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Why Power-Play & Politics In Extended Families Can Sabotage Relationships

Understanding Extended Families

The funny thing about extended families …

… is that  the further you diverge from your nuclear family, the crazier things get. If you’ve ever been to a Christmas eve gathering with your maternal aunt complaining about the tacky gift she received from her sister-in-law last year, or your second cousin getting drunk and inappropriately boisterous, you know what I’m talking about.

Because of the emotional bond that holds our families together,  any conflict that occurs is usually loaded with past grievances and hurts. This is why holidays like thanksgiving and Christmas Eve are both the most dreaded and the most cherished part of our working year.

There is a sense of obligation to attend that holds us together. In a society where loneliness has risen to epidemic portions, mandatory family gatherings may be the only situation in which many of us put ourselves out there and step out of our comfort zone.

The lack of annoying people that you have to put up with, has eroded our sense of patience and ability to stay calm, committed and resilient in conflict situations. So naturally when there is conflict among extended family, our first gut instinct is to back away and cut that person off from our life.

Then when people get lonely, they look for superficial thrills, posting about their paragliding adventure on Facebook or taking constant selfies on instagram, just to feel like they are connected to the outside world, that they belong someplace, that they are part of a group. Do you see the irony in this?

I’m asking you today: to embrace the annoying people, the critics, the people that make you feel uncomfortable. A lot of times, this comes in the form of relatives and extended family. Nothing will inspire personal growth like an annoying aunt’s criticism. Nothing like grandma’s encouragement to help you get through growing pains with your toddler. Nothing like being compared to an obnoxiously successful cousin to inspire you to focus on advancing your career. In order to learn and grow, we must force ourselves to face uncomfortable situations. And nothing is more uncomfortable than a family gathering…

The role of power

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Power is the undercurrent that runs through all human conflict. The way human beings (or any other biological/animal  societies) function socially is through power play. We learn early and often about the different roles of power that people hold. We also learn that power is fluid. That it can be given and taken based on the perceptions of those around us. You either find where you fit in, or for the more ambitious, you seize power by manipulating or controlling other people. Power is just as universal as conflict in this regard.

If both power and conflict are universal, then it stands to reason that power lays and conflicts are inherent in the family dynamic. In fact, the family and/or extended family dynamic is there we first encounter  the ebb and flow of power and conflict. Some of us grow up feeling that our parents have wrongly manipulated us using threats, punishments and harsh words to discipline us.  This ‘betrayal’  can lead to destructive patterns of resolving conflict, often with one or both parties striving to regain the lost ‘power’ at any cost. This is a pattern of conflict resolution many of us carry beyond our birth families and into our own later lives.

Another thing to note about this power-play inherent to family conflicts is that it stems from a fundamental, two-pronged fear:

1. Those with more power than us can harm or control us, leaving us unable to defend ourselves.
2. Those with less power than us are just waiting to pounce on us at the first sign of weakness, making us more likely to fail.

Even in intimate and family situations, this fear-induced power-play is often hidden. As a society, we are also conditioned to value honesty, strength and courage, so anyone feeling these insecurities will naturally try to hide it. However, such covert insecurities can lead us further into destructive patterns of conflict resolution when everyone involved denies the problem, or worse, refuses to accept their role in creating the conflict, blaming others instead. This creates a vicious cycle of conflict, lack of  ownership and a deep, festering mistrust.

So what would you do to bridge conflicts and set the stage for positive resolution?

Two things are essential in order to answer this question:

1. Building solid alliances with your family mediators
2. Finding common interests

Forging strong relationships with the peace-keepers in your family will help you thwart conflicts and redirect the family’s focus on positive things early, often, even before the conflict starts. Also, finding common goals can help you survive a difficult family gathering by uniting you to solve a mutual problem rather than dispersing alliances and pushing everyone apart. For people you know you will have to repeatedly interact with, you can choose whether you want to make things even more miserable –  or find a way to co-exist.

And this choice will make all the difference between making your family gatherings a source of joy, or a source of heartache.

In our soon to be published e-book you will find tools to help you build alliances with your family members and find common interests which may help you ward off difficult situations. Stay tuned!

 

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The One Thing that Separates Loved Ones From Strangers

 

A few years ago I frequently took the GO train to downtown Toronto for work. It was mostly a pleasant ride. However, this one lady would push everyone in her frenzy to disembark every time the train pulled into Union Station. Mostly I stayed out of it but one day, she pushed me. I decided to call her out on it. Right there, on the platform, she started screaming out threats about pushing me down the stairs. A security guard caught my eye and came over. We explained the situation to him with several other passengers confirming that this lady had been very aggressive for the past few weeks. The security guard let her go with a warning. That lady was a total stranger. My only concern in this situation was to speak out against her aggression and do what I thought was “right” in defending myself. I did not care at all about whether our relationship would suffer as a result of my speaking out.

In contrast, when I moved to a new country, I saw a lot of things that were not “right”. Living with five other people, conflict was both healthy and inevitable. The difference was that I actually cared about my relationship with these people. So I had to force myself to look past huge hurdles like emotional extremes, power imbalances and a starkly different worldview and find a way to get along with them. I learned an important lesson – from siblings to parents to spouses to kids, our closest relationships are the trickiest to handle.

Strangers VS Loved Ones

When it comes to our closest relationships, unresolved conflicts can lead to an ongoing skirmishes and resentment. When this everyday stress becomes pervasive, it not only damages your relationship and self-esteem but also robs you of a potentially powerful support system (your loved ones). Conflict with people you care about is very different form conflict with people who are transient in your life like the cashier at your local drugstore or the rude lady pushing you on your commute to work.

Conflict with loved ones is trickier to handle because we usually DO care about our relationship enough to want to make it last. It is also likely that your affection for your loved one(s) compels you to keep their best interests in mind. So mutual trust and affection are essential to establishing and maintaining healthy long term relationships. However, in times of conflict, mutual understanding is the first facet of your relationship to be dismissed.

Impact of Different Conflict Management Styles

In a conflict situation with a loved one, your relationship will take the brunt of the damage especially if one of both of you are constantly minimizing the other person’s feelings. We have all fallen into patterns of aggression, lack of sensitivity or lack of courtesy in a domestic argument at one point or another. Unconsciously or even on purpose, we all tend to do it. However, not many of us are aware that these toxic patterns of interaction set up a dangerous power play dynamic – the effects of which can linger for a long time after the conflict has been resolved.

While displays of insensitivity, aggression and power struggles are damaging to your relationships with loved ones, avoidance of conflict is also equally, if not more damaging to your relationship. Always striving to smooth things over and please the other person inevitably breeds resentment if you are always bending over backwards for your loved one. Ironically, the family member you are trying to accommodate is simultaneously being conditioned to be selfish and insensitive to your preferences because you are always putting their needs ahead of yours. When this happens, the trust in your relationship is damaged as well as your own personal sense of self-worth. Rather than engaging in patterns of aggression or accommodation, an honest, respectful (both to yourself and to the other person) and non-manipulative approach can strengthen your relationship even in times of conflict.

However, in order to reach a respectful, honest and non-manipulative relationship dynamic, both parties need to do certain internal work first. Experts of often talk about open communication, negotiation and compromise but in order to act on these peace-keeping values, you need to create the emotional and mental space for them first. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts of overcoming conflict with your loved ones:

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What You Need To Do When Fighting With A Friend

Has anyone else noticed how friendships are becoming more and more transient in our hyper-connected lives?

Instead of a big fight, argument or heated discussion, friendships now fizzle out because of tiny little falling outs – your friend didn’t call or you forgot to wish them on their birthday or you simply stopped calling, writing or meeting. Most of the time, the issue just festers, unaddressed. IF you want to be more proactive in your social relationships, try the following suggestions whenever you are in an awkward situation with a friend:

Avoid Gossip

I used to be a straight shooter until I was plunged into the middle of a million strange people and forced to interact with them. I noticed how some people would gossip incessantly. Repelled at first, I eventually began to see how they would get short-term positive results, as the two gossiping people became “friends”. So I started doing it too. Much to my surprise, the initial ‘bonding’ your experience when you gossip with someone quickly turns into an acute sense of mistrust. If a person can spread negativity about someone else, who knows what they will be sewing behind your back about you?

