Archive for Mindfulness and Well-Being

Eureka! Why Relaxation May Be the Key to Optimal Performance, Creativity, and Flow

There’s a reason Eureka moments tend to strike in the shower—or in the case of Archimedes, the bath. Performing mindless activities gives our brain an opportunity to relax, kicking the prefrontal cortex (a.k.a. the brain’s command center) into autopilot mode. That daydreamy state is when creativity emerges.

In this Business Insider article on why 72% of people get their best ideas in the shower, Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman explains, “The relaxing, solitary, and non-judgmental shower environment may afford creative thinking by allowing the mind to wander freely and causing people to be more open to their inner stream of consciousness and daydreams.”

Whether we’re scrubbing dishes or practicing meditation, letting our brain idle increases alpha brain wave activity, known to boost creativity and reduce depression.

How does this translate to the workplace? No, we’re not saying you should install showers or offer transcendental meditation classes (although that may not be such a bad idea). Rather, you may wish to cultivate an organizational culture that encourages play, humor, quiet, and relaxation—all ingredients to heightened productivity and creative flow, most famously studied by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

No number of hacky sacks and hammocks will counteract the toxic miasma of a stressful, high-anxiety workplace, however, and that cortisol-spiking atmosphere often starts at the top.

If an organization’s leaders exhibit stress, fear, rigidity, and panic under pressure, those emotions quickly spread to the employees.

How many times have you entered a meeting in a good mood only to leave feeling anxious and tense? This article by Psychologist Daniel Goleman discusses a study that revealed the contagious nature of moods in work groups and calls on leaders to practice the emotional intelligence necessary to prevent their own stress from infecting the group.

It’s no surprise that people want calm, assertive leaders as this Psychology Today piece explains. If you are wheeled into the hospital for emergency surgery, do you want the head surgeon to fly into hysterics, or do you want her to calmly assess the situation, lay out a clear plan of action, and set to work?

How people respond to crises reveals a lot about them, and demonstrating resilience, resourcefulness, and ingenuity in the face of obstacles instills employees with confidence and trust in their leadership.

That’s one reason this Harvard Business Review article encourages first-time leaders to relax. Employees sense insecurity and anxiety in their leaders, and that lack of confidence derails productivity.

As the Tao Te Ching states:

“When your body is not aligned,
The inner power will not come.
When you are not tranquil within,
Your mind will not be well ordered.
Align your body, assist the inner power,
Then it will gradually come on its own.”

If you want your employees to achieve the optimal performance, relaxed alertness, and creativity possible in a serene, inspiring environment, you need to cultivate your own inner balance, emotional intelligence, and mental well-being.

To get expert guidance from an empathetic yet challenging co-active coach, contact Chris Cook about her leadership coaching services. If your organizational culture could use an injection of positivity and transformative authenticity, Capiche can help with that, too.

To Be Aware, Start from the Inside

Once again, I’m working with a group of motivated professionals who all have good jobs—careers even—but no college degree. They’re enrolled in a degree-completion program at Southern Oregon University called Innovation and Leadership. They’re taking my class Working with Emotional Intelligence and are all making strides toward increasing their own EI. It’s amazing how simple it is if you focus on it!

This blog post shares their first assigned Exploration toward developing EI.* It all begins with self-awareness. As you read through the Exploration, consider how you relate to the content and what you can do to increase your own EI.

Exploration #1

Are you aware of how you feel—and how you respond to those feelings? We can go through our day on automatic pilot, which works for tasks that don’t require much thought like brushing our teeth or taking a shower. There are times, however, when being mindless about situations causes us to react instead of respond in a proactive manner. If we get an email or call from someone that angers us, do we stop to think about the emotion, where it came from, and how to respond in a way that results in beneficial outcomes? Or do we unconsciously react in a manner that undermines or sabotages relationships with self or others?

When we are aware of how we are feeling inside, we are more likely to consciously choose a response instead of reacting without considering  the results of our actions. Try to take some time to become aware of how you feel in different situations and why. Recognize your emotions and the effects of those emotions.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What am I feeling right now?
  • What has caused me to feel this way?
  • What are the thoughts that follow that emotion?
  • How does that thought align or not align with my values?
  • Have I experienced this before?
  • What could I change to bring these thoughts into closer alignment with my values?

