Self-Awareness for Success

 

Whether you are reading a Harvard Business Review article, watching a talk show, or looking at The Atlantic magazine, one topic that continues to show up is on self-awareness. This is probably because of the direct impact it has on professional and personal relationships.

The definition of self-awareness is “conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires.”

In a recent article in HBR, Working with People Who Aren’t Self Aware, by Tasha Eurich, several consistent behaviors of un-self-aware individuals were identified:

  • They won’t listen to, or accept, critical feedback.
  • They cannot empathize with, or take the perspective of others.
  • They have difficulty “reading a room” and tailoring their message to their audience.
  • They possess an inflated opinion of their contributions and performance.
  • They are hurtful to others without realizing it.
  • They take credit for successes and blame others for failures.

During an interview, former Vice-President Joe Biden mentioned two characteristics he believed made a successful leader, courage and self-awareness. He said that with self-awareness, you want to understand strengths and weaknesses. You want to play to your strengths and shore up your weaknesses.

Self-awareness was one of the main topics I talked about in a recent presentation. It is crucial in successful relationships to be self-aware. You want to notice your impact on others and their impact on you. Then, deeper awareness is not just about the words a person says, but the tone in which they say things and the body language they use. The impressions we have are 7% from what we hear (the words others speak), and 93% from tone and body language.

Company leaders are also paying attention to certain character traits. Forbes is leading with self-awareness; Microsoft is leading with empathy; and LinkedIn with compassion. To quote Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”

I’ve noticed an increase in requests for the Emotional Intelligence 360 degree feedback assessment which has an emphasis on the soft skills: self-awareness, listening, compassion, and empathy, in addition to the harder skills that show me “bottom-line” results.

We are living in a world where soft skills in the workplace and our personal lives mean more than ever for achieving success. It is time for people to start developing their self- awareness at a deeper level.

According to author Tasha Eurich it is essential to know both “who” we are and “how” we are. She writes there is something I call internal self-awareness, which is understanding inwardly who I am, what makes me tick, what do I want to do in my life. And there’s another kind called external self-awareness, which is knowing how people see me.

People sometimes say they don’t care what others think about them, but the truth of the matter is that it does matter what people think of you. Eurich says if you want to be successful in your career, if you want to have strong and lasting relationships, if you want to have a happy and fulfilling life, a lot of that is dependent on you understanding how you’re perceived.

Fortunately, self-awareness can be cultivated in life and at work.  When someone tells you how you make them feel, listen to what they’re saying to you. Try not to get defensive. Maya Angelou, poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist said, I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

In an article in The Atlantic by Adam Grant, People Don’t Actually Know Themselves Very Well, Grant wrote who could possibly know you better than you? But your backstage access to your own mind sometimes makes you the last person on Earth others should trust about it. He added, think of it like owning a car: just because you’ve driven it for years doesn’t mean you can pinpoint when and why the engine broke down.

We all have blind spots. We easily see some things, but others are not as clear. Here are a few steps to developing a deeper self-awareness:

1) Start noticing your self-talk, your inner dialogue or chatter. What are you saying to yourself? Is it negative or unproductive or is it positive and moving you forward?

2) Notice where you feel things in your body. For example, if you are in a stressful situation, do you feel tense? Does your body tighten? I personally get a kicked in the stomach feeling. Some may get headaches or tightness in the chest. Everyone’s different. Start noticing where you feel things because our body clues us into what’s going on in ourselves and the environment.

3) Try meditating or taking time out to pause and reflect. You can begin by focusing on your breath, inhaling in and exhaling out. This can improve your moment-by-moment awareness.

4) Spending time with someone in a high-intensity situation allows you to get to know a person at a deeper level.

5) Keep a journal of what brings out your best and worst can help with self-awareness. Journaling is also great for identifying what you want to do, and keeping track of your progress.

6) Put yourself in positions where you can get feedback from several people. In the workplace feedback from a 360 assessment (where others rate you) can be helpful. Look for themes. When several people rate you the same on an item, it’s not easy to argue with that.

7) Ask a trusted friend. Let them know you are seeking objective perspectives…and make them feel comfortable so they can give you an honest view.

Building self-awareness is a life-long effort, much like sustaining your confidence, having a positive self-talk and high resilience. They are factors for your wellbeing. Self-awareness is key to being a good leader. What we say, what we think, and what we feel should all be consistent. These will lead us closer to a state of self-congruence.

Viva Values!

I have been working with several clients this month who are at different stages in their careers. One client is starting a new business, another client is looking to move vertically or laterally in his organization, one is at the succession planning stage and looking for what’s next, and the final is recently graduating with a Masters degree.

The thread I found in common was all of them needed a better clarification and understanding of their core values. No matter what stage you are in your career, whether you are a graduating student or a seasoned professional, knowing what your core values are, is an important start. This applies to not just a career search, but for anything in life. As well, I am sure you know how important a role values play in our relationships.

How would you define your values? Values are who we are at our core. They drive the decisions we make which greatly impacts our lives. Values are a person’s principles or standards of behavior; a person’s judgment of what is important in life. Values have a major influence on a person’s behavior and attitude and serve as broad guidelines in all situations.

Whether you are looking to join a company, club, group, going on vacation with others, or getting married, what values do you have in common and share with those with whom you’ll interact? What do you believe in? What do you stand for?

When the things you do and the way you behave match your values, life seems to move smoothly…you are satisfied and content. When what we do is not in alignment with our personal values we have a feeling of dissonance. For example, if you are honest and have integrity, and you are with someone who lies, that can create a feeling of dissonance for you. That feeling of dissension is because they are stepping on your values.

To help identify your values, think of a time in your life when you were happiest. What were you doing and why were you so happy?

When was a time when you felt proud of yourself? Why did you feel proud? When did you feel satisfied and fulfilled? What need and desire did you meet in these situations? Think about why these situations were so memorable.

