The Power of a Morning Routine

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Recently I’ve talked with several people about their morning routines. My mother lived with me for 10 years, and she was the queen of the morning routine. She settled into her “nest” with a cup of tea. Her nest changed each time we moved, which was pretty often as a military family. Sometimes it was in her bed, sometimes in a chair with her feet up on an ottoman. She always had three morning books going at one time. One was always Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. All of the books were uplifting, so they put her in a positive frame of mind.

I would be running around like a crazy person getting the boys ready for school, and she was an ocean of calm who refused to allow any big waves in her peaceful morning. She was one of the most positive people that I’ve ever known.

I recently participated in a virtual retreat for female entrepreneurs by successful businesswoman Grace Lever. She described her morning routine, and it was very similar. Grace gets up at 5:30 am and sits with her tea in meditation and prayer. Then she does 10 minutes of intense exercise with a German model named Pamela Reif. After her tea, she drinks a big glass of water. Her routine takes about an hour.

My sister has recently caught the Tony Robbins fire. Tony jumps into cold water first thing and then does some breathing and mindset exercises. Like Mom, he has an emphasis on positivity and gratitude. You can follow along with him here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faTGTgid8Uc&feature=youtu.be

I find that my days and my life go better when I have a morning routine. If I am not firm about the time that I am getting up and what I am going to do first, I sort of meander into the day. The lack of a plan also leaves me with a less than positive attitude. I feel bad because I have lost my most productive part of the day.

I will admit that COVID-19 has allowed me the time and space to lose my motivation and any semblance of a morning routine – and I’m tired of it! Discomfort is the greatest motivator, and I am definitely uncomfortable with starting my day in a sluggish way.

When looking for a solution, it’s always a good idea to start by looking at what has worked before. In the past, I have felt the most productive when I set the alarm for 5:30 am like Grace and immediately get up out of bed. The next important step is that I didn’t go back to bed! It’s such a temptation to go to the bathroom and crawl back under the covers. During my most productive time, I immediately got out of bed and shuffled to the dining room to work on my first online course.

Like Tony, I also like pausing before my feet hit the floor and thinking about things that I am grateful for. Then I think about what I want to accomplish that day and see myself doing those things with grace and ease. Tony also does a variation of that. Then I remind myself that the Universe supports me in all that I put my mind to. I firmly believe that God helps those who help themselves by taking steps toward a goal.

I have started drinking celery juice every morning. I pull out the juicer and juice one or two bunches of celery. The tinnitus that I’ve had since high school abates if I am consistent about drinking celery juice. I heard about the benefits of celery juice from The Medical Medium. He may or may not be your thing, but the plant-based diet that he advocates has helped me a lot.

I am also a water proponent. The celery juice works better on an empty stomach, so I drink a big glass of water about an hour before the celery juice. Coffee comes after that. Several studies recommend drinking coffee an hour or two after you wake up. (Our natural cortisol levels are highest in the morning. Cortisol gets us up and moving and if we double dose with coffee, the result can be anxiety. Cortisol levels fall off around 9:30 so that’s when coffee would be most helpful.)

I am not much of an exerciser in the morning. I like to get work done when I am mentally fresh. I do a few stretches in bed and while sitting on the edge of the bed, but that’s about it for the morning.

What helps me most is deciding the night before on exactly what I am going to do in the morning. It saves me from dithering, which is such a time-waster for me. I am an advocate of starting your morning routine the night before. I find that my brain works on stuff while I am asleep, and I wake up with some fabulous ideas.

Breathing, water (with or without lemon), meditation, prayer, loving kindness meditation (oooh, I might add that one), setting a positive intention, stretching, journaling, and exercise are all great ideas for a morning routine. The key is to decide and do it. No dithering allowed.

