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Being Awake is a State of Mind

Being Awake is a State of Mind

Practice of the Month

Being Awake is a State of Mind

Being Awake is a State of Mind

Fact:

It’s up to us.

  • Each of us arrives at adulthood carrying with us the deep scripting from our nuclear and extended family (mom, dad, siblings, aunts, uncles, etc.) and from the previous generations of our family of origin.  This scripting creates a “way of being” and a “way of acting/reacting” that is, for the most part, instinctual and automatic.  Our actions and our reactions are driven by forces which, to a great extent, exist below the level of our conscious awareness. Because it is so deeply ingrained, this scripting is extremely powerful and has a major impact on us in every aspect of our daily lives.
  • The “human intelligence system” is comprised of a thinking dimension and a feeling dimension.  Every interaction we have is a composite of what we think and how we feel at the moment.  When we feel threatened even in subtle ways, we instinctively (that is, automatically, with little or no self-awareness) shift into one of the classic defensive modes–fight, flight, freeze or appease–to protect ourselves. The greater the threat, the more likely that our feeling self will overwhelm and even eclipse our thinking self.
  • Learning to be a more balanced “self” is a lifelong process and occurs gradually with an increase in self-awareness and with better self-management skills. The more frequently and astutely we observe the interplay between our thinking and feeling selves—and how they drive our ways of being and acting—the more we can be “at choice” for how we will respond to the unfolding events of the day.  As we become less and less anxious in the face of threats small and large, we become more grounded, more thoughtful, more resilient, and finally, more at peace.

Action:

Becoming more of a “self” (aka “Awake”).  A few ideas.

  • Spend as much time as possible being present to the unfolding moments of your life. Watch your own mental processes.  Minimize time spent on past regrets and future concerns, thereby devoting more and more of your thinking and feeling to the present moment.  Relax. Focus.
  • Peace of mind is not achieved by working to avoid conflict in life, but rather by learning to deal with life’s conflicts and blessings with equanimity. Developing peace of mind starts with fully engaging the situations we face daily, making the best of those situations, and then accepting and being present to our current reality.
  • Realize that each day is a miraculous gift.  Whatever happens, the moments of each and every day will only come once in your life.  Learn to meet those moments with a welcoming invitation and recognize each of them as the precious gift of life itself. Embrace the days of your life without longing for something else to be true.  What happens today is today’s truth.  Accept it, learn from it, grow from it.  Move forward.

Try It:

Where to begin? A few practices.

  • Practice the discipline of engaging in each day with:
    • Objective Judgement – Now in this very moment
    • Unselfish Action – Now in this very moment
    • Willful Acceptance – Now in this very moment – acceptance of everything out of your control. 1
  • Throughout the day consider:
    • What part am I playing in this situation? Then:
    • What is the responsible thing for me to do in this situation?

Three guidelines from Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

Are You Equipped to Make Hard Choices During the Ongoing Covid-19 Crisis?

Are You Equipped to Make Hard Choices During the Ongoing Covid-19 Crisis?

RL Practice of the Month

Are You Equipped to Make Hard Choices During the Ongoing Covid-19 Crisis?

Are You Equipped to Make Hard Choices During the Ongoing Covid-19 Crisis?

Fact:

The COVID – 19 virus continues to rage in many areas of our country (and the world) but seems to have peaked in other areas. Communities everywhere are at a critical crossroad as they consider how to balance the intense desire to “open up” with the need to “stay safe.” Poorly differentiated thinkers generally believe nearly all choices are a matter of “either/or,” while the better differentiated recognize that there are usually considerably more than 50 shades of grey when it comes to decisions about highly complex realities like the management of a pandemic. Given how high the stakes are, it is not surprising that leaders today are feeling elevated levels of stress—precisely in situations that call for them to be more thoughtful and less anxious in arriving at important decisions.

