Are You Suffering From Compassion Fatigue? Here’s What You Should Do About It

“The world is going to Hell in a handbasket.”

Daily we are bombarded with unrelenting reminders that the world is an unsafe place full of death, disaster and evil sadists who revel in–or at the very least are indifferent to–human suffering. Every where you look, television shows, movies, social media, radio and the local newscasts you are assaulted by negativity and sadness. The word “news” has become synonymous with tragedy, loss and torment.

If you’re anything like me, all of the sadness, pain and anguish is felt and internalized on a deep and very personal level. And if you’re not careful you can find yourself overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness, exhaustion and even depression–despite the fact that you have not personally experienced any tragedy.

This phenomenon is called compassion fatigue.

What is compassion fatigue?

Compassion fatigue–also known as vicarious traumatization or secondary traumatic stress–is officially defined as:

“feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by suffering or misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the pain or remove its cause”

The American Institute of Stress describes it as:

“The emotional residue or strain of exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events. It differs from burn-out, but can co-exist. Compassion Fatigue can occur due to exposure on one case or can be due to a “cumulative” level of trauma.”

In other words, it’s the stress of caring too much…

Initially, researchers found that sufferers most often work in fields or care for those who have experienced high amounts of trauma–such as first responders, nurses, caregivers, doctors, pediatricians, psychotherapists, social workers, etc… However, in more recent years, due to increased levels of exposure to catastrophic events and hearing tales of maltreatment–average everyday people are plagued by compassion fatigue.

Authorities in this field, such as Babette Rothschild, Charles Figley, Laurie Anne Pearlman, Karen Saakvitne, and B. Hudnall Stamm have researched this emotional malady and have found that medical personnel and psychologists–in particular–may experience trauma symptoms similar to those of their clients.

Their research shows that the act of simply listening to traumatic stories allows the emotional pain experienced by patients to be transferred to the person providing care through the deep psychological processes that accompany empathy.

Empathy is a double-edged sword that allows those who care for others to do so with precision, compassion and the “Midas touch” but it also brings with it suffering.

The more empathetic you are the more susceptible you are to experiencing compassion fatigue.

Symptoms of compassion fatigue

If you care for and work with others in a high trauma environment OR if you are a naturally empathetic and emotionally sensitive individual, you probably have and will experience compassion fatigue.

The first step in dealing with any issue or malady is to recognize the symptoms. Compassion fatigue is often mistaken as burnout and while they are kin to one another there are distinct differences and recovery from compassion fatigue is quicker and easier if you recognize the symptoms.

The onset of compassion fatigue can be sudden, whereas burnout usually emerges over time and lingers much longer. Compassion fatigue can take a physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional toll on you. Common symptoms of compassion fatigue include:

  • Chronic physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Depersonalization/detachment or disassociation
  • Feelings of inequity toward the therapeutic or caregiver relationship
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of self-contempt or self-loathing
  • Insomnia
  • Weight loss
  • Headaches
  • Diminished sense of enjoyment in career or caregiving capacity
  • Disruption to world view
  • Heightened anxiety or irrational fears
  • Hypersensitivity or Insensitivity to emotional material
  • Difficulty separating work life from personal life
  •  Absenteeism – missing work, taking many sick days–avoidance
  • Impaired ability to make decisions and care for clients/patients/loved ones
  • Problems with intimacy and personal relationships

And while this is a long list of symptoms it is not exhaustive. The bottom line is if you suspect that you are suffering from compassion fatigue it is more probable than not that you are.

Prevention and Treatment

Preventing and treating compassion fatigue seems like it should be easily remedied. Just stop caring so much…

For those of us who are highly sensitive and empathetic individuals and those who are called to care for and assist those in need of extensive amounts of compassion–not caring or caring less is not an option.

We can’t turn it off.

It drives us and makes us exceptional at all that we do. And it shouldn’t be turned off or muted. Your compassion and ability to empathize with others is a gift from God and a gift to humanity.

But it must be managed so it doesn’t morph into a weapon of self-destruction.

The good news about compassion fatigue is that it is preventable and relatively easy to treat.

Your current circumstances, your history, coping style, personality and temperament all
affect how compassion fatigue affects you and will dictate what you should do in order to manage your emotions.

