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The Power of the Pause

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

Ask yourself

  • 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
  • Laugh
  • 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?

Love is in the Air: 30 Year Booth Reunion

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.

 

In closing, I invite you to reflect on your relationship with your own communities:
  1. To which community (communities) do I belong?
  2. What talents and skills do I bring to my community?
  3. How do I support others, during the good and bad times, in my community?
  4. And, how does my community support me?
  5. In order to feel more connected, are there any other communities I might like to join?
Monthly Inspiration
  • 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!
  • Click here to read Passover in Przemyśl: Art, Serving, Ritual & Ancestral Healing In Light of the 2022 Ukrainian Exodus by Rami Avraham Efal. Rami is a dear friend and an Israeli artist, humanitarian, Jewish prayer ritualist, and meditation teacher.

Cultivating Relationships with People We Don’t Like (Yet)

Happy Spring!

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

Monthly Favorite

Click here to watch Jon Batiste’s acceptance speech for We Are, the 2022 Grammy’s album of the year award (three minutes). WOW! Click here to listen to one of my favorite Batiste songs FREEDOM.

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

Your Aging Brain and A Happy, Successful Life

In this month’s e-newsletter, I share Arthur Brooks‘ happiness strategies. Brooks is a Harvard professor, PhD social scientist, best-selling author, and columnist at The Atlantic.

Brooks explains that our brains and mental capacities change or erode with age, shifting from one set of skills and abilities to another. He goes on to say that there is good news: even with the change in skills and abilities, you can make the second half of your life even better than the first!

Brooks also explains that while 50% of happiness is genetic, 25% is due to circumstances that constantly change, so there is always room for improvement. With knowledge, practice, and fixing barriers to happiness (for example, mental health and poverty), we can become happier. He emphasizes that happiness is a process and takes time. This reminds me of the phrase, “incremental success is better than ambitious failure,” so take your time and focus on progressing upward.

 

Themes that resonated from Brooks’ book and talks

  • The difference between fluid and crystallized intelligence and why it’s easier to be an innovator or poet in the first half of your life and a CEO or teacher in your second.
      • Fluid intelligence refers to your raw smarts and ability to solve problems, to be innovative, to improve what you do, and to think through things quickly. Fluid intelligence is strongest when you’re young and peaks at about fifty years of age.
      • Crystallized intelligence refers to your ability to teach, explain things, tell stories, see connections among ideas, and understand how things fit together. Crystallized intelligence develops in your forties and stays strong into your fifties, sixties, seventies, and even eighties.
  • What a success addict is and how to avoid the hedonistic treadmill trap by focusing on Your Why versus Your What. To find Your Why, Brooks recommends spending 15 minutes a day for three months reflecting on the nature of your own desire. Click here for another great resource Start With Why by Simon Sinek.
  • The happiness portfolio and the four most important habits of the happiest people. Brooks talks about focusing on having 1). Faith (an interest in something bigger than yourself), 2). Solid Family Relationships, 3). Supportive Network of Friends, 4). and Work Which Serves Others.
  • Why it’s better to listen to common sense and wisdom traditions versus messaging from advertising and social media. Our culture mistakenly tells us that in order to be happy we need to do three things: 1) Love Things, 2). Use People, and 3). Worship Yourself. If you want to be happy, Brook recommends keeping the general formula but switching the focus: 1). Use Things, 2). Love People, and 3). Worship the Divine (however you interpret this).
  • A three-step algorithm to become happier in life: 1). Understand what’s going on (enhance knowledge), 2) Practice it in life (wise action), and 3). Share it with others.

 

Monthly Favorites

  • Click here to purchase Arthur Brooks’ book From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life.
  • Click here to listen to The Good News About Your Inevitable Decline on the Ten Percent Happier podcast with Arthur Brooks and Dan Harris (75 minutes).
  • Click here to listen to Dr. Ron Siegel talk The Science of Mindfulness at Talks at Google. One of the best overviews of what mindfulness is, what it’s not, and how to work with everyday problems, anxiety, and depression (65 minutes).
  • Click here to listen to the podcast Vulnerability and Redemption with Adrian Grenier on the podcast A Bit of Optimism with Simon Sinek. Grenier, the former star of Entourage who had fame, money and everything else, shares his story of how his girlfriend dumped him which led to a journey of reflection, growth, and farming (24 minutes).
  • Click here to listen to the podcast Equanimity: The Gifts of Non-Reactive Mindful Presence by Tara Brach. In her talk, Brach reminds us to pause and find an inner refuge when feeling angry and fearful; a resource many clients are relying on during these difficult times (42 minutes).

When the Need to Be Liked Gets in the Way …

“I dreaded having the awkward conversation with my manager who was not showing up in the right way for her team. My usual tendency is to avoid conflict. Yet, by managing my discomfort and preparing for the discussion, I was able to share concrete examples of how she could improve. I learned that clear is kind and we got to a better place,” a client leader shared.

