I am having a lot of conversations with people these days about all the needs around us. The challenges are many—political issues, climate change, violence, loneliness, stress, poverty, lack of mobility, and diversity issues to name just a few on a larger level. There are countless challenges in workplaces and homes. There is conflict, polarization, stress and the challenge of the need to be innovative and do more with less, find skilled workers and create engaged environments. There is disruption on all levels.
When people lament over the issues there is often a feeling of helplessness. What can one person or a small group do? Most of us are already quite busy and are not sure we have the time or resources or ability to make an impact.
I have been encouraging myself and others to engage in micro-projects. We can indeed make a difference with our presence. The first thing we can do is ensure that we are open to others and to listen and be kind to those with whom we interact. It is understood that Ben Franklin used to begin his day by asking, “What good can I do today?” Even a kind greeting can make a difference since emotions are contagious.
We can also take on a micro-project. Identify an area that interests or concerns you and take one small step. It could be engaging with others on the issue, sharing information and researching what others are doing. Perhaps you talk to one of your favorite restaurants about an alternative to plastic straws. A person I know put together a handout about efforts being done to cause less harm to animals in research and shared the developments with friends and colleagues. Another project can be to build relationships between Marketing and Sales in your workplace or support elderly neighbors. Another colleague started a discussion with neighbors about racism in their city.
Research shows that we have a greater sense of wellbeing when we are working toward a goal or purpose we care about. In addition, when you connect with others who care about similar issues your connections also support wellbeing. Small initiatives and efforts do make a difference. I have heard many stories about how one positive interaction has encouraged others to take action.
One of my projects is inspiring people to recognize the power of being open and to coach people to take steps with a project that is meaningful. When we are open and engage in positive conversations we create new possibilities.
Identify one area that you care about and begin to learn more and look for one small action you can take. Commit to one small micro-project as an experiment and see what develops.
A friend told me that as an introvert she found it challenging to be with her mother. Her mother would talk continuously and ask many questions. My friend found it exhausting. Later her mother would be surprised to see her daughter journaling rather than speaking with her. It was hard for her mother to appreciate a different style. It was much easier for my friend to be with her father, because they did not speak much.
We naturally believe our way of doing things makes the most sense. And it does for us. We have natural dispositions and we have learned behaviors that work for us.
However, given how unique we are with our different mindsets and styles, it is useful to learn how to work with our differences. First, we need to appreciate that we are all seeing and responding in unique ways. Then we need to notice our reactions and manage to shift from judgment to being curious and even recognize the humor in how we can be so different. Without awareness, we can easily become frustrated and blame others for not behaving appropriately. We want to make the intention to be open to others and manage our reactions. When we step back and shift to being curious and engage in positive and productive conversations we can benefit from our various perspectives and ways.
I shudder to think of all of the people who have felt hurt and experienced missed opportunities simply because a colleague or family member has a different way of processing or has a different style.
Set your intention to be open to a different style, catch your judgment and shift to being curious. Notice what you learn.
How often do you find yourself saying I will be happy when… I get a better job, get in a better relationship, lose 10 pounds, buy x, get a credential, learn a skill, etc. It is natural to think that our happiness will come someday when we achieve or attain something.
However, how often do you notice this to be true? How long did you stay happy after a raise or an achievement? Instead, we can choose to be happy now rather than waiting until someday when… which never fully satisfies us.
We can begin to allow moments of joy in our life starting today. We only need to look for and add moments that bring us joy. You can notice the beautiful flowers and take in the joy of nature on your way to work. You can greet neighbors and coworkers with a smile and enjoy the moments of connection. You can take a walk and appreciate that you are healthy and can walk and breathe. You can savor a cup of tea or coffee and really appreciate it.
By allowing ourselves moments of joy and savoring these moments we actually create more joy in our lives. In fact, this joy is contagious and will positively influence those around us too. What are we waiting for? I know that I deprived myself of such moments because I thought I had to earn such joy. In fact, we are entitled to it now.