Prevention

Practicing self-awareness, self-reflection and self-monitoring will enable you to recognize changes in behavior, thinking and attitudes. And it is the critical first step to preventing compassion fatigue. Developing either informal or formal accountability and mentor relationships can also be helpful in spotting and managing symptoms.

Below are a few additional practical and effective preventive measures you should consider incorporating into your self-care routine:

Treatment

Studies have also shown that maintaining a sense of humor,  focusing on the positive, and practicing gratitude are highly effective when it comes to treating trauma victims and assisting them move past devastating events. When you experience compassion fatigue you essentially have become a trauma victim. Focusing on developing and maintaining a positive attitude is the first step in dealing with compassion fatigue.

Here are 3 other ways to treat and heal compassion fatigue:

1. Seek professional help.

Compassion fatigue is a place of emotional emptiness. You are drained, overwhelmed and incapable of truly rational thought. You tend to overhype things, lash out and are vulnerable to developing addictions and finding other unsavory sources of relief.

You have to be willing to seek professional help when it’s warranted. A close friend or mentor can help you make that decision and walk with you through the process. The quicker you get help, the faster you heal.

2. Set emotional boundaries

When you establish emotional boundaries you set a limit to what you allow in. You can’t watch certain television or news programming, you must limit your social media exposure and you have to surround yourself with people who are postive, uplifting and capable of pouring into you emotionally instead of taking from you.

You can’t make someone else whole from a posture of brokenness. Consider the airplane model for surviving a plane crash. Passengers are instructed to dawn their oxygen mask BEFORE assisting others–including small children. That’s what emotional boundaries do for you during your time of healing. They allow you to be ok before you attempt to help someone else. If you are not whole and attempt to aid others you could do more damage than good. Your goal is to always be a help and never a detriment.

Emotional boundaries don’t make you less caring, sensitive or empathetic. Boundaries place a temporary guard around your heart allowing your wounds to mend without risking further infection or damage.

3. Talk to someone who knows you well and who will hold you accountable

This is not the job for an acquaintance or superficial friend. This should be someone who will challenge you and ensure that you are practicing good self-care. He or she will not enable you nor feed into your negative thinking and feelings of guilt. Your accountability partner will be kind, gentle yet firm and honest. They will direct you to seek counseling when it is warranted and will go with you as moral support.

4. Engage in positive intentional self-care

Do the things in the “Prevention” section of this article with passion, intention, and fervor. Attack your self-care with the same intensity you use when caring for others. Make it your mission to be a better version of yourself so that you can return stronger, healthier and happier. This is the best thing you can do for yourself and those around you.

Final Word:

The true danger of compassion fatigue has less to do with it’s impact on the one suffering and more to do with those he or she serves. The most devastating result of your inability to manage and recover from compassion fatigue is that over time you lose your ability empathize.

Apathy sets in…

And apathy is the worse kind of violence and maltreatment.

Compassion is a gift. Cherish it. Protect it.

Humanity desperately needs your kind, compassionate and caring heart.

“Love and compassion are necessities not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” ~Dalai Lama

Featured image by Evonne on Flickr

 

 

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Conscientiousness: The Difference Between Winners And Losers

Conscientiousness, as defined by Psychology Today, is a “…fundamental personality trait that influences whether people set and keep long-range goals, deliberate over choices or behave impulsively, and take seriously obligations to others.”

In other words, it is the ability to live intentionally.

Portrait of a conscientiousness mind

Many personality psychologists believe that there are five basic dimensions that comprise a person’s personality. Experts call them the “Big 5”. They include extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism.

Conscientiousness is the character trait of being deliberate, careful, meticulous and vigilant. The presence of conscientiousness is the fundamental personality trait and determinant that drives people to set and systematically chase goals. It is what makes people keep their word, fulfill their obligations and remain steadfast and loyal in the face of opposition.

The absence of conscientiousness is a key contributor to the lack of success. A person with low levels of conscientiousness is easily distracted, unfocused, unmotivated, spontaneous and often described as “flighty” and “all over the place.” If you find yourself constantly failing to achieve your personal goals or quitting projects midway through–you may need to work to live in a more conscientious fashion.

Becoming more conscientious

Experts believe that in order to actively become a more conscientious person you must work to be organized and industrious.

