With spring in the air and vaccines becoming available there is a renewed sense of optimism in the air, yet I’d like to acknowledge that many of us are still struggling (e.g., fractured productivity and moments of irritation, anxiety, fear, and despair) and share a few practices that client leaders and their teams are using to help self-manage, create balance, and find joy.
Before I discuss practical strategies for managing stress and finding some ease, I’d like to define what it means to be a mindful and resilient leader based on my many conversations with senior leaders and their teams over the last fifteen years as an executive coach.
A Mindful and Resilient Leader is someone who brings out the best in oneself and others by being present, resilient/grounded, compassionate, and able to effectively manage difficult situations. See below for more detail and click here to download the definition.
Brings Out Best in Oneself and Others
- Inspires and motivates NOT about authority, power or control
- In service, connected to higher purpose and vision
- Uses influence for greater good and impact with focus on people and profits
- Has positive mindset, despite challenges
- Vocal about team’s accomplishments
- Mindfulness: moment to moment awareness of self, others, and the environment
- Focused on the matter at hand
Resilient and Grounded
- Resiliency is the ability to bounce back and recover from adversity
- Shows up confident, decisive, and responsive, NOT reactive
- Able to be in space of not knowing
- Has practices to maintain an emotionally regulated and balanced state of mind
Compassionate: Self and Others
- Pays attention to what self and others are thinking and feeling
- Committed to well-being and takes steps to preserve
- Shows up humble and fosters curiosity, kindness, and a nonjudgmental awareness, especially around differences
- Recognizes interconnection
Effectively Manages Challenging Situations
- Not surprised by difficult situations and does not avoid them –“bad news never ages well”
- Skilled at managing uncertainty, change, and/or conflict
- Embraces courageous conversations – speaks up
- Has strategies to manage self and others’ potential to become triggered (fight, flight, or freeze mode)
Leaders and Their Teams’ Reframes and Practices
- The mind is trainable
- Research suggests eight minutes/day* is enough to reap short-term changes to the brain – all at once or several micro-hits throughout day
- In bed, first thing in morning, before bed, middle of night to fall back to sleep, 12p reset, or after transitions like meals, work, or physical exercise
- Meditation apps: Ten Percent ($), Calm ($), Insight Timer (free)
Embodied Presence When Triggered
- Bring attention to body by focusing on sensations of feet on floor, hands on lap, or back against chair
- Take deep breaths to to the count of ten
- Practice straw breath (breathe in to count of four and out through pursed lips to the count of six or eight as if blowing through a straw)
Reframe: The 3 P’s: Nothing is …
- Perfect: Strives for excellence NOT perfection
- Personal: It is NOT about you
- Permanent: This too shall change
- Click here for more information on the Managing Energy and the 3P’s
Reframe: 3 Steps That Make a Difference, Rick Hanson, PhD, author Resilient
- Be on top of getting over alarmed: self–management
- Cultivate positive emotion: gratitude
- Focus on what you have influence over
- Click here for more information on Rick Hanson’s 3 Steps that Make a Difference
Actual Leader’s OOO Automatic Email Reply…
- Thank you for your message. Your message is important to me, yet it is being received outside of normal business hours. I will address all messages within working hours, and in order of priority. Mindfulness is a new way of being, a new way of experiencing life and improving one’s work-life balance.
Other Client Practices
- Rest. Get a good night’s sleep (emotional 1st aid)
- Connect. Find people who make you feel good
- Other activities include exercising & body movement, journaling, being in nature, tending to flowers & plants, painting, cooking, baking, star gazing, laughing, & taking breaks from technology & news.
For information on being a more mindful and resilient leader click here to download latest Zone of Resilience chart (based on client feedback and evidence-based research)!
A key leadership skill, whether at work, home, or in your community, is the ability to cultivate intellectual humility which is NOT believing everything you think and remaining curious and open minded to the not knowing.
While leadership includes staying true to core values, like integrity and doing the right thing, it is also about challenging opinions, assumptions, and beliefs – and knowing when (and how) to let go of the need to be right and admit when your thinking is wrong.
