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Let Nature Heal You

April 22, 2014

get lost in nature

 

It’s Earth Day – a perfect time to reconsider and renew your relationship with the natural world. Think about your connection to nature – how often do you spend time outdoors? Not commuting or running errands, but with the deliberate intent to be with nature.

Even though studies show that even 30 minutes outdoors can boost vitality levels and curb depression, most adults are spending less time outside. And only 6% of our children, aged 9-13, are playing outdoors in a typical week.

We all need to be part of the natural world because we are part of the natural world. Our growing estrangement from nature is unhealthy for body and mind; the gulf between us fraying our bond.

Regular, direct contact with the natural world can soothe, heal and uplift us. This Earth Day, let these great words and visuals inspire you to allow nature to do its work on you.

  Read more…

Acceptance ~ Enabling Peace

April 10, 2014

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Acceptance has a bad rap.

In cultures where progress and improvement are a constant quest, accepting  what is  seems passive. Those of us who grew up in fix-it, more-is-better cultures still bristle at the idea of  “letting go.”

For a long time I justified “arguing with reality” because I told myself I was a passionate, strong-willed person who was driven to make changes for the better. I still am a strong-willed person with many passions, but one who is practicing loosening my grip. The more I work on the art of acceptance, the more pockets of peace I find opening within.

When we think about acceptance, we’re often thinking about the circumstances in our lives. What we “accept” and what we don’t is usually based on the stories we tell ourselves,especially about who we are and why we are the way we are. These stories can sometimes be excuses for behaviors that may not serve our needs or ultimate outcomes.

Our non-acceptance can be as simple as whining about bad weather on a vacation, griping about a co-worker’s habits or to the inevitable personal challenges everyone must face at some point in life.  We can usually tell when we’re resisting what is  by the way we feel. Irritation, annoyance, anger, resentment, regret and, of course, anxiety. Because so much of our behavior is reactive and not intentional, it is easy to resist what is.  Read more…

Optimism ~ Radical Act or Magical Thinking?

April 3, 2014

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Recently I discovered a quote that grabbed my attention.

According to Alex Steffens, co-founder of WorldChanging.com, who was described in the New York Times as a “designing optimist,”  “Optimism is a political act.”

If you’re spending time online these days, you may be caught between headlines like the upbeat promise to Break Free of Your Struggles in 2 Steps and the dire IPCC report, Climate Change a Threat to Food, Security & Mankind.

The inner conflict between world views brings me back to exploring some basic questions about the nature of optimism, pessimism and the actions they propel. I’ve written before about cynicism and positive thinking but unrelentingly grim news compels me to revisit this territory. 

Steffens’ bold statement raises interesting questions. Don’t get sidetracked by the term political – this is not about partisan politics. Steffens, I believe, is talking about the status quo – whatever it is. Our institutions and systems are badly broken and the paralysis of pessimism isn’t going to fix or transform them.

Steffens is arguing that the very nature of  the conversation about optimism is driven by status quo thinking.  We either believe that we can solve the world’s most pressing problems (and everything in-between) or we can’t.

Steffens believes that “entrenched interests use despair, confusion and apathy to prevent change. They encourage modes of thinking which lead us to believe that problems are insolvable, that nothing we can do matters, that issues are too complex to present even the opportunity for change.  It is a long-standing political art to sow the seeds of mistrust between those you would rule over; as Machiavelli said, tyrants do not care if they are hated, so long as those under them do not love one another. Cynicism is often seen as a rebellious attitude in Western popular culture, but, in reality, cynicism in average people is the attitude exactly most likely to conform to the desires of the powerful – cynicism is obedience.”

In Steffen’s model, the status quo benefits from confusion. “I’m more and more convinced that the instrumentalism in the absence of committed vision always serves the politics of impossibility.” Given the power of institutional culture, how is our thinking about what’s possible being shaped? What are business, government and big data telling us about change and what is possible? Read more…

Listen, are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?  

March 27, 2014

 

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Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver’s haunting question should become a mantra for life in the 21st century.

Seemingly inured to stress, too many of us speed through each day without taking the time to stop and ask – what have I traded a day of my life for today? Jumping on the mindfulness bandwagon dozens of articles still ask, “Can you afford ten minutes to devote to the practice?”

Collectively we know that stress is a slow killer but it’s not changing our behavior. How much information do we need before we start shifting destructive behaviors that pose real threats to our personal and social well-being?

Lack of sleep (which new data shows leads to brain cell loss) is endemic. There is no single behavior that is more basic to human performance than sleep. Yet, in cultures like the U.S. where many people believe that sleeping less adds to productivity, the average sleep duration is now around 6 hours.  It’s a vicious cycle – less sleep exacerbates stress which leads to less sleep.

Suicide rates are escalating at an alarming rate surpassing deaths from auto accidents in the U.S. Recently, an inexplicable series of suicides among men, especially younger workers, has shaken the financial sector.   Last August, the finance chief at Zürich Insurance Group committed suicide and left a note blaming the company’s chairman for creating unbearable work environment.

Read more…

5 Practices for Mindful Communication ~ Revisited

March 20, 2014

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It’s getting difficult not to bump into the word mindfulness these days. While mindfulness is mostly associated with meditation, I like to think of it as a way of being in the world.

Mindfulness meditation “practice” is valuable – and it will likely have multiple ripple effects in every corner of your life.  A new study at The University of Utah has confirmed its benefits and shown that mindfulness affects stress responses throughout the day. According to researcher Holly Rau, “People who reported higher levels of mindfulness described better control over their emotions and behaviors during the day.”

Magic?  No.  Methodical practice of retraining the brain to respond to stimulus differently builds cognitive flexibility in ways we are just beginning to understand.

In an age of looking outside of ourselves for solutions, mindfulness practice turn out to be the ultimate insider “strategy.” The magic of mindfulness is that it rearranges neural networks in powerful ways. And the great news is that we are the “tool” that makes it possible.  Apps can remind us when to breathe, sit and slow down, but only we can make it happen.    Read more…

BeFriending Anger – The Emotions Series Reprise

March 13, 2014

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“Anger can be a wonderful wake up call to help you to understand what you need and what you value. Thich Nhat Hahn

For seven years I regularly facilitated seminars on conflict resolution.  Most of the group participants wanted answers to problems they saw as the source of their conflict. Usually this had to do with fixing the behavior of another person.

Imagine the surprise when I asked them to reflect on a set of questions that focused almost exclusively on their own anger.

What do you believe about anger?

What is its purpose?

How do you express your anger?

How do you want others to express their anger to you?

How do you repress your anger?

Do you do anything to shut down the anger of others?

If your anger could talk, what would it say? Read more…

5 Things We Need to Tip the Balance for Women’s Equality

March 8, 2014

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It’s International Woman’s Day again.  How shall we mark it?

Are we making progress? Yes, of course we are. Do we have a long way to go? You bet we do. But before we start taking stock of the state of women in 2014, let’s get our context clear.

We’re not going to talk much about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer or Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (author of the controversial book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead) two icons for a segment of working “professional” women.

Sandberg’s “social movement” Lean In has generated a (healthy) but often contentious debate among women who have greater access to economic and social resources than the average working woman whose median salary in the U.S. was  $37,791 in 2012. (Compared to men’s $49,398)

Dissecting the Lean In ethos in her excellent article in Dissent, author Kate Losse writes, “Life is a race, Sandberg is telling us, and the way to win is through the perpetual acceleration of one’s own labor: moving forward, faster. The real antagonist identified by Lean In then is not institutionalized discrimination against women, but women’s reluctance to accept career demands.”

In her entertaining “rebuttal” article, Recline!, Georgetown law professor and foreign policy analyst Rosa Brooks writes, Ladies, if we want to rule the world, or even just gain an equitable share of leadership positions – we need to stop leaning in. It’s killing us. We need to fight for our right to lean back and put our feet up.” 

As Brooks rightly points out, most women, especially those with children are still expected to work the “second shift” at home, since women still do far more childcare and housework than men.

The problem with much of the analysis on women’s empowerment or “equalization” is that most is focused on a narrow demographic of wealthier, well-educated women whose daily livelihood, rights and safety are often taken for granted.  Mainstream discussions about work are mostly defined by opinion-making elites with emphasis on “glass ceilings” and male dominated boardrooms. There is little recognition that the majority of female jobs: domestic, home care, retail services and other “contingent” work are “undervalued, virtually unregulated and precarious.” 

As Laurie Penny of the New Statesman writes, “While we all worry about the glass ceiling there are millions of women standing in the basement – and the basement is flooding”

Read more…

Living with Permanent Uncertainty

February 27, 2014

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Here’s what I have noticed lately ~ more and more people are talking about living in “uncertain” times.  It’s now called, “the new normal.”

The anxiety over our predicament of uncertainty appears to be a new discovery.

The economic earthquake of 2008/09 rearranged our thinking – and long-held assumptions about the future. We haven’t been the same since; our collective consciousness has shifted and the majority now believe we are living in an era of uncertainty.

Along with the popular acknowledgement that uncertainty is now permanent, comes the recognition that “chaos” is part the new world order.  Writing about his work to help the U.S. military “embrace” a future of uncertainty, Ori Brafman, author of The Chao Imperative: How Chance and Disruption Increase Innovation, Effectiveness and Success,  explains ,  “The military, one of the most structured organizations that has ever existed on earth, has realized that in order to be adaptive it needs to embrace elements of chaos.”

