Put the Big Rocks in First


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This is a story about priorities. I have demonstrated this concept in my time management and leadership workshops.

A professor stood before his philosophy class. He filled a large jar with rocks and asked his students if the jar was full. They said that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the rocks. He asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. The sand filled up the spaces between the pebbles. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded, “yes.”

The professor then produced two cups of coffee and poured the entire contents into the jar. The students laughed.

The rocks are the important things in your life like your family, your health, and activities that bring you joy. The rocks are your priorities, and the rest of life should work around them.

The pebbles are things that matter – like your job and other obligations. The sand represents all the small requirements of life that take up a lot of our time and make us feel busy. If we fill our jars with sand, we don’t have room for things that make life meaningful.

What about the coffee? No matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a cup of coffee with a friend. Having a supportive community is important.

This is an important reminder right now. Some of us have had our jars emptied out on the table in front of us. What was once a priority doesn’t seem important at all given current world events. It feels like our society is at a tipping point that requires us all to determine anew what are the most important things in life.

Once we decide what our priorities are, we want to be sure that we make time for them. We want to block off time for our rocks; then we work in the rest of life around them.

Compare your to-do list with your priorities. Are your priorities on the list of things to do tomorrow? If not, block off some time on your calendar, and spend some time on things that move you forward and give your life meaning. If possible, throw in an action or two that will help the rest of us and our society, too.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.


Unpacking Our Boxes in the New Normal


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new normal

I have to admit that I am also tired of hearing “new normal” and “unprecedented times.” However, both phrases accurately describe what we are facing.

I first heard the term “new normal” when I worked with the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC). A team of facilitators would travel to speak with community leaders across the country about how military children were facing a new normal and what the leaders could do to help. Many soldiers returned to their families from Iraq and Afghanistan changed physically, mentally, or both. These military families were defining and handling a new normal.

The new normal that we are facing because of COVID-19 can be as dramatic a change as those military families faced. Certainly, frontline workers and people who have caught COVID-19 and their family members have had their lives change drastically. My thoughts and prayers are with all of them.

The rest of us are facing changes that feel pretty big. We are restricted on where we go and whom we see, and we are asked to wear a mask to protect others. None of these are unreasonable requests given the magnitude of the COVID-19 threat. However, we have been moved against our will to a new normal.

Anyone who has been in a leadership workshop with me knows that I like to use metaphors to make things easier to see and understand. I like to think about this new normal as moving to a new house.

Movers have come into our homes and packed up everything that we keep hidden in the back of our closets and under the bed, things we don’t like to look at and would prefer to ignore. These are things like how we feel about ourselves, our abilities, our relationships, and our work. They’ve probably been unexamined for quite some time. Generally we keep busy so we don’t have to look at anything in our lives that makes us feel uncomfortable. Now they’ve been packed up in boxes that are blocking our paths at every turn.

Most of us have moved at some point in our lives. I’ve moved 20 or so times. After the moving truck pulls away, we are faced with a dwelling full of boxes. Walking from room to room is like walking in a maze. I remember having one small space to crawl through to get to my bed that was surrounded by a wall of boxes. It was like sleeping in a tiny fortress.

That’s where we are in this new normal. It’s really the same home, but it’s cluttered with boxes of unexamined items. We aren’t even sure what is in most of the boxes. And we now have a choice.

We can continue to dodge the boxes, waiting for the day when we can escape our homes and go back to ignoring them. Eventually they will make their way back into the closet and under the bed. However, we have a great opportunity to declutter our lives and create more space for living.

The other metaphor that I use for freeing up space in our lives is a garden. We are born with a beautiful, open garden. As we experience life, we decide that certain experiences are painful and shouldn’t be repeated. Many happen in childhood. If someone makes fun of one of my drawings, I rope off the drawing area of the garden and vow not to go in there again. Then I try to cook, and it’s awful. So I rope off the area of creative cooking. After a while, my nice, open garden is full of roped-off areas, and I can hardly walk in it.

Here is the bottom line: What we can’t be with runs our lives. If I am constantly avoiding drawing, cooking, and maybe conflict, I construct a life that avoids those things. I am not free. It can be painful, but it’s better to revisit the area and open it up again so we have space to explore the possibilities of our lives.

So, how do we unpack the boxes and examine the contents? How do we decide what we keep and find a place for in our lives? How do we know what to get rid of?

Before we begin, we have to get brave and strong. I’ve written two blogs on our autonomic nervous system and its three states. We find courage in the highest state, the ventral vagal state. If examining a box seems beyond your capabilities, start with those blogs, and figure out how to get into your most creative and peaceful state, where you have a general sense of well-being. Then you can tackle the hard stuff. Ultimately, figuring out what’s in our boxes helps us achieve and stay in the ventral vagal state.

We open a box by sitting still and asking ourselves what discomfort we are trying to avoid. We might get the image of a person or a certain situation, but we will feel an emotion. First, we name the emotion. Is it fear, shame, embarrassment, or anger? Sometimes it helps to look at a list of emotions. University of California, Berkeley researchers defined 27 basic emotions: admiration, adoration, aesthetic appreciation, amusement, anger, anxiety, awe, awkwardness, boredom, calmness, confusion, craving, disgust, empathic pain, entrancement, excitement, fear, horror, interest, joy, nostalgia, relief, romance, sadness, satisfaction, sexual desire, and surprise. There are lots of lists online.

Relationship researcher John Gottman also has a list: defensive, not listened to, my feelings were hurt, angry, sad, unloved, misunderstood, criticized, worried, afraid, unsafe, out of control, righteously indignant, unfairly picked on, stupid, lonely, and ashamed. Personally, I think they both left off frustration, and I’m not sure what category it would fit under. As always, do your own thing, and find a list – or not – that resonates with you.