So this month I’m recommending Adam Grant’s latest book Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, where he makes the case for cultivating the skills of rethinking and unlearning, backed by research. Grant is a top-rated Wharton professor (seven years in a row) and organizational psychologist.
Key Concepts in Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know
- Intentionally rethink, unlearn, and challenge thinking. Why it’s important to have conversations where the focus is to learn versus argue to win.
- Have a challenge network. Thoughtful critics whose opinions you respect and push you to challenge your assumptions by providing constructive feedback.
- Test intuition versus trust intuition. How evidence suggests that the first answer you think of is not always the right answer.
- Difference between impostor thoughts and impostor syndrome. An interesting and useful reframe as many smart, successful leaders struggle with imposter syndrome. Grant also discusses the potential benefits of having imposter thoughts. For more information on what imposter syndrome is, click here to read my blog Feel Like an Imposter? You’re not alone.
- The Think Again, How Open Am I quiz. Are you a preacher (defending your beliefs), proselytizer (proving other wrong), politician (campaigning for approval), or scientist (searching for truth)? See below for link to take quiz.
- Book: Click here to learn more about Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant
- Podcast: Click here to hear The Joy of Being Wrong on Ten Percent Happier Podcast with Adam Grant and Dan Harris Ep. 321 (one hour seven minutes)
These are tough times and many of many of us are feeling overwhelmed by COVID and the current state of the world. As my friend Jim Tuchler, President of GiftsforYouNow.com recently told me, “I’m spending about half of my time counseling my folks and I’m worried about them. I guess we all thought 2021 would be different but everyone is still COVID grumpy because while 2020 was traumatic, we still have at least six to nine months left of mask wearing, restricted liberties, and uncertainty around the economy, our political situation, and the vaccine. I’d like some strategies to help my team feel validated about their experience, reset, re-energize, and find more joy in the everyday moments.”
In the spirit of being more resilient, I would like to share two concepts that have been resonating with leaders and their teams, helping them stay more grounded, calm, compassionate, and even find some joy during these tough times.
Concept One: Manage Your Energy
- Maintain your own personal well–being. Simple but not always easy to do, so doing your best to eat good quality food, minimize alcohol intake, get good sleep, move the body, and allow time for rest.
- Prioritize where you put your energy. Step away from frantic doing and spend time in reflection so you can focus on what matters most.
- Wait 24 hours to respond when triggered, when possible. This means be less reactive when the situation does not require an immediate response. Keep in mind that we are wired by evolution to be alarmists, so things are usually not as bad as they seem at first glance.
- Rest, take time off, and allow the nervous system to settle. Enjoy quiet time, spend time in nature, take a walk, do something creative, and allow time to unplug by turning off your phone for a bit.
- You can’t be all things to all people. You only have so much time and energy, so prioritize who matter most to you (family, work, friends, etc.) and the people you enjoy being with (the peeps who energize you).
- Take breaks from takers. One “watch out” for givers (people who tend to be very generous) is make sure you have good boundaries by minimizing time with individuals who disregard your own well-being (because they don’t care or don’t understand) and put themselves first.
- Nothing is Perfect. No person or situation is ever perfect, period. We all want things to work out, but life is tough, and while you can focus on changing the situations that are in your control, there is a practice of learning to be with what is not in your control. Click here to hear a 3 minute video on How to Shift Your What If to What Is, a simple mindfulness exercise by one of my favorite mindfulness teacher’s Cory Muscara.
- Nothing is Personal. Whatever is happening to you, don’t take it personally. You might try the mantra, it’s not about you. The situation is bigger than you. Even when it feels personal, it’s really not personal. You are merely one person in a larger ecosystem of forces that shapes your life and circumstances.
- Nothing is Permanent. Keep in mind This too shall pass. Whatever situation is happening right now, however you or others are feeling, what ever joy or pain you or others are experiencing is only temporary. Ask yourself: Do I really need to react to this situation or person? Is it that 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?
I had the good fortune to meet Dale Moss in 1995 when I worked under his leadership in marketing at British Airways and am beyond lucky to have had his continued mentorship throughout my life. Dale is always kind, funny, thoughtful, humble, and a great storyteller – always inspiring me (and others) to be a better person. Dale taught me that companies won’t make a profit unless they care about and take care of their people – a lesson echoed by many of my executive clients.
