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Bring Your Vision to Life

July 28, 2015

Hello, Trailblazer!

The heavy rains finally stopped in north Texas, but we are still feeling the impact. This is a picture of an event venue that normally sits on the shore of Grapevine Lake. Typically it’s about 15 feet above the level of the lake with a long, beautifully landscaped lawn sloping down to the shore. They host weddings here so there are stone arches and a walkway on the other side of the building right at the normal lake shore level. When this picture was taken, they would have been completely submerged.

As you can tell in this picture, the lake rose to just above the level of the foundation of the building. The “No Trespassing” sign showing the pedestrian in a slashed-through circle is on the gate to the parking lot. The lake rose to the top of the gate. It had actually receded a little when I took this picture.

The worse news for the venue owners is that the building actually steps down two levels on the other side, which faces the typical lake shore. That means when the lake rose to the level of the foundation on the back side, it was actually flooding the lower two levels. It stayed that way for six weeks or longer.

The good news is that the lake has receded so that the building is finally accessible by land. The two roads in are still barricaded, but they should open soon. Demolition has begun, as you can see from the huge pile of rubble in the parking lot. Speaking of the parking lot, everything to the left and right in the picture in front of the building should be well above water level.

Sucker Punched
Why am I sharing all this with you? Because there are many, many stories about people’s big plans and even their lives being upended by this flood. This is a very popular venue for lakeside weddings, so the venue owner has been working frantically with other venues to find back-up locations for everyone who has been booked here for weddings. The venue owner’s business is not only shut down but has suffered the financial devastation of the destruction of much of the building.

I have been following this closely because our local chapter of the International Coach Federation, ICF North Texas, had planned to have our annual Prism showcase event with awards at this location. It’s just a few miles from my house so I have checked on it about once a week to update the event committee.

How to Roll with the Punches
Just as the venue owner has had to scramble for weeks to serve her clients while her building is flooded, and just as couples have had to relocate their weddings with short notice, our ICF chapter has had to scramble to adapt to this situation. Venues that hold 150-200 people are hard to find. Smaller and larger venues are more readily available, but smaller won’t accommodate our needs and larger is very expensive. Since the date is set and the speakers are flying in, we have had several people looking at several options around our area.

As coaches we members of the ICF chapter are used to helping our clients come up with plans and strategies to handle challenging times and manage “imposed change.” This term can include anything from being downsized to guiding a department through a reorganization to managing a personal life crisis.

The Irony: Coaches Needing Flexibility and Resilience
Did we all then just immediately employ our best skills and strategies to adapt and make decisions in the moment? Of course not! We worried, we fretted, we complained, and we looked at worst case scenarios right away. But that was just the beginning. And some of the middle. Eventually we did employ our better, more enlightened selves and came up with plans focused on positive outcomes within the parameters we were dealing with. And the committee finally found a very good alternative location.

Watching many people around me being challenged to exhibit real-life flexibility and resilience has me thinking a lot about the keys to successfully navigating unexpected challenges. Success starts with successfully navigating yourself.

For Flexibility And Resilience Start Here

In the midst of a shifting landscape, where unpredictable things are occurring and setbacks are certain, it’s important to be resourceful in order to find alternative routes to get to your goal. It’s sometimes necessary to adjust the goal, keeping as many of the key elements as possible but letting go of some preferences. This takes the ability to consider lots of different options at one time and evaluate them based on guiding principles.

But that’s not the place to start! If doesn’t matter how well-developed your intellectual capacities for creative problem-solving are if you’re flooded by worry, anxiety, and defeatist thoughts. Many people who are highly capable of navigating demanding challenges get stuck not because of a lack of ability but because of strong feelings and negative self-talk. This is why flexibility and resilience start with psychological awareness.

Psychological Awareness Became Emotional Intelligence
Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence was published two decades ago. At the time I was very familiar with the concept because I was a therapist. Whether I was working with young children, adolescents, or adults, helping them understand the connection between their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors was always a part of therapy. Since I worked regularly with this kind of information, I resisted the term “Emotional Intelligence” and thought it seemed contrived. But over time I’ve realized that by reframing the information and creating a buzz, Goleman helped bring psychological awareness out from under the shadow of cultural disdain and into the mainstream of organizational practice.

And Then It Became Social And Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence includes developing an understanding of your own inner dynamics, learning how to manage your thoughts and behaviors, and then applying this information to understanding others and having more successful relationships with them. Goleman’s model included an awareness of other people’s feelings and perspectives and knowing how to respond effectively to different personality types. Many writers and researchers have since expanded the name of the reframe to “Social and Emotional Intelligence,” or SEI.

