Posts

Finding the Space

“Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

I do love this quote often accredited to Viktor Frankl (though it is not) and I share it in almost every workshop/training I facilitate.

Its message is spot on but to achieve this ‘space’, we need to develop our emotional self-regulation. This isn’t easy but it is essential. Self-awareness is the critical first step.

Knowing our values is part of this, as are developing strategies to create the gap between trigger and reaction, so we can choose our response and not get hijacked by the triggered emotion.

Being able to name our emotions also helps to take some of the significance out of them. Especially important for the ‘not so feel good’ emotions. And this does take practice! It’s incredibly liberating and confidence building when we have developed these skills. They also support us in becoming more resilient – one of the critical factors psychologists believe is needed to be successful both personally and professionally.

This is, in fact, what the above mentioned Viktor Frankl accredited quote is referring to. I truly believe we underestimate our ability and our responsibility in developing these skills. Most of us haven’t received any ‘schooling’ in these areas and many of our traditional role models weren’t able to demonstrate them either.

Organizations also have a responsibility to their employees in helping them develop these skills and also in making the systemic changes needed so their people can thrive. By investing in these critical skills, employees stay engaged and the likelihood of absenteeism (and the recently coined term ‘quiet quitting’) is reduced. It also creates an organization that talent will be drawn towards.

 

Navigating Stress: Suppress or Mitigate?

Did you know that humans are the only species that consciously or unconsciously suppress their stress recovery? Well actually, according to Stanford University Professor Robert Sapolsky, other primates like baboons do it as well. It’s one of the things that intrigues participants in my sessions on developing stress hardiness and resilience strategies.

It seems the higher evolved our intelligence is, the worse we are at protecting ourselves from the ravages of stress on our physical and mental health. As we have evolved, we have moved away from how our primitive ancestors handled stressful situations. A quick recovery was essential. It meant life or death.

Now, the stress response we trigger is usually with our thoughts, fears and worries. It’s not the same as if we’re being chased by a black bear or in my case, thinking we might be chased by one – something that happened while I was visiting my sister in Wild West Virginia this summer. FYI, the bear didn’t appear near her house until after I was gone.

Since it was only a thought, I didn’t have to run for my life. What would have happened though, IF I had let this thought hijack me emotionally? The hormones, glucose and neurotransmitters my body would have produced wouldn’t have metabolized, or at least not as quickly, as if I was running for my life. I would have had extra stress on my heart, blood vessels and other organs for hours, maybe even days. Our imagination is a wonderful thing, until it isn’t…

And yet, there are strategies, beyond the toddler’s shame and blame game (thank you Dr. Gabor Maté), that we can learn and apply to support our stress recovery in modern times. Science has provided us with the knowledge of how our bodies function and how we can best adapt to distress. We can even learn stress mitigating behaviors from other species, that enable us to become more resilient.

One participant asked me why we’ve evolved so far away from how we are meant to respond. Again, I think the reason has to be due to our evolved intelligence. We are continually triggering a stress response for non-physical (hence mental and emotional) causes. We have imaginations that create (disaster) situations which are unlikely to occur. In the words of Mark Twain: “I’ve been through some terrible things in life, some of which actually happened.”

Now, some worry is good for us. It can help us prepare for or prevent a future event that might be harmful to us. “That can lead to some important choices. If you worry about a car accident, you’ll wear your seatbelt. If you worry about skin cancer, you’ll wear sunscreen. Worry prompts you to do something that might be inconvenient, but protective. It also makes you prepare: If you fret about a job interview, you’ll spend more time preparing for it. “ 

The most definitive research (*see note below) I can find is entitled ‘Worry’s Deceit’ by Pennsylvania State University researchers.

They found that about 91 percent of worries didn’t come to pass. Of the remaining 9 percent of worries that did come true, the outcome was better than expected about a third of the time. For 24% of participants, exactly zero of their worries materialized. What a colossal energy drainer, don’t you think?

We are doing this constantly in our daily lives, and it’s taking its toll on our health. We need to learn healthy strategies to deal quickly with stress and build resiliency to thrive. We need to learn when we can make stress our friend. It is, after all, a signal. How we interpret that signal is something we can choose. For that, we need to become emotionally agile, so we can make the right choices that will support us. Luckily, our brains are malleable. We can learn how, no matter our age.

 

 

* LaFreniere, Lucas & Newman, Michelle. (2020). Exposing Worry’s Deceit: Percentage of Untrue Worries in Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treatment. Behavior Therapy. 51. 413–423. 10.1016/j.beth.2019.07.003.

Nothing IS Something

Next to the work I do in my company, one of my focuses over the years has been supporting women in advancing their careers and achieving gender balanced leadership. To this end, I recently co-authored and helped publish a book entitled ‘Ready for Female Leadership: The Future is NOW’.

