How Do We Deal with All this Grief?

So many of us are experiencing grief. We lament how life has changed in recent years. We are experiencing the uncertainty of the future. There are so many challenges ahead of us.

A friend of mine, who was active a few weeks ago, is bedridden and can’t do much for herself. Another is experiencing the loss of a family member, and others are the loss of important relationships. A parent tells me how her child is growing and her sense of family connection has changed. An elderly person grieves because he doesn’t have the same capacity to achieve goals and doesn’t feel like he is contributing to the world. People are missing the connections of colleagues they once experienced at work, as well as the sense of a doable pace of work. Others are suffering due to climate change resulting in flooding and fires. We see the impact of war, isolation, and big and small changes.

We know that things are always changing and will be different. It is easy to want to distract ourselves, so we do not have to feel the pain or sadness as things change. We stay busy or procrastinate, eat, blame others, engage in social media, overwork, and watch TV to avoid our grief. However, when we do not become aware of our experience and attend to our emotions, we put our energy into resisting what is. It is like holding down a beach ball under the ocean. It takes our strength and energy. Instead, if we let go of our holding and resisting, the ball could flow easily.

It is easy to want to avoid feeling the loss of what once was or what we hoped for. Ironically, when we face our disappointments, and acknowledge and accept our emotions, we are in a much better place to see possibilities and to take action. I know that it is not fun to feel our sadness, disappointment, or grief.  However, when we name our emotions and accept them, we are better positioned to be choiceful in our next steps.

In fact, we are able to experience more joy when we awaken to, attend and accept our full range of emotions. It takes intention and practice to embrace our humanness and the whole of life, yet it is worth the effort. In addition, appreciating current moments and savoring what we enjoy, knowing that we can’t hold onto things is valuable. Have hope that when we accept our grief, we will embrace our hope for the future. We will be more confident in our actions. Ideally, we will inspire others to do the same on this life journey. We need to recognize that we are all experiencing challenges and a range of emotions.

Take a moment to awaken to what is happening and accept ‘what is.’ Attend to your emotions, accept and name them. Identify possibilities and then take action. Above all, be kind to yourself and others.

Give Positive Recognition

It is easy to notice what colleagues and others in our life do “wrong”. We naturally have a view of how things “should” be done based on our experiences and conditioning. After all, we have been successful doing things our way.  It is natural to become judgmental toward others and ourselves when we believe something is not correct. Our instinct may be to criticize, judge and turn away. This reaction does not generally serve us.

Think about it. When someone criticizes or judges you, how do you respond? Most likely, you become defensive-whether you share your reaction directly or not. Your energy is spent on justifying your behavior and often making the other wrong. A negative cycle has begun–and can last for a long time as we repeat the story we are telling ourselves and our emotions strengthen.

Of course, we need to notice our reaction in these moments, Stop, Step back and cool down, then Shift to being open and curious. We can look for what we can learn as well as the opportunities in a situation. Perhaps we will collectively identify a more efficient process or even strengthen our relationship after an honest conversation.

It is useful to focus on giving positive recognition to people in our life when things are going as we hope. When we thank a person for going the extra mile or for working collaboratively with colleagues they learn what is important to us. Positive reinforcement strengthens behavior.

Make it a practice to appreciate and recognize positive behaviors that will support your team, family and community. We can all use some positive acknowledgment these days.

Notice Strengths in Others

It seems natural to notice what we consider the negative qualities in others. Even if we don’t say anything directly, others are likely to detect our judgment or lack of support.

A useful practice is to notice what is going well in a relationship, experience appreciation and express gratitude. Your partner or colleague is often on time, is considerate, takes out the trash, gives you empathy and is a strong listener. Rather than take these positive attributes for granted, notice them and experience gratitude for these actions. Then, thank your partner or colleague for this behavior. Be specific. “I really appreciate how you took the time to hear how upset I was about the presentation. It meant a lot to me to receive your empathy and care. I am glad to be working with you.” Of course, you need to say this in words that are authentic for you. Do not express such appreciation if it is not real. Take the time to notice and be thankful.

When you notice and appreciate others’ strengths, it reinforces that behavior and helps them to know what is important to you. They are more likely to continue the positive action. 

Can You Experience Joy These Days?

