Thriving Edge Blog
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness ___________________________________________________

What If You’re Doing Stress All Wrong?

September 26, 2016

You’ve heard the recommendations about managing stress for years. They say too much stress can be bad for you. You’ve even heard it can lead to a heart attack or a stroke. You hear someone say “Stress can kill you” and you nod your head because you’ve heard that’s true.

But you’re not sure you believe it, not completely. The way you see it, stress is what motivates the high achiever. Stress is part of the challenge you take on to get the big prize. A necessary evil.

Maybe you try some suggestions about reducing your stress. You:

  • Plan some time to decompress every so often after work, to kick back and relax for a while. But who’s got time for that? Slow down and you’ll fall behind! Besides, isn’t dinner and drinks with friends – okay, a business dinner – enough relaxation?
  • Plan to take a break for a few minutes in your day and get some physical activity, deep breathing, time with nature, or whatever. But who can really get deep breaths and relax when the proposal has to be done by close of business? And how can you enjoy taking a walk in a park to appreciate nature when you have 5 calls to return?
  • Try a brand-new time management system to schedule everything, I mean everything, not just the important stuff, because that way you can keep it all contained. But what urgent situation schedules itself on your calendar before erupting? How many people are going to check your Google calendar before calling you about a big problem?

So you keep doing what you’ve been doing, hoping that watching sports on the weekend is kind of like de-stressing (pretty risky if you’re a Cowboys fan) or getting together for drinks will help you relax. Sadly, while excitement is fun, it doesn’t help with stress. And alcohol is just a chemical pause for stress, not a solution.

Fortunately, there are a couple of important new pieces to the stress puzzle that can completely change how you prepare for and respond to stress. Health Psychologist Kelly McGonigal, PhD, summarized them in her 2013 TED Talk.

McGonigal for years warned people of the research-proven health risks of too much stress. And they can be pretty bad. Heart disease, risk of heart attack, risk of stroke, plus other chronic illnesses. What the new research showed, and what made McGonigal feel guilty, is that those health risks only exist for people who believe stress will harm them.

People who don’t believe stress is physically harmful don’t have increased health risks from stress. Your mindset, how you understand things and what you expect, makes all the difference in the world.

Some of the people in a study were prompted with a new belief about stress. They were told:

  • Your faster heart rate is preparing you for action.
  • Your faster breathing gets oxygen to your brain.
  • You are getting ready for what’s coming your way.

People who were taught this belief were less stressed out, less anxious, and more confident during the study and showed no negative health impact from stress down the road. Their physical response to stress changed. A typical stress response is that your heart rate goes up and your vessels constrict. For these people, heart rate increased but vessels stayed open. It was the same physical response as people who experience joy or courage.

It gets better. There’s a hormone in your body called oxytocin. It has a big role in bonding, establishing emotional connections. Turns out it also plays an important role in stress. Oxytocin protects your cardiovascular system from stress. It’s anti-inflammatory, helping blood vessels stay relaxed.

Your heart has receptors for oxytocin. When you reach out you release oxytocin. It strengthens your heart. It helps heart cells regenerate and heal from any stress-induced damage. Your stress response becomes healthier and you recover from stress more quickly.

That means our stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection. Oxytocin motivates you to seek support and to connect, and when you do additional oxytocin protects you from stress.

The harmful effects of stress on health are not inevitable. When you choose to view the stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage. When you choose to connect with others under stress, you create resilience.

Intrigued? Click here to see the TED Talk.

7 Simple Ways to Make a Positive Difference for People

July 25, 2016

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou

This is a powerful truth. To make a positive difference that people will remember, you have to leave them with a good feeling. Genuinely good feelings come from connection, and you can’t “fake” connection. We evaluate other people’s sincerity in a sliver of a second.

The suggestions below won’t work if you’re sizing up someone as a potential competitor or potential client. You have to really value the person. Our bull detectors are immediate and they’re highly accurate, especially when someone is closely adhering to a sales script instead of being a real person.

1. Smile Genuinely

Research shows we read smiles subconsciously and respond very differently to fake smiles and genuine smiles. A genuine smile goes all the way up to your eyes. To smile genuinely you have to feel it. Make warm, friendly eye contact with the person and feel the respect and regard you have for another human being. Your smile will reach your eyes and that will shift the other person’s mood right away.

2. Ask People “What Lights You Up?”

When you meet a person, don’t ask “What do you do?” at first. Ask “What lights you up?” or “What’s something you’ve done recently that you’re proud of?” This gives the person the option of talking abut any area of their life, and that opens them up. They’ll remember being heard as a complete person, not just a job description.

