Posts Tagged ‘socialintelligence’

A reflection of integrity

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

When you look into the mirror, who do you see? I don’t mean the color of your eyes, how pointy your chin is, or how amazing your hair is looking today. I mean the deep down you, who you are on the inside,  the who of your who. The real you. Can you see this person in your reflection, or is he or she hidden, masked, or adulterated in a way that the real you is not recognizable?

In other words, is the life you’re living matching up with who you are on the inside, resulting in living a life of integrity?

For many of us, our naked soul is a little too uncomfortable to gaze upon for very long, so after a quick glance, we look away. Others of us are afraid to look at all for the pain the reflection may reveal. If only we could all could learn to live out who we truly are, accepting the things we can’t change, and making shifts on the things we can, so that who we see (and who others see) is an accurate representation of the life we’re living. That, I propose, is living a life of integrity.

Defining Integrity

Integrity is often described as doing the right thing, especially when no one is watching, or living in a way that’s trustworthy and honest, or having strong moral principles. I’d like to offer another aspect of integrity: Living in a way that aligns with who we truly are, so that our reflection, both in our eyes and in others’, and the life we live, is a match.

At one point or another we all have experienced flow — that place of oneness, where we’re completely absorbed in what we’re doing, where the time seems to fly by. Years ago, my middle daughter would come home from school, pick up her guitar, and hours later (though it only seemed moments for her), would look up with surprise at how much time had passed. It’s a good feeling to be in flow. However, often we find ourselves in relationships, jobs, and ways of living that don’t align with who we are. You know when things are off. You find yourself filled with dread, discouragement, and feel disillusioned. You wonder how you ended up here, and wonder, “Is this really all life has to offer?” You feel stuck, and can’t see a way out.

Learning to live our lives in conjunction with who we are takes courage, vulnerability, and insight. It takes emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of how we’re feeling, and how others are feeling, in the moment, then manage our behavior and relationships appropriately. To accurately reflect who we are, living in integrity, we need to know ourselves and understand the emotions we are feeling.

Knowing Yourself

Self-awareness is the first quadrant of emotional intelligence. If I were to ask you to tell me about who you are, how would you answer? Would you start by describing the work you do?  Or maybe that you’re a parent, or ‘married to…”? Or would the question throw you off completely and leave you without words? Try to look beyond the roles you perform. Make a list of qualities about yourself, ones that you feel define you well. Try journaling and see how easily the words flow. Now share this list with someone who knows you well. Do they agree? Would they describe you the same way? What descriptors would they add? Close friends can help alert us to any blind spots we may have in our self-awareness.

Emotions Check

How are you feeling, right now, in this moment? Can you put words to it? Too many times we’ve been told to leave our emotions at the door, however our emotions can serve as dear friends who are willing to offer understanding into what is going on in our world. Learning to tune in to our emotions can help us better know ourselves and better know how to reflect who we really are. Emotions provide us with valuable insights into the triggers that cause us to act the way we do. A good practice is to check in, on the hour each hour, by quickly jotting down how you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it. At the end of the day, look back on these emotions you felt and notice if they affected your behavior, and if so, how. Keeping track of how you’re feeling can help you begin to recognize your triggers which result in behavior that doesn’t benefit you. Once you know your triggers, you can begin to choose how you want to respond vs. letting your behavior come under a hijack of your emotions.

Values Check

What is important to you? Make a list of the first things that come to mind. It may be job, family, spirituality, beauty, friends, success, money, health, just to name a few. There are no wrong answers. If you’re not sure, try putting it this way: What things make your heart sing? What things cause you to feel strong positive emotions, and which things  make you smile and leave you with lasting joy? What activities create a sense of flow for you?

Time Check

How are you spending your time, and does it match up with who you are? Take a look at last week’s calendar. What did you spend most of your time doing? For most of us it’s work, because that’s how we sustain our lifestyles of choice. But how are you spending your time outside of work? Our calendars are a great record of how we are prioritizing our lives and what we are placing emphasis on. Do you like what you see? If not, what shifts could you  make to spend more time doing the things you value? Even small shifts in our schedules can bring about a better sense of aligning our daily actions with our values.

People Check

Now take a look at who you spend your time with. It may be your colleagues, your family, and friends. Maybe a few strangers here and there. Are you happy with whom you’re spending your time? Are you spending enough time with those you love most? If not, what shifts can you make to allow that to happen? Try listing out the people you value most, and note how much time you’ve spent with them in the last month. If you’re not satisfied with how much time is spent with those closest to you, what can you do to remedy that?