While we don’t know what this means for military priorities and practices, it’s a high-profile signal of a mindset shake-up in the establishment status-quo.

In his excellent blog, Unfolding Leadership, Dan Oestriech offers another example of the changing nature of our reality. In Leading Change in a VUCA World,” Dan points out that to lead change in a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) leaders must be able to adapt and stimulate continuous organizational change.  He points out that earlier models of change management are outmoded top-down strategies designed to maintain control and overcome resistance

Awareness is progress, right? We’re seeing mindsets shift as a society – business, medicine, education – every sphere of organizational life feels the difference and the pressure for change.  We’re not going back to the old world – and more of us know it but aren’t sure what’s next. While organizations and institutional systems will either spend the next years attempting to shore up power and control (fail) or flex and flow experimenting with new models, what will our personal response to a VUCA world be?

Cultures change when people do.  So how do we handle our new collective awareness that living is a state of permanent uncertainty?  Organizational instability is one pill to swallow, personal volatility – quite another. Read more…

5 Reasons Why Business Can’t Afford to Ignore Psychology for Another 100 Years ~Reprise

February 20, 2014

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“The problem with business is that it is afraid of dealing with the business of people.”

  W. Edwards Deming

Honestly, I  don’t get it.

Why is so much of business still in the dark about the basics of human dynamics?

Appyling awareness of human psychology to work is moving at a glacial pace while technology flies by it at the speed of light.

What’s taking so long?

Well, part of the story starts back in 1911 when Frederick Taylor – the “father” of professional management as we know it, propelled his ideas for advancing worker “efficiency.” The Taylor method prescribed a clockwork world of tasks timed to the hundredth of a minute, of standardized factories, machines and people. Naturally, ordinary workers resented having to work faster than they thought was healthy or fair.

Little was known or considered at the time about the “human dynamics” of workers and modern psychology was still in its infancy. In fact, it seems that the “human side” of worker’s needs was viewed as rather inconvenient by some of the industrial leaders of the time.  Surely, the inner workings of the human being were a nuisance at best to people like Henry Ford who complained, “Why is it when I need a pair of hands I have to get the whole man?”

Sorry Henry – that’s just how we work – we fussy messy human beings. We need things like meaning, security, purpose, pleasure, novelty and rest to “perform” at our best.

Sadly, the machine metaphors of Messrs Taylor and Ford still guide many of the underlying processes of the modern workplace. The command and control thinking and practices implemented during that time still drive many management behaviors today.

It’s still not uncommon for business leaders to ask questions like: Read more…

What Have We Learned from 20 Years of Emotional Intelligence ~ Pt.2

February 12, 2014

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Continuing the conversation started in Part 1 – several key questions keep surfacing.

One is the often unspoken tension between EI (Emotional Intelligence) and what is typically thought of as “therapy.” For anyone who has been involved in a therapeutic process, it’s immediately clear that learning and applying EI principles is very different from being “in therapy.”

Resistance to EI in work settings often comes from those who believe that any discussion of “feelings” is akin to the therapeutic relationship.  Organizational aversion to emotions reflects the larger cultural aversion to feelings.  Addressing collective cultural fears, Miriam Greenspan, author of Healing through the Dark Emotions, says, “We’ve mastered the internal regulation processes of emotion-phobia. Ours is a dissociative culture-a culture that separates body from mind, body from spirit, and feeling from thinking. This kind of dissociation is a special requirement of masculinity in patriarchy.”

Ms. Greenspan’s comments surface another interesting layer of the resistance to bringing EI learning into many organizations – men are often the decision-makers at more senior levels.  Many EI practitioners would agree that receptivity is greater among women.  Greenspan points out, “Both men and women are impaired in different ways, by our culture’s disability in relation to emotion and emotional communication. Emotional vitality and authenticity, a mature sense of emotional wholeness and freedom-these human capacities are hard to come by in a culture that doesn’t honor the body and the heart.” Read more…

What Have We Learned from 20 Years of Emotional Intelligence? Reprise

February 6, 2014

Technology and Industry

In 1995, Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ by Daniel Goleman was published. The introduction of Emotional Intelligence (EI) generated excitement and hope. Nearly twenty years later, it’s time to look at the progress and future of this work.

As a student of psychology and social systems, EI (Emotional Intelligence) had immediate resonance with my experience and offered some of what I believed was essential for personal and whole systems change.  At the time, there were no statistics to “prove” the efficacy of EI, no “ROI” (return on investment) data to sell skeptics on the value of people understanding their own emotional make-up and acting from that knowledge.

As I quickly began to integrate the concepts into my work, I could see the powerful impact this material had on the people I was working with. Turns out – a surprising amount of people in the workplace wanted to talk about feelings. They needed a framework and a sense of safety to give voice to what they were carrying around in their bodies.

The early days of working with EI were not easy, but gratifying. There were no “tools” or standardized tests to fall back on – just concepts and a willingness to deeply listen to emotionally hungry voices in the workplace. Aside from reassuring some people that  EI wasn’t “therapy,” I found mostly receptive audiences who wanted more. There was little in the way of “how to” in the early days of EI – and quite frankly, there still isn’t.

Clients from tech, the law and the sciences often pushed back. I improved my skills in the art of non-resistance. I found myself gently making the case that there was a place for emotions in the workplace. In fact, the workplace was filled with emotions, though often not the ones that inspired, motivated and supported people.  The “rational mind is everything” meme embedded in so many people challenged the idea that body/mind, thoughts/feelings were a unified system.

In 1998, Daniel Goleman released his landmark article in the Harvard Business Review, What Makes a Leader? The article established the “model” that most EI practitioners would use and offered research results from application of the principles in business settings.

This article and the release of his next book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, lent legitimacy to earlier assertions that EI trumped IQ as predictive of professional success. In his work Goleman was challenging the enduring belief that intellect and rationality alone were the keys to professional advancement. “They do matter,” Goleman stated in the article, “but mainly as “threshold capabilities, that is, they are the entry-level requirements for executives.”   Read more…

Why Neuroscience Should Change the Way We Work~Pt.2 Reprise

January 30, 2014

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Since I published Part 1 in April 2011 the article has consistently been in the blog’s top  10.  I’m grateful for the response and I’ve been inspired to write more about the fascinating, emergent world of neuroscience.

While I am a very informal student of the science, what I’ve learned has reshaped the way I approach my work.  As I wrote in Part 1, given this impressive new knowledge, I expect that slowly, but surely, organizational leaders will come to realize that too many of the beliefs, philosophies, methods, practices and strategies that govern their thinking about human dynamics and work are still stuck in post-Industrial Era mindsets.

While there are critics of neuroscience and its interpretations who worry about the “culture’s obsession with the brain and how we have elevated the vital organ into cultish status, mythologizing its functions and romanticizing the promise of its scientific study,” we’ve already realized great benefits from the science that is clearly here to stay.

What we now know about human development and optimal whole body-brain functioning should not only change the way we manage people at work – but how we raise and teach our children, provide health care, conduct our legal system and structure government policies and institutions.

In Part 1, I focused on the concepts governing management practices that can benefit from developing an understanding of neuroscience.  In Part 2, I want to broaden the applicability of neuroscience to more of organizational life. – specifically, culture. Read more…

How Good is Your Word?

January 23, 2014

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“What I’ve seen today for the first time is unacceptable. I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge.” (New Jersey Governor Christie in his 1st public statement on the “bridgegate” scandal)

“We do not market food to kids.” (McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson in response to a protest by food advocates at the 2013 annual shareholders meeting)

“This position is going to another candidate who has more experience, but as soon as another comes available, I will contact you.”  (A recruiter unwilling to tell an anxious job-seeker the truth)

“I’ll get back to you after the meeting on Wednesday.” (It’s Friday and I am still waiting)

“Great to see you, things are crazy now but let’s get together after the holidays.(Neighbors, who haven’t socialized in years, running into each other at a local restaurant before the holidays)

From the unethical to the prosaic, most of us fallible humans exaggerate or even lie. We make promises and commitments we don’t keep. The gap between intentions and action is growing.  It seems like more of us are willing to stretch the truth these days and that “good old-fashioned” virtues like honesty and responsibility are imperiled.

Many of us still believe that the moral high ground is being trampled on out there – while we keep up the illusion of our own rock-solid personal integrity.  The forces of self-deception are powerful and our inability to come clean about our own moral fault lines is understandable. Read more…

10 Quotes to Inspire Your Work in 2014

January 16, 2014

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The naysayers are already declaring that resolutions for the New Year have failed or inevitably will.  But from what we now know about habits and the brain we understand that unless we motivate ourselves – regularly – our intentions for change are likely to go unfulfilled.

It’s easy to become cynical in these times – even about our own aspirations and possibilities. It’s more important than ever to understand what we believe and how our actions are aligned with our behavior.

Here are ten quotes that can open the fields of possibility in 2014 – and beyond.

