Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Checklist for an Emotional Hijacking

My favorite part of Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, is Appendix B that outlines the “Hallmarks of an Emotional Mind.” If you’ve had a reaction and wonder if your emotions have “hijacked” you, look to see if your reactions fit this list:

1. A quick but sloppy response: an accurate perception is sacrificed for speed. Speed is what makes our emotions so helpful at protecting us from danger, and so harmful (when the danger is imagined).
2. Feelings come first: then we realize what happened. Our feelings seem to happen to us. We can practice ways of intervening but strong feelings have biological pathways that will always precede thought.
3. Our emotions often have a childlike logic and can contain symbolic meanings. This is why it is impossible to argue with someone "possessed" by an emotion. It is also why deciphering the meaning of an emotion can be so difficult.
4. Strong feelings are often a reaction to past events-- not present realities. Taking time to understand these emotions can help us identify the unconscious thoughts (from the past) that are still driving our behavior (and reactions).
5. Our perception of reality is based on the emotion we are feeling. Even our memories can shift as we seek "proof" and "justification" for our reactions. Even though we may be very wrong in our assessments, strong feelings can leave us convince of their accuracy.

How would you describe the experience of being overtaken by an emotion?

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Powerful Morbid Question

I’ve recently seen plays and movies focused on our mortality (Our Town, Synechode--New York). These artworks ask us to ponder our choices because, no matter how long we live, our time is limited. Natasha Richardson’s terrible accident has also pushed this point forward in me.

While it may seem morbid, a classic coaching question can help us locate the essential in our life: If you only had 6 months to live, what would you change about your life?

Are you living the life you most desire?

I wish you many healthy, happy years to come but the question is still useful …..what would you change if you only had 6 years, 6 months, or 6 days?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Dismantling our Habits

Ace was a better tennis player than his sister Sophie. He usually won their bi-weekly games. Then Sophie decided to take some lessons. She had taught herself to play and now she really wanted to improve her game. Her instructor required Sophie to take apart her swing, and her abilities deteriorated. Ace teased his sister mercilessly but she persevered. Week after week, Ace demolished her in the court. Then slowly Sophie's game improved. Soon she was back to her former ability and then, rapidly, she became much more skilled than her brother. Sophie's technique was consistent. Her serve was impossible to return. She played with less effort but more accuracy. Ace was forced to run the court from side to side since Sophie knew how to place the ball just out of his reach. Ace could no longer compete with her.

To improve our skills in any endeavor, we often have to sacrifice our old habits and familiar outcomes. We may be more prone to mistakes at first, but if we are willing to question and dismantle our attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge, we can develop abilities that are even more advanced.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Small Emotions of Everyday Life

Nancy confided to me of a difficult relationship at work. She said she had been friendly to “Bill” when he first arrived, but his sour expressions angered her. He never acknowledged her presence and Nancy had had enough. She was now offering Bill an angry expression in return. She would show him.

“I’m not willing to be nice to him anymore,” she said. “He’ll just be a jerk and I don’t want to put myself out for that.”

Yet, at the same time, Nancy hated carrying a grudge and a severe look. She was usually a very happy person.

Emotional Intelligence doesn’t expect us to be saintly and there are probably times when we need to protect ourselves from another’s aggression or moods. But Nancy felt stuck in a distressing pattern. We gently began to examine her thoughts about Bill.

“I’m not sure why he hates me so much—“
“He hates you?”
“Well, not hate. He couldn’t hate me, he doesn’t even know me. But he clearly doesn’t like me. He’s friendly to other people.”
“People in his own department. I’m in another department.”
“Could there be another reason why he isn’t friendly to you?”

Nancy thought for a moment. “He could be shy.”
“That might explain why he’s friendly with people in his own department.”
“I guess. I’m not sure. I only know that he’s very unfriendly to me and I hate it.”
“You take it personally.”
“So it could be that he doesn’t like you personally. Or it could be that he’s shy. Any other reason he might not be friendly to you?

Nancy couldn’t think of anything.

“Maybe he thinks you don’t like him?”
“I tried to be nice to him. I introduced myself. But he’s been nothing but rude to me.”

Nancy's nonverbals made her feelings clear. “You don’t like him….”
“No. I don’t.”
“Maybe he’s picked that up?”