Next, make a list of the values that led to these outcomes. There are hundreds of values, such as honesty, respect, integrity, success, independence, creativity, fairness, and more, of course, to choose from, so focus on the values that best define you.

Finally, prioritize those values that are most important to you at this time of your life. Your core values do not change, however, they do shift in priority depending on what is going on in your life at the time. Take your time with this exercise. You can Google and pull up a values list if you would find that helpful.

What is important is that by knowing your values you can use them to make decisions about how you choose to live your life. How do you make your decisions?  It may help you answer questions like the following:

What job should I pursue?

Is now a good time for me to start my own business?

What can I do that will afford me more of a work-life integration?

How will this affect the relationships I’m in?

Is this the best choice for my family?

It is imperative that we know what our core personal values are because that awareness can make a huge difference in all areas of our lives. Our values inform us of whom we are.

Knowing your values will help you interact with others.

For example, say you are going on a job interview or you are looking to collaborate with someone, personally or professionally. Listen for what their values are. What are their beliefs? What is important to them? How we think and what we believe is going to guide our decisions. And if your beliefs are different, is their respect for someone else’s opinion?

Take a time-out for yourself and define your values. Doing this is best for your current and future happiness and satisfaction. By deepening your awareness of your values, you will be able to use them as a guide to make the best choice in any situation. Use your values to help you navigate through life. It is time to take command of your life!

Practicing the Art of Negotiation

Sometimes life feels like one big negotiation. Whether you are at work and speaking with your boss or colleagues, or at home and talking to your spouse or children, learning the art of negotiation can provide you with a powerful tool.

Recently, a client told me he was looking to close a deal. The goals he set gave him direction and clarity. Yet his expectations gave him conviction and the mental advantage conviction at the negotiation table. He was very self-assured, and that confidence gave him a winning edge.

Another client told me of an experience she had with her son. He wanted to have a later bedtime.

When my client’s son asked to extend his bedtime from 9:00 p.m. to 10:00, she asked him to make a list of reasons justifying his request. His list included the fact that since he was a year older and should be able to stay up later. In addition, he vowed that he would continue with his regular responsibilities like walking the dog, doing his homework when he got home from school, and practicing the drums.

My client said she’d extend the time to 9:30 p.m. as long as her son’s grades remained the same or higher. She told him she was giving him the benefit of the doubt based on his previous track record that what he says is what he does.

She added that if, after six months, things were going as expected she would raise the bedtime to 10:00 p.m., and if he weren’t reaching his expectations, his bedtime would drop back to 9:00 p.m.

Whether you’re negotiating with your kids or at work, here are some helpful tips for negotiating success:

  • Know your style. You need a confident attitude based on tested and reliable knowledge. Anxiety hampers negotiation.
  • Take a minute to focus on what you have to gain and what you want to achieve.
  • Get rid of all negative self-talk (our internal dialogue) involving speculation on what you might lose or what could go wrong.
  • Set your goals and focus on your expectations.
  • Leverage wherever you can by paying close attention to the other party’s needs and interests.
  • Be fully prepared, and create a list of everything you hope to accomplish including the ways you will benefit if you are successful.
  • Re-read your list right before the negotiation begins.
  • Listen to the other party.
  • Be prepared to walk away if negotiations do not succeed at first. Sometimes taking a break for a day or two allows each side to reflect, which can work wonders.
  • Act with integrity.

 

The best negotiators stay focused on their ideal target despite the risks they face. If you practice focus training, it will become easier and then become virtually automatic. Keep in mind that what you aim for often determines what you get. Make it a WIN-WIN.

Book suggestions:

To learn more about negotiation, Bargaining for Advantage by G. Richard Shell and Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury.

Discover and follow core values for a values-driven life

Can you answer the following questions?

  • What is the key to having a higher success rate for accomplishing your personal and professional goals?
  • What drives the decisions you make?
  • What does not change in life except for their priorities?
  • What impacts whether something resonates for you or causes a feeling of dissonance in your life?

The answers to these questions sum up your Values.

Why are values important?

Values help define who we are. They point us in a direction that, if we choose to follow, can lead us to discovering our life purpose, accomplishing our goals, and finding what we are passionate about.

For example, for me, the value of freedom means independence, financial independence, and doing things on my own. For someone else the value of freedom can mean patriotism, the flag, or our military. Check in with each other. It is a fun way to connect and often an enlightening one.

Our values are our principles or standards of behavior. They are our judgment on what is important in life. They are principles that we hold to be worthy.

Our values represent who we are right now. They are not chosen. Our values are intrinsic.

Here is a word of caution: Often we internalize our parents’ rules and values. For that reason, it is important to look inward to be able to distinguish between our parents’ values and our own.

So who are you?

What makes you tick? What are you passionate about?

Spending quality time to get a better grasp of your values, interest, personal style, and skills will allow you to better assess your personal and career wants and needs. Ultimately the assessment process will allow you to make better-informed decisions and judgments on situations in your life, be they big or small. Our choices and decisions are made easier when they are in relation to our purpose, values, and what is important to us.

Here is a tip if you are currently seeking a job.

Understanding your values will be helpful. As the interview proceeds, make sure to listen for the values of the interviewer. In order to be truly happy in the workplace, the organization’s values must be aligned with and support your personal values. Otherwise, the variance will create a feeling of dissonance in you and the prospective job may not be a good match.

For example, if you are working with someone who is not honest, and one of your core values is honesty or integrity, it will create a feeling of dissonance for you that you will actually feel in your body. The reason is that person who is not honest is “stepping” on your values. Or put another way, this individual is violating what you believe in. Such a situation is not likely to produce a positive outcome.

Remember: When you know your values, you can draw on them at any time to help you make decisions, determine what your priorities are, and guide you to the best direction for you and your goals.