So I dedicate this month’s newsletter to Dale Moss and his dad Mike. In Dale’s words – my dad is now 95 years old and has always been my idol so it’s particularly tough to see him struggle like this but he’s hanging in there. A real tough WW ll navy guy who joined the navy at 17 years of age and now lives in a retirement community that is trying to contain COVID. And it’s been quite a difficult time because every week there is another issue somewhere. Seems like once again in his life, my dad is dodging bullets.
I will always keep Dale’s lessons and this story close to my heart whether I am partnering with a leader, spending time with my family, or trying to give back to our community … sending thoughts of health, peace, and ease to Dale and his dad, Mike – and to everyone, everywhere, during these challenging times.
Do You Care? Leadership Lessons from My Dad, Brother Bernadine, and Archie Demarco
– By Dale Moss
There are many things that make up a great leader, but to me, there is a common strand that binds great leaders together. It’s caring. I have seen pyramids, trees, and all sorts of diagrams that overcomplicate what good leadership looks like. Of course, character, commitment, confidence, and competence are all essential qualities. But without caring, they are sterile.
Throughout my career, I have always tried to embody this critical element of leadership. The times I have demonstrated a sense of empathy and caring for the teams I have had the privilege to lead were the moments I felt most successful.
I have chosen to reflect on the people in my life who, by action, showed me what caring and leadership were really about and, in the most profound way, set the stage for my leadership style.
My dad is the toughest softhearted guy I have ever known. And it took me many years to see, appreciate, and understand this wonderful combination of seemingly opposite styles. He grew up during the Depression in a difficult family environment and joined the navy at sixteen years of age during World War II. When I was growing up, Dad scared the heck out of me because he looked tough and took discipline seriously. In fact, everyone thought Dad worked for the FBI. But underneath, he was a real softy.
Toward the end of my senior year in college, I was struggling to find a job. Having gone to several interviews without any success, I felt sorry for myself and started moping around the house. This went on for several weeks until Dad had had enough. I was sitting in our living room reading when Dad walked in, a big book under his arm. He sat next to me and said, “Son, I know you are having a tough time, and your mom and I feel for you. We are prepared to help out in any way we can. But if you’re looking for sympathy, it’s under S.” He dropped a big dictionary on the coffee table and left the room. In one instance, he showed me two contrasting qualities: deep caring and self-reliance.
I grew up on Long Island and attended St. Anthony’s, a Franciscan high school. The school was located in Smithtown with an enrollment of only three hundred students. Brother Bernadine, our principal, personally greeted every single student by name as they got off the bus! Regardless of the weather, he stood outside in his cape, rain or shine, hot or cold, and greeted us, each and every day. He knew each student’s name and how we were doing. Brother Bernadine was an impressive man who cared about his students, and we knew it.
One particular memory stands out in my mind. One day, Brother Bernadine pulled me aside and mentioned that my mom had not sent in my monthly tuition. He casually told me, “Tell your mom there is no need to worry, just send it in next month.”
What I learned about leadership from Brother Bernadine was that he was loved and respected not only for being the principal, but also for being a caring man. He led from the front; as a result, his students would have gone through a brick wall for him. We were a family with a culture unlike any school my other friends attended. It was simple and a great formula: Brother Bernadine cared, he showed it, and we all knew it.
Coach Archie DeMarco
Archie DeMarco was the athletic director and varsity baseball coach at St. Anthony’s. He was a retired naval officer and had also played for one of the Cincinnati farm teams before joining the Navy. Coach DeMarco was a great guy—clearly in charge, tough when he needed to be, and (almost) always with a smile on his face.
I loved baseball with all of my heart and played junior varsity as a freshman. So when the spring of my sophomore year arrived, I was excited to try out for the varsity team. While St. Anthony’s was a small school, we still had a competitive baseball team. Every few days during tryouts, a list was posted in the locker room with the guys who were still on the team. As I made it through three or four cuts, I remained hopeful.
