared with those who write about neutral topics,” said Karen Baikie and Kay Wilhelm, the authors of the article published by the Cambridge University Press.

I’m sure, as coaches and therapists, you know the basics of how to journal, so I won’t bore you with too many details about the how. I will say this… Journaling is most effective when you do it every day. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar or sentence structure. The only rule is that once you begin writing, you continue until the time is up.

Photo Credit Hanna Olinger

Also, notice your body as you write. Be aware of the experience of writing. Notice words that made your shoulders hunch as you wrote them, observe where you gripped the pen tighter, or your breathing eased. This is putting you in relationship with your writing and allowing you to witness your brain’s processes.

Putting a pen to paper is a cathartic and private way for you to deal with the stress of your daily life, whatever that stress might be. When you keep a journal, you’re able to approach and release the anxiety you have. Using a journal allows you to process your emotions in a place that is safe and secure like sharing secrets with a best friend who never judges.

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”       

— Natalie Goldberg

Long Term Outcomes

• Improved mood/affect
• Helps prioritize problems, fears, and concerns
• Feeling of greater psychological well-being
• Reduced depressive symptoms
• Reduced absenteeism from work
• Quicker re-employment after job loss
• Improved working memory
• Track progress in coaching or therapy work

Why Does This Happen

Writing heals, empowers and transforms. Whether in a journal, a travel log, writing lyrics or poetry, to composing a love letter, writing allows us to clear our mind. And this uncluttering offers mind space so that we can get real with ourselves.

Rather than pushing parts of us away, we are instead creating an environment that allows us to simply loosen our grip. We don’t have to fix anything. All we’re doing is bringing tender, nonjudgmental attention to our thoughts and feelings and making room for whatever is living there. Journaling allows for this. So instead of trying to let things go, I invite the concept of– let things be.

“Journal writing gives us insights into who we are, who we were, and who we can become.” 

— Sandra Marinella

Something else is happening when we take pen to paper. Writing stimulates the Reticular Activating System, which filters through the many topics that your brain processes and determines which points to bring to the forefront. There is a connection between our hands, our arms, our eyes, our brains, and our emotions. We are all integrated beings. At times, it doesn’t feel like it, but all this is happening within one body. Journaling brings all those parts of us together to impact our emotional well-being and mental health.

Baikie, K., & Wilhelm, K. (2005). Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 11(5), 338-346. doi:10.1192/apt.11.5.338

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

Why Can’t We Get Along?

Article submitted by Amy Sargent

Disagreements are a normal part of everyday life. Gather more than one person in any room, even a virtual room, and given enough time, there will be variances of opinions. And this can be a powerful thing. Many of our innovative ideas come when we are exposed to fresh perspectives.

The Blame Game

The problem arises when we let our differences erupt into conflict, and start playing the blame game. At this point, it’s no longer a matter of disagreement, but a struggle for power. And suddenly, we’re just not getting along.

Learning how to resolve conflicts can lead to more cohesive work teams and healthier relationships at home.

But getting along, especially with those we don’t particularly like, and definitely those we don’t agree with, is easier said than done. Many of us are conflict-avoiders, so when disputes erupt, we shy away from resolve. A common tactic to avoid conflict is to place blame on the other person.

We learn at an early age that blaming can sometimes get us out of trouble…at least temporarily. As a child, pointing the finger at one of my ornery brothers “saved” me, countless times, from getting grounded, which made it appear to be a lucrative strategy! As we move into adulthood, many of us do not learn conflict resolution skills, and carry this childish behavior into our grown-up relationships, both at work and at home. It doesn’t take long to realize that assigning blame becomes a hindrance to healthy, happy connections with others. Sure, the technique may seem to protect our self-esteem, but it does nothing to move us toward resolve.

In her article, Workplace Blame is Contagious and Detrimental, Susan Krauss Whitbourne shares this: “Unlike other games, the more often you play the blame game, the more you lose.” Other studies show that casting blame is contagious, and negatively effects creativity and productivity [https://www.livescience.com/8018-workplace-blame-contagious-detrimental.html]. Nancy Colier, in a Psychology Today article, says this: “[Blame] blocks your personal growth, damages your relationships, and gets in the way of your own well-being.” [https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inviting-monkey-tea/201601/4-steps-stop-blaming]

Avoiding Action

Blaming allows us to avoid action. Yet action is the very thing needed to heal rifts.