It took me a while to figure out that gossip actually harms you the most – not the person you are gossiping about who is likely oblivious to your back-biting. So when you fight with friend, avoid gossiping or talking about them to another person in a complaining way. Just don’t go down that slippery slope.

See Others’ perspective

In any fight, the challenge is to try to understand it from the other person’s perspective. What if they’re wrong, you say?  Even if they are wrong, understanding their perspective will help you understand how to approach the issue with them. This is especially true when you have a fight and someone is sending negative energy to you. When someone sends you negative every, instead of sending them negative energy back, try sending them positive energy instead. Thwart the vicious cycle of mistrust.

One way you can send them positive energy is to try to understand their situation and empathize with them. This doesn’t mean you give up your views and parrot theirs. Instead, show them compassion and they will be that much more willing to return that sense of understanding.

Initiate resolution

Ever get into a power struggle with a friend? You’re arguing, you’re sure they’re wrong and you’re waiting for that apology so you can forgive them? And wanting. And waiting. They never reach out to you because they feel equally strongly that you were wrong and they were right.

Be that powerful person who initiates resolution. Even if it intimidates you a little bit. Be that powerful person who says “I know we don’t agree on some things and may even be angry at each other, but lets make this work!”

Give them space

If your friend is too angry to talk, don’t hound them.  Give them space to calm down. Reach out and let them know once that you’re willing to talk it out. If they genuinely care about the friendship, they will eventually reach out to you when they are ready.

Listen Actively

When they do reach out to you, don’t start tooting your own grievances right away. Listen patiently. When I first got married, my husband’s infinite patience with errant employees, friends and even relatives drove me crazy. The other person would be spewing heated nonsense in his face that was none of his fault, and all he would do is nod, ask questions and entertain that load of nonsense like it was the most important thing ever.  I thought he was being timid and unassuming, but in retrospect, I noticed something wonderful. Although he was not aggressive in that heated moment, people always apologized sheepishly afterwards. And boy, did they respect him. His ability to stay calm in the moment and listen to people thoroughly so they felt heard made him more powerful than any aggressive, fist-waving, red-faced human being.

Never Accuse

Its natural in any conflict to get fixated on all the things the other person is doing wrong. But pointing fingers and accusing someone does nothing other than further alienate you. No, spewing those caustic words hovering in your head will not “set them straight”. Accusing someone, even if its their fault will only make the conflict fester and close off communication.

 

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How To Get What You Want In Any Conflict

Conflicts are temporary. Children know intrinsically that conflicts are inevitable and transient in our lives. We adults often forget.

The other day I watched my daughter fight with another child on the playground over a couple of sand toys. The battle for the sand bucket and spade was fierce and brutal – punches flew, screams emerged until we broke them apart.

The adults around were all nervous for a long time after, watching for a fight that needed any intervention, meanwhile the kids had long forgotten about it. Once we broke them apart, they promptly proceeded to hold hands, climb up the big blue slide backwards and then tumbling back down down, giggling, as we adults watched nervously.

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Many of us have learned to hold on to conflicts, grudges, hurts and disagreements long after the inciting incident has dissipated. A lot of this emotional baggage clogs up our consciousness and hampers our ability to think, learn, function and live.

It also hampers our ability to let go of the negativity that often surrounds conflicts. Most importantly, it costs us the opportunity to take advantage of the learning that ensues whenever we are caught up in the middle of a conflict.

Adversity has the effect of eliciting

Opportunity for change

Conflicts aren’t just opportunities for learning, they are also opportunities to bring about change. Often, we put up with things that we don’t necessarily agree with or enjoy.

When a conflict arises, that’s probably the first thing that comes to our mind. We recount the reasons why the person is wrong or why the situation makes us unhappy. But rather than merely complaining, what if we use that interaction as a medium of communication in order to change that thing we don’t like, or to improve something we think could be done better?

In order to use conflicts as an opportunity for change, however, we need to think about how we will position ourselves.

The art of success is mainly centred on

3 Proven Steps to Positioning Yourself Right

 

Think. Anticipate. Execute.

An unnamed entity in my family is really good at positioning themselves whenever they anticipate that a conflict will arise out of a particular situation. While the rest of us go into any conflict situation unarmed, often unaware, this person is able to anticipate the events with such acquity that it almost looked like magic to me. Until I tried it.

The first few times this happened, I was awkward and unsure, but the more I did it, I realized how this was a learned skill like any other. So how exactly does it work?

Think:

Assess the situation and brainstorm the outcomes that could happen.

The first few times, you might have to sit down and list all the possibilities with actual pen and paper. As you get better with it however, you will be able to do it promptly in your head.

The purpose of this step is to train your brain to hone in on the possibilities of the situation as they relate to the outcome that you want.

Anticipate:

Anticipation is not just anticipating the other’s actions, but also finding a common thread that ties your own goal into the situation.

Going back to my family member, they  often word their proposals in a very careful, planned way so as to sound like the course of action they want is in our mutual interest even though it may be benefiting them the most. While some may consider this manipulative, the fact remains, that not many of us want to hear the cold, hard, conflict-ridden and harsh truth. Most of us would rather get along and avoid conflict.

Afterall, what is more important-  to get along and resolve the issue in an amicable way (that also happens to benefits you), or to feel a sense of empowerment because you were “right” and you showed the other person a ‘truth’ or two about life.

Remember, truth and correctness are subjective. In any human interaction, your truth will always be slightly different from mine. Your sense of right and wrong will be different too. Your truth is just as true to you as mine is to me.

So instead of being hard headed about what you perceive to be “true” why not focus on a solution that is both amicable and beneficial?

Execute:

Once you’ve done the mental work of preparing for an imminent conflict, it is time to execute.

In order to overcome conflict, your delivery must be authentic, if nothing else. Often, this above mentioned family member will try so hard to convince me that helping them or doing something is in my own interest, that it turns me off from the whole sordid affair and I end up saying no just for the principle of it.

No one likes to be manipulated. If people see through your ruse to get them to do something you don’t want to do, its game over. You’ve lost their precious trust because everything you say, for the rest of the interaction, they will view through a lens of suspicion.

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You want to position yourself in the best way possible so when conflict arises, you’re armed and ready to get the outcome that you desire.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series.

 

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3 Sensational Tricks to Strengthen Personal Boundaries

Challenge yourself today

So here’s your challenge for today – come up with a plan to create and maintain strong, healthy boundaries. Setting boundaries is so much more than just learning to say no. People with healthy boundaries not only identify and nurture their own boundaries, they also respect and advocate for others’ boundaries. For when you create an environment where others can empower themselves, it invariably also strengthens your own personal power.

To get you started on your “Healthy Boundaries” challenge, here are three ways in which you can strengthen your boundaries:

Mind Your Choice of Words

Sometimes all it takes to set clear boundaries is your subtle choice of words. You don’t have to negotiate, argue or stand your ground every time. Just being clear with your words can solve a lot of boundary problems without having to change any other aspect of your relationship.
When I went back to my clinical placement the following week, I still had to answer call bells. Setting boundaries for myself in that situation meant that I let the patient know that I will pass on the message to their nurse. With the nurses, I delivered the message with a phrase like “Okay, so you’ll take it from here right?” Or “Ok so I’ll leave you to it” or “Just wanted to draw your attention”. That sent a very direct message. Not only did it demonstrate that we were on the same team and that I was happy to help, but phrasing it like that also allowed me to draw a clear line of responsibility and pass the issue back to the primary person responsible for the patient – the nurse. Sometimes, you don’t even have to put up a fight or explain why you won’t do something. If you are clear about your agenda for the situation, setting explicit boundaries can help you come to mutual decisions without having to butt heads with other people even though they may have different a personal agenda.