Organization and living an orderly life is a predictor in whether or not you achieve what it is you want in life. Having things neat, tidy and well organized keeps your mind neat, tidy, organized and focused. Establishing routines and sticking to them as much as possible is a great way to bring order to your life.

When working to become more organized be careful not to over do it. Placing routine and order as a top priority leads to perfectionism, anxiety and other counterproductive attitudes. Put yourself on a schedule and get organized–but don’t go overboard.

Industriousness is associated with tenacity and grit. It is the passion and perseverance needed to achieve long-term goals. Industrious people are often described as achievement/goal-oriented, disciplined, efficient, purposeful, and competent. They are productive–not just busy. They chase their goals, live life intentionally and methodically work hard to achieve their destiny.

Conscientious Practices

Conscientious people have several common habits that are worth studying. Here are the top five common practices of those who have mastered conscientiousness:

1. They always count the cost.

The conscientious mind always evaluates the pros and cons of a situation and considers the consequences of his or her actions. conscientious people exercise impulse control and work to act versus merely reacting. They count the cost before they undertake an endeavor and give their word.

Before launching a business, a conscientious person will do extensive amounts of research and ensure they have the appropriate capital and resources in place before diving in and launching their business. They understand the market space, their brand, their customers/clients and know the type of people they need to hire in order to be successful. Their business succeeds and thrives because of preparation, planning and diligence–not luck.

2. They keep their word.

Because the conscientious think before they act, they are able to only commit to things they know they can deliver. They provide exactly what they promise. They consider the cost before they make a promise and then they dogmatically work to do what they say they are going to do.

If you promise your best friend you are going to help them move on a specific weekend, that is precisely what you should do. But before you commit to helping your friend, you should first ensure that you are available for the date and duration of time they need you. You should add it to your calendar and consider that date, time and task non-negotiable. You should show up when you said you would, work hard and fully deliver on that promise.

3. They don’t rely on mental notes.

Taking mental notes is great and we all do it. But there is one major problem with using your mental notes to recall information–you won’t remember it all. Conscientious people write things down. They add dates to their calendar. They are schedulers and note takers. They intentionally make jotting notes a part of their routine and a standard practice.

4. They are relentless.

Quitting is not an option. Take breaks. Regroup and restart. But don’t ever quit. Remember, in order to be successful you need drive, determination and a stubborn will. You have to have fight, grit and a scrappy attitude to be who you were born to be.

Consider Desmond T. Doss.

Desmond was a combat medic serving in WWII and his heroic actions, driven by his value system, led him to perform acts of heroism during the Battle of Okinawa. He became the first ever conscientious objector in U.S. history to win the medal of honor. And he did it without ever firing a shot.

Desmond epitomizes the type of fight, tenacity and strength of will the truly conscientious have.

 

5. They confront their problems.

Conscientious people are not cowards or victims. They take responsibility for their part in failures and don’t run from problems. They stand flat-footed and stare their issues in the eye. And then they devise a plan of attack. They are brave, tough and resourceful. They seek out solutions to their problems and refuse to “sweep things under the rug” and blame others.

Final Thought

Being tagged a conscientious person, on the surface, seems like it would be a pretty good way to be classified. The label ‘conscientious’ carries with it a deeply romanticized and philosophical, martyr kind of vibe. It sounds sexy. But the truth is that those who truly commit to living a life of conscientiousness subject themselves to a lifetime of sacrifice and to the possibilities of being ostracized and misunderstood.

Conscientiousness is an act of one’s will. It is intentional and requires purposeful actions, an organized mind and an industrious attitude. By internalizing and embracing the five key habits of conscientious people, you set yourself up to be a reliable, productive and wildly successful best version of yourself.

Featured Image by Noize Photography on Flickr

To Sympathize Or Empathize… That Is The Question

Several years ago I was in a terrible car accident. It was a normal Thursday morning and the interstate was fairly busy as is usual for that time of morning. I was traveling with the flow of traffic, in the far right lane doing around 75 mph. There was a light drizzle falling and the roads were wet and slick as it had been raining all morning.

I hit a wet spot on the highway and hydroplaned. The car went into a violent tailspin and careened into the side wall and ricocheted back into oncoming traffic. Cars slammed into me hitting me on all four sides. It was like the car became a ping-pong ball as it was batted back and forth across the expressway …

The accident was traumatic and devastating. And while I walked away virtually unharmed three other individuals in the accident were critically injured.

