3 Steps to Overcoming Difficult Times and Increasing Your Joy

Life is full of setbacks and hard times. It’s not about avoiding the experiences. Instead focus on living fully and navigating the difficult times by cultivating resiliency in these 3 steps.

As we continue to turn around the sun and move closer to the spring equinox the natural light continues to lengthen each day. Metaphorically we can capitalize on this concept and work to increase the “light” in our own lives. 

Finding the light in our own lives requires that we practice activities we enjoy. This can be difficult during hard times and many struggle to allow themselves to feel joy at all. Joy can be the hardest emotion to feel because people worry “this good thing” will end. As a result they cap the enjoyment they can feel. They fear the pain of disappointment so much they contain joy. Doesn’t that sound awful … but most of us do it. 

I have worked with so many people who work to never feel sadness and disappointment. They have been operating in a numbed existence, the middle between joy and sadness, “to be safe” and “not get their hopes up” thus making sure they are protected. Problem … by protecting themselves from the pain of sadness and disappointment they are also protecting themselves from the full feelings of joy. Life becomes mundane, lackluster, and boring. The fix? Stop being afraid of engaging fully – in every emotion that shows up. 

Sadness and disappointment are about losing. They help us see how much we cared, what we value, and as a result add richness to our lives. This is why life becomes lackluster when we cap them off. We lose the vibrancy all experiences can provide by holding back full emotional engagement

Joy, different than happiness, comes from within. By cultivating practices we enjoy we build a deep wellspring of contentment and joy bubbles up. We begin to find small things that contribute to “living the good life”. We find pieces of each experience, no matter how painful, that bring lessons and some good (even if tiny) into our lives. Happiness follows as we continue to engage in activities where we find positive aspects. Happiness tends to be fleeting based on external factors and experiences we are engaged in. When we cultivate the activities that bring us joy and work to find the positive in every situation happiness follows regularly. 

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Now let’s talk about when awful things happen. So many people I work with and see in my office are going through difficult times. Something has happened, they grew up in difficult situations, or have been taught to negate good in their lives. Over time this leads to feelings of despair and thoughts like “what’s the point anyway” and “it’ll never work out the way I want it to”. Soon they are repeating the mantra of “play it safe” directly and/or indirectly. As outlined above this just decreases the ability to feel joy and find vibrant exciting experiences in life. They hunker down and just get through it. 

Some people struggle here because they are going through a very difficult experience that has shook the core of who they think they are and how they view the world. Thus making it hard to focus on anything good happening right now, and forcing them into the pain of loss and disappointment. Although, not easy, these experiences offer rich ground to work with joy, sadness, disappointment, expectations, and personal empowerment.

When something difficult strikes it is important to honor how you feel. Maybe you are angry, sad, guilty, disbelieving, or feeling shameful about the situation. Honor those difficult feelings and allow yourself to feel them. They exist to tell you this is important and you need to pay attention. Maybe a loss has shown you that you need to pay more attention to the relationships you are currently involved in. Maybe your guilt is telling you never to behave like that again. Shame is harder as it involves a belief system that you are “bad” and often comes as a result of external factors (childhood emotional trauma, emotional neglect, social system paradigms, etc) and may need therapy to help shift old messages about what is right, wrong, good, and bad as they relate to your personhood. Disbelief is part of the grief cycle and can shake our sense of safety and reality in the world while we go through the grief cycle itself. 

As you work with the situation at hand, the first step is to honor where you are, then accept the situation as it is. this is very difficult and many struggle with this step. Often the situation is not one they wanted, expectations shattered, future plans destroyed, however it is important to work on accepting to the best of your ability. Once you can accept the situation as it is, right now, right here, you have more choice on how to deal with it. Again, you do not have to like the situation, want it, agree with it, or approve of it, you just have to accept it. 

The position of acceptance creates room to respond in the most healthy way you can muster. This creates a sense of personal empowerment and taking steps with empowerment builds self esteem and confidence. As you build self esteem and confidence you build your ability to deal with difficult situations. The cycle becomes a positive one to help you deal with life on life’s terms in the most healthy ways possible right now. 