Action:

Resilient leaders are better equipped to make hard choices because they are guided by clear principles and values they have arrived at thoughtfully and lived out over many years. Their decisions are more likely to be on target because they are based on objective facts and solid data. But resilient leaders’ decisions are not based on facts or objective data alone. Because they are attuned to the dynamics of the emotional system(s) that they are a part of, such leaders are able to make moves that lower anxiety in the system, rather than raise it. Their less anxious presence can be as contagious as any virus, but with healthy benefits rather than toxic effects.

In the case of COVID -19, resilient leaders are able to make judgements that respect a variety of competing priorities, rather than defaulting to an anxious focus on one or another of the choices before them. Taking action either to “open up” or to “stay safe” involves multi-faceted, complex pathways and should never be presented as a simplistic, “either-or” choice.  The ability to hold two seemingly opposite polarities in a dynamic tension and embrace a “both/and” solution is a leadership competency that is as rare as it is important, particularly in highly anxious times such as that provoked by the current global pandemic.

Resilient leaders help their followers to move beyond dichotomous, adversarial thinking that poses choices in partisan terms. “Yes,” we need to “open up;” and “Yes,” we need to “stay safe.” Both are essential for success, and the more a leader can lower anxiety within the system, the more likely will members of the system promote “win-win” as they come together to act with urgency in more thoughtful, effective ways.

Try It:

In the weeks ahead, identify the principles and core values that you wish to guide you in the choices you will make with your team/organization/family/community in order to reduce anxiety and promote thoughtfulness. Here is a sample of the personal principles identified recently by a colleague and shared with others in their organization as touchstones that guide his decision-making on a daily basis:

  • Express gratitude daily.
  • Play the long game: Show how we can come out of this pandemic wiser, stronger.
  • Be creative—both/and thinking, not either/or thinking.
  • Connect with others every day in a way that lowers their anxiety.
  • Find ways to support those who are struggling.
COVID – 19? Take Command!

COVID – 19? Take Command!

RL Practice of the Month

COVID – 19? Take Command!

COVID – 19? Take Command!

Fact:

The worldwide pandemic of COVID – 19 is creating escalating levels of fear and anxiety everywhere. For most of us here in the US, the worst is still ahead and in the coming weeks our sense of stability and control will be severely tested. We can and will get through this.

At the national and organizational level, within communities and families and for each of us individually, the need to remain calm while staying connected and staying on course has never been greater.

Action:

Stay Calm: Make objective judgements about the COVID- 19 challenge by separating fact from fear. Watch for and manage your own reactive behaviors and triggers. Find time to “get on the balcony” in order to SEE the systemic reactivity impacting you at the family, community or national level.

Stay Connected: Engage in unselfish actions by finding ways to help family members, neighbors, health care works and other essential works who continue to serve our communities even at risk to themselves. Decide how to maintain and share your spirit with others.

Stay the Course: Willfully accept the COVID –19 pandemic challenge. Take action to protect and preserve your physical and mental well-being. Rest well, eat well, exercise well and be well. Commit to LEAD yourself and others from a place of self-awareness followed by thoughtful self-regulation.

Try It:

Figure out how you plan to Stay Calm, Stay Connected and Stay the Course in the weeks ahead. Write down the plan and post it in a place you will see every day. Spend 1-2 minutes every morning to reflect on your COVID-19 plan. Take Command.

Are You Trapped by the Poorly Differentiated?

Are You Trapped by the Poorly Differentiated?

RL Practice of the Month

Are You Trapped by the Poorly Differentiated?

Are You Trapped by the Poorly Differentiated?

Fact:Almost every organization/family will, at some point, have a member who behaves in a poorly differentiated way for a time and maybe for a long time. A poorly differentiated person is highly reactive, intrusive of others’ boundaries, and does not take responsibility for self. Frequently they demand a disproportionate amount of time and energy for others in the organization or family to manage, live with, or even contain. This frequently comes at a high cost to the team/family members and can cause real resentment of the poorly differentiated member.

Action:

Think about your organization/family for a moment. Are there employees or family members who are poorly differentiated and if so, what impact are they are having on you and on your team/family. Ask yourself: “Is it time to take different and more helpful steps forward?”