I was shaken, afraid to drive and horrified that others were injured in the accident while I walked away unscathed. The one bright spot amidst the shock, tears and heartache was the understanding, devotion and genuine care displayed by my family and friends as I went through the healing process. It meant the world to me.

Several months later a friend of mine committed suicide. Once again I turned to my support system. This time, however, their response was a bit different. It wasn’t that they didn’t care per se, it’s just that they expressed their feelings a bit differently. I sensed that they couldn’t quite feel where I was coming from. They seemed to be more understanding and emotionally supportive during my car accident. Their lukewarm and slightly distant responses left me feeling confused and a little hurt.

These two experiences taught me the difference between empathy and sympathy.

The difference between empathy and sympathy

Once I was able to gain a bit of distance from the situations and view them a bit more objectively, I realized a few important factors which helped explain the conflicting responses I received.

The first thing I learned is that when people have shared or similar experiences, they have a concrete frame of reference. The situation resonates with them more.

During my car accident I heard things like, “girl, I know how you feel,” or “chile, after my car accident I felt the same way, take as much time as you need before you get behind the wheel again,” and “call me when you ready to try driving again, I’ll go with you.”

These responses came from a place of knowing how I felt in the moment. These responses were sprinkled with kindness, concern and most importantly, empathy.

The second important thing I learned is that when it comes to experiences that are foreign to others, people tend to disassociate their feelings and lean towards providing advice. This type of response–while it can appear uncaring, cold and a bit callous, truly is birth out of a place of sincere care and sympathy.

And there in lies the difference between empathizing and sympathizing. Empathy is the ability to see the situation from the other person’s perspective. It is the ability to stand in his or her shoes and endure the gut punch.

Sympathy, on the other hand, allows another person to see the situation through the lens of a spectator–similar to watching a movie. It is a place of distance and inexperience. It allows an individual to see the gut punch but not feel it. It leaves the spectator saying, “Man, that must have hurt. If I were them I would have…”

Learning to properly sympathize when you can’t empathize

The worse thing you can do during a time of turmoil is to provide unsolicited advice. Sure you mean well, but giving unsolicited advice is never a good idea. Nine times out of ten, when a person is in despair they want to feel heard and understood. As hard as it can be sometimes (most times)–simply listening to a person can be the most helpful and profoundly comforting thing you can do. When a person is in pain–emotional support always trumps practical advice.

For example, let’s say your good friend’s company is restructuring and your friend is one of the ones who is downsized and you’ve never struggled with job loss or unemployment.

Saying things like “at least you got your health,” or ” you’ve got money saved, you’ll be alright…” won’t help. These statements are accurate and your friend will bounce back, however, the true struggle may have nothing at all to do with money. He or she could be feeling betrayed, devalued, unappreciated and feel a loss of identity. Those responses don’t address how the person is feeling.

And please, please fight the temptation to provide unsolicited job leads immediately. Give them time to process the situation.

The first thing you must do in this situation is recognize that you DON’T understand what they are going through–and that is ok.

Instead of diving in head first and trying to fix it with all of your pragmatism, listen first. Try to understand how they are feeling. Try to visualize what they are saying in your mind’s eye–not how you would feel in the situation but try to imagine how they said they feel.

Then and only then should you speak. And when you do, say things that validate and address their concerns such as, “you put in so much time and energy into that job, I understand why you feel betrayed, ” or “you’re right, they should have at least given you a warning that the company was downsizing…”

If all else fails, just listening, wiping away tears and letting them know that you are here–no matter what they need…is more than enough

Here are a few steps to move from sympathizing to empathizing:

1. Draw on a parallel experience

Try to establish some sort of common ground in your mind. In the example of a friend being downsized–try relating to their feelings of rejection. We’ve all experienced rejection in some form or another. Maybe you had a bad break up with your Ex. The situations are very different but the feelings are parallel. Draw on that experience to help you empathize with what they are feeling.

2. Establish a habit of finding common interests 

Finding a way to relate to those around you not only makes you more empathetic it makes you more relatable. When you meet a new person, make it a practice to find at least three things you have in common with them.