  1. “Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness.”–James Thurber

I recently rediscovered this quote and found such solid wisdom in its practical advice.  Regret and lack of forgiveness often mire us in the past and sap the energies we need to carry us forward.  I’ve often written about fear – the most corrosive and debilitating emotion. Don’t let it dominate you this year.  Thurber rightly reminds us that instead of becoming caught in ruminations of yesterday and the anxieties of tomorrow – to look around in awareness – right now – in the moment at what is.  The present is a potent place to be – let’s dwell in it more in 2014. Read more…

We All Need More Wonder & Awe ~ The Emotions Series

January 9, 2014

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Writing about his choices for the top films of 2013, New York Times movie critic Stephen Holden began his piece with an unusual explanatory note, “Generalized anxiety.” That is by far the most common complaint voiced by the clients of a prominent New York psychiatrist whom I recently asked to identify the malaise of the moment.”

In nooks and crannies and in big noisy headlines, tension and uncertainty are becoming commonplace memes in these times.  There are no easy or fast solutions.  There is no Rx. This is life as we have constructed as a society so far; conscious choices or not.

We’re in need of many things and technology can’t solve all of our problems.  In fact, it’s created many new ones – estrangement from genuine social contact, endless distractions, even addictions from device overload and perhaps worst of all – a growing detachment from the wonders of human existence.

Dare we still dream? Is it illusory and irresponsible to yearn for the luxuries of wonder – that feeling caused by seeing something that is surprising, beautiful and amazing?  Read more…

THE Diet for a New Year ~ the 7 Day Mental Cleanse

January 2, 2014

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Sometimes someone else captures the essence of what is on your mind –  this time it’s from Dr. Ken Druck’s New Year’s post

 With all due respect to the procrastination-ending promises, spirited goals, deeply-held commitments and news-making fresh starts, I’ve decided the opt out of this annual ritual and treat Jan. 1st as just another (precious, irretrievable) day. On January 1st, the sun will rise and fall for me in the absence of anything resembling a resolution. So what are my un-resolutions? What exactly am I going to step aside and allow to go unresolved? And why have I decided to do this?

Let’s start with the “why.” Well, for one thing, I’m tired of making agreements I might not keep, pressuring myself to be better, smarter, thinner, healthier, richer, happier or more at peace with life. No more trying, stressing and/or straining to willfully plan or control the future, putting myself on deadline to write the next book — and no more deflating false starts in 2014. I am giving myself time off from having to change anything. And devoting myself to a year of accepting things just the way they are. Accepting myself just as I am.”

Now that may sound unambitious to some –  but it makes perfect sense to me as I ponder the transition from one year to another.  If I have any “resolution” this year, it is to be gentler on myself in all things. This doesn’t mean I don’t have things I want to accomplish or improvements I’d like to make. It does not diminish my passion or enthusiasm for the new or for change. In fact, I’m more appreciative than ever of the small, steady changes I am making that are replacing old behaviors with new ones.  I expect that great, new things (ideas, people, experiences) will not only unfold, but are constantly unfolding. Often I feel I get in the way of those possibilities by the pressure I place on myself and trying to shape outcomes that are largely out of my control. 

The one thing I do know is that most of what I am in control of is my thinking. Everything flows from it. So I’m reprising this  article from 2012 – I hope it’s a helpful way to think about the New Year. How you approach the mental cleanse is important. In the spirit of lightening up and being easier on yourself, think of the mental cleanse as a vehicle to release persistent unhelpful thoughts especially those that tend towards self-judgment and comparison with others. A little goes a long way…. Read more…

Silence is a Great Peacemaker

December 26, 2013

Kent Shiraishi, photographer

“Silence is a great peacemaker” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

For the ancients winter and the passing of the old year signaled a time to slow down, a time for quiet reflection.  Those days are clearly over. In fact, the reality of modern life is that this time of the year represents for many, the busiest of the year.  The list of year-end to-dos seems to get larger every year.

Another “casualty” of modern life is quiet.

Amidst the cacophony of traffic, city noise, giant screen TVs, digital devices and the increasing noise pollution in our workplaces, quiet is becoming a precious commodity in the 21st century.

So rare is real silence that many people cannot even tolerate it. The void of silence must be filled with sound to keep ourselves from ourselves. Read more…

The Joy of Giving Back ~ 2013

December 19, 2013

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Welcome to the annual (just made that official) Joy of Giving Back post.  It’s a labor of love that gets a great reception. As I wrote last year, there isn’t enough space to highlight the many wonderful organizations that do extraordinary work in service of others around the world. Every time you feel the cynicism creeping in – remember – somewhere right at this moment, thousands of people are doing selfless work that benefits those in need. So I hope you’ll help these efforts by opening your heart and your wallet to give what you can to these worthy causes.   Read more…

Communicating Intentionally ~ the Basics

December 12, 2013

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Four years ago this week I started this blog. Nearly everything about it has been a positive experience. I began with a simple message that is even more relevant for me today – and I hope for my readers – everything comes down to how we communicate.  All the things that we want and need start with a thought process that is communicated to others.  Most of us do it on auto-pilot. Often that limits or derails the results we want to get.  It can also leave hard feelings and unclear signals about who we are, what we want and how we really feel.

There’s a great quote by Stephen Covey that captures the feeling content of most communication, “We judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions.”  That’s often true but it usually happens at the back-end of communication. What’s more common is that we find ourselves in the midst of a communication and have no awareness of what our intentions are. 

Distractions, lack of focus, acting from a lack of emotional awareness (of self and others) and emotional self-protection, the quest for clean, clear, honest communication eludes even those most dedicated to it.  While I have tried to keep the focus of this blog on the workplace, I also champion life beyond work in an era where working has become synonymous with identity and life. In my work, I find a short line between how we communicate in our professional and personal lives. Developing more intentionality in how we communicate with others is a 24/7 committment. 

As I begin year 5, I want to again thank everyone who takes the time to read these (mostly too-long articles) and shares them with others. I’ve been so honored to have received so many wonderful compliments and have been deeply touched when something I write has resonance in another person’s life.  

Here’s the first post ~  Read more…

Empathy Killers

December 5, 2013

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I didn’t plan on writing about empathy this week. I got “hooked” while reading Nicholas Kristof’s compelling New York Times article, Where is the Love, over  “Thanksgiving” weekend and knew I needed to revisit the topic.

In the article Kristof writes about the pushback he’s received from many readers in his recent pieces on food stamp recipients, prison inmates and the uninsured.  Writing about hungry children, Kristof shares a comment from a reader who protested, “If kids are going hungry, it is because of the parents not upholding their responsibilities.”

While non-American readers of this blog may not relate to the public “debate” over government policies that produce such human misery and conflict here in the States – most of us can recognize the stunning lack of empathy some of Kristof’s readers display. Where is the love? Where is the empathy, indeed?  Since empathy is often a precursor to love – we begin there.

If you look behind every strong anti-empathy feeling – fear, anger, rage, frustration, resentment, disappointment, hurt, and hostility – you’ll find beliefs. Beliefs are the activators of feelings – and they drive all of our behaviors and decision-making.

Some beliefs are empathy-killers Read more…

Creating a Culture of Gratitude in the Workplace – Reprise

November 21, 2013

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As we approach the holiday season, lots of heart-felt stories about kindness and giving start to appear.  Tis’ the season, so to speak.   It’s a time when even the busiest and most cynical among us pause (even if only for a short time) and reflect.   But too often, the feelings of gratitude that the holiday spirit may generate are focused only on family and friends.  Gratitude, after all, is not an emotion most of us associate with the workplace.

But what if gratitude were commonplace in the workplace?

What do you think the impact of a culture of gratitude would be on well-being, relationships, cooperation, stress, creativity, performance and productivity?

Gratitude is a powerful emotion.  A growing body of research within the past decade has demonstrated the significant physiological benefits to those experiencing gratitude.  Studies at the University of California (Davis) and the University of Miami showed that experiencing gratitude balanced hormonal levels and led to the release of DHEA, “the anti-aging hormone.”  Gratitude also boosts the immune system by increasing the LgA antibody.  These studies found that engaging in daily “gratitude exercises” can raise the level of positive feelings.

When we activate and experience emotions like gratitude and appreciation, they can become more like our “default” emotions because neural networks are reinforced through repeated experience.

The mounting evidence shows that “gratitude represents the quintessential positive personality trait, being an indicator of a worldview oriented towards noticing and appreciating the positive in life.” (Journal of Personality and Individual Difference)

According to research at the Institute for Heart Math“true feelings of gratitude, appreciation and other positive emotions can synchronize brain and heart rhythms, creating a body wide shift to a scientifically measurable state called coherence. In this optimal state, the body’s systems function more efficiently, generating a greater balance of emotions and increased mental clarity and brain function.”

There’s no question that cultivating more gratitude and appreciation has a positive effect on the person experiencing it – but what about its effect on others? And does infusing a workplace culture with gratitude result in more positive outcomes? Read more…

I Me Mine ~ Don’t Get Stuck in Your Story

November 14, 2013

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Every person grows up carrying a narrative about who they are.  Most of that story is formed early in childhood with new chapters added to include adolescence and experiences as adults.

The childhood stories are mostly formed by our parents and significant care-givers’ narratives about who they think we are.

Mom says, “Tom’s a dreamer and very creative.”

Dad says, “Tom’s smart but lacks academic discipline and focus.”