Number Your Acts of Kindness

Sometimes, our conditioning runs so deep that we don’t even notice how many times a day we are breaching our own boundaries in our need to please and help others. A strategy that helped me gain back my power was toset a limit for how many freebie acts of kindness I will execute on any given day day. At clinical, if someone catches me free after the two bed baths I have decided I will do for the day, I’ll be clear, honest and just neutrally state that I actually have a lot of tasks pending that I haven’t been able to get around to because of the two bed baths I’ve already done. Then, I wish that nurse luck saying “I hope you find someone else to help you”. You will find over time that even though initially this sort of language and firmness feels awkward at first, the more you practice this sort of healthy communication, people come to expect and appreciate such frankness from you. The first time I said this politely, the floor nurse just stared at me. Over time though, she learned to catch me early on in the day for any help she needed and was infinitely more grateful for my help compared to when I used to help with bed baths all day. So limit your acts of kindness. The scarcity alone will make your help seem like a precious commodity. When people respect your time and effort, they also appreciate your boundaries and honour them.

Give yourself credit

Sometimes, we keep ‘helping’ people to the point that they take us for granted. Obviously family members are the most guilty of this habit, but often, even at work this dynamic comes into play. After a while, people stop noticing how much you’re going out of your way to help them. In order to make it clear to the other person that I am doing them a favour, I’ve learned to voice the benefits they are deriving from my company and support in a positive way like “I hope my effort helped you, I know how rough its been for you lately”. I recently went all the way after a social event to drop a friend home. Not that I minded, but since I wanted her to realize how for out of my way I went to drop her, I added something subtle into the conversation like “I’m glad you didn’t take the crowded subway at this time, it would have taken you an hour and a half to get home.” To some, it may seem like digging for compliments. The more you do this though, you will start to notice the positive air of balance in most of your relationships. The best part is that after you do this for a while, you start to notice yourself how much you’re helping others. That does two things – raise your self-esteem, and also helps you appreciate how valuable your help is to others. Someone with high self-esteem and a personal sense of worth is less likely to have his or her boundaries violated and personal agenda hijacked.

Once you set an example, others will tend to follow your footsteps and appreciate you more. Often, subtle change is more than enough to turn the tides in your personal life and nudge you towards healthier ways of working, playing and interacting with others.

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The importance of personal boundaries and how you can maintain good ones

How boundaries cultivate symbiotic relationships

The ultimate key to staying in control of your agenda while still maintaining genuine working relationships is to set and enforce clear boundaries. Personal boundaries are tricky because human expectations are constantly changing. As a result, boundaries expectations not only pervade our relationships with other people, but also with ourselves.

How many times have you set unrealistic expectations for yourself and promptly gotten upset when you failed? How many times has have your (or others’) perfectionist expectations and need for control sabotaged a work project or personal relationship? Take a look at the graphic below to see how many of these ‘violations’ you frequently participate in – both for your own boundaries and those of others.

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Most of us struggle with setting boundaries and saying “No” on an ongoing basis. Not wanting to hurt feelings of others, not wanting to seem irresponsible or worse apathetic, we continue to let people invade our boundaries. And inevitably this leads to burnout. Whether we are pushing our boundaries to impress our colleagues and seniors or merely ourselves, there can be dire consequences for breaching your sacred boundaries over and over.

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When your boundaries are breached repeatedly (burnout, feeling incompetent, self-sabotage)

Our boundaries, both personal and professional, are meant to create a sense of security. They exist so that we may value and appreciate our own existence. They literally define who we are. How many times have you heard words like, she’s a pushover, he’s passive-aggressive or she’s too bossy?

People view others and themselves in the light of the boundaries they set. By allowing people to breach our boundaries time and again, we risk feeling burnout, incompetence and even self-loathing. If we are continually sidetracked by other people’s agenda, we lose sight of our own. In this tug-of-war with competing agendas, we rarely win – and believe it or not, the other person doesn’t win either.

Consequences of living with unhealthy boundaries can range from minor irritations to full-blown physiological problems. People with unhealthy boundaries:
•    Are unable to say no for fear of rejection or abandonment
•    Have a weak sense of identity often living to serve others
•    Feel disempowered – giving their power and responsibility to others
•    Let others make decisions for them
•    Are unable to protect their physical and emotional space from intrusion
•    Feel responsible for other’s happiness and satisfaction
•    Expect others to read their minds and anticipate their needs
•    May frequently breach others’ boundaries themselves

Healthy boundaries on the other hand lead to empowerment, strong limits and mutually beneficial relationships. People with healthy boundaries:
•    Are assertive and vocal with their opinions, thoughts, feelings and needs
•    Convey their point of contention in a respectful manner
•    Freely say yes or no and also are okay when others say no
•    Recognize that they have separate needs, thoughts, feelings and desires from others
•    Make healthy choices and take responsibility for themselves
•    Have high self-esteem and self respect
•    Share personal information gradually, in a mutually sharing/trusting relationship
•    Protect physical and emotional space from invasion or intrusion
•    Create equal partnerships with shared responsibility and power

Do you need to make changes? What changes could you make to help prevent further boundary violations?

Continue to Part 4 of the Staying True to Your Personal Vision series.

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What you need to identify your personal vision and stop others from sidetracking you

Identifying your personal vision

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Steve Jobs’ productivity was legendary, but it wasn’t accidental. According to Jobs’ biographer, Walter Isaacson, Jobs annually walked Apple’s leaders through the following exercise: He would ask ‘What are the 10 things we should be doing next?’ After all the brainstorming they would come up with a list of top10 priorities. Jobs then slashed the bottom seven saying ‘We can only do three.’
The beauty of this is that by focusing on the top two or three priorities, you, like Jobs have the power to create whatever reality it is that you aspire to with a laser-focus. In a to-do list of twenty items , you may lose track of the most significant or impactful captivities, but when you only focus on a couple, you know exactly what to do in order to move your vision forward.

Know when other people are intercepting (consciously or unconsciously ) sidetracking you

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Though it sure may seem like it sometimes, people are not intentionally trying to screw us over. They have their own stressors and they cope by offloading or throwing their tasks and responsibilities onto others. Considering the fact that they are literally taking advantage of you, how can it be anything but conscious malice?

Its hard to wrap your head around this concept but try this: Think back to a time when you asked someone for help out of desperation. Try to imagine how they felt about picking up your task. Maybe they never said anything to you but they felt extremely cornered and being taken advantage of.

Putting yourself into someone else’s shoes for a while may help you see their point and see how it aligns with your vision OR it may allow you to empathize with their differing perspective and identify what points of conflict you can work through in order to ensure that your agenda isn’t being sacrificed when assisting someone in fulfilling their vision.

Personal and professional relationships are the catch-22 of success. They can hinder, sidetrack or ruin your plans. They can also be incredibly powerful agents that propel you in the right direction when they help you to fulfill your vision.

No matter how rich or poor, educated or illiterate, socially endowed or painfully awkward we live, work and play among other human beings. These human agents of change are all around us all of the time. Just as other people tend to use you in achieving their ends, you can ask others for help in achieving yours.

Try to think of it from a perspective of symbiotic assistance the next time you groan as a superior dumps an awful task on you. So when that nurse asks me to do the sixth bed bath for the morning, I get up with a genuine smile instead, reminding myself that once I am done helping HER, how much more willing she will be to allow me to practice my wound care skills on the same patient.

Helping others and expecting help in return is not opportunistic or inconsiderate of other people’s agenda, it is the cornerstone of all human interactions, innovations and personal success.

Continue to Part 3 of the Staying True to Your Personal Vision Series.

