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Personality, Self Actualized System, Self Protective System, Self-Awareness, Self-Confidence, Striving Styles, Who are you meant to be?

How do you shine?

“Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you, so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.” ~ Paulo Coelho

Do you know who you are? What your unique gifts are? Each of us are born perfectly unique. We can see this unique beauty in babies and children who are happy and free within their own skin. Then, over time and as we grow up, social and cultural conditioning, the need to fit in, to get along, and to be liked by others, slowly erodes our uniqueness, and in many ways, encourages us to be who we think we should be rather than who we actually are. This experience of being removed from our true self can leave us unsure of ourselves and lacking in confidence, energy and motivation. It can also rob us of the peace that comes from being ourselves and being comfortable in our own skin.

Knowing who you are meant to be starts with knowing what you are born as. Too often people try to figure out what they are meant to do without having any idea about who they really are. This disconnect causes them to look outside of themselves for answers to questions that can only be answered from within. It also causes us to strive to be what others expect of us and to give up on ourselves and instead try to live up to an ideal, to be the person that we think we should be, rather than based on who we authentically are.

We’re are all driven by powerful, instinctual needs that we’ve had since birth – our predominant style or Striving Style (SSPS). These needs are the source of our motivation for our behaviour, social interaction, and influence how we behave and how we feel about ourselves. When our predominant need is met, we are poised for growth and development.

However, when our predominant needs are not being met, we will feel threatened, frightened or anxious, leading to self-protective or survival behaviours. Fear and anxiety override rational thought which will profoundly influence our behaviour, often without our awareness, thus undermining our success and effectiveness.

Have you ever got to the end of the day and felt like somehow your day was hijacked? Or maybe you’ve spent to much time reacting, caught up in some drama or just consumed with a sense of busyness. Do you ever feel uneasy, or have a quiet of rumbling deep inside that something isn’t right. This means you are living out of your self-protective systems. When I have a day (or week) like this I’ll reflect on the predominant needs of my striving style and make a plan on how I need to shift out of my self-protective system. If you’re unaware of your predominant needs you will be at the mercy of your unconscious impulses, emotions and negative habits of mind, leading to reactive, non-productive behaviour, increased emotionality, and an inability to focus on your goals.

The SSPS gets to the heart of the human experience and helps you identify what you need to feel secure and psychologically stable so you can grow and develop. As well, it provides you with insight into the consequences when you don’t get your predominant needs met. The SSPS doesn’t provide a laundry list of strengths and weaknesses but rather, it takes into account the complexity of your brain’s functioning and its impact on your personality.

Coming to understand yourself, recognizing and expressing your uniqueness and who you really are will make you feel more creative, confident, energized and inspired. Your personality, your unique history and story is like no one else’s. Living a life with authenticity, meaning and purpose is ultimately what a happy and fulfilled life looks like.

I love this beautiful (and fitting) song that I have currently playing on repeat. Enjoy!

Astral Plane by Valerie June

Now, it’s your turn.

Think about a time recently that you felt really happy and content, like in that moment you had everything you needed. Who was there? What were you doing? How did you feel when you were in this moment of happiness?

How about a time that you felt inspired motivated or purposeful. When you felt you were focused, in the zone. How did it feel to be inspired in this way?

What about a time when you felt moved by something more- a beautiful sunset, a night sky, the ocean an overwhelming experience of love or compassion.

Share your thoughts in the comments.

Photo by James Wheeler from Pexels

Emotional Intelligence, Negative Habits of Mind, Self Protective System, Self-Awareness, Striving Styles

Ever take things too personally?

“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dreams. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”~ Don Miquel Ruiz

Why are we so quick to take things personally? Do we actually believe that everything is always about us? In fact, research suggests that we significantly overestimate how much we are singled out and judged by others. When someone says something negative or nasty about you, it actually says more about them. Right now, you can make a decision to no longer emotionally react to other people’s issues (see previous post respond rather than react). It takes practice and patience to stop taking things personally but once you accomplish it, your life will become completely transformed.

“You don’t have to control your thoughts, you just have to stop letting them control you.” Dan Millman.

Taking things personally is an automatic negative habit of mind where you make everything about you. It’s like you’re the center of everything that happens and where you believe that all situations have something to do with you, which in reality isn’t true. When you believe you are the cause or the object of negative events, then you are personalizing. Here are a few examples of personalizing:

  • If a friend seems distant, if a boss is angry about something, if your sister doesn’t call, you see yourself as the cause of their emotions and behaviour.   
  • If your co-worker doesn’t greet you like they normally do, you start thinking about what you might have done wrong to upset them, when really it has nothing to do with you. Maybe they had a fight with their spouse before coming to work. 