Allow yourself to savor and create moments of joy throughout your day and notice the impact on you and others.
We all have habitual patterns that supported us at one time. For instance, I was once a worrier, and this served me at the time by pushing me to do more than what was required and to achieve many things. After a while, however, worrying just became a habit—even when it did not serve me. We now know that a neural pathway was formed in my brain and this one became like a big highway.
I worked on replacing this pattern. Rather than focusing on what I didn’t want, such as, “I don’t want to fail or do a poor job or be unsuccessful,” I focused on what I did want. “I want to be at ease and confident.” I not only said such words, I allowed myself to experience ease and openness. I noticed that in this state, I was more relaxed and actually accomplished more with less effort. With worry out of the way, I really felt open and saw new connections and possibilities with my coaching and organization clients, as well as in my personal life.
I amped up this sense of openness by experiencing gratitude. By not just reciting what I am grateful for but really allowing myself to experience gratefulness, I sense even more possibilities.
I still have the worry road readily available (the neural pathways are still in place and less prominent). However, I am choosing the newer expanding openness road that is taking me to new and exciting places.
Begin to strengthen your openness pathway by focusing on what you do want rather than what you don’t want, opening yourself to ease and possibility.
“How could he say that in the meeting?! I can’t believe it. He makes me look bad. I can’t trust him. I’ll show him.” This is what my executive client shared about what he was feeling when a colleague said negative things about him and his team. How do you think he responded?
While his instinct was to say a cutting remark or to not speak with his colleague, my client was able to notice his reaction, stop a moment, breathe and respond. In fact, he paraphrased what his colleague said and gave him empathy, saying, “I see you are frustrated by the low numbers.” His colleague agreed he was upset and apologized for his tone. Then my client asked questions, listened and they developed a plan together. My client learned how to check in with himself and ask, “Are you open?”
Being open allows us to be at choice in how we respond. Too often we unconsciously react. This is especially true when we feel threatened and have a knee-jerk reaction of fighting, fleeing or freezing. In these states our amygdala is stimulated and cortisol flows through our bodies. Energy is diverted from our rational prefrontal cortex and we are not at our best to analyze a situation and choose the most effective course of action.
When we see the value and make the intention to be open, we are more likely to notice when we are closed or stressed. We can then choose to step back and see things from a larger perspective. We can notice our emotions such as anger rather than just experience anger. When we build the muscle and habit of stopping and stepping back when we are contracted and feel “right”, we are open to more possibilities. The skill of noticing and shifting to being open is one of the most valuable leadership skills these days. You will be able to appreciate different points of view, learn, and be more innovative and creative.
We know the costs of polarization and closed-mindedness. When people learn how to be open-minded and to engage in positive and productive conversations, we are more likely to create shared solutions to the challenges facing the world, workplaces, communities and families.
Notice if you are reacting in a knee-jerk way or if are you open, present, curious and at choice.
A 75-year Harvard study by Grant and Glueck tracked 724 participants from all walks of life and found that the key to long term fulfillment and happiness are positive relationships. Other studies confirm that those in supportive relationships live longer.
Healthy relationships require more than just knowing people or being “friends” on social media. However, many of us lament that we are “too busy” and don’t have time for relationships given packed schedules, stressful lives and turbulent environments.
Research shows that we build friendships by spending time with people. One thing we can do, even if we are busy, is to consciously intend to connect with those we interact with at home and work. It only takes an intention and a few minutes to really acknowledge someone. Simple actions such as appreciating a colleague or a family member or inquiring about their day and really listening can create a meaningful relationship. A few minutes of real empathy and caring can make a difference for you and the other person. You can even silently wish others well. Of course, taking time for coffee, a meal or a walk with a friend will further build the relationship. Don’t forget to call friends too.
Make it your intention to build relationships even with small micro-moments of connection over time. Notice the impact on you and others, as well as the quality of your environment.