In the past few years, I’ve expanded my desire for an ‘all encompassing’ equitable and inclusive workplace and society. This embraces not only all the ‘isms’ we commonly hear about but also one which has taken a backseat to all the others: ageism (I call ageism the ‘forgotten child of DEI strategies’ – hopefully a useful oxymoron).

In 2020 and 2021, I was fortunate to be a guest speaker for Vivian Acquah’s ‘Amplify DEI’ summits. She asked me a question in our pre-summit interviews: “What would you tell your younger self about the topics you spoke about (Discrimination and the Stress Response / 50 plus As Change Agents)? And why?”

My response to her was as follows, though perhaps not verbatim: “Every action has a consequence which falls somewhere on what I consider the scale of good or bad. Doing nothing is also doing something and that is bad. We all need to play a role to ensure racist and biased behavior becomes intolerable behavior.”

In replaying this back to myself recently, it made me think of an essay I wrote in the late 70’s. I had joined the Canadian Armed Forces as a military nursing officer. During basic officer training, we had to write an essay and share this to our group. A high ranking officer would grade us on poise and confidence. Nothing exciting came to mind as a topic, so I decided to write my essay entitled ‘Nothing is Something’. Here follows a portion of that essay. How I was rated by the attending officer is a story for another day…

The dictionary describes ‘nothing’ as:

  • Not any thing : no thing
  • Indicating the absence of meaning, value, worth, etc.
  • Of no importance or significance

Now let’s think about all the euphemisms we use for the word ‘nothing’ in our everyday language.

That person means nothing to me – which should tell the listener that this person is of no significance to me. Actually, it speaks volumes about the impression this person has made on me.

Nothing doing which means definitely no. If I hear a definite no then this is the opposite of yes, which tells me I’m not going to get what I want – and that is something.

Then we combine it with the word less. The idea is nothing less than revolutionary. [= the idea is revolutionary]

If you come to the party empty handed you have nothing in your hands, which can be very significant to the person hosting the party.

Has anyone ever told you that you have nothing to fear? Just how relaxed did this make you feel?

And when you see a wrong being committed against someone or society in general, doing nothing is tantamount to doing something, which could have very dire consequences.

The Cost of Doing Nothing

It’s this last one for which I hope you’ll sit up and take notice. How often have you let a minor or major transgression pass without calling it out, personally or professionally?

The cost of doing ‘nothing’ is incalculable: mentally, emotionally and financially to our society as a whole. Why would we perpetuate something that has so many negative consequences? Is it to preserve a false sense of superiority or privilege, which only serves to harm us? If so, how ridiculous is this?

We can all do something, even some little thing, to ensure an equitable and inclusive society. What will you do?

Trust IS the Glue

My work this past decade has focused on supporting employees in developing healthy strategies to weather the adverse situations which come onto all of our paths. I’ve come to realize what the title of this article says: Trust IS the Glue!

We all know that change is happening at an incredible pace, all around us. Organizational experts inundate us with their research. In order to survive and especially thrive, we (our organizations and the people who work in them, a.k.a. ‘organisms’) need to be adaptable to this change. Change mindsets, open mindsets, growth mindsets are terms bandied about and rightly so: without the ability to adapt to change, we’re going to become irrelevant.

For me, what’s missing in all this dialogue are the essential ingredients needed to ensure this can take place. It’s my opinion that without trust, and without its sister qualities of connection, curiosity and courage, the vulnerability needed to build it is going to be hard to find.

What comprises trust? How do you define trust? You need to know this for yourself in order to know if it exists. How do you know when your work environment is trustworthy? What feelings does a trusting workplace instill in yourself? What behaviors do you exhibit which make you trustworthy?

On the flip side, what happens within organizations when trust is low? What are the costs? To my mind, lack of engagement, productivity, and creativity are just a few of the side effects. Add a toxic environment into the equation and watch your organizational resources dwindle, not least your people.

There is so much to win in building a trustworthy culture, especially with the competition for talent in today’s market. My challenge to all of you who lead others is to give this topic your attention. Today, not tomorrow!

How Full is Your Battery?

“People spend too much time finding other people to blame, too much energy finding excuses for not being what they are capable of being, and not enough energy putting themselves on the line, growing out of the past, and getting on with their lives.” J. Michael Straczynsk

Awareness – A Better Coping Strategy

  • The first step to creating more harmony and balance in your life is through awareness. Start with something ‘simple’: what gives you energy and what drains your energy? Low energy levels make you more susceptible to reacting to stressful situations. If you take this one step towards developing insight into ‘what makes you tick’, then you have a greater chance of taking the necessary steps towards ensuring you have more energy gainers in your life.
  • What can’t you say no to or perhaps better phrased: what do you say yes to, that might drain your ‘battery’? Is it a lack of exercise or a friend who weighs you down with their problems? Is it too many late nights? Fast food? What unhealthy choices are you making for yourself? It comes down to – what brings you short-term pleasure but coupled with long-term pain? We all know what we should be doing, often we just don’t do it.
  • If you’re not even aware of what’s triggering your energy drain, then you can’t do anything about it. Stop and make a list of habits, situations, people, and environments that aren’t serving your best needs. Analyze the list and ask yourself what can you do to change just one of the items on your list. Once you have thought out a game plan, put it into place.
  • Search for help. If it’s a habit you want to change, then research how habits can be changed and how you can develop new ones that are more supportive. Charles Duhigg wrote a book about this and there are a couple of great videos on You Tube describing the process of changing habits.