Regarding Shame

One hurdle to accurately reflecting who we truly are is that 5-letter curse word, shame. It’s defined as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” [https://www.google.com/search?q=definition+shame&oq=definition+shame&aqs=chrome..69i57j35i39l2j0j69i60l2.2538j0j9&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8]. Some of us have made choices we’re not proud of in our past, and allow them to define who we are. We forget that our choices are not who we are — they’re what we’ve done. You can be a very good person and have made some poor choices in your past. The key is to separate out your actions from your being, and to realize that you have a choice going forward to decide upon better actions, behaviors, and paths.

Learning to let go of the past and forgive yourself can take some hard work. Finding a social + emotional intelligence coach or a counselor may be a great place to start in working through some of the past. Once you feel you’ve made amends with yourself, (and possibly those who you may have hurt in the process), you can then decide to step into a new direction.

Living in Alignment

Now that you know yourself a little better, here are some questions to ask yourself to see if your actions are lining up with your character. If you answer yes to any of these, it may be time to make some shifts.

  • Do you feel the need to hide any of the choices you are making? Which ones? From whom do you need to hide? Why?
  • Are you afraid others will find out something you’re currently engaged in? What consequences do you fear?
  • Would you be proud to tell others about the choices you’re making?  Why or why not?

As we see ourselves more deeply and clearly, by tuning into our emotions, living out our values, using our time well, and spending time with those we love, and learning to let go of shame along the way, we can begin to look in the mirror and see the person we want to see — the one we truly are. Learning to reflect this person in our day-to-day actions can enable us to begin to live the life we want to live…a life of integrity.

A lesson in emotional intelligence–from the critters

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

I built a little pond on my plot at my community garden last year. I’ve put a lot of loving work into it, gathering and arranging rocks, purchasing a bubbling solar fountain, and nudging plants to life around its perimeter. I collected cattails from a nearby stream and replanted them along with a few lily pads and other water plants. One of my neighbors even put fish in it which we both feed.

So you can imagine my frustration arriving every day to discover the rocks have been thrown in, plants are torn up and knocked over, and the pump is disassembled in pieces at the bottom of the pond. The foam pump float has been ripped apart, full of tiny fingernail imprints. Grrr! Who would do this?!

My garden neighbors have a wild child whom I caught several times last year playing in my pond, throwing rocks, trampling plants, etc. The parents would yell at him to get out but he paid them no mind. So my assumption–of course–was to blame this hellion for the daily destruction. I know it’s a small thing in the big scheme of life, but I found myself getting really cranky that these parents would not discipline their child enough to keep him out of other people’s stuff! All the ‘facts’ matched up: he is an unruly kid and needs to stop.

Just when I had developed a real attitude about the poor little kid (and his parents), I read an article about the damage that raccoons can do to a garden pond. Raccoons! And as I started looking a little closer at all the signs, I see now that it is obviously one of these masked critters who is the culprit and not the little boy! Especially because the parents assured me (yes, I spoke with them) they haven’t even brought him to the garden this summer! Here I spent a few stressful weeks dissing on these parents and the kid, in my mind, and even talked to the garden manager about it, in my ‘kindhearted righteousness’. So imagine my chagrin at the realization.

Which got me thinking…

Sometimes we make negative judgments of people when we really don’t have all the facts. We think we do. But we don’t. We create a story in our mind based upon our views and outlooks and determine it is the truth…when it’s just not. It’s easy to do. And it’s hurtful. And wrong. And it’s a good way to ruin relationships and assure our hearts will become bitter.

Have anyone you’re judging today based upon YOUR set of facts? Someone you KNOW is in the wrong, and has bad intentions…so you think. What if…what if you’re wrong? What if there’s a different perspective, some whys you might not be aware of, some facts you haven’t noticed, which are missing from the narrative you’ve so carefully crafted? I’d like to encourage you to learn from my mistake…and let’s all take a lesson from the critters. Give someone the benefit of the doubt. Quit pointing the finger. Accept that maybe your own closed mindedness may be the real ‘bad guy.’

I’ve got some apologizing to do.

Then I’m going to forgive myself.

Then I’m going to go water that garden.

When Conflicts Arise

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Is there someone with whom you’re harboring an unresolved conflict?