Try It:

A good place to start is to look at your own functioning. A well differentiated team member or family member will:

  • Stay connected and stay on course as they remain constant in their efforts to bring health to the emotional dynamics in the organization/family system.
  • Stop under functioning to “avoid” the difficult behavior or over functioning to “save” the poorly differentiated member. Hold others accountable while being encouraging at the same time.
  • Face and resolve conflicts that are caused by the poorly differentiated member.
    See the poorly differentiated behavior as a symptom of anxiety within the work/family system and find ways to minimize the anxiety.
  • Engage with others thoughtfully asking yourself: “What is the responsible thing for me to do in this situation?”
Hot Potato

The Hot Potato Game

The Hot Potato Game:

How to not get stuck with your own or others’ anxiety

By Bridgette Theurer - Resilient Leadership Partner

Hot PotatoI was talking to a client the other day, a leader of a large law firm in Washington D.C., about anxiety.  D.C., like much of the country, is an anxious and divided place these days.  My client’s law firm, which is about to undergo a merger, is also experiencing high levels of angst, and he was complaining to me about his partners’ behaviors – how reactive they were being and how much back stabbing, gossiping and blaming was going on, some of which was directed squarely at him.  I reminded him that anxiety is highly contagious, and because humans don’t like to feel anxious, we look for ways to pass it on to others.  Like the hot potato game, I explained.  We offload our anxiety because dealing with it ourselves makes us too uncomfortable.  By pointing a finger at him, his partners were taking the heat off of themselves.

“What do you do when your partners throw you the hot potato?” I asked.  “Oh, that’s easy,” he replied.  “I just slip the potato into my pocket and let it cool down a bit.  Then I pass it on.”

If only it were always that easy!  Under chronic pressure and stress, when our emotional and mental bandwidths are stretched thin, it can be difficult to have the presence of mind (like my client did) to hit the pause button and calm ourselves down, paving the way for cooler heads to prevail.   More commonly we operate out of immediate instinct, as in yikes this potato is hot, let me throw it at someone else!

The good news is that with a little practice and self-observation, we can all get better at playing the hot potato game.  Here’s how.

Anxiety and the Four D’s: Displace, Distract, Dissolve or Deploy 

Anxiety is the state of unease that we feel in the face of imagined or real threats.  It’s an evolutionary force of nature that keeps us safe and alive.   If you were never anxious, you wouldn’t live long and your business or organization wouldn’t survive either.  Dealing with real threats and staying ahead of them is what anxiety, at the proper level, can help us do.  That said, much of the anxiety we feel on a daily basis is not coming from real threats as much as it is from imagined or possible threats that have yet to materialize; or from minor threats that we have elevated to defcon levels.   While we can’t avoid anxiety completely, we do have a choice about how we deal with it, how much of it we experience on a daily basis and whether we infect others with our anxious behaviors.

Here’s where the four “D’s” come into play.  When it comes to dealing with anxiety we can either:

  • Displace it – pass it on to someone else,
  • Distract ourselves from it – by doing something that numbs our anxiety,
  • Dissolve it – by engaging in a calming activity that loosens anxiety’s grip on us, or
  • Deploy it – by facing into a real threat with courage and thinking about how best to address it.

The key is to notice when we are either displacing our anxiety or distracting ourselves from it (both of which tend to keep us stuck), and choose instead to either dissolve or deploy our anxiety (both of which help us to calm down and move forward thoughtfully). Let’s take a closer look at each one.

Displace

30 minutes into a 1 -hour coaching call with a client, we were still talking about his boss, and only his boss.  As in, “why does he always do this,” and “why can’t he stop doing that,” and “doesn’t he see that he’s making everyone here crazy?!”  My repeated attempts to redirect my client towards his own behavior had failed up to that point until I finally said, “Your boss isn’t on this call but it sure feels a lot like he is. Do you want him to hijack your coaching session?”