Coach DeMarco knew both baseball and young men. One afternoon, he came to my classroom and asked if he could have a few words with me. As we walked, he put his arm around me and said, “Kid, you need playing time, and while you could make the team, I think it’s best if you stay with the junior varsity team and get playing time. There are juniors and seniors who will probably play ahead of you. I’m going to need you in the next two years, but you need more playing experience.”
This was potentially a moment of huge disappointment for me. However, I wasn’t terribly crushed because Coach DeMarco cared enough to come to me, explain the situation, and ask for my support. He certainly didn’t have to do that, but he clearly cared, and I am forever grateful. He took the sting and embarrassment out of the situation and encouraged me to keep working. As it turned out, he really was a genius because his decision to keep me on the junior varsity team worked out for the best. In fact, Coach DeMarco helped secure me a baseball scholarship to Fordham University. I could go on and on about how that experience impacted my life.
Throughout the years, I have discovered that we truly learn life’s important lessons in situations like the ones I just shared. I have been blessed to have people in my life who have demonstrated caring in different situations, and it is their actions that have enabled me to achieve whatever successes I have enjoyed and to better lead. I look back in deep appreciation to these loving, kind, and confident people and to many others who took the time to care.
Dale Moss has held several leadership positions including CEO, OpenSkies; COO, Jet Airways India Ltd; Chairman, British Airways Holidays; and Director of Sales Worldwide, British Airways, where he led twelve thousand employees and was known for building great teams and delivering extraordinary results. He is currently president of Dale Moss Consulting Ltd.
- Click here to hear The Science of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman on Dan Harris’s Ten Percent Happier podcast and learn more about three kinds of empathy (cognitive, emotional, and compassion); the “marshmallow test” and impulse control; and the “amygdala hijacks” (one hour)
- Click here to read The Avatars of the Strategist: This One Ubiquitous Job has Four Distinct Roles by Ram Shivakumar, Adjunct Professor of Economics and Strategy at University of Chicago Business School.
- Click here to learn about the Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention—Patient and Doctor perspectives by Lauren Miller Rogen and Dr. Richard Isaacson on the Peter Attia Drive podcast (2 hours 11 minutes)
- Click here to adopt a sea turtle patient like Ruth Ginsberg for $40. What a meaningful holiday gift and thank you to my sister Rachael for your volunteer work at Loggerhead Marine Center in Juno, Florida!
- Click here to smile and hear Puppy for Hanukkah. Thank you to my friend Ari for sharing and making us smile (4 minutes)!
And if you would like to join my free weekly Zoom community meditation practice Mondays 7p EST 🙏, please email to sign up!
And in Dale’s thoughtful words he shared via a recent email exchange … Let’s see what the new year brings with the hope for good health, smart political leadership, and the hope that we all find our way back to doing good things for ourselves and more importantly others.
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 be COVID safe while celebrating the day (or throughout the long weekend depending on the weather) – it also offers new opportunities to express gratitude and feel joy for what we have.
I wrote this story thirteen 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.
Always love to hear from you, feel free to email and let me know how things are going and what you are grateful for (What surprised you? What moved you? What are you inspired to do?).
And if you would like to join my free weekly Zoom community meditation practice Mondays 7p EST 🙏, please email to sign up!
Wishing you a safe, happy, and healthy Thanksgiving 😎, whether it’s a zoom boom holiday, outside on the deck, in the garage with the doors open and fans blowing or around the dining room table with a few family members and friends.
A Story of Gratitude: How to Be Thankful on Thanksgiving and Not Just About Turkey
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 one’s self 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.
Gratitude opens the door to the power, the wisdom, the creativity of the universe.
The Drama Triangle is a normal human dynamic where we triangulate among three different mindsets or roles: the victim, persecutor, or rescuer. These roles are a fear–based effort to meet our needs, regain a sense of control and avoid feelings of uncertainty, vulnerability, and powerlessness. While we may have a preferred role that we play or evoke from others, we can also shift among the three different mind states.
The Drama Triangle is a useful model for understanding, taking ownership of, and reducing negative drama in our lives because it helps us become aware of what role we (and others) may be stuck in and how to extricate ourselves.
