Helping leaders emerge

Blog

 

Taming Anxiety: How to Stop the Spin Cycle

We all experience racing thoughts from time to time. One of the most common complaints leaders share with me is that they suffer from spinning thoughts: while falling asleep, in the middle of the night, prior to the start of their day, or before and during difficult meetings.

Last week, I heard about using the TEB cycle to stop the spin cycle from Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School Dr. Luana Marques, on Ten Percent Happier’s Taming Anxiety Meditation Challenge. I’m sharing this because it is simple, practical, and it works!

More on TEB, Taming Anxiety, and Stopping the Spin Cycle

Dan Harris, ABC News journalist and host of the Ten Percent Podcast and Meditation App, shares how the TEB cycle can help tame anxiety, Harris defines anxiety as …

  • a state of uneasiness and apprehension about future uncertainties, and/or
  • overestimating a potential threat, and/or
  • underestimating your ability to cope with that threat.

TEB stands for thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Understanding and working with this cycle can help your brain hit the pause button (interrupting a catastrophizing mind), identify what is happening internally, and relate to situations differently. In this practice, you train your mind to be more intentional in what thoughts you follow and become more tolerant of strong emotions. By doing this, you will better cope better and become more deliberate in your actions and behaviors.

 

How Does Observe the TEB Cycle Work?

Step One: Awareness of Thoughts: Become aware of and even interrogate your own thoughts, recognizing that you do not have to believe all of them.

Ask yourself …

  • What am I thinking?
  • Are my thoughts true?
  • How much are my thoughts influenced by the outside world (society, culture, family, etc.)?
  • What thoughts can I challenge?

Step Two: Awareness of Emotions: Become aware of and be with strong emotions and feelings without immediately reacting to them (unless, of course, you are in real danger).

Ask yourself …

  • What am I feeling?
  • How might I be with these strong emotion without responding right away?
  • Some clients find the practice of journaling allows them to become more aware of, accept, be with, digest, and ultimately let go of strong feelings and emotions.

Click here for The Beautiful Monster meditation, a practice for managing strong emotions.

Step Three: Awareness of Behaviors: Once you hit the pause button and have allowed enough time for your nervous system to settle and mind to clear, identify the best set of actions and behaviors to take that reflect your values.

Ask yourself …

  • What are some practices that I can engage in to help me best manage this situation? (See below for some suggestions.)
  • Once the mind has settled, what is my best course of action?
  • How do I want to behave?
  • What is my best intention for how I want to show up – for myself and others?

Suggested practices that may help settle your emotions and clear your mind as you observe and work with the TEB cycle …

  • Bring attention to your body by focusing on the sensations of your feet on the floor, hands on your lap, or back against the chair.
  • Take deep breaths to the count of ten.
  • Practice straw breathing (breathe in to count of four and then out through pursed lips to the count of six or eight as if blowing through a straw)
  • Spend time in nature and pay attention to the sounds and sights around you
  • Click here for Energy Management and Reframing (the 3 P’s) tips

For a Deeper Dive

Beautiful Monsters: How to Deal with Difficult Emotions

This month, I’m excited to share one of my favorite meditation talks called Befriending Our Beautiful Monsters: A Guided Practice to Work with Difficult Emotions with Tsoknyi Rinpoche and Daniel Goleman.

For the uninitiated, Tsoknyi Rinpoche is a well known meditation teacher and a joy to listen to because of his brilliant mind and his engaging, playful style. And Daniel Goleman,Ph.D., is a science journalist and psychologist, who first introduced the idea of understanding and managing emotions to the workplace in the 1990’s with his New York Times bestseller Emotional Intelligence.

And even if you’re not a meditator, the Befriending Our Beautiful Monsters practice can help you show up with a clear mind and sense of okay–ness – that is calm, present, compassionate, and kind toward yourself and others – in all situations, especially challenging ones.

Key Themes: Learn ….

  • How to drop the thinking mind for a while (don’t worry you will bring it back!) and find the stillness within movement
  • How to be with and shake hands with the beautiful monster: that is strong, raw emotions like anger, anxiety, unease, turbulence, aloneness, grief, loss, unworthiness, sadness, shame, hollowness, etc.
  • Why suppressing, ignoring, indulging, and fixing does not work and how to appreciate, accept, respect, and be with difficult emotions
  • How to create enough space in your mind to see strong emotions as left-over residue and even blockages resulting from old experiences/memories so that you don’t personally identify with them. The power move here is to understand you are not your emotions (don’t identify with them); allow them to be seen, metabolized, and released, when ready.
  • How to cultivate a clear, lucid mind, open heart, and an embodied (grounded) presence

Click here to hear Befriending Our “Beautiful Monsters”: A Guided Practice to Work with Difficult Emotions (51 minutes – see below for sections)

  • Intro: Goleman introduces Rinpoche, beginning thru minute 12
  • Meditation: Led by Rinpoche, minute 12 thru 27
  • More conversation: Rinpoche and Goleman, minute 27 thru 46
  • Q&A: minute 41 thru 51
  • Recommendation: practice Befriending Our Beautiful Monsters meditation (minute 12 thru 27) once/day for a week and notice what shifts for yourself and with your relationships. Note, it’s always a good idea to practice before you need it.

Courageous Conversations

I don’t believe anyone wakes up in the morning, jumps out of bed, and says YAY! today I want to have a courageous conversation yet I often hearing from leaders that they and their teams need support in this area. Have courageous conversations sooner” is a phrase that appears on many of my client leader’s coaching plans.