3. Notice People’s Strengths and Values

This will take some practice, but it leaves people feeling genuinely heard, and they’ll remember that. Knowing that someone “gets it” when we’re talking is powerful. Noticing a value sounds like “I can tell you make family time a priority.” Noticing a strength sounds like “You’re really good at organizing all the pieces and keeping things going.”

4. Praise Them Publicly

Planning to tell someone they did a good job? Ramp it up by bragging on them to other people while they’re listening. This is especially meaningful when you’re bragging to someone who evaluates them, whether a supervisor or a client – or a family member!

5. Acknowledge Their Challenges and Just Listen

When someone is struggling or when they’re down, sometimes they just need to be heard. No advice, no attempts to make it better, no joking around; just listening. “That sounds really difficult” or “You must be really worried” will show that you understand. Don’t try to fix it. Just be with them and hear them.

6. Remind Them What They’re Capable of Doing

When someone is facing a really tough challenge, especially over time, they can get focused on all the problems and lose perspective. Point them to a time they rose to a challenge and remind them what they can accomplish. “I hear the transition to the new system is kicking everyone’s tail and you’re taking the brunt of it. But I remember when you set up a branch office on your own with only two part-time temps to help out and nobody could believe how fast you got it done.”

7. Notice An “Invisible” Person

There are many people we come across who think of themselves as being in a low station of life. Sometimes it’s because of their role, such as a physical laborer or cleaning crew member. Sometimes it’s because of race, religion, ethnicity, or any label that separates people. You can greet that person with a genuine smile and warm, friendly eye contact. If the person is serving you, thank them and feel your gratitude as you smile. You can make their day.

It’s hard to do these things consistently. But the great thing about this is when you tune in to being genuinely interested in other people, it shows up in all areas of your life. Your family relationships will be strengthened, your friendships will be more enjoyable, and your social time will be a lot more engaging.

You’ll be making a huge positive difference in your own life while you’re spreading goodness around for other people. That’s wins for everyone. And business? Business is relationships, so you can imagine how that will go.

This post originally appeared in the Grapevine Chamber of Commerce Blog as part of the Experts Series.

A Leadership Approach to Conflict Management

May 31, 2016

When you are drawn into a conflict, whether you are in charge of the situation or not, you can step into a leadership role. Leaders promote the best outcome for everyone involved based on guiding principles. Use these 7 steps to work toward the best collaborative outcome.

1. Commit to finding common ground

For this to be effective, you have to commit – truly commit. Don’t just pay lip service to try to appease someone. People in conflict are focused on clues the other person is challenging them or manipulating them. They can tell if you aren’t sincere, and that will make things worse.

2. Listen for understanding

One of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is, “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” This is an ideal time to honor this standard. In conflict, people want to defend their own position. Someone has to bridge the two or more sides to create agreement. You build the bridge by listening for understanding. Don’t criticize or challenge what the person is saying. Listen to hear that person’s point of view. Ask questions that help you really hear the details of what they are saying, whether you agree or not.

3. Summarize what you have heard

You don’t have to agree with the person to understand their position. But you have to understand what’s important to them. State back to them the summary of what they have explained to you. When possible, include their values, priorities, needs, and expectations that lead them to take their stand. Avoid language or even a tone of voice that mocks, diminishes, or devalues their point of view. Just state their position, as you understand it, in a neutral way.

4. Expand the conversation to include other points of view

Now that you have shown respect for the other person and heard their point of view, you can add to their understanding. State your agreement with whatever part of their position you can. Then add the considerations from other people they haven’t included, including your own. Use a phrase like, “There’s more to consider,” or, “Other people are affected,” or, “I’d like you to consider how this affects me.” Do not argue away their position. Do not advocate for your position or another person’s position. Just objectively state what else is at stake besides what they want.

5. Ask for suggestions to address the expanded situation

You may have a compromise in mind already, or you may see there aren’t many options. It’s not yet time to state that. Invite the other person or people to come up with their suggestions for a path forward that considers the expanded situation with all points of view. Ask a question like, “What can we do that will respect what you’re trying to do and still respect Jan’s position?” If possible, encourage them to come up with more than one suggestion.

6. Evaluate and define what outcomes are possible

Once you have created the list of suggestions for how to proceed, review them. Evaluate and state the likely outcome for each clearly. Tell them what you can do that is on the list, what you would like to do but cannot, and what you cannot or will not do based on rules or values. Don’t say something cannot be done just because you don’t prefer it. Stay neutral for now. Do give your evaluation of how each possible outcome is likely to affect the people involved.

7. Seek agreement on a path forward

Now everyone involved has a clear understanding of what each persons wants to happen. You have a clear understanding of what is possible and can rule out what is not allowed. You have a clear understanding of the cost and impact of the different options on each person. It is much easier to get agreement from people when everyone considers all sides.