Also, when people are sharing their experiences with you, work to engage your imagination and visualize what they are saying. Try injecting yourself into the situation and feeling what they felt. Doing this helps train your brain to move from a state of ego-centrism to being “other’s” focused.

 3. Respond to how they feel not what they say

When a wound is fresh and a person is angry and hurt they are also confused. This is why listening to understand is paramount in producing an empathetic response. You have to listen with your ears, your eyes and most importantly your heart. You have to hear the subtext and the things that go unsaid.

Parents, teachers, caregivers and anyone who works with children understand this concept. Kids–especially when they are very little–don’t possess the proper vocabulary to adequately express themselves. Adults have to assess the situation, interpret body language and facial expressions and in some way relate to what the child has experienced. The adult then responds to what the child is feeling in lieu of what they said.

4. Listen, Listen LISTEN

The key to comforting someone who is hurting is listening. You could have experienced the EXACT thing they are going through but you and your friend are unique individuals and see things differently. You may think you know how they feel because of how you felt but you can never be sure until they tell you.

You have to learn to fight the urge to jump in and say something. Even when the situation gets awkward and you feel something should be said. Fight the urge. Turn off your inner dialogue. Stop constructing your response. Listen to them.

They will tell you–through their words, tears and actions–exactly what it is that they need. And if you are unsure what to do or say, asking the simple question, “what can I do to help” or what do you need from me,” is better than assuming and doing the wrong thing.

Empathy requires more than merely putting yourself into someone else’s position. It is the ability to imagine yourself as him or her in the exact situation he or she is in. You cannot empathize with an abstract. The experience must become concrete.

When done correctly, empathy leads to compassion which is suffering with someone in lieu of merely pitying them. True empathy says, “I share your emotions.” Compassion, which is built from empathy, says “I share your emotions and care enough to help you heal.”

Store Credit Cards: Are They Ever Worth The Value?

During the checkout process for most purchases, you are confronted with the question, “Will you be using your (insert store name) credit card to pay for your purchases today?”

You respond, “No, thank you. I don’t have a store card.”

Then comes the question: “Would you like to open an account with us today? You’ll get 20 percent off your purchase.” And then they stand there smiling at you. Tempting you. Baiting you…

Are Store Credit Cards Worth the value?

Most folks are aware that store credit cards don’t provide the value and the perks that major or traditional cards offer. But are they ever a good idea?

Let’s do the math.

Pros of Store Credit Cards

Store credit cards could potentially work for you if you fall in the following categories:

• Poor credit
• No credit or you are trying to establish or rebuild your credit history
• You use that retailer frequently and/or for large purchases.
• The card offers special financing, perks, bonus points or cash back
• You pay the entire balance off every month

Store cards are an attractive option for those with poor or no credit as they are easier to get than traditional cards. Most store credit is provided in a “closed-loop” system, meaning the card can only be used by the retail store—and any affiliates—sponsor. This greatly reduces the risk to the financiers underwriting the card.

According to Bankrate.com, when used wisely, store credit cards can positively impact your credit score long-term. When used modestly, they can add points to your credit score and by keeping your balance low, you can also lower your debt-to-credit ratio, which comprises 30 percent of your overall credit score.

You also have access to better and more frequent store deals and perks. The caveat to this “benefit” is that in order to take advantage of these benefits, you must use the card more—meaning you are spending more. You can get that coveted one time sign up discount and other smaller discounts along the way, however, the system is designed to make the retailer rich, not you.

 Cons of Store Credit cards

Overall, store credit cards provide very little value. For starters, the annual percentage rates (APR) on these cards are notoriously high. To add insult to injury, retailers are scaling back tremendously on the deals and perks they offer—making their cards far less valuable.

In a recent survey conducted by CreditCards.com, surveyors found that the average APR for retail cards is a whopping 23.84 percent. The national average for all credit cards hovers around 15 percent. They also found that only half of retailers are offering sign up discounts and rewards.