We let the subject go and talked about other matters, then gradually drifted back to Bill and the subject of “emotional contagion.” I told Nancy about The Tipping Point, a wonderful book offering stories that illustrated emotional contagion—the way our emotions can “infect’ others. Some of us are more sensitive and pick up others’ moods rapidly. Maybe Bill and Nancy were feeding off each other’s negative energy. Nancy listened to some sections of the book. It made sense to her. Looking lighter, Nancy decided to cut Bill some slack—maybe he was doing the best he could under the circumstances. She didn’t want to help spread destructive emotions at work. She wanted to make her workplace, and the world in general, more positive. She would start with her own emotional messages.

I saw a shift in Nancy as we talked. She was no longer stuck on wanting “justice,” or even doing the “nice” action. She was able to move beyond her struggles with Bill when she saw a bigger picture: her small but important contribution to the world.

What idea has worked for you? How did a simple phrase, word, or concept help you shift into a new way of thinking?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Time Management and the Water Cooler.

During a workshop, Julie talked about long-winded co-workers she avoided. She felt bad about this and feared alienating friends at work. But since each individual could cost her 30 to 60 minutes of her day, Julie was frustrated. What could she do? She tried to be pleasant and keep her chats brief but her tactics often failed.

Julie noticed that she did enjoy talking with a few of her co-workers. What made them different from the others? These were people who added value to her day. They provided important information about her job, or, if the discussions became personal, the stories were briefer, more focused, and without repetition. Her other coworkers sometimes repeated the same stories or clichés for days--even weeks!

What value does your communication have for other people? Do you waste time rehashing old ideas or repeating the same information to each colleague individually?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What Are You Feeling Today?

Can you name the eight basic emotions?
If you’re working in EI, this is a gimme question. If not, this may be tougher. Try to name them now. I’ll list them at the bottom of the post.

It’s very common for all of us to avoid naming our feelings (too vulnerable) and talk around them instead.

In the course of a somewhat difficult conversation, my cousin recently said to me, “I want to tell you what I am feeling.” (She knows I like that.) “What?” I asked.

“I’m feeling that you’ve changed a lot,” she said. “That’s what I’m feeling.” I didn’t want to correct her. But she hasn’t gotten to her feelings yet. Is she angry at my change, or sad? Or was she fearful? She keeps circling and circling around the same idea: “You’ve changed a lot, you never used to be like this. I can’t get used to your changes. You’ve changed a lot haven’t you?”

Maybe. I guess I’ve changed. We all do. But why is she repeating and repeating this? Her obsessing about this isn’t a feeling. It masks her feeling. What is Mary feeling? My guess, based on other conversations and her nonverbals, is that Mary feels guilty. If I’m right, her deeper thoughts could be something like: “What if I’ve been treating you one way and you’ve actually been different than I thought? What if I misread you all along? Have our fights come from these misunderstandings?”

Feelings are often very difficult to decode (see previous post). But if we can uncover our underlying feelings (one of the basic eight), this self-knowledge can lead us to helpful and healthy actions.

Can you name the basic eight? They are universal:
anger, sadness, fear, joy, trust, disgust, anticipation, or surprise.

What are you feeling today?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Tips for Active Listening - Sideroad Expert Interviews

How often do you feel really listened to? How often do you really listen to someone else? Listening with focused attention can transform relationships and circumstances. Here's an article on my favorite type of listening--active listening.If someone is upset with you, instead of arguing or fighting back, try to paraphrase their message. If you are accurate, watch their volume and anger sudden soften. Active listening is a powerful conflict resolution tool.

Tips for Active Listening - Sideroad Expert Interviews

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Does Passion Make us Crazy?

In so many areas of my life, I am the steady ship. No matter how stormy the seas, I plot my course with confidence and ride through the rough waters with skill. But in the arena that mattered most to me—the theatre—I was rudderless. Was it because I loved it so much? Does passion make us crazy?

I’ve seen it in work colleagues. When “Jamie” deeply cares about a project, she lashes out. She’s often angry at her staff for their lack of effort or concern about details. She tries to hide her anger but we all perceive it. Even Jamie’s most restrained communications are often underscored by her panic and resentment.

I can relate. When producing live theatre I was often upset with others. I concluded that my intense devotion was the problem. If only I didn’t care so much, I wouldn’t become so zealous and emotional. But it was impossible to turn off my enthusiasm or the strong feelings that came with it. Did my theatre colleagues see my fervor for the art or just a tyrant? (Probably both.)

The strength of my emotions overwhelmed and continually surprised me. I was “hijacked” by them. But now I see that they weren’t the problem. I didn’t need to deny or repress them; I needed to communicate them more skillfully. If only I had admitted my fears and asked for support. A vulnerable move. But even if I didn’t get what I wanted, the act of clarifying my emotions would have stopped them from intensifying and becoming destructive. Emotional Intelligence techniques can help me in this work.