Ask what seems best for everyone, considering all factors. Then offer your opinions and preferences. Discuss and negotiate around the details where necessary. If there is agreement and everyone can commit, you have a collaborative solution.

If there is not agreement, the person in charge has to choose the path that balances the needs and preferences of everyone involved. It’s a less desirable outcome, but by incorporating all points of view it usually produces more acceptance and less tension than a solution imposed without discussion.

This post originally appeared in the Grapevine Chamber of Commerce Blog as part of the Experts Series.

Take Charge of Your Schedule in 7 Steps

March 23, 2016

Your schedule is a mess. It’s demanding, it’s packed, and it pushes you around. How do I know? Because the number one challenge clients bring to coaching, whether executives, business owners, busy professionals, or hard-working parents, is time management.

We can’t really manage time. We can only manage to make the most of the time we have. This means being intentional about what we put on our calendars and to-do lists. Here are 7 steps you can take to show your schedule who’s in charge.

Step 1: Learn Stephen Covey’s Time Matrix™ Model

One of the most widely taught tools for de-cluttering your schedule is Stephen Covey’s four quadrant model, now called the Time Matrix™ by Franklin Covey. This model divides tasks into Urgent and Not Urgent and Important and Not Important.

Step 2: Define Urgent and Important for You

When we have hectic schedules, there are a lot of competing demands. Other people regularly tell us what they think is Important and Urgent. Using the Time Matrix™ requires deciding what really is Important and Urgent to us.

Ask yourself “What really matters to me?” to define the values you want to honor. Ask “Who matters most?” and make other people’s priorities yours only if the people are your priorities.

Urgent is decided by questions like “What happens if this doesn’t get done?” and “Who does it happen to?” If missing a deadline isn’t significant, it’s not urgent. If the outcome is bad for someone else but not for you, it may not be your responsibility.

Step 3: Sort Your To-Do’s

Look at each item on your calendar for the week. Using your definitions of Urgent and Important, put each item into one of the four quadrants. Resist the urge to make someone else’s Urgent or Important your problem.

Your family’s priorities can be your priorities. Your clients’ or employer’s priorities may be, too. Just be clear they really matter to you.

Step 4: De-clutter, Discard, and Delegate

When something is Not Important and Not Urgent, you can ignore it. Take it off the list.

Not Important but Urgent usually means someone is trying to make their responsibility your priority. Hand it right back to them or delegate it. Empower others to take care of things. You’ll be glad you did.

Important but Not Urgent, like family movie night, has long-term meaning but risks getting set aside. Spend focused time occasionally tending these items to move them forward.

Step 5: Prioritize What Remains

Now it becomes clear the quadrant that needs your attention most is Important and Urgent. But what happens when you have a whole lot of Important and Urgent things to do? It’s time to dig deeper into Important and Urgent.

Return to the items in your Important and Urgent quadrant. Consider the purpose or value each represents and how it benefits you and the people important to you. Rate each on a scale of 1-10. Are there ties? Try 1-100.

Then rate the urgency of each item. Ask how soon it’s due and how severe the consequence is of missing the deadline or rescheduling. Keep the scales consistent: 1-10 or 1-100 for both. Then multiply those two numbers together. Rank-order your Important and Urgent things. If two numbers are close you can decide which item has priority.

Step 6: Plan Buffers

Even with a de-cluttered schedule, things won’t be rosy all the time. Some things take longer than expected. Unexpected demands hijack your schedule. Anticipate this and plan blocks of time that are buffers.

If a report takes two hours to complete, block out two and a half. After back-to-back meetings block fifteen minutes to catch up. If you schedule lots of short appointments, block one slot off every hour or two. Trust me. It won’t be wasted. If things go smoothly and that time is open, you’ll find plenty to do.

Step 7: Keep Your Mind Sharp

Whenever you’re organizing your schedule or handling disruptions in your day, you need your mind to be strong and efficient. This means taking good care of your most important tool: your brain.

Boost your brain power by getting good sleep, enjoying regularly activity, spending time in nature, and eating well to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Plan your most challenging thinking, including tough decisions, complex planning, and difficult conversations, when you’re well-rested and well-fed so your brain is in peak condition. Establish healthy routines and habits so you don’t have to make decisions when you’re tired, hungry, and frustrated. Click here for more tips on keeping your brain fit for duty.

This post originally appeared in the Grapevine Chamber of Commerce Blog as part of the Experts Series.

I’m Looking for a Word

January 18, 2016

I’m looking for a word.

