Use Your Contrasting Thoughts to Strategize and Problem Solve

There are times when you need to figure something out, to come up with a response to something, someone, a situation. If that situation is distressing you because of other people or their actions, you might have noticed that there is a tendency to become fixated on one thought, one course of action that you play out over and over again in your head. You know it is not a good solution, it will not serve you, the other person or the situation and yet it is hard to move past it.

There are often many things at play that hold you in that thought pattern. Some possibilities include you might feel as if you are the injured party and there is a part of you that either wants payback or wants the other person to take responsibility – after all, why do you have to be the one who….? You can become fixated on what you really want to say except you know if you do it will only feel good for a nano-second (if that) and you will regret it for a very long time.

There is a simple strategy you can use to not get stuck in one train of thought. You start with some self-compassion. Of course these thoughts will come up. So, give yourself permission to think the thought. Almost as if you actually could, look at the thought – as if it is a thought bubble hanging in the air. Assess it quickly. Notice your reaction. Allow yourself to smile, or grimace or whatever. Then move on to the next thought. Again, almost as if you actually could, look at the thought – like it is another thought bubble hanging in the air. Assess it quickly. Notice your reaction. Allow yourself to smile, or grimace or whatever. And move onto the next thought.

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Identify contrasting thoughts

As you allow yourself to move quickly from one thought to the next you can see the contrast between thoughts. Those thoughts that you know you cannot, would not ever action show you the possibilities of what you might action. Getting stuck on a thought, feeling guilty about it, or revelling in it does not move you closer to a solution that will move you forward. But seeing all the possible thoughts arrayed around you – even in your imagination – allows you to quickly assess and choose the ones you want to focus on, the ones you want to build. And this moves you much closer to solutions that will work for you, that will enable you to keep a relationship intact in a way that serves or improve on a situation that you want to influence in a positive way.

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Find the thought that will move you forward in a positive way

The thoughts will show up anyway. The self-judgment also often shows up anyway. Acknowledge it. Offer gratitude. Know you are resourceful. Use the contrast in your thoughts to choose better strategies, better solutions and better ways forward.

The New Year: A Time of Renewal

relax renew refreshDecember 31. 2014. The sun sets on another calendar year. For so many, a time of making resolutions for a new year. Reflecting on this practice raises an awareness of the arbitrariness of a calendar date in making resolutions. It is not a solstice time. It is not necessarily a full moon or a new moon although in different years it may be. It is not a natural time of beginnings like spring, or like the fall has become for so many.  Yet it is a time of reflection and a time of renewal.

For me, it has the added significance of New Year’s Day also being my birthday. Beginning a new year. Beginning a new birth year. I long ago stopped making resolutions that take the form of promises to myself about life changes I think I should make or goals that I should strive for that often become broken promises or unreached goals. It has softened into reflection, intention setting and renewal.

Some lovely reflection questions:

  • How have I grown in the last year?
  • What places of beauty have I walked?
  • Who has impacted me and in what ways?
  • What and who have I cherished and made time for in my journey of the last year?
  • Who has cherished me? How did I respond in return?
  • In what ways have I honoured my knowing?
  • In what ways have I honoured the practicality of work and life too?
  • What has flowed to me over the last year in large and small ways? What do I want to fuel and seed in the coming weeks and months?
  • How have I honoured my path? How has my path honoured me?

Of course, there are things that have not flowed so well and maybe choices that didn’t work out so well. But these are not things  to focus on or fuel for what is ahead. If there are things to learn from them, by all means, let’s be in the learning. Absorb it. Let it go.

Intention setting. There are a number of ways to approach intention setting.

There are already many flows of life happening and available to each of us. What if intention setting began by sensing into those flows? Feel what works. Not need to name it even while being in the experience of it. What are the flows that want to be amplified? How do we turn our intention to that?

