As you prepare for your holidays, I thought I’d share a tradition that our family has and how it relates to joy. Each year, at Thanksgiving, while we’re gathered around the dinner table, each person shares what they are grateful for and why.
I really love this tradition because it’s fun to hear what’s on everyone’s minds and in their hearts – and it makes everyone feel good! In fact, the research suggests gratitude positively impacts our brains.
Benefits of a gratitude practice!
- Improves general well-being
- Increases resilience
- Strengthens social relationships
- Facilitates more efficient sleep
- Reduces stress and depression
As you most likely know, our brains are designed for us to survive and procreate, not necessarily designed for us to be happy. By bringing self-awareness to what we are grateful for, we can counteract our tendency toward negativity and be more joyful. So, whether at Thanksgiving or in everyday lives, cultivating a gratitude practice helps counteract our innate negativity bias.
How to Cultivate Gratitude in Everyday Life?
- Journal: Each day, journal about one meaningful experience by writing down three specific details about it. It’s called the doubler because the brain doubles the experience, and you get to relive the experience. And, according to Achor, you only need one positive memory to judge the overall day as meaningful!
- Express Gratitude: Each day find three new things you are grateful for and why. Achor calls this the 45–second disrupter, claiming the practice of spending 45 seconds (about the amount of time it takes to brush your teeth) on what you are grateful for and why, three times a day, has the power to transform someone from being a low-level pessimist to low-level optimist in just 21 days! The key is to find new things (which retrains your brain to scan the environment for positive experiences) and the why (which attaches positive meaning to everyday experiences which may be overlooked or taken for granted).
- Write a Two Minute Note: Each day praise, recognize, or thank someone by writing him/her a short email, note, or text. Achor claims this is the most powerful habit.
Additional Resources: Science and Brain Health
- Click here to learn more about Gratitude and the Brain: What is Happening?, for example, how gratitude can produce dopamine, our brain’s pleasure chemical.
- Click here to learn more about 7 Scientific Proven Benefits of Gratitude, including improved relationships and sleep.
- Click here to read Can an Annual Flu Vaccine Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease? As the daughter of a mother with cognitive decline, I found this interesting and useful.
This month I’m recommending the book, Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong by Zen priest, teacher, writer, and poet Norman Fischer (and one of my favorite human beings!).
This gem of a book is a favorite because it helps leaders cultivate resiliency, wisdom, well-being, and compassion in face of life’s difficulties and challenging situations, which are unfortunately unavoidable (ugh!) and part of everyday life. It’s a great resource to help leaders manage stressful emotions and move toward ease, whether in their organizations, families, or communities.
Fischer’s book is based on a 12th century Tibetan text that includes 59 slogans for training the mind and heart. The slogans are to be thought of as short, punchy phrases, (kind of like bumper stickers or advertising taglines), and are practical resources for any leader who wants to develop a more resilient, confident, and joyful executive presence.
How do we change how we think and behave? Fischer explains that the most important factor in mind training is to engage difficult situations and emotions creatively versus avoid them; the slogans will help you do this. In fact, the slogans train the mind (and you!) to move toward difficulty when it arises rather than away from it, a counterintuitive move.
How does it work? Neuroplasticity. We now know that the mind is flexible and trainable. With consistent practice, you can “wash out” old, ingrained, negative habits of mind (like fear and anxiety) and introduce new, intentional, healthier habits (like joy, compassion, resiliency).
How do I practice mind training? Identify one or two slogans you are drawn to and with which you want to cultivate. Meditate on the slogan, think about it, journal about it, talk about it, write it down, and repeat it to yourself. Keep in mind that training requires commitment, repetition, and lots of patience (repetition is magic!). As previously mentioned, you are training the mind to do what it does not want to do, which is go toward, rather than away from, what’s painful and difficult. The result is that you learn to be with and work through discomfort, cultivating resilience, wisdom, and compassion.
Favorite Slogans: with 59 slogans, I chose ten with which for you to start. I encourage you to find your own favorites!
- Slogan 13. Be grateful to everyone. We are not alone, and we can’t do it by ourselves.
- Slogan 20. Trust your own eyes. No one really knows how it feels to be you. Only you can determine what is happening in your life and what to do about it.
- Slogan 21. Maintain joy (and don’t lose your sense of humor). Even in the darkest moments, there is some light.