 

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Goals are misleading- this the only tool you’ll ever need to get things done

I recently started a new clinical placement. As nursing students still learning the trade, we are the very bottom of the hospital hierarchy.

We are treated well, don’t get me wrong. Still, there are instances where we are overworked and hijacked to meet other peoples’ agenda. Tasks that the nurses are either too busy to do or don’t want to do are often delegated to us lowly students. Not wanting to rub them the wrong way, we often take on the unsavoury chore with a smiling face.

Now this is all well and good, until these chores start taking over our time on the floor and impinging our own ultimate goal – learning clinical skills. When this work starts to affect students’ personal mindset and self-worth, it becomes less conducive to the rapid learning that we are expected to undertake in order to blossom into competent nurses.

There’s only so many bed baths we can do and only so many call bells we can answer before we start feeling undervalued. While the subtle pressure to please our nurse preceptors may not be intentional, it is pervasive, nonetheless, as a consequence of being at the bottom.

On the long drive home, up Toronto’s picturesque Don Valley Parkway, I thought hard about this phenomenon of hijacked agendas and how they affect us mentally.

It struck me that this so-called ‘runt of the litter’ problem isn’t just limited to healthcare. It is universal regardless of the line of work that you are in. In every profession, there will always be superiors giving away their tasks as if they were presents – and its hard to say no.

An over-loaded senior staff member decides to bite off more than they can chew, who ends up doing the job? The junior of course. I guess with experience, and the climbing of the proverbial ladder, it probably gets easier to say no and set clear boundaries over time. For the newbie navigating the murky waters of professionalism though, sticking to your own agenda is not just difficult – it is imperative in order to succeed in our increasingly chaotic workplaces.

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Goals vs. Agendas

Even if you don’t work in an environment where you are constantly interacting with other people, it is very, very likely that other people’s agendas often intersect, support or hinder your own. The first step in staying true to the direction you want your life to take is to understand the difference between a goal and an agenda. Notice how we’re using the word agenda here. For decades, personal management experts have touted goals as the holy grail of success and productivity.

Goals are misleading.

With goals, you think that once you have the entire plan set-up, and you follow it, you will get what you want. Bam! Instant gratification.

Life is rarely straightforward though.

There are always curveballs. Delays. Interruptions. Setbacks.

Goals make you think that work is always linear. Achieving goals requires you to make a plan and stick to it. But its really not that simple, is it? A personal agenda is a non-linear system that allows for unexpected changes, interruptions and the vagaries of life.

Oddly enough, after we wrote the first draft of this article, we found the following excerpt by James Clear.

“You can’t predict the future. (I know, shocking.) But every time we set a goal, we try to do it…”

He suggests instead that you should build feedback loops. Sound advice for a world in which we are overwhelmed with an influx of relevant and irrelevant information.

“Feedback loops are important for building good systems because they allow you to keep track of many different pieces without feeling the pressure to predict what is going to happen with everything. Forget about predicting the future and build a system that can signal when you need to make adjustments.”

You can find the original article here.

Your life process is rarely ever linear, and your working systems shouldn’t be either, especially where other people are involved in the work that you do. It is human to get sidetracked from your personal vision or agenda.

To move forward unfazed however, you need to keep reminding yourself of what it is that you are working towards.

Continue to Part 2 of the Staying True to Your Personal Vision series.

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Day 14 -I am grateful for the everyday opportunities to express gratitude through my actions

While researching for this Gratitude Challenge last week, I stumbled upon a group of bloggers who had taken part in a similar challenge in 2009. One of them was Ana Picazo of Bonggamom. I followed the links back to her fun, tip-filled blog and came across a ‘gratitude alphabet’ post she had written in 2009. Her observations were a mix of astute, relatable and funny. Check them out below:

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D — Okay, I admit it: I’m one of those women who’s ecstatic that she has a daughter. Not that having sons isn’t wonderful. But you know what I mean.

I — I’ve got the best in-laws ever; you’ll get no monster-in-law stories from me!

N — Our little computer nook on the upstairs landing has the best view in the whole house, and it’s my favorite place to be.

S — The public school system in Palo Alto is blessed with dedicated teachers and involved parents (the fact that so many of them are also internet millionaires with big hearts and big checkbooks is an added bonus!)

T — My son ThreePo needs constant love and affection, but gives it in return.

Y — I don’t have my youth anymore, but the memories are great!

[/quote] Ana Picazo, blogger, freelance writer, mom.

You can read the rest of her gratitude alphabet here.

What I really liked about Ana was the authenticity and playfulness that came across in her posts. So I reached out to her for an interview. Check it out:

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Love the Filipino word ‘bongga’ and your fun food and lifestyle updates. Briefly tell us about how you got started blogging.

In 2006 I was a mom of a 5 year old girl and twin 2 year old boys…. and I was drowning. I needed an outlet, so when a friend from school invited me to write for the Silicon Valley Moms blog, I jumped at the chance. Silicon Valley Moms blog went on to become one of the most successful collaborative blogs of its time, and I went on to start a personal blog and a review blog.  I fell in love with blogging and never looked back.

What current or recent project are you working on, and what is your role?

I still maintain both my personal and review blogs, but the bulk of my work as a blogger consists of freelance writing. I am currently a contributor to the Savvy Source, Silicon Valley Mamas, and Bedtime Math.

Tell us more about the gratitude challenge you took in 2009.

In August of 2009, I was invited to join a group of bloggers in blogging every day about the things we were grateful for. We were given specific writing prompts and activities for each day of the 21-day challenge.  I welcomed the challenge of blogging each and every day. I also wanted to be a better role model for my kids, and do less yelling and more hugging.  I thought that taking the time to reflect upon my blessings was a good way to start.

What was the best part of the gratitude project for you personally?

Remembering and listing down everything that I have to be grateful for.

What was the most difficult challenge you had in maintaining a gratitude practice?

Maintaining the discipline to blog every day.

What’s the biggest thing you learned from the gratitude project?

Being grateful is easy, but acknowledging it and thanking those responsible takes work.

Gratitude is more than an attitude, it’s a habit-tude.

What’s one piece of advice would you give to someone considering a gratitude practice?

When you think about it, you can be grateful even for little things. Look at the little things in your life that make your life easier or make you happy, and think about what your life would be like if they weren’t there.

What’s next for you?

My kids are moving on from elementary school to middle school and beyond. They are getting more independent, which gives me more flexibility to pursue more freelance contracts. I’ve taken a position as a social media manager for a nonprofit, and I’ve begun dabbling in web design.  I don’t have as much time for personal blogging, but I’ll always be a blogger at heart!

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Ana also talks about “the little things in your life that make your life easier or make you happy”. Gratitude has one of the strongest links to mental health and life satisfaction. More than any other personality trait. More than even optimism, hope or compassion.

According to researchers, Ana’s tip to “think about what your life would be like if they weren’t there.” is actually effective in inspiring gratitude and happiness.

In his book “Gratitude works : A 21 day program for creating emotional prosperity.”, UC Davis professor and researcher Robert Emmons writes that “thinking about the absence of  something positive in your life produces more gratitude and happiness than imagining its presence.” These findings (a result off controlled research experiments) show that gratitude works in ways that we can barely begin to comprehend.

How this changes YOUR life

The biggest take-away for me from Ana Picazo’s was her advice about gratitude being more of a habit-tude than an attitude. Its the little things in your life that add up to make the bulk of your lived experience. The smallest of things can inspire gratitude in us. While its relatively easier to sit down in the comfort of your home and write down little lists of gratitude in your journal, the real work – and especially the rewards come from acknowledging your gratitude through actions. By thanking people who have helped you, by performing random acts of kindness, by reaching out to those that are less fortunate and helping them.