This week, while we move toward longer days of light, work on cultivating your joy. Work to build activities into your life you enjoy. Then allow yourself to fully and wholeheartedly enjoy them. If you are going through something difficult work on honoring, accepting, and turning toward choices that empower you to move through in the most healthy way you can. Whatever your situation right now, work to be fully in it, without capping it off to “play it safe” and avoid negative feelings. Allow yourself the gift of vibrant and intense human experience. 

Spiritual Sunday: Communicating with something larger than yourself

Good communication begins with us. It is our responsibility to take care of ourselves and build a strong sense of self that doesn’t fear differences. This allows others and ourselves to show up authentically without feeling judged, attacked, or invalidated just because someone has a different opinion. Very difficult, but worth the try.

For us to be really good at communicating with other people we must be able to communicate well with ourselves. We need to have a strong grounding in our own values, viewpoints, and opinions and a strong sense of self. These allow us to stand tall in our own truth while allowing others to stand tall in their own. To build this strength it is important to cultivate practices that allow for reflection and communication with something larger than ourselves. 

The concept of something larger than ourselves exists in many paradigms and practices. These range from ideas related to spirit, the earth/nature, to the psychology of how mammals communicate somatically. In the end it does not matter what you chose as your paradigm of existence. 

What matters is how you cultivate your practices to maintain connection to something larger than yourself. What matters is that you recognize that we are all connected and how you act in your private life influences other humans and other systems (like water supplies for example). What matters is understanding that there is a shared aspect to everything we do. By taking time to recognize our connections to something larger than ourselves we relate better to those around us. 

When we are better able to relate to those around us, the environment we are in, and be open to the differences between us we are more grounded in ourselves and less susceptible to the vulnerability created when someone has a different opinion, value, or viewpoint than we do. This creates easier conversations and more effective communication for everyone, thus creating more acceptance, less judgment, and more openness to those around us. It also helps create a sense of responsibility for our personal role in helping to create a healthy, vibrant, and just society. 

5 Ways to Increase Your Effective Communication: Understanding Influence and Impact

Have you ever wondered why people do not seem to take you seriously, hear you even when you are yelling, or pay attention to your ideas? It may be your communication style. Here are 5 ways to take control of your communication and increase your ability to influence and impact in positive ways.

Each week I spend quite a bit of time working with people who struggle to communicate effectively. They are either passive, passive aggressive, or aggressive in their communication style in efforts to get their personal needs met. For many they have never been taught effective communication patterns and are relying on old observations of role models. These old observations are well learned in a system (i.e. your family) that uses them, but not effective when you want to communicate in a different system (i.e. your work place). 

In addition, I see many people who feel using a style, say passive aggressive, will get them what they want without conflict and are frustrated people around them haven’t picked up on the needs yet. Today we are going to talk about 5 effective communication tactics and why it is important to understand influence and impact, while also recognizing you cannot change anyone. You only have the ability to change your behavior and thus your results. 

Number 1: No One Can Read Your Mind.

Recognize that no one can read your mind. Many of us were taught that if we dropped enough hints our loved ones would pick up on our needs, and this means we are loved and lovable. Not True. They may come close, yet we are often left feeling like something is missing, we are not important, or we do not feel seen and heard in our authentic expression. This is partly because we compromise our authentic expression trying to get them to really “see” us by using passive aggressive communication styles and partly because they cannot read our minds. Instead of dropping hints, martyring, or silently hoping someone will notice what you need, just ask for what you need and want. Say what you mean and mean what you say. 

Number 2: Shaming, Blaming, and Criticizing are not helpful.

I cannot shame you into long-term compliance and keep the relationship going. I can shame you into submission for a bit, but eventually shaming you, tearing you down, criticizing you, or blaming you will destroy our relationship. The more I nag you, the worse you may feel about yourself and more likely you are to leave. In addition, the more you feel put down and shamed the more likely you are to rebel, get angry, aggressive, and push back on me. This creates an explosive pattern where people say hurtful things that break apart the relationship. 