Change and Transition: Embrace Both to Thrive and Prosper

Jumbo shrimp, act naturally, accurate estimate, a little big, almost pregnant, astronomically small: the list of everyday oxymorons goes on and on. The oxymoron I want to focus on is this one: change or transition is constant.

Whether we like it or not, the one thing we can count on as a constant in our lives is change and transition. But our brains are hard-wired to resist change, even when it is positive. Fear of the unknown, trying something new, stepping out of our comfort zones, and even the anticipation of future happenings can create anxiety in individuals.

While some of us could never imagine sitting behind a desk all day or giving up a steady job, others can’t function that way. Some of us prefer to seek out new experiences, to take risks, and to frequently step out of our comfort zones. What is needed to accomplish this is the ability to focus…but that’s another article! So let’s first take the time to examine change and transition in and of themselves as well as our reactions to both.

Change can be difficult. Often, we resist change even when it will enhance our lives or make them easier. We create justifications for our resistance. Over time, these justifications become accepted reasons for not changing.

When it comes to terminology, many of confuse the words “change” and “transition,” freely exchanging one term with the other. However, they are not the same. Change is not an event, but rather a process. And that process is called transition. Transition is the inner movement or journey we make in reaction to a change. For that reason, there is actually a clear distinction between change and transition.

The essential difference between change and transition can be boiled down to this: Change is situational while transition is psychological. It’s not the events outside us that make the transition. It’s the internal process we go through to incorporate those changes.

Transitions are times when we mentally cross from something old and familiar to something new and unfamiliar. Most transitions are small and pass by almost unnoticed, while others can involve major disruptions in routines, forcing us to look at our values and lifestyles.

Many of us are instinctively afraid of change and resist it. We prefer routine and stability and remaining within our individual comfort zones. But eventually, that puts us at odds with what life really is: a series of frequent changes.

Some changes or variations are welcomed, of course, while others range from inconvenient to catastrophic whether in reality, in our minds, or both. How well we handle or cope with change and the resulting transition process can depend on the attitudes we have toward life and what our resilience level happens to be.

Having a productive, positive attitude along with the capacity to be resilient will help ease any transition. An ability to make transitions successfully frees up precious energy enabling us to live more fully in the here and now.

Transitions range from changes that affect everyone, like natural disasters, to more personal transitions that affect one’s career and relationships. Transitions can be predictable or unpredictable. They can be voluntary, like moving to a larger home, or involuntary, like an accident or an illness. Transitions and their disruptions challenge us to grow, while they can also help us focus on today and the present moment.

One way people sometimes deal with the discomfort of change is by avoiding it. Avoiding uncomfortable feelings surrounding change, however, eventually establishes patterns that stand in the way of making new beginnings.

The solution ultimately requires that we stop striving to avoid change and the inevitable transition that must follow. When we refuse to accept a transition, when the fear of what lies ahead prevents us from moving forward, we can get stuck and overwhelmed as life passes us by. Again, our response to situations is directly influenced by our attitude and how well we have developed our personal level of resilience.

Along with any kind of transition, the change that affects it can often have a negative impact our self-confidence. Think about it, when you’re not feeling confident, trying something new or out of your comfort zone or even something you may fear can be even harder. Negative self-talk can stifle professional development and advancement, making it a real challenge to sustain healthy professional and personal relationships.

Here are some tips about transition:

  • To handle present and future transitions: Use the insights gained from the past along with newly acquired skills to navigate your path ahead. It’s helpful to recall the strengths that we’ve developed that have helped make transitions easier in the past.

 

  • How to cope with and challenge our thoughts:
  • Create a rite of passage: Our culture frequently lacks formal rites of passage that recognize passage from one situation to another. To remedy such a situation, a solution to this could, for example, be to hold a ceremony to acknowledge someone for a job well done. Another idea: After you’ve made a commitment, cross over a piece of tape to honor that commitment, symbolizing that you’ll follow through with it. Look at different perspectives: Weigh out the costs and benefits of each perspective.

We have the opportunity to change the way we think about something whenever we learn anything new about any topic that in turn will change our thinking. Ask yourself, how invested am I in holding on to old opinions, despite having obtained the latest information that may contradict those opinions?

  • Have realistic expectations: Transition can be difficult. Be compassionate with yourself instead of being hard on yourself. Often times, negative self-talk makes us our own worst enemy. Accepting change to the fullest extent means allowing mistakes to be made along the way as you transition to the change. If you do not allow yourself to make mistakes on the journey, you will not be able to adapt well with life transitions, and will not be able to enjoy living life to its fullest.

 

  • Transitions in the workplace: These can often be personally and professionally fulfilling. Yet they can also be difficult to manage. Switching roles and increasing responsibilities at work entails not only making adjustments to new tasks, but can also lead to a new relationship with ourselves and with those around us. The transition process can actually feel like the world has gone on “Tilt!”

 

  • Take control of your life: Be open and flexible.

In conclusion, practice finding the good in each of life’s transitions. It’s not what happens to you that causes you to respond the way you do, but how you choose to react to what happens. Take charge of your thoughts and actions and you will be better able to control how you respond, and enhance the quality of your life.

Plan Your Untouchable Day

As I sit here going through the second round of proofreading for my new book, I saw an article in Harvard Business Review in my email inbox that caught my attention. It was called “Why You Need an Untouchable Day Every Week” by Neil Pasricha. Boy, that sounded good!

I thus want to share a bit about my current experience and how an “untouchable day” fits.  I knew my book project would take a good amount of time, so I planned for extra time in case it was needed. Even more, because it was a first-time project for me, I knew that there would be things that I just was not aware of, so I figured I would deal with those things as I went along. We all juggle our schedules. My attitude was plan to the best of my ability and be flexible along the way.

An untouchable day?  Wow. I have always kept a healthy business-life integration. If I added something to my schedule, I made sure before I said “yes” that I had the time, and if not, I could take something out of my schedule that would create the time I needed. This process has worked well for me and for my clients. I try to set healthy boundaries and not deplete my energy.   Almost everyone I am in contact with has a busy life.