So here is my new plan:

  1. Alarm goes off at 5:30 am.
  2. Immediately drink a big glass of water or lemon water.
  3. Do some easy stretching in the bed and then on the edge of the bed.
  4. While sitting, I think I will try a variation of Tony’s routine, which will include some fast breathing, gratitude, the loving kindness meditation, and visualizing the tasks of the day in a positive way.
  5. Work until 6:30, and then juice some celery and drink it.
  6. At least another hour of uninterrupted work.
  7. Easy breakfast. (My favorite is fruit crumble that I make up in big batches. Delicious!)
  8. Coffee break around 9 am, and I am done with the morning routine!

What you do doesn’t matter as much as doing it consistently. Great leaders are positive and have enough self-discipline to follow through on plans that they know will help them move forward. A morning routine is great practice for emotional intelligence and a wonderful foundation for the feelings of accomplishment that come from achieving meaningful goals. I am in!


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.

 

Regret Ruler

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I am having difficulty with some of my COVID-19-related decisions, and it’s unusual for me to have any trouble deciding. Decision making is one of my superpowers!

It’s important to consider our values and priorities when making decisions. I think of them as rulers. When I’m trying to make a choice, I hold up my values ruler and see which option is most in alignment with my values. Whatever is important to me right now also needs to be taken into consideration – that’s the priorities ruler.

We each have several rulers that we use when making decisions. Another significant ruler is the impression management ruler. We all want to be seen by others in a certain way. We do what we can to manage other people’s impressions of us to ensure we are seen as we want to be seen. For example, I want to be seen as professional and smart, so I do things that enhance that image. We always hold our impression management ruler up to any decision and consider whether or not it will enhance the image we want to project.

Lately, those rulers are not helping. I find myself faced with two choices, and neither one of them feels like a great choice. For example, one friend has invited me out to eat. I like her and really miss going to restaurants. I haven’t eaten out since early March. However, I don’t feel like going to a restaurant is a great idea for me right now. I am in one of the higher risk categories for COVID-19, and I just don’t want it. I don’t want to expose anyone to it, either.

Going or not going to a restaurant isn’t a huge decision; it’s just an example. However, it still gives me pause. I can hear that my friend is disappointed when I refuse. I want to be a good friend and see her, but I just feel uncomfortable about going. It’s not a value, priority, or impression management issue so I pull out the big guns – my regret ruler.

If the choices seem equally terrible or uncomfortable, I ask myself which one I will regret more now, in a few days, in a year, and in five years. The key is to determine which choice creates the most long-term regret and avoid it. Clearly, I will immediately regret not going out for a fun evening with someone I like. However, if one of us falls ill or if I carry COVID-19 to a family member, the regret would be greater – and long-lasting.

Of course, there is uncertainty involved. I could go to dinner and come back with nothing but a full stomach. I look at worst-case scenarios and the amount of risk. Once again, it’s a judgment call, but if I do a gut-check, I could not live with myself if I gave a potentially fatal disease to a family member in order to go out to dinner. I would also feel deep regret if I caught it and became a toxic burden to others. The amount of regret that I would feel is simply not worth the risk.

Like the values, priorities, and impression management rulers, the regret ruler is very personal – as is risk assessment. The variations in our regret rulers and risk assessment seem to be major contributors to the differences of opinion that are rampant in our society right now.

I am reminded of a video that I watched of several different people intentionally coughing on others to show the intensity of their disagreement on the issue of masks. For the record, that sort of behavior is unacceptable, and those people are definitely not great leaders. In my estimation, they aren’t great humans. They lack emotional intelligence, which starts with self-awareness and self-control.

As leaders, we examine our choices and our rulers, and then manage ourselves to ensure our behaviors are always respectful towards others, no matter how different their rulers are from ours.


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.

Airplane! v. Guardians of the Galaxy

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Guardians of the Galaxy

I teased a friend about watching the movie Airplane! If you have somehow missed this movie, filled with cringe-worthy humor and ridiculous gags, then you are missing some great one-liners to use in everyday life. When someone says, “Surely you are not serious”, the classic retort from the movie is “I am serious – and don’t call me Shirley.” It is not the kind of movie that I would watch more than once a decade. It is not my cup of tea. Absolutely do not watch it with your children, no matter how old they are.