- Slogan 25. Don’t talk about faults. Don’t speak of injured limbs.
- Slogan 26. Don’t figure others out. We judge ourselves by our intentions; we judge others by the effects of their actions on us.
- Slogan 27. Work with your biggest problems first. For a Zen student, a weed is a treasure.
- Slogan 29. Don’t poison yourself. No, thank you, I don’t eat that stuff (the poison of self-centeredness) anymore; I know it’s bad for me.
- Slogan 33. Don’t make everything so painful. When something is bad, it’s bad; don’t make it worse by adding additional drama to it.
- Slogan 34. Don’t unload on everyone. While we should still share our troubles with others (that’s what makes connection and life meaningful), it is for each of us, our own responsibility to shoulder the burden of our own suffering, whatever its cause, and to turn the burden into wisdom and love.
- Slogan 35. Don’t go so fast. Becoming a grown-up, fully developed, wise and kind human being and leader, is a long, slow process.
In summary, the discipline of mind training is supposed to be gentle, permissive, and easy going! So experiment and have fun. When practicing the slogans, I encourage you to keep Fischer’s advice in mind, “… when your efforts to be good and practice slogans begin to feel like you’re wearing a straitjacket, then I have a slogan for you: ‘Lighten up, relax, maybe go to a movie, have a glass of wine, don’t try so hard, maybe there’s something good on TV.’” (Training in Compassion, page 103).
Monthly Leadership Inspiration
- Click here to learn more about Norman Fischer and click here to learn more about his book, Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong.
- Click here to listen to Dan Harris of Ten Percent Happier‘s recent TED talk The Benefits of Not Being a Jerk to Yourself in which Harris compares his 360 review to a colonoscopy exam, confronts his fear-based neurotic programming in his mind, and uses meditation to help get his stuff together (8 minutes).
Narcissists feel entitled to get respect.
They aim to be the most important person in every room.
Humble people strive to show respect.
They aim to make everyone feel important in the room.
– Adam Grant, Organizational Psychology Professor, Wharton
Many clients sign up for coaching to learn how to deal with difficult individuals because they know that effective leaders need and have practices for showing up calm, confident, and respectful when engaging with tough colleagues. An executive client shared that one of his peers was making rude comments about him in front of others. As a result, my client felt himself becoming triggered whenever he engaged with his peer. Another executive shared that her supervisor was micromanaging her and making unrealistic demands. Both clients were concerned because they had to work regularly with these challenging colleagues and intuitively understood that their colleagues’ behavior was not going to change.
As you (unfortunately!) know, difficult colleagues – as well as people in our personal lives (family, friends, members of our communities) – come in many shapes and sizes, including being self-centered, self-absorbed, bossy, and even, on the more extreme side, unaware about how their behavior impacts others, entitled, demanding, overly critical, mean–spirited and manipulative. And if you’re worried you’re like this, chances are you are not because most difficult people do not self-reflect or have concern about how their behavior impacts others.
Since difficult people are not always interested in or capable of insight, they are most likely not going to change. Therefore, it’s up to you to change how you show up, so that you can remain confident and grounded and protect yourself from their negative energy.
While I don’t believe there is a one–size–fits all approach for dealing with difficult individuals, you can experiment with different self-management strategies to better manage difficult individuals and situations and build your inner resources.
I would say the overall goal when dealing with difficult individuals is to learn how to expand your window of tolerance for dealing with discomfort (an important life skill!), train in the skill of compassion toward yourself and others, and ultimately feel happier and more resilient.
Self-management strategies clients have successfully used when engaging with difficult individuals:
Set a Goal for the Interaction. Your objective is to remain present, calm and grounded, and find some peace and ease during a difficult moment. For example, when I start to feel triggered, I will get grounded in my body, feel my feet on the floor, and start to focus on my breath. See Get Present and Grounded below for more information on how to use your body and breath to remain present, calm, and grounded.
Prepare. Take time and space to prepare for a difficult interaction. It’s helpful to prepare by writing down your goal and process, meditating, and/or taking a walk. Click here to read Courageous Conversations and learn which questions might help you prepare for difficult situations.
Have Compassion for Yourself First. Acknowledge that it’s tough and often draining to deal with toxic individuals. Make sure you give yourself sufficient space to prepare to be with them and engage in self-care after the situation to recover and renew your energy.