Last week, a friend posted on her Facebook status that she was blown away by a simple act of kindness at the drive-thru.  The guy who drove up before her had paid for her order in advance. She seemed thrilled with the experience and talking about how she hoped to pay it forward someday. You can imagine the gratitude a stranger’s simple act inspired in her. A small bill paid at the drive-thru – he didn’t even have to go out of his everyday routine to show this simple kindness.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4acb58″] A gratitude practice is more effective when you take concrete steps to increase your ‘gratitude awareness’ and to infect other people with feelings of thankfulness by setting an example of giving without expecting anything in return. [/quote]

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8r8qYyeMMWI&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

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I am grateful for the ability to nurture a grateful disposition through my thoughts, actions and convictions. I am grateful for the ability to deeply ingrain this practice into my everyday struggles so that ‘giving thanks’ can germinate in the fertile ground of my inner being. I am grateful not only for the ability to contemplate on all the things I am grateful for, but also for the ability to act, express and release my gratitude in order to change the world around me.  Gratitude felt and more importantly, expressed through our actions can radically change the nature of a relationship, journey or goal. I am grateful for the everyday opportunities to express gratitude through my words and actions.

Inspired by Robert Emmons’ powerful metaphor of ‘growing gratitude’

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Today’s Task

Today’s task is as simple as going out there and sowing your seeds of gratitude in the world around you. Get up right now and go do any of the following five:

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  • Write a letter to an old teacher, professor or mentor about how they changed your life. If they heaped you through a particularly challenging experience, let them know. Go out and mail it.
  • Call your mother, father, sibling or spouse randomly. Talk about how much you love them and how much richer your life is because they are around to support you.
  • Perform a random act of kindness.
  • Help someone in need – volunteer at a shelter, help an old lady with the groceries, donate your old clothes.[/list]

 
Now, go out and make the world a better place!

 

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Day 10 – I am grateful for the daughter who reminds me everyday of the beauty that exists in the simple, non-material things

I am grateful for the daughter who reminds me everyday of the beauty that exists in the simple, non-material things.

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayJoUPyDQGQ&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]
[message_box title=”Affirmation Day 10″ color=”beige”]I learned this the difficult way. Although I have never been much of a shopper or consumer, I started buying clothes, toys and little knick knacks for my little one the moment I found out I was pregnant. I’d buy her stuff, especially toys and to my dismay, she never played with them. She didn’t so much as cast a second glance at them. She was more interested in my smiles, the cooing from other people, from banging pots and pans we already had to looking at my clothes and playing with my jewellery. It took me a long time to take the cue from her and stop buying toys. I have a cupboard full of play doh, barbies, stuffed toys, music toys, kitchen sets and a million craft activities from a time when I had yet to realize a fundamental truth that this little child already knew – the best things in life are often the simplest. A lot of times, they are also free.

So I started focusing instead on the funny faces, the hugs, the piggy back rides, the messy dough parties, counting and sorting beans, watching butterflies, growing a herb garden instead. And she started flourishing! Where before she was bored and cranky, she is now engaged and excited. She reminds me everyday to do the dusting by picking up the duster herself. She helps me sort laundry, she helps me water plants. She even helps me put her toys away. All of this without much prompting from me.

I am grateful for the simple lessons children impart. I am grateful for the insight that though she may be little in size, my daughter has wisdom that is far beyond her years, far beyond mine. I am grateful for when she calls me out on having double standards and being a hypocrite. Like when I force her to wear her indoor slippers when she comes home and wash her hands and feet before bed but forget to do it myself. Like when I eat junky cookies while telling her to eat her veggies. I am grateful she stops me in my tracks and forces change my behaviour so I’m closer to the person I want to be.

I am grateful for her sunny smile even when she’s hurt or sick. I am grateful for the unconditional love she gives me even on days when I am cranky, irritable, not at my best. I am grateful for the blessing of a beautiful child that reminds me every time of what’s most sacred in life.

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Teaching the right things to our kids is something I’ve seen a lot of parents struggle with. No matter how scrupulous you are, you always make a few parenting mistakes that you end up regretting. Often, these things may be issues we were struggling with ourselves while growing up. Melissa Fagan wrote a very thought provoking post about The (Super) Power of Gratitude:

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Lately, I’ve been coming to terms with my most worn-out childhood belief, the one that keeps me stuck time and again: the belief that I’ll never have or ultimately be enough. So when the ‘never enough’ tape started to play, I’d drown it out with gratitude.

Gratitude is fundamental to being ok with ourselves and who we are.

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Gratitude may be the antidote to feeling crappy about ourselves but there is a fundamental truth that I’m only just starting to realize:

We think we are the ones who raise our kids, nurture them and perhaps most importantly, teach them about the world. It is actually the other way around.  As much as we teach them to walk and talk, they teach us about life. No other human role inspires as much personal growth as that of a parent. In the end, we learn and benefit the most from our kids. Not the other way around. Our kids don’t need us. We need them.

That is something I want to keep in mind the next time I am feeling like I have to sacrifice a lot of personal and career opportunities to raise my daughter at home.

 

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Stay Productive While Working From Home

So you’ve finally managed to grab the holy grail of the millennial dream.

You’re working from home.

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  • You work on your own time.
  • Cafe, poolside, basement, hammock – you choose where you work.
  • Other people envy you
  • No office politics
  • Fewer interruptions from co-workers
  • More time with family
  • No more road rage during rush hour
  • Gas money, Lunch money – more savings!
  • More control over how you balance your life
  • Helping the environment
  • Less sick days, better health

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The Facts

Expert opinion on the topic of productivity among those that work from home remains divided.  Researchers at Stanford studied a large-sized Chinese travel agency and found that people working form home worked more hours, took shorter breaks, took less sick days and were more satisfied. A similar study at Cisco had the same results.

Ironically, tech-giants Google and Yahoo are not so keen on the work-from-home mindset. In fact, in February 2013, Marissa Mayer (CEO) sent out a new directive saying that employees could no longer work from home.

It seems to me that in this day-and-age, working remotely, telecommuting, or even working while  “away” from work is inevitable. While not every small or medium sized start-up can afford to bring their telecommuting staff (some of which live in other countries) into a physical office, we can definitely offer employees training and resources to maximize their productivity when working from home.

While telecommuting is really convenient in terms of satisfaction, eliminating sick-days and commute time, but the big question now is:

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]How do you stay productive when there is no structure to your workday?[/quote]

 

Establish a routine

While it may seem ideal to wake up and start working in your pyjamas while watching Dora the Explorer with your two year old, instead of dragging yourself out of bed by sheer will to start the day with a dreary hour long commute; there are some unexpected benefits to commuting. The trudge to work creates a morning ritual that gets you into the mental space to start work. This transition period is a crucial signal to your subconscious mind to get you in the mood for serious work.

 

Have a plan

Without a plan, you may get lost in the pile of pending items demanding your attention. You’re also vulnerable to numerous distractions at home. If you’re rolling with the punches and just working on things that come up in front of you, you may be working without a clear direction of your own, and despite the fact that you’re now working form home, you’ll still be working to further someone else’s agenda.

Creating a plan can be as simple as prioritizing and streamlining your to-do list to pick the tasks that are most important at the start of the day. If you want to get really fancy, you can even create a distraction elimination plan to overcome any disturbances and work like a ninja.

 

Be professional

You may no longer need to don a blazer or a pencil skirt to work from home, but lounging around on the sofa in your sweats or boxers won’t boost your productivity at home. Get dressed before you start working. You don’t have to go all out but the simple act of maintaining a decent appearance sends subconscious signals to your brain that you’re settling down to business.

Similarly, your workspace should remotely resemble an office. If you’re sitting on the couch watching reruns of How I Met Your Mother, that report isn’t going to magically get written. Treat your home office like professional business and I promise you, your productivity will skyrocket.