When I saw the article I was absolutely ready to try an “untouchable day!” I’d like to share it with you. Your circumstance may be different and you can substitute yours. Everyone fills their time with “things”- appointments, meetings, traveling…The hope is that you will free up some time, energy, and be able to be more energetic, more creative, more at peace, and experience way less stress.

What is an untouchable day?  These are days when I will literally be 100% unreachable in any way…by anyone.

Untouchable Days are now going to be my secret sauce for getting back on track. They’re going to be how I achieve my most creative and rewarding work. The author of the article said he was 10 times more productive on his Untouchable Days.

Pashrica said planning Untouchable Days involves looking at your calendar sixteen weeks ahead of time, and for each week, blocking out an entire day as UNTOUCHABLE, and putting it in all-caps.  

But, what about emergencies, you might be wondering? Pashrica says that there really aren’t any, unless they are truly REAL-LIFE EMERGENCIES.

Pashrica has a simple rule. He says Untouchable Days may never be deleted, but they can move between “the bowling-lane bumpers of the weekends.”

I like Pashrica’s thinking.  He says when you plant the Untouchable Day flag on your calendar, it feels permanent in your mind. You start feeling the creative high you’ll get from such deep output as soon as you start booking them in.

To read more on the untouchable day: https://hbr.org/2018/03/why-you-need-an-untouchable-day-every-week?autocomplete=true

Boomer Transitions: When Mom Has to be Moved

For years I have been coaching and giving workshops on life and career transition. When Boomers are involved, I consider them the cream part of the Oreo cookie, nestled between the two cookie pieces. Boomers are sandwiched between their kids and elder parents.

In my own situation, my husband and I became that cream! I moved my mother, who is now 88 years old, from New Jersey to an assisted living facility in the DC area. After so many trips up and down the turnpike—yes, we know the standing joke that all people from New Jersey identify themselves by the exit they are from—it was time for her to leave Princeton (Exit 8).

Often during a move like this, the focus is primarily on the elder parent who is being moved: his or her health and healthcare changes, whether he or she will meet new people, and so on. But the Boomer who is taking care of these issues is equally important, as there are also big changes going on in the Boomer’s family because of the issues presented by the elder parent.

For me, it is easier to have my mother living locally. But as a consequence, I have much more time-consuming involvement in her day-to-day living. As everyone in my household works, there are a number of things that come up, mostly logistical. For me as well, there are also emotional factors that come into play.

I know from focusing my work on life and career transition, confidence and resilience, that many people resist change, even when it is positive. Moving a parent many miles brings up a wide range of feelings, ranging from excitement and joy to fear of the unknown.

My mother is resilient, thank goodness. I know that resilience is all about our thinking style. It’s about the ability to persevere and adapt when you are going through change and adversities in your life. My mother has done pretty well and I am very proud of her.

But Boomers can be the ones most affected by this type of transition. I have been hearing this more from clients in similar situations.

In those first few months after moving a parent, the emotional impact can be deeply felt, particularly if the parent is declining, either physically or cognitively (or both). In a manner of speaking, it is as if a grieving process presents before the parent actually passes on. I was aware in advance that this occurs. But such awareness does not make it easier.

Grieving can begin when you see physical and mental changes in an aging parent that make you feel like your parent simply “isn’t the same.” By having my mother here, I was exposed to witnessing more and more changes. I knew that on a logical basis that this happens. But I didn’t realize at first the extent of the emotional adjustments I would have to make.

Typically, I would go to visit my mom in New Jersey two weekends each month. We would talk daily on the telephone, share stories and discuss what was going on with family, friends and work.

With more contact and exposure now that my mother is living locally, I have really felt a deep sense of loss. Remembering my mom over many years, beginning when I was growing up (particularly because we were always a tight-knit family) is bittersweet in light of our current situation.

Now, most of my mom’s needs are met at the assisted living facility. She has been here for approximately 8 months, and we are in a rhythm of doctor’s appointments, food runs, and personal items runs.

My mom’s transition process had one genuinely great thing going in her favor: she knew that the timing for this was right. Living on her own was becoming too difficult for her to manage by herself.

I’ve noticed with clients and friends that they minimize the emotional adjustments that come along when working with aging parents. I strongly urge you be aware that this occurs, to notice it as it happens, and embrace it. As a result, you will be able to deal with it.

And remember: Talking is a great outlet. Appreciate each day for the gift that it is.

Feeling Good by Giving Back

Today there is tremendous research being done around the topic of happiness. One way this desirable state can be achieved is by giving to others.

There is a Chinese saying that goes: If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody. Happiness is found in helping others.

I learned a long time ago that giving and helping others makes you feel better about yourself. Moreover, once you experience the wonderful feeling that you get by giving, you will understand why giving can be so transformative. It can be even more powerful when you combine your passion with giving.

I recently spoke at a wonderful organization, Hope Connections. These people help those with cancer and their loved ones, and they counsel them and teach them how to deal with the emotional and physical impact of cancer.  I know I gained as much from giving the workshop as the participants who heard my presentation. When I think about my experience at Hope Connections, I get that good feeling.

According to a Time magazine 2017 article, there is scientific research supporting the saying that we’ve heard since we were kids…”It is better to give than to receive.” Through fMRI technology, research shows that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex. By helping others we become happier, and healthier, and we live a more meaningful life.

Having said all of this giving, there can be a downside.

Giving may not always make us feel great. Giving can be depleting, and at times, we can end up feeling taken advantage of. You want to monitor your time and how you spend it.

Here are a few tips that may help:

Give where you find meaning

We tend to feel happier when we are giving to something that has meaning to us. Choose what feels right for you.