Number 3: Intensity Matters

Honor the power of intensity. If I am always yelling at you, soon I will be heard no better than if I wasn’t speaking. People get used to intensity levels and they begin to tune them out. Usually leading to more frustrations, more intensity, blame, projection, and shaming tactics, which also do not work long term. Instead, realize that I control my intensity. I can shift my voice, word choice, and body posture to help me emphasize and communicate intensity. In addition, to choosing the right intensity, I must be aware of my non-verbal communication, which is about 80-90% of what I am trying to communication. Remember the saying “action speaks louder than words”, well it is true. People pay more attention to how you say something, than what you say. You can increase or decrease your emphasis by shifting your posture, eye contact, space use, and gestures. I am sometimes more effective when I use body posture and say nothing than when I scream and yell. 

Number 4: Timing

Timing matters. My children were famous for waiting to ask me about eating candy until I was on the phone. They knew I was distracted and it would be easier to get me to concede to their request while I wanted to finish my conversation. To get them to stop, I would lock myself in the bathroom. They would get louder and more expressive. It took a bit, but I was finally able to shape their behavior away from asking for things while I was on the telephone. 

If you want to be successful with a serious conversation, pay attention to the other person’s energy levels. If they are tired and stressed it will be less successful than if you give them a break or help them relax. You might be better off to plan your conversation when you are both feeling ready, have an environment without distractions, and are able to focus on each other. It is ok to say, “I want to talk about _____, when would be a good time to meet and discuss?” 

It is also ok to write out your ideas, desires, and thoughts, opinions about a matter. It can be helpful to review your notes during a difficult discussion. It gives a moment of breathing room for everyone and shows you cared enough about the discussion to put some forethought into it. It helps decrease or increase intensity when used well. And, above all it is ok to say, “I need a break”. I see many couples who do not use this technique. They escalate, escalate, escalate until one of them has had enough and leaves the room. Be proactive and say, “I need a break, let’s take 10 minutes and come back to finish our discussion.” This is perfectly ok. I advise people to set a timer and come back together when it goes off, even if you are not ready to pick up the conversation yet. This helps each member feel important, part of the process, and no one feels abandoned or like it will never get resolved. If you have to agree to set another 10 minute timer or maybe you need to table for another time. Just make sure you both follow through on the commitment to finish the conversation. 

Number 5: No Projection, Instead Understand Your Own Issues

Many people use this to help themselves feel better. They project their own discomfort, limiting beliefs, values, opinions, and goals onto the other person. They say things as though it is the other person’s problem, when it is really their own. The other person may share a part of the issue, however this tactic is often used to dismiss the other’s thoughts, opinions, values, and emotions in efforts to avoid dealing with their own personal issues. When people have done their own work they can avoid yelling at the kids because their boss yelled at them or picking on their partner because they feel small and insignificant. They can own personal anger and deal with it effectively instead of misplacing it on something or someone “safer” to be upset with. It is easy to blame someone else for something you feel uncomfortable about, but in the end you will eventually have to deal with your own shit. Do not emotionally vomit all over someone else. 

Above all else, remember what people say and do is about them. You cannot control what comes out of their mouth, how they hold their body, or what they choose to focus on/care about. What you do is all about you. If you verbally bully someone, it is you who feels small, insignificant, demeaned, or hurt. If you steal someone else’s idea it is you who feels you cannot create your own. If you have not explored why you think, feel, value something it is no one else job to change their thoughts, opinions, values to be like you. 

Now … I often hear, but words hurt and do change things. True. We have the power to impact and influence others with our communication. So why not use it to be effective rather than destructive (to others or ourselves). 

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Impact & Influence: 

We do impact and influence each other very much. I can wreck havoc on my family’s day by throwing a fit during our morning routine. I can also make their day better by uplifting them during said routine. I can help shift focus, belief patterns, and actions by my word choices. I can role model effective behavior and patterns of relating I want them to incorporate as their own. I can help them see themselves as powerful, capable, willing, and connected just by interacting with them effectively. 

Many people do not realize when people come together into relationship they are greater than the sum of their two parts. Instead they feel threatened and overwhelmed, thus become less than the sum of two parts by tearing each other down, gossiping, blaming, shaming, projecting, and criticizing. 