Once we have defined the emotion, we can ask “What makes me feel that way?” For example, if I sit quietly I begin to think about all of the things that I feel I should be doing for work. The emotion that I am feeling is hopelessness. I don’t feel like there is a point to do the tasks that would increase my online presence – which is more necessary given I can’t meet with groups in person right now. I remember my failed attempts to do things online. I spent a lot of time on an online class that got little to no response. Now I have defined the emotion and what makes me feel that way.

Now, I have some choices. It’s helpful to step outside ourselves and become an observer at this point. If a friend was in this predicament, what might you recommend? It’s easier to make choices if we aren’t stuck in the muck of emotion, and we engage our neocortex when we shift to observer mode. We can start by asking ourselves where we feel this emotion in our bodies.

The three choices in a situation we do not like are to change it, accept it, or flee from it. Let’s start with change. We can make a physical change or a mental shift. In my example, I can reframe the failure as a learning and try again in a different way. I can change my attitude. I can also change how I go about creating an online presence.

If I accept the situation, I make peace with the fact that creating an online presence is a waste of time. The key is being at peace with it and deciding that there are better uses for my time.

Fleeing in this instance could mean changing professions. Maybe leadership training will never happen in person again. Perhaps I need to learn to code. In reality, it feels a bit early to flee, and I sincerely believe that the concepts that I talk about are necessary and life-changing. I know that I won’t be fleeing.

If I’d been thinking about a relationship or a job, the steps would be the same. I could have defined worry as the emotion that I was feeling, or anxiety, and determined that financial worries were the cause. The steps are the same. I ask, “Can I change it?” If not, can I accept it? If not, can I get out of it and flee?

In general, the same questions apply to people, situations, and beliefs as apply to objects that we own. Do I love it? Is it useful? We want to eliminate things from our lives that don’t bring us joy or are not useful.

Honestly, a life coach can help with this process – defining the emotion, the cause, and what to do about it, if anything. It can be very difficult to see ourselves objectively.

We are deciding who we want to be in this new normal and then eliminating the things that don’t support the new us. We want to hold on to the people, ideas, and things that do support us. I have made some choices concerning my example.

I’ve decided that I need help and expertise. I have a virtual assistant starting in September to handle the technology part of my vision. I am getting the pieces and parts ready now. Analyzing the discomfort led me to take positive action toward a new goal, necessitated by the new normal.

Our new normal can include more peace, joy, and freedom if we are willing to examine ourselves and take steps to support the new us in the new normal.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.


Stress and Polyvagal Theory (Part 2)


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In the last blog, we talked about Polyvagal Theory. If you’re back, I didn’t scare you off with the science stuff. In brief, our autonomic nervous system has three states: dorsal vagal (Down in a Hole), sympathetic nervous system (Superman on High Alert), and ventral vagal (Victory). It is important to know what the three states are and how they feel to us individually.

And we took care of all that last week! So if we think of the three states as being on a ladder – as suggested by Deb Dana in her book The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy – how do we move up the ladder?

First, we don’t jump from the bottom to the top of the ladder. We go up or down one rung at a time. It’s important to realize that we aren’t going to suddenly become joyful if we are depressed.

However, there are a bunch of things that we can do to help move our autonomic nervous system to the ventral vagal state. These things can also help us stay there. I’ve already implemented several and feel that my mental state is much improved. Here is a list:

1. Breath/Meditation. Emotions and respiration are linked. We can influence our emotions by paying attention to our breath. We become mindful and focus only on our breath in the moment. Deep, full breaths help us calm down and move to the ventral vagal state. Note: A deep, full breath starts with a complete exhale to empty the lungs.

Meditation is another form of mindfulness. One meditation, in particular, has tons of research about its benefits for the person meditating and the person the meditator is concentrating on. You can read about it here and also find lots of guided loving-kindness meditations if you search online. Know that regular practice of the loving-kindness meditation can have a profound effect on your health and mental well-being.

2. Sound/Music. Pleasant sounds can improve our mood and outlook. It’s fun to figure out what makes us feel more positive. I like the sound of a babbling brook. I had a candle that was also a small fountain, and I miss its soothing sound. I am looking for another one.

Music is especially powerful. I asked my leadership workshop participants to send me a song that lifted their spirits, and I created a playlist. I enjoy some of the songs that they sent. Others just don’t do it for me. I find that our choice of music that moves us up the autonomic nervous system ladder is very individual. There isn’t one song for everyone.

I do have a happy playlist on my phone. I add to it every time I hear a song that energizes me. When I need some motivation, I listen to my happy songs. Never try to rationalize your choice of songs. If it makes your heart feel lighter, it’s good. I have Barry Manilow and disco on my list. No one gets to judge your happy playlist!

Singing music is another way to lift your spirits. There is research that we connect with each other when we sing together. COVID-19 has put a damper on that for now, but keep it in mind. Singing in the church choir is good for your spirit and your autonomic state.

3. Temperature. This one is new to me. When I was firmly ensconced in the sympathetic nervous system state, I was cold much of the time. Turns out, that’s not uncommon. I have an electric throw blanket that I keep by my favorite chair. The warmth of the blanket is also heartwarming; its comfort helps us up a rung or two on the ladder.

4. Nature. No one can say exactly why, but humans are rejuvenated when in nature. It doesn’t have to be bug-filled, scary nature deep in the woods. It can just be a tree or a houseplant.

When I first moved into my condo, it felt like a hotel room. After months of living here, it still didn’t feel like home. Then I started adding plants. I now have a lot of plants, and I love them! I remember the day that I came home, unconsciously bracing for the resistance I felt at calling the condo home. I opened the door and saw all of the plants. I felt my shoulders relax, which is a sure sign that I am moving up the ladder towards the ventral vagal state.