These are often the stories parents needed to tell themselves to explain you to them.  They had dreams and expectations – even if unarticulated – and you stepped into them. Unless they were consciously aware, you were part of their unexamined narrative.

Our stories are also shaped by perceptions of who our parents were: “My father was unable to understand me and I never got the recognition I needed. The only support I got was from my mother.”

Then  teachers, family members, neighbors and peers add-on to the story “With your grades, Tom, I’d aim for a less competitive school if you want to get accepted.”

While some of those perceptions may contain truths, other peoples’ stories about us are often a product of their projections.

Eventually themes emerge from these stories. We patch them together, mix them with our own experiences and create the stories we tell about ourselves. Read more…

It’s Not Business, It’s Beauty

November 7, 2013

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“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, from The Miracle of Mindfulness

Every week another article announces the decline of the liberal arts education.

In last weeks’ New York Times article, As Interests Fades in the Humanities, Colleges Worry, author Tamar Lewin reports that the future of Stanford University’s liberal arts programs appear to be in jeopardy.  Lewin reports that although 45% of the undergraduate division is clustered in the humanities, it has only 15% of the students.  Computer science is now the university’s most popular major.

This seems to be the increasing fate of more and more universities. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) programs eclipse the humanities and draw ever-growing numbers of students hungry for job credentials.  The recession, states Lewin, has helped turn college into largely a tool for job preparation – and administrators are concerned.

I am too.   My undergraduate liberal arts education was one of the important experiences of my life.  Chekov. Dickens.  Darwin. Marx. Architecture. Urban Studies. Modern Art.  Worlds within worlds. Wonderful revelations. Rich conversations. New directions.  Deep connections.

I’m envisioning a society devoid of writers, painters, poets and historians and it scares me.  But mostly I’m worried about truth and beauty. Where will we find it – and most important, will we care?

According to Nathaniel Whittemore, a principal at Learn Capital,  the notion of liberal arts began in ancient Greek and Roman societies and emerged from the idea that there were certain fields of knowledge that every free person should have command of.

For thousands of years, enlightened societies have agreed with this premise and organized their educational pursuits around this principle.  The idea was not simply about knowing things, but about cultivating certain attributes of the mind necessary to engage the world. Read more…

The 3 R’s of Leadership ~ Reflection, Relationships & Resiliency

October 31, 2013

 

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“We need to disavow ourselves of the notion that leadership is power over other people.”  Ed Batista 

I’ve often written about the slow death of the authoritarian leader – envisioning the demise of command and control thinking as the prevailing force in organizational life. It is slow going – isn’t it?  At least it feels that way to me – even as an “observer” in my role as a consultant.

The power issue hangs over us.  Although there is a more enlightened language of leadership evolving – we have few examples of leaders and organizations that are truly charting a new course in the ways they manage their power.  While it is necessary to distinguish power derived from formal authority from the many informal means of power within a system, most organizations are still structured to empower few people at the top.

But there is another more subtle and insidious form of power that keeps people in line and emotions frozen in time – and that is the nature of relationships between formal “power holders” and their “direct reports.”   I’m referring here to not only the power to act and achieve goals, but the power to express and feel what naturally arises for employees in the course of their work.

In a world characterized by extremes and polarities in language and feeling, it’s always important to clarify that I’m not advocating an emotional free for all at work – rather the honest expression of emotion.  This is a form of power that is rarely spoken about inside or outside of the workplace.

As my “manager” you may empower me to make certain decisions and execute them within established parameters – but that usually doesn’t mean that I can openly disagree with your choice or that of the organization for fear that my frankness will be interpreted as a sign of not being a “team player,” or worse.

From my organizational view, fear still dominates the emotional undercurrent in most workplace interactions. This is most evident when we confront traditional power. Sometimes the fear is subtle but it stills shapes the nature of the communication and contribution.

In a recent article in Fast Company,  10 Ways to Lose Your Best Employees, Andrew Benett author of the Talent Mandate wrote, I spoke with a prominent business school professor who told me that no corporate function lags behind today so dramatically as talent. He sees improvement and innovations in every area except in the vital matter of managing people. That’s astonishing – and its lunacy at a time when people costs tend to be upwards of 50 percent of a company’s expenses”

While I appreciate Mr. Benett’s pragmatic concerns for the corporate bottom line I’m more concerned about the frustration, anxiety and general unhappiness of so many employees as they try to do their best work under the ever increasing stressful circumstances common in today’s workplaces.

In his prescription for on-going employee disempowerment, Benett advises organizations to place jerks in management and reward the old-fashioned, autocratic style that stifles unorthodox creative thinking and feels threatened by youth and dynamism.”  I’d add continue to hire managers that have little or no ability or interest in people skills. In fact, many managers are still debating whether it makes a difference.  Or they don’t have time for it.  Or they don’t believe in it. This, by the way, is not confined to any one generational mindset. While Millennials are more predisposed to social contact and its value, their ability to communicate effectively is not guaranteed by their age.

Most leaders are doers. They are about getting things done. Concrete, tangible actions that move the ball forward – to use a hackneyed, but common U.S. football — business metaphor.  The 3 R’s of leadership I recommend don’t typically come to mind in the world of doing. They are about being – a way of being as a leader that requires great thoughtfulness, discipline and grace.

Living and acting from the 3 R’s requires a leader’s ability to shift attention from the ubiquitous bottom-line and redirect towards these three priorities: Read more…

We’re Up Against our Mindsets

October 24, 2013

 

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Mindsets aren’t a new concept to me. I’ve been working with my own for a long time. I’m now conscious that I’ve constructed walls and obstacles that are buried deep within my thinking patterns.  I’ve also had the good fortune to understand that many of these blocks in my thinking aren’t even my own. I inherited them or was taught them by the powers that be around me as a child, adolescent and less so – as an adult.  As I wrote in Blind Spots, thinking about my past I’m still amazed at what I could not see.  When these blind spots are revealed, I feel myself a little freer – a little more like me.

We don’t teach our children about their mindsets.  By mindsets, I mean that constellation of thoughts, beliefs (assumptions, expectations) that give rise to feelings and result in behaviors.  The closest most mainstream  pedagogy gets to that language is critical thinking.  As a culture we don’t value helping children become students of their own minds.  We still rely on group conformity while praising individual talents.

Unfortunately, formal education has become more about competing and winning with little emphasis on deep analytical learning.  While in the past a liberal arts college education often afforded the rare opportunity to learn the tools and value of self-inquiry, schools today are moving to curriculum and culture geared to the job market.

Victor Ferrall, president emeritus of Beloit College and author of Liberal Arts at the Brink, has said, “The problem is not that some place  that call themselves “liberal arts colleges” really aren’t anymore, but rather the number of Americans who see the great value a liberal arts education provides is dwindling. In today’s job market how is anyone going to get a job as an anthropologist or historian, let alone a philosopher or expert in 19th century literature?”

Not only should we question whether the future will be filled with nothing but technologists, engineers, bankers and attorneys – but will it be barren of historians, librarians, poets and artists?

Will it make a difference to future employers that we can now prove that good literature is good for your brain?  Turns out neuroscience research is demonstrating that when we read Shakespeare and the poets we get a much bigger brain boost than self-help and easy reads. According to Liverpool University professor Phillip Davis,Poetry is not just a matter of style. It is a matter of deep version of experience that adds the emotional and biographical to the cognitive.” Read more…

Forgiveness at Work – Cleaning our Emotional House ~Reprise

October 10, 2013

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Forgiveness is a lovely idea until you have someone to forgive.”  C.S. Lewis

I’ve thought a lot about forgiveness lately. Often when we face life’s major passages, a flood of old thoughts and feelings suddenly reappear. But I must admit that I am not at the place where I started when I began to think about the concept of forgiveness for this post. My longer than usual research took me to deeper places than I had imagined. I realized how complex, fragile and essential the role of forgiveness is to every human being and every culture.

While most of us engage in small acts of simple forgiveness every day – for many there are chasms of wounds that lay untouched, waiting for the resolution and reconciliation that may never be. For thousands of years, the concept of forgiveness has mainly been the province of religious and philosophical teachings.  The legacies of those theological and moral influences formed imperatives to forgive and repent.  Not until the post-WWII era of collective psychology did the idea flourish that forgiveness had value and purpose in everyday life.

The motivation to forgive was no longer simply atonement in preparation for eternal life, but greater freedom to living a fuller life in the present. The why and how of forgiveness has since occupied therapeutic relationships, 12 step programs, popular fiction and self-help books and most recently – entire countries and cultures as they seek to resolve their pasts and begin anew. In the past two decades, neuroscience has contributed to our understanding of the impact of forgiveness in interpersonal relations and personal well-being.   Scientists are now able to find areas of neural activity and link those to experiences of forgiveness. This advance is providing major insights into the nature of forgiveness and a range of other related emotions. Read more…

Everything Old is New Again

October 3, 2013

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Most bloggers track the statistics on their reader’s preferences.  While the motivation for writing a particular article can vary. most writers will admit to an “attachment” to certain pieces and a tinge of disappointment when those articles just don’t generate the buzz you’d hoped for. This week I’ve gone back into the archives and revisited some of the articles I like that didn’t ignite with my readers.  I hope they will find a new audience.  Read more…

Blind Spots ~ Getting Past Our Fixed Mindsets

September 26, 2013

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When I consider my past, I’m amazed at what I just did not see.  I wonder – what was I thinking at the time?