How to stop taking things personally

  1. Avoid jumping to conclusions. Give the benefit of the doubt to the other person and remember to listen to their entire story, then ask questions to clarify their viewpoint. Don’t jump to conclusions too quickly when you are being confronted. Don’t make assumptions about judgment or criticism seemingly directed at you. Maybe it’s not about you at all, but about them and their own projected perceptions. In fact, it’s almost always about them, their issues, their needs.
  2. Make decisions on your self-worth and not on what others say or think about you. Eleanor Roosevelt said “no one can make you feel inferior without your permission” so don’t give them your permission. Realize that your self worth depends on you and not what others say about you. Of course, relationships will always play a prominent role in our life. But the more you know about yourself, the less you will need others to tell you about yourself.
  3. Take a different perspective. Ask yourself how an unbiased outsider might view this situation. Ask yourself what might be impacting that persons behaviour such as, they’re having a bad day, their personality type, etc. If they were rude to you, it’s almost never about you but a reflection of their own issues.
  4. Understand your predominant personality type or Striving Style. Each of the eight striving styles have a dominant and/or preferred communication style. Learning about your predominant needs and fears, as well as that of others, will offer a deeper insight into how you respond and what might trigger you. Learn more.
  5. Consider the big picture. Instead of taking someone else’s comments personally, take a moment or two and think about the bigger picture. What do the people who know you best think about you? Doesn’t their opinion matter more than this person?
  6. Give up your judgement. Most of us have preconceived notions about people and situations. It’s just the way we are. That being said, no one likes to be judged. When we let that judgement go, it frees us up to see the person and situation in a whole new way. By giving up the judgement, we might actually find out what the real issue is.
  7. Practice being strong. Strong in who you are and what you believe. When we have confidence in ourselves, it’s much easier to stay neutral and avoid buying into somebody else’s baggage or their issues.
  8. Be aware of your triggers. If you are a sensitive person you likely have radar that constantly catches negative comments that hurt you. Know what makes you feel vulnerable. When you are aware of your sensitive spots, the things that trigger your emotions and reactions, you can prepare yourself if an interaction arises that attempts to draw you in. When we take something personally it’s often related to rejection in some way. Something has happened in the past that triggers our limbic brain, the emotional center of our brain. Do you know what triggers your emotional responses? If you do, that’s great. Recognizing the triggers is the first step in disengaging. When we take something personally we do not stand in our own power but buy into others weaknesses.
  9. Think about comments or criticism as a growth opportunity. When faced with critical comments, take them in a constructive way. Ask yourself if there is any truth to it and what you can learn. Ask yourself how you can grow and let the rest of it go.
  10. Create a space between yourself and your reactions. Your initial response might be to react emotionally. If possible, don’t follow that knee-jerk reaction. Take the time to rein in your emotions and assess what’s really happening before you respond (refer to my post on respond rather than react). In general, it’s a good idea to create a healthy personal space around yourself. When you create some space or buffer between yourself and another person, personal boundaries have less chance of being crossed or blurred.
  11. Let go of the need to please. Realize that you can’t please everyone. Work to reduce the impossible demand that you need to be perfect.
  12. Listen carefully to gain clarification. Hopefully, your emotions will take a back seat while you ask this individual to fully explain what’s on their mind and what they want from you. Listen carefully before you respond so you can discern what makes sense and what doesn’t (Refer to my post Are you listening?).
  13. Enlist some support. Seek counseling or enlist the help of a trusted friend to help shift your perspective on yourself and others.

If you practice these techniques over and over you will re-wire your brain and find yourself becoming more neutral and less affected by someone else’s negativity. As you develop these techniques you will stand in your own power and confidence.

When you find yourself thinking that someone else’s behaviour was caused by you or their feelings about you, think about other options or reasons why they might be behaving the way they are.  Or, consider why they might be behaving the way they are if you weren’t in the picture.  Notice how your emotional reactions change when you recognize that their behaviour is not about you.

Don Miguel Ruiz talks to Oprah about Agreement #2: How to Not Take Things Personally

Now, your turn:

Reflect on recent situations in which you have taken things personally. How did you make it about you, (What did you tell yourself? How did you interpret their actions?), and how did it affect your behaviour? Now think about other possible interpretations of the situation that don’t attribute the cause to you. Share in the comments.

My book recommendation:

Photo by Madison Inouye from Pexels

Negative Habits of Mind, Self Protective System, Self-Awareness, Striving Styles

Do you Catastrophize?

 “I’ve suffered a great many catastrophes in my life.  Most of them never happened.” ~ Mark Twain

When we’re stressed our brain can get stuck in a loop of negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours such as excessive worrying, difficulty focusing, or dwelling on negative experiences. Our brains can get stuck catastrophizing.

So what does it mean to catastrophize?  It’s a common habit of thinking about something and making if far worse than it actually is, creating a worst-case scenario, causing fear and anxiety.  Some call it magnifying which is a good way to think of it, because it emphasizes how we can magnify things way out of proportion, dreaming up scary scenarios, going far beyond simple exaggeration, linking one imagined event to another until we’re paralyzed with fear, going from one scary thought to the next. It magnifies or exaggerates something small or minor into a much bigger, graver situation. It’s when you make small errors but treat them like big ones – “I made a mistake, I’m such an idiot, I’ll probably get fired”. Catastrophic thinking is a whole other level of negativity (refer to my previous post negativity bias). When you imagine the worst case scenario, the what if’s, you will get scared or become angry.   

Catastrophic thinking is a habitual response to challenges or shortcomings such as how you think about failing or how you respond to challenges.  It starts with the belief that something terrible will happen, or that you can’t recover.   People with anxiety imagine losing control of themselves, for example, they think they’ll have a panic attack if they go to the mall and imagine it’ll be a catastrophic, rather than just simply uncomfortable.  Expecting the worse case is an excellent way to make yourself anxious, depressed, unmotivated and completely ruin your life. 

So how does catastrophizing mess us up?  We’ve all experienced some type of tragedies in our life, including painful rejection or failure.  We believe that if we trick ourselves into believing that if we expect the worst, we can prevent it from happening. But in reality, the exact opposite happens.  Seeing the worst often leads to the worst, because we not only cut ourselves off from opportunities, we actually end up inviting the exact problems we are hoping to avoid.  If we go into a conversation expecting the other person will be defensive, we come in ready to attack and lead off more harsh, thus inviting the other person to be defensive.  Catastrophizing invites depression as the future is seen as dreary, hopeless, leading to a cycle of withdrawing from life, a lack of motivation, and a pattern of depression.  It invites anxiety by forcing our brain to see threats and failures everywhere and our brain responds to perceived threats as very real fear response – flight, fight, freeze response. This contributes to social anxiety and leads to paralysis.

“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?” “Supposing it didn’t, said Pooh. After careful thought Piglet was comforted by this.

Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne)

Examples of catastrophic thoughts, and how you can think differently

If or when you catch yourself catastrophizing, think of what might help you.   What could you consciously and mindfully say to yourself when you think these thoughts?  Ask yourself if it’s real or imagined. Here are a few examples:

Catastrophic thought: Oh no, I’m such an idiot, I made a mistake on the report,  I’m never going to finish it,  or even if I do finish it, it will be so bad, it won’t be any good anyway.  I’m going to get fired no matter what.