GHF5. Art/Creative Endeavors. The feeling of being in flow when engrossed in some sort of creative activity is awesome. There is a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction for me. Somewhere I read about filling a space completely with color. It doesn’t matter how. I picked a large index card and had fun filling it with color. Here is one of my creations. It doesn’t have to be great art to help you feel great.

6. Movement. Research shows that walking for 30 minutes each day is more effective than taking medication for depression. Moving helps – even the smallest bit of motion! Stretching up to the ceiling each time that you stand can be a good start.

Honestly, in the beginning of regaining my positivity, movement seemed like too big a chore. It wasn’t until I’d enacted some of the other things and had begun to see a light at the end of the tunnel that I began to move.

I am currently doing Richard Hittleman’s Yoga: 28 Day Exercise Plan from a very old book. My mom and I used to do it in the summer. I feel so much better and stronger when I do some light stretching and exercise each day.

If you are an avid exerciser, I am preaching to the choir!

7. Smells. Smells of all kinds can create strong emotional reactions. Certain aromas can bring back a flood of memories. We also know that diffusing essential oils can encourage various states of mind. If you search online for essential oils that create a peaceful feeling, several come up over and over again. Ylang ylang, spearmint, and orange are just a few. I am a fan of Sacred Frankincense. It’s fun to sniff and blend to find a combo that relaxes your shoulders and makes you feel lighter.

8. Connection. I have saved the most powerful action for last. In order to reach and maintain the ventral vagal state, we need to feel a nurturing connection with others. Dana writes, “The autonomic nervous systems of two individuals find sanctuary in a co-created experience of connection.” Wow. Sanctuary. That is powerful.

I will confess to resisting the idea that I need others to create happiness for myself. Certainly, I enjoy my family and friends but didn’t think of them as an absolute necessity for my own sense of well-being. Well, biology has proven me wrong, and I accept it. Mostly because I intentionally reached out to others when I was feeling very low and, as a result, feel much better.

a. Circle of friends. One day my sister was talking about her friends and how she saw them in three circles. The closest circle are friends who live near her whom she sees often. The next circle is people she cares about, but who are more distant – geographically or emotionally. The third circle is mostly acquaintances. Then there are other people outside her three circles that she knows.

I decided to do that exercise on a piece of paper. I encourage you to do the same. I did mine a little differently. I started with all the friends who live near me, people that I can visit. In the second circle I put close friends who don’t live near me. They are people I talk with often. The third circle is people I care about, but who I don’t see or talk with regularly. Everyone else is out there beyond my circles.

Then I started revising my lists. I only have about three people who are close friends who live near me. They went into their own inner circle. The rest of the geographically close people are ones who I want to nurture a closer friendship with.

In addition to being nurturing, a relationship must also be reciprocal in order to help us maintain the ventral vagal state. One of us may need more support for a time, and then the other. However, overall our relationship is balanced if we have reciprocity.

Look at the people in your circles. Does the relationship include heartfelt listening and responding? Is it balanced? Do you feel a nurturing sense of connection with this person? If the answer is no to any of these questions, chances are pretty good that they are not helping you maintain the ventral vagal state. Don’t depend on them for that.

If the answer is yes to all of them, reach out and connect with that person more often. Make time with them a priority. Your emotional state depends on it.

After I created my list, I got on the phone and made social-distance dates with two friends that I hadn’t seen in person for a while. Both were outside in nature – bonus. We sat six to eight feet from each other and had a great time chatting. I’ve kept up contacting people, and I cannot adequately describe how I feel now compared to how I was. My outlook is more positive, and I have more energy. People can help. Who knew?

b. Meet them where they are. It’s important to know that anyone stuck in either of the lower two states is missing a big chunk of their adult-thinking ability. In the ventral vagal state we are open-minded, creative, and capable of compassion and self-compassion. Those things are biologically unavailable to someone stuck in fight-or-flight. Once again – wow. It explains a lot of the behavior that we have been seeing since the pandemic started. Fear keeps us from listening fully and thinking clearly. Whether it’s someone in your circles or not, maintain some reasonable expectations if they are stuck in the sympathetic nervous system state.

c. Establish psychological safety. Every time that we have an interaction with someone, we ask, “Is it safe to engage with this person in this moment in this place?” We are asking if we feel psychologically safe. Anyone hanging out with me for any length of time knows that psychological safety is one of my favorite soapboxes. You can read a lot about psychological safety in my blogs.

Essentially, we want to tell others with our facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, and consistent, reasonable actions that we are safe to talk with and reliable.

d. Be the help. The balance that we are looking for when our ventral vagal system is in charge is called homeostasis. In order to achieve and maintain homeostasis, we need the help of others. Once we have managed to make a ventral vagal state our home base, we can help others achieve it. Our regulated autonomic nervous system can help others regulate theirs. It sounds cold and sciency, but it really means listening in a heartfelt way that supports others as they climb the autonomic nervous state ladder one rung at a time.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.

Stress and Polyvagal Theory (Part 1)


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I was recently talking to a friend who is also a coach. I said to her, “I think I just need to accept the fact that I am an angry old woman. I am angry all the time!”

Her response was, “Me, too!”

I know enough to be leery of my own self-assessments, but I also know that my friend is not normally an angry person. I started listening to how other people were feeling. Many friends and acquaintances talked about not sleeping well and being short-tempered. Others felt panicky or depressed. It wasn’t just me!

