Are You Safe or Trapped?

Dave and I have been teaching and giving talks for over 30 years and so it was surprising to both of us just how much angst we both experienced getting ready to present at DisruptHR Victoria. To be fair, it was a bit of a different format – 20 slides automatically forwarded every 15 seconds – and it was being video taped but nonetheless I have given hundreds of talks over the years … WTF? Why did my inner critic rear its ugly head to such a degree? My first thought was that my angst was all about not having control over when the slides advanced, but upon reflection there was a lot more going on.

Serendipity being what it is, I was just reading Tara Mohr’s Playing Big and Denise Jacobs’ Banish your Inner Critic, both of which offer insight and tips for dealing with your inner critic, albeit from slightly different perspectives.  Both of them suggest that the inner critic is a hardwired safety instinct. The role of the inner critic is to protect us from harm,  whether that’s physical or emotional.  This insight alone has helped me reframe what’s happening. Instead of the usual “this is ridiculous” message I give myself, I’m now saying, “Thank you for trying to  protect me, but I’ve got enough experience to handle this.” It’s a subtle but powerful shift that leaves me feeling more grounded.

My next insight came from Tara’s book … that our inner critic will yell most loudly when we are getting ready to play a bigger game. I realized that while I have given many talks, I can only think of one or two that were actually videotaped and none were going to get circulated more broadly.  There were several firsts in this talk … first time with a 5 minute, highly structured talk, and first time with a video about to be circulated. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to be “perfect,” another sign that the inner critic truly has a hold on you. I reminded myself of the Leonard Cohen quote I often say when perfectionism is taking over

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

My final insight came from Denise Jacobs’ book. She has a chapter on “comparison syndrome” that really resonated for me. She talks a lot about the role of social media in feeding the inner critic and how to deal with that by tracking your triggers and then eliminating some of those sources. It was her ideas around becoming self-referential, however, that were so helpful to me. In preparing for the DisruptHR talk, I watched quite a few talks from the previous year, watched a number of shorter TED talks and read quite a few blogs about what to do/not do. The more I did this “preparation” the more freaked out I became. I was becoming other referential, not self referential. I needed to stop preparing and comparing,  get centered in on what I wanted to say and trust my own experience.

Jacobs’ suggests that to be self referential you determine your success by looking at who you’ve become over time. You then focus on becoming the best version of yourself. I was so anxious my first day of teaching high school English (many years ago now), I actually vomited in the staff washroom before I made it up to the class to teach! I realized that I had come a long way.  Embracing my “onlyness,” the space in which only you can stand, allowed me to embrace who I am and what I have to offer and do the talk “Tammy style” instead of “everyone else style.”

I’m happy to say that I got myself centered and, while I did feel many nervous flutters while waiting to give my talk, I did not vomit 😉 I have not seen the tape yet, but I will deal with that inner critic when the time comes 😉 In the meantime, I’m excited that I took the risk and very appreciative of the entire learning experience!

3 Tips for Putting Down Your Armour

It seems a natural response to being hurt, facing challenges or experiencing unexpected tragedy is to respond with fear and anger and armour up. Armouring up can be anything from “From now on I copy everyone in on my emails to cover my butt.” to “I will not share anything authentic with you again.” to “I’m going to isolate myself from others.”

But research is clear about the role of optimism in resilience. While these armouring up responses are normal, it’s when they become a long term habit that our overall wellness, effectiveness and satisfaction with life can be affected.

While some people seem to be more naturally optimistic, there are times when all of us need to be intentional about it. Here are three practices I use to put down my armour:

  1. Lighten up. Lightening up means that we don’t take ourselves seriously and we put things into perspective, hopefully finding humour in situations. While that may not always be possible in extremely distressing situations, it can also mean giving yourself permission to “park the issue” even if it’s for a short time. This gives your brain a chance to get out of fight or flight. To lighten up, practice the “pause.” When you find yourself overly stressed, anxious, serious, in a rush, etc, take a deep breath, pause for 4 seconds, name what you are experiencing and then ask yourself a question to shift into more optimism. Some of my favorites are “Will this be important a year from now?” “Can I do anything about this?” “Can I invest my energy into something more important or positive?”
  2. Reframe. Reframing means that we interpret and make meaning of our experiences in a way that is optimistic. Resilience researchers followed children raised in neglect or abuse over a long period of time to see how they fared as adults. Those who did well (lived productive happy lives) did not attach the same meaning to their earlier experiences as those who continued in a cycle of neglect and abuse. The “stories” we tell ourselves about what happens to us can be even more important and crucial in determining how we do than what actually happened to us in the moment. Those children who were able to reframe their early childhood as learning experiences that helped them develop their strength and confidence did better than those who told a story of how their early childhood damaged them. Reframing also relates to how we think about things that didn’t go right for us, or failures. Resilient people are able to reframe mistakes or failures as opportunities to learn or create something different in their lives.
  3. Develop a daily ritual that facilitates connection to yourself, others, nature. Some of the things I do are to write down 3 things I appreciate or am grateful for, go for walks, review my file of thank yous from others, watch uplifting videos or read something uplifting, and send a text or email of appreciation to someone. I find that doing this helps me to lean more towards optimism than pessimism, put down my armour and connect to others in a meaningful way.

