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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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Opportunity, Will-Power and the Key to Happiness

What would you do if you could wipe your life’s slate clean and start over?

What if every year, every month, everyday – even every moment, you were given a new gift to begin anew and avail yourself of the opportunity life presents to you?

While doing research for the first post of 2015 for Liftree, I came across a man who stopped me clean in my tracks with his philosophy. As I watched a TED talk on gratefulness by Brother David Steindl-Rast, something inside my tortured brain settled into place. Brought my negative thoughts to a screeching halt.

“Well, what if I could choose all these opportunities instead of hanging on to the failures?”  I asked myself.

The New Year is a time for partying, fun and rejuvenation. It is also a time for beginning anew. For planning out the year to come. Every year, like every moment is an opportunity you get to move yourself towards the things that you are so desperately hoping, wishing, praying for. What will you move towards in 2015?

I know you’re reflecting, reminiscing and introspecting as 2015 dawns. You’re thinking about 2014, the moments that made you feel alive, the moments where you thought you had failed. I know you’re also thinking about what you’re going to do in 2015 and how it will be different.

We know we are. 2014 was a big year for Liftree. After months of beta-testing, we got the website live, finalized branding and learned so many technical things, our heads were bursting. We took the scariest step of all – telling people about what we do. We told everyone we knew – friends, family, co-workers, relatives, even people we talked to only once in a while. Afraid to sound like shameless internet marketers, we pushed to make our content personal, relevant and useful. And the support we got in return was truly overwhelming. It motivated us to keep working hard. We set goals and took up ambitious projects. Made a few many mistakes. It’s been a journey filled with lessons, revelations and a labor of love.

The biggest lesson though, was that by making our failures spectacular and public, we stepped out from the shadow of fear and insecurity and embraced the unknown, embraced the judgement we imagined, embraced the embarrassing moments. Most surprising of all, the sky didn’t crack and fall over. Guess the world doesn’t hinge on our successes and failures after all. In the grand scheme of things, our personal successes and failures are small and inconsequential –  a fact that is both humbling and emboldening.

Speaking of inconsequential mistakes…

Think of something that you left undone in the past year. Something that you never got to finish properly, to execute the way you wanted, or to do differently. The New Year, and in fact, every new moment in your life is a chance at a do over. Consider this story:

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[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]Remember to put your Glass Down [/quote]

The beauty of life is that whether you’re 9 or 90, it is never too late to put the glass down. It is never too late to make the most of the opportunity that every consecutive moment presents you with. This “gift within a gift” – the gift of opportunity inherent in every moment we live –  is a powerful catalyst for changing your life.

It is our Choices…

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So how do you use these *apparently* abundant opportunities. How do you enjoy yourself to the fullest even in the difficult and frustrating moments. By choosing. Every given moment, every new turn of the page in the book of our life is a choice. And the choices we make, with actions, our words, but most of all with our thoughts, make up the bulk of our life and who we are. So choose in the new year. Make choices that reflect where you want to go. Make audacious choices. Make unexpected choices. Most importantly, Make authentic choices that reflect who you are.

Simple-Life-Manifesto

So when you talk about mistakes, even if its just  a dialogue in your head, don’t just talk about the problems, talk about where yo are and where you want to be going. Talk about the resources you have and how they help you cope with your obstacles. Psychologists describe stress as the result of a perception that your coping resources are far less than the obstacles that you face.

Imagine if you had the ability everyday to take stock, of your resources vs stress and make a proactive plan to conquer them. I was reading Scott Duffy’s “Launch” the other day, and it struck me while reading that so many of the geniuses mentioned in his book were incredibly resourceful individuals. Let us take a moment to distinguish between ‘having resources’ and ‘being resourceful’. Successful people don’t always begin their journey equipped with the resources they need . Truly resourceful people have the remarkable ability to overcome overwhelming obstacles by getting creative in the way they use the limited resources they begin with.