Experience is not only a great teacher in the moment, but it gives us a context that changes our perception going forward.  Once you know what you know – about your own behavior, a job, a friend, a leader; you simply do not see things in the same way.  While we may attempt to suppress what we knowonce we know, denial becomes a much harder emotional challenge.

But what about now?

What can’t we see – and why can’t we see it?

How can we expand our perspective – and consequently our behavioral choices if we don’t know what we don’t know?

And what do we know about – not knowing? Read more…

The Emotions Series – Befriending Anger

September 19, 2013

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“Anger can be a wonderful wake up call to help you to understand what you need and what you value.” Thich Nhat Hah

For seven years I regularly facilitated seminars on conflict resolution.  Most of the group participants wanted answers to problems they saw as the source of their conflict. Usually this had to do with fixing the behavior of another person.

Imagine the surprise when I asked them to reflect on a set of questions that focused almost exclusively on their own anger.

What do you believe about anger?

What is its purpose?

How do you express your anger?

How do you want others to express their anger to you?

How do you repress your anger?

Do you do anything to shut down the anger of others?

If your anger could talk, what would it say?

These were often intense and exciting conversations.  From the boisterous to the contrite, one thread ran through the hundreds of groups I listened to – the majority had never taken a deep look at the nature of their own anger.  A specialist in understanding anger, Dr. Steven Stosny, founder of Compassion Power, writes, “Most people with real anger problems think that something outside of them controls what they think and feel.”  This belief isn’t confined to those with “anger problems,” most of the people I met in these groups were trying to solve problems that were outside of their control.  This indeed is a recipe for more anger. Read more…

Work Isn’t Life ~ Reprise

September 12, 2013

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The historian and author, Studs Terkel, famously wrote, “Most of us have jobs that are too small for  our spirits.” 

 A few of you might be reacting to the title of this article thinking, Hey, my work is my life,” or My job is the most fulfilling thing in my life.

But that’s not what this article is about. Because life isn’t work. Yes, it can be a Big part of life, but it isn’t life.  In fact, in the recent popular news of a palliative nurses’ summary of the regrets of those who are dying, the only mention of work was, “I wish I had not worked so hard,” especially from men.

While it is thought that Freud said  Work and love are the cornerstones of our humanness, it is true that work is the primary activity in most people’s lives.   Work and love (however we define it) still are the primary forces that drive most of our actions.

For many, the role of work has changed dramatically in modern life.  The way we work is being redefined. The meaning of work is in the process of global redefinition. Yet, in many ways work’s deeper meanings still form the underlying basis for how work motivates us.

David Whyte, the inspiring author of “The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship, writes, All of us living at this time are descended from a long line of survivors who lived through the difficulties of history and prehistory: most of whom had to do a great deal of work to keep the wolf, the cold and the neighboring tribe from the door. Work was necessity: work meant food, shelter, survival and a sense of power over circumstances. Work was, and still is, endless.”

While the need for “food, shelter and survival” remains, the meaning of how we define work – and the context of work as part of life is changing.  And an important part of that equation is our constantly evolving sense of our “power over circumstances.” How that power is defined and who determines it is a critical aspect of the meaning of work – and life. Read more…

Mindfulness Goes Mainstream

September 5, 2013

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The topic of mindfulness is popping up everywhere. While these somewhat militant monks seem the antithesis of the quiet, calm imagery associated with all things mindful, the message speaks to a larger wish for more awareness and sanity in a culture that often feels chaotic and confusing.

From the pioneering program started by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979 to the corporate tech giant Google’s “Search Inside Yourself” program, mindfulness is as they say – trending.

Is it a fad? Well it could be, but I am hopeful that once discovered – and practiced – the benefits of mindfulness will create converts.  For those, like me, who have regularly practiced mindfulness for years, it is a place that offers so much comfort and renewal that it becomes one of life’s great pleasures.

Corporations may sign on simply to improve their bottom-line and while that’s fine, more mindful employees will make more mindful decisions that may shake the status-quo mindset. Exhausted employees looking for new coping strategies and ways to “get-ahead, “ will hopefully discover that being and acting more mindfully can be life-altering. Mindfulness has a way of opening the” doors of perception” and your original intention for practicing may be eclipsed by deeper awareness. Read more…

What are you Giving?

August 29, 2013

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I refuse to buy into the belief that there are more takers in the world than givers.

Naïve?

The media is filled with stories about the greedy, the callous and the downright meanness of some people today.  Greed’s gotten so bad that we’re now applying scientific study (a good thing) to understand it better. While we recoiled when Gordon Gekko proclaimed  “Greed is Good.” in 1987, we accept the “reality” of inequality with alarming resignation in 2013.

Despite an endless stream of articles extolling the virtues and value of collaboration in the workplace, surveys show that 70% of respondents preferred to deal with others – indirectly – using technology and not in-person contact to communicate. While there’s nothing wrong with expedient communication in the workplace, there is no substitute for human “warmth.” It’s estimated that one in seven employees are bullied in the workplace. Rather than recognizing these statistics as a warning statement about our cultural debilitation – we consult the how-to section for help.

We’re busy. Some of us are Very Busy. We’re crazy busy and our actions are shaping how we work and how we connect with other human beings.

We’re distracted.  The average time adults spend in front of digital screens is 8 hours. Most people still believe that multi-tasking works (or they are so habituated that it becomes difficult to stop) despite studies that show that the brain cannot fully focus on one task while doing the other. The word multi-task has now made its way into the common lexicon. Because the brain processes different types of information from different channels, the switching required to multi-task is simply inefficient.

We’re stressed – much of the time.  Giving requires engendering kindness, empathy and compassion. These, emotions, rather than rules of etiquette, obligation and civility are the fertile ground from which genuine giving flows.  Research into the “altruistic” emotions, particularly compassion is showing that the safer we feel, the more we enable our biological system to promote compassion.  According to researcher Emiliana Simon-Thomas,In the face of another person’s suffering, the biological mechanisms that drive our nurturing and care giving can only come online when our more habitual “self-preservation” and “vigilance-to-threat” systems (e.g. fear, distress, anxiety and hostility are not monopolizing the spotlight.”

In other words, enabling compassion (kindness, caring, consideration, empathy, gratitude) requires turning off our defenses..

Enlightened Self-Interest

Even if we’re only motivated by the great news that giving is good for us, there’s ample reason to routinely practice kindness. The evidence is mounting – acts of giving make us happier and healthier.  In her Time magazine article, Maia Szalavitz reports on a study published in Psychological Science that shows how social support translates into health benefits like lower blood pressure and healthier hearts.

Implicated in these pro-social acts is our vagus nerve, which connects social contact to the positive emotions that can flow from these interactions. Szalavitz says that “The vagus regulates how efficiently heart rate changes with breathing, and in general, the greater its tone, the higher the heart-rate variability and the lower the risk for cardiovascular disease and other major killers. It may also play a role in regulating glucose levels and immune responses.”

Acts of kindness are also correlated with higher levels of the “touch” hormone oxytocin, which release nitric oxide causing dilation of the blood vessels.  On a biochemical level, the so-called “helpers high” is thought to be due to increased levels of dopamine in the brain.  Read more…

The Power of Your Presence

August 22, 2013

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May you be present in what you do.”

John O’Donohue

In my last article, Is it Me? I wrote about the challenges of coping with indirect communication, which has become so common today. No matter how we try, this form of communication rarely leaves us feeling deeply satisfied. Sadly, too many of us have lowered our expectations.

We long for connection.  Very few of us are content with superficial human contact. In many ways, technology and the transactional world of business communication has reshaped how we communicate – and how we expect to connect with others.  When we experience the feeling of someone’s authentic (full) presence, we’re often amazed at the nature of the interaction. It can seem too intimate, uncomfortable – unreal. We’ve forgotten what it’s like to be in the presence – to be fully “real” in communication with another.

What do I mean by presence? It’s hard to describe this unmistakable feeling state. You know it when you experience it. For me, it is the sense of connecting (even briefly) with someone’s real being – their essence. It’s unquestionably a transmission of energy.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) the study of bioenergy is receiving increasing scientific attention. This research studies the effect of electromagnetic (EM) heart fields that result in levels of heart-rate synchronization.  It’s already been established that mothers synchronize with their baby’s heart rate, even in utero.

The Institute of HeartMath’s (IHM) research demonstrates that the heart, like the brain, generates a powerful electromagnetic field.  Director of Research Rollin McCraty reports that “The heart generates the largest electromagnetic field in the body. The electrical field as measured in an electrocardiogram (ECG) is about 60 times greater in amplitude than the brainwaves recorded in an electroencephalogram (EEG).”

The heart’s electromagnetic field contains certain information or coding, which researchers are trying to understand, that’s transmitted throughout and outside of the body. One of the most significant findings of IHM’s research is that intentionally generated positive emotions can change this information/coding. Read more…

Is it me? Coping with Indirect Communication

August 15, 2013

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“Human relationships are rich and they’re messy and they’re demanding. And we clean them up with technology. Texting, email, posting, all of these things let us present the self as we want to be. We get to edit, and that means we get to delete, and that means we get to retouch, the face, the voice, the flesh, the body – not too little, not too much, just right.”

