What Path Do You Choose?

Drawing by Ann Van Eron

Alice always sees what is going wrong or what can go wrong. While she is a bright and interesting person she feels alone. She has alienated people with her negative disposition. When I asked her to share a few things that are going well she said she would need time to reflect since she habitually saw the negative.

We all have habitual patterns that are so automatic that we don’t see or believe that we have a choice. At one point it had served Alice to see what could go wrong. She was able to anticipate and prepare. This served her greatly in her early childhood where she could ask for what she wanted and get the help she needed and also in her career—to a point. Her early bosses knew that she was reliable and she would produce impeccable reports. However, as she progressed in her career her negativity and pressure to have things a certain way caused her to turn people off.  She failed to perceive that her negativity is what caused people to not want to work with her. Instead, she tended to think that it was the others who were not bright, capable or as hardworking.

I worked with Alice to build another path. Her well-worn neural pathway of negativity activated her amygdala and caused her to react with anxiety and employ fight and flight strategies. When she noticed her contraction she could use it as a signal to shift to another pathway and look for what was positive and what she appreciates in the moment.  In addition, she reflected each day on what she was grateful for. This was not an easy new path to develop but after a short time she learned how to make the shift and activate the polyvagal nerve which released oxytocin.  Literally, a different part of the brain is activated and she experienced more ease and relaxation.

Over time, Alice reported a better quality of life with more positivity and greater connection. We all have habitual patterns where we can learn new paths for greater well-being. And our well-being influences those around us. 

What new pathway can you begin developing today?

What is Your Word?

I find it useful to identify a characteristic that I want to embody.  Each year I create an intention of what I want to experience. Our intentions and words matter.  Selecting one word helps us to focus with clarity. It helps us to set priorities and actions to fulfill our aspiration.  There is something powerful about making a declaration to ourselves (and others we trust who can support us).

When we set an intention for ourselves, we are more likely to move toward that aspiration.  Our intention is more about who we want to be than what we want to do. Our word is what is important to how we want to be.

How would life be different for you if you embodied your characteristic? One of my favorite intentions has been ease.  I have a tendency to take the difficult road and work quite hard. I desire to be more at ease and create ease in those around me.  I envision more space and time to reflect and more of a sense of flow in my life. By setting the intention to embody ease I became more aware of when I was experiencing ease and when I was not. It is useful to post your word in places you will notice it to remind you of your aspiration.

I remind myself each day of my intention and visualize experiencing the word and I notice that I take steps to embody that intention.

Be open to identifying a characteristic or word that you would like to embody this year. Make it a practice of recalling your intention, envision how your life will be embodying it and notice ways to take action to make your aspiration a reality.

Multiple Realities

 

Multiple_RealitiesOur upbringing and experiences influence how we see the world, our mindset and how we behave.  We each interpret things in a different way. When someone challenges our perspective we easily become defensive and argue for why our view is correct.

These days we are seeing polarization not just politically but in organizations where there are tensions between various offices and between management and the field and between functions and other dimensions.

Are our differences fully a function of our conditioning?  John Hibbing, a researcher and political scientist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln suggests that the partisan divide in the U.S. might arise not just from our upbringing and background but from our biology.

His research suggests that just as we may be born with a disposition to be introverted or extraverted or left or right-handed, there are psychological differences between liberals and conservatives. He is co-author of the book, “Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences.”

His research suggests that liberals and conservatives have different temperaments. For example, conservatives tend to be tidy and have more things such as sports memorabilia in their homes while liberals tend to have more experiential things like books and diverse CDs.

Hibbing suggests that liberals and conservatives differ in how they see threats and dangers. If someone sees the world as more threatening, they may support self-protection, spending more on defense and managing immigration. Liberals may not perceive the same level of threat and are more opposed to such measures.

Each tends to judge the other group as obtuse and biased. But what if we accepted that people are truly seeing the world differently based on temperament and experience? Brain research supports that we have unique structures which cause us to perceive differently. Higgins and his group did a study to show that people even smell substances differently. You can hear more in an interview of Hibbing at https://www.npr.org/podcasts/510308/hidden-brain

What if we could recall that there are multiple realities and people are always seeing the world differently? Could we then focus on how to find common ground and work together for the benefit of all rather than devoting our energy to fighting each other and working to prove our way is correct?

A client who is an extravert found herself irritated with her introverted colleague and argued that he should be more direct and that her way was the “right way.” However, after accepting their unique temperaments, they were able to recognize each other’s needs and come to agreement on how to communicate and create a positive environment.

I envision a time when we notice our differences, give ourselves and others empathy and then shift to being open minded. We could then engage in creative conversations to find solutions that honor our differences and create a better world. It won’t be easy and we will have to catch our judgment. However, we have a lot to achieve together.

Take a step to appreciate our multiple realities and speak to someone with a different view.  What do you have in common and where is there common ground to listen to one another and create joint solutions?

We’re in this Together: Begin a Conversation

Juggling

Our task is to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.   —Albert Einstein

It’s not hard to notice that we are becoming more and more polarized and engaging in less conversations as we experience more disruption. We are plagued by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.  No doubt, globalization, technological changes, diversity (including four generations in the workplace), political and environmental developments and the rapid speed of change is creating fear and worry for many. 

Neuroscience research is showing that we are reacting to changes and that our emotions of fear and distrust are contagious. The lack of trust and worry pervades communities, workplaces and homes. It is easy to blame others. There is a need for respect and hopefulness. The challenge is that we all perceive respect differently and we need dialogue to understand what people need to feel safe, valued and creative.

There are solutions available. If we adapt an open mindset and have the skills and courage to engage in conversations we can collectively create solutions that will benefit all.

When working with an organization, managers and others can easily focus on what they perceive is wrong with their peers and resort to conflict and resistance. However, when an environment is created for listening, empathy and understanding the team embraces their common goals and are able to work collectively together for a larger vision. I believe that we can each be leaders by noticing our reactions and shifting to being open and looking for creative possibilities. I think of this as creating an oasis-like environment where we are appreciative of what is working and what is possible.

Organizations and individuals generally want many of the same things. However, without real conversations it is easy to assume negative intent of others. Instead, when choosing to assume positive intent and being open to listen, transformation is possible. None of us can see the whole picture or have all the answers.  We need each other and we are in this together.

Conservatives want to conserve what is working and good in a system and progressives want to make things work and be effective. There is common ground. However, when people become fundamental and assume that only their way is right, there is little room for understanding and effectiveness. And so much energy is wasted that could have been devoted to bettering the system for all.

You may wonder, “What can I do? I am just one person.”  However, we can each contribute to a better workplace, community or family.  We can choose to be open to others who may appear to have different perspectives. We can engage in conversations and simple acts of kindness. Take the step of listening and supporting another person today.

For example, we can choose to engage with someone from a different group who may look or seem different. A manager can be open to someone he or she rarely engages with. People with different philosophies can speak with one another about what is working and what is possible.  If we each choose to take small steps we will feel less polarized and see more potential. We will feel like we are doing something constructive rather than feeling out of control and helpless. Many of us engaging in open-minded conversations with a commitment for positive action for the benefit of all will make a difference.

This can be a time of opportunity. Notice your emotions, breathe, focus on possibilities. Engage with someone who has a different perspective. Listen and expect new options to emerge.