Pat Ladouceur, in an article entitled, Who’s Fault Is It?, says, insightfully, “Blame separates people from your values, beliefs, and commitment. If the problem belongs to someone else, then you have a reason to dig in your heels. You miss an opportunity to grow, to stretch, to challenge yourself. You might miss a chance to change the way you think or act, or a chance to be deeply honest: by sharing your fear, or disappointment, or sadness in a heartfelt way.” [https://www.mentalhelp.net/blogs/whose-fault-is-it-how-blame-sabotages-relationships/]

Ladouceur goes on to say, “Blame creates inaction. When someone blames, it’s as if they’re handing over control of the situation. “I can’t change until you do,” is the implicit message. The solution is in their partner’s hands.”

Self-Awareness

We all blame others from time to time. It is a learned behavior, a very human behavior. But it is something we can learn to do less of. Self-awareness, the first competency of emotional intelligence, can pave the way toward growth. But sometimes we have blind spots, and may not recognize how often we’re making someone else carry the responsibility for our own actions.

“People spend too much time finding other people to blame, too much energy finding excuses for not being what they are capable of being, and not enough energy putting themselves on the line, growing out of the past, and getting on with their lives.

— J. Michael Straczynski

How do you know if you’re a finger pointer? Try the following test, developed by Nancy Colier. Ask yourself these questions, and answer with either yes or no:

  1. Would it be normal for you to respond to someone with a problem by telling him why he is to blame for his problem?
  2. In relationships with friends and family, do you often find yourself pointing the finger? Do you tell others how and why they are wrong, using phrases such as You did it, or, It’s your fault?
  3. When you confront difficulties or inconveniences, is it common for you to identify and ruminate over who or what is to blame? 
  4. When you are upset or in a difficult situation, do you frequently blame someone for making you feel the way you do? 

Colier states, “If you answered yes to any one of these questions, you are a blamer. If you answered yes to multiple questions, then your blaming behavior may very well be compromising your relationships, your well-being, and your personal evolution.”  [https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inviting-monkey-tea/201601/4-steps-stop-blaming]

How did you do?

If you’re a blamer, no shame. You are not alone. But if you are interested in growth, development, and relationship health, both at home and at work, at some point the blame has to stop. Whitbourne goes on to say this, “Learning to tell when you need to own up to your role in a bad situation will help you grow from your experiences, and ultimately help you achieve more fulfilling relationships.” [https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201509/5-reasons-we-play-the-blame-game]

Making Shifts

No matter how long you’ve been playing the blame game, you can start today to make a shift. Here are ten ways to get along with others better (and lay down the blame):

1-Set an intention to stop blaming. As with any goal, it’s helpful to be clear about your intentions. Say it aloud, share it with a trusted friend, write it down. It could be as simple as, “I intend to own my own role in my conflicts” or “I intend to stop blaming others.”

2-Tune in. Notice when you shift blame and take note. Is it when you are around a certain person? Is it only at work, or only at home? Is it when you know you’ve done something in opposition to your values? Is it when you are hungry, or tired, or emotionally spent? A great first step to stop playing the blame game is to simply notice when you blame, and why.

3-Develop your empathetic skills. It’s hard to show empathy toward someone when you’re angry with them…and it’s the last thing you’ll feel like doing! But try, difficult as it may be, to put yourself in their shoes. Ask open-ended questions as you seek to understand their perspective. Listen without judgement and ask clarifying questions. You don’t have to agree with what they are saying — you just want to validate their feelings. The emotions they are feeling — anger, frustration, irritation, injustice — most likely are very similar to what you’re experiencing. The feelings are legit — as are yours. Express clearly, emphatically, and often, that you understand how they’re feeling.