Replace with: Ok wait, that’s not true.  Everyone makes mistakes, I’m only human, I’ll fix this problem, or mistake, and if I need to ask for help I can but I’ll keep working hard and try to be more careful in the future.  Nobody is going to fire me for making a mistake in a report.

Catastrophic thought: I can’t believe I said that to my boyfriend.  He’s going to leave me for sure this time. 

Replace with: I shouldn’t have said that to my boyfriend. I need to learn to talk more kindly even when I’m upset.  I’m going to try and apologized, and try and make it right.  Hopefully he’ll understand  and accept my apology and we’ll both learn from this.

Catastrophic thought: My husband is late coming home from work. I’m sure he’s been in a car accident or something terrible has happened. I’ll probably get a call from the police or the hospital.

Replace with: I know he’s been really busy at work and I’m sure he’s just got caught up in a meeting and forgot to call. I’ll let him know that I worry when I don’t hear from him, and ask him to message me next time he thinks he’ll be late.

Catastrophic thought: I haven’t heard from my friend for over a week. She must not like me or want to be my friend anymore.

Replace with: I haven’t heard from my friend for over a week. She must be incredibly busy. I’ll give her a call to see how she’s doing and let her know I’m thinking about her.

Catastrophic thought: I heard rumors that my company is having financial troubles, and I just know I’m going to lose my job, my home, and end up penniless on the street.

Replace with: I’m curious if these rumors are true and maybe I’ll go talk to my manager. And even if it’s true, the worse case scenario is I lose my job. I’ll know I’ll be fine and get another job, maybe even a better one.

Why do we catastrophize?

Catastrophizing essentially serves two dysfunctional functions:   

1) Preparing for the worse is a coping strategy preventing us to feel risk or uncertainty.  If I expect myself to fail I won’t be disappointed if I do.  If I reject myself first, I don’t have to worry that someone will do it to me.  Catastrophizing is a way to avoid feeling and to protect ourselves from feeling sadness or worry. Yet paradoxically, when we try not to feel we often end up becoming depressed and anxious.  Expecting the worst also justifies not even trying and attempts to excuse our failure before we put in an effort. No wonder it feels more safe and comfortable than putting your heart out there.  While it’s comfortable in the short term it’ll crush the joy out of your life in the long run.  You’re not risking failure but you can’t have success either.  You’re not getting rejected, but you’re still alone on the weekend. 

2) The belief that fear is the best motivation. Motivating ourselves to study, go to work, etc. by using fear and predicting doom and gloom, like, we’ll end up working in a dead-end job, living on the streets, or be all alone, works briefly as a motivator but over the long term causes us to become anxious, depressed, overwhelmed and less functional.   It’s not a sustainable source of motivation.   

How you can feel better?

  • Get more sleep. Getting a good night sleep will give you a greater ability to face challenges bravely; when we are sleep deprived we are hyper sensitive to threats and lack resilience when facing challenges. 
  • Stick with the facts. Focus on the specifics to keep your mindset clear and focused on the only thing you can control – your reaction. You are not your thoughts or feelings.  The difference between a thought that sticks in your brain and one that floats on by is what we choose to make of it.
  • Set positive goals. Motivate yourself by what you do want in life, what you value,and hope for instead of using fear. For example, instead of saying I need to go to school so I don’t end up on the streets, you say, I want to go school because I want to be a teacher, doctor, (you fill in the blank).  Choose what you do want in life, break it down in to small goals, and bravely work towards those little by little.
  • Stay present and engaged even if a risk of not going perfecting involves vulnerability. Risking failure or hurt to have success and joy involves staying engaged even if things don’t go perfectly.  The only alternative is to guarantee failure by cutting yourself off before you even try.
  • Accept uncertainty as a natural and acceptable part of living a wholehearted life. This is fundamental life skill that can be developed and practiced.  It involves changing how you think about anxiety.  Instead of labeling a situation as bad or harmful or you can’t handle it, you can say, this is uncomfortable, but it won’t injure me and I can do hard things. Embrace acceptable risk and the anxiety that comes with it as natural normal and helpful.  Build up your emotional muscles so you can experience uncomfortable emotions by practicing mindfulness, meditation, or doing something that scares you every day.

Practice mindfulness

  1. Start by noticing when you are catastrophizing. What are the words or exaggerations you use to make things worse than they are, such as never, always, terrible, failure, horrible, rejected, awkward.  Notice the situations that you tend to catastrophize about. Write down what it looks like when you do it.  Ask a friend or family member to point it out when you do. 
  2. Challenge those thoughts – just because you think it doesn’t mean it’s true.  Learn to notice and gently question your thoughts.  You don’t have to believe everything you think but don’t beat yourself up for your thoughts – it’s not very helpful.  Notice your thoughts, then let them pass. 
  3. Replace thoughts with something more honest and helpful.  Once you start to notice this type of thinking, begin to combat with more honest, more rational thoughts.  Consider other possible outcomes. Even if something bad did happen, you could learn from it it wouldn’t be the end of the world. 
  4. When you find yourself starting to imagine the worst-case scenario, grab a sheet of paper and write down what you’re telling yourself.  Then for each statement, ask yourself, “Is it real?” and then cross off everything on your list that is not real

Now, it’s your turn:

When was the last time you catastrophized? What was the situation? How did it affect your behaviour? What might you say to yourself when you find your imagination creating a worst-case scenario? Share your examples in the comments.

Photo source: Susan Wheeler (morning hike in North Vancouver, BC)

Meditation, Mindfulness, Negative Habits of Mind, Self-Awareness, Striving Styles

Cultivating Happiness: Understanding your Negativity Bias

“If you can extract happiness out of common, everyday moments you will have captured the art of happiness.” ~ Elle Sommer

Do you find yourself dwelling on bad memories and experiences?  Do you tend to fixate on one little negative comment, criticism or feedback? When you’re hurt, upset, or angry with someone, do you fixate on everything you don’t like about them or focus on their flaws? It’s so much easier to focus on the laundry list of bad things about them and why they pissed you off. Thinking about that persons good points takes a lot of energy, and it’s easier to think of all the things you don’t like about them. Maybe you find that you often ignore all the positive events that are happening (or have happened) and focus primarily on the negative or what didn’t happen? We can become consumed with our negative qualities or on negative experiences while ignoring our positive characteristics and experiences.

