Posts Tagged ‘Self-awareness’

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.

Words Matter

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

How careful are you when choosing your words?

A friend recently complained, with annoyance in her voice, that she felt like she really had to watch what she said around certain friends. My immediate thought was, “Um, yeah…!” It’s a pleasant reverie to think our words don’t matter, and hold on to the belief that we shouldn’t have to make effort with those we’re close to. And I agree — it would be easier to never have to exercise self-awareness and other awareness in conversations — easier, and more comfortable — especially if we don’t care about damaging relationships!

Words matter.

Are you someone who speaks from your stream of consciousness, or do you slow down to think before you talk? Do you say whatever pops into your head or choose your words before uttering them?

“Be mindful when it comes to your words. A string of some that don’t mean much to you may stick with someone else for a lifetime.”

Rachel Wochin

If you long for healthier relationships, it may be time to give attention to effective communication–knowing how to speak clearly and listen actively, promoting open conversation, where everyone feels safe and heard. It may be to your benefit to notice what’s coming out of your mouth — or fingertips — and carefully choose your words, no matter whom you’re communicating with. And I’ll dare to venture, especially with your closest friends and loved ones.

So, let’s start here: Do you consider yourself a good communicator? If yes, how do you know? Would others say the same about you?

In a time when emotions are running high, it seems people these days are quick to state their opinions, but slow to hear the viewpoints of others. We’ve become a society who is easily offended. We take things personally, hear only what we want to hear, and get good at shouting about our beliefs while closing our ears to other points of view. Misunderstandings abound. And the fact that so many of us have moved from face-to-face conversations to exchanges on our screens hasn’t helped. Instead of building relationships and creating bonds, more often than not our words tear down and destroy bridges. Why is this?

“Speech has power. Words do not fade. What starts out as a sound, ends in a deed.”

Abraham Joshua Herschel

Words can make a lasting impression and stay with us for an entire lifetime. In the blog Words Have the Power to Make Relationships or Break Relationships, the author Joi writes this: “Words have the power to heal broken hearts and make dreams come true. They have the power to make people better about themselves. They also have the power to break hearts and  keep dreams from coming true. And of course they have the power to tear someone down completely and cause them to feel completely worthless.” [https://www.selfhelpdaily.com/words-have-the-power-to-make-relationships-or-break-relationships/]

Think of a time when someone’s words hurt you. Do you still remember what they said — and how you felt? Now think about a time when someone gave you a sincere compliment, which lifted your spirits for days. Do you still remember those words, and how it felt?

And it doesn’t make sense to let down when with loved ones. In her article entitled, Control Your Anger: How Hurtful Words Can Damage Your Relationship, author Rachel Moheban-Wachtel notes, “It’s not uncommon for someone to say cruel words to their partner during a heated argument. Often, they may not mean it but it’s hard to control anger when you are feeling hurt. Even so, painful statements can have lingering damage to the trust, commitment, and intimacy in a relationship.” [https://www.relationshipsuite.com/control-your-anger-how-hurtful-words-can-damage-your-relationship/

Words matter.

The makings of a good communicator

You may think if you clearly and succinctly share your perspectives, you’ve earned the title of a good communicator. Maybe you have a lot of followers on your social media pages which give you the illusion that your opinions are popular. Social media platforms have made it very easy to speak your mind, often to a large audience. But effective communication is so much more than stating your views. 

While a component of effective communication is being able to communicate your opinions in a logical, organized manner, it’s also about listening to feedback without becoming defensive (and how can you hear feedback if you never ask for it?) It’s about creating an atmosphere where everyone feels supported, ‘scooting over’ to provide ample room for others to share their outlooks. It’s about being an excellent listener, with the purpose of seeking mutual understanding. It’s about noticing emotional cues which the other person may be trying to communicate, verbally or non verbally. It’s about asking open-ended questions, and allowing the other person to speak until they’ve fully communicated what they’re trying to say, suspending your judgments and withholding advice unless asked. It’s about being someone who is easy for others to connect with, being approachable and open to soliciting differing opinions, and staying open to having your mind changed at times. 