Pause for a moment and think about this someone.  Maybe they’ve recently wronged you, or hurled hurtful words, or showed you disdain or disrespect. Possibly they simply don’t agree with you and have been adamant about letting you know.  OK–got this person in mind? Focus on his/her face, and the last expression you saw in their eyes. Does your heart begin to race? Do you feel your anger rising as you begin to ruminate about that last conversation you had with them? Do sarcastic, hurtful words come to mind which you would like to say to them if ever you got the nerve? If you were to describe this person to me, what adjectives would you use?

Now, stop thinking about them and get back to what you were doing. Easier said than done?

If you experience strong, negative emotions when thinking about an unresolved conflict with someone, whether friend or perceived foe, there may be more at stake than just the two of you’s relationship. Though it’s definitely easier to side step differences, sweep issues under the rug or just avoid the person altogether, running from conflict resolve may not be the healthiest choice. Barring unsafe people who you must protect yourself from, learning and practicing conflict resolution is a brave thing to do — and can help you lead a healthier, happier life.

“Bravery is the choice to show up and listen to another person, be it a loved one or perceived foe, even when it is uncomfortable, painful, or the last thing you want to do.”  ― Alaric Hutchinson

We all are pretty good at making a connection between eating healthy foods, sleeping well, and exercising and our physical and mental well being. But how many recognize the value of positive social connections and their impact on our health?

Those experiencing unresolved conflict often become frustrated because there seems to be no workable solution, which can result in stress, sleep issues, loss of appetite, or overeating. Headaches, stomach aches, shoulder and neck pain, and a general down-in-the-mouth demeanor can deem you unavailable and unapproachable to others, thus negatively affecting relationships, both at work and at home.  And how about that ruminating piece?  Ever find yourself talking and talking (and talking) about the unresolved issue with anyone who’ll lend an ear? I daresay after a few sessions of this, friends, family, and coworkers may tire of having to hear about the same ole’ issues making their rounds in your conversations, and one by one will become less and less available as your sounding board.

It matters whether or not we get along with others.  Dr. Dana Avey is a Marriage & Family Therapist and explains how this works.  “Overall, having a social network of friends with whom one can spend time is noted to have significant mental health benefits, particularly as evidenced by experiencing an improved mood, both when in the company of others but also in the aftermath of the time spent socializing.  It can become very easy to become isolated with one’s own thoughts and feelings and connecting with others can offer objective feedback and support.” A study done by Deborah Umberson and Jennifer Karas Montez showed that poor social relationships present serious ill-effects on our health. One of their findings showed that both the quantity and quality of social relationships affect our mental health, health behavior, physical health, and our risk of mortality. A striking sub-study by Berkman and Syme in 1997 revealed that the risk of death among men and women with the fewest social connections was more than twice as high as the risk for adults with the most relationships.  They also found that solid social ties reduce mortality risk among adults — even those with poor health. (research.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150158/).

In an interesting study done by House, Landis, and Umberson, the researchers uncovered that a lack of social connection has a greater negative impact on our health than smoking, obesity, or high blood pressure!  http://science.sciencemag.org/content/241/4865/540

On the contrary, healthy social connections can lead to a 50% chance of living longer, strengthen our immune systems, and help us recover more quickly from disease (https://emmaseppala.com/connect-thrive-infographic/).

As if this isn’t enough evidence to encourage us to work out our conflicts and strengthen relationships, consider this:  One of the negative, lasting effects of being in an unhealthy  relationship is a steady erosion of your self-worth. Says Claire Arene, MSW, LCSW, staff writer for healthyplace.com, “It is not unusual to find individuals with serious personality disorders as a result of the insidious effect of unhealthy long-term associations.”(https://www.healthyplace.com/relationships/unhealthy-relationships/the-impact-of-being-in-an-unhealthy-relationship)

If you have unresolved conflict with someone, it’s time to take action. Your physical and mental health is at stake. Even if the other party is not willing to make amends, the path toward healing can begin with you.

“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.” — William James

Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Become self-aware of your own emotions and where they are stemming from. List out how you are feeling, using as much detail as possible, and attempt to determine if what you are feeling is a direct result of the conflict — or are there other factors at hand? Understanding what you’re feeling and why will lead to greater insight into why this conflict arose.
  • If your emotions are running on high, consider stepping back for a moment to let yourself cool down. When we lash out in anger or a negative emotional state, it’s very likely we’ll say something we’ll regret.  Take a walk, journal, talk to a counselor–whatever it is you do to get your emotions in check — before you attempt to reconcile.