Have Compassion for the Other Person. While it doesn’t excuse their behavior, recognize the other person is behaving the way they are because they are suffering. One technique to help with this is a loving kindness meditation – you are welcoming in self–compassion and extending compassion to the other person. You really do it for yourself, because it helps you remain more at peace and find some ease in a difficult situation. For more information, click here to read Why Loving Kindness Takes Time by Sharon Salzberg.
Get Present and Grounded. Use your body and breath to find a sense of equilibrium and ease. Continue to focus on your breath and bring your attention to your feet planted firmly on the floor. Connect with your own breath by counting to three on the in–breath and five on the out–breath – which will activate your rest and digest (parasympathetic) system and stop the fight or flight (sympathetic system) response.
Take a Break. It can be very challenging to remain calm and grounded for an extended period of time, so continue to check in with your goal and feelings during the difficult conversation. If and when you feel like you’re losing your grounding and going into overwhelm (fight or flight) mode, ask to take a coffee or bathroom break, return to your breath, and remind yourself of your goal. One client found it calming and grounding to place her open right hand over her heart as she took three deep breaths.
Stay Out of Drama and Be Solutions Focused. Remain clear about your best intention and vision for the meeting and relationship, so you can come from a place of being grounded and centered versus reactive.
Acceptance. Recognize you are not responsible for the other person’s behavior, and he/she is (most likely) not going to change. Sometimes, by showing up grounded and calm, you can have a positive impact on the other person. But sometimes you cannot. Your goal is to remain grounded and calm – and try to find some ease in a difficult moment – regardless of how the other person behaves.
Let Go. It’s the same thing as acceptance. Remember it’s not your job to fix or change the person. Even if you’re in a situation where it is your job to provide feedback about his/her behavior or actions, the other person is ultimately responsible for his/her own thoughts, words, and actions.
Forgive but Don’t Forget. By forgiving the other person, you are not condoning his/her actions but rather cultivating a self-care practice that releases you from toxic and negative feelings and enables you to meet difficult individuals where they are in order to keep your energy calm and grounded. But it’s important to note that you should always do your best to protect yourself from being in harm’s way. Forgiveness does not mean condoning the other person’s actions. Click here to download a worksheet and learn more about establishing a forgiveness practice through meditation or journaling.
Establish Energetic Boundaries. Some clients find it helpful to visualize a spacious circular bubble around their body, so they feel protected by a cushion of space. Then, if the other person says something that is upsetting, imagine it bouncing off the bubble and back at him/her. This approach keeps his/her negative energy from entering your own personal space.
Maintain a Sense of Humor. You only have to be with this person (hopefully!) for a short amount of time. He/she has to live with him/herself 24 hours a day.
Remember it’s a practice, so experiment with different strategies and always go easy and gentle on yourself!
Monthly Inspiration in Leadership
- Click here to listen to How to Deal with Emotionally Immature People (Including Maybe Your Own Parents) with Dr. Lindsay C. Gibson on Ten Percent Happier podcast with Dan Harris. This podcast is useful in understanding emotionally immature people (EIPs); Gibson describes EIPs as demanding, entitled, and incapable of emotional intimacy and she offers practical strategies on how to successfully navigate relationships with EIPs.
“The ROI on simply saying “thank you” goes a long way – probably much
farther than you think.”
– Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School
An executive shared that she typically can tell the level (seniority) of the individual she is working with by whether they express gratitude. That when she emails useful information to her CEO and other senior-level leaders, she usually receives a brief acknowledgement in the form of a short thank you reply email with a “t.u.” or 😊. She has observed that most of her junior clients do not acknowledge emails or say thank you.
In our chaotic, busy lives, many people overlook the importance of expressing gratitude. I’m not sure people do things in search of a thank you but a lack of expressed gratitude might make it less compelling for someone to go above and beyond for you in the future.
Good reasons to say thank you:
- Gratitude is an important leadership quality
- Expressing gratitude (or not) says something about who you are
- A meaningful way to differentiate yourself among others
- Shows you appreciate and respect the other person
- Generates positive feelings for yourself and the other person; such an easy way to make the world a better place
- Sets you up to receive the best from the other person
- Last, but not least, it’s the right thing to do
For more information and research read The Power of ‘Thanks’ by Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School
Whether you lead in your business, non-profit organization, community, or family, it’s important to keep in mind that power often corrupts and leads to feelings of entitlement and complacency.