“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” – Buddha

Why do you have most of what you dreamed about–maybe a good career, family, friends and a safe home and yet still not be joyful?  My clients report many reasons—they feel stressed, overwhelmed and are facing the uncertainty in the world these days.  Yes.  Emotions are contagious, and there are many reasons to feel down and stressed these days.

Is it even possible to live from a place of joy? Yes, we can be open to the life force within us and experience wellbeing or JOYBeing.

We need to set our intention to be open and to experience joy. We can then begin to notice moments of joy, such as seeing a beautiful sunset or hearing the laugh of a child, and savoring these moments. When we savor small moments of joy, we build the mental muscle of noticing more joy.

We can check-in on our self-talk and notice our predominant emotions. Are you telling yourself that things will never work out and you will never get ahead or are you appreciating what is working and all that you are and have?

What behaviors are supporting joy? We know that when we take care of ourselves by getting enough sleep, having healthy eating habits and exercising we are better able to manage stress and can be more receptive to JOYBeing. We can also engage in actions that bring us joy such as listening to music, being with friends and engaging in hobbies.

Another strategy is to stop waiting to be joyful when… you have a better job, have a kid, move, achieve that project, etc.  Instead, focus on what is going well now and let yourself experience the joy of this moment.  We can notice our internal talk and trust that we and things are good enough. Many of us are so hard on ourselves. Instead, we can focus on being self-compassionate. Rather than seeing joy as a destination, allow JOYBeing to be your partner on this journey of life. Can you allow joy now?

Finally, recognize that when you experience JOYBeing, you positively influence those around you. What can be better than knowing that you are making a difference through your presence.

Set your intention to experience JOYBeing and take action to do so.

What is Your Mindset About Aging?

I hear a lot of comments these days about aging–perhaps because I am getting older. Many people say things like “over the hill” or “downhill from here.”  

It’s so valuable to assess our mindset. Recent research is demonstrating that our mindset about aging can make a huge difference in our experience and well-being. Becca Levy, researcher and author of Breaking the Age Code: How Your Beliefs About Aging Determine How Long & Well You Live, asserts that our beliefs about aging impact our longevity and quality of life. Those with positive beliefs about aging live about 7.5 years longer than those with negative views. In addition, those with a more positive view of aging have more positive memories, recover more quickly from injuries, and are generally more positive. 

In her book, The Inside Story, Susan Sands, makes the case that we can experience more joy as we age as we stay attuned to our body sense or interoceptive awareness.  With a positive view of aging, we can appreciate what is happening inside us and outside and experience more presence and joy.  Sands suggests that we can actually be more positive as we age.   

Other research, shared in the book The Happiness Curve, shows that for many people their later years (late ’60s onward) are the happiest time of their lives. The research suggests there is a positivity curve that goes upward–not the downward curve and over-the-hill image we often share. 

What if we could envision aging as a positive opportunity for wisdom and fulfillment, rather than a negative decline? Of course, our bodies age, and we experience loss, but we can reflect on and change our narratives about aging. We can then support changes in the collective narrative. I know of too many people who feel not valued who can actually make a contribution to the lives of others as they age. Just as we are attuned to inequities, we need to be aware of our unconscious biases about age. Are we focusing on older people being slower and less interesting, or appreciating their wisdom?  I recently participated in an intergenerational mentoring program where we shared our experiences. Separated by generations, we were able to shed light on different areas and build a meaningful friendship.  

Examine your perceptions about aging regarding yourself and others. Are you seeing it as a time of decline or fulfillment? Take an Open Stance and experiment with a positive view of aging and notice the possibilities, your choices, and experience.

Are You Experiencing Burnout?

Burn-out: exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration–Merriam-Webster dictionary

Many are sharing with me that they are experiencing burnout these days. Healthcare workers seem particularly impacted after the long road of Covid-19 and worker shortages. Yet, clients across industries are reporting a loss of energy and enthusiasm and being overly tired, feeling depleted and exhausted.  Many feel cynical and even angry about their work, family life, and the future of the world. Some feel indifferent like they are slogging through life and that they are not efficient or effective. Researchers say that burnout occurs when demands are greater than our resources, and we experience allostatic stress. More energy is being expended than energy being cultivated.