You may want to target a problem situation and increase your awareness about the emotions, thoughts, and reactions regarding the problem. You do not have to do anything different during this time—simply be aware of how you are feeling, what is causing those feelings, and how they correspond with your core values. Remember, this exploration focuses on self-awareness; you do not have to fix anything. Simply be aware, starting from the inside.

Consider your experiences, what you learned, and what did or did not work for you. You may even want to journal about this topic.

Want to Boost Your EI?

If you’re interested in learning more about emotional intelligence, let’s talk. I help both individuals and teams increase their individual and collective EI.

*Adapted from Dr. Jennifer Joss’ “Living With” EI exercises.
WHY BOTHER WITH EI?

What will get you $29,000 more per year, make you 58% more effective at your job, and rank you with 90% of top performers? Greater emotional intelligence.

Unless you want to be among the 80% of low-EQ employees classed as “bottom performers,” it’s time to discover how you can accelerate your career and become a better leader by developing your emotional intelligence.

Studies show those with average IQs outshine their highest-IQ counterparts 70% of the time because of their EQ.

Whereas IQ and personality are static elements of your makeup, you can always increase your emotional intelligence (thanks to the wonders of neuroplasticity)—and doing so will make a surprising difference in both your life and work.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

In a recent Forbes article, bestselling coauthor of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and cofounder of Talent Smart Travis Bradberry describes the two primary competencies and four core skills that make up emotional intelligence.

Personal Competence

This first competency comprises self-awareness (observation) and self-management (actions). Your observation skills, sensitivity, and ability to control your emotions come into play here. How conscious are you of your emotions, and how accurate are your self-perceptions? Do you practice mindfulness to remain aware of your emotions, and are you able to take a step back and regulate them when needed? How malleable are you, and can you transform a negative emotion into a positive action?

Social Competence

This competency focuses on social awareness (observation) and relationship management (actions), mapping the reflection and regulation required for personal competence to social situations and relationships. How well do you understand the motives, actions, and moods of those around you? Do you intuitively sense people’s emotions and accurately perceive their intentions? Can you use these perceptions to navigate relationships and communicate successfully?

This section is excerpted from our previous blog post Want to Accelerate Your Career? The Magic Formula = EI + Coaching. See original article for more details.

Reflections on 2018 and Looking Ahead—It’s All About Relationships

This time of year, “best of” lists are abundant—from movies to cookbooks to comics and more. One of my annual favorites is from NPR’s All Songs Considered. I’ve been a fan for years and always enjoy comparing my picks with theirs.

This year, give yourself the gift of reflecting on your “best of” and appreciating all that’s good in your life. As I was writing this, it became crystal clear that the things that made 2018 so good weren’t things at all. They were people and the relationships that made my life feel full and rich.

As you reflect, ask yourself:

  • Which people in my life contributed to my happiness and success in 2018?
  • Whom do I wish I had seen more of?
  • Which partnerships were most fruitful?
  • What am I most proud of—and who helped me along the way?
  • What are my big learnings from this past year?
  • What and whom am I grateful for and appreciating?
  • What is there for me to acknowledge about myself in 2018?

Overall, what do you see as you reflect on 2018? How would you rate this year on a scale of 1–10, and what would have made it a 10 out of 10?

Now, let’s look ahead.

  • What excites you about the coming year?
  • What are your key goals and objectives for 2019? Who will help you achieve them?
  • Where and how do you want to stretch yourself in 2019?
  • Which people in your life will help you make 2019 a 10 out of 10 year—both personally and professionally?

Is there a possible theme for the year that could serve as a structure and anchor to lock in a resonant 2019? A song? Movie? Perhaps a book, a poem—or even a person. Let me know, and happy new year!

Thanks to my former coach Lorry Schneider and dear friends Faith Fuller and Marita Fridjhon for the inspiration for this post.

