Emotional Intelligence, Mindfulness, Reacting vs Responding, Self-Awareness, Striving Styles

Be Mindful: Respond rather than React

“Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is power to choose our response” – Viktor Frankl

No doubt all of us, including me, have reacted at times in our lives when we should have responded.  Upon reflection, we can often identify those events based on how we felt afterwards. We may have wished we hadn’t said something, or chosen a different tone, or had simply removed ourselves from the situation until we knew how to respond well.  As adults, we all know the right thing to do.  Yet, often our emotions get the best of us and we react – at work, at home, in the car, on social media, etc.  Until we are shown, taught, or learn something different, we often don’t know how to control our reactions, or even recognize our behaviour.  

So what is the difference between reacting vs responding?

A reaction is instinctive, based in the moment and doesn’t take the long term effects of what we do or say into consideration. While reacting in an emergency involving life and death where your survival is at stake is important, it’s when we react in everyday situations that we damage our relationships, and potential for a positive outcome.  A reaction is typically quick, tense and aggressive, while a response is thoughtful, calm and non-threatening.  A reaction typically provokes and perpetuates negative reactions.

When we react, we aren’t choosing.  Rather we are allowing our reptilian (or instinctual brain), the oldest part of our brain, to take control. The reptilian brain is all about survival: movement, breathing, circulation, hunger and reproduction, territory, and social dominance. A reaction uses our reptilian brain, which is survival-oriented.  Based on what your emotions trigger you to do, you act without really thinking through the consequences.  This might turn out okay but often a reaction is something you regret later. When we choose to simply react to what occurs in our lives, we often behave defensively, such as bating or taking revenge, blame, scapegoating, etc.  Stephen Covey defines the difference between reactive and responsive individuals as follows: “Reactive people are often affected by their physical environment. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and performance. Proactive people carry their own weather with them.” 

“Respond don’t react.  When you react to a person’s negative comments or actions in an angry, overly emotional or aggressive way, then you are giving that person power over you.  If a person can easily get a rise from you, then you are no longer in control.  If you take a moment and respond in a calm, healthy, honest and real way, then you are in control.  You are not allowing anyone to take your power away, or invoke a reaction from you.” Maria Consiglio

A reaction is usually quick and typically:

  • involves the reptilian/instinctual and the limbic/emotional brain.
  • is emotional.
  • involves speaking without thinking.
  • is often tense and aggressive.
  • creates conflict.
  • perpetuates discontentment and disagreement.
  • others are in control.

However, as highly evolved mammals, we have three brains: the reptilian brain or survival-oriented brain; the emotional or limbic brain; and the neocortex brain.  While our limbic/emotional brain is highly reactive and subconsciously involves our emotions and feelings, the neocortex is the thinking part of the brain, and where we have the capability to respond rather than react derives itself.  

It is the neocortex where we develop thoughtful responses.   This is where we gather and digest the necessary information, where we decipher what we are seeing and feeling, and where we put it into context. It’s future-focused, and where we understand the world so we are capable of making sound decisions.  It is why when thinking about how you might respond in a more mindful fashion, you can plan your future responses and strengthen your ability to take action that is in your best interest.

A response is a conscious decision that usually comes more slowly, and:

  • involves your neocortex or rational brain.
  • isn’t based on your emotional trigger.
  • involves acting by really thinking through consequences.
  • it includes a plan for future responses.
  • it’s non-threatening.
  • it takes time.
  • allows for assertiveness without aggression.
  • resolves conflict.
  • you are in control of your life.

While it’s not always easy to know how to respond best in every situation, being self-aware and emotionally intelligent help tremendously (topics I’ve discussed in my earlier posts). Like self-awareness and emotional intelligence, knowing how respond is a skill that can be developed.  When we know first-hand the negative experience that can result from reacting, we are far more motivated to make sure we respond in a similar situation.  It takes practice and requires us to be able to pause in nearly any situation before speaking or acting. 

To achieve our full potential, and become more successful both personally, and professionally, we need to be more aware of, and have more influence over our responses.  From recent brain research, we know that our brains are plastic and has the ability to develop connections with the other parts.   According to Dr. Bill Crawford, a psychologist who studies the brain, and concepts of responding and reacting, our brains are constantly rewiring with every thought, emotion, and/or behavior. He says that “when we respond to life in a way that is more effective… the brain creates and reinforces neural pathways from our limbic system up to our neocortex”.