While making sure we are aware of our impact it is important to have grace with those who are not there yet. Many people have been taught to use ineffective communication tactics as ways to control, contain, manage, and feel powerful. They are not aware that their style is actually getting in the way of something better than what they have now. They spend a lot of time ruminating, focused on, and plotting against “attacks” whether they be real or imagined, and often find themselves surrounded by others who are just like them, making the threat of being negated in communication even greater.  Give them grace, while clearly and honestly setting a firm boundary. This is part of how we eliminate ineffective communication from our lives. We set boundaries over and over, with grace and teach people how to treat us. In our ability to speak clearly about what we will accept and not accept in our space with compassion (which sometimes looks like a firm and solid no) we tell people not to speak to us that way, not to expect we will comply, and not to assume we agree. 

When we recognize the power of influence it can help us choose our words carefully, pick appropriate timing, do our own work so our emotions, values, opinions, and beliefs are not being projected onto the other making our communication much more clear. We can ask for what we want with tact and effectively say no without tearing apart a relationship or ourselves. We can set boundaries that keep us moving down our path with success and focus, while staying in connection feeling part of something larger than ourselves. 

Effective Communication Today: 

Today make a commitment to step back from negative communication patterns and work on taking ownership of your role in the relationship. Everything you say and do is about you. Even when it feels like they “made you mad”. Nope you got mad because you impacted by something they said. You chose to get mad or not, to let your feelings dictate your reaction, rather than address it objectively with a statement like “that hurt my feelings, I would appreciate it if you didn’t use those words with me” or something like that”. Believe me, it takes some practice and can feel silly at first. 

When you can effectively address slights, hurts, bullying, etc in the moment objectively and in a responsive (vs. reactive) manner you will be more effective getting what you want and need. You take ownership of how you show up in the relationship, even when they show up ineffective. If you are the bully in the situation recognize that you cannot use force to make a relationship work long term. You cannot put people down and expect them to give you their best. They will defend against you even if not in obvious ways. You do not win by breaking people down, everyone loses what could have been greater than the sum of two parts, ideas, or solutions. You are not stronger because you “were in charge”, people do not respect titles – they respect people who are respectful. See last week’s topic on leadership for more information on being a good leader.

Today, work to make your communication style open, your body posture available for positive communication, and your words, timing, intensity, and tone fit the situation you are in – not the one you wish you were in. Work to be clear, say what you mean, mean what you say, ask for what you want with confidence and style fitting of the situation, and say no to what you do not want with grace and strength.  

Grace, Community, and Lots and Lots of Snow!

We are in the midst of a 3 day snow storm in my town. As the snow continues to fall and the plows get backed up I am finding the grace that comes with slowing down. And it is leading me to find flow in my day.

There is so much snow I have to drive slower. I have to take time to shovel multiple times a day, which means I move my body and feel my strength. I have had to reach out to others and check in. I have laughed more just because things are joyful. I have taken the time to look around and see the beauty that surrounds me, even when my physical visibility is nil.

Today see if you can find your Friday flow by noticing. Pay attention to what is happening around you and take a moment to notice those you are with. See if you can really see them – be present to them without judgment or expectation. Notice something new in your environment you’ve never noticed before. Just slow down, take a breath, and be thankful you were able to breathe. Just notice and see what you find today.

It Takes Courage to Be a Good Leader.

Not only were the leaders who belittled, micromanaged, berated, and bullied rated the least effective, so were those who would not address the conflicts, take the challenge, or stand up for their teams.

Good leaders are not only kind, compassionate, visionary, and willing to do hard work. They also demonstrate courage and accept challenge. They understand the limits and weaknesses of their team and work to get around them. They problem solve well and play to the strengths of each team member, thus balancing out their team skills.

In addition, they address conflict directly, they can say no effectively, and they call out social loafers in kind ways to decrease the possibility of shame and shut down.

Today look at the places you lead in your life. Are you kind, compassionate, and courageous?

Good Leaders Are Kind …

Afraid if you are not “tough” enough people will not follow? Being tough does not mean dominating or bullying. The most effective leaders are those who express compassion. They just know sometimes compassion looks like “no”. They do not berate, belittle, steal ideas, or micromanage their team. They trust them. They get quality followers because they are a quality leader. Go be a great leader today.

What is Good Leadership … and How Does it Effect Us All?