What BIG things are in movement or on the horizon that are worth setting intention for – aspects of work like big projects, new directions, partnerships, offerings; aspects of life like relationships, travel, living. Not just living. Living large, fully, powerfully, intentionally. Which doesn’t have to be flashy or braggy or materialistically but purposefully and meaningfully. Making it count. Your actions, your life, your voice, your word.

Leaving space for all the things we cannot know or anticipate but will recognize when they show up when they are aligned with the intention we set and are fuelling. Who do you want to set intention with – life partners, work partners, friends, colleagues? Nothing that feels forced, and it won’t if it is aligned with what is sensed in the flow of life and journey.

Renewal. Renewal of self. How will I renew myself now? My energy. My spirit. My joie d’vive? Renewal of relationship. What relationships do I want to renew now and continue to renew with intentionality? This does not just apply to the lapsed relationships we all have, but applies to the ones we are in and have now that we do not want to take for granted and that we want to bring the fullness of who we are to, to invite the other to show up in the fullness of who they are.

Reflection, intention setting and renewal. Not just a once a year practice, but a frequent practice. And, with the ending of one calendar year and the beginning of the next, a lovely time for renewal.

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Six Simple Guidelines for 21st Century Leaders

In an exploration with Saint Mary’s University in Halifax (one of my alma maters) about an upcoming series of leadership workshops, the team there asked me some evocative questions, worthy of sharing on the Shape Shift blog. One of their questions was: what are the simplest rules you offer to the leaders you interact and work with. I have a hard time thinking of it in terms of rules, but six simple clear guidelines emerged pretty readily:

  1. Say what you mean, mean what you say. Simple, but we are not always aware of where and when our words and actions are out of alignment. In the perspective of Worldview Awareness, this is the idea of Taking Whole or interconnectedness. In this situation, our words are interconnected (or not) with our actions. Coaching, mentoring, peer support or simply the willingness to receive reflections from others provides helpful guidance and reflections for you to learn what is out of alignment and sense into how to bring it back into alignment. But if you don’t want to know the answer, even if you ask the question, people will know it and tell you what you want to hear rather than what helps you most.
  1. Learn to listen.  Fully, completely, without judgment and without filling in the blanks  as the other person begins.  Too often we think we already know what the other person is going to say or where they are headed.  Often, we are wrong and have shut down the opportunity to find out what the other person wanted to share with us and that opportunity may never come around again. When we do not fully listen, the other person will also tune out or become frustrated and we are left with little of value, cross communication and unresolved issues. When we fully tune into another person or a group, the space is enriched, truth shows up, generative space is created, people are heard, validated and seen. A couple of favourite expressions about listening: “When we change the quality of the listening, we change the quality of the conversation.” “When we truly listen, we can listen another person into being.” It goes a long way toward creating new levels of consciousness in a team, organization or initiative.
  1. Ask good questions.  All the time. Ask more questions than the number of answers you give. A good question evokes thoughtful responses, helps you understand the situation more fully and helps others you are with find their own way. There is a craft and an art to framing questions. A simple way to begin is to imagine the responses that a question will evoke: yes/no responses, short answers or thoughtful responses that will have the person reflecting on their own rather than waiting for you to give them the answer. Also, imagine how you are asking the questions, the energy that makes it an inquiry and not an inquisition. Learning to craft good questions takes practice, and it is a practice well worth developing.
  1. Bring genuine curiosity and compassion to every conversation. Curiosity and judgment cannot exist in the same space. Defensiveness doesn’t sit very well in a curious space either. Neither does dismissiveness. When you notice yourself in a place of judging someone else or yourself, you find yourself defensive or dismissive, make a mental note to switch to curiousity. And then do it. Become curious about the other person, the situation or your own responses. And invite yourself into compassion too – for yourself as well as the other person. It creates a space for people to show up in the fullness of their humanity, a generative space where ideas and opportunities flow. It creates an environment “safe enough” for people to risk sharing ideas and sharing passion for what they care about.