If you can relate to this, you might get some comfort in knowing that you are not alone.  It comes down to human evolution. Our brains have been programmed over thousands of years to focus on the negative, which was once helpful in protecting us from being eaten by wild animals or eating poisonous plants. Our survival was dependent upon remembering those negative experiences so we didn’t die. This default in our brain is referred to as a negativity bias and causes us to remember or focus more on negative memories than good ones. These automatic negative thoughts can trigger our self protective system (SPS) which can have a powerful effect on our behaviour, our decisions, and our relationships.  Today, this negativity bias is less useful and is ultimately damaging to our overall sense of happiness and well being. It often results in us focusing on unnecessary worries and fears and having a less optimistic outlook on life. 

These negative memories are stored and recalled in our emotional brain, known as the basal ganglia, the strongest part of our brain that recognizes and repeats patterns until told otherwise.  While the basal ganglia is the strongest part of the brain, our prefrontal cortex, or the logical “manager”, understands long term benefits and consequences. The good news is, because of the brains plasticity, our prefrontal cortex can override the basal ganglia.

Cultivating your inner strengths

Understanding how you think and how your brain works is key to cultivating your inner strengths and changing your automatic negative habits of mind. Reprogramming your brain starts when you become aware of how often you think the same negative thoughts about your self or make situations worse by making up stories about what is going on. Recognizing your automatic negative thought patterns and focusing on the positive takes a conscious effort and lot of work. Mindfully refocusing your thinking and responding to events with greater awareness and consciousness will help to build your inner strengths, thus allowing you to feel stronger, more secure and resilient.

To cultivate your inner strengths you must begin to orient yourself and your awareness towards those everyday moments of happiness and satisfaction. To linger in them, savor them, allowing them to touch you and soak into the fabric of who you are. When you allow yourself to linger in these everyday moments of happiness and satisfaction, you not only experience happiness in that moment, but you’re also strengthening the neuropathways in your mind, which leads to greater happiness and well-being.

This is not as easy as it sounds thought. Especially when we add busyness, stress, anxiety or  a sense of overwhelm of everyday modern life. We may find ourselves going through our day seeing life as a whole lot of little challenges to be overcome, mishaps to be avoided, fires to be put out, rather than as a series of opportunities for happiness, fulfillment, connection, meaning, and satisfaction. Modern day life coupled with our negativity bias means we move through our days allowing our negative experiences to really stick while those positive experiences slide off without having the opportunity to become absorbed into our awareness. 

Let’s take a moment to think about this.  Can you think back to a time when you let a small inconvenience taint your day or really get to you? Such as bad traffic, a slow driver, a chaotic morning, or an uncomfortable conversation with a colleague or friend. Or maybe you can think back to a time at work when you received some overall positive feedback about your performance with just one suggestion for improvement. Instead of seeing this for what it really was you only focused on the suggestion for improvement, taking it as a personal criticism or even as insult. Or perhaps you enjoyed a lovely weekend with family and friends but let one slightly critical comment made by a friend or relative really sink in and take over the overall feeling of happiness and connection that was actually present during this time together.  Or what about all the small acts of kindness that you receive each day that go by largely unnoticed such as  when you partner brings you a coffee or when the person serving you at the restaurant serves you with extra attention.  Or what about when a colleague holds the door for you, when a stranger smiles at you in the street, or when another driver lets you in.  What about all the good decisions you make, the movements in your day that go by without a hitch, the times when life just runs smoothly.  These are the moments that we let slide right off without being absorbed into our awareness, or into our minds and hearts.  Yet these are the everyday opportunities that hold the seeds of our happiness and fulfillment. 

How can you turn ordinary everyday moments into an opportunity for happiness?

According to Neuroscientist Dr. Rick Hanson “every time you take in the good you build a little bit of neurostructure… doing this a few times a day will gradually change your brain and how you feel and act in far reaching ways.” Firstly, we need to wake up from the modern day trance of busyness and move from our minds into our bodies, hearts, and the present moment and turn our attention to the moments of good that are right in front of us.  From here we become more open and receptive to the everyday opportunities for happiness that exist for each of us throughout our days. 

“Every time you take in the good you build a little bit of neurostructure… doing this a few times a day will gradually change your brain and how you feel and act in far reaching ways.”

Dr. Rick Hanson

These moments will look and feel different to each of us.  Then we must linger in these moments of happiness using our breath and attention to help transform these experiences from passing states into enduring traits. Recent studies in neuroscience suggest that in order create these new neuropathways we need to stay with these experiences for at least 15-20 seconds or about  4 to 5 breaths.  Amazingly, we can also build this neuropathway by focusing our attention on past or present experiences of happiness and fulfillment. By taking the time to recall a happy experience, allowing it to land in your body, mind and heart, you are helping to strengthen these pathways. 

Meditation is a powerful way to strengthen our neuropathways as the very act of meditation allows for a focused awareness, for a natural presence, a slowing down.  During meditations, spend time recalling past experiences as well as enjoying present moments experiences of happiness.  Meditation allows us to experience things in our minds, bodies, and hearts. 

Now, it’s your turn

What happened this week that was good? Describe something that you are excited about. Tell us what makes you happy. What’s going well? What are you grateful for? Share in the comments.

Photo Source: Pinterest

Communication, Mindfulness, React vs Respond

Are you listening?

“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen.  Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention…A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.”


Rachel Naomi Remen

Becoming a better listener takes a lot of effort, practice, and patience but one of the best gifts we can give a partner, friend, child, or colleague is taking the time to truly listen to them.  We derive some of our greatest joy and life lessons from our relationships and being a really good listener is one of the keys to supporting great relationships of all kinds.