The model, based on teachings of Fleet Maull, PhD (and his book Radical Responsibility) and Vita Pires-Crisp, E.D. from Engaged Mindfulness Institute and Stephen Karpman’s drama model, reflects normal adult human behavior and are not relevant for children or someone who is truly victimized.
The Three Mindsets: Victim, Persecutor, Rescuer
- A role where the person is unhappy with the way their life is going and believes the cause of their unhappiness lives somewhere outside of themselves – another person or situation.
- For example, I will be happy or unhappy until that external circumstances (the person or situation that I have no control over) changes.
- This is a mindset of limitations, feeling powerless and helpless, one of problems and can be used to control or manipulate others.
- Context: “poor me”
- Actions: complaining, blaming, attention seeking, tantrum throwing, manipulating
- Orientation: problems, complaints
- Mode: reactive, blaming
- Feelings: helpless, powerless, anxious, afraid, hurt, hopeless, depressed
- Like the victim, the persecutor attributes the causation of what they are feeling to an external circumstance.
- This role is triggered by a fear–based strategy where the person feels out of control and powerless so they put themselves in charge to gain some control.
- Context: “I’m right”
- Actions: criticizing, judging, blaming, controlling, dominating, attacking, abusing
- Orientation: problems, complaints
- Mode: reactive, attacking
- Feelings: anxious, fearful, angry, superior, righteous, defensive
- Underlying position: victim
- A role where the person is playing the expert, hero, and fixer, going around saving people from themselves. The rescuer needs a victim.
- This is not a genuine role of helping but rather the person moves into the rescuer role to meet one’s own ego needs in order to feel needed or powerful.
- Can treat the others as childlike and unable to take care of themselves.
- Context: “I know”
- Actions: rescuing, saving, fixing, enabling, colluding, disempowering
- Orientation: problems and fixes, savior–martyr
- Mode: reactive, fixing
- Feelings: smug, superior, self–righteous, heroic, unappreciated, overwhelmed
- Underlying position: victim
How do I get out of or off the drama triangle?
- Step One: Recognize that you are in a drama triangle. Recognize the physiological signs of drama activation, become mindful of your emotional reactions and triggers, and identify what role you could become or are already caught in. For the victim role, warning signs include upset emotions (hurt, anxiety, anger, etc.), physical sensations (shallow breathing, constricted chest, sweaty palms, tension in the neck and shoulders), and thoughts (captivating stories of powerlessness, injustice, etc.). For persecutor and rescuer roles, signs of drama activation may manifest in language, tone of voice, posture, and actions towards others.
- Step Two: Don’t Act When Triggered. Your primary job is to self-regulate and not make the situation any worse. Make a commitment to yourself to not act when triggered. There’s a saying, “The blood has left your brain, now is not a good time to make a decision!”
- Step Three: Take Space and Shift Your State. The next step is to state shift and engage in a self–management strategy to consciously release yourself from the trigger (fight or flight response) so that you can gain access to the rational decision–making capacity of your brain’s executive function. Self-management strategies include taking deep breaths to the count of ten, straw breathing, meditation, taking a walk, listening to soothing music, going for a walk or run, doing yoga or other movement exercise, speaking with a friend, getting out in nature, or journaling.
- Step Four: Own Your Feelings. This means getting in touch with your own emotional state and rather than using blaming, projective language, choose “empowering, reflective I” statements, like, “I’m angry, hurt, or sad” (versus “You’re always doing this to me.”)
- Step Five: Identify Your Needs and Communicate Them Clearly (When Appropriate). Take some time to reflect on what underlying needs you perceive aren’t being met and if it’s appropriate, communicate them to the other person as information or as a request, but not a demand. Some examples of needs include love, respect, trusting relationship, autonomy, self–worth, creative expression, security, sense of purpose, and a connection to something larger than self.
- Step Six: Make A Boundary When Necessary. By establishing proper boundaries, we reduce chaos and suffering for ourselves and others. Boundaries about knowing when to say yes and when to say no, both to ourselves and others. Boundaries generate a type of presence and protective energy. When you have clear boundaries, people sense it, and anyone looking to create drama will typically steer clear of you and go elsewhere.