As we stop to celebrate our presidential leaders today, have you ever thought about what makes a good leader? Is it just the people in charge, at the top, or in positions of power? Or do you find leaders all around you? For me, leadership has always been an interesting topic. I was selected at a young age to become a leader, there have been times I succeeded and times I failed. There have also been times I did not want to be the leader, yet was placed in the role anyway. As I have studied being a leader, performed as a leader, and observed others being in leadership roles it always amazes me how many people miss the fundamental idea that leadership is about bringing people together. Not about being powerful. For we are not powerful as a unit of one, the power lies in the numbers. Hitler never would have been what he was if he could not rally the masses. Nor would Jesus have been. As we stop to reflect today on leaders of our country it may be wise to look more closely at what it means to be a leader. It might also behoove us to look at what it means to be a follower, as well.

In an article written by Hogan, Curphy, and Hogan leadership is about “… leadership involves persuading other people to set aside for a period of time their individual concerns and to pursue a common goal that is important for the responsibilities and welfare of a group”. (p. 3, 1994). This is a difficult task as most of us have a hard time putting aside our short-term goals for the benefit of the group unless our group is threatened (Hogan, Curphy, & Hogan, 1994). They go on to say “Leadership is persuasion, not domination; persons who can require others to do their bidding because of their power are not leaders. Leadership only occurs when others willingly adopt, for a period of time, the goals of a group as their own. Thus, leadership concerns building cohesive and goal-oriented teams; there is a causal and definitional link between leadership and team performance”. (p. 3, 1994) 

If this is the case, that a good leader is one who can work with a team of people and help them find purpose, meaning, and commonality within their mission or task – then how many good leaders do you know … even if they are not the identified leader? And as a result of knowing what a good leader is about are you willing to follow just anyone?

A quick review of the literature brings up virtually no studies on what it means to be a follower. We are inundated with what it means to be a leader, but nothing on what it means to be a follower. In a book review on the concept of “followership” Gill (2008) identifies ideas that may constitute a good follower “How about a few of these characteristics: a good follower (I prefer “team member”) will understand and commit to the team’s mission, be loyal to the team, accept personal responsibility, be well-prepared, question authority but be wise about timing and tone, think win-win, step up and lead when called upon, help teammates get better”. To me this sounds a lot like leadership. Know when to jump in and help, suggest, persuade, and participate in her part of something larger than ourselves. However, some of the same problems exist in following as do in leadership. We come to following others for many reasons, however if we follow blindly for our own short – term goals we are hurting us all, ourselves included in the long run.

If these two pieces are so intertwined, it really does not matter where you land on the continuum of leadership to followership. Some of us have personalities that like to be in the spot light, take risks, communicate ideas, visions, and concepts in concrete ways others can “see” them and help achieve. Some of us like to hear what those people have to say and then be part of the team that creates. In the end we need both. We need people who are willing to lead and lead us with integrity, honesty, and with an eye on the long term goals of the entire group. We need followers who are willing to do the step by step work of implementing a vision, stand up and disagree when needed, and be a team member who puts their short term goals aside for the long term benefit of the whole.

The long term benefits of the whole may include all sorts of things – better relationships, health, wealth, comfort, success of the majority. However, we often see each other as competition. When we operate from a place of lack we end up tearing each other down, thus our team goes from being something greater than the sum of our 2 parts to being less than 2. I see this a lot in family systems, couples, and business relationships. People are working to build something, however are doing so from a fear based, lack of mentality with inability for vulnerability (thus authenticity to build team trust). The impact is destruction of the project rather than building something great.

As you look around your life today, which are you? Are you a follower today? A leader? Are you a follower in some roles and a leader in others? These are key components to feeling confident and engaged in our lives, as well as feeling a sense of belonging. If you are being too much of a follower, following blindly after someone else you may feel taken advantage of, run down, powerless. If you are a leader who is acting from a fear base and authoritarian style you are probably stressed, paranoid, and often responding to your team in abusive ways. This breaks down the needed relationships little by little and eventually your team will not perform, and your paranoia may become real life experience. Hogan, Curphy, and Hogan (1994) reported in a review of the literature that those leaders who tended to rate themselves overly high were actually the worst ones. So if you are thinking “it is not me, these people just can not get it together”, you may want to engage in coaching or therapy to help you identify and create an effective leadership style because being a good leader and being a good follower is about empowerment.