It sounds like a superhero ability, doesn’t it?

When communication breaks down

Becoming an effective communicator requires an awareness of your strengths and areas of growth…and we all have room to improve! Below are a few indicators of poor communication. Which one best describes you?

  • You ridicule others for their opinions
  • People avoid talking to you about the ‘real’ stuff and keep things shallow
  • Everyone in the room with agrees with you
  • People wander off and/or make excuses to exit conversations with you
  • You’ve been told you lack tact or are “a little rough around the edges”
  • In 1:1 conversations, or in groups, you do most of the talking
  • You miss non-verbal signals such as body language and gestures
  • You fail to notice when your listeners are uninterested or bored
  • You often say, “I’m not good with names”
  • It’s difficult to hear the meaning behind others’ words; instead, you take everything you hear literally
  • You pride yourself in speaking the truth even if it hurts…and you’ve hurt a lot of people
  • You know very few personal details about the people you’re talking with
  • Your words sting and often cause others to appear upset, agitated, or angry
  • You find yourself often thinking, “I don’t care if they like me as long as they respect me”
  • Your opinion is usually ‘right’
  • You only hang out with people who think and believe the same as you
  • It’s your way or the highway

Can you relate to a few of these? If so, no shame. We’re human and sometimes we miss. But if any of these have become a pattern, it’s time to recognize your communication skills could use some improvement. What is excellent about emotional intelligence competencies like effective communication is that they can be developed. You don’t have to keep repeating behaviors which aren’t working for you (and others).

Steps Toward Growth

Self-awareness is the first key to developing better communication skills. If any of the above resonate with you, simply own that your communication needs some work. Spend some time thinking about and/or journaling about the points above. Which one shows up for you most? When does it show up? With whom? Why? How do you feel when it shows up? How do others feel when it shows up?

“A word is a bridge. It is a wave of light and sound that spans the perceived distance between one thing and another.”

Thomas Lloyd Qualls

Even if there are several areas needing attention, decide upon one which you’d first like to begin to work on. Not sure where to start? Ask yourself this, “Which one of these is tripping me up the most?”, or, “Which one of these is causing me (and others) the most angst?” Still not sure? Ask a trusted friend or colleague, or enlist the help of an emotional intelligence coach.

Exercising New Communication Muscles

Becoming aware that your communication needs improvement is a great first step, but awareness is not going to fix anything. You’ll next have to take a step in an new direction. It’s like when you want to build up a muscle in your body. It’s one thing to be aware that you need to exercise, but it’s the action of exercising which brings about muscle development. In the same sense, emotional intelligence needs to be exercised and practiced.

Here are some exercises to try:

Approach others with positivity. A smile can go a long way, and starting conversations on a positive note can set the tone for acceptance and connection. Humor is a terrific way to set the tone for a conversation, as long as it’s not the kind which comes from making fun of/putting down someone else. Relax, and be aware of your facial expressions and if possible, remove that frown at the start of a conversation.

Find the commonalities. Before spouting off how your beliefs differ, first seek common ground. What do you agree on? If you can’t find anything, know that there is one thing we all experience: emotions. Everyone has been afraid, or sad, or excited, or nervous. There’s not one emotion that someone else hasn’t also experienced. The circumstances (or beliefs) causing the emotions may be different, but those feelings are the same. Listen for the emotions the other person is expressing and acknowledge them with a “me, too.”

Gratitude goes a long way. It’s easy to label someone who disagrees with you as the enemy. Try having a political discussion with someone who is in the other camp as you, and watch the walls go up. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Offering up gratitude is one way to bridge the differences. When a conversation begins to get heated, try to think of the things you like about this person, what you appreciate about them. Verbally express your gratitude, and let them know what you value about them, even if you don’t agree with what they’re saying.

“It’s good to shut up sometimes.”