I now know that the sooner I can identify and share my feelings, the sooner I can manage and even utilize them. If I accept my fear and anger (instead of projecting them onto another person), I can transform their power. I can use this energy in my work, instead of letting unconscious emotions dismantle and destroy what I most cherish.

What are your experiences of passion and your emotions?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How to Kill Motivation

"For months, an old man endured the insults of a group of boys as they ran across his yard. One afternoon, after listening to another round of jeers, the man came up with a plan. He met the children on his lawn and announced that anyone who came back the next day and yelled rude comments about him would receive a dollar. Amazed and excited, they showed up even earlier on Tuesday, hollering insults with enthusiasm. The old man came out and paid everyone saying, "Do the same tomorrow and I'll pay you twenty-five cents." The kids thought that was still pretty good and came out on Wednesday to taunt him. At the first catcall, the man again paid his hecklers. "From now on," he announced, "I can give you only a penny for doing this.’" The kids looked at each other in disbelief. "A penny?" they repeated scornfully. "Forget it!" And they never came back again."

(from Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards - The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes, 1993, Houghton Mifflin, pg. 71-72)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Time to break-up with your career?

Have you ever courageously stepped off the rutted path to leave a career that was bad for you? How many years were you trapped--like the hero in a labyrinth, or damsel chained in the dungeon?

It is hard to give up, cut losses and move on, especially if we've given time, money and effort. How many of us stay in careers and relationships for years (or lifetimes) because it is excruciating to abandon that investment.

But a promised land awaits us when we take that risk.

Three years ago, at the age of 46, I had enough. After 25 years of pursuit, I was ready to walk away from my demanding Mistress Theatre. She had taken too much of my time, money, and life's direction. But walking away, while providing a deep sense of relief, also left me psychologically mangled. While I was in pursuit of fame and fortune, I could still “succeed.” Perhaps that's why, instead of surrendering my dreams, I stayed entrenched in them and merely shifted my approach. I morphed from actress, to director, to teacher/producer, to playwright. I justified each correction with the thought that previous roles were simply preparing me for my breakthrough. When I finally surrendered my ambitions to an intractable reality, I was haunted. Had I wasted my youth on a failed delusion?

I had received some decent reviews and awards. I'd known many artists who lived off such validation for decades. Not me. My quest, from the beginning, was to make sufficient money or enough recognition to escape the stigma of “dilettante.” Unlike others, I couldn’t simply enjoy theatre as a hobby. Performing in a play was playful only in high school. When I entered college on a performance scholarship, the joy of theatre vanished into a stew of envy, competitiveness, and insecurity.

Sorry. That last sentence? Not entirely true. The hyperbole illustrates my practiced work-habit: to find the dramatic in all events.

I do acknowledge the good that Theatre brought me: a trained and powerful voice, physical agility, a youthful imagination, and curiosity. I will not have to wonder “what if?” I am grateful for my adventures and for the unconventional life I've led.

But now walking away is the right decision. I've found a new, more fruitful path. I no longer feel trapped or stuck in unhealthy patterns. Instead of a constant struggle, I am amazed by the exciting opportunities that now flow toward me.

How does one start over again? How does one recover from the wreckage of a life plan? (Oo, there's that juicy melodrama again. “Wreckage of a life plan.” Nice concept for a one-act.)

Life will always offer heartaches but will our setbacks cause us to expand or contract? If you feel stuck, the question is: are you ready to take a risk and start again?

What have you learned from your career mistakes?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Story of the "Cracked Pot."

I heard this lovely story over the weekend. It is a wonderful reminder that our flaws are often the source of our greatest gifts. If we can be honest with ourselves and accept our less than perfect traits, we may also come to realize that even our shortcomings can lead to beauty and distinction.

A water-bearer carries two large pots on a yoke across his shoulders up the hill from the river to his master's house each day. One has a crack and leaks half its water out each day before arriving at the house. The other pot is perfect and always delivers a full portion of water after the long walk from the river.

Finally, after years of arriving half-empty and feeling guilty, the cracked pot apologizes to the water-bearer. He is miserable and says, "I'm sorry that I couldn't accomplish what the perfect pot did."

The water-bearer says, "Why are you apologizing?"

"After all this time, I still only deliver half my load of water. I make more work for you because of my flaw."

The man smiled and told the pot. "Take note of all the lovely flowers growing on the side of the path where I carried you. The flowers grew so lovely because of the water you leaked. There are no flowers on the perfect pot's side."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Chicago Tribune Confirms my Bias--Silence heals.