Sherry Turkle, author, Alone Together.

I’ve been on a tech (+vacation) break for the past two weeks – no social media, blog’s been on hiatus and my email activity has been limited. Frankly, it’s been a pleasure – a welcome distancing from being tethered to a screen.  In the process I’ve been thinking a lot about technology – and humanness.

Because I’m self-employed, I can control my email inbox flow without any repercussions. I don’t have to use out- of -the -office reminders or respond to hundreds of “urgent” messages.   One of the perks of the “feast or famine” lifestyle of a freelancer is having the freedom to control the flow of information in your life.

So it’s easier for me to take an e-mail sabbatical than most of my clients who average hundreds of emails a day.  Actually, I can’t imagine it.  And I appreciate how challenging it is for so many people, especially those working in organizations, to keep up with correspondence under constant pressure.

My inbox falls into the following categories:

  • Personal
  • Business & related communication
  • Things I want to read, buy, keep informed about, etc.
  • Things I may have been interested in at one point and am iffy about deleting or unsubscribing

It’s clearly the last two categories that weigh down my inbox and I need to exercise a lot more control over the amount of information I receive.   With the first two categories, I try to be as prompt and thorough in my responses as I can be – even when I am very busy. Busy is a relative term, I know.

That’s why I am too often disappointed by the responses I get (or don’t) when I communicate via email. Read more…

~Taking a Break~

August 1, 2013

It’s time for a break.

Time for some new places ~ 

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Time to Catch Up on Reading ~

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Time to Do Some Writing ~ 

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Time to ~ 

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See you sometime in August 

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, subscribe, share, like and tweet this blog.  It’s appreciated.

Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants

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Mindfulness is a Whole Body Experience

July 25, 2013

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“Emotions like grief, fear and despair are as much a part of the human condition as love, awe and joy. Each of these emotions is purposeful and useful-if we know how to listen to them.”     Miriam Greenspan  

Intellectually, I know that emotions live in the body. The research demonstrating the mind-body relationship becomes more definitive each year.  But, primarily I know this because when I stay still long enough to deeply feel my body, I am humbled by the feeling of feelings.

Practicing body mindfulness gives me countless opportunities to listen to my feelings without judgment, analysis or resistance.

Mindfulness is not simply an activity of the mind, impacting the brain. Being mindful of the body gives us a glimpse of the profound truth of the experience of our bodies.  Is the anger I felt yesterday still present somewhere in my body? Is the chronic impatience I experience the headache I wake up with or the low-back pain I feel intermittently?  Is the pain in the neck I feel the irritation and frustration I often feel with a co-worker or recalcitrant teenager?

In Descartes’ Error, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio writes about the embodied mind.  In the book he presents the “somatic markers hypothesis,” which posits that it isn’t only the mind that thinks. Damasio stresses the crucial role of feeling in every personal decision, “the intuitive signals that guide us in these moments literally come in the form of limbic-derived surges from the viscera.” Damasio refers to these as “somatic markers.”

Without awareness of this “whole brain/body” data we operate, in essence, cut off from stored and spontaneous information that is vital not only to our decision-making, but to our overall well-being.

Recent studies from Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Arizona, Boston University, the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies and Emory University found that meditation may influence the way the brain processes emotions – even when you are not practicing it.  According to researcher Gaelle  Desbordes, “This is the first time that meditation training has been shown to affect emotional processing in the brain outside of a meditative state.”  Read more…

Lie to Me ~ revisited

July 18, 2013

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Three years ago, I wrote a post inspired by a popular television series at the time – Lie to Me.  The premise was based on the expertise of a scientist, whose exceptional talent to solve crimes through facial deception detection, caught the “liar” every week.   Easy Hollywood math – clever, gifted sleuth outwits crafty criminals and justice is served – in less than sixty minutes.

In the three years that have passed, trust levels in all institutions continue their steady decline, massive government secrecy is in the headlines and privacy is rapidly disappearing.  Deciphering lies is clearly getting more complex.

Although we like to think of ourselves as rational beings, living and working in reputable societies, today’s news and polling data reflect deeply divided and disaffected cultures where honesty’s definition is increasingly ambiguous. Read more…

The Voice in Your Head ~ What’s Your Work Narrative? – Reprise

July 5, 2013

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You have a mental dialogue going on in your head that never stops. It just keeps going and going. Have you ever wondered why it talks in there? How does it decide what to say and when to say it? How much of it turns out to be true?                  

What’s your workplace narrative – you know your storyline about your job, your boss, co-workers and the company you work for?

Actually, your narrative goes beyond that – it’s the accumulation of all your experience and thinking about everything that goes into your work.  Your narrative is a product of everything you believe or have experienced that has anything to do with work.

When you tell yourself something like, “There is never enough time to get everything done,” you are not simply reacting to the task at hand. More likely, you are voicing many accumulated frustrations and the prospect of more to come.  This is not to suggest that many people are not overburdened, overworked and overextended. They are.  While there are many reasons for this – and forces to “blame,” the Voice in your head is the one thing within your private domain to control.

The Narrative Matters. It can Inspire – It can Deplete

In this blog, we’ve talked about the inner critic that incessantly stalks and drives many of us.  We’ve discussed how beliefs trigger our feelings and shape our actions.  Both of these dynamics create powerful themes that influence the stories we tell ourselves about work, relationships, health, family, what’s possible and what isn’t.

Because work is such a time-consuming and identity-shaping theme in most people’s lives, the narratives we form, over time, are deeply important to understanding our feelings, values and motivations.

Our narratives are usually very resilient. They survive despite experiences that challenge them.  What’s important to remember is that every narrative generates multiple feelings and behaviors. Most of us don’t act outside of our narratives. Our actions reflect a particular narrative we have about people, places, things and events. Behavior follows.

Notice your emotional reactions as you are reading some sample narratives below. Some may be familiar, some not. Some may be yours.  The amount of resistance you have to a particular narrative should be a clue to investigate it further.

  • Unless I work very hard, I won’t succeed.
  • You can’t really trust anyone in the workplace.
  • Mine is a thankless job.
  • I’m just doing this job to pay my bills.
  • Nice (guys) finish last.
  • There’s no fairness in the workplace.
  • It’s all bullshit – everyone lies.
  • Only people who play the game get promoted.
  • My co-workers are incompetent, lazy, etc.
  • My boss is incompetent (a jerk, a liar, etc)
  • My company doesn’t care about its employees.
  • I’ll never get ahead in this job.

I’m not suggesting that some of these items can’t be “true,” but if you are constantly running these narratives in your mind, you can’t expect to feel good or perform well in the process! Read more…

Emotional Intelligence ~ 20 Years On ~ Part 2

June 27, 2013

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Continuing the conversation started in Part 1 of this article – several key questions keep surfacing.  One is the often unspoken tension between EI (Emotional Intelligence) and what is typically thought of as “therapy.” For anyone who has been involved in a therapeutic process, it’s immediately clear that learning and applying EI principles is very different from being “in therapy.”

Resistance to EI practice in work settings often comes from those who erroneously assume that any discussion of “feelings” is akin to the therapeutic relationship. As any practitioner of EI will attest, there are limits and boundaries for “safe discussions” about feelings in the workplace. Sometimes it’s a slippery slope. It takes a skilled practitioner preparation and close care to stay within guidelines for what is respectful, comfortable and acceptable within workplace settings.

Having a sense of safety is a deeply personal and universal need that often makes talking about feelings within the workplace, especially with colleagues and supervisors, challenging. I’ve discovered that without enough trust within a workplace or group, EI “training” can raise unresolved, even buried feelings and disagreements. While it is possible to create a safe context for even difficult feelings to be aired, many organizations are wary to do so.  Every EI learning experience should be preceded by a thorough discussion of goals, expectations and future steps to allow the development process to evolve.

Organizational aversion to emotions reflects the larger cultural aversion to feelings.  Addressing collective cultural fears, Miriam Greenspan, author of Healing through the Dark Emotions, says, We’ve mastered the internal regulation processes of emotion-phobia. Ours is a dissociative culture-a culture that separates body from mind, body from spirit, and feeling from thinking. This kind of dissociation is a special requirement of masculinity in patriarchy.” Read more…

Emotional Intelligence ~ 20 Years On

June 13, 2013

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In 1995, Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ by Daniel Goleman was published. The introduction of Emotional Intelligence (EI) generated a great deal of excitement and hope. Nearly twenty years later, it’s time to look at the progress and future of this work.

As a student of psychology and social systems, EI (Emotional Intelligence) concepts had immediate resonance with my experience and offered some of what I believed was essential for personal and whole systems change.  At the time, there were no statistics to “prove” the efficacy of EI, no “ROI” (return on investment) data to sell skeptics on the value of people understanding their own emotional make-up and acting from that knowledge.

As I quickly began to integrate the concepts into my work, I could see the powerful impact this material had on the people I was working with. Turns out – a surprising amount of people in the workplace wanted to talk about feelings. They needed a framework and a sense of safety to give voice to what they were carrying around in their bodies.