Other Helpful Tools

Perhaps you might need coaching. There are a lot of us ‘out there’. You need to find the one best suited to you. It’s an investment in yourself – don’t wait for your boss to reach into their budget to help you. Take the initiative for yourself.

If it’s an improvement in your diet, then look to a nutritionist/food specialist for help. And there are thousands of books on the subject. Ask someone, who seems to have a good handle on their personal nutrition, what they are doing. You know them! They are that person who looks great, exudes energy, doesn’t get easily irritated and has enough left over at the end of a long work day to still do something interesting for themselves. See if just one thing they are doing will make a difference in your life.

A Last Thought

The bottom line is this: if our battery is running low, then we won’t be able to come up with creative solutions to the challenges life throws our way.

Please share your comments and questions in the comments section below.

Administrative Professionals’ Day April 16th 2020

A great way to say ‘thank you’!
In the month of April, show your professional administrative support staff just how much you value their contribution. You can do it with flowers and chocolates but an inspirational ‘Skogsfloating’ day is saying thank you, in a more meaningful way.

The ultimate combi
A day to be nurtured in nature and to become inspired. During this day, your staff will have ‘their time in the sun’, perhaps also literally, should the sun decide to shine. One thing is certain, it will be a memorable day.

 

A playful location
Conference center Kapellerput in Heeze, provides the playful location, as a background to Skogsfloating. Standing in the midst of a beautiful woods, the gently rocking ‘chairs’, aided by Mother Nature, provide the foundation for relaxation, reflection and creativity – key words for the day. The accompanying experience of tranquil weightlessness gives the space and time to become ‘still’ – to give back to oneself.

Open Registration on April 16th, 2020 **
The day starts at 09.30 with coffee and tea. Most of the day will be spent outside. The program will end at 17.00. Further details will be provided upon registration.

Costs:
This ‘experiential day’ is 380,- pp, excl. vat/btw, for a minimum of 6 participants.  Price is including a day arrangement at Kapellerput (unrestricted coffee, tea and lunch buffet).

Registration:
Use the contact page to get in touch with me,  with your name and telephone number. Copy ‘Administrative Professionals’ Day’, into the subject line.

This open registration day will be held in Dutch

** If you have a minimum of 6 administrative personnel (maximum is 22), there is an opportunity to host a closed registration team event in the month of April.

 

The Gift of Time

This isn’t what you think it will be about. It’s not about time management or getting things done in a more efficient manner, though both are important in the context of well-being.

The gift of time I’m referring to, is the one which exists between a trigger and your response. In the words of Viktor E. Frankl “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

It is our subconscious perception of a stimulus – that situation, person, or thing – which repeatedly triggers the same (sometimes explosive) reaction in ourselves. We experience something as irritating once, twice, maybe three times and the next time it happens, we react predictably – often called a knee-jerk reaction.

We may not be happy with our reaction. In fact, we may realize that our reaction isn’t supporting us at all but we continue to react in the same way. It’s not always easy to pinpoint the reason for our discomfort or stress. Our brain filters and stores so much information, most of which we aren’t conscious of. Researchers have indicated that only a fraction of the stimuli from our surroundings reaches our conscious level.

Underlying every not-so-feel-good emotion we experience (e.g. irritation, anger, frustration, fear), is a need we have, which isn’t being met. Something we value. A need such as respect, love, being seen, being heard. We have many needs, some more important than others. The more important the need, the faster and stronger we will be triggered.

Knowing what your needs are, can go a long way to choosing the right response. In order to understand which need isn’t being met, you need to give yourself the gift of time; ‘the gap’ between stimulus and response.
Self-awareness is key to achieving the gap. Knowing your stress signs and signals when you are being triggered, is of paramount importance. When you become aware of the first signs that something is generating a not-so-feel-good feeling in you, this is the moment to start breathing slowly and deeply. The act of breathing slow and deep has an immediate response on your autonomic nervous system, telling your brain that you are relaxing.

By knowing and being able to name the need that wasn’t being met, you are able to take some of the significance out of the situation. When you feel ready to respond, you’ll be ready to make a choice that is going to support you, rather than being hijacked by your emotional brain. When we allow ourselves to be triggered into a full-blown stress reaction, our pre-frontal cortex, that part of the brain responsible for creative, logical thinking, shuts down to one degree or another.

Become resilient and practice finding your gap. Breathe and thrive!