Marcel Marceau

Seek to first understand. Instead of starting every conversation with your views, make it a habit to spend time exploring the other person’s perspective first. Ask open-ended questions to learn not only what they think, but why. Try to refrain from passing judgements as they speak. Giving verbal feedback such as “I see”, or “I can understand how you feel that way”, can go far in making someone feel safe. It’s OK to offer this kind of verbal support, even if you don’t agree with them. You’re not agreeing — you’re simply validating their freedom to believe what they believe. One of my favorite questions these days is, “What else?”

Hone your listening skills. It’s tough, but try to stop thinking about what you’re going to say next while the other person is speaking. Instead, tune in. Ask questions to clarify your understanding, and repeat back what you’re hearing to check your understanding. Stop multi-tasking (put down those phones!). Maintain appropriate eye contact to discern what they’re saying, in between their words, looking for body language and other non-verbal signals. Nod often to let them know you’re tracking with them. A nod doesn’t mean you agree — it just means you hear them.

“Genuine listening means suspending memory, desire and judgement — and, for a moment at least, existing for the other person.”

Michael P. Nichols

Validate emotions. Often, when people are expressing their outlook and options, strong emotions arise. This is normal — and the emotions they’re feeling are probably very similar to your own. Validate them for feeling this way. More often than not, others need to know that it’s OK for them to feel the way they are feeling. You don’t have to agree with their statements to validate their feelings. Phrases like, “I see why you’d feel that way”, or “that sounds really tough” are ways to show empathy, in efforts to validate what they’re experiencing, emotionally.

Maintain composure when you talk. Irrational outbursts of negative emotions can prevent the other person hearing you…instead, they’ll just be thinking, “She’s really angry” and notice how quickly your face is turning beet red. If you truly want to be heard, maintain a calm demeanor. If you sense your emotions ramping up, which is normal, notice how they’re affecting your body (rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, for example), and breathe deeply. Take a break if needed to allow your emotions to move through the amygdala (emotion control center of your brain) to the cortex, so your words can come out more rational and reasonable.

Express appreciation often with genuine sincerity. OK, that’s hard to do, especially the genuine sincerity part. This is one of those fake it ’til you make it actions. Get in the habit of saying, “Thanks for sharing your opinions”, “I value what you have to say”, or “thank you for taking the time to explain that to me”, even if you don’t agree. It’s a good practice to express appreciation and often does wonders in changing your outlook toward the other person.

 “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”

Mother Teresa

Add some filters

You may be quick to add a filter to a photo to enhance its impact. What about adding a filter to your words? Here are three filters to pass your words through before you say them, either verbally or in written form:

1-Does this need to be said?

2-Does this need to be said by me?

3-Does this need to be said by me, right now?

[https://www.inc.com/justin-bariso/these-3-questions-will-immediately-increase-your-emotional-intelligence.html]

So pay attention to the words you use. And while you’re at it, hone your listening skills so you can begin to understand what those around you are trying to communicate as well.

“Words are seeds that do more than blow around. They land in our hearts and not the ground. Be careful what you plant and careful what you say. You might have to eat what you planted one day.”

Unknown

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

Managing Your Emotional Intelligence — Amygdala Hijack

Article contributed by guest author Awaz Ahmed

Different parts of the brain perform different functions. However, to take control of your emotions, it’s important to understand the amygdala’s function. To put it simple, the amygdala is the emotional part of the brain. The amygdala plays an important role in emotions and behaviors.

The amygdala is best known for the fight or flight response — the heart rate is increased and prepares for action. Oftentimes, it’s an automatic response, and individuals react quickly without any thought. So, when you feel threatened, the amygdala automatically activates the fight or flight response. This is triggered by emotions such as fear, anger, stress, and anxiety.

So what’s an amygdala hijack? Well, the prefrontal cortex receives input from different parts of the brain and helps process the information to adapt accordingly.