As my mentor, Dale Moss, shared, “Power is so unbelievably intoxicating and over time it almost always does corrupt. To think power doesn’t corrupt is naive and dangerous. To say, maybe ‘them’ but not ‘me’, is the rare, very rare exception. So, if you want to show up as a leader – and I hope you do – start the discussion by assuming power always corrupts and make sure there are checks and balances via regular audits to keep everyone (including yourself) honest.”
In my work as an executive coach, I have learned that leadership is a privilege and a responsibility. One important job of any great leader is to make sure that ALL people feel safe enough to speak up and share their own unique perspective.
Clients use the following thought questions useful to manage their egos:
What reflection-based practices and disciplines do you have in place to support you in being of service to a higher vision? One executive recently shared that he has a practice of walking around the neighborhood every evening alone to reflect on the day’s events. Another client leads a prayer group and mentors others most mornings before work.
How do you make sure the people in your inner circle keep you honest? Who do you trust to be objective and hold you accountable to your values and behaviors? How do you make sure you don’t surround yourself with ‘yes’ people? One leader makes it a point to hire individuals who are willing to speak up and share their perspectives.
What practices do you have in place to make it psychologically safe for all individuals, especially introverts and/or marginalized colleagues, to speak up? One leader shares that she waits for everyone else to speak up before she offers her opinion and makes it a point to invite soft-spoken and junior colleagues into the conversation. One executive passes out large index cards for people to write down what they are thinking, collects the cards, and shares the insights with everyone – keeping the suggestions ‘anonymous’.
Client leaders are sharing that times are tough (e.g., the pandemic, shift out of the pandemic, a divided nation, and violent shootings). Executives are searching for practices to show up more grounded, responsive, and inspiring versus emotionally reactive and ineffective.
One client’s favorite tool is the “pause button” – simple yet not always easy to do. Another client uses a mantra: stimulus, hit the pause button and wait, then respond. He reminds himself, just because I think it, doesn’t mean I have to say it. And a friend’s son’s baseball coach has a 24-hour rule that no player, parent, or whomever is allowed to comment on the game for 24 hours following the finality of game time.
What is the pause button? The idea of taking some time away when you feel triggered by a situation or person in order to rest and reset. This allows the brain to slow down and the nervous system to settle; as a result, the mind becomes clearer, and you gain a better perspective. Once you are in a calmer mind state, you can show up more intentional and less reactive. It’s interesting to remember that we are wired by evolution to be alarmists, so things are usually not as bad as they seem at first.
One phrase that helps client leaders is this too shall pass. Whatever situation is happening in the moment, however you or others are feeling, whatever joy or pain you or others are experiencing, it’s only temporary.
The Pause Button
- Do I really need to react to this situation or person?
- Is it urgent or can I allow myself to take a pause before I respond, so my brain has time to settle, and I can show up from a place of being calm, decisive, grounded, and compassionate?
- Keeping in mind, this too shall pass, notice how you feel and what your state of mind is after 24 hours, after 48 hours, and after 72 hours?
Favorite Client Pause Buttons
- Take ten deep breaths
- Journal – first draft for yourself, second for the other person
- Be present in your body (e.g., feel the sensations of your feet on the ground, feel your back against the chair)
- Walk or be with your dog
- Have a good night’s sleep or take a nap (emotional first aid)
- Bake cookies
- Prepare and have dinner with good friends and family
- Travel somewhere new for the day, night, weekend, or week
- Turn off your phone at 5pm (or after hours) and weekends or leave it in another room
- Be or walk in nature
- Tend to flowers and plants
- Paint or draw
- Gaze at the stars, in the hot tub
- Take breaks from the news
- Play a round of golf
- Enjoy a glass of wine or watch a good TV show (yes, when done with the right intention, this counts too!)
- What pause button works for you?
Last week I returned from my 30-year graduate business school reunion. There were close to one hundred of us for the event in Chicago. During the women’s luncheon, the alumni office shared that there is something different about our ’92 class, that we (and class of ’97) stand out in her mind from all the rest based on our connection and commitment to each other. Recurrent themes that came to mind to were love, community, values, and resiliency.
During the 30 year of ski trips (shout out to Ed and Nanci🎿), hikes, dating, weddings, births, bar and bat mitzvahs, divorces, funerals, and just keeping in touch, this group of business school friends has operated as a high functioning community (maybe one of the highest I have had the privilege to be a part of); all are welcomed, loved, and accepted. No one is ever turned away or left out of any events.