Give with self-care in mind

Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, says it best, “It is important to be ‘other-ish,’ which he defines as being willing to give more than you receive, but still keeping your own interests in sight.

Give your time

Giving does not have to be financial. Look at your schedule and choose some time to be of service to others. It can be a few hours or days a year.

Give to an organization

Make sure the organization is transparent with their goals and results. According to Harvard scientist Michael Norton, “Giving to a cause that specifies what they’re going to do with your money leads to more happiness than giving to an umbrella cause where you’re not sure where your money is going.”

Give by Role-Modeling

Teach your children and others the gift of giving. It teaches us to look outside of ourselves. There is nothing like matching your actions and words.

So whether you choose to give based on scientific reasons or from your heart, it is a win-win situation.  

Expect the Unexpected

How do you manage your expectations? Do you fit into one of the following categories? Expectations can be categorized as high, low or none.

I recently was listening to a forum discussion about expectations. One person offered that they used to have high expectations about different things and they often were disappointed. Another person said they have low expectations so that they were not setting themselves up to be disappointed.  Still a third view I heard was that they had no expectations at all because, again, they did not want to be disappointed.

Expectations impact our lives both positively and negatively. David Rock, author of “Your Brain at Work” (HarperCollins, 2009) and the director of NeuroLeadership Institute, says there are two sides of expectations. The first is what we expect from others, and the second is what we expect from ourselves. How we manage those expectations is critical to how we view our experiences and pursue our goals.

Rock says there is a physiological reason we are disappointed when life does not meet our expectations. He states, “When we don’t hit our expectations our brain doesn’t just get slightly unhappy, it sends out a message of danger or threat.” It suggests that the well-known cliche ‘hope for the best but expect the worst’ has much truth to it.

Rock also mentions that when the neurotransmitter, dopamine, a ‘feel good’ hormone, is released it makes us feel good when something positive happens.

Rock explains, “If we expect to get x and we get x, there’s a slight rise in dopamine. If we expect to get x and we get 2x, there’s a greater rise. But if we expect to get x and get 0.9x, then we get a drop.

What is the downside when our expectations are not met? Our negative feelings of disappointment are much stronger than our ‘feel good’ feelings when expectations are exceeded.

Knowing this is helpful because understanding what is in our control and what is not can help us manage our expectations. For example, if you are currently seeking employment in a not-so-great job market you can look at things two different ways. With a job market that isn’t flourishing, you may have an unrealistic expectation of being hired quickly, or, you might make an assumption that you’ll never work again. One remedy may be that you control what you can control. For instance, you can research the market, network and build relationships, and apply for positions you are qualified for.

So what is the takeaway here? Learn to be adaptive and more flexible. Understanding what we can and cannot control is key. Consider the choices you have, weigh them out, and make a decision based on realistic expectations.

As Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, says “A good teacher sets really high expectations, but lets a student think he can reach them. That’s most motivating for students.”

I believe we are all students here on earth school. Set realistic expectations with solid strategies to reach those goals and manage those expectations. As Dweck says, “It is having flexibility in our expectations and being willing to change tracks without self-blame that has been shown to increase well-being.”

And to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the flamboyant and quick-witted cultural commentator, expect the unexpected!

Electronic Overload: How to Spot It, How to Overcome It

Do you suffer from electronic overload? Lately, wherever I have been – coffee shops, restaurants, in cars, at the park, and even the library, I have made it a practice to see what people are doing. Here’s what I observed: nonstop electronic overload.

People were speaking, messaging, plugged into music or fiddling with apps on their smartphones, iPads, laptops, iPods, you name it. Ranging from teens to adults, people seemed occupied with if not totally consumed by their electronic gadgets. Even children were more likely to be playing games on their latest electronic toys than doing anything else.

With the constant barrage of media coming at us these days, which also includes television, radio, social media, and that endless flow of emails, more of us are finding it hard to pull away from our gadgets and step back into what used to be the real world.

Today, there doesn’t seem to be any downtime from the endless electronic onslaught. Even when people stopping “doing” this message or that app, they feel they should be doing something. This frantic mode of operation doesn’t give us a chance to wind down and truly relax. In today’s society, I imagine we should emphasize “relax” as a verb.

One wonders: what does all this nonstop messaging, chatting, emailing, texting actually accomplish in the end? Are we getting more done today with all these devices at home or at work than we were, say, ten years ago when such equipment options were less ubiquitous?

How do you relax and unwind during a busy week? What do you do to take care of yourself? Here are a few suggestions for improving that situation:

  1. Set boundaries and limits to ensure you take time for yourself. Chances are if you don’t establish a “me” time, it won’t happen.
  2. Schedule some of that “me” time to sit quietly and do not do anything.
  3. Focus in instead of out on everyone else. It’s okay to be a little selfish. Focusing on yourself and recharging your battery will allow you the energy, patience, and enjoyment of being there for others.
  4. Establish a policy in your household that there will be no electronic gadgets at mealtime so you are present and in the moment, and not distracted and disconnected. One of the greatest values of sitting down to a meal together is to connect and catch up with each other. While often neglected in modern families, this is incredibly valuable time. Don’t miss out on the opportunity.
  5. Schedule a massage. It is healthy for us mentally and physically. Electronic items are not allowed!
  6. Go out and enter into nature. A park or someplace similar is a great place to clear your head. If you have to take a phone with you, always turn it off unless you’re involved in an ongoing emergency situation.
  7. Get the sleep your body requires. This is crucial. Sleep deprivation has us feel foggy and grouchy. The appropriate amount of sleep for each person helps maintain clarity and focus. We need enough sleep to stay healthy.
  8. Do breathing exercises. Feel free to contact me and I will send you an exercise or walk you through one. Deep breathing allows you to get some toxins out of your body.

