Explore how to increase self-awareness and create sustainable change.

Summer means vacation for a lot of people and I’m hearing from many clients that they are really trying to unplug.  They know it can be tempting to check email and get sucked right back into the work vortex.

Play is Essential to Mental Health

Corporate Wellness Magazine reports that 84 percent of workers surveyed experienced at least one mental health challenge over the past year, including stress, burnout, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and PTSD.  The need for play to improve mental health is more important than ever.

How to Make It Happen

Think about how you felt after a really great vacation – relaxed, recharged, reconnected to yourself and others.  How can you recreate that feeling more often?

  • Connection – Even introverts can benefit from gathering regularly with friends and family. All humans need connection to survive, as well as time alone to think and reflect.
  • Exercise – Exercise, especially outdoors, can improve both mental and physical well-being. Organized sports are a great way to combine exercise and connection.
  • Hobbies – Spending time doing something you enjoy puts deposits in the self-love bank. Consider trying something new to stimulate creativity and improve brain health.

Whether you’re planning a vacation or a weekend, what is one playful thing you need to recharge and how will you make it happen?

I’ve always struggled with disappointment from unmet expectations.  I’m still on the journey of learning to accept things I can’t change because I’m hardwired to make things better.  Since I can’t control all the variables that affect my expectations of what  “better” looks like, should I give up hoping for it?

The Difference between Hope and Expectation

Hope is a positive feeling that originates within. It is related to a desire that something might happen.  Expectation is a similar desire but primarily depends on others to be fulfilled.  An example would be hoping someone will attend your party versus expecting her to come and then being upset when she doesn’t.

How to Avoid Disappointment

In her newest book Atlas of the Heart, Brené Brown identifies a way to reduce disappointment while remaining hopeful:  examining and expressing our expectations.  When we share the movie playing in our heads about how we want something to go, people have a better chance of meeting our expectations.

I invite you to examine your expectations and share them with others.  Then let go of those expectations and hold onto hope.  As my coach Grace Durfee suggests, “Leave room for something better to happen by not getting too fixed on your desired outcome.”

One positive thing during these long pandemic months has been the opportunity to listen to podcasts while walking in my neighborhood.  On a recent cold, sunny day I was encouraged by the concepts outlined by Katherine May in How Wintering Replenishes.  She writes in her book, “Once we stop wishing it were summer, winter can be a glorious season.  It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order.  Doing those deeply unfashionable things—slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting—is a radical act now, but it is essential.”

Ways to Re-Energize

After a very busy fourth quarter in which I enjoyed facilitating several in-person team events, new ones have been postponed until the omicron surge declines.  As an action oriented person, it’s hard for me to go back to “winter” mode of Zoom calls.  Here are a few ways I’m trying to make the most of this opportunity to re-energize myself:

  • Scheduling conversations instead of texting
  • Doing one thing at a time
  • Keeping a gratitude journal

A Season of Life

Wintering is a season of life as well as a season of the year.  Katherine May says, “We have seasons when we flourish, and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones.  Given time, they grow again.”  How are you growing during this season of your life?

“I’m having a hard time focusing and that’s not like me,” my client said.  After successfully navigating a protracted challenging business environment, he couldn’t understand why his productivity had declined.  As we explored the underlying factors, it became apparent that he was stuck in a cognitive tunnel.

 

Immediate Focus

In Smarter Faster Better, Charles Duhigg explains that “cognitive tunneling can cause people to become overly focused on whatever is directly in front of their eyes or become preoccupied with immediate tasks…Once in a cognitive tunnel, we lose our ability to direct our focus. Instead, we latch on to the easiest and most obvious stimulus, often at the cost of common sense.”  This is why my client was distracted by cleaning out his inbox and responding to yet another text message.

Guess Again

Between back-to-back meetings and juggling multiple priorities, it’s easy to fall into reactive mode. To break out of that cognitive tunnel, Duhigg suggests the following approach:

  1. Second guess the story you’re telling yourself – consider what you could have done differently
  2. Encourage others to second guess you – ask someone to help you think about other options
  3. Leverage the feeling of control – empower yourself to make better decisions

When my client imagined the clarity and improved productivity he could have at the end of his cognitive tunnel, he was able to take the first step in that direction.  What do you see at the end of your tunnel?

 

 

Pema Chödrön is an American Buddhist nun and a teacher at the first Tibetan monastery in North America established for Westerners.  In her audio book Don’t Bite the Hook, Chödrön teaches that biting the hook of habitual anger is self-destructive.  She explains that the more we strengthen the habit of anger, the less often we find things that please us.  Chödrön recommends that we practice not getting hooked by small irritants — like slow drivers — to build our muscles for the big ones.

Awareness

As I growled my complaint about the slow driver in the fast lane, Chödrön’s voice and wry sense of humor helped ease me into awareness of the negative energy I was creating.  She encouraged me to get curious about what triggered my anger.  Was I afraid someone would think less of me if I was late?  That’s my innate shame trigger – not wanting to be shunned goes back to my ancestors who couldn’t survive on their own.

Acceptance

Once I became aware of my trigger, I could accept the need to change my response to it.  Instead of getting hooked and making up stories that would fuel my anger (that person is such a terrible driver they shouldn’t even be on the road!), I needed to reframe my attitude toward the discomfort of going too slow.  Practicing patience could help me strengthen my tolerance for the next time I encounter an annoying situation.

Action

Chödrön acknowledges that resisting the urge to act on our anger causes us pain, but pain can wake us up and make us more compassionate.  That worked for me — I was able to move from acceptance into action by using compassion and curiosity.  I wondered what might be happening with the person in the slower car.  Might they be lost or having car trouble?

Mastering this approach to avoid getting hooked by anger will take some of us longer than others.  Chödrön’s advice is to get comfortable with the idea that things and people are changing all the time.  Each new encounter gives us a fresh opportunity to practice awareness, acceptance and action.

Watching my two year old granddaughter dancing and singing these lyrics from the Disney movie “Frozen” was a moving experience:

“Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go…”

I hope my granddaughter will continue to embrace the concepts long after she knows all the words and what they mean — letting go of worrying about what others think of you.  Of course, that’s easier when things are going well and we feel like we’re making good decisions.  It’s much harder not to worry about what others think when we make a very public mistake.

I Am Enough

Self-acceptance requires acknowledging our imperfections, which can be pretty uncomfortable.  My introduction to Brené Brown’s work was her book The Gifts of Imperfection.  It was a gift to me to be reminded that I am enough even though I’m imperfect – and so is everyone else.  All my clients struggle with feeling inadequate at times.

I Need Grace

Self-compassion is vital to self-acceptance.  Kristin Neff’s Self-Compassion Scale is great tool for assessing how we can improve this skill.  It reminded me that I need to keep working on giving myself grace.  One of Dr. Neff’s Self-Compassion Exercises invites us to treat ourselves the way we would a close friend who is struggling – with empathy and compassion.

We are so much more effective when we let go of the need for approval from others and practice self-acceptance.  I am motivated to get better at this so I can set a good example for my granddaughter.  What will motivate you?