Maybe you'll want to experiment with silent days too? Here's the Trib article. I'd love to hear your experiences too.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Letter to "Dear Amy"

I actually sent this letter into the paper today. I was dissatisfied with Amy’s response to the second letter of Friday’s column in the Chicago Tribune .

Dear Amy,
I have two thoughts regarding the woman who fought with her mother-in-law re: a “smash cake” for her son's first birthday party. First, “letting the whole thing go” misses a very important chance to forge a stronger, more emotionally intimate relationship. While there is no guarantee that a sincere talk will go well; not talking is usually worse.

Second, our feelings exist to give us helpful info. The writer shares that she is “not sure how (her m-i-l) will react” in future situations. This is a legitimate reaction that should not be brushed aside.

While conversations involving strong feelings are scary and difficult, the rewards are great. Not talking about previous hurts only sets the stage for further hurt. It is best to discuss conflicts early. As time passes, it will only be more difficult to bring up past issues. One of the most important gifts we can offer each other is to practice good communication skills (“active listening” and using “I statements” are key tools) so we can truly know each other. As we reveal our quirks and vulnerabilities, we can learn to truly love each other.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Millions of Voices

Frenetic freelancers clamoring to be heard above the collective din.  Twittering, blogging, texting.  How can I stand out?  I feel lost in a stampede of fantastic articles telling me how to market my training.  Where to focus?  Learn to do internal and external links on my blog? Write press releases?  Read training materials, do direct mail, or visit my Linkedin groups?

I’ve arrived too late to this party.  How can I ever catch up?    

The volume of brilliant voices thrills and overwhelms me.  So much talent in the world!  Where do I fit in?

Maturity is recognizing my limits.  If I do good work, the rest should take care of itself, yes?

The question that keeps me sane and focused is:  how can I best serve others?

 How do you stay grounded in today's frenzied world?



Thursday, March 12, 2009

Waking Up

In a recent post, I wrote of the delay between the beginning of a feeling or thought and our conscious awareness of it. Ironically, I was about to have that “realization-emerges-from-the-darkness” experience myself.

I was in a foul mood last week. Unfortunately, my hubby Rick was also in a bad mood. This led to some testy moments. As the evening wore on, we both retreated with a journal and began to write (one more connection with last week’s post). We both began tracking back through our day, trying to determine what triggered us. I knew I was upset with my cousin. But why? I didn't know. My anger was hot but I couldn't tell you the why of it. Finally, unable to determine a trigger, I thought, “We just don't get along, that's that.” I let my anger cool and had a satisfying end of the evening with Rick.

The next morning, while walking Sophie (my “aha” moments usually happen when I'm walking or taking a shower), I “suddenly” realized that I was angry about an email from my cousin. My message to him expressed some sadness and he had responded with several jokes. Click. That was it! The insight snapped into place. I had felt ridiculed. Now, what to do about it?

But first, a few other thoughts. Without this insight, I had no responsible course of action. I was angry--but why? Without a why, I could only be angry. Second, in the paragraph above, I put suddenly in quotes because I wanted to show that another part of me had known all along. Only the “I” of me, my ego-self, was out of the loop and suddenly understood. The rest of me already knew--and was reacting.

Now, what to do. My choices: do nothing or say something. I decided to let my cousin know that I had been expressing sadness in the email (maybe he didn't know this) and I wasn't happy with his response. This was, at least, the beginning of our dialogue. I still felt a lack of trust between us (based on our history) but I could at least share my perceptions with him. He could examine his reactions (or not). A true reconciliation could develop (or not). In this moment, I’m simply grateful I realized the message of my feelings.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Power of Silence

Rick and I have given up television—again. The house is once again, blissfully silent. I feel calmer and, even though I rarely sat and watched programs, I seem to have much more time now. Even as background sound the noisy box was grabbing my attention-- just enough to slow me down.

We’re not abstaining completely. We’ve learned, from previous idealism, what’s practical and what won’t fly. We’ll watch the news, and an occasional sporting event. Netflix videos are fair game. But we’ve gone back to a mostly tv-free peacefulness. I used to think that I was making the most of my time. Instead of simply folding laundry in silence, I was learning too. News or cooking programs were adding value to my life. Was it the multitasking or simply the never-ending sound that exhausted me?