Of course, the obvious answer is that we are all under a lot of stress during a pandemic. Duh! The bigger question is “what can we do about it”? Before we can come up with an action plan, we need a useful way to look at stress and its effects on our bodies.

As is often the case, I found the answer on my bookshelf. It’s not unusual for me to order books on a topic and have them sit on the shelf for a while. Then, suddenly I will want the information in them. Sitting on my shelf this time were two books on polyvagal theory.

Don’t run off! When I say “polyvagal theory,” people’s eyes glaze over, and they check out on me. Please don’t. The topic sounds dry and boring, but it gives us handles that we can use to move around and examine our pandemic stress.

I am going to un-science polyvagal theory a bit. If you are familiar with it, don’t mess with me for simplifying it. It’s important to me to make it useful. Here goes.

Part of our nervous system works on its own to regulate our basic bodily functions, like heartbeat, breath, and digestion. It’s called our autonomic nervous system. Our autonomic nervous system operates in three basic states.

When we are depressed, hopeless, or without energy, we are in the dorsal vagal state. Think of it as down in a hole. The world looks bleak, and we disassociate from other people when we are down in the hole.

When we are frightened or angry, our sympathetic nervous system has taken over. Most of us know it as the “fight or flight” state. We are on high alert, anxious, and expending a lot of energy. We are also angry a lot of the time about almost anything. I think of it as Superman on High Alert, looking for danger and bad guys.

Of course, neither of those is the state that we want to be in. We want to be peaceful and feel empathy. We want to be engaged and passionate while acting with compassion towards ourselves and others. That highest state is the ventral vagal state. Think “V” for victory. When we are in the ventral vagal state, we are more creative and open-minded.

autonomic state ladder

In one book that I read called The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy, author Deb Dana uses a ladder to visualize the three states. I like her metaphor and highly recommend her book if you want to learn more about polyvagal theory.

So here is a ladder with the three states. We move up and down the ladder one rung at a time. It’s not unusual to move through the three states many times during a day. However, we want to make the ventral vagal state at the top our home base.

Staying in the ventral vagal state can be a challenge right now because of COVID-19, which has moved us all down a rung or two from where we usually hang out. Even if I am usually in a ventral vagal state, our new normal is scary and unnerving. Moving down to the sympathetic nervous or dorsal vagal state is completely understandable.

So, what can we do to move up a rung or two when we feel anxious or depressed? Dana has some great suggestions in her book, and I have already used several to help myself become less angry and more at peace. I also have a few ideas of my own. Tune in next week for a list of suggestions!

In the meantime, practice noticing what state you are in at any given moment. Awareness is the first step!



For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.

Lower the Bar


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It’s unusual for a leadership coach and trainer to advocate lowering one’s standards, but these are unusual times. I talk about situational leadership in workshops all the time. As leaders, we must change our style to fit the experience of the people who we are leading and the importance of the task being done. Now I’m promoting situational standards.

I am not talking about changing our moral code. The standards that we hold for ourselves involving integrity, honesty, and transparency must not waver. I am talking about goals and expectations that we set for ourselves around achievement.

At the beginning of self-isolation, I created an ambitious list of things to accomplish both professionally and around my condo. I had categories and priorities. It was actually quite impressive! And I ignored it for the most part. I did what needed to be done, but not much more.

I beat myself up about my lack of motivation and achievement and then realized that I was truly doing the best that I could under the circumstances. I also realized that self-shaming was not helping. So, I lowered the bar on how I spent my time and how I felt.

First, I allowed myself to slow down quite a bit. Instead of maintaining a frenetic sense of achievement where I was always accomplishing something, I sat for short periods of time watching television or playing my beloved Plants vs. Zombies. I even added Sudoku to my repertoire. I still did what was necessary, but at a slower pace with more breaks. My productivity increased because I was more relaxed.

I also began with ambitious fitness goals that included using my stretchy resistance bands. I realized pretty quickly that those goals weren’t going to happen. The bands are still unstretched. So, I lowered the bar. When I stood up from working at the computer, I did five squats. When I passed through a doorway, I did 10 push-ups against the frame.

It doesn’t sound like much exercise, but even a little movement is an excellent antidote to malaise. When you start, you feel better. Then you can take on bigger goals. Now I’m incorporating yoga into my daily routine.

I am also talking about giving ourselves a break in maintaining our professional, calm demeanor. Of course, we never want to lose our cool, but these are some stressful times that challenge us physiologically (which we will discuss next week). When we feel that we are about to say or do something that could damage a relationship, it’s okay to call for a break or take a walk. We leaders are humans, with limits that are lower in stressful times.

If we do say or do something that we regret, it’s important to acknowledge it, apologize, and revisit the discussion in a calmer way. It’s best to apologize immediately and ask for a break, but if that’s not possible for you, those steps can be taken after stepping away and calming down.

Of course, all of this applies at home, as well. Right now, we are spending an inordinate amount of time with family. It’s natural to get on one another’s nerves. Add on the stressful feelings we all have about the pandemic, and we have created a volatile emotional cocktail. I can only imagine the added stress of homeschooling. I did homeschool my boys for a few years and know the work it involves under normal circumstances. I feel great empathy for parents. You can do this!

Our world is already different, and great leaders change as needed. We will come out on the other side as transformed as our society. None of us knows exactly what that will look like, but it’s important to give ourselves a break during the transition.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.

Resilience: Why Not Stay Inside and Wait Out the Storm?


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flower bud in the rain

We can’t completely avoid the change or adversity that storms into our lives, but there is a temptation to ignore the emotions that come along with it. Feeling disappointment, sadness, and loss is awful! Why would we want to do that?