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  1. Humility is an asset, more than that, a way of being. You don’t have all the answers. Nobody does. Especially not in today’s complex world. And oftentimes, leaders are removed from the points of intersection between the organization, its customers, stakeholders or the problems or issues that emerge. Twenty-first century leadership asks us to draw on the wisdom, knowledge and experience – the collective intelligence of a team, group or organization to solve problems, take risks and try new things. Finding the place of humility within you will enable you to listen more fully and access the brilliance in others in the most remarkable of ways.
  1. Set a few simple guidelines and get out of the way.  The more you try to control a situation, the more you shut down the potential for better things to happen, the more you send the message to other people you do not trust them to offer good solutions or strategies or to get the job done. Then the less they will demonstrate their own leadership, autonomy and sense of responsibility.  Trust yourself, trust your people and trust the power of the guidelines you set – preferably determined with the people most able to get results, closest to the situation.  Let people do what they are capable of and support them in the process.

The 21st Century is calling us as leaders  to build connectedness in a world of highly divergent cultures, experiences and perspectives, to learn and work together more effectively. Often, less is more.

 

 

Goals Need A Motivational Context. What’s Yours?

running shoes - worn outThe last time I went for a run, a few days ago, I noticed that my running shoes are worn out. They have holes in their tops and bottoms. It is, of course, natural that runners wear out their shoes and probably frequently. I, on the other hand, am not a runner – not an avid runner that is and certainly not a marathon runner. I run from time to time – usually a few times a week, for short distances – a few kilometres, although I do not know how many because I don’t track it. Tracking distance or heart rate or speed are not important to me. But I do have a context for my running and fitness goals. There is a certain level of fitness where I feel good, where my body feels good, where there is stamina for doing the simple things of my day and where rest also comes easy. Feeling good is a measure I use.

From the time I was in high school (a long time ago now), I always thought I should run. So many attempts to start were given up because it was too cold, because I got shin splints or it was just too hard. I always knew being physically fit was important for all kinds of good health related reasons. But knowing that clearly did not give me the context or motivation I needed to run or for many other sustained levels of physical fitness either for that matter.

There were two related things that did eventually provide context and motivation for me. The first was that I started to play soccer in my early forties. I enjoyed playing soccer. The thing with soccer is, you have to run to play. So chasing a soccer ball around a field became my motivation to start running. And it still took time, and it was hard but now I had a  motivation and context that made me stick with it. I began to run around my neighbourhood, mapping out two different distances. In the beginning I ran to a fire hydrant, walked to the next. My stamina kept increasing until I was running more than walking, until finally I could run the whole distances I had mapped out. Then I discovered how much better I felt even doing the simple tasks of my day. Being in a position of heightened awareness of how it felt to be out of shape and how it feels to be in better shape provides context and motivation for ongoing physical fitness, even now that I no longer play soccer.  And my goals are simple: feel good, be able to lift my carry on luggage into the overhead bins of airplanes and navigate short connection times in airports by being able to run from one gate to another sometimes across great distances in airports, trailing my carry on luggage behind me. These are not necessarily measures other people would consider valid, but they work for me and that’s what matters.

DSC03169There are some other benefits for me from going for a run. One is that it takes me out of my head and into my body, relaxing my mind, allowing me to connect with spirit and with inspiration.  A few blog posts have been written right after a run. Sometimes it is not writing that follows a run but meditation – inside or outside – for ten minutes up to thirty minutes – to just breathe, hold the space, stay in presence and awareness rather than in the thinking mind.

For someone who has had some health issues, the context  might be different and being healthy to avoid illness or other health issues might be just the right motivation. It doesn’t mean it needs to be – or is – that way for all of us.  For someone who does run marathons (or wants to), then again a different context provides motivation with different measures of achievement.