I know we’ll be tempted. At the end of a long hard day at work, we’ve loved vegging out with “Law and Order.” But, just like overindulging in deep dish pizza or scotch, too much tv doesn’t feel good. I know from experience, if I fight the urge, I’ll read more or just sit and relax in silence. Without fail, when I sit in silence for any length of time, I’ll have that “aha” moment—an invaluable insight from a deeper part of myself.

I think we’ll succeed this time, not because our willpower is greater (that never works), but because we’ve learned (through trial and error) how much tv is food and how much is poison. Like learning to love exercise or salads, we have learned to crave the silence in our home. It revitalizes and restores us.

What is your experience of television?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Emotional Intelligence during Tough Times

Wanted to share this article, "5 Ways to Use Emotional Intelligence for Creating Joy and Satisfaction in Tough Times."
The article suggests four strategies:
· Resist the Urge for Revenge (we all can feel threatened and unbalanced right now),
· Choose one Meaningful, Achievable Goal,
· Accept and Utilize Encouragement and Kindness from others,
· Practice Gratitude.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Research Says--Some Anger Good for You.

I’ve been writing about anger lately and was sent a terrific article on the subject. Confirmed my bias. Would I post it if it didn’t? Subtitled—“Repressing emotions leads to unhappiness, says Harvard psychologist,” you can read the entire article here.

The article says that while uncontrolled anger is never beneficial (for the giver or receiver), balanced expressions of anger can strengthen relationships, provide focus, and keep us healthier.

To live healthy, honest lives, we must find ways to acknowledge (even honor) all parts of ourselves.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Writing to Develop Emotional Intelligence

Lately I've been reflecting on my love of writing and realize that it is a perfect tool for increasing emotional intelligence. Writing can help us reach unrealized parts of ourselves.

Discovering myself.
As I string words together, sentence after sentence, my conscious mind slowly gains access to a storehouse of impressions, ideas, memories, and knowledge from my past. From brainstorming, to rough, working, and final drafts, I become aware of what other parts of me already know. Psychologists and others (have you read Blink?) describe a delay between the arrival of new thoughts (or feelings), and our conscious awareness of them. Before a thought/feeling becomes fully conscious, we may only sense it through elusive moods, or physical symptoms. If we don't take the time to contemplate (sitting quietly, talking to a good listener, or journaling) the thought/feeling may never come to consciousness. We then can't retrieve the information, and if the thoughts/feelings are a trigger for us, we may react without ever knowing why.

With patience, writing pulls forth all this latent information. We can discover not only our hidden feelings and beliefs, but also creative ideas that have been haunting us. To reach our inner knowledge, we need only take the time to keep writing, through the clichés and banality, until we find an idea that feels both familiar and new. We can then keep asking ourselves, what is this idea (or feeling)? What do I know about it? What else can I say about it? I am often astounded when, after withstanding the temptation to give up on a subject, I breakthrough and brainstorm many new pages on it.

Don't worry about aesthetics and form. Simply write to discover the goldmine of useful information inside. You have an inexhaustible source of knowledge, not only about yourself (which is priceless and exceptionally useful) but about any problem you face. I've always found that creative solutions are already present within a dilemma. We only have to dig for them. Journaling or blogging are great ways to begin.

Today I decided to explore the subject of writing itself. My experience in the writing also became the subject of the writing. Working through a labyrinth of ideas, I’m now beginning to understand WHY writing has become so dear to me.

What is your experience of writing?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Healthy vs. Neurotic Suffering

I'm in the midst of a mid-life renaissance. After years of frantic feelings, dashed dreams, and mystifying mishaps from without and within, I finally feel "in flow." This does not mean that life is easy. I struggle against my fears every day. But I sense a difference between the old struggle and this one. My previous life was filled with a "flaying around." I was constantly striving to achieve against endless obstacles. Today, I still have goals but they seem given, not chosen. When I finally surrendered my cherished dreams (to win the Pulitzer or become a famous theatre director), I was reborn to a new life, without my Ego's agendas. Suddenly, instead of throwing myself against metaphorical brick walls, new doorways opened. I felt like a teenager, suddenly awash in thrilling challenges that tested my abilities.

Before, my mind obsessively circled my fears. Today, I still suffer from fear but now, instead of constant worrying, I step into the rapids and let both fear and excitement wash over me. Instead of trying to control the waves--I'm riding them. Now, each moment both lingers and rushes past filled with millions of fresh and intoxicating ideas. I feel pulled toward a mysterious destiny that I still don't understand-- but trust more and more. I find that the great Taoist sayings are true: more gets done when we surrender and let ourselves be carried by our unique Fate.

How do you deal with worry and fear?