While painful in the beginning, dealing with our emotions helps us in the long run. We maintain a healthy emotional life by naming our emotions, accepting them, and then releasing them. If we stuff emotions or ignore them, they become like small, annoying insects that keep buzzing in our ears for the rest of our lives.

One of the most profound things I learned in my coach training is this: the things that we can’t be with run our lives. If we can’t be with anger, then we avoid all situations that might make us or someone else angry. Think about the effects if we avoid disappointing people at all costs! If we can’t be with confrontation, we are constantly putting up with things that we don’t want to endure because we don’t want to start a fight. We want to use our coping mechanisms and face the situation and our emotions. We must walk through it now or avoid it forever.

Although our initial impulse may be to avoid uncomfortable emotions, they are not all bad. Discomfort is a powerful motivator and can lead to positive achievement if we maintain a positive mental state. Remember, how we view the situation makes all the difference.

There is an interesting TED Talk by Kelly McGonigal. She researches stress, and she discovered that stress doesn’t kill us – the belief that stress kills us is what kills us. Our perspectives have a tremendous effect on our bodies! That is important to keep in mind before, during, and after challenging times. Here is the link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcGyVTAoXEU&t=34s

In the video, McGonigal also talks about the hormones that our bodies release when we are feeling stressed. One of them is oxytocin, also known as the “cuddle hormone” because it also releases when we touch other people. Oxytocin makes us want to interact and bond with others. So, when we are stressed, our bodies are helping us by encouraging us to reach out to other people.

Remember my learning at the Military Child Education Coalition workshop. That which does not kill us makes us stronger – as long as we have hope and support. We get both of those things when we reach out to others.

Finally, keep in mind that each time we overcome a challenge, we become more resilient. As we face adversity, change, and the emotions that come along with them, we build confidence. When the next challenge comes along, we can think to ourselves, “I’ve done this (or worse) before, and I can do it again.”

Creating a resilient life and using positive coping mechanisms greatly increase your chance of not only surviving adversity and change, but also thriving. Every storm that we weather makes us more confident that we can successfully face the next one. We create a spiral of success that carries us more easily through life’s storms.

Note: I’m re-running this series on resilience that I wrote back in 2017.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.


Resilience: Coping Mechanisms to Help You in a Downpour



During the Downpour

Everything that we do to cope with stress somehow relieves the overwhelming emotions, if only for a while. Sometimes that can result in actions that harm us, like using drugs or drinking too much alcohol.

Here is a list of positive coping mechanisms that will help during times of adversity and change. Some of them will resonate with you, and some of them won’t. It’s like a menu; choose things that appeal to you. It’s a good idea to experiment with some of these techniques so that you are familiar with them before the next downpour in your life.

Exercise. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress. Studies have shown that walking 30 minutes a day is more effective at relieving depression than prescription drugs. Even mild exercise releases the endorphins that make us feel better.

The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). EFT is also called Tapping. I must admit that in the past, I was not a fan of Tapping. It wasn’t until my latest overwhelming life event that I realized its value.

EFT helps you to name the emotion that you are feeling, accept it, and release it. It can feel a little silly because you are tapping various places on your head and body while saying things out loud. I usually think the statements rather than say them out loud, and that helps me.

However, the results that people experience are impressive. Tapping has been shown to help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Here is an interesting article on PTSD and Tapping: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/resolution-not-conflict/201110/energy-therapy-acupoint-tapping-the-best-ptsd-treatment. There is even a World Tapping Summit.

I am not going to outline the process, but here is a link to a website that will give you more information: https://www.emofree.com/eft-tutorial/tapping-basics/how-to-do-eft.html. And here is one of my favorite YouTube tutorials on Tapping: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3sd9AoBjcc. It’s done by Cheryl Richardson, one of my favorite life coaches.

Positivity Portfolio. A Positivity Portfolio is another tool that can lift your spirits and inspire hope during a struggle. It’s a collection of pictures that evoke positive emotions for you. You can include pictures of puppies, family, friends, beach scenes, and hobbies you enjoy. You can collect the pictures in a physical binder or an electronic folder. Some people use Pinterest!

Looking at your Positivity Portfolio puts you in a positive frame of mind, which makes you open to new information and gives you the ability to see a broader view of the challenges that you face. When we are in a negative frame of mind, we have tunnel vision and are unable to see possible solutions. We also are not open to new information and perspectives when we are feeling negative and hopeless. A Positivity Portfolio helps us create a feeling of positivity that allows us to be more creative and hopeful.

The research on positivity and the Positivity Portfolio was done by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, author of Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection.

Cognitive Restructuring. Cognitive restructuring sounds like a hard and technical concept, but it’s not. It’s simply creating new thought habits. We are intentionally changing the way we think. It’s very powerful.

Worrying and negative self-talk are habits just like any others. We can change them with some effort. I designed a mental game to help me change my worrying ways. I pretended that every thought was a request for something I wanted. When I thought about something, I was placing an order for it.

When I thought, “I am not going to have enough money this month,” I was placing an order for that to happen. Immediately I would think or say out loud, “Cancel that order!” Then I would replace the “order” with a new one: “I have plenty of money to make it through the month.”

During challenging times, it’s easy to worry and participate in negative self-talk, but we can change our thinking patterns. Any time you catch yourself worrying and creating a worst-case scenario in your head, cancel that order! Replace the negative thoughts with a thought about something that you want to happen or with an affirmation. Creating a positive internal dialogue makes life way less stressful.

Meditation. Regular meditation is one of the ways to increase your resilience. However, meditation is a great coping mechanism even if you haven’t meditated before. The best way to meditate when you are in a crisis is a guided mindful meditation.

In a guided mindful meditation, the person guiding you will direct you to pay attention to different parts of your body. Usually, the meditation starts at your toes and goes up to your head. Search for “mindful meditation” online, and you will get a lot of options. Here is a link to some good ones from UCLA: http://marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations.