“Speak when you are angry – and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret. –Laurence J. Peter

  • Tune in to what the other person may be feeling. Understanding where they are coming from and where their emotions are stemming from can help you develop empathy for their point of view. How to do this? Ask open-ended questions to discover the whys behind their words. Try to put yourself in their shoes and see things from their viewpoint.
  • Improve your listening skills. Stop thinking about how you will respond and really listen to what they are saying–and what they are not saying. Watch their body language and ask question for clarity when needed. When they finish, ask them if there’s anything else they’d like to add before you pipe up.
  • Withhold character judgments. When someone opposes you in a combative manner, it’s easy to self-protect and convince yourself that they are a bad person. Try to focus on the issues at hand rather than trying to become a judge of their morality by focusing on the problem not the person.
  • Speak without finger pointing. When it’s time for you to speak up, take care to avoid blatant insults, nicely-hidden put-downs, or assigning blame. You are there to express your viewpoint, not make assumptions as to what they are feeling or thinking.
  • Keep calm and cool. Agitated body language and words laced with negative emotion can put the other person on the defensive before you even get started.  Slow down, lower your volume, and choose your words carefully. Check your facial expression. Even something as simple as softening your expression by raising your eyebrows and removing that frown can ease the tension.

“A soft answer turns away wrath.” — Ancient proverb

  • Try to find common ground. Though there is obvious disagreement, is there anything you agree upon? Finding issues you both connect and agree upon can form a bond and build trust. A “me too” attitude provides a sense that you’re on the same team…partners in collaboration vs. opponents in battle.
  • A little laughter goes a long way.  Unfortunately, our sense of humor is one of the first things to go into hiding when we’re agitated. When you laugh with another, a positive bond is formed which provides a buffer against negativity (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships-communication/managing-conflicts-with-humor.htm  ). However, avoid sarcastic humor at all costs.
  • Remember, you can’t control the other person.  Despite your best efforts, the person you’re clashing with may not respond in the way you hope. Your role is not to control their reactions, but to manage your own behavior in a way that lends a hand toward resolution. Sometimes, you may have to do the right thing and let go of the outcome.

It’s not easy to solve conflicts, but making attempts toward peace and understanding is worth the effort. Who will you start with today?

“Every conflict we face in life is rich with positive and negative potential. It can be a source of inspiration, enlightenment, learning, transformation, and growth-or rage, fear, shame, entrapment, and resistance. The choice is not up to our opponents, but to us, and our willingness to face and work through them.” — Kenneth Cloke

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Gratitude for a new life

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

If you’re a regular consumer of social media, you’ve most likely seen this question pop up on your news feed: “What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you were thankful for today?” It makes us all stop and think, in the moment at least, and offer up a few sentiments to the universe before going on with our previously-scheduled programming of stress, worry, and negativity.

But what if you considered making gratitude part of your everyday life?

Gratitude is a positive emotion.  While some define it as “the state of being grateful” or “expressing thanks”, I like this definition best:

“Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.” — Harvard Medical School

However you elucidate it, feeling and expressing gratitude has a positive impact on both you and others. I challenge you to find an article or video describing the ill-effects of gratitude. There are many reasons why we’d want to develop a heart of gratitude, and here are just a few.

A Healthier Body

According to Robert Emmons, leading researcher on gratitude and its effects, those who practice gratitude in a consistent manner report a host of benefits including stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, and are less bothered by aches and pains. (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good). In an article published in the National Communication Association’s Review of Communication, Stephen M. Yoshimura and Kassandra Berzins explored the connection between the expression of gratitude and physical health. They found that gratitude consistently associates with many positive health states and reduced reports of negative physical symptoms. (https://www.natcom.org/press-room/expressing-gratitude-makes-us-healthier-who-wouldn%E2%80%99t-be-grateful)

“Gratitude can be an incredibly powerful and invigorating experience. There is growing evidence that being grateful may not only bring good feelings. It could lead to better health.” – Jeff Huffman

Peace of Mind

Gratitude can also benefit our mental health. Emmons conducted multiple studies linking gratitude and mental well-being. His findings were that gratitude can increase happiness and decrease depression. And a study published in 2014 in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that athletes can increase their self-esteem, an important component of mental wellness, by expressing gratitude. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022440507000386)
“Results indicated that counting blessings was associated with enhanced self-reported gratitude, optimism, life satisfaction, and decreased negative affect.” In a separate study, children who practiced grateful thinking showed signs of more positive attitudes toward their family and at school. (Froh, Sefick, & Emmons, 2008).

