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?