What are the strategies you use to put down your armour and develop your optimism?

This blog is the A in our PAUSE model of resilience – Active Optimism. Watch for the U in a future blog!!

3 Questions to Rediscover Yourself

 3 Questions to Rediscover Yourself resilience emotional intelligence

“I just can’t get over the fact that my CEO gave the VP role to an outsider who doesn’t have the expertise or experience I have. I’ve been so loyal and have demostrated my value many times over the years.  It’s not fair and it’s turning me into someone I’m not,” one of my clients said to me. It had been almost a year since this had happened and my client was struggling.

“Who do you want to be?” I asked.

There was a long pause. “I honestly don’t know anymore as I’ve been so focused on not getting the promotion I’ve lost my overall sense of purpose in this job.”

We all have setbacks like these and truly resilient people find a way to make meaning of these situations, re-invent themselves and rediscover their overall purpose. So here are three questions to begin that process:

  1. Who are you being right now?
  2. Who do you want to be?
  3. What do you need to give up to be that person?

It took a few sessions but my client realized that she needed to let go of her righteous indignation as it was blocking her from being the confident, creative and strategic person she wanted to be.

For those of you who follow my blog this is the first in a series of posts about resilience which is built around the word PAUSE.  The P in PAUSE stands for:

P – Purpose. We live in a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) and so it’s easy to forget about the important things and just survive from day to day. Resilient people are clear about their overall purpose in life, whether that is simply to be a kind person, be the best parent ever, look after the earth, contribute to those who are less fortunate or to bring about radical change in the world. Discovering and then living our purpose is a key first step towards resilience.

Getting clear on our purpose is a lifelong continual process of reflection and action. In addition to the three questions posed earlier, I have found these strategies helpful:

  • Know yourself. Resilient people continually learn about themselves, their values, strengths, who they wish to be and what they want to accomplish. There are many ways to do this, including values and personality assessments, getting feedback from others and taking time to reflect.
  • Set goals/intents. During times of turbulence, it’s important to be working towards something bigger. Some people are continually working towards big goals while others prefer to set intents about who they want to be, rather than what they want to accomplish.
  • Plan small wins. Resilient people feel like they are making progress on a daily basis and build small wins into their days so they feel that, even if the major challenges are still there, they feel like they’ve made progress towards something that day.

Take some time to get re-acquainted with your purpose and then watch this space for the A in PAUSE … it’s something that almost everyone who works in resilience talks about!

There’s no bad weather.

 Theres no bad weather. resilience emotional intelligence
“There’s no bad weather, there’s only inappropriate clothing,” my sister reminded me during a winter outing in Alberta. 

“And a crappy attitude towards winter,” I thought as I watched her family play excitedly in the snow in their backyard while I stood in the doorway whining about how much I hated winter.

Given that I had moved to a warmer climate many years earlier, my clothing at the moment sucked, as did my attitude. My lack of weather resilience during the winter was one of the factors that prompted my move.

We are living in bad weather right now, if not literally wherever you are right now, then certainly figuratively. These are unpredictable times where “that could never happen” is indeed happening. Since most of us cannot control or influence much of that bad weather, we are left with donning appropriate clothing and attitudes.

This is the realm of personal resilience, the ability to thrive in the midst of any kind of situation.  Thankfully I have developed a fair bit of personal resilience over the years, even if I still do struggle with winter. 

Perhaps the first key to resilience is recognition that your life doesn’t have to be determined by what’s happening around you. We need to take a pause, and consider our path forward. My question to you is, “what clothing do you need right now to manage the weather?”

For more tips and strategies on personal resilience, it’s not too late to sign up for my online course which starts this week.

And watch this space as I will be revealing the 5 factors I consider central to personal resilience in 5 separate blogs over the next few weeks.

On Empathy

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“But what if I really don’t care if my co-worker’s dog died? I am so not a dog person and don’t get all this pet stuff that people get into. I get that empathy is important but if I’m not feeling it, wouldn’t it be worse if I faked it?”

Touché. I had been facilitating a workshop on emotional intelligence and was talking about one of the important qualities for leaders, empathy. It was a great question and a challenge shared by other leaders I’ve worked with.

Empathy doesn’t mean total identification with someone’s specific experience, but rather recognition of the human experience of suffering. If we can get in touch with times we’ve suffered – experienced loss, sadness, loneliness – then we can use that experience to connect to another person and express empathy authentically.

Getting Over Procrastination

 Getting Over Procrastination perfectionism learning happiness emotional intelligence decision making change

I can be a procrastinator at times (even about things I want to do!) and have been thinking about the combination of things that leads me to procrastinate and how I might address that. I realized that it`s the intersection of three things … thinking that whatever I need to do is too big, too hard and that I have to do it all at once. I love blogging, for example, but if you have been following my blog you know I go through periods of regular blogging followed by no blogs for months!