So when you make mistakes, when you face severe limitations, don’t sweep them under the rug. Get creative with them. We beat ourselves over the head with our iPads constantly last year every time we missed a scheduled Liftree post. Then, we realized that other people were facing the same thing too. Take a look at the following excerpt from a blog post by Tim Urban of Wait But Why:

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]“So I figured the least I could do is be transparent about what’s happening on my end while the readers who care most are checking the site each week, not knowing what to expect. I also wanted to make entirely clear that my posting habits are never me just casually skipping the deadline because I don’t care about my promises.”[/quote]

If people like Tim Urban with a huge readership stumble from time to time, what chance do we have on a little website like Liftree, organically-manned by the two of us? The energy we spent beating ourselves up into a shrivelled, purple ball of guilt, we could have channelled into moving forward and rectifying our mistakes, enjoying the learning process and achieving our goals. We decided to get creative too.

In 2015, we decided to post less frequently (about 4 per month), more longer (2000 words per post) and absolutely high quality, well-researched content.

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Picture this:

What if you were able to experience every mistake as an opportunity. What if all your failures seized to be failures and became stepping stones instead what if you could reach out take whatever it is that you wanted and it is yours for the taking. When you except the opportunity that is inherent in every moment and every situation that you live you will be able to do just that.

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A thousand reasons to seek failure…

A friend of mine from college used to be a heavy smoker. Every time we had to enter the underground subway, she would stop for a smoke outside the entrance. She would NEED a smoke even if logically she knew she would be getting the next one in a little under 15 minutes. Shed tried to quit multiple times slowly reducing her cigarettes per day. For years, she desperately tried to kick the smoking habit. Over and over. Every time she failed, her hopes were dashed. She beat herself up incessantly. She’s the last person I thought would ever quit.

One summer, I caught up with her at a reunion. She told me she’d been clean for a year. Not only had she not smoked for a year, she’d done it cold turkey. Shocked, stunned and bewildered, I asked her how that was even possible. She just shrugged and said I’d reached my tipping point. Every one of us has a tipping point. Every time you do something, an action, a skill, take up a project, pursue a dream or ditch a bad habit – your will gets stronger. Every failure paves the way for success and there’s a simple reason why. By the time we succeed, we’ve effectively figured out all the ways which don’t work, so that over time, we are able to follow the perfect sequence of events to our success, sometimes without even realizing because we’ve gotten so used to putting in the effort and expecting failure.

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Opportunity and will-power

People think will power is what makes great leaders, thinkers, achievers. That’s partially true. However, I want you to critically examine the concept of will power. Most of us see will power as something hard-headed people possess, holding it strong like a medieval fortress against the stress, hassles and burdens of everyday life. If only life was that uncomplicated. In the three years since my life has changed 360 degrees, I had a lot of time to think, ponder and introspect. It was a sabbatical of sorts. I’ve had an abundance of opportunities to exercise will power, experiment with it and practice it. I’ve tried using it in the traditional sense. I’ve tried screaming like a barbarian every time someone impinged on my free will. I’ve tried persevering with my words and actions in a bull headed way, without a care for negotiation. I’ve tried holding strong against the barrage of everyday life. I’ve tried the oppositee end of the spectrum too – completely giving in, letting others guide the agenda of my days. I’ve even tried surrendering to the will of my two year old, to see if that improves my life and allows me to live it more consciously. None of it did. I read books, listened to talks, had intense conversations with friends, family and my spouse of what lifestyle design, free-will, personal independence and human interactions.

Over and over, I encountered anecdotal, quantitative and experiential evidence to show that having the  ‘will’ to see something through is quite unlike the Boston marathon or a <name medieval> siege. It is like a series of sprints along the continuum of life. Through the days, months and years of activities that shape our lives.

They say that will power decreases towards the end of the day. Many of us grew up with the notion that you have to fight tooth and nail to maintain an iron will throughout the day, and your life in order to succeed. I urge you to look at an alternate explanation. A kinder, gentler and definitely more doable one:

Exercising will power is like refuelling, repairing and making skilled adjustments at a pit stop in a NASCAR race. That is the sane way, the ONLY way to do it. If try to make it on mental steam alone, if you try to run the car on “will power” – no matter how much mental steel you possess, you aren’t going to be winning any race.

How to own 2015

This year, resolve to work WITH yourself. With your limitations, your shortcomings, your psychic baggage. You have been given this moment, this gift, this opportunity but there’s a catch. You only have the resources you are provided. How will you innovate this year? How will you make the most of the life that you have RIGHT NOW? Forget the “what if”, the “if only”, the “after I”. Start now with what you have. Choose now to make the most of the opportunity given you in every moment of this year.

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You have 31,558,150 opportunities this year.

How are you using the opportunity you are in right now?