Most of us avoid conflict because it’s just so uncomfortable in terms of tough emotions, physical sensations, and spinning thoughts that often accompany 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 following questions as a framework by thinking through and writing down their thoughts. And they often share that preparing 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 ok, all part of the process. Just make sure you set the right intention by preparing ahead for the meeting in order to bring out the best in you and (hopefully) the other party.

Thought Questions to Prepare for a Courageous Conversation

  • How do I want to “show up”? What are the three to five things I would like to hear my colleagues say about me after the meeting? (e.g., I listened, remained calm, was thoughtful in my responses, demonstrated a spirit of generosity, and brought a sense of humor to the meeting.)
  • What do I want? What’s the preferred outcome of the conversation? What is my goal for this meeting? (in terms of a goal, focus on what is within your control, keeping in mind you can only control your own behavior and not the other person’s.)
  • What does the other person want? What does a successful meeting look like from my colleague’s point of view?
  • What is best for the relationship? What might I say or do in order to further enhance the relationship and lead to more trust?
  • What is best for the business? What might I be willing to agree to—or let go of—in the short term in order to achieve greater long-term influence and impact to the business?
  • How do I show up honest and respectful? How might my need to be liked (manage people pleasing tendencies) or my need to be right be getting in the way of saying what needs to be said? Keep the focus on “getting it right” versus “being right”.
  • How do I minimize drama? What do I need to refrain from saying that might trigger and make the other person feel defensive?
  • How do I maintain leadership presence, self-manage and remain calm? What could the other person say that might make me feel defensive? How will I prepare myself for the meeting (deep breaths, take a short walk, write down my goals, etc.)and what will I do so I don’t go into reactive mode? If I do get triggered, how will I get centered again? (e.g., suggest coffee or bathroom break, take three deep breaths, feel my feet on the ground, etc.).
  • How will I be empathetic? How will I demonstrate that I am listening to the other person? What would I like my body language and tone communicating? What are some of the signs that my colleague is becoming triggered (tone of voice, facial expressions, etc.) and needs a break to get centered and grounded?

What is a Courageous Conversation? (meets one or more of the following criteria).

  • Difficult: something hard to talk about is being discussed. The situation may be awkward and there may be potential for fear and anxiety around the conversation.
  • Potential for Amygdala Hijack Situation: There are strong feelings and emotions about what’s being discussed and at least one of the parties could become triggered (flight, fight or freeze mode)
  • Vulnerable: One or more of the parties might be worried about being exposed and not feel safe
  • Different Point of Views and Different Stories: There are different perspectives about what has happened and what might need to happen
  • High Stakes: The conversation that needs to happen will impact an important and uncertain outcome

Why Conditional Love Matters

I’d like to share five key themes from this week’s Ten Percent Happier podcast The Art and Science of the World’s Gooiest Cliché with Dan Harris and Barbara Fredrickson who discuss important operating principles and practices for a healthy life that lead to happiness and even performance. The power move here is while these practices are simple, you have to take them seriously and remember to do them.

Key Themes:

  • Expand Your Social Connection Circle. Fredrickson defines love as co-experienced positive emotion broadening the definition of love to include a much broader range of human interactions beyond our intimate circles. Her definition of love includes positive emotions that result from connecting with colleagues, acquaintances, and even strangers via micro inter exchanges throughout the day.
  • Seek Conditional Love. The importance of connecting in real time, face-to-face with others when the exchange is mutually positive and beneficial (not one sided).
  • Love is a Trainable Skill with Benefits. Because love is a use it or lose it skill, as we move out of our COVID cocoons, managing social anxiety is real issue for many of us so be gentle with yourself (and others) as we get back in the game of connecting with others, which may feel awkward at first.
  • Love is Good for Your Health and Productivity. Simple practices like chatting with colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers where the exchange benefits both parties can have profound implications on your psychological and physiological health and even lead to professional productivity.
  • Keep in Mind the 3 to 1 Ratio. Prioritize your day to include three positive experiences like connecting with others, acts of kindness, and meditation to counter balance each difficult one. Based on client feedback and research, I’d include exercising & body movement, journaling, being in nature, tending to flowers & plants, painting, cooking, baking, star gazing, laughing, and disconnecting by taking breaks from technology & news. What practices work for you?

To learn more, click here to listen to the podcast The Art and Science of the World’s Gooiest Cliché with Dan Harris and Barbara Fredrickson. Fredrickson is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Spring by Mary Oliver

In the spirit of a renewed sense of hope and optimism given vaccine accessibility and the transition into spring (it was a long winter!), I am sharing Mary Oliver’s beautiful poem for this month’s blog …

Spring
by Mary Oliver

Somewhere
a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring

down the mountain.
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring

I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue

like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:

how to love this world.
I think of her
rising
like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
the silence
of the trees.
Whatever else

my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
coming
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her –
her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.

How to Be a More Mindful, Resilient Leader and Cultivate Joy

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

Present

  • 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
  • Relational

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

Formal Meditation

  • 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)!

Why Be Intellectually Humble?

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.

Monthly Favorites

Energy Management and The Three P’s

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.
Concept Two: The Three P’s
  • 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?
Sign up for our complimentary e-newsletterTo receive leadership and mindfulness articles each month