 

Professional space

  1. Define your work space and time. Refrain from attending to personal stuff during this time. When you’re working from home, uninterrupted work time is sacred. Do whatever you can to protect it. Just like you protect your personal time and space when you were commuting to the office.
  2. Separate yourself physically. If you live with other people, especially if you have kids, you will be more productive if you isolate yourself from the other people in your house away from the clutter, chaos, noise and distractions of everyday living.
  3. Some people recommend working in the same space everyday to train your brain to be more productive. While this may work for some people,  I’ve found that changing things up, finding a different place to work, especially taking your work outside to a novel, but soothing location can do wonders for your creativity and productivity. Working everyday in the same space without interacting with co-workers can get boring fast, and varying your work space (as long as your new place is conducive to focussing on your work) can make you excited about your work and boost your productivity.

 

Get moving

Finding a place to focus and get work done is crucial to staying productive, but equally essential is the need to take breaks and move your body. This Swedish study found that getting yourself outside, moving physically and doing a differently paced activity to your usual work can make you more productive. If you are a sedentary worker working with your laptop all day, getting outside is even more crucial in order to:

  1. Reduce eye strain
  2. Relax your strained muscles (shoulder rolls, neck stretches, walking the tension out of your legs)
  3. Stretch
  4. Breathe fresh air and gain clarity
  5. Use balanced meals to recharge your energy
  6. Use the change of scenery to inspire creative solutions
  7. Clear your mind of repetitive thinking patterns
  8. Give yourself a mental rest
  9. Get back to work with a fresh ideas and a recharged mind/body

 

Stay social

  1. Working form home can be very isolating and staying in touch with your co-workers can be beneficial in several ways. Being proactive about keeping in touch with your boss and co-workers not only projects a professional image, it also helps you feel connected, keeps you focussed and helps take some of the edge off the loneliness of working alone.
  2. Even if you don’t actually meet up with anyone, you can still satisfy your inner social animal by just hanging out in public places, letting yourself experience the human interactions happening around you. I don’t mean you should eavesdrop and get carried away listening to other people’s conversations (unless you’re a budding novelist), but just hanging out at a coffee shop or other public place filled with human chatter can boost your creativity, help you meet strangers that might trigger new thoughts and give you a different perspective on the problem you’re struggling with.
  3. Use other people as sounding boards, critics and idea magnets. Check our this article that talks about how Tim Trampedach, owner of Level X Motorsports reaches out to others for coffee to exchange ideas, bounce questions in order to stay productive.
  4. Take advantage of the WWW. This article talks about Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs, who created a virtual water cooler message board so her employees can share photos, talk shop, share personal interests and catch up with each other to create a better connected organization.

 

As we venture over into the unknown territory of work-from-home gigs and flexi-time, questions of productivity and engagement while working in the home environment will become both personal and organizational concerns. While it remains to be seen whether working form home is more productive than working in an office, one thing is for sure – employees and start-up founders now have much more control over their time than they ever did. The key is to use it critically, looking at how you spend your time, energy and resources, analyzing, tweaking and improving your productivity.

Do you work from home? What is your biggest challenge in staying productive? Leave a comment below to let us know!

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How taking a vacation can boost productivity

In our busy, everything to-go filled lives, it is important to take a moment to reflect on the impacts of such a lifestyle. First, let’s acknowledge that working too much is bad for you, your employer, your family and friends. Yet it is a lifestyle that so many of us fall victim to. We live under the illusion that everything we are doing is equally important and more often than not, get so drowned in all the important tasks that we completely give up. The busy routines we find ourselves in are not providing ideal lifestyles for our productivity and creativity to thrive.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking. -Earl Wilson[/quote]

Every once in a while, get out of your routine. Even though routine is thought to be the core of productivity, often what is missed is the need for a break. It is extremely important for us to take time to take a break. Both on a small scale and a larger scale. In this article, I will convince you on why you need to take more vacations. In the next article, I will discuss the benefits of taking small breaks throughout your day.

The best phase in my life which was coincidentally the most productive one as well was after my most memorable vacation in the summer of 2009. I travelled to India with my family after seven years and was completely rejeuvinated upon return. I’ve noticed after coming back from every vacation since then, there is a magic that follows after every period of rest and relaxation. Leave a comment to share your experience.

[message_box title=”Exercise:” color=”beige”]Think back to your last vacation. When was it? What is your best memory from it? On a scale from 0-10 think about how badly you needed that vacation. Now stop reminiscing and come back to the present. How much do you need a vacation now? Do you constantly feel irritated, anxious, tired, frustrated of it all? How close to burnout are you? [/message_box]

 

The Facts

An estimated average of 9.2 vacation days were left unused by Americans in 2012. More than 6 out of 10 Americans reported working through their vacation. While advocating for more vacations, Tony Schwartz, Energy Project CEO compared energy to time. “Like time, energy is finite; but unlike time, it is renewable,”  he wrote in the New York Times. “Taking more time off is counterintuitive for most of us. The idea is also at odds with the prevailing work ethic in most companies, where downtime is typically viewed as time wasted.”

 

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it”  Jim Goodwin[/quote]

 

The Logic

Our bodies are very flexible and accommodating of what we put them through, for the most part. However, living with chronic stress which comes along with our busy lifestyles hinders the body’s ability to resist infection, maintain vital functions, and its ability to avoid injury. When we’re stressed out and tired, surviving on only a few hours of sleep and a poor diet, our immune systems become weaker and we are more likely to become ill. Chronic stress also has impacts on our mental health. We become more irritable, depressed, and anxious. It is also linked to memory problems and poorer decisions.

Vacations have the potential to break into the stress cycle. We need to take breaks in order to allow our bodies to recuperate from all the insults and catch up on rest. During the vacation, we gain perspective on our problems, get to relax with our families and friends, and get a break from our usual routines. As the vacation ends, there is a sense of empowerment; we emerge from a successful vacation feeling ready to take on the world again.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]The purpose of a vacation is to have the time to rest. But many of us, even when we go on vacation, don’t know how to rest. We may even come back more tired than before we left. – Thich Nhat Hanh[/quote]

 

Benefits of taking a vacation

  1. Recharge and enjoy life
    • Avoid burnout
    • See the bigger picture
    • Gain more energy
    • Experience new things
    • Strengthen family ties
    • Allow for personal growth
  2. Increase productivity
    • Enhance job performances
    • Increase focus
    • Promote creativity
    • Improve mental skills
    • Gain new perspectives
  3. Stay healthy
    • Relieve stress
    • Improve mood
    • Catch up on sleep
    • Reduce risk of depression
    • Boost heart health
    • Promote well-being

[message_box title=”Try this…” color=”beige”]What is the one place you have wanted to visit since you were a child? Why haven’t you been there yet? What is the one activity you have been thinking of doing? Take a few minutes to plan your next vacation. If you don’t have the money or time right now, plan a stay-cation budget trip. Take just 2 days from your busy life where you will just let everything go and exist in the present- worry free.[/message_box]

Pack your bags, cut out the routine and take a vacation, and watch your productivity fluorish in the weeks that follow! Stay tuned for an article on planning a vacation.

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Eliminate The Toxic Habit That is Ruining Your Life

 Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. – Buddha

 

Define Your Anger

Whether you’re an irritable person by nature, or usually maintain a cool, you’ve experienced anger at some point in your life. It’s very hard to withdraw yourself from the moment and not allow the anger to take over control.

Take a minute to evaluate what exactly it is that you are feeling. Do you feel betrayed, are you furious and feel like punching someone?

Ask your self uncomfortable questions about your anger. In her book “The Dance of Anger”, Harriet Lerner, a scholarly writer, psychologist and a renowned relationship expert asks readers to pose the following incisive questions to identify the true source of anger:

  • What about the situation makes me angry?
  • What is the real issue here?
  • What do I think and feel?
  • What do I want to accomplish in this situation?
  • Who is responsible for what?
  • Specifically,what do I want to change?
  • What are the things I will and will not do?

Understand that whatever you are feeling is normal. Accept that it is completely human to get angry or upset, I’d be worried if you never felt that way.