And the focus on values continues to be apparent: importance of family, friends, and being humble. Despite the career and financial success of many of my peers, there is always humility, a kind word, and generosity of spirit present. Everyone has made her/his own choices and some of us (myself included) have taken time off from promising careers to focus on family, friends, passions, and health.
And everyone is remembered. At each event, thanks to Dan ❤️, friends who have passed away and are no longer physically with us, are always honored with stories, pictures, and a few minutes of silence.
- To which community (communities) do I belong?
- What talents and skills do I bring to my community?
- How do I support others, during the good and bad times, in my community?
- And, how does my community support me?
- In order to feel more connected, are there any other communities I might like to join?
- May is Mental Health Awareness month. Click here to read WSJ article In Praise of Anxiety. If you or anyone you care for struggle with anxiety, highly recommend this article, lots of useful and interesting research, tips, etc. Themes that resonated: reframing ordinary anxiety is an advantage that takes practice and patience (versus avoidance); anxiety prompts your mind and body into action; we produce higher levels of “the feel-good hormone” dopamine when we’re anxious; and the value of pursuing excellence over perfection, a common theme among clients. Click here to access NAMI and for more information about Mental Health Awareness Month.
- Click here to learn more about the book Bitter-Sweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain. Bitter-Sweet fundamentally changed how I view emotions, struggle, and joy. Cain also wrote Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.
- Click here to listen to PBS News Hour ‘I’m just getting started’: Jon Batiste on the next phase of his musical journey (8 minutes). Batiste is irrepressible and speaks to busting silos, importance of community, overcoming shyness, and finding his voice.
- Click here to learn more about Integral Resilience with Julian Gresser MA, JD (45 minutes). Gresser, President/Chairman of Big Heart Technologies, claims resilience is a skill which can be taught and cuts across many disciplines from medicine to city planning. Big thanks to my favorite professor, James Schrager for recommendation!
What happens when there is someone you must engage with on a regular basis (whether at work, in your community, or your family) who you don’t necessarily connect with or like (yet)? How do you get on board when you don’t feel 100% inspired by the person who has been selected to lead your business, organization, or community?
This past week, two leaders, whom I deeply respect and admire, shared stories of how they are trying to find ways to connect with their leaders whom they don’t necessarily like (yet). One leader discussed his struggle with a colleague because of the colleague’s abrasive style; ironically this person is someone his wife respected so he was trying to trust his wife’s opinion. The other leader described his struggle as a possible clash between his colleague’s cultural background with his own upbringing so he was focused on understanding his supervisor’s country of origin.
Both leaders also shared that some of the colleagues they were deeply connected to now were people who they didn’t necessarily connect with at first. However, over time and through shared experiences they were able to overlook, and sometimes even embrace differences to achieve a meaningful vision and outcome for the organization.
The questions we explored in client coaching sessions were:
- How do we balance putting our egos aside while still trusting our feelings and intuitive hits, in service of achieving a meaningful vision?
- Is it possible to shift the experience from one of disconnection to one of connection by showing up differently and finding meaningful ways to cultivate trust in order to develop a better, possibly more meaningful relationship?
- Do strong relationships develop because of a connection-at-first (like love at first sight) or do they develop over time based on a shared vision and set of meaningful and trustworthy experiences?
- How much time is needed to solidify the relationship?
- When do we throw in the towel and say, This isn’t going to work. It’s time for me to honor my well-being, quit, and find another situation that better suits my personal values and needs?
Click here for the full worksheet that offers additional thought questions to reflect and journal on and even discuss with a good friend that might address the struggle of initial disconnection
What Batiste said in his Grammy acceptance speech ….
I believe this to my core, there is no best musician, best artist, best dancer, best actor, the creative arts are subjective and they reach people at a point in their lives when they need it most.
It’s like a song or an album is made and it almost has a radar to find the person when they need it the most.
I mean, man. I like to thank God. I just put my head down and I work on the craft every day. I love music. I’ve been playing since I was a little boy.
It’s more than entertainment for me, it’s a spiritual practice.
Every single artist that was nominated in this category I actually love and have had experiences, out of body experiences, with your music. I honor you.
And this is for real artists, real musicians. Let’s just keep going. Be you.
That’s it. I love you even if I don’t know you.
– Jon Batiste