Why SEI Matters With Flexibility And Resilience
When a difficult challenge shows up, or you find yourself in an environment that is unpredictable and shifting, you are likely to experience, worry, anxiety, fear, frustration, sadness, and even anger. It’s usually not possible just to “soldier on” when this happens. We can set aside difficult, unpleasant feelings for a short time to get a task finished, but we can’t just shut them out long-term and have success.

When we try to shut feelings out, hold them back, or otherwise compartmentalize them, the energy of the feelings doesn’t go away. It tends to build, like water filling a lake when it reaches the dam. The higher the emotional energy level, the more likely it is to overwhelm our thought processes and influence or even drive our choices. This is why we experience angry outbursts or frustrated meltdowns.

The lake in the pictures above nearly reached the top of the dam. At the highest point water was almost two feet above the spillway, flowing so violently over the spillway and into the creek on the other side that it flooded out a major road. Remember this image when you think about just sitting on your feelings or ignoring them.

Start With Awareness Of The Message
Flexibility and resilience start with being aware of the difficult feelings that show up when life gets challenging, and being aware of the negative things we tell ourselves about the challenge. Feelings are messengers, after all. They tell you how different events matter to you. Their function is to help you prepare for what’s coming. But they aren’t sophisticated, so they might wind up sending you a message today based on how things went last year or a decade ago.

After developing the ability to recognize the difficult feelings and the limiting or critical beliefs, we can develop strategies to manage them so they don’t run the show. We can’t turn them off, but we can let them flow along without letting them take over so the energy doesn’t build up. We can hear the message and consider it without reacting. Sometimes that alone is enough to relieve the emotional pressure.

It Is Enough To Notice – Simply Notice
Managing difficult thoughts and feelings is the next step, but that’s another topic. It really is useful to begin with simply noticing. Notice the unpleasant feelings and notice the thoughts that show up with them. That step alone keeps you from being pushed around as much by your thoughts and feelings. It’s as if when you listen to a feeling’s message the feeling is relieved, or when you acknowledge you’ve heard your automatic thought it becomes less urgent.

Application: Take time each day to “check in” with yourself and consider your emotional state. Your emotions run on body energy, so checking in with your body tells you a lot. Tension, fear, and worry tend to go along with muscle tension, a fluttery stomach, and a restless need to do things. Frustration tends to show up with sighing and shallower breathing. Notice the feelings, notice the thoughts that you are telling yourself about “why” you feel that way, and consider what the message of the feelings might be. You can have positive, enjoyable feelings, too! Just notice what’s there.

Question: What is your most common emotional response when something unexpected and challenging happens? It’s likely to be fear, anxiety, worry, irritation, or anger. But it probably has a more specific quality based on what you expect in the situation because of past experience. Does it come with catastrophizing? That’s the belief that the worst will happen. Does it come with despair? That could be due to having experienced helpless situations in the past that are stirred up by the new situation. Consider the automatic thoughts that show up along with the feelings. What are they telling you? What are they, and you, expecting?

More To Come
I was prompted to think quite a bit about the inner processes of emotions and thoughts after watching Disney Pixar’s movie Inside Out. There was a lot that was represented well in the movie, which will help people of all ages develop more SEI. But there was quite a bit that was either done weakly or in such a summarized fashion that important points were missed.

I will be blogging about different topics around SEI based on notes I wrote after watching the movie a second time. Yes, I went back to watch it again to pay close attention to the structure of mind they presented. I’m a psychology nerd!

This is a very meaningful topic for everyone, obviously not just people who need therapy. I’m eager to share what I have learned and observed over the years. I will send out an announcement once the series of posts are available on Blazing Core.

If you would like to learn about your own Social and Emotional Intelligence, identifying strengths to leverage and finding areas for further development, please contact me. You can take the Social+Emotional Intelligence Profile (SEIP) and we can go over the results in detail. Contact me and we can get started.

May you be agile – and flexible and resilient – on your trail.

Take Care,

Stephen Coxsey, MA, PCC
Professional Certified Coach (ICF)
Leadership and Empowerment

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About Steve Coxsey

Steve is a supportive ally to people in charge who have to juggle competing responsibilities in a variety of roles. They have a compelling vision of what they would like to create or accomplish and are committed to turning it into reality. To do this, they build the elements of empowerment and leadership – guiding self, guiding work, and guiding others – by engaging in whole-self development.

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