Rate your anger on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most severe. Anywhere above 8, and you’ve got yourself in a pickle. This is a serious concern, which you must address. But if I were to give you a piece of advice it would be this: pick your battles. Feeling emotions of anger is okay, but allowing it to control your actions in a negative way is not.

Discover The Root

Do some detective work and figure out what the cause of your anger is. A lot of times, the trigger may not even be the actual issue. There is often a hidden, more prominent reason for your anger. Don’t ignore it. In most cases, people keep their feelings bottled up inside of them and allow their anger to build up over months or even years, and then explode in at a seemingly “random” situation because they can no longer maintain their composure. That is why it is so important to determine the underlying cause, and not work on the superficial root.

Once you spend a little time thinking about what the cause of these feelings is, you have two options: deal with the root of the anger or let the anger go. Choose wisely, because you will have to accept responsibility for your actions and its consequences. My advice is to first deal with the problem and then let it go.

Eliminate Anger From Your Life

So you’ve decided to confront the issue and reach some middle ground with the source of the anger. Kudos to you! Avoidance is a sign of weakness, not maturity.

Talk to the person at the root of the anger. If it is something they did or do on an ongoing basis that you don’t have any part in or control over, then you need to let them know how much it bothers you and affects your mood and life. They may not even know that it bothers you and discussing it with them may lead to a surprisingly easy and positive outcome.

If it is something not out of the ordinary about the other person, or something that angers you in every aspect of your life, regardless of the environment and people, perhaps you should think about the possibility that it is your ideas and beliefs about certain things that are causing you all the anger, rather than an external source. In this case, accept the cause and start working on yourself so you can live an anger-free life.

Now that you’ve dealt with the cause of the anger, its time to explore ways in which to release your remaining anger in an appropriate manner. The first step is, give yourself permission to let the anger go. Chances are you’ve held onto these feelings for quite some time and you’ve become accustomed to having it around. It’s almost become a habit. You may feel lonely without it’s presence in your head and daily life. So allow yourself to be strong and let it go.

Then, give yourself a break! You’ve just accomplished a big task, and freed yourself of a lot of draining emotional baggage. So celebrate!

How To Cope

Okay, so this is great advice for long-term anger management. But what can you do in the meantime while you haven’t had the time to deal or let go, but need to control your anger habits from day to day? Use any or all of these techniques that work for you:

Breathe. Count up until you feel your anger dissipating with each breath. If you can, keep a track of the number you stop at each time and try to monitor the progress. Hopefully, it will take less and less time, each time for your anger to dissipate.

Visualize. Anything that helps you NOT feel aggressive or violent is good. If visualizing punching the person who angers you helps you release the anger against them, then do it. If visualizing a scenic waterfall, helps calm your anger, then do that. I’m not going to tell you what you should visualize, but rather urge you to explore what helps calm your mind the most. You can do this by trying to visualize different scenes each time. You should find, just like with the breathing and counting exercise, that some scenes will help you relax faster, so use those.

Confront. Stand up for yourself if you think that is important. I still emphasize the fact that if you’re not sure how you should react, just don’t and save it until you have some time to analyze the cause. But at the same time, don’t allow someone to walk all over you. Sometimes it is just important to put your foot down, stand up for yourself and let the other person know that you are not going to accept poor treatment. The only advice I can give is make sure you are not being illogical and emotional in your confrontation, otherwise this strategy will work against you and make you look like an emotional fool in the other person’s eyes.

Channel. Invest your time and energy in hobbies, projects and social relationships. Write, paint, dance, run, create, exercise. Take up a reading list, join a martial arts class, go out with friends and family. Learn to relieve your anger in a controlled environment. This can be anything of your choosing, something that truly makes you happy and calm.

NO substances. Don’t use alcohol or drugs to cope. This only delays dealing with the issue and then you end up with even bigger issues than you started with. Use healthy means of coping with your anger that are listed above or unlisted yet positively healthy.

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Embrace compliments with grace

Over the years, I’ve noticed that I’m awful at taking compliments. After talking to several people about it, I realized that many people feel the same way about themselves! So I thought a post on the topic would be appropriate and useful.

Reasons you are not good at it

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  • You are shy
  • You are super conscious
  • Growing up, you didn’t get too many of them
  • You still don’t get them too often
  • You want to be humble
  • You are unsure of how to react
  • You’re caught off guard
  • You find it a little awkward

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Reactions in the moment: Do’s and Dont’s

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  • Don’t think about what the appropriate response would be or plan an elaborate thank you.
  • Do genuinely thank them. Let them know it’s very sweet and your appreciate their words. Say something thoughtful and simple. Say something thoughtful and simple.
  • Do give them a big smile.
  • Don’t be afraid to show your true reaction of surprise or happiness. There’s no need to be stoic.
  • Do remember practice makes perfect.
  • Do make the other person feel good about their decision to compliment you. Positive reinforcement will lead to getting more compliments even more often!
  • Do return the compliment if there is something you genuinely want to compliment them on.

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Things you can do to improve

As with everything in life, you can improve your compliment-taking skills with a little work in the right area.

1. Compliment yourself. Do so every morning and throughout the day. The more you do it the better. After all, practice makes perfect. This self loving will improve many different aspects of your life with near to no effort. Many star athletes use this technique before performing to empower themselves and boost their confidence. Look in the mirror and say it out loud, or use it as the anchor to mental meditation. You can use the same compliment each time or change it up every time. You are the boss. Find a mantra that makes you feel good. What needs to happen, is you need to get used to hearing good things about yourself. People often don’t hear good things from their spouse, siblings, children or colleagues. Various reasons for it, but none justified. Also, if you really want to do something nice. Start telling the people in your life good things about themselves. I’m not saying be fake, but it is important to share genuine thoughts you hold about them. There is nothing more special than knowing you’ve made someone’s day a little brighter.
2. Expect the unexpected. Another thing you can do is to pack away all your preconceived notions about people and intentions. Don’t try to be a detective on a mission to uncover why someone completed you. In most cases, people only give genuine compliments. So when you get one, don’t go about your day over analyzing the true motive of their words. It doesn’t matter. What matters is they were kind enough to appreciate you. So be flattered & smile! Even if you didn’t expect it from a certain person, learn to expect the unexpected.
3. Allow it to empower you and flatter your ego. Many of us have low a self esteem. Whether it is because you’ve bought into all the advertising about the ideal body build of a man or woman, or you’ve had a history of abuse and neglect, the fact remains that these ideas are simply not true. You are beautiful and exactly how you are supposed to be. Realize that most people only give genuine and honest compliments. So when they do, don’t overthink. Just run with it! Be flattered that they find you or something of yours worthy of appreciation. Allow it to make your day and empower you. All this while, remain humble and be gracious. And of course, thank the compliment bearer for making your day!

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Give yourself the gift of detachment

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″] How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours. -Wayne Dyer[/quote]

No one reaction, single handedly ambushes moods, mindsets and relationships than that of taking things too personally.

If someone offends or irritates you with their words or actions, forgive them. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Odds are they may not even intended to cause harm.

Intention makes all the difference when trying to decide your reaction. Think about the saying, “life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it”. So really, you are the only one have the power to make or break your day.

But keep in mind that a reaction doesn’t have to be instant. With everything becoming instant in today’s world, instant messaging, instant noodles, people have confused the idea of “reaction” with “instant reaction”. Take some time to evaluate the situation and analyze your potential options.

Perhaps they may behave that way with everyone, so there’s no need to take their bad behavior upon yourself. Or they didn’t really mean what they said.

When you take everything personally, all the negative energy and harm is done to yourself. And in many cases, for no reason at all.

It is important to be able to differentiate between someone trying to walk over your toes and someone just being ignorantly clueless. Stand up for yourself if you feel you must, but just take a moment to think about whether or not it is called for.