Empathy in the Digital Era

Think the internet is deepening our perceived social isolation, increasing envy and amplifying feelings of disconnection?

Well, yeah, maybe—especially if you spend most of your time on social media—according to this 2017 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. And given the growing body of research on the higher rates of morbidity and disease associated with social isolation, we ignore these reports to our own peril.

But the internet also has the capacity to connect kindred spirits across the oceans, create community and cultivate empathy. You just need to know where to look.

What Is Empathy?

Surprisingly, many of us aren’t clear on what empathy really is. I love Brené Brown’s simple explanation:

As Brown states, “empathy fuels connection; sympathy drives disconnection.” She outlines the four qualities of empathy nursing scholar Theresa Wiseman discovered in her research:

  1. perspective-taking
  2. avoiding judgment
  3. recognizing emotion in others
  4. communicating that emotion

Teaching Digital Empathy

One textbook, Developing Digital Empathy, provides tools for teaching digital empathy, which author Yonty Friesem says involves:

  1. empathy accuracy: the ability to assess another’s internal state;
  2. self-empathy: possessing a sense of identity and agency;
  3. cognitive empathy: recognizing, understanding and predicting others’ thoughts and emotions;
  4. affective empathy: feeling what others feel;
  5. imaginative empathy: role-playing; and
  6. empathic concern: being compassionate toward others.

The article Developing Empathy in the Digital Age further explores how educators can strengthen students’ empathy. Arguing that technology cannot create the conditions (e.g., eye contact, conversation, vulnerability) required to develop such skills, Matthew S. Howell thinks reducing time spent on screens is a step toward reclaiming our humanity. With the average person staring at a screen for 10.5 hours a day—and research indicating digital stimulation can cause damage to the part of the brain (insula) related to developing empathy—instituting practices like Screen-Free Fridays at schools can help students rediscover face-to-face connections. How could you carry this over to your workplace?

Counteracting Negativity with Positivity

This GoodThink article on spreading positivity online suggests we can counteract the destructive patterns of cyberbullying and negativity through such simple acts as watching videos by and positively rating valuable content. When we reward the creators of constructive content instead of getting sucked into gossipy, cruel feedback loops, we are magnifying the impact of those positive messages and diminishing that of the negative ones.

In “Empathy and Vulnerability in the Digital Age,” Richard Raber writes eloquently about the power of the internet to simultaneously propagate voyeurism and identification, judgmentalism and understanding, pity and empathy—suggesting we can harness technology to support “meaningful action and empathic construction … if we can find ways of binding together our fractured sense of self and community instead of allowing social media and the internet to splinter us.”

Digital Tools for Strengthening Empathy

So how can we foster community, deepen our sense of connection and stimulate empathy in this digital age? By storytelling, witnessing, listening.

Here are eight tools to help with that journey:

  1. The Moth: Listen to ordinary individuals share funny, educational and poignant stories like this one that will influence the way you see others and stay with you for years.
  2. Storycorps: Watch animations of audio recordings by people sharing pivotal moments in their lives like how this man reacted to being robbed at knifepoint.
  3. School of Life: Explore fascinating topics such as philosophy, love, psychotherapy, political theory and emotional intelligence through aesthetically compelling, thoughtful videos like The Meaning of Life – in 60 Seconds.
  4. SoulPancake: This more lighthearted channel approaches topics ranging from dating to biases to forgiveness to kitten therapy with humor and compassion.
  5. Cut: Along the same lines as SoulPancake, this channel deals with the humorous to the profound, like this video of parents explaining suicide to their children.
  6. Humans of New York: View photos and learn the moving stories of individuals living on the streets of New York City.
  7. Seize Your Moments: If you’re tired of being bombarded by cynical news about the worst of humanity, take a moment to refresh with these inspirational stories from around the world.
  8. The Good Cards: Instead of going on a meaningless goose chase for Pokémon Go, try a game that encourages you to practice a good deed, one card at a time.

Other Ideas?

What are your favorite ways to cultivate empathy in the digital age? We’d love to hear your ideas.

Slammed!