Sound familiar? Emotions are contagious, and burnout seems to be too. What can you do?  We need to take action at an individual and collective level.

Of course, to address exhaustion, we need to focus on our physical health and ensure that we get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, and exercise. We need to take time for rejuvenation and rest. That means taking time away from work and engaging in positive activities that are enjoyable and energy-enhancing. Perhaps you dance, do artwork or yoga or another hobby.

To address cynicism and lack of efficacy, we need to connect with what is most meaningful to us and recall our purpose and values. How can we take action to ensure a greater sense of meaning? Perhaps you help someone who is in need of work on a project that is important to you, such as addressing climate change or inequities. It helps to build meaningful relationships and take opportunities to learn and explore areas of curiosity. It is useful to acknowledge and accept our experience and give ourselves empathy.  Then, we are positioned to take action.

The research on burnout has consistently shown that it is a function of both work environment characteristics and individual behaviors. It is essential that organizations reflect on the systemic factors contributing to burnout and work to create environments that support engagement and productivity. With recent changes where organizations are experiencing high turnover and a shortage of workers, more attention is needed to focus on creating conditions that enable resilience and well-being.

At an organizational level, we need to recognize the stress placed on people when they are continually asked to do more and be immediately responsive to clients and each other. It is important to review systems and processes to assess how to make life better and support healthy engagement. Leaders need self-compassion and compassion for their teams.  Fairness, flexibility, autonomy, reasonable workloads, respectful and inclusive environments where people feel they belong with a sense of psychological safety, clear expectations, feedback, efficiency, alignment around a compelling purpose, and opportunities to achieve potential all contribute to enriching cultures. It is useful to examine norms, policies, and structures to ensure the desired culture.

I have been working with leaders to engage in collective conversations to share diverse perspectives to co-create solutions and healthy environments that support dialogue, learning, and collaboration. When leaders adopt an Open Stance, they are curious and compassionate about making life better for all.

We need to address burnout at an individual and collective level. Emotions are contagious, and we can each make a difference in our sphere of influence to create open, positive, and healthy environments where individually, and collectively we experience resilience, well-being and thrive. Take care of yourself and each other.

An Open Stance Ensures Adaptability

Given the accelerating pace of change and uncertainty, I believe that taking an Open Stance is our best way to be resilient and thrive. Rather than reacting to change and new developments, we need to be aware and prepared to respond. We need to be open to learn and to change course when necessary.

Research by McKinsey shows that adaptability is the critical success factor during periods of transformation and systematic change. When we take an Open Stance, we are positioned to learn and to be aware of opportunities.

Of course, our natural response to so much change is to be fearful, to contract and resort to old habitual patterns that may no longer serve us.  When we are closed, our amygdala is activated and we are less positioned to learn new behaviors. When we make the intention of taking an Open Stance, we can engage in practices to build the mental muscle of shifting to being open and embracing possibilities. This is one of the most important skills needed these days for leaders and those who want to positively influence others.

Studies have correlated adaptability with higher levels of learning ability, greater performance, confidence, and creativity. Being open also enhances well-being, connection, and overall satisfaction.

There are many practices that contribute to cultivating an Open Stance to ensure adaptability. A simple one is to build the habit of feeling your feet on the ground as you walk from one place to another and to regularly check-in, take a breath and be present.

Recall your intention to be open. Commit to your wellbeing and take care of yourself. 

We Can Be Healthier

The New Year offers us an opportunity to reflect on our health and wellbeing. Dean Ornish in his book Undo It!: How Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Most Chronic Diseases, provides inspiring research that shows we can become healthy by eating a plant-based diet, exercising, connecting with others and stressing less.  By taking small actions in each of these areas we can enhance our vitality and wellbeing.

I have found being less stressed to be one of the most challenging areas for me. I learned to worry from an early age and I tend to take on more than is reasonable and am motivated to support others and accomplish a lot. I have tended to be a pusher, not of drugs, but pushing myself to do more, be more and achieve more. This approach has been reinforced in our schools and workplaces. However, committing to taking an Open Stance has been transformative. When I remember, I experience more of a pull energy and let go of the worry. I feel more creative and in the flow. I am more productive and can now actually enjoy results.