The survey collected and aggregated data on every card offered by the top 100 retailers in the U.S. and the results confirm what most people suspect. Retail credit cards are the devil…

Here are some of their findings:

• Almost half of the cards carry an APR of 25% or higher
• Store credit cards—in general—are less secure than traditional cards
• Cards that do offer a reward program or special financing offers are only beneficial for frequent and consistent shoppers or for large purchases

Another con for these cards—especially for big ticket items—are the “special financing,” offers touting no interest for a specified amount of time—usually, six, 12 or 18 months. This works and can be an amazing deal IF you pay the balance in full before the promotional period ends. For most store cards, if you fail to pay the balance in full by the end of the promotional period — even if you owe just a few dollars — you’ll be responsible for paying the full interest amount on the original purchase price. Sneaky, right? But this is a common, perfectly legal practice that’s stated in the fine print of the card’s terms and conditions.

Always do the math

In a few, very rare cases, a retail credit card can actually save you money. Your decision to open an account, however, should not be made during the checkout process. If you are considering a store credit card do the math:

Step One: Ask yourself “am I going to be able to pay the balance in full every single month?” If the answer is yes, proceed to step two. If the answer is no, WALK AWAY.

Step Two: Ask yourself “Am I sure I will have the discipline to pay off my balance every month?” If the answer is yes, proceed to step three. If the answer is no, WALK AWAY.

Step Three: Compare rates, promotions and deals. Sites like CreditCards.comWalletHub and Bankrate.com have calculator tools that can assist you in comparing offers and finding the best card for your situation.

 Step Four: Hold yourself accountable. Set limits and conditions for using the card and stick to them. Have a friend or parent serve as your accountability partner.

Step Five: Set a time limit. You don’t need to keep a store card forever. You have it for a specific purpose and a specified amount of time. Once the card has served its purpose get rid of it. Store cards are short term relationships. They’re flings. Don’t over-commit and fall in love. Once the relationship has run its course, end it.

For the average person, store credit cards are a less optimal choice than traditional cards or saving up and paying cash for purchases (what a novel idea). People with special credit issues can make store cards work if they are disciplined, fully understand the terms and conditions and understand that store cards are a short-term solution.

Featured image by B Rosen on FlickrCC 2.0

Article also appears on NewsforShoppers.com

 

Saying “I Don’t Know” At Work Increases Your Value. Here’s Why…

The work landscape has changed. A person’s potential and capacity to learn is more important and far more valuable than possessing encyclopedic knowledge on a particular topic.

In today’s work culture, having in depth expertise is less valuable and has become a distant second behind potential. During the Industrial and Postindustrial eras, a person’s ability to gain employment was based on their depth of knowledge and aptitude at a particular trade. Workers were submerged in their trade from youth, they received intense training and usually performed an apprenticeship before they were considered a “professional” and respected as such. Saying the words, “I don’t know” was an indictment of incompetence.

The beauty of not knowing

The birth of the internet created a huge shift in the information paradigm. Now, information, data and knowledge are literally at your at your finger tips. The impact of the information sharing on every level and subject, which is readily available 24/7, is a remarkably wonderful double-edged sword.

On one hand, things that were privy only to certain people and shared within closed circles is now accessible to all. If you want to know–you can. On the other hand, the amount and magnitude of information available is overwhelming and incomprehensible.

It has become almost impossible to be a true “subject matter expert.” The paradox is that both everyone and no one is an expert.

The shift in information sharing has also impacted workplace norms. Where it used to be frowned upon and taboo to use the words, “I don’t know” in a professional environment, it now has become acceptable and expected.

Today people are hired based on their ability to process information not to memorize it–which is far more remarkable and better use of the brain. Our brains have gone from being storage containers to multifaceted microprocessors.

Your ability to gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, apply and create new information is your most attractive attribute–not your current knowledge base.

Embracing the phrase “I don’t know”

The quicker you embrace the fact that you don’t know everything about anything, the better off you and those around you will be. You will unburden yourself of undue stress at work and you shift your brain into a continuous state of learning.

The value in embracing and saying “I don’t know,” lets you off the hook and helps reduce all of the misinformation pervading our information system. The truth is, your boss doesn’t care whether or not you can produce information on the spot, he or she is more interested in whether or not you can find the correct information quickly and apply it properly. Chasing “I don’t know,” with “but I’ll get back to you shortly,” is the recipe for continued growth, humility, and opportunities…

Chasing “I don’t know,” with “but I’ll get back to you shortly,” is the recipe for continued growth, humility, and opportunities…

The “I don’t Know” Process

Ok. You’ve embraced the fact that you don’t know everything and have mastered admitting it in the workplace without feeling inadequate. Now it’s time to understand how to complete the process and close the loop. Because not knowing is acceptable; failure to rectify the knowledge gap is not.