Sleep Tight

And how about that elusive but necessary thing called sleep? A study done in 2016 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that more than one third of Americans don’t get enough sleep. (http://www.healthcommunities.com/sleep-disorders/overview-of-sleep-disorders.shtml) Struggling to doze off, waking in the middle of the night, tossing and turning, starting the day feeling exhausted– sound familiar? Try gratefulness as a sleep aid. One study showed that those who were grateful fell asleep quickly and slept more soundly, supporting evidence that more grateful people may sleep better because they have more positive thoughts when they lay down to go to  sleep. Gratitude predicted greater subjective sleep quality and sleep duration, and less sleep latency and daytime dysfunction.” (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022399908004224). And in a 2008 study by Alex M. Wood, “Gratitude predicted greater subjective sleep quality and sleep duration, and less sleep latency and daytime dysfunction.” (https://www.jpsychores.com/article/S0022-3999(08)00422-4/fulltext)

Make new friends

Gratitude can help with creating new relationships. A study led by UNSW psychologist Dr Lisa Williams and Dr Monica Bartlett of Gonzaga University showed that the practice of thanking a new acquaintance for their help makes them more likely to seek an ongoing social relationship with you.  “Our findings represent the first known evidence that expression of gratitude facilitates the initiation of new relationships among previously unacquainted people,” says Dr. Williams.

But how?

Gratitude acts as a strengthener of our positive emotions, like exercise for the muscles. This practice of appreciation eliminates feelings of envy and angst as it allows our memories to be happier. Through gratitude, we experience positive feelings, which in turn help us thrive after disappointments and failures. It shifts our attention away from toxic emotions and makes it harder to ruminate on negative events. In a study done by Joel Wong and Joshua Brown in 2007,  involving 300 subjects who were seeking mental health counseling, they found that when people are more grateful, they experienced brain activity which is distinct from neurological activity related to a negative emotion such as guilt. In addition, they exhibited a greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with learning and decision making. (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain)

Now what?

Though we may understand the many benefits of expressing gratitude, incorporating it into our day-to-day lives can be tricky.  Life’s pressures bear down on us and staying thankful often doesn’t come naturally…negativity does. But with a little effort, it is possible to maintain an attitude of gratitude.  Here are some ideas to try:

1-Eat thankfulness for breakfast.  Literally, don’t allow yourself to get out of bed until you’ve said, out loud, at least 5 things you are thankful for, whether great or small.  Pause after each and soak in the warm, positive feelings that are associated with each. It’s a healthy and optimistic way to start each day.

“Wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.” — Kahlil Gibran

2-Fill a thankful jar.  Find a colorful jar at a local thrift shop and set it somewhere you can see it throughout the day. On a scrap of paper, jot down anything and everything that happens each day that makes a positive impact on you:  a kind word from a colleague, a surprise gift from a loved one, the beautiful sunrise on your way to the office, the aroma from your pumpkin spice latte. Wad these up and throw them in your jar, then, at the end of the year, spend an evening reading through each special moment.  You’ll feel like the richest person in the world.

3-Say it.  Get in the habit of saying “thank you”, to everyone you interact with…the barista, the security guard, your coworkers — even those you don’t get along with.  And don’t forget to thank yourself — self-love is an important part of maintaining a positive outlook — and taking time to appreciate your own accomplishments, achievements, and successes can help with that.  “I appreciate you” is a great ending to almost any email or text!

4-Let gratitude tuck you in at night.  Before going to bed, try opting out of scrolling through what everyone else in the world is doing, and instead, journal about a positive event from today. It may be as small as, “I got out of the house without spilling my coffee”, or as grandiose as realizing a long-term goal — but no matter the significance, get in the habit of writing the positives down.

“Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.”– Henry Ward Beecher

And who knows, your own attitude of gratitude may be just the encouragement someone else needs. Don’t be surprised if, as you grow in expressing gratitude, that others will want a piece of the pie.  Joy is contagious and when others seeing you living a life of physical health, mental health, sleeping deeply and enjoying healthy relationships — to name a few — they will want to learn your secret.  If not for yourself, consider developing a heart of gratitude to be a light to others and encourage them to live a new life.

“At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” – Albert Schweitzer

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