The way I like to describe the prefrontal cortex is “the CEO” of the brain. Amygdala hijack occurs when the amygdala is disabled from the prefrontal cortex. Without the prefrontal cortex, you’re unable to think clearly, make rational decisions and take control of your responses. Amygdala hijack triggers a much significant emotional threat with symptoms like crying, stomach ties, sweaty palms, and heart race. Managing your emotional intelligence helps you recognize, understand, and manage your emotions.

Tips On Preventing An Amygdala Hijack

  1. Engage your prefrontal cortex. You want to disengage the amygdala (the emotional part of your brain). This area is deep within the brain that sets off the fight or flight response.
  2. Count backward from 10 to take control before the amygdala takes control.
  3. Count to 10 and then respond.
  4. Try to pause and breathe to refocus yourself.
  5. Change scenery.
  6. Do any exercise for a rapid heart rate.
  7. Go for a walk.

Catalyzing Change and the Brain

Article contributed by guest author Sandra Marin

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

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

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

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

Neuroscience: 1 second intro

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

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

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

Resources 

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

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

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

 “Livewired” by David Eagleman 2020

The Power of Good Intentions

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–William Jennings Bryan

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

“It is always your next move.”

–Napolean Hill

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

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

Living the life you want starts with setting good intentions.

Why not lay out some good intentions today?

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

–Richelle E. Goodrich

                                                                                        

3 Innovative Ways to Set New Year Goals

Article contributed by guest author Diana Lowe

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Every year we all follow the same pattern with new hope in the air and the feeling of a fresh new start to all the possibilities that lie ahead. It is only natural that we want to set new goals for the new year.

Sadly, as we also know that that fresh recommitment to having a different type of year only lasts for a few weeks into the new year. In fact, “Research shows that as many as 50 percent of adults in the United States make New Year’s resolutions, but fewer than 10 percent actually keep them for more than a few months.”

According to an article on FSU News “On average, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February. Research shows that on average, it takes approximately 66 days for a habit to become automatic.” Clearly, that 6 weeks in period is not enough time to change behavior.

The truth is that COVID-19 shook us up and we are still dealing with this “new normal”. Well I think nothing is normal these days at all if you ask me. But we are more like in an experimental laboratory trying to figure out what works for us and others.

Because of this uncertainty, I came up with 3 innovative ways you can still make goals regardless of your external circumstances and what may happen this year. After all, we can’t change our external environment unless we change our internal environment.

Think about it, goals are always about what I want to attain, acquire, or achieve from the outside, financial goals, team growth, etc. Instead, I invite you to try something different. Focus on goals from within. Challenge your weaknesses, confront your fears, and raise your skill level.

The first innovative way to “Set New Year Goals” is to make a “feeling” your goal. This is no easy feat, but with conscious effort, positive reinforcement, and accountability you would be changing your environment around you.

Let’s say for example you have the feeling that the world is against you. That means that every challenging event that you encounter would essentially be against you, either holding you back or keeping you down. If you changed your “goal” to focus on the feeling of being courageous in the face of challenges, you will encounter the challenge in a very different way, and take different actions. The key is to become more self-aware of your natural tendencies and what you’re thinking, your behaviors, and overall your habits.

The second innovative way is closely aligned with the first way. It is to become more acutely aware of your physical actions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Anyone who has practiced mindfulness can attest to the powerful transformation it can bring to one’s life and state of being. There are numerous studies on the benefits of mindfulness, and because it is a practice. It is something that we attempt every day.

As I write this I am practicing being present feeling my feet on the floor, my back against the seat, and the satisfying feeling of my fingers dancing on the keys. Mindfulness doesn’t have to be sitting still it can be just putting our attention to something right in front of us, or around us. Focusing on self awareness, mindfulness, and even awareness around other peoples feelings can and will change our outlook on a situation. It’s the act of being present, which is a gift.

And the third way is focusing on de-triggering yourself. What does that mean? A trigger is a “cause (an event or situation) to happen or exist.” So by a ‘trigger’, I mean an event or situation that can cause us to have an undesired negative reaction or response emotionally (it could even be physically).