Research shows that optimists are healthier, sleep better and have fewer strokes. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that optimists live 11-15% longer than pessimists. Yet, it is hard to be an optimist amidst negativity and disruption and challenges everywhere.
However, our perspective on how things are unfolding can be modified by a few simple habit changes. For example, I started to consciously notice how often I worried about things working out. It was more often than I realized. I adopted the habit of shifting to appreciating what is going well. I noticed that quite a few things were actually going well. I then created the game of noticing one of the best things that happened during a day. It helped me to be on the lookout for things going well. I noticed that this simple shift enabled me to experience more ease.
I also find it useful to reflect on at least three things I am grateful for each evening and/or morning. The secret is not just to think about these things. Rather than just be grateful that I could take a walk outside, I focus on really feeling the gratitude and holding onto the positive sensations for 30 seconds to a minute. Rick Hanson, a neuroscientist, says that by savoring these positive feelings we are building stronger neural pathways to experience the positive.
I encourage you to experiment with seeing the glass half full and noticing the impact on you and others.
I was asked by a board to conduct interviews regarding perceptions of a CEO. A senior staff person was angry with the CEO and complained that the senior staff had not been respectfully informed or included in the process.
Then I told her that it was not the CEO’s decision but the board dictated how the process would proceed. In fact, we changed the process to include the senior staff. She immediately now saw things differently and relaxed her judgment and even became appreciative of the CEO. She realized that he was not purposely shutting out the senior team. She even shared many examples of respect and strong communication.
How many times do we think we see the whole picture and make attributions about someone’s behavior? When we find out there is more to the story, our view completely changes.
Think of times when you saw things one way and then learned more and realized your assumptions were not accurate. Then remind yourself often that “we don’t know what we don’t know.” There is usually more to a story than we see.
Focus on catching yourself when in judgment and seek more understanding.
I had a packed week with calls, presentations and deadlines. I braced myself for the late nights and all the work required. I regretted that I had a dental appointment that had been scheduled many months before. As I walked to the appointment I focused on what I had to do. However, on the way back, I began to notice the beautiful fall day and the crispness in the air. I noticed the abundance of flowers and the beauty all around me. I began to smile and talk with strangers about the day. I experienced connection with the beauty and my neighbors. It was a wonderful 15-minute walk. I told myself I need to get outside more.
We need to let ourselves experience the small moments of joy that are all around us. When we are stressed and have too much on our minds we miss a lot. I regret all such moments I have missed because of my speed and lack of awareness.
Ironically, when we experience such moments of joy we have a lot more energy for the work and we positively impact others too.
Slow down, feel your feet on the ground and allow yourself to experience moments that bring you joy. Notice what supports this experience. Is it being in nature, listening to music, reading, cooking, or friends?
Notice what brings you joy and be sure to incorporate at least one such experience in your day.
So many people I meet are feeling stressed and depleted these days. With disruptions in workplaces, the environment and the world, it can be hard to feel positive. We can feel a lack of control and like things are just happening to us.
Rather than focus on what is depleting you, notice what gives you energy. Try an experiment. Notice the things that bring you joy and note them. For example, I notice that I feel more positive and alive when taking a walk in nature. I can get a bigger perspective. I also enjoy reading and listening to podcasts. I love to be learning. I enjoy a phone call or a conversation with a friend in which we feel connected and share deeply. I like sharing a laugh with a neighbor or a friend. I enjoy exploring ideas with a client or team to support their development. I enjoy drawing and exploring art. Listening to music is also fun as is enjoying a cup of tea.
Build your list for a few days and notice the patterns that emerge. Notice the small things that bring you joy. Have your list in a visible place and make the commitment to add these to your day and appreciate the small and big moments of joy.
I encourage coaching clients to check their list often and make sure they are doing at least one thing per day that they enjoy. One client goes swimming or reads her favorite books.
We can take responsibility for noticing and embellishing our days with positive energy. Start today and notice the impact on you and those around you.