4-Seek a fresh perspective. Have you noticed that when you’re in conflict, it’s all you can think about? It’s the first thing which pops into your head in the morning, and the last thing you ruminate on when you lie down to sleep. Sometimes it can even prevent a good, restful sleep! This consumption can be detrimental to conflict resolve, because the longer you obsess on a particular topic, the bigger and more difficult it seems to become. You need a breath of fresh air. Get outside, engage in some exercise, talk to others (about anything but the conflict), watch a movie, read a book…anything to help you get your brain off the topic for a reprieve. Taking a ‘break’ enables you to step back and put your conflict into a larger-world perspective.

5-Name it to Tame it. Often when we shift blame, it’s to avoid uncomfortable feelings such as guilt, shame, hurt, disappointment, anger, etc. I get it. Negative feelings are no fun! Which emotion(s) are you attempting to avoid by pointing your finger? Be specific. Try to think of these emotions, as much as they may make you squirm, as dear friends, willing to tell you the truth. Emotions provide valuable insights into what’s really going on. Instead of stuffing them inside or pretending they’re nonexistent, allow yourself to name them, feel them, and note why they are there. Journal or talk to someone about these emotions.

6-Learn to say “I’m sorry”. Yes, they’re two of the hardest words to say when you feel wronged, yet so very powerful. Obviously, conflict is rarely one person’s fault. The Latin root of the word speaks for itself. Conflict comes from assimilated form of com “with, together” (see con-) + fligere “to strike”[https://www.etymonline.com/word/conflict#:~:text=conflict]. Remember, it takes two to tango. Own your contribution to the problem –even if you didn’t ‘start it’ — and apologize for the hurtful things you’ve said and done. Don’t wait for the other person to apologize first, because you may be waiting a long, long time. You can’t control their actions, but you can control yours.

7-Take Constructive Action. Instead of ruminating ’round and ’round on who’s fault it is, instead, shift your focus on what you can do to turn things around. Read a book on conflict resolve. Enroll in a class. Take on a new project. Help them out. Offer a kind word. Treat them to lunch. Not only will constructive actions help you focus on something other than the conflict, your energy will be repurposed elsewhere, pointing the way to personal and professional growth.

8-Decide to forgive. There is a phrase, “Hurt people hurt people.” Each of us have been hurt at some point or another, and each of us (whether wittingly or unwittingly) have hurt others. Recognize that conflict happens, and, even if someone is not owning their role in it, you can still choose to let go of trying to bring some sort of punishment or penalty upon them. It doesn’t mean you need to become best friends. But you can free yourself by forgiving yourself, and the other person, for the poor behavior.

9-Seek out the help of others. Don’t feel like you have to go it alone. Behavior change is much more palatable — and effective — when you have others walking alongside you. Enlist the help of a coach or counselor. Find a trusted friend or colleague who will speak the truth, and spur you along your new path. Choose a mentor and spend time learning from them.

10-Celebrate your wins. Congratulate yourself when you are able to own your role in conflict, and stop assigning blame. Big changes consist of small, day-to-day steps in the right direction. Try reflecting on your improvements at the end of each week, and keep a journal detailing your growth. Share your successes with a trusted friend, family member, or mentor and find ways to celebrate your growth.

Shifting habits such as blaming others can be difficult to do, and does not happen overnight. Offer yourself grace as you move in a new direction. You may never reach ‘perfection’ (does it even exist?), but keep moving, step by step, toward a new way of behaving. In doing so, you’ll begin to experience new levels of health in your relationships — and find that you actually can get along with others…even if you don’t agree with them!

“Everybody is responsible for their own actions. It’s easy to point the finger at somebody else, but a real man, a real woman, a real person knows when it’s time to take the blame and when to take responsibility for their own actions.”

— Marcus Smart

Catalyzing Change and the Brain

Article contributed by guest author Sandra Marin

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Since the beginning of time, people have liked routine. We like the known. It makes us feel in control. Safe and comfortable. Boy does this ever resonant now during these Covid times. So, it is no surprise that many of us resist change. Even if we are not 100% satisfied with status quo, we will hold onto it. Better the devil we know than the devil we don’t. But maybe not….

Our resistance to change is not because we are stubborn or want to be difficult (at least not you or me). It is a reflection of our brains. The brain loves to make sense of the world and helps us control our lives. This is an excellent thing. It keeps us safe.  And, like so many things, if overdone, can be harmful. The inability to change or grow can result in stagnation. No progress. Not good for an individual, a society or a country. 