While some people seem to be born with the gift of listening, most of us need a little (or a lot of) practice to develop listening skills, and mindfulness can help. Mindfulness is a way of paying attention with empathy and openness without judgement. When you listen mindfully, you are fully present and able to take in what the other person is saying. You aren’t formulating an opinion or judgment about what they are saying or distracted by your phone. You are simply giving them the gift of your undivided attention.

Ask yourself: How often are you truly listening when you’re in a conversation? As humans, our minds are constantly absorbed by our own thoughts, and this can significantly impact how well we listen. Listening is something we’ve been conditioned to do our whole lives—but there are levels of it. Listening is a conscious act that we must decide to do. Listening without judgment, assumptions, and distractions is a choice.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.”

Stephen R. Covey

I’m sure you’ll agree with Stephen R. Covey’s well known quote that “most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.”   I’m also fairly confident that we’ve all met people in our lives who do this.  In fact, we’ve most likely been that person – jumping in, butting in, or telling them how much their experience is so similar to the experience we’ve had.  Or, wanting to jump in and fix things.  Our brains are hard-wired to fix things and so we look for problems we can fix.  But sometimes we don’t need or want someone to fix our problems – sometimes we just want someone to listen to them.  In any relationship, whether at work, at school, and especially at home, listening is a powerful act of presence and love. We can listen to the words that they are saying, and we can listen to the words that they are not saying, but conveying with their bodies.  In any situation, being able to be there, with presence and deep listening, is a powerful act. 

In a study published in a journal of family psychology in 2012, researchers found that partners’ relationships satisfaction increased when they perceived that their partner was making an effort to read what they were thinking and feeling regardless of the level accuracy.  On the flip side, a lack of empathy can make a relationship feel like it lacks intimacy and connection, as well as increase the amount of conflict and negativity between partners. 

What is Empathic Listening? 

Instead of projecting your own autobiography and assuming thoughts, feelings, motives, and interpretations, you’re listening to understand . Empathetic listening is essentially listening to another and putting ourselves in their shoes.  You remain empathically connected to yourself and the other, rather than triggered and defensive. When we feel safe enough to be present, we are more likely to express ourselves authentically, and thus more likely to be listened to, validated and valued in return.   

“A relationship is about having a dedicated person to make you feel seen and heard. You will rarely feel seen and heard by someone who lacks empathy.”

Kyle D. Jones

Why empathic listening is important?

Communication is the cornerstone of everything that’s important in life. Whether it’s building your career, being a great spouse, or learning to be an awesome parent, if you don’t communicate well, you will struggle in all those areas.  Empathic listening is just a better way to listen.

Don’t confuse empathy with sympathy, however. We aren’t trying to feel sorry for the other person. We are trying to relate and understand where they are coming from.  Sympathy has a way of making us feel superior. In this situation, it’s vital to remain equals. It’s putting ourselves in the shoes of others, not so we can feel sorry for them or offer constructive feedback. Instead, it simply allows us to fully understand what they are going through so they feel heard and supported.

Empathic listening is very powerful.  People hunger all their lives to express what’s on their mind, be heard, and to be acknowledged—but rarely get enough.This is especially evident if something really good or bad happens in life.  A bad listener conveys that you don’t matter. Equally, if you tell an important story and the other person’s response is to tell their own, you feel dismissed and trivialized. In the process of being listened to we experience that what we feel matters, what we’re saying is legitimate, it counts, and that someone understands us. If someone understands us, in turn, we feel like our experience means something and is real.

Now Your Turn

Try this powerful exercise: Ask someone you are close with a question and simply listen to them.  LISTEN without trying to fix anything.  Listen with the only purpose to understand how they are feeling and what they are saying.  Begin to notice how this transforms the interaction. Share your experience in the comments below.

Meditation, Mindfulness, Self-Awareness

Just Breathe!

“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unties your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to hold of your mind again.”

Thich Nhut Hanh

Words like mindfulness and meditation are rapidly becoming everyday terms in modern Western society. Are you like me and just getting on the meditation bandwagon? Or maybe you’ve been practicing meditation for a while. According to a Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, within the past 5 years meditation has become one of the fastest growing trends in the US. So, why is mindfulness meditation becoming so popular?

It’s safe to say that in this fast paced, information outcomes driven world that most of us live in, we are probably feeling out of balance, leaning a bit too heavily towards doing. While finding a healthy balance between doing and being will look and feel differently for each of us, be curious about this balance and how it’s effecting your personal levels of happiness and well-being.   A growing body of research in the field of mindfulness meditation is proving to have significant benefits for our mental, emotional, and physical health. Mindfulness exercises can improve our mood and increase optimism, boost our confidence, enhance our emotional intelligence and improve our relationships with other people. Sign me up!

With the hectic pace and demands of modern life, many people feel stressed and over-worked. It often feels like there is just not enough time in the day to get everything done. Our stress and tiredness make us unhappy, impatient and frustrated. When the balance shifts from too much doing and not enough being we encounter problems such as stress, anxiety and overwhelm. Our current culture of fast paced busyness and culture of doing is affecting our health. Yet, we’re often so busy we think there is no time to stop and meditate! But meditating will actually give you more time by relaxing your mind, making your mind calmer and more focused. A simple five to ten minute breathing meditation as explained below can help you to overcome your stress and find some inner peace and balance.

Meditation can also help us understand our own mind. We can learn how to transform our mind from negative to positive, from disturbed to peaceful, from unhappy to happy. Overcoming negative minds and cultivating constructive thoughts is the purpose of the transforming meditations. But, very simply and at the core of all meditation is learning how to focus on the breathe.

“Let your breath untie the knots in your body and mind.”