A few days later, I told my friend that I was watching The Avengers. She immediately said, “You harassed me about watching Airplane!, and you are watching The Avengers?” Fair point. I thought about it for a minute and then said, “It doesn’t have potty humor or drug references.” Which is true. The Avengers are pretty clean cut.

However, the next movie that I watched was Guardians of the Galaxy. It has potty humor and drug references. And it’s not the first time that I have watched Guardians of the Galaxy. I own it. I’ve watched it a dozen or more times.

So, hmmmm. What is the difference between Airplane! and Guardians of the Galaxy? An even better question is why am I writing about it in a leadership blog? There is a method to my madness.

As leaders, it’s important that we are clear on the ruler that we use to judge things. Our ruler is made up of our values and priorities. We want to know and be reassured that what we say is important to us is truly important to us. Self-awareness is the first part of emotional intelligence. We can’t lead well if we don’t know ourselves well. We can check in on our values on something as superficial as movie preferences.

So why do I like The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy and not Airplane!? Any guesses? Here’s what I think. In both The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, good is fighting evil. Granted, the Guardians wander around a bit in a morally gray area but stand up in the end and do what is right. I like the idea of good triumphing over evil. It’s an old storyline, but I am comforted when those on the moral high ground win, especially when they win for others and not just themselves.

I believe that great leaders are servant leaders – people who use their talents and power to help others. So, yes. My choice in movies reflects my values. The struggle of good v. evil also draws me to the Harry Potter books and movies.

The other thing that I like about the Avengers, the Guardians, and the gang at Hogwarts is that they each are a team. They work together for a common purpose. There is a definite sense of camaraderie and affection. When the chips are down, they always have each others’ backs. I like that.

Loyalty and teamwork are important leadership qualities. We cannot lead unless we care about and support the people around us. We cannot succeed ourselves unless we make sure everyone else succeeds, too.

My choices in movies don’t always reflect my values. I went through a John Wick period for a while that reflected my life circumstances and events more than my values. However, figuring that out was a huge leap in self-awareness.

Awareness is just the first step. Once we have brought a decision to a conscious level, we can decide what to do about it. I decided just to enjoy John Wick’s violent expression of anger. I did and got tired of it; then life moved on. Now I’m back to watching the Avengers, Guardians, and wizards who live the lives I want to emulate.


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.

 

Stay Woke

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By the time I’ve heard and grasped a slang term, it’s made it to mass saturation. The term #staywoke was used to mean just staying awake for a while but became a call to be on the lookout for racial and social injustice starting in about 2011. It’s not a term that I’ve been aware of, but the concept is something that I’ve advocated in my leadership series for decades.

As leaders, it’s imperative that we maintain constant vigilance for the small and large slights that people often make without thinking. Although I like to think that fairness and equal treatment are always on my radar, I know that I am probably most aware of sexist comments and actions.

At 60 years old, I’ve seen and heard a lot of stuff that angers and annoys me because it’s based on underlying stereotypes about women. I realize that most people, both male and female, have no idea that they are being offensive. Several years ago, I decided that I was done being quiet about it. I decided that I was going to speak up firmly and confidently each time I heard someone being sexist.

My first opportunity came at a public event. It was a study of successful entrepreneurs. There was a slide for each entrepreneur that showed their net worth and major accomplishments. On one slide there was a large picture of a male founder with a beautiful woman. The caption was “He married a supermodel.”

Now if you don’t see why this is offensive, you are definitely not woke. I probably would have been okay if the caption had said, “Through his work he found the love of his life.” Listing marrying a supermodel as an achievement alongside his financial gains and market share objectifies her. And why is the fact that she is a supermodel important?