February’s “coffee chat” topic, hosted by The Institute for Social and Emotional Intelligence was Catalyzing Change. This is one of the 26 competencies that make up their social and emotional intelligence model. 

During our chat we talked about many things and what I want to focus on today is the benefit of becoming more of a change catalyzer and less of a change resistor. In particular focusing on one critical benefit that may not be the first one that comes to mind: the positive impact of change on brain health. Yup, change can help our brains remain agile throughout our lives. 

Neuroscience: 1 second intro

Our brains grow and change naturally. Often quite dramatically until around our mid to late 20’s. Historical thinking about the brain was that once we became adults our brains were “hard -wired” and stopped changing. The die was cast. Or so we thought. Recent neuroscience research shows that our brains are much more flexible than we first thought, hence the term neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is the term that describes the brain’s ability to create new neural pathways and ignore or lose those that are no longer used. We can change our habits, biases and behaviours. Not easy, but possible.

The main benefit of becoming a change catalyzer is that change can help keep our brains agile throughout our life. We can lead richer, happier and healthier lives. In fact, according to neuroscientist and author David Eagleman the single most important thing we can do for our brains is to cognitively challenge them. And that means embracing change. 

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Embracing Change: So what can you do to become more of a change catalyzer and improve the health of your brain? Start small to build your comfort level with change.

For example:

  • Take different routes to and from frequent destinations.
  • Try new restaurants and new types of cuisine.
  • Switch hands for common tasks such as brushing your teeth.
  • Expand your horizons in general. This can be listening to music, reading books, watching movies from styles and genres that you normally wouldn’t.

Of course the small things are not enough. Move on to more challenging activities and behaviours. Such as:

  •  Learn a new language or instrument. 
  • Embrace mistakes. We learn through trial and error. Think less about failing and more about exposing yourself to new activities and experiences. 
  • Practice, and more practice. Simply doing something once is not enough to create a new pathway in the brain. Try, try, and try again. If not perfect, practice does make better. 
  • Be open to new ideas and practices.  Maybe you have heard someone (not you of course) say “ if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” or “ we’ve always done it this way.” Resist the urge to stop there.  Go further and ask “ so what if it did change?What then?” 
  • Focus. Be present. Breathe. Deeply. Forget multi-tasking. Our brains are not wired for that. In fact the more we take on, the more our bodies are flooded with the stress hormone cortisol. Take up yoga, meditation or simply go for a walk in nature. 
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“All change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end.” Robin Sharma

I hope I have whetted your appetite for more on neuroscience, change and emotional intelligence. Please feel free to share your comments, questions, tips.

Resources 

There are many excellent resources on neuroscience. Here are three that relate to this article. 

 “The Nun Study”. This study showed that multilingualism and linguistic ability may reduce the risk of developing dementia. Science Daily September 12, 2019 University of Waterloo.

 “The Four Underling Principles of Changing your Brain “Tara Swart, neuroscientist and author, Forbes March 27, 2018.

 “Livewired” by David Eagleman 2020

The Power of Good Intentions

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Good intentions often get a bad rap. As T.S. Elliot once said, “Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.” Angela Blount, in her book, Once Upon a Road Trip, observed, “Well-meaning people are sometimes the most dangerous.” And how many times have you had good intentions, only to watch those plans fall by the wayside when the first obstacle arose?

And then there’s this one: “The road to [h-e-double-hockey sticks] is paved with good intentions.”

Linking evil, danger, failure, and eternal suffering to good intentions doesn’t necessarily make intentionality sound like a trait worth pursuing.

But being intentional is a competency of emotional intelligence, and, despite what you may have been told, a good intention is the fuel which powers a goal. Neal Shusterman, an American best-selling author, puts it this way: “But remember that good intentions pave many roads. Not all of them lead to hell.”

Intentionality can be defined as thinking and acting deliberately, choosing a path flocked with purpose. Those who are intentional know what it takes to determine outcomes, and feel they have some control over their path and future.