Becoming obsessively other-focused is one of the ways we displace our anxiety.  When an important person in our life (boss, spouse, team member, etc.) is making us anxious, it’s easy to blame them, complain about them, or try to change them.  This behavior is comforting and temporarily reduces our anxiety because it keeps us from doing the harder work of focusing on our own functioning and figuring out what we think and where we stand. While there might be some truth to our complaints, displacing our anxiety is ultimately disempowering. At the end of the day, it’s futile to try to change someone.  A much better strategy is to define ourselves – who do we want to be in this situation?  How can we bring more of our best self to the relationship systems we are part of? What do we believe and how can we calmly yet firmly share our thinking with anxious others?

Is there anyone right now (boss, loved one, colleague or client) who is taking up too much space in your head or dominating your conversations with others?  If so, see if you can catch yourself the next time you start to complain about them, distance yourself from them, or engage in behavior designed to manipulate or change them.  Instead, focus on your own functioning.  A great question to ask yourself is, “What’s my part in this?” 

Distract

No one enjoys feeling anxious so one of the most instinctive ways to feel better fast is to distract ourselves so we don’t have to feel it all!  Your way of distracting yourself will be unique to you.  Perhaps you’ll overwork and stay so busy you don’t have time to feel your anxiety, much less acknowledge it. “Me?  I’m not anxious,” you tell your spouse or colleagues, who often sense your anxiety before you do. “I’m just really busy.”  Or maybe you start having an extra glass of wine in the evening, to soften the hard edges of your day.  It works so well you start having two glasses of wine each night.  Not an over-worker or a wine drinker?   Other distractions include shopping and buying stuff we don’t need or spending more time on social media or searching the internet. This latter strategy not only distracts us from our anxious thoughts and feelings, but it hijacks our attention and keeps us from being present in our day.

Distractions work well in the short term because they numb our anxiety.  The problem is you need to indulge them more often (and find new ones).  Meanwhile, the underlying reason for your anxiety (e.g., a difficult relationship at work, rising tension in your marriage, or just feeling bored or in a rut) remains unaddressed.

Next time you find yourself reaching for your phone to check social media, pouring that extra glass of wine, or shopping for something you really don’t need, stop for just a moment to consider whether anxiety is fueling your behavior.  If so, see if you can sit with your anxiety, even for just a minute or two, breathe and be curious.   The more we strengthen our capacity to sit with and acknowledge our anxiety, the stronger this capacity grows and the less we need distractions to keep our anxiety at bay.  Our anxiety may even teach us something about how we’re really feeling and what we need to change.

Dissolve 

Anxiety has a physiological component to it.  Chronic anxiety lives in our tissues, our muscles and our nervous system.   It makes our breathing shallow, our muscles tense and our jaws tight. Once we’re anxious, we can’t always just think our way out of it.  We have to bring our bodies along with us.  What do you know calms not only your mind but your body as well?  Meditation? Exercise? Being out in nature?  These are great practices that can loosen anxiety’s grip on us.

Another practice that can help to dissolve anxiety is to focus on the facts.  Anxiety tends to distort and distract us from the facts.  It operates like a fire alarm in a building, demanding our attention and requiring our evacuation, even when there’s no real fire.  As our anxious unease rises, our feelings and emotions start to take center stage.  We make assumptions, jump to conclusions and blow things out of proportion, which in turn makes us even more anxious.  One simple yet potent way to break this cycle is to ask yourself three questions: 1) “What are the facts here?” 2) “What’s really going on?” and, 3) “How do I know?”  The simple act of refocusing our attention on the facts de-escalates our anxiety by balancing our feeling self with our thinking self.  When we focus on the facts we might discover that the story we’re telling ourselves is distorted or exaggerated.  Even if our exploration of the facts reveals a substantive threat, the mere act of focusing on facts (versus our feelings and stories about those facts) is calming.  With a calmer, less anxious self in the driver’s seat, we can now think more clearly and creatively about how best to deal with the threat in front of us.

Deploy

In 2008, just as the great recession was wreaking havoc on our economy, a client of mine called a meeting with his exec team.  They were on the verge of losing a major client, and a few companies in their industry were already going out of business. I attended the meeting and as each team member walked into the room, I could feel and see the dread and anxiety dripping off of them. Their bodies were slumped, their faces somber and their energy low. An hour later, they all walked out of the room with upright postures, pep in their steps, and smiles on their faces.  What happened?