Our family was lucky enough to meet the very humble yet famous Ari Weinzweig during a visit to Michigan while dining at Zingerman’s Roadhouse (Ari was the water boy, refilling our glasses summer of 2018). Usually, my husband Brad refuses to dine at a restaurant two nights in a row, but we enjoyed our visit so much we found ourselves dining at Zingerman’s for two consecutive nights!
Since then, we have gotten to know Ari and become inspired by his community values, compassionate leadership style, and business success. And as we continue to live in uncertain times, I find it refreshing to have resilient leaders like Ari to turn to during this pandemic for inspiration – leaders who show up in deep service and commitment to others, their staff, communities, and customers. Thank you Ari!
And so with Ari’s permission, thrilled to share ….
Humility: A Quiet Key to Collaboration and Our Collective Health by Ari Weinzweig
When I was asked to speak at a University of Michigan symposium on the subject of humility I honestly knew little or nothing about it. Beyond a general understanding of what the word meant, and that it was probably a good thing to have, I wouldn’t have had much to say about why it would matter. In the intervening months of inquiry, I’ve learned a lot. I can see now, very clearly, how humility can help us in so many ways—at work, in society, at home—to make our lives more rewarding and our work more effective. I realize, too, how a lack of humility is behind so many of the problems with which we struggle.
Humility, I’ve learned, works quietly. But please, don’t confuse humility’s calm discretion with passive ineffectiveness. Humility, I now strongly believe, has power; the power to heal, the power to help. The power to restore health. While the news seems to get louder and ever more frenetic, humility is waiting for us to let it contribute to the conversation. If humility was a guest professor, the assignment it might give us would be to turn off the news, take a couple of deep breaths, cock our ears, look inward, and pay close attention to what comes up in the quiet. What at first, to the casual observer, could sound like nothing at all, just might turn out to be a wonderful whispering source of strength and wisdom. In the inflammatory state of current national discourse, humility is a soft but still effective voice leading us away from ego, and in the direction of much needed doses of dignity, compassion, kindness, inclusion, reflection, and respect. (To paraphrase folk singer and spoken word performer, Utah Phillips, we might want to consider adding “rant control” to our list of programs going forward.) As Wendell Berry writes: “It is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it.”
Does the subtle, gentle presence of humility have much value when the country is in crisis? On its own, we know, humility won’t cure Coronavirus. But having learned what I’ve learned over the last few years, I’ll answer with an adamant yes. Why? Because rather than shutting out what others (with whom we may not agree) have to say, humility leads us to be more open to the input and help of those who know more than we do. It makes it easier to meaningfully say, “I don’t know.” It increases the likelihood that we will own our responsibility for our errors. It improves the odds we will take the advice of experts seriously, even while still making our own decisions. Humility makes it more difficult to be curt and dismissive. More difficult to be curtly dismissed. And harder to say, “I don’t care.”
Will humility have an impact on our other recovery? The rebuilding of social trust and mutual respect? I will answer, adamantly, in the affirmative. Humility, I believe, is incompatible with racism, hierarchy, and hatred. Twentieth-century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “To the end of history, social orders will probably destroy themselves in an effort to prove they are indestructible.” Humility, by definition, could help us steer clear of that tragic fate. If we have humility we accept that we are all imperfect, all fallible, all interdependent. This past spring, I began to think of 2020 as a “marathon through a minefield.” Humility, I’ve come to realize, is one of the keys to successfully getting through. When you don’t need to be “the best,” “the biggest,” or “first to the finish line,” the odds of successfully getting to the other side of the minefield—without losing our minds, our lives, or our livelihoods—increase significantly.
I would suggest that when we approach the world from a place of humility, it makes it much more likely that we will:
- own our own part in creating the problem with which we’re confronted
- acknowledge our shortfalls and ask for help
- understand that none of us have all the answers
- treat everyone with whom we interact with dignity
- be much more open to outside perspectives and creative insights
What became clear to me as I pursued my studies on the subject, is that to stay meaningfully humble is a multi-layered, complex piece of work that continues on for our whole life. As we do that work, we all impact, and are impacted by, each other. None of us can do it alone. Maybe we could consider authoring a Declaration of Interdependence that references Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Humbleness? We are all, whether we like it or not, ultimately in this together.