The early days of working with EI were not easy, but gratifying. There were no “tools” or standardized tests to fall back on – just concepts and a willingness to deeply listen to emotionally hungry voices in the workplace. Aside from reassuring some people that  EI wasn’t “therapy,” I found mostly receptive audiences who wanted more. There was little in the way of “how to” in the early days of EI – and quite frankly, there still isn’t.

Clients from tech, the law and the sciences often pushed back. I improved my skills in the art of non-resistance. I found myself gently making the case that there was a place for emotions in the workplace. In fact, the workplace was filled with emotions, though often not the ones that inspired, motivated and supported people.  The “rational mind is everything” meme embedded in so many people challenged the idea that body/mind, thoughts/feelings were a unified system.

In 1998, Daniel Goleman released his landmark article in the Harvard Business Review, What Makes a Leader? The article established the “model” that most EI practitioners would use and offered research results from application of the principles in business settings.

This article and the release of his next book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, lent legitimacy to earlier assertions that EI trumped IQ as predictive of professional success. In his work Goleman was challenging the enduring belief that intellect and rationality alone were the keys to professional advancement. “They do matter,” Goleman stated in the article, “but mainly as “threshold capabilities, that is, they are the entry-level requirements for executives. ”   Read more…

Your Beliefs Run Your Life But You Can Change the Story~Reprise

June 6, 2013

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“You see everything is about belief, whatever we believe rules our existence, rules our life.        Don Miguel Ruiz, author The 4 Agreements

“What’s the most resilient parasite? An idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules. Which is why I have to steal it.”  From the film Inception

Remember the film  Inception?   A riveting, mind-bending movie that raised fascinating questions about the potential of our dreams and the nature of our unconscious and subconscious worlds.

The film’s concept of “Inception” explores the idea of entering into another person’s subconscious mind (via their dreams) to implant an idea – a seed that takes hold and becomes a belief.  From this seed grow thoughts, feelings and actions.  The seed must be deeply planted, infused with emotion for the dreamer to live out their beliefs on a conscious level.

While the premise of the film is intriguing, the point of this article is not to examine the state of dream sharing technology – but to look at the underlying truth that beliefs are powerful motivating forces in our lives.

The idea that given the right emotional climate a belief, not of our own choosing, can drive our thoughts, feelings and behavior is certainly not new.

Beliefs, the thoughts we operate on as truth, are the engine that drives our experience.  They form the basis for our thinking, shape our emotional responses and result in actions, in and out of our conscious awareness.

Beliefs drive our actions at work, in relationships, as parents, as friends, as citizens, as consumers – every choice and decision we make is the result of the patterns of our belief system.

Beliefs run the show.  Trace the trajectory of a behavior and you’ll always find a belief underneath it. Read more…

The Power of Patience ~ The Emotions Series

May 9, 2013

 

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 “Why is patience so important? Because it makes us pay attention.”

Paulo Coelho

There’s an emotion that can make big changes in your life. It’s the emotion that many people I work with identify as the most desirable – in themselves – and in others.  This emotion doesn’t have the transcendent quality of awe and wonder – it works more quietly to soothe your anxiety and help you to see yourself and your surroundings with more clarity. It’s the mouse that roars. Yes, it’s patience.

Before I make my pitch for more patience in your life, let me offer you some bona fides on my journey to developing more patience in mine. If you tend towards more impatience, like me, you probably noticed these energies in yourself as a child.

Are you familiar with the marshmallow test, (a study where children were asked to delay their gratification by giving them a choice – one marshmallow now or two if you wait)?   The study, which measures and predicts self-control, is important because it alerts us to our natural tendencies towards patience or impatience.  I imagine I would have been the kind of kid who not only ate the first marshmallow but went outside to get the teacher to give me a reason why I couldn’t have them both right now!

Patience, famously described as “virtuous,” is both an emotion and a skill. Our impatience is usually triggered by external stimuli that is outside of our control.   Some of these “triggers” are classics:  long lines, traffic jams, airline delays, unresponsive customer service – all very “first world,” issues.

If you experience impatience, perhaps even chronic impatience, you have your own list of items that trigger you.  It’s wise to know what they are (this can be a long list) and to understand what you do when your buttons get pushed. Read more…

Mindful Feedback ~ Reprise

May 2, 2013

 

Most people don’t respond positively to feedback (a.k.a criticism).

The expanding knowledge we have about how the brain works is helping us to understand why.

Even under the BEST of circumstances, many of us find ourselves recoiling in response to hearing what others think about us.  Our receptivity depends on context, relationships and circumstances – but the greatest factor is our emotional state.

We’ve all heard the term “don’t take this personally,” right?

Actually, I don’t know what that means. I think it’s a way we buffer the blow of being hurt or hurting someone else. Because the so-called “emotional” and “rational” brains are a unified system, we cannot not respond to what someone says (or does) devoid of its feeling content.

In his excellent synthesis of the latest social neuroscience, author David Rock, developed the SCARF model to understand the brain’s perception in relation to the social environment.  According to Rock, “Two themes are emerging from social neuroscience. Firstly, that much of our motivation driving social behavior is governed by an overarching principle of minimizing threat and maximizing reward. Secondly, that several domains of social experience draw upon the same brain networks to maximize reward and minimize threat as the brain networks used for primary survival needs. In other words, social needs are treated in much the same way in the brain as the need for food and water.”

This process never stops. The brain never stops scanning for input to determine threat or reward whether we’re talking to our boss, best friend, significant other or granny.

Although responses will be mitigated by cognitive strategies that can have the effect of reducing the dissonance we may experience when we encounter unwelcome response from others, if the feedback/criticism is important enough, it can trigger a limbic response in us that engages the flight or fight mechanism.

While rationalization may ease some of the anxiety experienced, the limbic system responds to threat by triggering fear or anger in milliseconds.  Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are secreted into the blood stream and accumulate in the amygdala.  Because work is often a highly charged context for experience (given basic security and self-esteem needs) the workplace is often a stress producing environment even under the best of conditions.  This can preset an atmosphere conducive to triggering limbic arousal. Read more…

What’s Conscious Capitalism?

April 25, 2013

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“Capitalism is great, but it assigns no value to your grandchildren.”

Jeremy Grantham, Co-founder, Grantham, Mayo van Otterloo

Conscious capitalism is in the wind. At my shiny new Whole Foods , CEO John Mackey’s book, Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business is prominently featured in the front of the store.

In my inbox, I inspected the invitation to the launch of the Conscious Capitalism 2013 conference that was held in April in San Francisco.  In addition to talks by John Mackey, the agenda enticed me with workshops titled, Conscious Leadership is an Inside Job and  Consciousness and Complex Change.  I’m encouraged that this kind of conversation is happening on a larger scale.  But I’m concerned.  I don’t see anything on the agenda about climate change.   What about chronic long-term unemployment and income inequality? What’s that got to do with conscious capitalism?

In their book, Mackey and co-author Raj Sisodia profile the forward thinking practices of organizations like Trader Joes, The Container Store and Starbucks and predict that companies that focus solely on the bottom line, will be the end losers.

In her book review Christine Bader points to the indisputable points well-made in Mackey and Sisodia’s book:

  • Companies must take responsibility for their impacts on people and the planet
  • CEO’s that adopt systems thinking and take seriously the views of their staff and critics and catch problems before they escalate will do better in the long-run
  • Caring for workers, communities and the environment is not, as some argue, a distraction from fiduciary responsibility, but actually “the best way to optimize long-term profits and long-term shareholder value.”

But Christine also points out that an “over the top adulation of the private sector” pervades the book which falls short of any rigorous analysis. Read more…

Emotional Mindfulness: What Anger, Vulnerability & Despair Teach Us

April 18, 2013

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When I wrote the original version of this article two years ago, I was experiencing many contradictory feelings and wondered – how can so many potent emotions sit side by side within me? 

This week, I’m  again experiencing a whirlwind of feelings, many in response to global events; the Boston Marathon bombings, an ugly and seemingly intractable battle over gun safety issues in the United States and a near paralysis on the part of leaders and most citizens in the face of the inevitable climate crisis we will all face in one form or another – to name a few.

Fortunately, I don’t get lost in  sadness or despair, even when times are hard.  I feel grateful to have developed an emotional resiliency that feels balanced in light of so much pain – and joy in the world.  But I can, at times, feel a sense of vulnerability because of the limitations of my power to effect change. Popular TED talker (7 million +) and author of Daring Greatly, Brene Brown spoke about the complexity of allowing ourselves to feel vulnerable and joyful, “As someone who spent more than a decade studying fear, vulnerability, and shame, I never thought in a million years that I would say that joy is probably the most difficult emotion to feel. It’s hard to feel joy because we are so keenly aware that it’s fleeting. When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, we lose the courage to be joyful. Joy is a daring emotion! We are going to let ourselves stop in a moment that won’t last forever, that can be taken away. We feel almost that “you are a schmuck if you let yourself feel too deeply because the bad stuff is going to happen.”

Ever feel this way? Of course you do. You do, because you’re a human who is experiencing a range of feelings that can often seem completely at odds with each other. Brene Brown struck a deep chord with her TED talk and her later work because individually and collectively we aren’t used to talking about emotions like vulnerability and shame that leave us feeling powerless.