My client had actually done a lot of work preparing for this meeting by managing his own anxiety, doing some research on how small businesses survive recessions, and by crystalizing his message to the team.  He shared with them a short article about how small businesses who had a game plan and stayed the course could actually come out the other side of a recession stronger and better.  He told the team that while he was aware of the challenges ahead, he believed this recession was an opportunity and if they seized it and worked hard to stay connected to each other and to their clients, they would prevail.  The team then brainstormed on some short term and longer-term strategies to shore up their key relationships and decided on a couple of important next steps they could take both collectively as an executive team, and individually as leaders.

What this client brought to this anxious situation was calm, clear leadership that created an environment in which the team could do its best thinking.  Perhaps most importantly, he acknowledged the anxiety they were all feeling and the threats they faced, while also providing a realistic reason to be hopeful and a game plan for moving forward.  This is what I call grounded optimism, and it’s one of the best ways we can turn our anxiety in a positive direction, using it to spur a sense of urgency and galvanize action.

What are some of the threats you and your team are facing at work?  How might you help yourself and others to bring your best thinking forward in order to address them?

A final thought

Organizational and individual anxiety is a fact of life, one that can either spur change or keep us stuck in a rut.  The key is to remind ourselves that we actually have a say in how we deal with it.  We can displace it onto others, distract and numb ourselves, dissolve it by calming ourselves down, or deploy it in service of a different future.  The choice is ours.

About the Author...

Bridgette Theurer

Bridgette Theurer is a partner of Resilient Leadership, LLC and is the co-author of the Resilient Leadership 2.0 (with Bob Duggan) and of the Resilient Leadership training materials now available in a variety of formats. She specializes in coaching senior and emerging leaders in organizations facing rapid growth and change. Bridgette’s clients have included large corporations such as Marriott and Sodexo USA as well as numerous small businesses and entrepreneurial enterprises.

Does the Apple Fall far from the Tree

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Really?

RL Practice of the Month

Constantly doing too much at work or home? Make a change in 2020.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Really?

Fact:he nugget of folk wisdom contained in this familiar saying may seem quaint to the point of being more myth than fact. But there is an accumulating—and by now conclusive—body of research that has documented the extent to which both “nature and nurture” conspire to shape the person we are. We “inherit” both our strengths and our vulnerabilities from a combination of genetics and epigenetics, from our DNA and from environmental factors such as the emotional patterns passed down to us across multiple generations of our family tree.

Action:

Awareness is the essential starting point for improving how you show up as a leader. Grow your self-awareness (by personal observation and from conversations with family members) of the automatic, inherited family patterns that drive how you interact as a leader at home and at work.

Try It:

After self-awareness comes self-regulation. Since we just began a new year and decade it may be time to reach out in a different direction. Here is an idea. Select one of your trusted colleagues, friends, or relatives to explore three questions.

  • What behaviors do you see in me that tend to get in my way of being my best self?
  • When was the last time or two that you noticed one of these behaviors and what was the impact on me or others?
  • What suggestions for a better approach come to mind?
  • See if you can connect these behaviors to family patterns or vulnerabilities that you may have inherited or been shaped by in your family of origin. Put a plan in place to deepen your self-awareness and self-regulation of the behaviors that matter most to you.

    Danger: Politics Ahead

    Danger: Politics Ahead

    Danger: Politics Ahead

    By John Moyer - Contributing Editor

    Danger: Politics AheadFor many of us, the “good old days” are filled with memories of family get-togethers and laughter. But sometimes “good old days” can also be stressful days. Many dread the subject of politics, where one person’s opinion can cause another either to argue or simply leave the room. What’s being discussed (content) is clouded by the emotion the content triggers (emotional process).

    Resilient Leadership makes a distinction between content and emotional process. Content is what is being discussed- the words that are spoken. Yet what drives the words, especially in tense situations, is emotional process. Internally, when anxiety rises, feelings override sound thinking. One’s internal anxiety is demonstrated by the spoken word, triggering another to argue or simply leave the table. This is an external display of emotional process. The “infection” spreads.