Most leaders arrive at the decision that being direct and honest is kind after learning the hard way; overcoming their mistaken belief they were helping someone by being “nice” to avoid hurt feelings. In fact, waiting too long to share constructive feedback can not only negatively impact someone’s development but also have the potential to lead to tears and drama, as one client recently shared.

As an executive coach, organizations often hire me to share difficult news with their leaders. I can’t count the number of times that client leaders have thanked me for giving them the direct, clear, and honest feedback that no one else was willing to share with them.

Most of us avoid conflict because it’s just so uncomfortable: tough emotions, physical sensations, and spinning thoughts often accompany these difficult situations. But, as I’m sure you know, conflict is a necessary outcome of working with others and if handled correctly can build bridges and lead to better solutions.

Many clients use a version of the questions (listed below) as a framework; they often share that taking time to prepare for the conversation can help minimize (though not necessarily eliminate) the discomfort (e.g., racing heart rate, tight chest, OCD thoughts, sweaty palms, etc.) associated with having a tough conversation.

Keep in mind it doesn’t have to, and won’t be, perfect. Despite your best efforts, your tone, body language, or phrasing might not be “perfect,” and that’s okay, it’s part of the process. Just make sure you set the right intention by preparing ahead for the meeting to bring out the best in you and (hopefully) the other party.

Click here to learn more about preparing for Courageous Conversations.

What Leaders are Working on….

I hope 2022 finds you off to a good start, with moments of joy and well-being, despite the struggles associated with COVID-19 and life in general.

I’d like to share three of the most common leadership skills and some tools that executives are working on and using in their coaching engagements. These three skills are universal and relevant for whether you lead in an organization, a community, or your home.

One: Executive Presence is the ability to show up confident, calm, grounded, and with a positive state of mind. We all need strategies and practices to help us overcome our innate negativity bias and manage our nervous systems in order to show up at our best self to inspire and motivate others to be their best.

  • Click here to read How to Show Up Cheerful During Tough Times
  • Click here to learn more about Taming Anxiety: How to Stop the Spin Cycle
  • Click here for a worksheet on Energy Management and the 3 P’s (a favorite go–to resource for many clients)

Two: Conflict Management is the ability to manage difficult situations by having the courageous conversations, sooner rather than later … or never. Conflict is a necessary and healthy part of business; having the critical conversations is hard work and takes preparation.

  • Click here to learn more about how to have Courageous Conversations
  • Click here for Norman Fischer’s guided meditation on “Presence” to the Conflict Resolution Professionals group (only twelve minutes and a client favorite)

Three: Time Management is the ability to set aside blocks of reflection time to make sure you are prioritizing what activities matters most (for example creating/communicating vision and strategy, building key relationships, developing skills in others, etc.) versus getting caught up in tasks or activities that should be delegated to others.

  • Click here for a Time Management Matrix worksheet which will help you reflect on and evaluate how you are spending your time 

 

How to Show Up Cheerful During Tough Times

Everyone seems to be struggling these days, just when things seemed to be a bit more normal, we now have Omicron spreading like wildfire impacting holiday plans.

And despite tough times, it’s the practice of any effective leader, whether in family, community, or at work, to be able to see things as they are and still show up cheerful enough to inspire and motivate others toward achieving a common vision.

Given being positive is an important leadership skill, I often ask executives – how do YOU do it? How do you see the world as it is, without being in denial or dismissive yet show up with a positive mind state? This is what some of them have shared:

  • I make sure I have enough quiet, reflection time so that I can step away from the busy-ness of the day to feel more spacious, creative, and positive about our organization’s future vision.

  • When a difficult situation arises, I make sure to hit the pause button, allow any strong emotions to settle, stick to facts, and not get caught in a narrative. I focus on letting go of my need to “fix” and control everyone and instead I try to go with the flow and move us in the right direction.

  • I’ve learned to pick my battles by letting go of the need to be right and instead do what’s best for the organization. It can sometimes mean taking the hit for something that isn’t directly my fault. Focusing on what’s best for the organization and managing my ego helps me stay out of drama – and remain grounded and upbeat.

  • I know it sounds funny but when an uncomfortable situation arises, I shift my awareness into my feet, feeling their weight and physical sensations, and it keeps me more grounded. Not only does this help me manage triggers in the moment, I’ve noticed that the stronger emotions move right through me so I don’t have left over emotions lingering around for a day or two like I used to.

  • I’ve learned to accept that difficulty and negativity are baked into our human condition and kind of focus my mind to what’s going well and move towards positive actions and outcomes.

  • I just make sure to get away from it all and walk my dog or play golf or go for a run, that always helps me gain a better perspective.

  • I just get away from it all and watch I Love Lucy!