For more information or to get your complimentary breathing exercise, contact Susan by phone or email. susan@selftalkcoach.com 
301-706-7226  & 703-574-0039

Stressing Out: Making Better Choices

With a growing number of people complaining about the stress in their lives, how many are actually doing something about it? I say don’t wear stress like a ‘badge of courage.’ Being busy is fine, but if it is too much it can be stress producing, and that is not desirable.

The impact stress has on your immune system over time can negatively affect your health.  Stress can manifest in many ways and sometimes you can feel it in your body. Other times it can shift your personality. Are you abrupt or impatient with people? Do you feel the tension? In what part of your body does stress show up? The good news is you can do something about it. Your family and colleagues will appreciate it and you.

I found the following in the December 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review. The article referenced a 2017 Stress in America survey. It said that the American Psychological Association (APA) found that “constant checkers” – people who check their emails, texts, and social media on a constant basis – experience more stress than those who don’t. More than 42% of respondents attribute their stress to political and cultural discussions on social media, compared with 33% of non-constant checkers. While it may feel impossible to take a cold turkey break from technology, the APA says that periodically unplugging or limiting your digital access can be great for your mental health.

As a coach I hear some common themes from people in the C suite to the head of the household. No one is immune. Stress is a part of our world. How you deal with it and react to it will make the difference in your life. Giving serious thought and focus to how you want to lead and live your life is vital. You need to take a time-out, without technology distractions, where you can think about how you want to live your life.

There’s a reason there is a wellness revolution taking place today. I believe people want to take breaks and don’t believe they can. There’s the feeling that there’s not enough time; that we are on the hamster wheel. But as they are beginning to see, businesses are shifting their perspectives on subjects like getting enough sleep and eating healthy as serious subjects because we are seeing the toll stress is taking on the health of their employees, and therefore, their ROI.  

Not too long ago, I was visiting a friend who works at Bloomberg News in NYC. I noticed the company provided healthy snacks and lounging areas for employees to take a break. We know scientifically that we are more productive and creative when we’ve had enough sleep. I remember an interview with Arianna Huffington after she was diagnosed with exhaustion. She started making changes at the Huffington Post. She created areas where employees could nap. She said that well rested employees were more productive and creative. We all know how much better we feel with a good night’s sleep.

The APA article also said that chronic stress floods our nervous system with cortisol and adrenaline, which short-circuits important cognitive functions. Researchers have studied the negative effects of stress on focus, memory, and other cognitive functions for decades. The findings are consistent – short-term stress raises cortisol levels (the so-called stress hormone) for short periods and can jump-start our adrenalin and motivate us to perform more efficiently in response to impending deadlines. Long-term stress, however, can lead to prolonged increases in cortisol and can be toxic to the brain. We also have lower resilience level and a negative or non-productive self-talk.

Here’s something you can try:

Increase your self-awareness so that you can improve your focus. In other words, pay attention to what might lead to your losing your focus. You then have the ability to dismiss distractions and stick with what you were originally focused on. This is an area where you have the ability to change things.  

Why Procrastinate? Close Your Personal Productivity Gap

We know we all have a lot on our plates in both our business and our personal lives. Some of us can handle it all. But some, even the most organized and disciplined among us, can feel scattered and even lost at times. There are so many distractions! But what’s actually getting in the way of us focusing and being more productive?

Do you procrastinate? Procrastination is one habit that steers us off focus and off course. Besides delaying forward progress, an incidental result of occasional or habitual procrastination can be feeling badly about yourself, which in turn causes its own downside issues, impairing your personal productivity and achievement.

How does procrastination manifest in you? Why are you distracted from achieving what you say you want? Are you responding to emails or posting on Facebook instead of focusing on projects you should be working on? Do you visit the kitchen or make a telephone call to avoid doing or completing the task at hand?

Sometimes, we are not sure where we want to start, whether it’s a given day or a given task. Your internal dialogue can sound something like this:

I don’t know what I should begin with. What’s the most important thingWhat can I do right now?

To confront this problem, the first to do is set your Intention.

This means seeing the project that’s in front of you with more clarity; seeing it in its completeness; and seeing exactly what it is that you are going to do in this moment.

If this is a big project, that in itself can be overwhelming and can lead to procrastination or inefficiency in approaching it. Break the project down into smaller action steps. Otherwise, you risk transforming your focus away from the project and toward an obsession such as “Oh my gosh, I have somuch work to do”instead of focusing on the task at hand.

Ask yourself these questions:

What am I looking to accomplish?

Why am I doing this…what’s the purpose?

Then ask What is the “why” to this action?

When you find yourself looking at the whole project, you become clearer on your intention.

Then ask yourself “What’s next?”

For example, one project I am currently working on is writing my book. There is a lot that goes into a book – writing, illustrations, chapter topics and titles, finding a publisher, and so on. It can quickly get overwhelming, so I begin the times when I work on the book by first choosing one task at a time to confront.

I also give myself a time limit for each task. At the beginning I’ll give myself an hour to write down my creative thoughts. Next, maybe another hour to focus on a list of topics for my chapters.

If you cannot focus after setting your intention and answering the questions I’ve suggested above, you may have to get to work to clear out some internal resistance within yourself. Ask yourself, What might be causing me to move away from my effort. Perhaps there are other things pressing you beside the actual task or project itself.

Thus you must balance your focus and consider what the downside would be to getting the task or project done? This is where self-sabotage (getting in our own way) can come in, and if you discover this is what you’re doing, you’ll need to confront the issue.

Whatever the reason for a bout of self-sabotage, realize that it likely lies behind our habitual and sometimes destructive belief—founded or unfounded—in our own limitations.

For example, thinking I never get stuff done is a negative, limiting belief that, like a recorded message, may actually be running in background somewhere inside your head. In that case, put your focus on the positives that will result from accomplishing the task you’re finding troublesome by asking yourself, What will the experience will be like? Then contrast it with what it will be like if you do not accomplish that task. Most often, you’ll quickly find the consequences here are far worse in the short and the long run.