I’ve been looking for it for quite a while. So long, in fact, that I worry it may not exist. But I’m not giving up yet.

The word describes the collection of qualities that make a person excellent at handling responsibilities, especially multiple competing responsibilities, and able to deal with unexpected challenges with grace and agility. It encompasses all the characteristics you would want in a person you put in charge of something important. It defines what you want to develop in yourself when you seek to become more resilient, more flexible, more capable, and more confident as you pursue important goals.

I can come up with lots of words that describe important components of this whole concept. But I can’t come up with one that describes the concept. It includes all the important qualities of a leader apart from the ability to inspire, guide, and manage other people. Everything that’s important for leadership apart from the ability to lead others.

In a leadership course, when we discussed what leadership means, one of the first responses was, “In order to be a leader you have to have followers.” My question was what do we then call people who are in charge, carrying all the responsibility, following a compelling vision, and creating something important, but who have no followers?

The solo entrepreneur is a great example. She or he is responsible for doing the work, serving the client or creating the product, and for managing the details of the business. They have multiple roles to fill, and while they might contract with someone to do one or more roles, such as a part-time virtual assistant or a marketing consultant, those people are not followers. They are other businesses or self-employed people providing a service. If “leader” implies “follower,” then leader is not the correct term for the solo entrepreneur’s role in their own business.

Another example is an artist. Whether painting, sculpting, blowing glass, composing music, writing novels, or creating any other art, the artist is in charge of the art and carries the responsibility for producing it. The artist has the vision and guides the creative process. But the artist is not the leader of the project. Successfully creating art is not leadership. What is it?

A third example is the doctoral student who has to complete a dissertation, the comprehensive write-up of their research project, in order to complete their degree. The doctoral student is in charge of and responsible for the finished project. The doctoral student has a dissertation committee of professors who will offer some guidance and ultimately be the ones who approve the final product once all requirements have been met. The doctoral student may do their research in cooperation with other students or as part of a professor’s research team, but their dissertation is their own project. They have to work with other people in some ways, but it’s an individual project in many ways.

The doctoral student isn’t the leader of their dissertation. The doctoral student doesn’t succeed because of great leadership skills. What do we call the quality the doctoral student has to develop and leverage to be successful at self-directed, complex, demanding work?

I have identified the components – at least many of them – in an effort to discover the word. Again, they’re the things you would list as important for good leadership, apart from leading other people. They’re the things that make a person great at being in charge and likely to be successful in their undertakings.

  • Ability to handle responsibility
  • Ability to juggle multiple, competing responsibilities
  • Agility, the ability to handle various circumstances
  • Flexibility, the ability to adapt to changing circumstances
  • Initiative (self-starter)
  • Self-direction
  • Internal motivation
  • Decision-making
  • Commitment
  • Diligence
  • Persistence
  • Resourcefulness
  • Intentionality
  • Versatility
  • Capability
  • Talent
  • Skill

When we see someone stepping up to suggest a path forward in a difficult situation, recommending how a group can come together to solve a problem or organize their work or form stronger bonds, we say that person is showing leadership. When we see someone capable, resolute, determined, effective, and organized in his or her own work, able to manage a complex solo project with great results, without any followers or teammates, we don’t call that leadership.

A great leader wants people to have this capacity and will help those they lead develop it. This capacity is an important one for leaders to have, a key component of leadership, but it isn’t leadership.

What is it?

It is the ability to function autonomously, meaning not requiring a lot of direction from others, in a very effective, productive way. It is the ability to be excellent at being in charge of something without needing a leader to explain how to do it.

Is it self-leadership? Not quite. A person exhibiting self-leadership can identify areas for their personal growth to develop more of this capacity. A person needs this capacity in order to be self-led, to be able to enact what they decide is important in their life. But the capacity developed is not self-leadership.

Is it self-determination? That implies will and choice, but does not speak to the development of capability and competency. Self-determination hints at ability, because free will and choice without the power to enact the choice don’t determine an outcome. But the capacity is about handling responsibility autonomously and effectively, not about determining the course of one’s own life. It is a necessary capacity for those who want to determine the course of their own lives, but one can use this capacity in service of goals that are requests from others, so it’s not self-determination.

I help my clients develop this capacity. I continue to develop it in me. I’ll keep helping others develop it and developing it in myself whether I have the word to define it or not. But I really want to find this word!

I love words. I love language. And I enjoy sketching out word clouds and considering the details of what is and is not contained in various words and phrases.

Up to a point.

After a while it can become frustrating and tiring. Frankly, it bugs me not to have an answer.

This has been an interesting and mostly enjoyable exploration, but I won’t be sad when it comes to an end. I’m ready to find my word.

Any suggestions on where I can look?

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