Context for health goals is not the only place where motivation is needed. What is the context for your other life goals like where you live, what kind of housing you live in, whether you drive a car and if so what kind, your family and relationships, your social circles, your intellectual and spiritual goals? What is the context for your career goals, what kind of job and job environment, responsibility, authority do you want, how much money do you want to make, what kind of flexibility do you want and do you want travel involved or not? If you are not achieving your goals, maybe the context is not clear or you haven’t tapped into your motivation – why it all matters. We make decisions each and every day. Make yours count.

Not Enough Time

Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? – Mary Oliver

Not enough time in the day.  Not enough time to get everything done. Not enough time to begin a project, to have a  conversation. Not enough time with a loved one.  Not enough time. Not enough.

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I am certain that in a world that seems to move at an ever increasing pace, almost every one of us has, at some point, uttered the wish for more hours in a day. Because of the pressure of to-do lists that never get completed, have you ever jammed more than is humanly possible into a day or tried to eliminate sleeping hours from your schedule? Has your feeling of not enough time, not getting things done ever been turned into a story of you not being enough?

Time. It is relative. When my older sons were little I remember one of them saying to me after I probably said, “Just a minute”, “Mom, minutes are long.” Minutes are long. They are short too. The day I stood on the mountainside in Gold Lake, Colorado in 2009, minutes were timeless, time out of time. Minutes can be 60 seconds and it can be a turn of a phrase where we have not assigned it a finite meaning of time.

Have you noticed that jamming the day full to the brim of all those endless to-do’s doesn’t seem to solve the problem?  Often it exacerbates it because time to refresh and renew is not scheduled in, leaving less opportunity for intentionality – intentionality in the stories you tell yourself and intentionality in your actions – so your stories count, your actions count, your passion is tapped into and surfaced so you feel yourself more alive in any of those precious moments.

What to do? There are many things to do to address the feeling that there is not enough time. Here are seven offerings on how to MAKE IT COUNT.

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1. Tell yourself a better story – even if, as you begin it it doesn’t feel true – because neither is the story you have defaulted into.  Tell the story that supports how you want to be, how you want to show up, how you want to feel about time available to you and about your life, your path, your journey. Tell a story that makes these things count.

2. Who are the people you value – in life and work? Significant other? Children? Parents? Friends? Colleagues? Work partners? Others you work with or for? Schedule them in. Make the time for visits, phone calls, checking in. Otherwise, opportunities are missed and one day we may come to regret it.

3. Know your own priorities and dedicate time to work on them without distractions. One distraction is the priorities that others land on you.  Do they need to become your priorities or can they be handled in a different way or at a different time? Surprise yourself.  Ask the question.

4. Say no. Not arbitrarily but with intention.  It makes your yes more powerful and you can be more committed to your yeses when you know you have not taken on things that don’t fit with your passion, your goals, your context, because you thought you should, because you felt obligated, because you were asked.  Things that end up being done half heartedly because your heart wasn’t in it.

5. Turn off email.  Yes. It is possible.  It can be done.  Pick a time or two of day when you will respond and be disciplined about it.  Do you have your social media linked to your email that keeps distracting you back to social media? Turn it off. You can visit social media whenever you want, and you can schedule it.  You really won’t miss that much.

6. Do you know what renews you? Exercise. Quiet. Music. Meditation. Walking. Sleep. You name it. Go do it!  Schedule it in. You will be able to tackle that to-do list with more energy and move through it faster.

7. Need a half day for a project but can’t find it.  What are you doing with those 5, 10, 15 minute slots of time that show up between calls, before lunch, before heading out to a meeting? What if you opened a document?  Formatted a proposal? Captured a few thoughts? Read a few pages in a book that inspires you? You might be surprised how those brief intervals of time can add up to meaningful segments when you approach them with more intentionality and the same spontaneity you bring to surfing the web or other distractions that come your way.

Distractions are not all bad. But time is a precious commodity.  Doesn’t mean every minute has to be filled with doing.  It’s better if some of it is filled with being, renewing, remembering.  There are enough hours in the day, in the week.  Make them count.