    Resilient Leaders would do well to listen to content and think “emotional process”- thus allowing for a more thoughtful response.

    About the Author...

    John Moyer

    John Moyer is currently a teacher and District Leadership Coach with the Stow-Munroe Falls City School District in Stow, Ohio. John is founder of Third Dimension Leadership LLC: https://www.thirddimensionleadership.com where he provides leadership training and coaching for aspiring leaders. You can contact him at john@thirddimensionleadership.com.

    Emotional Triangles

    Emotional Triangles are Everywhere and Ever Present

    Emotional Triangles are Everywhere and Ever Present

    Emotional TrianglesA triangle is a triad between three people, formed to lower the stress being experienced between two of the people.” Initial exploration by Dr. Murray Bowen led to the realization that the basic building block of emotional systems is the triangle not the dyad as one might initially think.  Bowen discovered that a dyad (two-person) relationship inevitably encounters sufficient anxiety that a third person is sought by one of both members of the dyad to relieve anxiety buildup.

    Others have pointed out that seeing and managing the emotional triangles in their relationships is an essential step to take in order to increase their sense of calm and well-being.

    Here's an Idea:

    Select one relationship that is unsettling to you at the moment.  Think through the issues surrounding the sense of upset that you are experiencing. Find the leg or legs of the emotional triangle that are causing you to be upset.

    Would you like to repair this emotional triangle?
    Find an excellent resource in Chapter 6 of Resilient Leadership 2.0.

    Constantly doing too much at work or home? Make a change in 2020.

    Constantly doing too much at work or home? Make a change in 2020

    RL Practice of the Month

    Constantly doing too much at work or home? Make a change in 2020.

    Constantly doing too much at work or home?
    Make a change in 2020.

    Fact:High levels of chronic anxiety lead to an increase in reactive behavior.  One common form of reactive behavior is over-functioning. If we are over-functioning these days, it means that we are thinking, feeling or acting for another in a way that erodes their capacity for ownership and effective action. The deep roots of this behavior lie in our anxious fears that are generally beneath our conscious awareness.

    Action:

    Pause for a moment and consider where you might be over-functioning in your life and with whom.  Who might you be “thinking, feeling or acting for” in ways that could be eroding the other person’s efficacy?  What underlying fear might be driving your behavior.

    Try It:

    This month, keep a list of the fears that are driving your over-functioning behaviors (e.g. Fear of: Being left out, losing control, losing my job, getting behind at work, getting old, etc.). Identify ways you are over-functioning in connection with these fears.  Then consider these questions:

    1. What am I feeling threatened by and how accurately have I assessed these threats?
    2. What might be a more productive way to face my fears?
    3. What should I do now?

    When I Get Angry

    Marcus Aurelius (121 AD – 180 AD) was a Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher who is known
    as the last of the Five Good Emperors. During his lifetime he kept a personal journal that
    subsequently was named and published as Meditations. It remains one of most insightful and
    useful guides to living with courage, temperance, wisdom and justice.

    Some of the most helpful offerings in Meditations and in the Stoic philosophy relate to anger
    management. Here is the idea in a nutshell.

    • The root of anger is revenge. (Someone has wronged me, and I will get them back for it).
    • The Stoic approach to successfully managing anger includes:
      • Self-Awareness – Notice your reactive feelings and actions (chest muscle tension, clenched jaw, change in voice pitch or volume, revengeful thinking, insomnia, tearful, anxiousness, etc.)
      • Thoughtfulness – Remind yourself that anger is driven by your reaction to the perceived transgression not by the action (or inaction) itself. See the source of your anger within yourself.
      • Disconnect – Do not respond until your anger has reduced to the level required for a thoughtful, well considered response to be provided.
      • Think: What is the right action to take? Then act.
      • Take Wise Action – Take action to address the violation with courage, temperance, wisdom and justice. Repair the violation so that all involved walk forward with greater understanding.