The truth, as writer Susan Piver, shares is, we are vulnerable. All the time. It is the truth of the fragility of the human condition, except that we forget it, deny it, bury it. We delude ourselves with the trappings of external power, but we are never far from our vulnerability. Susan Piver reminds us that what is sweetest and most tender about us is also a source of power. But, most of the time, we don’t allow it.  Mostly we don’t extend ourselves the gift of self–compassion or reach out to others for support when we feel emotionally weak or troubled.

We live in cultures that don’t respect vulnerability and sensitivity. It’s 2013 and we still don’t get our own human fragility and need for love and support. 

People often ask – What do I do with my contradictory feelings?  Which feeling do I pay most attention to?   Do I have to choose one feeling over the other? Read more…

10 Quotes To Work By

April 11, 2013

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The Road Ahead

 

Quotes can have a wonderful way of reminding you of what is deep and important in your life. I like to think of quotes as guiding principles – reflections of values – actively lived or lying dormant waiting to be rekindled. We put quotes on walls and desks for a reason. Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and the new Queen of the block, Pinterest prominently feature quotations to address every facet of life. Quotes are snippets of borrowed stories we’d like to realize in our lives. Using quotations to inspire and enrich our work lives can energize and revive our sometimes weary spirits.

Here are 10 of my favorites:

1. “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Albert Einstein

There are several variations of this well-known quote by Albert Einstein, but this one is my favorite. It’s been a long-time mantra for my work because it reminds me that the process of learning is continuously evolving. Of that we can be sure. Even when we are stuck in old mindsets, life’s experience will undoubtedly show us sometime new. But I believe Einstein was aiming for something else with this idea. We don’t have to sit still and wait for our consciousness to evolve, but can actively seek the knowledge and experience to broaden our thinking – and feelings – within the course of every daily interaction with the world. Curiosity is the key and imagination is the guide. Certainly the good professor would agree. Read more…

Mindful Work – AM to PM

April 4, 2013

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I recently had the pleasant surprise of receiving a copy of Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn’s latest book, Work: How to Find Joy and Meaning Each Hour of the Day from the publisher, Parallax Press.

For those of you unfamiliar with the work of Thich Nhat Hanh, known as Thay in his circles, the Zen master, poet, peace and human rights activist was exiled from his homeland of Vietnam in 1966. In the early 60’s in Saigon, Thay founded the School of Youth for Social Services, a grassroots relief organization that helped to rebuild bombed villages and set up schools and medical centers.  The work, based on the principles of nonviolence, led him to international recognition. During his exile, he traveled to the U.S. where he made the case for peace to Pentagon officials, most famously to Robert McNamara, a key proponent of the war’s escalation.

Thich Nhat Hahn’s teachings were instrumental in influencing Martin Luther King to oppose the Vietnam War publicly, helping to galvanize the burgeoning peace movement. The following year, Dr. King nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Since that time, Thay has become a renowned teacher combining threads from several Buddhists traditions to reach an international audience and thousands of retreatants at Plum Village in France and throughout the world.  He’s authored dozens of books which have sold over two million copies in the U.S. alone including the classic, Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life.

I’ve been attracted to the simplicity, practicality and sweetness of Thich Nhat Hanh’s work for many years. That’s why it’s a special pleasure to explore his wise principles as they apply to the topic of work.

There’s little I can say to add-on to this beloved teacher’s work – so I will let his words do most of the talking.  This simple monk’s wisdom shows us a way to think, act and be in our work through the power of the present moment.   Grounded in the real world, Thay teaches that no moment is ever lost – even if we “fail” to act mindfully. The next moment is another opportunity to compassionately start again.  Our great gift, the power of choice, is always available so that we can begin anew.  I like to think about these wonderful teachings as a North Star to help guide my work day.

Here’s a taste of this little gem of a book ~  Read more…

The Workplace (and the World) are Starving for Real Dialogue ~ Reprise

March 28, 2013

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“Our language is holographic. Each word contains not only the wide context of paragraph and sentence but the deeper context of our lives. When you interact with someone, their initial words carry the entire hologram of their consciousness.” 

William Isaacs, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together

Time to reprise an article whose message grows more important every day. Look around the workplace – and the world – and it’s clear that real dialogue is sorely needed to resolve increasingly complex problems, promote deeper intercultural understanding and unearth new ideas and solutions that will address urgent and future local and global needs. The time is now and talk (meaningful, authentic and respectful) is what’s needed.  Our growth and survival won’t be achieved through greater technology, social media,  science or leadership alone – but only through a daily commitment to reach out and engage others (in every sphere of life) with deeper and more enriching conversation.

Also ~ Many thanks to Jenny Ebermann, author of the blog, Mindful Leadership and Intercultural Communication for nominating this blog for the Liebster Award. While The Intentional Workplace doesn’t exactly qualify because of it’s larger audience, it is always lovely to receive recognition for one’s work – so thanks again Jenny! In the spirit of the award, I would like to identify another blogger whose work I enjoy. He’s Philipp Schneider author of the blog, Balanced Action, which I recently discovered.  Check out Finding the Being in the Doing for Philipp’s wise words and charming drawings.

Enjoy the article!
Read more…

A Different Kind of Spring Detox

March 21, 2013

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“Spring has returned. The earth is like a child that knows poems.

Rainer Maria Rilke

 

 

In this part of the world we celebrate the Spring Equinox this week.  Renewal, growth and beginnings all come to mind when we think about spring. For the winter-weary, spring brings relief that the harsh weather is close to an end.  The promise of spring is fulfilled from the first crocus sightings pushing their way through the remaining snow.

The days are getting longer and our thoughts turn to the outside world. Getting out in nature, planning outdoor activities and planting gardens – these are among the delights of spring.

In recent years, the coming of spring also brings dozens of articles on getting into physical shape, reorganizing closets and doing the ritualistic spring cleaning of our homes.  Every year there is more advice available on eating lighter – and not eating at all to fast from winter’s heavier caloric loads.

Though the methods may have changed, the rituals many of us practice at this time of the year have common threads to the ancient world. Take fasting – nearly every traditional culture practices some form of ritual fasting, usually for a religious or spiritual purpose.  For Christians, even though fasting during Lent is considerably more lenient than in ancient times (and rarely for 40 days) when all animal products were forbidden, it’s still part of the religious tradition.

In Judaism, there are two major fast days that last just over 24 hours and the Muslim fast for Ramadan (which is either 29 or 30 days) requires abstention from food and drink from sunrise to sundown during that period.  In some Pagan and Wiccan traditions, fasting is a way to get closer to the Divine.  While the express purpose in most traditions is spiritual, it’s hard to imagine that early civilizations did not realize the overall cleansing and health benefits of these rituals.

In the Hindu tradition called Chhath, the fasting in observance of the Sun God Surya, various steps of purification are meant to detoxify the body and the mind. The process of Chhath is done in gratitude for the sustenance of life on earth and to prepare the mind to receive an infusion of cosmic energy. This energetic jolt can also lead to the experience of Kundalini Shakti – Shakti being the one energy out of which all other energies arise – the ultimate creative force.

While a fast, detox, mental cleanse or ritual purification can be done at any time of the year, there’s something energizing about spring as it pulls us forward with its promise of new life. Read more…

5 Practices for Mindful Communication

March 14, 2013

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It’s getting difficult not to bump into the word mindfulness these days. While mindfulness is mostly associated with meditation, I like to think of it as a way of being in the world.

Mindfulness meditation “practice” is valuable – and it will likely have multiple ripple effects in every corner of your life.  A new study at The University of Utah has confirmed its benefits and shown that mindfulness affects stress responses throughout the day. According to researcher Holly Rau, “People who reported higher levels of mindfulness described better control over their emotions and behaviors during the day.”

Magic? No. Methodical practice of retraining the brain to respond to stimulus differently builds cognitive flexibility in ways we are just beginning to understand.

In an age of looking outside of ourselves for solutions, mindfulness practice turn out to be the ultimate insider “strategy.” The magic of mindfulness is that it rearranges neural networks in powerful ways. And the great news is that we are the “tool” that makes it possible.  Apps can remind us when to breathe, sit and slow down, but only we can make it happen.    Read more…

How Many Hours Do We Need to Work to Be “Productive?” Reprise

April 17, 2014

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“Work is no longer a place; it’s a state of mind. It’s become less about when I turn off the office lights and more about when I turn off (at least mentally) the inbox.” Christa Carone, Chief Marketing Officer, Xerox

Is the private life dead?

When you hired me, did  you buy my evenings, weekends and holidays?

Now that you can reach me anytime via my smart phone – should I respond when the “boss” is calling or texting and I am in the bathroom? How about when I am out for a walk with my child or on my way into a movie on a Friday night?

Maybe it’s important – I’ll just respond to this text.

What about that email from the boss that arrived at 5 am?   OMG – its 7 am already, he’ll think I’m a slacker because I didn’t respond earlier. I should start getting up at 5 because more people seem to be getting started to work around that time?

My boss gets to work at 6am – she says she likes to get an early start. When I was first hired I noticed she’s still there at 6pm! Does she expect me to put in a 12 hour day – everyday?

Unfortunately, all the above are real scenarios. My informal poll tells me the average salaried worker is putting in about 10 – 12 hours per day/night/weekend.

Is this productive? Read more…

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