There are a couple of leadership lessons here. First, point out social injustice or inappropriateness if you see it. It doesn’t have to be in that moment. I could have waited until after the presentation to speak to the presenter. In that particular situation, it was a young man presenting to an audience of mostly young men. I was the outlier. The audience catcalled when the picture went up. I felt that the entire group would benefit from a little more awareness. I also felt that the few younger women in the group needed to see it was okay to speak out.

Talking to someone privately has its advantages. I was providing diversity training to an organization. Let me reiterate – diversity training. We were talking about lifting something heavy, and I said that they needed to find a young buck to lift it for them. At break, someone pulled me aside and told me that “young buck” was a racial slur. My response was, “What?!” I had no idea. When I was growing up, I heard it used to describe muscular, fit males of all colors. I was so embarrassed.

I thanked the person who told me and apologized to everyone after the break. Instead of a public humiliation, it was a positive learning experience. I was grateful to the person who told me and honored that he assumed good intent on my part. He didn’t believe that I’d used the term in a knowingly derogatory way.

When to call out a stereotypical or racist comment is a judgment call. Leadership is full of them. Just make sure you point it out.

We have blind spots. We see and react to the world through our own unique Frame of Reference. We aren’t going to notice every discriminatory comment. When someone else calls it, the first thing to say is “Thank you for pointing that out.” That is the second leadership lesson.

If you can see how the situation could be taken as offensive, say, “I can see how that could be offensive.” Then check in to make sure that you are right. They may find it offensive for some other reason.

If you really don’t have an idea, which could be a possibility, ask what they thought about it was inappropriate. Tone of voice is huge here. Put your ego down, and ask sincerely.

Making ourselves and others aware of discrimination is crucial for great leadership. We can lead ourselves and others into a heightened awareness of other perspectives. Awareness is always the first step – and it shouldn’t be the last.


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.

 

Questions Are the Answer

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In the final class of my MBA program, we had to do a presentation. I can’t remember exactly what my partner and I did, but it was some sort of business case analysis. We worked long and hard on our presentation.

We presented to the rest of the class – who were in competition with us. The goal of the class was to make the presenters look as bad and incompetent as possible. Not the best organizational behavior set up to foster goodwill.

There was one other woman in the class besides me. She was outspoken. When our presentation was over, she started asking questions that felt a lot like bait. She was subtly trying to get our goat. My young partner rose to the challenge almost immediately. I remember putting a hand on his shoulder as he began a heated retort. I said, “Wait, let’s be clear about what she is asking before we answer.”

I can’t remember her initial question exactly, but it was something like, “You honestly believe it’s a good idea to have people blah, blah, blah?” What she finished with isn’t important. Then, I turned to her and asked her to clarify.

I asked something like, “What exactly do you think is a problem about having people blah, blah, blah?” She huffed and said it was obvious. I told her that it wasn’t obvious to me and that in order to properly answer her objections, I needed to know exactly what she was objecting to. I asked, “Which part of our analysis do you believe to be faulty and why?”

She sputtered and backed down. She didn’t have anything specific. She was just trying to get us to lose our tempers. It was in that moment that I realized the power of questions. It was well before I started coach training that confirmed that belief. Questions are almost always the answer when facing difficult times and decisions. They also work pretty well on bullies.

The most important thing to remember when using questions is that you must sound sincere in the asking. Any hint of sarcasm and you are done for. Tone of voice is the difference between successfully asking “Please tell me specifically what your objections are to that plan” to create a dialogue and creating ill will and resentment. As leaders, it’s important to maintain an authentic curiosity about what the other person is thinking and feeling.

Coaching is all about helping people figure out their best path forward. Coaches do that by first raising a client’s awareness around a topic and then creating accountability for action. The action part is not usually the problem, it’s deciding what to do that can be a challenge when facing complex issues.