I realized this past fall (after not having blogged for over six months!) that these three things were at play. So I was able to start again by telling myself to spend 10 minutes just thinking about the blog, even if I didn`t do anything else with it that day. Well, to my amazement I did an entire blog that day!

I have a work project right now that feels too big and too hard and so I am reminding myself of bigger and harder projects I have done. Then, I am committing 10 minutes towards the project. This combination seems to be working for me for now!

What are your patterns of procrastination and how have you deal with them?

In This Moment …

 In This Moment ... mindfulness learning happiness emotional intelligence

When I returned from my vacation this past September, I wasn’t able to give myself the weekend to transition as I usually do. I went from a very chilled out and quiet lake resort to downtown Vancouver in a matter of hours! As I was walking towards my hotel and witnessed two incidents of road rage while ambulances, sirens screaming, raced by, I became very aware of how anxious and grumpy I had become. Thanks to my mindfulness work with the wonderful Jivi of Winds of Change I remembered that I didn’t have to react this way, that I just needed to take one minute standing on that busy street corner and find my present center. I stood to one side of the sidewalk, took a deep breath and reminded myself that I was alive, had everything I needed and that I was just witnessing the range of human experience.

The next time you find yourself feeling anxious try saying to yourself … “In this moment” with the following prompts:

  • I am breathing and alive!
  • I observe that …
  • I notice that …
  • I feel …
  • I wonder about …
  • I appreciate …
  • I can choose to be …

There may be other prompts that work for you … but starting with “In this moment, I am …” led me to a very different experience that day!

Whining is Not a Strategy!

 Whining is Not a Strategy! strategy 2 leadership emotional intelligence decision making communication appreciative inquiry

In our strategic leadership workshops, we often hear from people some version of “But so and so won’t let me …” or “I’ve complained many times about our company’s … ” or “Our organization is so messed up that …” to which we sometimes say (kindly of course  Whining is Not a Strategy! strategy 2 leadership emotional intelligence decision making communication appreciative inquiry  that “Whining is not a strategy.” If you are whining or looking at what is wrong, you cannot see opportunities and will not develop your skills. If, for example, you don’t think you are being provided with enough clarity about your job, instead of continuing to complain about or ask, over and over again, for clarity, ask yourself what you could learn about dealing with ambiguity. That will definitely lead to your next opportunity to learn and grow which is indeed a better strategy than whining!

Why Ask Your Head When Your Gut is Screaming?

 Why Ask Your Head When Your Gut is Screaming? learning emotional intelligence decision making
I would love to say that I always trust my intuition, but sadly I do not. And sadly, not trusting my intuition has resulted in me taking on work and projects that were not good for me, inevitably leaving me with confidence and competence shaken.

So why do we ask our heads when our guts are screaming? For me, it usually comes down to two patterns:

  1. Wanting people to say good things about me. I have taken on projects or agreed to work with people when my gut was screaming no. I went ahead anyway because I was worried what they might say about me. Ironically, the outcomes were even worse than if I had said no to begin with. I rationalize the decision by saying things like “you never know what they might say to …” but really I get work by doing good work, not by trying to figure out who might say what to whom. And I do good work when I listen to my intuition. Duh.
  2. Thinking there’s not enough – of whatever. When I’m in scarcity mode I ignore my intuition and get involved in messy projects. I rationalize it by saying I could learn something, this could be an adventure, I shouldn’t be uppity about the type of work I take, I need the money, be glad you’ve got work, etc.  When I reflect on these situations honestly, it has always cost more, whether emotionally or financially, when I ignored my intuition.

What has helped me listen more to my intuition is to think long term and develop better skills at saying no in a respectful way.  When don’t you trust your intuition and how have you addressed this?

What Are You Hiding?

  What Are You Hiding? teamwork spirituality risk taking learning happiness forgiveness emotional intelligence coaching change   

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious. Carl Jung

“What most concerns you about the upcoming team session?” I asked one of my clients. I had been hired by the manager to help the team rebuild trust after a rather messy and complicated situation left many deeply hurt.

“That things will get really emotional and end up being worse.”

“That’s a pretty normal response,” I replied, “but surfacing those emotions in a healthy way will lead to healing and transformation for the team.” 

My client looked skeptical but knew that not doing anything was no longer an option as people were avoiding each other and the morale was in the tank. 

Dealing with those dark emotions we go to great lengths to hide is indeed uncomfortable. But hiding them leaves us depressed, anxious and stuck (and perhaps broke, overweight and alcoholic, depending upon what you do to keep them hidden!) 

The next time you find yourself hiding from a dark emotion, take a moment, breathe, and:

  1. Surface the emotion.
  2. Name it.
  3. Experience it fully – where do you feel it in your body?
  4. Accept it as a part of being human.
  5. Ask yourself “What’s possible from here?”
  6. Consider developing a mantra, like the one I developed in the image above to help you move into those dark emotions.

A big thanks to Lisa Sonora whose 30 day journal challenge led to me developing this mantra and blog.

Transforming dark emotions is at the heart of my book, How to Forgive Your Boss. Visit the website and you can download the first chapter free.