Marie-Francoise Mariette

A Simple Breathing Meditation

The first stage of meditation is to stop distractions and make our mind clearer and more lucid. This breathing meditation is an invitation into the world of being. By practicing this simple breathing meditation and taking the time to shape your breath, you will trigger your parasympathetic nervous system, or relaxation response.   You can do this any time in the day or night. In this breathing meditation, the exhale is longer than the inhale.  We allow the exhale to leave our body slowly. We also pause a moment at the end of the inhale, and the end of the exhale

If your mind wanders that’s ok. Remember, our eyes are designed to see, our minds are designed to think.  Thinking in meditation is perfectly natural.  If you notice yourself thinking during your meditation, don’t’ worry, simply notice, perhaps even smile, offer your thoughts what they need in a gentle way, then return to the gentle flow of your breath.  No need to push your thoughts away, just notice, be curious, be open.  Notice your breaths natural ebb and flow.

At first, our mind will be very busy, and we might even feel that the meditation is making our mind busier; but in reality we are just becoming more aware of how busy our mind actually is. There will be a great temptation to follow the different thoughts as they arise, but we should resist this and remain focused single-pointedly on the sensation of the breath. If we discover that our mind has wandered and is following our thoughts, we should immediately return it to the breath. We should repeat this as many times as necessary until the mind settles on the breath.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Choose a quiet place to meditate and settle into a comfortable position. You can sit in the traditional cross-legged posture or in any other position that is comfortable. If you wish, you can sit in a chair. The most important thing is to keep your back straight to prevent your mind from becoming sluggish or sleepy (strong back, soft front).
  2. With eyes closed, or partially closed, gently guide your awareness to your breathing. Breathe naturally, preferably through the nostrils, without attempting to control your breath, and try to become aware of the sensation of your breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils. This sensation is your object of meditation. Be curious of your breath right now. What words would you use to describe your breath? Does it feel deep, shallow, smooth, warm, cool?
  3. Then, begin the 4 part breathing cycle, as follows:
    1. inhale through your nostrils (count to 3), then pause (1 count) at the top of the inhale; exhale through your mouth (count to 5), then pause (1 count) at the bottom.  If you’re able, try and smooth out the edges of your breath.
  4. Repeat this breathing cycle 5 times.
  5. Then continue to breath naturally.  Enjoy this feeling of relaxment, peace, and contentment. Rest in this presence, of being.
  6. Take a moment to notice the quality of your mind, of your thoughts .  Perhaps you are noticing that has a quietness has spread across your mind, or your thoughts seem more far away, smaller, or more gentle.  This is the power and beauty of presence or being
  7. Gently start moving your fingers, toes, and open eyes to the space you are in. 

Now You!

Did you give it a try? How did it make you feel?

Do YOU have a regular meditation practice? Do you use breathing meditations when you are stressed or feel overwhelmed ?

How do you shift from doing to being? Share in the comments.

 Photo source: Susan Wheeler (sunset on Rathtrevor Beach, BC)

Emotional Intelligence, Mindfulness, React vs Respond, 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?

Photo source: Susan Wheeler (breezy window in Tuscany, Italy)

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.

Photo by tripleMdesignz from Pexels

Mindfulness

The Gift of Presence

“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

I feel extremely fortunate to have had people in my life who have made me feel special.  While we all want to be liked, loved, and happy, there are some people who have made or make us feel valued.  They make us feel special.  My grandmother was one of those people.  Although she passed away thirty years ago, there is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t think about her.  What a gift and legacy she left!  I think about this a lot because I’d also like to leave that legacy with the people that I love.  But if the past few weeks are any indication, I have a lot of work to do.  So with this lofty goal in mind, I’m prompted to ask:  How can I be a better mother, spouse, sister, aunt, daughter, and friend?

Once again, I find the words in Maya Angelou, who sums it up so well “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  What was it about my grandma that made me feel so special?  How do I (or we) do this? The answer is – by being present.

How we nurture relationships by being present.

So many of our lives are filled with making lists, checking them off, all the while thinking about the next thing we have to do. We’re constantly busy in doing mode and it can sometimes feel like a burden or an annoyance to have to stop, even momentarily, for the people we love.  And this can be really difficult sometimes, at least for me it is.  With juggling my business, my family, and all of the other responsibilities I have, I often have a difficult time being fully present. I am guilty of daydreaming when I should be focused on tasks, looking at my phone while also having a conversation, getting caught up in multitasking and rushing through my to-do list. More often than not, I’m not 100% engaged in any given moment.  Yet, there are so many advantages that come from living in the moment.

Getting present requires a certain level of self-awareness. It’s about putting aside your own thoughts, worries, fears, and insecurities and genuinely taking an interest in what that person is saying.  There’s a saying that how you make others feel about themselves says a lot about you.  When you lack the ability to make people feel good about themselves it does nothing more than highlight your own inadequacies.

Whether you’re a parent, spouse, friend, or leader, if you believe that people matter, you must become good at making people feel great.  If you want to build and maintain lasting relationships, to consistently positively influence people, to make people feel good about themselves, and to be the kind of people everyone wants to be around, you must make them feel good.  When you press pause—physically and mentally—and hold a space for a person to fully express themselves, that person feels valued, heard, seen, and loved.  Isn’t that what all us ever really want?

How we become more present in our relationships.