It is our nature to be peaceful, joyful, curious, and caring. We run after these things and think: “When I have this or achieve that (money, fame, roles, projects, degrees, relationships, etc.) then I will be okay.”  However, it is the running and striving that hides what is accessible when we are more relaxed and open. When we choose openness and quiet our mind and body we stop disturbing what is already there.  When we are open, we connect with an inner sense of awareness of what is and what is possible.  We are able to enjoy our life and contribute.

My commitment is to adopt an Open Stance this year. I know it may feel counterintuitive given all we are facing these days. However, this may be the best time to experiment. I know that being judgmental, closed and pushing are not working for me.  I encourage you to join me on this journey. Let me know your experience as you notice when you are contracted or in judgment and step back and cool down and shift to being open. It is a practice and it is a habit that can be developed.

Commit to cultivating an Open Stance.

What is Your Intention for 2022?

As this year comes to an end, it’s a good time to reflect and envision how you want to be and live in the New Year.

For years, I have had a process of setting my intention of how I want to experience life. While it has been useful to set concrete goals like writing a book or developing a program and exercising regularly, it is valuable to identify a quality you want to experiment with and grow.

I usually identify one word for a year. In the past I have had words like ease, gratitude, spaciousness and even joy.   I then post the word on my computer and in places where I will see it.  I find books, articles and courses that explore the concept and expect to enhance my experience of the value or mindset.  I create an intention statement and say it daily.  For example, “I experience joy.”  As I say the statement aloud or to myself, I notice the sensations related to the intention.  With joy, I feel an openness in my chest and a smile on my face and a sense of lightness.

What’s important is that more than just cognitively recalling the word, my intention is to embody the experience. For example, when joy was my focus, I noticed how joy feels in my body and checked in regularly to actually savor moments of joy. I did study joy.  In addition, I worked with a friend and colleague to examine joy and we even developed and facilitated a course called Cultivating JOYBeing.   I also incorporated practices such as noticing moments of joy each day and journaling about them. As I held the intention to live with joy  and looked for moments of joy, I became more familiar and embraced joy.  Before I set the intention for joy, I desired the quality, but truthfully knew worry and stress much more deeply. Setting an intention and incorporating practices to embody the quality is quite powerful. I am definitely a more joyful or JOYBeing person now.

Setting an intention is not an overnight quick fix, but if not now, when shall we start the process of building the habit?  By setting an intention, we are affirming our identity as a joyful, open or grateful person.  Rather than focusing on an action or goal we strengthen who we are.  For example, you can set a goal to lift weights twice a week or you can envision yourself as strong and healthy. When we focus on who we are becoming we build the neural pathways of a strong person and more effortlessly take actions that confirm our identity.

Given the challenges we are experiencing in the world including polarization, rapid changes and uncertainty, I encourage you to consider setting your intention this year to take an Open Stance.  It is so easy to become closed and judgmental to naturally protect ourselves. Yet, when we choose to be open, we can engage in positive and productive conversations to co-create shared solutions that are needed in our families, workplaces, communities and world.

When we build the mental muscle of noticing when we are closed and Stop, Step back and Shift to being open we notice possibilities, experience connection, aliveness and joy.  We can build this muscle with intention and regular practice.  Openness is contagious (and so is being closed).  When we are open, we inspire others to be open.  We need more openness these days at all levels.

Listen to Understand

How often are you listening to react to your colleague, family member or friend? It is so easy to assume we know what they are saying and want to share our point of view.  We begin rehearsing in our head what we will say and often blurt it out before they even finish. 

We’ve all done this and been on the receiving end of someone not really listening. How does it feel? I know that it does not make me feel more connected to the other person.  

Rather than focusing on sharing my perspective or giving a solution, I have found being genuinely curious and giving empathy builds relationships and results. 

When I relax a bit and allow myself to be authentically curious, I  often learn that my assumptions are off and I find new worlds of possibility and connection open up.  

It helps me to wonder, “What is important to the other person or group?” I also reflect on what is important to me in the interaction and our shared interests or common ground.  It helps to give the other and myself empathy. Empathy is naming the emotion the other is experiencing. Doing so does not mean I necessarily agree with their point of view. 

There are so many opportunities to really listen to others in our life. Experiment with genuinely being curious and giving empathy. What do you notice?