How Mindfulness helps reprogram your brain

“Mindfulness give you time. Time give you choices. Choices, skillfully made, lead to freedom. You don’t have to be swept away by your feeling. You can respond with wisdom and kindness rather than habit and reactivity.” – Bhante H. Gunaratana

Your thoughts (beliefs) create your feelings; your feelings create your actions; your actions create your results.  Mindfulness is awareness of what is happening in the present moment, including awareness of thoughts, without any attachment to whatever you notice.  Mindfulness is helpful because it creates space between thoughts and actions.  By increasing your awareness of your thoughts, you can begin to break old automatic or habitual chain reactions between your triggers, thoughts, feelings and actions.  Each time you choose to not to activate your old trigger-thought-feeling-action-result sequence, you weaken the connections.  Furthermore, each time you choose a different action, you program new connections.  With repetition and practice, you hardwire these new programs so your new thoughts and responses become your new habits.

When we respond to life, we:

  • become the directors, rather than the followers
  • establish stronger relationships
  • become better communicators
  • minimize confrontations
  • find more peace
  • reduce regret
  • build a confidence that we can handle any situation we come up against
  • we thrive!

In essence, when choosing to respond versus react, you are taking charge of your life.  Choosing to be responsive is taking responsibility of our lives. Recognizing the power of our words, our behavior, our tone, our delivery, etc. will make a positive difference to those in our lives. 

“Instead of asking others to change their behaviour, your power is in your changing your reaction to their behaviour.  You have no control over their behaviour, but you do have complete control over your reaction to it.” – Abraham Hicks

How you can build a response habit:

Think of a time or situation that always causes conflict for you.  What are the things you tell yourself about the situation? How do you usually react to it? Record your answers. 

Practice responding to challenging situations until these responses become reactions.

Each time you enter into a situation that you know tends to cause you to react, take a few minutes to write down how you normally react and how you want to respond instead.  What will it look like? What will you say differently? How will you act differently?

Curiosity, Self-Awareness

Did Curiosity Really Kill the Cat?

“Be curious. It might lead you to your passion or it might not. You might get nothing out of it at all except a beautiful, long life where all you did was follow your gorgeous curiosity. And that should be enough too”

Elizabeth Gilbert

Did you grow up hearing this saying “curiosity killed the cat”? A cautionary tale that suggests pursuing your curiosity would result in dire consequences.  Don’t ask questions and do as you’re told, or else!  I’m not sure where I heard it or from whom, but as a somewhat curious type, it was a bit disconcerting.  Lately, however, there has been a lot written about following your curiosity and that it’s key in discovering your passions.  Follow your curiosity, they say, and you will find your passion.  

So, with cautious curiosity I decided to dig into the origin of this proverb.   And after a bit of research I discovered that it was not curiosity that actually killed it.  Phew! The saying “curiosity killed the cat” actually originated as “care killed the cat”, and the word “care” referred to “worry or sorrow”.  So, in other words the cat actually worried itself to death. What a misunderstood statement!  So as Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic says, go ahead and “be guided by wonder and curiosity rather than be imprisoned by fear and doubt.”

Passion vs Curiosity

“Find your passion, find your purpose” is a radio ad for a technical college.  It seems like a big statement for a technical college.  Maybe it should be find a job, earn a living. Either way it’s a good marketing campaign since it taps into many people’s desire to find their passion.  So many people say they don’t know what they want to do with their life, and don’t know where to even start to “find their passion.” While many struggle to find even one tiny little passion, some have so many passions they can’t decide which one to follow, so they follow none. So, how do you figure out what you’re passionate about?   You follow your curiosity!

“When you’re curious you find lots of interesting things to do”

Walt Disney

Follow your curiosity and you’ll find your passion!

Passion is defined as an intense desire felt for something or someone.  It’s where emotional impulse prevails over reason.  It’s energy!   It’s what happens when you fall deeply in love with something.  Passion is like flame though – it needs to be fanned otherwise it will die out. Curiosity is a tiny tap on the shoulder — a little whisper in the ear that says, “Hey, that’s kind of interesting… – Elizabeth Gilbert”

Here are six simple ideas to help you explore your curiosities:

  1. Watch documentaries
  2. Take a course (online or in a classroom)
  3. Ask google; search Youtube, etc.
  4. Better yet, find people that inspire you; ask questions, watch & learn
  5. Read books
  6. Go experience it for yourself

Finding what you are passionate about is a journey and curiosity is simply the compass that will guide you. Curiosity is that little voice that asks you, “Are you interested in this? Even just a tiny little bit? Then, why not giving it a go?” Don’t be frustrated if you don’t feel like you know yet. Keep trying new things. It will come even if you have to build it. If you find your passion, or find yourself hot on its trail, don’t give it up. You may discover that it sparks some interest and grows into a full-blown passion that sets your very soul on fire. Or you may find out that sure, you like it, but not that much that you’d turn your life upside down for it. Or maybe you realize that you really hate it. Curiosity totally sent you off the wrong path. But that’s ok. Curiosity is there only to give your clues. It’s your job to follow them and find out where they lead. Maybe it’s a dead end. Maybe it’s a stepping stone to your real passion.