  • Be intentional . Start with setting an intention to be more present. It sounds simple and it is. Yet most of us don’t think about how we want to show up in our relationships.  As you begin to engage with the people, having an intention to be more present acts as a reminder, anchors you in the present. You become aware of those times when you are the most present and those times when you’re not. Start to notice what distracts you from the present moment. Phone calls, to-do lists, busyness overload, social media—whatever it is. When you become aware of this stuff, you can work with it or eliminate it so it doesn’t keep distracting you.
  • Create boundaries around your time. Make sure you factor in yourself when organizing your day.  Be sure to schedule your time to include getting your needs met, physically, mentally or emotionally.  Schedule time to get your work done and focus on your priorities during that time.  Then be sure to schedule the time to be present for others.  Say no if it doesn’t fit with your goals or priorities.  I like the expression “if it’s not a hell yes, then it’s a no”.  It’s can become very easy to drop what you’re doing and focus on others’ priorities, but we all know that we can’t take care of others if we don’t take care of ourselves first.
  • Pay attention to how you feel around certain people. Unfortunately, there are people in our lives who do not make us feel good about ourselves, who can take up a lot of our time with negative energy, and can bring us down.  Next time you’re engaging with that person, take a moment to check in with where you’re at and ask if you’re supporting yourself. For example, are you feeling centered, confident, and calm? What story are you telling yourself about this situation?
  • Put your stuff away. My personal pet peeve is when I’m with someone, in a meeting, having a conversation, or at a dinner, etc. and they are constantly looking at their phone, or prioritizing answering a text or call (unless they have expressed they are expecting a call). Doing this suggests that they you are not their priority.  At least turn off the sound.  Be sure to put your phone away when you walk in the door, especially if you have kids.  And please, don’t walk in the door on a call – finish the call before you come in.  It’s a good practice to put your phone or computer away while in a conversation.
  • Be authentically interested. Lean in, keep eye contact, and listen more than you talk.  One of our deepest human needs is to be understood, valued, and respected for who we are.  However, most people seek to get their point across and be understood first.  In Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Principles of Highly Effective People”, the 5th principle is to “seek first to understand, then be understood”.  Here are the three steps he suggests:
    1. First, listen with your eyes, heart, and ears – listening with your ears isn’t enough. Only 7% of communication comes from our words.  The rest comes from body language (53%) and the tone of our voice (40%).  To hear what other people are really saying, you need to listen to what they are not saying.
    2. Second, stand in their shoes. Try to see the world as others see it and feel as they feel.
    3. Third, practice mirroring. Repeat back to the person what they just said.  It is not mimicking.  Put it in your own words.  This lets the person know you understand what they are saying without judging or giving advice.  Mirroring phrases “so, as I see it…”; “I can see that you’re feeling…”; “So, what you’re saying is…”
  • Practice mindfulness and learn to meditate.  I started my practice a few years ago as part of the Striving Styles certification process, not only because is it part of the curriculum I teach, but because I realized it’s a vital step in becoming more self-aware and personal growth.   It’s pretty difficult to be present in our relationships if we aren’t present with ourselves. For example,  I was away a lot over the past month and wasn’t meditating or practicing mindfulness regularly. I really noticed how this negatively affected my patience and presence in my relationships.   Being mindful and practicing meditation has so many benefits, not only for ourselves but also for those close to us.  I encourage you to watch the TEDx talk: The Power of Mindfulness: What You Practice Grows Stronger, by Shauna Shapiro if you would like to learn more about the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.  But really, practicing mindfulness is really very simple.

What is mindfulness?

“Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment.”   – Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Mindfulness is our ability to pay attention to the present moment with curiosity and without judgement.  Mindfulness can be cultivated through a formal practice like meditation…and we can bring mindful attention to our daily activities.

Here are five simple ways to practice mindfulness in your daily life:

  1. Focus on your breath. Take a few really deep, controlled breaths. Deep breathing helps reduce stress, a source of fatique, and increases the level of oxygen in the blood.  Techniques can be as simple as inhaling for five seconds, holding your breath for four seconds and slowly exhaling for four seconds.  You can also try other techniques, which require different positions.
  2. Go for a walk outside. Being in nature can both invigorate you and make you feel more focused.  Here is a simple walking meditation:
    1. Simply close your eyes and listen to the sounds of nature. Stand solidly on the ground and spend several moments noticing how your body feels. Start with the soles of the feet and work upward, relaxing each body part as you become aware of it.  Then, open your eyes and begin to walk slowly, focusing on your surroundings and what you see, hear, smell and feel. Pay close attention to the sensations of the sun, wind and grass on your feet and skin.
  3. Use a meditation app. I really like guided meditations. I enjoy listening to the messages and I like the instruction and structure.  You can decide on the length of time (5, 10 minutes), choose your topic (relax, sleep, focus, anxiety, self-compassion, manifestation, morning, etc.).  Here are a few apps you might like to check out:  Calm, Insight Timer, Headspace, Deepak Chopra.  You can also search guided meditations on Youtube.
  4. Focus intently on the task at hand. I can get easily distracted and overwhelmed when I have a lot of different tasks and things I’m juggling, so picking just one and focusing on completing it helps me be more mindful.
  5. Observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them. Notice when your mind is in the past or future, and gently return to the present. Ideally write them down.  Even if you’re not a writer, giving yourself the freedom to put pen to paper, without judgment, can be a helpful emotional release as well, freeing up your mind to focus on what’s happening in the current moment.

Advantages of being fully present in relationships.

Calmness.  There’s a real sense of peacefulness that comes when I’m not all agitated thinking about everything I need to do, and instead just focus on being with that person, enjoying the here and now.

Increased empathy and compassion.  Having empathy improves relationships.  Brene’ Brown explains,

“If we want people to fully show up, to bring their whole selves including their unarmored, whole hearts—so that we can innovate, solve problems, and serve people—we have to be vigilant about creating a culture in which people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected.” – Brene’ Brown

So having empathy helps us understand others when they communicate with us. Plus, it can reduce the amount of conflict in the individual’s life. The most common reason why other people become angry is they feel misunderstood.

Clarity and focus.   I do a better job and enjoy the process more when I give my full attention to whatever I’m working or on whom I’m working with, whether that’s spending time with my kids, writing my blog, working, gardening, etc.

Increased happiness and optimism.  When I’m more aware of my actions and more engaged, no matter the task I’m performing, it improves my outlook on life. Feeling more gratitude and focusing on the positive develops stronger emotional bonds with others.   I adopt more of an abundance mindset when I’m more self-confident.

More meaningful conversations. When I’m actively participating in a conversation and truly taking the time to listen to what the other person has to say, I find that I always take something important away from the discussion. Whether it’s a lesson or something I learned about the person, there is a lot to be gained from being present and actively engaged.

Appreciating the little things more.  It’s easy to overlook all of the simple pleasures in life when we are trying to do too many things at once. It’s really a shame, because sometimes we can be so fixated on creating our ideal, happy life, that we forget to see the happiness and pleasure that are already right in front of us.

“Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic.” – Stephen R. Covey

What Do YOU Think?

Do you struggle with being fully present? What are some ways that you’ve found are helpful in being more present?  What are the biggest challenges to staying in the moment? Let us know in the comments!

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Photo source: Barefootblonde.com

MBTI, Personality, Striving Styles

Will your (MBTI) personality type determine your success?

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“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming.” ~ John Wooden

The short answer is no. There is not one particular Myers-Briggs (MBTI) personality type that is directly correlated to successful outcomes.  No one type is better than another and each type have their own unique strengths, weaknesses and gifts. For example, an INTJ is not any more likely to be successful than an ESFP.  In addition, there is so much more to you than your type such as your upbringing environment, your unique tastes and traits that make you a unique individual.  No matter what personality type we are born with, we all have the ability to be successful.   While success is somewhat subjective to the individual, I think it’s described best as those who achieve their goals or live in alignment with their life vision and values.

So what does determine your success?  Ultimately, it is your habits, mindset, and utilizing the capabilities of your full brain that will determine your success.

That said, knowing and understanding your personality type, your strengths, your preferred working styles, will absolutely contribute to your personal and professional success.  While on its own it, knowing your type won’t impact success or performance outcomes, it is a key first step in developing self-awareness which is an important and foundational factor related to your overall success.

One of the most beneficial outcomes of learning about personality type is you will feel understood.  It will also help you improve relationships and become a better communicator with people who process things differently than you do, and reduce conflict both at home and at work.

Your MBTI describes your unique characteristics, how you process information, your preferences, and how you interact with the world.  Each personality type has a dominant mental process and an inferior mental process, and everyone has a natural preference for one of the two opposites.  Our inferior processes tend to be the sources of many of our weaknesses and embarrassments while our dominant processes tend to be easier for us to master and use effectively.   The best way to explains this is that we all have a preferred hand to write with which is easier for us, but that doesn’t mean we never use the other hand.  For example, if you’re right-handed and you suddenly try to switch to writing with your left hand you could do it, but it would take a log more time and it would look a lot sloppier.

Here is a brief explanation of the MBTI:

  • There are four MBTI dichotomies:
    • Introversion (I) or Extraversion (E) describes where you get your energy. Extroverts gain energy from interaction with the outside world while Introverts gain energy from pondering their thoughts
    • Intuitive (N) or Sensing (S) describes how you gather information. Intuitives focus on the abstract, theoretical, and “unseen” while Sensors focus on the concrete, literal, and real details of the world around them and their experience with it.
    • Thinking (T) or Feeling (F) describes how you make decisions. Thinking types “step outside” of a decision to consider the logic, pros and cons, and the truth of a situation. Feeling types “step inside” a decision to consider how it will impact the people involved, whether harmony will be maintained, and whether the decisions aligns with their values
    • Judging (J) or Perceiving (P) describes how you interact with the outside world. Judging types like to have a schedule and a plan. They like to get all their work done before “playing”.  Perceiving types like to mix work and play, and have an open-ended, spontaneous schedule. They like to stay open for new opportunities and inspiration.
  • Everyone has a natural preference for one of the two opposites on each of the four dichotomies.
  • They describe preferences
  • There is no right or wrong
  • You use all 8 of the preferences, but you prefer four
  • Sometimes how we are at home, at work, alter our personalities to fit that environment.

*Contact me if you would like to know your MBTI personality type

While understanding your personality type is incredibly insightful in knowing our strengths and development areas, this alone will not help you achieve your goals, or ultimately determine your success.  It is learning what to do with that knowledge, and how to go about making changes in our life so we can live more fully that will make us successful.

Learning how to utilize and develop your “full” brain, while uncovering and replacing your old stories and habits of mind that no longer serve you with those that are more in line with supporting your best selves, starts first with self-awareness.  However, this is just the first step because then we need to “do the work”.  This is the hard stuff.

This is why I think the Striving Styles Personality System (SSPS) is so incredibly effective and offers a more comprehensive development process.  It provides a systematic approach to building self-awareness and emotional intelligence for those who want to achieve personal goals and reach their full potential.

The SSPS is an evolution of Carl Jung’s research on personality type and the MBTI.  While I have extensively used and worked with the MBTI in organizations, and still believe the MBTI is a very effective tool  when integrated into leadership and employee development programs, for improving teams, coaching individuals, and career planning, it doesn’t identify what is getting in the way of achieving our potential.

The SSPS development process helps us to examine our mindset and uncovers those negative habits of mind, including your shadow fears, beliefs, and triggers, that ultimately undermine your efforts, ambitions and potential.  It helps us understand how our brains are organized and hardwired, as well as the specific needs and emotions that drive your behaviour.  It helps identify behavioural patterns we developed as children that no longer serve us.  It offers a deeper understanding of your predominant style, your major psychological needs and fears that are associated with your style, and your associate styles, so you can look at some of the things that might be getting in YOUR way of achieving your potential.

The SSPS is a development tool that offers a way of understanding ourselves, which helps us be able to answer the questions “who are we meant to be?” and what is it that is getting in the way of achieving our full potential.

Your success will be determined by getting clear on what you want in your life and how you want to show up for yourself and others, by valuing your unique strengths and your quirks, and by developing good habits, and developing a positive mindset.  As usual, I like Maya Angelou definition of success:

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” ~ Maya Angelou

As a bonus, here are some other factors will determine your success:

  • Have a growth mindset, defined by Carol Dweck as “people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”
  • Get clear on what you want in your life and what does it looks like (1 year, 5 years, 10 years). Your vision statement should describe where you are going to be, and the values you will use to get you there.
  • Know your “why” of your vision because it is your ultimate motivator and is the one the thing that will inspire you and those around you.
  • Utilize meta-habits, or those foundational habits that enhance your ability to adopt other habits, such as exercise, self-knowledge, meditation, quality sleep, etc.
  • Believe that you have self-determination, the belief that you have control over your choices and your life.

Photo source: Susan Wheeler (pink rose in my garden, North Vancouver, BC)