A long-term defense against procrastination and the negative limiting beliefs that often are the causes behind it is simple. Live your life fully. Don’t let limiting beliefs bog you down or stop you from improving your life or your career. Focus on the positive benefits of success. Lose your old negative story and create a new, positive one.

Step out of history and into destiny!

Can You Hear Me Now?

We can and should improve our communication skills. In particular, we have to practice better listening. This is so because it fosters better overall communication. Listening is important for two basic reasons. First, for the listener: the better the listening, the fuller the understanding.  Second, for the speaker, appreciation of being heard, and acknowledged, is valuable on many levels. It is a human need to feel heard and acknowledged. Most of us don’t like it when we recognize that the listener isn’t really listening.

Do you find it upsetting when you’ve told someone the same things several times and they seem to be hearing it for the first time? Are they distracted? Self-focused? Not interested? Whatever the reason, not listening can lead to major miscommunications.  

One part of communication, talking, is taught early on by parents and then in school. As adults, we find there are many opportunities to improve our speaking – so we can become more effective, clearer, and perhaps persuasive.  Listening, however, the other part of communication, is mostly not taught anywhere.

Interestingly the communication skill we use most is listening. Yet, many of us have not really developed this crucial skill.

The average person spends about 80% of their awake-time communicating and more than half of that time is listening. Improving this skill benefits both parties to the conversation.  (Lee and Hatesohl, 2018)

A client once told me he was having communication issues and asked if could I help. We did some role-playing and I determined that his communication process was more a monologue than dialogue. It went like this:

He listened to the first couple of sentences I spoke, and then what was to be a conversation shifted to him mostly speaking.

We then practiced and it looked like this: he spoke and I listened. Then I spoke and he listened. There was more dialogue and interaction, and both more enjoyment and learning from the conversation. Did this take time to do? Yes, lots of practice. Most people ‘listen’ a certain way and have been listening that way for a while. I gave him the tools in order for him to create a healthy conversation style; one without interruption and monologue.

We should understand the difference between “hearing” and “listening.” Hearing is an awareness of a recognized sound. Listening is an ongoing process that involves perception, interpretation, assimilation, association, and reaction. Since listening is an on-going process, here are several steps you can follow:

  • First, you hear the information.
  • Second, select the information on which you want to focus.
  • Third, give the information meaning.
  • Fourth, determine how you feel about it.
  • Fifth, decide how you want to respond; and
  • Lastly, respond. (©Management Concepts)

 

It is also useful to ask questions that provide clarity and sharpen our listening skills. When you ask from a place of genuine curiosity, rather than making assumptions, you build trust.

Finally, listening has three different levels:

Level One: listening is a surface approach and is more self-focused. While the speaker is talking, at a certain point the listener stops listening and begins to think about their response or their thoughts focus so internally they feel they must interrupt because what they have to say is so important it can’t wait. This can leave the speaker feeling discounted. You should be aware of your self-talk (your inner dialogue) and shift your listening back to the speaker as soon as you realize it.

Level Two: listening is also known as laser focused listening. The listener is attentive and focused on the speaker’s content, but not truly “tuned in.” At this level the listener is still listening to respond. The listener isn’t tuned into the feelings and thoughts of the speaker.

Level Three: listening is where “presence” takes place. The listener pays attention to the speaker in order to hear the real content of what the speaker is saying. There is effort to understand the feelings and values behind the speaker’s words. This is a deeper level of listening.  While it is not possible to be at this level all the time, raising your awareness can help you focus in on being as present as possible.

In summary, remove as many distractions as your can; listen to what is being said and what is not being said; summarize what the speaker is communicating; verify and reflect, or restate what is being communicated; and pause and think before you respond to get the desired outcome.

If both parties did these things, all conversations would have sensational outcomes.

Transitions in Life Don’t Have to be Daunting

Here we go again. Just when we thought things wouldn’t change, they did. Change seemingly always happen, despite the many times you heard or said they would not. Like death and taxes, transition in life is a guarantee.

How are you with coping with change?  Do you face new beginning trepidation? How are you with endings?

Throughout the different stages of life – life’s transitions – we all have to face them, deal with them and get through them.

A transition can mean daunting change

Whether you are going through a job change, separation or divorce, a health change, the loss of a loved one, succession planning, change can be daunting. Our brains are wired to resist change, and the majority of us choose to resist even when the change is positive. We like to be in our comfort zones. Staying there is, shall we say, “comfortable!”

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that what you resist persists. While other societies prepare people for change and transitions, we need to do a better job preparing ourselves instead of it feeling like we face a daunting task. Life transitions do not have to be daunting. Know that every transition begins with an ending.

During life’s transitions, it is important that we let go of the old before we pick up the new. Dealing with things both outwardly and inwardly has to occur for a healthy transition period to follow.

Outward changes can be made, such as moving from one home to another, a new job, and new relationships. Inward changes are harder: in the example about moving, we must deal with what comes along with a move, such as our connections to people and familiarity with the new location.

Another example: I’ve been working with people going through life (separation, divorce) and career transitions. People feel they can adequately prepare by having their finances in order, choosing a place where they want to live (outward), and developing new interests (inward). There are challenges along the way that can be eased when we understand a three-phase process of transition.

Three areas of transition

According to William Bridges, author of Transition, Making Sense of Life’s Changes, all transitions involve the following three areas:

  1. An ending;
  2. A neutral zone (where we can go through periods of confusion); and
  3. A new beginning.

Recognizing these will help everyone with change.

Another important element in this area is learning to differentiate between change and transition. It seems these terms are often confused. Change is situational. It is external. For example starting a new job, moving to another city, getting a new boss, experiencing the birth of a baby or the passing of a loved one are all changes.

Transition requires change, but change does not mean transition

transition is an internal process, such as actually accepting or incorporating any of the above.