If you are like me, you will probably go about your day getting touchy or feeling crappy about at least 10 different things which will extend through the day as you continue to think about them. This is bad. The first step is to realize what you are doing. The second, is to relax and work towards being carefree and not taking everything so personally.

Remember, that nothing in this world is permanent. Undoubtedly, you’ve changed over the years. People change. So do situations, places and everything else you can think of. Anything that irritates, angers or upsets you today may not really matter in a few days, weeks, months. Keep this perspective in mind before you get yourself worked up.

Don’t be so serious about everything. Take life lightly. Learn to laugh at yourself and at other people’s naivety or childish behaviour. You don’t have to be responsible for the wellbeing of anyone other than yourself.

Try to incorporate some of the positive changes in your attitude and actions mentioned in this article. You will find that life is much more enjoyable that way. Read more about channeling your anger in a past post.

Let us know how it goes! Share any strategies or personal experiences you have with taking things and coping with taking them too personally.

openyourheart

Open Your Heart to Love Again

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″] Just because you are angry, it does not give you the right to be cruel.[/quote]

Whether you’ve been hurt just once or dozens of times in the past, it is likely that you are a little colder, a lot shrewder. Betrayal and disappointments have become your biggest fears. You are more cautious. And rightly so.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for learning from your mistakes. Protecting ourselves from hurt or pain is a very natural physiological reaction. But if we hang on to our fears for too long, they tend to become irrational.

Though you may no longer need to shut yourself off emotionally anymore once you have healed, by the time this happens, it has probably become a habit. It is now ingrained in your mind that opening yourself up to love means opening yourself up to pain and disappointment. So you continue living in your shell, away from any chance of being let down. This is not healthy. Nor is it really beneficial once this behaviour has served its purpose.

Also, remember that having been hurt in the past doesn’t give you a right to hurt others and undermine people’s feelings and reactions. You will only find yourself alone and cold. So allow yourself to open up your heart again. Learn from your past mistakes, but don’t shut off the world either. Be brave and explore the bright colours of life and love again!

bodylanguage

Leveraging body language to create a commanding presence

Your expressions, body language and gestures can inadvertently convey a lot about what goes on inside of you – including feelings of nervousness, insecurity or uncertainty. Learning to tweak your body language to match the purpose of your message in a social interaction can boost your credibility and heighten the impact of your words.

Smile

But not too much. When people talk about confidence, often they will tell you that you should smile in order to appear upbeat and comfortable. However, smiling too much can work against you too. Especially if you are meeting someone for the first time, smiling too much can make you seem like you are trying too hard because you are emotionally vested in the outcome of your interaction. Same goes for nodding too much and showing too much emotion. The less emotion you show, the more likely people are to listen.

Make eye contact

Solid eye contact lets people know that you’re interested, friendly and that you mean business. Look directly into the eyes of people you are speaking to, hold their gaze for 2-3 seconds before looking away. Don’t overdo it because looking too long can make you look creepy. On the other hand, casting quick furtive glances can make you look sketchy and nervous. Try this: the next time you are in a social situation asks a close friend to observe how you interact visually with everyone around you.

Use gestures conservatively

Imagine how sketchy it would look if you are trying to tell someone that you are very happy for their promotion but your face betrays the fact that you don’t think the person is good enough for the job. By noticing and controlling your facial expressions to match your intentions, you are doing two things: First, your tone and body language will be consistent with the content of your speech – making your message more powerful. Second, you will appear more trustworthy because your words, expressions and gestures are all communicating the same message. Try this: Practice facial expressions in front of your bathroom mirror until they look natural and pleasant.

Strike a pose

There’s research out of Harvard which claims that holding your body in expansive “high power” poses can make you appear dominant and full of energy. No surprise there. So if you want to convey a commanding presence – stand tall, square your shoulders and widen your stance. Your weight should be balanced evenly with your limbs relaxed and open. Try this: Look at powerful personalities on TV. Set the volume to mute and observe their gestures. Emulate. Practice. Repeat.

talkthetalk

Talking with confidence to set yourself apart

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. -Mark Twain[/quote]

Go prepared

If you know you will be getting int a conversation with someone, don’t go without a game plan. Give some thought to what is likely to transpire – what the other person may say, how you should respond.

Make your responses concise and purposeful. This brings me to my next point. Don’t ramble.

Don’t ramble

If there is a lull in the conversation, do not feel obliged to fill the silence by rambling.

Pause before you respond to a question or comment. It will buy you time to think, mentally regroup and most importantly to check yourself before you blurt out something you might regret.

If the other person feels awkward, it will also place you at an advantage to bargain your point. The less you reveal, the greater your chances of keeping the other person on their toes.

Check your tone

The tone and inflection of your voice can say a lot about your imtentions, level of comfort and confidence. A steady low pitched voice sounds much more authoritative and confident than a squeaky wavering one.

Imagine you are talking to an overweight friend who is trying to lose weight by dieting. Suppose you say to her “It must be so difficult for you to to follow a strict diet.” Imagine saying it sincerely, with eye contact, a sympathetic tone of voice and an encouraging smile. Now imagine rolling your eyes at her, using a sarcastic tone and taunting her. Even when your words remain the same, your body language, expressions – and especially your tone can convey completely different meanings and attitudes and impact.

Next time you talk to someone, record yourself and see what you sound like.

Speak clearly

Enunciate your words and minimize any mumbling. Veteran actors and speakers often emphazise their vowels while speaking in order to make their speech more impactful.

Also, try to relax as much as possible so you can clearly communicate your message.

Language

Avoid expletives – they just make you sound immature and uneducated.

Avoid using clichés. Come up with original phrases instead.

Try to expand your vocabulary and knowledge (e.g. by reading/listening to current events etc) so you can converse intelligently in any social situation.

interactingwithothers

Interacting with other people like a pro

Take Charge

If you want to control or influence the outcome of a situation, you have to influence the person(s) involved in the interaction first. Take the initiative to engage people around you first.

Be the first to make solid eye contact, reach out you hand first, enter the boardroom before a meeting when everyone else is hesitating. If you’re hesitating whether you should wait for someone to call you, call them first.

When you take charge people sit up and pay attention.

Be attentive

In today’s world of cell phones and twitter, it can be tempting to check your mails, reply to a text or share a funny video on facebook while you talk to someone else in person. The false impression of being busy, popular or self-assured that some people associate with such behavior is in fact, quite detrimental to your image as a grounded, confident person.

Give the person you are speaking with face-to face your full attention instead. Lean in, point your toes towards them, and focus your eyes, ears, thoughts and words on them.

Not only will it convey respect and genuine regard for the other person, it will also demonstrate that you are genuinely at ease with yourself and the world around you because you do not need the crutch or protection of a phone or gadget to shield you from engaging, meaningful dialogue with the real person in front of you.

Observe

Just like you pay attention to your own body language, tone and voice; it is also important to closely observe the other person’s non-verbal cues.

You will be able to gauge whether they have a question, comment, a point of contention or need clarification. By being empathetic and sensitive to their concerns, you build trust and reveal that you are confident and forthcoming.

Stand your ground

Don’t be afraid to state your point and stick to what you say. While it is important to appear friendly, you should not feel intimidated by someone into holding back your thoughts and concerns.

In the beginning, your voice may waver, your mouth may dry out, or your words may desert you. Even if you are not perfectly confident, stick to your guns. It will get easier with practice. The more you practice navigating conflicts calmly and confidently, the easier it will become.

As a bonus, the other person may gain a renewed respect and admiration for you because you are standing your ground in a situation where you may not be completely at ease.

Try this: Before dealing with an intimidating person, create a list. Write down your past achievements, admirable qualities, reasons why someone would respect you and want to associate with you.

Show compassion

A confident person is not a negative, insecure or malicious person. Try to cultivate compassion in your interactions by trying to gauge and understand the other person’s viewpoint.

Be kind, sympathetic and polite but stay firm when you feel strongly about something.