Adapted from the newly-released pamphlet, “Humility; A Humble, Anarchistic Inquiry.” Published with permission; Zingerman’s Press, 2020.
This essay was featured in the October 11, 2020 edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper publishes News and Views that Rise Above the Noise and Inspires Hearts and Minds. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.
I remember when my son Ari was a toddler. After his bedtime, he would leave his room, walk downstairs, and stand in the corner of the family room with his eyes closed. My husband and I quickly realized that Ari thought, “If I close my eyes 🙈, I bet my parents won’t see me.”
Anger, and other strong emotions like fear, doubt, and worry can be like that. Sometimes we think that if we close our eyes to anger and pretend it isn’t there, it will magically disappear. But that is simply not true. Until we acknowledge anger – see it, feel it, and manage it – it remains in the background, causing us to act out in unhealthy ways.
I see the same thing in my clients, friends, family, and self. Because there is a lot of confusion around anger, it is one of the emotions we struggle with the most. As a result, we often avoid dealing with our anger, and if we do, we may act it out in aggressive ways toward ourselves and others.
Ten Steps to Managing Anger
1. Say YES to Anger. Say yes to anger because it is trying to tell you something: danger is imminent, or someone has crossed a line. Accept it and allow the strong emotion to be present. You might even try saying “I feel angry” or “anger is here.”
2. Feel Anger in the Body. Allow yourself to feel how anger presents itself in the body. Physical symptoms can include increased heartbeat, rapid breathing, racing thoughts, a change in body temperature (sweaty palms and feeling hot in the neck and face), a feeling of agitation, and headaches.
3. Hit the Pause Button and Take a Break. Before you take action, wait. Try saying the phrase “The blood has left my brain, now is not a good time to make a decision.” Any strong emotion creates a physiological response in the body (a trigger) so you need to allow time for the emotion to settle and for the thinking brain to come back online. If possible, take a coffee break, and wait before responding. Click here for more information.
4. Connect to Your Body. Ground into your body by bringing attention to a neutral body sensation like your feet touching the floor or your hands resting in your lap. Or try a body scan. Click here to learn more about the body scan (and how it can also help you sleep better).
5. Breathe. Activate your rest and digest system by matching your breath to the count of ten, or by using the straw breathing technique. Click here to learn more.
6. Move. Give the emotion a way to move through and out of the body by trying an exercise like walking, running, yoga, or dancing.
7. Get Clear. Ask yourself, “What’s eating me? How might one of my values be violated? “
8. Be Wise. Ask yourself, “Is this something I need to work out with myself by taking some space and time to reflect or is this something I need to work through with someone else because they’ve crossed a line.”
9. Say Thank You. It may sound counterintuitive but have gratitude and recognize that any strong emotion is simply the body’s way of trying to protect you. Try saying something like, “Thank you anger. Thank you for trying to protect me.”
10. Take Appropriate Action. When you are no longer triggered, you are ready to take the right action, which often includes setting a boundary. Click here for more information on setting boundaries.
- Click here to read a recent Ten Percent Happier newsletter Making Anger Your Teacher by Zen priest, poet, and spiritual director of Everyday Zen Foundation Norman Fisher.
- For NYT’s subscribers, click here to read How to Have a Disagreement Like an Adult by Deepak Chopra.
- Click here to listen to the meditation RAIN: Mindfulness of Emotions by Jeff Warren (a meditation community favorite!)
- Click here to learn why emotions matter in school and to learn about RULER, an evidence-based approach to social and emotional learning developed at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
In closing, keep in mind the mantra: This too shall pass. Keep reminding yourself that anger is a state of mind. If you take the time to accept it, feel it, see it, and allow the mind and body to settle – you will not only be able to take appropriate action steps but also build the skill of resilience.
And if you would like to join my free weekly community mindfulness meditation practice 🙏 via Zoom on Mondays at 7p EST, please email to learn more and sign up!
And as always, please email and let me know how you are doing and what tips you have for managing anger.
Stay healthy and well 😎