Transitions take time. Typically people are looking for new beginnings. But they haven’t let go of old situations. Be aware that beginnings and endings come with bumps in the road. Resist being thrown off by those bumps.

Even though you may be heading in a positive new direction, this doesn’t mean that your changing situation will happen without challenges. But remember that they can be managed. Just knowing that is helpful.

As Bridges puts it, “we are not comfortable in the confusing nowhere of in-between and of launching forth again with a new situation.” During transitions, many confusing or disorienting what ifs can and do arise.

Life equals growth

Throughout life we grow. This natural process involves periodic accelerations and transformations. Time goes by and nothing seems to happen. But then we begin to glimpse the signs of change. Change is the new norm. To be healthy today we will have to figure out ways of dealing with change productively.

The process of going through transitions is based on a theory of personal development and not just a manual on how to cope.

Going into a transition with a positive attitude will help with the associated processes of disorientation and reorientation.

Successful transitions can also help with unexpected losses.

According to Bridges,

“we come to identify ourselves with the circumstances of our lives. Who we think we are is partly defined by our roles and relationships, those we like as well as those we don’t…. transitional situations bring this paradox to the surface and force us to look at negative and positive aspects of our life situations.”

While changes and transitions all have their ups and downs, having rituals to work through them seems to help. We all have rituals. They are helpful no matter what change or transition we are going through. But when our lives are in a state of disruption by changes or transitions, there is a resulting feeling of disorientation.

The importance of meaningful rituals

Individuals feel comfortable with things that are familiar and actions that are practiced consistently, particularly when other things around them are changing. Our self-talk (our internal dialogue, the things we say to ourselves) is impacted by change, and reacts by getting louder and faster.

This happens because our ego is doing everything it can to keep us safe and because it doesn’t like change.

The ego likes the status quo. Therefore, another impact on our self-talk is that our status quo ego makes the process of change and transition more challenging.

Some rituals can help us to better cope with change and transition.

For example, I begin my day with meditation, setting my intentions and writing down three things I am grateful for. No matter where I am, I begin my day this way so that I feel centered and grounded. Because I know the impact of self-talk. Having my morning rituals helps make things go more smoothly. Performing my rituals is something I know I can count on, and it always makes me feel better, no matter what is going on in my life.

Since change and transition are a definite part of our lives, what can you do for yourself, what rituals can you perform to make it smoother sailing no matter which way the winds of change and transition may blow?

How to Solve the Heavy Burden of Endless Clutter

Take this simple quiz: What do piles of paper, too many unanswered emails in your inbox, clothes you don’t wear, prescriptions that have expired, random items like toys lying around the house and negative thoughts all have in common?

Answer, please: They are all clutter. Whether physical or mental, all these items take up space, have a heavy presence in your life and emanate a burdensome negative energy.

When you open the door and walk into your office, what do you see? Endless stacks of paper? When you turn on your computer and check your correspondence, are you dismayed to discover an endless stack of unanswered emails in your inbox? What about your home? What are you going to do with those accumulating stack of magazines? Newspapers? Old clothes? And for families with kids, are there lots of abandoned toys scattered throughout the house?

Did you know that a person wastes two years of his or her life searching for misplaced “stuff”? Think about that. What could you do with all that that time if you weren’t wasting it?

Looking up the definition of clutter, you find rough synonyms like “disorder,” “confused,” and “untidy.” Clutter has a visceral effect. You can actually feel it: ponderously heavy, swirling, negative thoughts chasing one another in your head; a lack of clarity of thought; a sense that you’re overwhelmed by something you cannot overcome. You know the feeling, because everyone today has experienced the draining effects of clutter in some form.

Clutter itself is manifested in three forms: physical, electronic and emotional.

Most people are familiar with the physical form clutter can take: stacks of paper and publications, clothes you haven’t worn, and so on.

Electronic clutter typically often arrives in the form of emails and voicemail. In this technological world, we are experiencing increasing amounts of electronic clutter. Mix these with the constant distractions coming from all quarters in our fast-paced society, and it’s no wonder that so many people are constantly being overwhelmed. There is so much going on in our lives already, and electronic clutter can create or add to real chaos.

Last, consider emotional clutter. In general, emotional clutter is an accumulation of human communications and unfinished business left open with no resolution, Emotional clutter is negative thinking or negative self-talk that moves us away from what we desire in life. It depletes our energy. It takes away our clarity and focus. One client said this kind of clutter felt as if it everything she was thinking was swirling around in her head. Another client said this clutter was like bricks piled on one’s shoulders. You get the picture.

Clutter literally takes up the physical and emotional space that blocks the things you do want in your life. So when you de-clutter, you are literally opening the space for something you want or desire to come into your life.

For example, if you have clothes hanging in your closet or piled in your dresser drawers that you don’t wear, they take up a lot of space. There is no more room available to put the clothes you do want to wear in a drawer or in your closet. Gather up and remove the cluttered clothes you’re not wearing (you can always donate them) and open that space to accommodate what you currently desire.

An example of emotional clutter is negative self-talk, our internal dialogue or chatter. Is your current train of thought going to take you closer to reaching your goals, or will it move you further away from what you truly desire? If it’s the latter, it’s depleting and it’s clutter—and you don’t want to fill your head with what you don’t want.

Once you begin physical or mental de-cluttering, notice how much better you are feeling, as you gain clarity and focus, and as you begin to feel lighter and have an improved attitude and mood. Try it. It works.

Here are some useful tips to get you started in the right direction:

Choose a physical or mental area of clutter to address.

Commit to yourself or to an accountability partner (a coach, a friend or a partner) a goal to de-clutter for 15 minutes a day.

Start with something small like a desk drawer, a night table or a medicine cabinet (physical); delete or respond to emails (electronic); or close a situation where you’ve left an open-ended or dangling communication (emotional).

Put on music or the TV and have fun with it while you work on your goal each day. This commitment is not punitive!