Three years ago, I published a blog titled Too Busy? I was reminded of this as I got the notice from SOREDI that Slammed: Succeeding in a World of Too Busy author and friend Randy Harrington was the featured speaker at the upcoming 2018 Southern Oregon Business Conference. The blog still rings true, and I am delighted to revisit it along with Randy’s fantastic book.

Here’s what I wrote in 2014:

How did you answer the last time someone asked, “How are you?” I’ll bet it was something like:

  • Oh, I’m slammed!
  • I’m so busy!
  • Crazed!
  • Buried!

Recently a colleague told me she was “doing a trapeze act until the monster project is finished.” The week before, she was “wrapping up a gargantuan project.” Sounds impressive, but what does that even mean?

It seems that people have confused their own busyness with importance, value or worth. If I’m this busy, I must be in demand. I must have a thriving business. I must be very successful.

Think about the perception that your busyness creates for others. Have you created a personal brand as a very, very busy person? What does this mean? When I think “busy,” I think harried, rushing, frantic—and probably not necessarily effective or of great quality. More Tasmanian Devil and less effective leader or loving family member.

The sad thing is this perception of busyness is harming how we connect and how we interact with one another—both with colleagues and with family and friends. We forget to make time for important things like mentoring a new professional (they wouldn’t dream of asking for help from such a busy person). Or we may miss an invitation to a niece’s piano recital or basketball game because everyone knows “Aunt Chrissy is too busy.”

We have a choice in how we perceive and how we show up in the world.

I have chosen NOT to be busy busy busy. I prefer to think of myself as happily making my way toward my personal and professional goals. I take time for things that need time. I savor. I enjoy every moment that I can. I am grateful.

While I may have as many time challenges as the next person, I choose to represent myself (and think of myself) as a happy person who is in control of my life and not being run ragged by myriad demands and pressures. Ask me how I am, and chances are I’ll answer, “I’m great.”

Slammed

In Slammed: Succeeding in a World of Too Busy, Randy and coauthor Carmen E. Voillequé provide solid advice on reframing your “slammed-ness.” Below is an excerpt from the book.

We have to start thinking about where we are today and at the same time where we want to be tomorrow. If we can fence off the triage work in our minds for a moment, what does that give us permission to dream of for a new future? This act should be fun. It should feel like a breath of fresh air. It should be motivational.

Here’s a short list to get you started:

  1. Schedule exercise, meal prep time, yoga using your Outlook or smart phone calendar right alongside your meetings and conference calls, and try color-coding them to stand out. This will elevate health to the same level of importance of “worky-work.”
  2. Stop competing with other people for who has the most stress; just stop having those conversations. It really is that simple (ok, yes, but not easy!). And when people do complain about too much stress from being Slammed, make it an all stop moment where a solution will have to be found.
  3. Encourage and learn from others who seem to have figured out how to align time to their values and not the other way around. Rather than feeling a sense of judgment or jealousy, ask them to be your mentor in learning to avoid the trap of task saturation.
  4. Explore your artistic side. Any kind. Anywhere. It doesn’t have to be the next Picasso—even a quick doodle on your meeting agenda can be a source of inspiration! Art helps everything. Go see it. Make it. Read it. Doesn’t matter. Feed that part of your soul regularly.
  5. Include all development work as an accomplishment/goal in your professional growth. Don’t shy away from the fact that you are committing to be more healthy, happy, engaged and productive.

Most importantly, the way we talk about being busy has to change. “I am Slammed” is no longer in your vocabulary!

It’s time to change your vocabulary and how you approach your situation. Start with a positive mindset. As happiness guru Shawn Achor likes to point out, people get happiness backwards. Getting that monster project done will not make you happy—but your being happy will get that project done faster and better. It’s called the happiness advantage, and you can get it!

If you are looking to change how you approach your situation and be more positive, you are in luck. Research shows that we can rewire our brains at any point in our life. It comes with intention and practice, and it is absolutely doable. Let me know if you would like a free coaching session to get started.