How has curiosity led you to your passion? If you haven’t found your passion yet, what are you curious about? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Self-Confidence, Striving Styles

Discovering our je ne sais quoi

” I can’t think of any better representation of beauty than someone who is unafraid to be herself” – Emma Stone

Inspired by a recent group of my workshop participants, as well as my upcoming trip to Paris, France with my teenage daughter, promoted me to read and reflect on the phrase “je ne sais quoi”, a phrase often used to describe French or Parisian women.  I read recently that we spend the first half of our life trying to fit in, while the second half we spend trying to stand out.  Inspiring, nurturing, and encouraging our children to have the confidence and independence to fully embrace their unique whole selves and live fully, especially during this first half of their lives, is my deepest desire for them.  I think the best way to do this is to do our best and model it for them.  I couldn’t agree more with the following quote:

“Taking care of yourself is part of taking care of your kids” – Lenny Lemons

Here’s what I found that best describes someone who embodies “je ne sais quoi”:

  • Nurtures her internal well-being as much as her external beauty.  Life isn’t about impressing others but enjoying herself.
  • Accentuates her strengths, focusing on her unique characteristics, both physically and personality.  Owning what she has, not fixing or changing herself.  She shows up as the best version of herself.
  • Keeps her beauty natural and authentic to her unique physical characteristics.
  • She finds pleasure in healthy, quality food, indulging in moderation.
  • She uses her clothing and physical appearance as a tool to establish and represent her state of being.
  • Brings passion to everything she does, from the mundane to the big things.
  • Stops trying so hard to impress others.  It’s about being you!
  • She is self-possessed, and builds her life around knowing what she loves, what turns her on, what’s she’s passionate about.  She builds her life on inner joy and personal radiance.  Finds answers within and shares that passion with the world.
  • She simplifies her life so she has more space to strive for passionate pursuits and stress-free living.
  • She savours the moment by slowing down.
  • While she visualizes and plans her life, and where she’s going, she can let go of control and enjoy her journey. She focuses on how to presently show up in the moment.
  • She does not take life too seriously, approaching her life with a playfulness and friskiness that delights everyone she encounters.
  • She continuously learns and grows.
  • She exudes confidence, intelligence, sophistication, and style that comes from the clarity of knowing who she is!

Understanding ourselves, our strengths, weaknesses, fears and underlying beliefs that get in our way to becoming our best self is fundamental in discovering our je ne sais quoi.  The “This is You” workshop and Striving Styles Personality System helps us to further dive into an understanding of our personality,  helps us to recognize our innate strengths, offers insight and understanding of ourselves and and how our unique brain works.  These are the skills needed to uncover and nurture our authentic self.  Contact me if you would like to discover your je ne sais quoi!


What is Self-Awareness? (and how you develop it)


“People need to know that they have all the tools within themselves. Self-awareness, which means awareness of their body, awareness of their mental space, awareness of their relationships – not only with each other, but with life and the ecosystem.” —Deepak Chopra

Self-awareness seems to have become the latest buzzword in both personal and leadership development.  And this is really good news!  Recent research suggests that when we understand ourselves, really see ourselves, we are more confident and creative.  We make better decisions, cultivate stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively.  We’re better at our jobs and get more promotions. We’re more effective leaders with more-satisfied employees and more-profitable companies.   Unfortunately though, research on this subject suggests that 95% of people think they are self-aware, while only 10-15% actually are.

In my last post, I discussed the four components of emotional intelligence, and having and cultivating self-awareness is one of the four components of emotional intelligence (EQ).  As simple as it sounds though, it is a skill requires our undivided attention, time and patience to develop and practice.  While feeling happy is great, knowing why you feel happy and what caused you to be happy is an indicator of a person who is self-aware.  When we’re equipped with this self-awareness, we become better at cultivating more of what invigorates us in our lives, while eliminating, minimizing, or effectively navigate those circumstances that don’t.