A mindful meditation gives your brain a break from all of the thinking and worrying that it does in challenging times. I feel like my brain has had a nice nap after a mindful meditation.

One-step-at-a-time thinking. I use this one a lot during stressful times. I make a list of priorities and things to do. Then I put my head down and focus on the tasks one at a time. It really helps when the situation feels overwhelming and big. I think it’s similar to Dory’s “just keep swimming” philosophy. Put your head down, and keep moving one step at a time.

Aromatherapy. Essential oils have amazing properties! Lavender is a relaxing oil with a pleasant smell, but there are lots of others. Be sure to get a good quality oil. I have used Young Living Oils for decades, and I also like Rocky Mountain Oils. I made a roll-on blend of Roman chamomile and lavender in organic almond oil for my granddaughter. I gave some to a friend for her baby, and she uses it as a perfume for herself, too. She says that it helps everyone stay calm!

Sleep! Getting enough sleep is always important, but it is essential when you are facing trying times. I know, it’s even harder to sleep when you are in the middle of turmoil. Do your best to keep a schedule, and get yourself into bed on time. When I’m upset, I sometimes let myself fall asleep on the sofa, which leads to a fitful night of sleep. I feel awful the next day! Do your best to get in bed and get up at regular times. It will help your outlook on life and increase your resilience.

Journaling. Writing things down is a great way to process information and gain some clarity. For me, it feels like a release of toxic emotions. I vent onto the paper and write any and all horrible things that I am thinking. It’s like I transfer most of the emotions from me to the paper, and I feel better. The emotions are still there, but not as intense as they were before. I have a note at the front of my journal of ickiness that instructs anyone who finds it to throw it away and take no heed of what I’ve written. It’s just me letting off steam.

Help others. We get a good feeling when we help others. It increases our sense of connection and takes our minds off our own problems for a while.


It’s best to have a wide range of coping strategies. The list above is a good start, but it doesn’t include everything that you can do. If you enjoy a hobby, that can be an excellent thing to focus on. When I am completely overwhelmed, I take video game breaks. I will set a time for 15 minutes and play Plants vs. Zombies. When I play, my mind is completely focused on the game, and it gives me a break from worry and stress for a little while.

Keep in mind that even healthy coping mechanisms can be bad if taken too far. For example, if we exercise to the point of injury or constant exhaustion, we aren’t taking care of ourselves; we are abusing ourselves.

Don’t be afraid to experiment! Try different coping mechanisms, and see which ones work for you. Absolutely reach out for help if you find yourself using negative coping mechanisms. Remember, you never have to face adversity alone!

Note: I’m re-running this series on resilience that I wrote back in April 2017.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.

Resilience: Making Yourself Resilient Before It Rains



resilience community

It’s hard to be resilient if you feel like you are constantly being bombarded by life’s events. A good way to create resilience is to create as calm a life as possible before we are caught in a downpour. I know, easier said than done, but we can create more order and peace than we have now.

A good measure of a calm life is Emotional Pennies. We only have so much of ourselves to give each day. Think of the emotional energy that you spend as Emotional Pennies. Imagine that you start each day with 100 Emotional Pennies. You can’t carry any over to the next day and the goal is to end up with as many Emotional Pennies as possible at the end of each day. The more pennies you have at the end of the day, the more energy you will have to enjoy your evenings and get a few things done.

Some common things that we spend emotional energy on are work, family, health, other people’s problems, spirituality, friends, and things over which we have no control. Your list may not have all these items, and it probably has quite a few more. Which of these are wise investments, and which are wastes of our Emotional Pennies? As a general rule, we want to avoid any situation that constantly drains our emotional energy with no hope of the situation improving or resolving.

A good test question to ask is “If I face this situation and invest some emotional energy into it, can I resolve it so I never have to put another Emotional Penny into it again?” It’s worth a try if you think you can improve things. If it turns out that you can’t, do everything possible to remove yourself from all Emotional Penny-sucking black holes.

When I coach people, the common black holes for Emotional Pennies are a lack of organization and routines, negative people, and a negative attitude. You may have different things that use emotional energy; the key is to identify and eliminate those things.

Count up how many Emotional Pennies you spend each day for a week. When I did this exercise for the first time, I was surprised to learn that I had spent all 100 Emotional Pennies on my son’s school before lunch most days. I spent some extra Emotional Pennies trying to fix the situation, but in the end, I decided to homeschool him for that year.

In addition to eliminating things that unnecessarily drain our emotional energy, we want to build some positive things in our lives to help us be resilient. One of the most important things to create is a community that we can depend on.

In general, I have done a terrible job of doing this. Thank goodness my sister and a few good friends were willing to jump in and help when I had brain surgery while my husband was deployed to Afghanistan. You never know what rainstorm is going to fall on your head, and it’s an absolute necessity to have a community of family and friends who are ready to support you.

I did some training for the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC). A group of facilitators would go in and talk with community representatives about how to help military children who face quite a bit of adversity. My big takeaway from that training and the research of Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg is that to make it through adversity, children need support and hope. That’s what adults need, too.

We get our support from our community, and a big portion of our hope comes from it, as well. It’s important to have people around who tell us that it’s going to be okay at a time when we aren’t so sure about that ourselves. Hope requires a big picture perspective that is difficult to get on our own when we are mired in emotional turmoil.

We can also foster hope by creating a positive attitude. A positive attitude is something that we can choose and create. A great beginning is to notice the good things that happen each day. We are hardwired to notice and hang on to the negative events of life, so it’s important to intentionally notice the positive things.