Resources to Be More Cheerful

  • Embodied Presence During Conflict. Click here for Norman Fischer’s Guided Meditation on “Presence for Conflict Resolution professionals” (twelve minutes). It’s an excellent practice for using the body and breath to show up with an intuitive, creative, and spacious mind state and a client favorite.
  • Cultivate More Joy. Click here to read how Joy Leads to Better Work Performance with tips by Shawn Achor, a Harvard educated happiness researcher who works with Fortune 100 companies. He defines happiness as the joy you feel moving toward your potential and offers five tips for cultivating more joy.
  • Importance of Being Cheerful. Click here to listen to What is Nirvana on Dan’s Harris’s Ten Percent Happier podcast with Robert Thurman. Thurman, retired professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University and friend of the Dalai Lama, discusses the importance of cheerfulness, what is nirvana, and the Buddhist Four Noble Truths.
  • Breathe for Better Brain Health. Click here to read Your Breath Your Brain’s Remote Control and try a five-minute breath meditation by Diana Winston to help you cope with stress and anxiety. In meditation practice, we take a long and deliberate inhale to energize and wake up the body and a long and deliberate exhale to invite a sense ease and calm into the body.
  • Nothing is Personal, Permanent or Perfect. Click here for a worksheet on Energy Management and the 3 P’s. A favorite go to resource for many clients.

Wishing you a cheerful, healthy, and safe holiday and 2022!

A Story of Gratitude: How to Be Thankful on Thanksgiving and Not Just About Turkey

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. We have the opportunity to take a step back and reflect on what we are grateful for and share the day with people we love. And while this year presents new challenges – like how to continue being COVID safe while celebrating the day – it also offers new opportunities to express gratitude and feel joy for what we have.

I wrote this story fifteen years ago when my father “Jimmy” was alive yet the message continues to stay with me because it speaks to the mystery of life – that despite our many challenges and differences, there is much to be grateful for and we are all interconnected.

Wishing you a safe, happy, and healthy Thanksgiving 😎.

A Story of Gratitude: How to Be Thankful on Thanksgiving and Not Just About Turkey

Thanksgiving 2007

This year is especially meaningful for my family as my father and mother drive to New Jersey to share Thanksgiving with us. We are grateful that my dad is with us, because as he often says, “I’m damn lucky to be here…almost bought the store, and not just once!”

Thankfully, my father’s situation has improved and he is on the road to better health as he recovers from aspiration pneumonia and the complications of his illness. Now I watch this man I love find the courage to deal with life on new terms, one where he wears a “trach,” uses a feeding tube, and is dependent on oxygen—maybe for the long term but hopefully for the short. He shows gratitude for each new day: a walk around the neighborhood, a good night’s sleep, a visit from a friend, or the occasional sip of ice-cold water he sneaks when he thinks no one is watching.

There is amazing power in recognizing what we are grateful for. Recently, a few of my clients have expressed they were stuck in a negative mind-set. We talked about keeping a gratitude journal.

I’ve learned from the experiences of clients, as well as my own, that writing in a journal helps bring better energy and perspective to our lives. If you feel stuck and are not enjoying life as much as you’d like to, try keeping a gratitude journal, and see what shifts for you. Over time, you’ll see the impact that focusing on the things in life you’re thankful for has on improving your positive mind-set.

In addition, we know, based on research, that going into a state of gratitude helps us gain perspective, show up happier, and be more mindful. Mindfulness is the ability to tune into oneself and others and show up more centered.

My gratitude journal entry from November 25, 2007:

I was surprised by how much my mother needed my father in her life—any way she could have him. And by my dad’s courage to fight for his life, even when it meant putting aside his ego and living in a way, he would have never thought he could or would have to.

I was moved by my father’s courage and wonderful sense of humor during a challenging time. On many occasions when the nurse showed up with yet another needle, my father jokingly referred to himself as a “human pin cushion.” And when one doctor told him he had lung cancer and six months left to live, Dad walked out, laughed, and said, “Don’t think I haven’t heard that before—if I heard it once, I’ve heard it a dozen times.” Thankfully, the doctor was wrong.

I am inspired to give more to someone in need because I have learned that while I thought I was the one giving, I was really the one receiving.

I am especially grateful to my family, friends, work associates, and clients who supported me during this time so I could give to my dad what he needed and help him get stronger.

Monthly Favorites
  • Click here to read This Thanksgiving, Let’s Complain! by Jay Michaelson.
  • Click here to read A Game Plan for Healthy Enjoyment of the Holidays by Peter Attia
  • Click here to read Have the Holiday Crazies Set In? This Simple Gratitude Practice Can Help You Reset and Remember What’s Most Important by Gina Hamadey
  • Click here to read Here’s How to Avoid 6 of the Most Common Sources of Holiday Stress, from Supply Chain Issues to Awkward Dinner Table Convos by Sarah Stiefvater 

 

Gratitude opens the door to the power, the wisdom, the creativity of the universe.
—Deepak Chopra

 

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