Increase Your Gratitude for Better Health

I’m teaching Working with Emotional Intelligence again at Southern Oregon University. This term, it’s for the Innovation and Leadership Program, a degree completion program for adults who previously started but did not finish their bachelor’s degree.

Recently, we talked about positive psychology and the role gratitude plays in our emotional and physical health. Research by Robert Emmons reveals that expressing gratitude improves physical, mental and social well-being.

Physical Benefits

  • stronger immune systems
  • less bothered by aches and pains
  • lower blood pressure
  • exercise more and take better care of their health
  • sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking

Mental Benefits

  • higher levels of positive emotions
  • more alert, alive and awake
  • greater joy and pleasure
  • more optimism and happiness

Social Benefits

  • more helpful, generous and compassionate
  • more forgiving
  • more outgoing
  • feel less lonely and isolated

Around Thanksgiving, I always begin to think more about what I am grateful for. I know that sometimes I forget to be grateful when I’m rushing through busy, jam-packed days and nights.

How do we get in touch with gratitude when it seems like there is so much negativity in the world?

We can start with these questions:

  • What am I grateful for today?
  • What good did I do today?
  • How was I helpful today?
  • What went well today?

Asking yourself these questions makes you remember the good. And while at first it may take some thought to come up with the answers, it becomes easier with practice. Because you are focusing on the good, you’ll develop new neural pathways and start noticing the good as it’s happening.

Here’s a little exercise you can incorporate into your life to help you notice the good more readily and increase your feelings of happiness and gratitude. It’s called “What Went Well.” There are many variations, but I especially like Marty Seligman’s version (he’s the founding father of positive psychology). He suggests that at the end of each day you take a few minutes to write down three things that went well. These don’t need to be earth-shattering in importance (e.g., “The hiking boots I ordered online fit perfectly”), or they can be super-important (“My daughter just gave birth to a healthy baby boy.”)

It may seem awkward at first to write about positive events in your life, but stick with it. It will get easier. You’ll begin noticing the positive events as they are happening and have the opportunity to relish them. With daily practice, six months from now, you will be happier, more grateful and maybe even addicted to this exercise!

Are you already doing a variation on “What Went Well?” Please tell us about it in a comment below.

When Disaster Strikes

Look around you. What do you see? Hurricanes, fires, mass shootings, political shenanigans, incivility, disrespect, abuse and fear? The list goes on.

What are you doing about it? There’s so much … where can you start? Some of us are volunteering to help disaster victims. Others are supporting relief efforts financially. Many have posted #metoo on their Twitter or Facebook accounts.

This is a time in which a good dollop of resilience can make a difference in how you are dealing with the melee. A time when grit is good. When optimism can help both you and those around you.

To inspire my own optimism, I pulled out a blog post from last August in which I quoted Christian D. Larson’s “Creed for Optimists,” written in 1912.

Here it is again.

Promise yourself to:

  1. Be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
  2. Talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.
  3. Make all your friends feel there is something special in them.
  4. Think only of the best, work only for the best and expect only the best.
  5. Be as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
  6. Forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
  7. Give everyone a smile.
  8. Spend so much time improving yourself that you have no time left to criticize others.
  9. Be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.
  10. Think well of yourself and proclaim this fact to the world—not in loud words—but in great deeds.
  11. Live in the faith that the whole world is on your side, so long as you are true to the best that is in you.

While this may seem frivolous in light of all that is happening, what would be possible if you were to incorporate just one or two of these points into your daily life? Would positivity spread? I’m not suggesting you give up on any other efforts to help with the negatives—just try adding one or two of these positives.

I’ll do the same.

Being Self-Employed: What’s Not to Love? Plus, This 1 Tip Will Boost Your Productivity—and Happiness

It’s the life many of us daydream about while languishing in a stagnant job where our talents go untapped and unappreciated: starting our own business.

And many act on that dream—nearly a third (30%) of the American workforce comprises the self-employed and their employees (approximately 15 million in 2014) according to this Pew Research Center article.

Working at home, earning 50% more, doing what we love, using our gifts, finding a sense of purpose, calling our own shots—sounds sweet, doesn’t it?