In addition to noticing, put a positive emotion to the event. Here is a list of positive emotions from Dr. Barbara Frederickson: awe, interest, inspiration, serenity, amusement, gratitude, pride, joy, hope, and love.  Noticing and naming positive emotions is the first important step to creating a positive attitude and outlook. Research shows that an increase in positivity results in an increase in resilience.

Here’s a summary of what to do to create a life that makes you more resilient:

1. Get rid of unnecessary energy drains in your life. Getting organized can be a huge help.

2. Gather a community to support you. It can be family, friends, and your spiritual community.

3. Create a positive attitude. Begin by noticing the positive events each day and naming the positive emotions they evoke.

Resilience is a trait that we can cultivate, and creating a peaceful life is the first step because it gives us a firm foundation to stand on when adversity and change threaten to wash away the ground beneath our feet.

Note: I’m re-running this series on resilience that I wrote back in 2017. Life isn’t normal right now, but we can still check in on our Emotional Penny use. I find myself spending Emotional Pennies trying to maintain the same standards that I do during normal times. I keep reminding myself that we are in the middle of a pandemic, and it’s okay to relax my standards a bit. I’ve lowered the bar in all facets of life and feel less stressed for it.

 What are you spending Emotional Pennies on that you could let go of during this time of enormous stress and uncertainty?

We can still have community by phone and video. If you reach out and don’t get the response that you need, consider a therapist, coach, or counselor. Many are meeting clients virtually now.

 A positive attitude can go a long way – even during a pandemic. Noticing the small moments and naming the positive emotions that you feel can create huge shifts in difficult times.

Resilience: What is resilience?


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resilience intro

I did a series of blogs about resilience in April 2017 as part of “Kathy’s Bloom and Flourish Model.” It seems like a good time to rerun the series. Many of us are facing challenges that we’ve never seen or imagined. I know that I am. So here is information that will help us manage this crisis with as much ease and grace as possible.


April showers bring May flowers! Sometimes it’s more than a little rain; it’s a deluge! This month we are going to talk about how to survive and bounce back from adversity. We will talk about how to create a foundation that will make us more resilient and also discuss some coping mechanisms that will help when we are caught in the middle of a downpour.

What Is Resilience?

Resilience is the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. It’s our capacity to bounce back when we are hit with adversity and change.

Resilience is different from grit which is another popular concept. Grit is perseverance, the ability to stick with something over a long period of time. It’s an admirable quality, but not what we are going to discuss right now.

We are going to talk about how to get through the April showers of our life so we can go on to bloom and flourish.

When facing adversity, we are often told, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” That cliché is not true.  Without some coping mechanisms and a firm foundation, a trauma can indeed damage us. We don’t come out stronger. We come out weaker and broken.

However, there are things that we can do to make ourselves more resilient. We can learn and practice methods that will make us stronger. We will talk about creating a life that fosters resilience, and also coping mechanisms to use in the middle of a change or crisis.

Much of our resilience is determined by how we interpret the events that occur in our lives. Becoming aware of the emotional charge that we unnecessarily attach to events is the first step to becoming more resilient. It is a mental shift, and it can be life-changing.

Here is how our thought process works:

Event > Appraisal > Urge to Act > Action

First, we think about an event that is happening or could happen. Then, we appraise that situation or event, and we decide if it’s good, bad, exhilarating, scary, or calming. Once we appraise the event and attach an emotion to it, we have an urge to act. If we are angry, we might want to yell. If we are sad, we might want to cry. The emotion and the urge to act are closely tied and happen very quickly. Sometimes, the action follows before we stop to consider the consequences.

The event is just an event. It isn’t inherently good or bad. For example, public speaking isn’t inherently scary or fun, but people attach those emotions to it. Isn’t it fascinating that one event can be appraised so differently? It’s important to remember that public speaking is just talking in front of people, and the emotional charge is something we add to it.

We can get rid of a lot of stress if we can neutralize the emotional charge that we attach to things. For example, let’s say someone pulls out in front of me on the highway. It’s just an event – not good or bad. I get to appraise that event. I can get angry at the person’s carelessness or I can accept that we all pull out in front of someone sometimes. It’s just a part of driving.

I get to decide whether or not to charge the event by attaching a strong negative emotion to it. Stress isn’t caused by an event; stress is caused by our reaction to an event.

[This reminds me of the difference between the order to “Stay at home” and considering myself “Safe at home.”]

Sometimes all it takes to get rid of an emotional charge is to notice that we are feeling a strong negative emotion, name it, observe where we feel it in our bodies, and then take a deep breath. Observing ourselves re-engages our neocortex and gives us a chance to respond intentionally instead of as an immediate reaction to a feeling.

The awareness of our reaction to an event and the subsequent intentional choice of how to view the event is the first step to becoming more resilient. For example, the loss of a job can be scary and overwhelming. It will lead to some tough times and decisions. The loss of a job is also an opportunity to create a new life, perhaps in a new place. We determine whether our situation is a hopeless crisis, a grand adventure, or something in between. The important thing to remember is we get to choose.

[Now we get to choose how we react to a global pandemic! It’s planet-wide and very personal. I already see that my challenge is not reacting to my family from a place of stress and worry. I am choosing to take a breath, lower the bar for my daily expectations, and savor moments in an unrushed way. Everyone will remember their experience of COVID-19 and how we made them feel during it. They will not remember whether the furniture was dusted and everyone spotlessly clean. They will remember if they felt safe, loved, and supported. That is my choice.]

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.