We can coach ourselves a bit during these challenging times by asking ourselves some questions. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Which one of your values is the most important to uphold in this situation?
  • Which one of your values feels challenged in this situation?
  • What is the single most important consideration?
  • How do you want to be remembered when this situation is over?
  • If you could wave a magic wand and create the perfect outcome, what would it look like? What is the most powerful action that you could take to help achieve that outcome?
  • What would make this decision easier?
  • What are the unknowns right now?
  • Who else will be affected by your decision?
  • How can you help others?
  • Who can help you?
  • What would you regret doing? Not doing?

We can use these questions for something as easy as whether or not to wear a mask in public. I do wear a mask because I feel that the most important thing for me to do is to protect others. I could be pre-symptomatic and not know it at any time. I would wholly regret giving COVID-19 to someone else – even unknowingly. To me, it’s a simple action that I can take to care for others. Caring and helping others is one of my core values.

People who don’t wear masks make their decisions based on different values and considerations. I don’t know what they are for sure, but I would guess from what I’ve heard and read that freedom is an important consideration for them, or perhaps not showing fear or weakness. I am not criticizing their decision. We all must do things in alignment with our values that are based on the information that we have.

I recently visited several gun shops. I was the only person in every store who was wearing a mask. Well, one guy walked in wearing a mask, looked around, then took it off. Blending in, or what other people thought of him, seemed to be his guiding principle.

I did not take my mask off in any of the gun shops because I am very clear about why I am wearing it. I give myself some modicum of protection, hence I am protecting the people that are in my inner circle. I am also protecting everyone in the gun shop by keeping my respiratory spray to myself. It doesn’t matter to me what everyone else is doing. What matters to me is following my own values and doing what feels right to me. No regrets.

There are a million different ways to assess a decision and decide how to act because each of us has our own unique Frame of Reference. The key is to clearly understand our own Frame of Reference and act in ways that will make us look back on our actions proudly. As great leaders, we also want to feel confident that we are helping more than hurting.


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.

Leading in Challenging Times

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I am deeply disturbed by the things happening in America now – and I do not want to react irrationally. As a leader, I know the importance of pausing before acting or speaking on complex matters of great importance. Rash actions in times like these can look pretty poor in hindsight.

I am against personal and societal racism. I firmly and unequivocally believe that black lives matter. I sincerely hope that we are making a crucial pivot in our society toward equality for all.

I am appalled that police have killed and attacked unarmed civilians. People in positions of power have a responsibility to care for others. However, I do not believe that all police are terrible people. It is unacceptable to condemn an entire group of people as being a certain way; that is stereotyping.

I am white, female, and old. I can only offer views from that perspective. However, I am listening to other perspectives. Good leaders listen and help where they can.

If you are a leader in an organization, it’s important to talk about what is going on. Asking questions and listening is the way to begin. Asking “How can I help?” is a good next step. We all have an elephant in every room right now, and it’s best to talk about it rather than ignore it. Strategic actions come next.

As difficult as it may be, my request for the world would be for us all to presume good intent as much as possible as we move forward and change. I am sure to insult someone even though my intentions are good. I hope that anyone who knows me would not assume that I am being intentionally malicious, mean, or racist. If we can create some psychological safety for each other, we can have productive discussions that will lead to understanding and tangible solutions. It’s the only way for us to move forward together in partnership.

Personally, I plan to listen and do more research. There is great power in listening fully to what someone has to say. When we feel heard, we feel seen. I will find groups in alignment with my values and support them. I also plan to vote and encourage others to vote. We need politicians at the local, state, and national levels who answer to the people and not money. It’s one big-picture action that I can do for this very complicated problem. It’s an action that I feel passionate about.

The only other things that I can do now are to act with integrity, see people as people with value equal to my own, and call out instances of any sort of unfairness – whether it is racism, chauvinism, homophobia, or any other form of discrimination. That’s one small-scale action that each of us can do.


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.

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.