We all have ‘triggers’ and the reaction can appear in many different ways and sometimes can be released at the most inopportune moments.

My clients tell me at work ‘triggers’ might be an off handed comment about their work, the feeling that they are talking and no one is acknowledging or listening to them, an email response that doesn’t come back in a timely manner, or even a facial expression by a coworker.

I notice, personally, I am triggered when I feel emotionally drained and then my little one does something that just is the straw that breaks the camel’s back, like refusing to eat what I have cooked! So it takes extra emotional energy to have that compassion. So instead I just learned how to de-trigger those moments.

This is a skill I work on with, with myself and my clients too. And we all have some sort of trigger that makes us feel like we lose it emotionally. Some people can be set off easily and for others, it takes more time but eventually, it comes out in some way.

Now in a workplace environment, in general, most professionals try not to emotionally lose it in front of others, but guess what? It leaks out! In your actions or lack of actions, your tone, your words, your facial expressions, etc.

And what some deem as “not losing it” others think “wow they really lost their composure”. By working on de-triggering your most stressful moments you can also affect your environment for the better, and your ability to handle whatever life throws at you.

There you have it, 3 simple and innovative ways to “Set Goals” for the new year, which allows you to grow in your personal and professional capacity.

What other innovative ways have you tried to “Set Goals”? I would love to hear from you in the comments.

Sources:

  1. https://www.samuelthomasdavies.com/book-summaries/business/triggers/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CA%20trigger%20is%20any%20stimulus,motivation%20and%20understanding%20and%20ability%E2%80%9D.
  2. https://www.westernconnecticuthealthnetwork.org/newsroom/article-listing/new-years-resolutions
  3. https://www.fsunews.com/story/news/2020/01/05/how-make-your-new-years-resolutions-last/2818222001/

7 Steps to Managing Stress with Personal Power

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

When is the last time you had to face something tough which caused stress? Last year — last month — yesterday — today?

Stress and being human go hand-in-hand, especially these days. And tough times most likely aren’t going away any time soon, so if you’re hoping for a stress-free life, best of luck with that. In an article published by the Medical West Hospital, the author says, “Stress is a normal part of life…and an unavoidable reality of life. But stress isn’t always a bad thing. It’s a natural, physical response that can trigger our fight-or-flight response. Stress can increase our awareness in difficult or dangerous situations, allowing us to act quickly in the moment. Without it, humans wouldn’t have survived this long!” [https://www.medicalwesthospital.org/preventing-stress.php]

The goal isn’t necessarily to get rid of all stress, but to have a toolkit full of resources to tackle it when it does arise. One of the primary tools which helps combat stress is the emotional intelligence competency of personal power.

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”
– Lou Holtz

Personal power is the ability to know you are able to meet life’s challenges with a sense of self-confidence. It’s that “inner knowing” that you have the ability to live the life you choose, even if it means having hard conversations and speaking your truth along the way. It’s an ability to tune into your own emotions and behave in a way that fits within your personal value system — even if it’s unpopular. And — it’s the ability to do all of the above in a way that builds relationships, not tearing them down.

In other words, exercising personal power is not about being confrontational, pushy, or ‘bulldozing’ over others. More often than not, this competency is exhibited in a quiet, sincere manner which others may not even notice at a glance. True personal power does not need an audience, but it receives a following.

Those who struggle with this competency of emotional intelligence lack confidence in their own judgement and shy away from tough conversations. They are avoiders and have difficult speaking their truth if they perceive it will not be well received. They avoid challenges and take the easy route when available. They are not risk-takers and often are unable to set boundaries with others which are appropriate…such as expecting to be treated with respect and being able to communicate that. When they do decide to speak up, their assertiveness can come out as offensive.

But what does personal power have to do with stress management?