60th Birthday Reflections


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60 bday 1K

Today is my 60th birthday. Birthdays that end in “0” make us want to reflect on our lives and our accomplishments. I am no exception – and I have more time than usual for some introspection. Here is my list of life lessons learned:

1. Let kindness and honesty be your guides. These two considerations must be taken together. Brutal honesty all the time is not kind, and not necessary. On the flipside, we can believe that leaving someone in the dark is kind, but honesty is usually much better. There is a balance to consider.

I keep way more things to myself than I did in my younger years. No one wants or needs to hear my opinions on every little thing. However, sometimes I feel a need to speak up. The questions I ask myself are: “Will knowing this help the other person in the long run?” and “Am I saying it for them or for my own ego?”

Everyone has to make their own decisions on how much honesty is kind. I tend to lean toward truth and appreciate it when others do the same with me. In my experience, people figure stuff out eventually. When they discover that you’ve known all along, there is a breach of trust that can never be fully repaired. Trust is the commodity of relationships.

2. Exercise self-control. Exercise is the appropriate word here because the more we use our self-control, the stronger it gets. Without self-control, we can’t honor #1 on the list because we are always blurting and giving in to our ego’s needs.

The big regrets that I have in life are when I lost my temper and lashed out at someone. It doesn’t happen often anymore, but I still feel bad about a few times when I lost control and yelled at my children when they were young.

3. Self-care is crucial. We cannot exercise self-control and make intentional choices around kindness and honesty if we don’t take care of ourselves. My biggest losses of self-control happened when several things in life were not going well. Stress puts us on edge and robs us of our ability to see the big picture and choose our words and actions wisely.

The antidote for stress is self-care, which will look different for each of us. For some people, self-care includes running or walking. For others, it means writing or drawing. We all need to have more than one self-care technique in our lives that allows us to center and regroup. Meditation is one great self-care technique that has tons of research proving its benefits.

4. Spend your emotional pennies wisely. I try not to spend emotional pennies on things that I cannot influence or control. If I can control it, I can change it. If I can influence it, I must decide if changing the thing is worth the emotional pennies that it will cost.

The most helpful phrase for me when conserving emotional pennies is “the chair is a chair.” You can read my blog on the quote from Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith. Basically, it means that certain people and situations are not going to change, and it’s best for me if I accept that.

5. Connect with others. I learned this one late in life. We humans crave connection with each other. I have always accepted the value of rugged individualism and was determined in my youth to make it on my own. Sixty years have shown me that it is impossible to make it on your own. Success happens with the support of a community.

Happiness also happens with the support of a community. The micro-moments of positivity we share with others are one type of building block we need to build a positive outlook on life.

6. Prepare for the worst, but expect the best. I am a firm believer in being prepared if everything goes to hell in a handbasket. However, I don’t believe in dwelling on the possibility. It’s important to assess, prepare, and then focus on a positive outcome that we want.

I ordered gloves and masks well before there was a shortage and then went on not thinking about it. I bought an extra six-pack of toilet paper at the grocery store while plenty was on the shelf but didn’t stress about it.

On a grander scale, when I was a stay-at-home mom, I put the utilities in my name to build credit. I went back to school and got my MBA. My goal was to be able to jump to self-sufficiency if anything happened to my then-husband. He would get irritated with me and insist I expected the worst of him. I pointed out that he could be hit by a bus on any given day. The fact that he was in the Army made his demise more likely than many others.

However, I never dwelt on the possibilities of my ex’s death or infidelity. I just prepared for the worst and went on living life and expecting everything to go well. The worst did eventually happen. I am grateful for a life of not expecting it – and for being prepared so I could move to self-sufficiency with relative ease.

7. Work to be vulnerable and loving despite the cruel blows that you will suffer. First, everyone suffers cruel blows in life. Cruel blows are a part of life. I’ve learned that it’s best to expect them and to not take them as personal affronts. Suffering disappointment, humiliation, and failure makes us human and more empathetic to the plight of others. Suffering is also an opportunity for growth.

And if you just scoffed or huffed at me, I totally get it. It sounds like a superficial platitude to me, as well, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I chose the word “work” for a reason. As far as I am concerned, putting my heart out on the line, knowing it will be crushed again, is work. It’s not easy at all and it’s a constant challenge.

Brenė Brown’s research on vulnerability helps me. She talks about the courage required to put yourself out there as a possible target for ridicule and deception. Maintaining that courage is work, but it’s worthwhile work. We cannot live a life full of joy and accomplishment if we live safely protecting our hearts. She talks a lot about this quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

As I look back over the last 60 years, I haven’t been timid very often, but I have become bitter at times. Since I’m reviewing things that greatly influenced how I live, I feel I must include these charts from Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar ordained to the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church.

Men's Journey (Rohr)

Women's Journey (Rohr)

Side note: These graphs depict different paths for men and women. I believe that this is because of how we are socialized, not because of major, inherent differences. I also hope that younger women find that their path is not so different as the one Rohr describes for men. I can’t speak to their experiences, but the graph resonates with me and my experience in many ways.

I discovered these graphs in my oldest son’s coat pocket when I was in my late 40s. (I was about to wash his coat per his request – not snooping!) They changed the trajectory of my life. I could see clearly that if I did not change, I was headed for the Embittering Journey, and I didn’t want to end my life bitter and resentful. I worked to embrace joy and acceptance.

Now at 60, I find myself in danger of becoming the “Witch on Her Broom” who is filled with rage. The last bit – “going nowhere – except to blame others and protect herself” – is a particular danger for me right now. That’s why Brown’s writings about vulnerability resonate with me.

My life lessons list, which is as much a list of goals for living my life as anything else, is a result of wanting to become a Holy Fool. I want to “live with paradox and mystery, with compassion and forgiveness.”

I know all of those things are mine if I make some intentional choices. I love the Magic Wand of Destiny!

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.