You may know people like this. They are good at making decisions, decisions which actually lead them toward their goals and objectives. Their actions are consistent and they are able to stay focused on their intentions and manage distractions well. They are clear about what they want in life and make concerted effort to bring it to fruition. Their day-to-day choices are aligned with their values and guide them to reach both short and long-term goals.

These kind of people set intentions, good intentions, and carve out a lifestyle which leads them there.

Those who are not intentional — guess what? — do not lay out intentions. They tend to shy away from setting goals and allow themselves to be “tossed by the prevailing winds of life”. They are easily distracted from their ideals, whether it be personally or professionally, and seem to head down paths which lead nowhere. If asked, they struggle to define their values, are unclear about the outcomes they seek, and don’t seem to have a plan as to how to get where they want to go.

“Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice.”

–William Jennings Bryan

If this describes you, take heart! Emotional intelligence is something which can be developed. With some concerted effort, you can begin to shift toward being more intentional. You may be tempted to wait to start when the timing is better, or when your tough circumstances change. However, today is a great day to start.

“It is always your next move.”

–Napolean Hill

Here are a few ways you can work toward becoming more intentional:

  • Recognize that today is a new day. If you haven’t been especially intentional until now, it’s time to lay that behavior aside and make a fresh start. Instead of holding yourself to an already-established identity (“I’m just not a goal-setter”), give yourself permission to become more intentional. Start with a simple statement and say it out loud: “I can and will become more intentional.”
  • Identify a few areas of your life in which you’d like to improve. Write them down. Then, step back and ask yourself, for each, “In an ideal world, what would I want to see happen here?” These are your good intentions. This is a brainstorming session, so try to suspend judgement and let the ideas flow. Write down anything that comes to mind. If you get stuck, start with long-term goals (10+ years down the road) and then scale back to shorter-term goals.
  • Align your values. In order for intentions to be good intentions, they need to align with your values. What is most important to you? What qualities do you respect most in others? What do you value most in yourself? What things would you sacrifice all to preserve? List out your top ten values and be specific. Take a moment to note why each value is a priority to you. Then look back at your intentions and make sure they allow you to live out these values.
  • Take note of your typical distractions. What are the things that have caused you to veer from your goals in the past? What hurdles do you often trip over? Is it fear? Is it a lack of resources? Do you get bored easily? Jot these down and familiarize yourself with them, so you can recognize them when they decide to show up. In addition, what obstacles do you foresee coming up which may slow you down or keep you from reaching your goals? Take note of these as well.
  • Turn each intention into a goal statement. Use phrases like “I will…” and “I plan to…” . For example, if you set an intention to become a better public speaker, you could say, “I will improve my public speaking skills.” Speak them aloud and write them down.
  • Decide what steps you need to take to accomplish each intention. Be specific. Don’t worry about the order of operations yet — just write down all of the steps you can think of which would be needed to reach that goal, no matter how fantastic or untouchable they may seem. For example, you may need to take a class, read a book, or save some money.
  • Create a plan. Which of the above steps would be the easiest to do first? Which one makes the most sense to start with? Which one will give you an instant sense of accomplishment? This can be tough to determine on your own, so don’t be afraid to ask a colleague or close friend, or enlist a coach to help.
  • Adopt the belief that you are in control of your destiny. As American business executive and writer Jack Welch once said, “Control your destiny, or someone else will.” No one but you is responsible for your success. Owning the process allows you to recognize your ability to choose the direction(s) you’ll take.
  • Take that first step. Often, the hardest part of a plan is taking that first step in a new direction. Break larger tasks into bite-sized chunks and do one thing, today, to get started. Once you get moving toward change, the momentum will power you along down the path of intentionality.
  • Celebrate wins along the way. Don’t be afraid to celebrate small successes as you work toward your larger goals! This can provide a boost of positive emotions and feeling of success which can keep you going forward.
  • Keep walking. At the start of each day, determine the one step you’ll take before the sun sets. Then take that step. Imagine, after one month, you’ll have taken 30 steps toward your goal!

Living the life you want starts with setting good intentions.

Why not lay out some good intentions today?

“Be proud of yourself. Be proud that your heart and intentions are good. Be proud of the fact that you are trying.”

–Richelle E. Goodrich