Empowerment of the self and empowerment of the other. Good leadership looks at the whole, sets aside short – term selfish goals for the long term benefit of the group because the good leader knows that power comes in numbers, that benefiting the group in the long run benefits the self, too. A good follower knows that no one person knows it all, has everything figured out, or is good at everything and following blindly is not a good idea. The group is stronger than the sum of its parts and together we achieve great things. Honoring your gifts and mine. We all matter and we all have something to contribute. Today go out and lead!

References: 

Gill, D. W. (2008). Followership: How followers are creating change and changing leaders. [Review of the book Follwership: How followers are creating change and changing leaders, By Barbara Kellerman]. Harvard Business Press (2008). 

Hogan, R., Curphy, G. J., and Hogan, J. (1994). What we know about leadership: Effectiveness and personality. American Psychologist 49(6), 493-504.

13 Ways to Give … The Spiritual Side of Service

Want to know the secret to happiness? Get outside of yourself. When we reach out to others and help make someone else’s life better we actually help ourselves. Acts of service help you stay healthy – mentally and physically. Get out there and help today.

Many religious and spiritual practices speak of service. Service is a key piece of 12 step programs and many say they didn’t really get sober until they were able to give back. It was the act of service that helped them realize the bigger picture and reason for sobriety. Most of us talk a good game regarding service, however many of us do not perform much service.

One reason we do not offer acts of service as much as we might like is because we haven’t set our lives up to give back. It takes time more than anything and it’s much easier to write a check than it is to spend the day working with someone who needs help. Work to structure time to give back into your life. It will make your life more purposeful and help fight diseases, depression, anxiety, and stress in your own life.

Another reason we skip the service aspect is because we do not know what to do. We feel that it must be BIG to be any good, and the opposite is really true. It is the small, everyday acts of grace and kindness that make the greatest differences in our lives and those we reach out to. These small acts help us realize we are not alone. They help us feel connected and part of something larger than ourselves. Again, keeping us more healthy over the long haul.

Today challenge yourself to perform as many acts of service to another as you can. A little secret is … when you work to make others happy, you actually make yourself happy. The Dali Lama says “if you want others to be happy, be compassionate. If you want to be happy, be compassionate”. Today make your goal to give as much as you can. See how happy you can make yourself by helping others. Notice how doing nice things for other people changes you, gives you different perspective, or helps you see something you hadn’t noticed before. When we give to others we begin to see how similar we are, not how different. We are more the same than not. It’s hard to hate others when you realize this. When you hate less or fear others ideas, actions, and motivations less your life gets better. You start to see the beauty that surrounds you instead of all the things you negatively judge.

Here are some ideas to get out there, get connected, and offer help:

  1. Hold the door open for someone
  2. Smile at everyone you meet
  3. Give the driver in front of you the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Listen. Really listen as your partner, kids, or co-worker talks to you – without coming up with your response while they speak.
  5. Shovel, cut the grass, rake, sweep the sidewalk for your neighbor. You are already doing your own, just go a little farther.
  6. Teach something to someone who wants to learn what you already know how to do. Be patient and let them learn at their own pace. Work to enjoy watching their progress as a support person not the director.
  7. Play with your dog, your kid, your friend … go out have a good time and laugh and laugh and laugh.
  8. Tell your family and friends how much they mean to you. Maybe even send them a handwritten note, flowers, or let them know in another way that would be special to them.
  9. Offer to help with the car pool, cleaning, cooking, laundry, etc for a group you are a part of, a friend, neighbor, or your family member who usually does those tasks.
  10. Read to someone – a kid, a person who can no longer read for themselves due to failing eyesight or other disease, or someone who never learned to read.
  11. Volunteer in your community. Many communities have a volunteer listing where organizations list what they need help with. Look it up and volunteer your skill set to help them out.
  12. Help set up a fundraising event for a group you are interested in. Big commitment, but it sure feels good when you come together with a team of people and accomplish something for the greater good.
  13. Do something nice for yourself. You can’t take care of anyone, if you haven’t taken care of you first. Make sure to include yourself on your acts of service list. It helps you be a better person, less stressed, and ready to help others if you have been taken care of too. Do not forget about you.