The reality, however, may not be so rosy. That’s not to say striking out on your own doesn’t have its rewards—a lot of those perks we just mentioned are borne out by statistics.

Work-Life Imbalance

There’s a flip side many fail to realize until they’re ensconced in their new venture: that work-life balance Americans already have trouble achieving? For most self-employed, work trounces life beginning on Day One.

If you’re thinking about becoming your own boss, be prepared to say goodbye to evenings, weekends, eight-hour workdays, sick leave, vacation time.…

The Overwork Epidemic

This Gallup report reveals 49% of the US self-employed put in at least 44 hours a week—10% more than their employee counterparts at the time. Worse, 26% of the self-employed workers Gallup surveyed reported working more than 60 hours a week. A later Gallup article calculates the average employee work week at 47 hours, with 25% reporting working more than 60 hours—nearly catching up to the self-employed.

American freelancers aren’t the only ones suffering from overwork. This 2016 Quarterly National Household Survey reports that Irish employees averaged 34.6 hours a week during the first quarter of 2016 as compared with 44 hours for the self-employed.

And that earlier statistic about the self-employed (specifically incorporated business owners) earning up to 50% more than their employee counterparts—it turns out 29% of that increase is due to their working more hours. Entrepreneurs may earn more on average, but that comes at the cost of time.

The Secret to Productivity

It doesn’t have to be that way, though—in fact, it shouldn’t. According to this Fast Company article, the secret to accomplishing more isn’t working more hours—it’s working fewer.

Our brains need regular breaks to recharge. When we neglect this fundamental requirement, productivity dips.

A recent Draugieum Group experiment showed those workers with the greatest productivity rates took a surprising number of breaks—for every 52 minutes of work, they took about 17 minutes off.

And we’re not talking about playing computer Solitaire or checking Facebook. The kind of breaks our brains need do not involve electronic devices—instead, try taking a brisk walk, reading a chapter in your latest book or enjoying a non–work-related chat with a colleague.

To many of us, that sounds like a lot of downtime, but our brains reward us by performing more efficiently during the time actually worked.

That magic trick applies whether you’re an employee, independent contractor, business owner, freelancer or entrepreneur.

Working fewer hours and getting more accomplished—now that sounds pretty sweet.

Need Help Taking More Breaks?

Here are some additional tips from Fast Company on how and why to take more breaks as well as what you may be doing wrong.

The workaholics among you probably need more hands-on assistance with reforming your work habits, and that’s where Chris Cook comes in. As a self-employed co-active coach, Chris can help you achieve your professional goals while maintaining a healthy life balance. Call her at 541.601.0114 or email chris@capiche.us to get started today.

From the “Worst Year Ever” to … the Best Year Ever?

Many people around the world were relieved to bid adieu to 2016, so widely detested it prompted publications ranging from The New York Times to The Telegraph, the Smithsonian to The New Yorker, Slate to BuzzFeed to question whether it was the worst year ever.

An exhausting presidential election, the controversial Brexit vote, the deadliest mass shooting in US history, numerous international terrorist attacks, earthquakes galore, the hottest year on record and a string of beloved celebrity deaths—many would say 2016 was a pretty dreadful year, indeed.

Putting all this behind me, I choose to remain hopeful that 2017 will be a better year—a great year. I will do my best—and I encourage you as well—to do everything possible to spread positivity and love.

I will do my best—and I encourage you as well—to do everything possible to spread positivity. Click To Tweet

Many thanks to a dear friend and colleague who shared the following quote. It speaks to me. I hope it speaks to you as well. Here’s to 2017!


“Make sure, therefore, that to the extent you can, always act from the deepest, widest, highest source in you that you can find; let every word out of your mouth come from the Highest Self you can discern; let every action spring from the deepest Source you can possibly summon. You are laying down Forms that will be stored in that great storage bin in the Cosmos, whence they will one day reach down and mold the future with their own special insistence. Make sure these Forms will be something you can be deeply proud of. You do realize that you are directly co-creating the future World, don’t you? Please, never, never forget that.”
Ken WilberIntegral Meditation, 2016, p. 130