First of all, personal power provides you with the confidence and ability to make changes when needed. You do not feel like a victim, but rather, in charge of your choices. If you’re in a stressful situation, your belief in self empowers you to boldly face the issues and make adjustments as needed. For example, you know when to push back hard when someone is trying to compromise your values (something which causes stress) and know when to let go (not sweating the small stuff). You believe your actions have an influence on the outcome and aren’t afraid to step in and deal with the situation.

“Do not wait for the green light. You are the green light.”
― Dr. Jacinta Mpalyenkana, PhD, MBA

Secondly, your personal power gives you the ability to maintain composure when stress arises and choose productive behaviors which diminish negative emotions connected to stress, rather than feed them with nervous tension, anxiety, irritability, etc. You recognize that stress is a part of everyday life and can provide an opportunity to grow, so, you do not fear it. You know how to calm yourself when stress arises and are not afraid to seek support from others when needed.

Finally, personal power enables you to combat stress because you are acutely aware of your needs and know how to respond appropriately. Instead of waiting for circumstances or others to ‘fix’ things for you, you recognize your emotions in the moment and, based upon what you learn from your emotions, choose healthy behaviors which help instead of hurt yourself, others, and the specific situation. You like yourself enough to take care of yourself, including practicing good mental health as well as eating well and exercising, all choices which help with diminishing stress.

Like all competencies of emotional intelligence, personal power can be developed. Here are some ways to rediscover your personal power:

1. Know yourself. What are your top 5 values? List these and journal a bit about why they are important to you. Rank them in order. If you are struggling with identifying your values, ask yourself what is most important to you. Think about things like generosity, or responsibility, or honesty, or ambition.

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
– William James

2. Identify the things you excel at. Think back on past successes and focus on the strengths you used to get there. Try to remember how you felt when you accomplished this feat and how it affected others. Congratulate yourself for these achievements and remind yourself that you are capable of success.

3. Work on developing an “I can” thought process. That negative voice in your head no longer gets to be voiced or heard. Instead, when it tries to speak, combat it by shaking your head and saying to yourself, No, that’s not true.” Replace it with “I can, I will, I have, I am going to” and say aloud what you plan to do.

“You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.”
– Wayne Dyer

4. Stop apologizing for your thoughts and beliefs. When you are sharing your values with someone, the conversation should never start with, “I’m sorry, but…”! Learn to state your values, wants, needs, directly and succinctly, without apology. Your thoughts and beliefs reflect who you are. Be proud of that.

5. List out the areas in which you’d like to grow. In which areas of life would you like to make improvements? Take note of why you currently are not confident in these competencies…emphasis on currently. If you have experienced past failures, that’s OK. Everyone does. Forgive yourself and move on. If you’re having trouble noting the source of your struggles, enlisting the help of a close friend, counselor, or coach may provide insights into the things which are presenting themselves as hurdles.

6. Find a mentor. Who do you know who is good at the things you are not? See if you can arrange for a conversation with them and begin to learn from their successes and failures. Find books about people who have achieved successes, or about people whom you admire, and study the behaviors of those who excel.

7. Practice assertiveness in everything you do. Start small, with the ‘easier’ things, such as speaking up when a colleague asks what you want for lunch, or when your significant other asks what you’d like to do after work. Try to avoid saying, “I don’t care”, or, “Whatever everyone else wants”, and speak up for your needs and desires in the little things, often, giving yourself practice in personal power for when bigger issues arise.

As with all new skills, the more you exercise, the stronger you’ll get. If you’ve spent a lifetime of putting yourself down, or not standing up for yourself, know it may take some time to turn the tables and incorporate this competency of emotional intelligence into your everyday choices. Try taking at least one step each day as you move in this new direction, and be sure to accept your mistakes and celebrate your wins along the way. This way, you can be better prepared to handle the stress that lies ahead in 2021.

“When we get comfortable with our own strength, discomfort changes shape. We remember our power.”
― Jen Knox, The Glass City

Giving Thanks When You’re Not Thankful

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

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

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

But what if you’re not feeling thankful?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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