Knowing why you’re feeling the way you are in any given situation requires each of us to pay attention. While we are generally aware and pay attention to all the external events in our lives, sometimes we often neglect to observe ourselves. We often don’t’ explore why we see what we see or why we feel what we feel.

More specifically, having self-awareness  involves:

  • Being able to observe ourselves, accept and recognize what we discover and be honest about how we feel, why we act certain ways in particular situations, and the change that we may need to take.
  • It is being able to pay attention and be honest about our strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivations, and emotions. When we choose this approach, we choose to welcome a life of quality, fulfillment, and contentment.

What self-awareness isn’t

To further understand self-awareness, I find it helpful to look at what it isn’t:

  • Being passive aggressive
  • Being controlling
  • Blaming others
  • Being defensive
  • Unconscious behavior changes

In other words, not being self-aware involves not noticing how our behavior adversely affects those around us and how it can sabotage the relationships we are trying to build.

Benefits of having self-awareness

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” – Carl Jung

  1. You let go of things that don’t serve you.

Letting go of things that no longer serve you is easier once you understand their negative effects.  Thus, they become less desirable.  This makes your ambitions, dreams, and goals much easier and more clearer.

  1. Become more at peace with yourself

When you take the time to listen to how you are feeling and investigate why you are feeling what you are, you become more in tune with your most authentic self. You begin the journey of searching out what piques your curiosity and thus gravitate toward moments that will cultivate more peace and harmony in your life.

  1. Become better able to communicate with clarity

By understanding yourself, especially the “why”, you can clearly communicate with others your joy, your sadness, your frustration, your hopes. And when you speak clearly, others who truly are listening will come to know who you truly are.

  1. Decision making is simplified

Knowing what you want is the most significant part to making the best decision. And when we finally discover what we want, we can say no quickly to the rest.

  1. Clear purpose and direction

While we can always appreciate different paths that others take, when we know the direction we need to take and why we are on it, it is easier to stay focused and not stray.

  1. An enriched life experience

Key to reaching self-awareness is getting clear on your why. Magnificent power is given to each of us when we answer with clarity the “why”. When knowing what enlivens us, what makes us shrink in fear or what peaks our curiosity, we can then seek out what will enrich us, what will heighten our experience and thus what will enrich our lives.

  1. Find true fulfillment and contentment

Living an enriched life is discovering what fulfillment and contentment are. Being fully present in the moment, in the lives we have created for ourselves and wanting to be there, and then having the chance to experience this similar moment every day in varying degrees is to attain fulfillment. We can only do that if we are honest with ourselves about what we feel and why in any given situation.

  1. Optimism rises

Optimism will rise as we begin to see evidence that applying what we learn about ourselves to life truly does lead us down a path that enlivens our lives. And when we see a fulfilling life is possible, we begin to believe again that life can be a truly amazing gift.

  1. Reduction of guilt and regrets

Due to the ability to make better decisions, the guilt and the regrets are diminished. When we confidently make decisions, being aware of how we feel and how our decision will effect others, we know the outcome, by and large, before we leap. Once we leap we accept that not everyone will applaud, but we won’t regret it and we will be able to let go of judgment from others as we own our decision.

  1. Improve relationships

Self-awareness is a key component of having emotional intelligence, and as was discussed here, developing our EQ improves our relationships because we are cognizant of our actions and how they affect those around us, and we know how to handle ourselves effectively as we can observe accurately what we feel and why.

  1. You become more self-confident!

A healthy balance of self-confidence and humility is the most attractive quality a person can have.  Striving to be your best and most self-confidence self inspires and enhances the lives of others in your life.

How to develop self-awareness:

“Every human has four endowments – self-awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom… the power to choose, to respond, to change.” —Stephen Covey

  • Accept the responsibility of changing responses and behaviors to external stimuli: people, situations, life.
  • Reflect on the outcome in each situation and contemplate your role. Pause and examine everything quietly before you judge yourself and others.
  • Become curious about yourself. Be eager to learn new things about life and yourself in general.
  • Practice self-care, including your physical and emotional health
  • Develop high emotional intelligence
  • Change your mindset. Turn off the old mental chatter that continues to explain and justify everything in your life in the exact same way.

Seeking to develop these soft skills and personal attributes will not only enhance our life, but of those lives around us.  They enable us to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.  At times however, the process to become more self-aware will be uncomfortable, but the unease and discomfort is normal, but temporary if you stick with it.   The reward is an enriched, quality life.