Now it’s time to understand how to complete the process and close the loop. Because not knowing is acceptable; failure to rectify the knowledge gap is not.

1. Understand and process what it is you don’t know

The first step (after admitting your ignorance on the subject) is to ensure that you understand exactly what information you are being asked to provide. Nothing is worse than misunderstanding what it is the other person needs and chasing your tail down rabbit holes. Make sure what information you are being asked to gather and synthesize and then find out how it should be presented. This is a simple yet critical first step.

2. Find and process the information.

Now comes the part of the process where you gather the necessary information. Ensure your sources are reliable. Read the information and then put it into two categories: What you know and understand and What you need to know or need to clarify further. Make a list of concepts that you need to research more in depth. Clearly defining and assessing the information is the first step in critical thinking.

3. Fill In knowledge gaps

Now it’s time to focus your energy on researching the things you don’t know or can’t articulate clearly. Always work from authoritative and well-known research. Use information from industry experts. Start from an original source such as a research study and then work your way out. Read the abstract first, then find easier to read blogs, articles,

Always work from authoritative and well-known research. Use information from industry experts. Start from an original source such as a research study and then work your way out. Read the abstract first, then find easier to read blogs, articles, books and videos that are based on this founding research.

This will help you understand if the secondary sources are accurate. And it will not only assist you in understanding the information but reading “lighter” materials also assists you with finding the vocabulary and other tools (charts, graphs, infographics, videos, podcasts, etc.) that can help you accurately explain the concepts.

4. Create an action plan

Once you have and understand the information, then it’s time to create a plan of action. Your course of action depends on the initial request. If you are being asked to present the information for knowledge only purposes, then you should plan your presentation method accordingly.

If you are being asked to provide a solution or recommend a course of action based on your findings be sure to use a structured research approach such as the “Five Why’s” or the Scientific Method. Using a structured research method will assist you in making a logical and researched based decision that has passed multiple tests. It also will assist in catching and mitigating flawed logic which is inherent to any decision making process.

5. Talk through potential solutions

Once you’ve identified a few possible solutions using a systematic approach, talk through your research findings and thought process with someone else–your boss or trusted co-worker. Together you can brainstorm potential solutions or assist each other in finding creative and innovative solutions to the issue.

No matter how thorough you are during your research process, you should always seek the input of others. The only perspective you have–regardless of how much research you do is–yours. Seeking the counsel of others broadens your perspective.

Making “I don’t know” palatable

If saying the words “I don’t know” makes you cringe, here are a few alternatives:

  • “I don’t have a concrete solution at the moment. Let me gather some information and I’ll get back to you, shortly.”
  • “I don’t want to make a hasty decision that we may regret, please give me a few hours to look into this.”
  • “This particular situation may warrant a different course of action, I’ll do some research and get back to you by the end of the day.”

These are just a few examples. Of course, you need to modify the language to fit your communication style and work place situation. The most important thing to note in each example are the three elements present:

  1. An admission that you don’t have an answer.
  2. You have a plan and are going to research the topic/possible and solutions.
  3. You provide an appropriate time frame in which you will provide the information/suggested solution.

This approach allows your boss and colleagues to know that you understand the importance of the issue. It also lets them know that you are reliable and are going to work to find the best possible solution in lieu of handing them a half-baked, under-thought remedy which may do more harm than good.

In the end, you actually walk away looking more competent, caring and committed than had you been able to provide an answer immediately.

“I don’t know is not an indictment of incompetence. It is a legitimate, acceptable and more importantly–responsible response when you don’t know an answer.

Your credibility doesn’t lie in your ability to provide encyclopedic knowledge on demand. We have the internet for that. Instead, your credibility lies in your ability to track down, research and synthesize information and provide that information in the proper format to the proper people.

 

4 Steps For Developing Powerful Habits

Behind every success is a trail of bread crumbs. If you retrace the steps of any successful person, you will find a path littered with intentional and pragmatic steps commingled with bits of good fortune along the way. Your success hinges on your ability to establish and develop powerful habits.

Understanding the “habit loop”

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” ~Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Most endeavors begin with noble intentions. However, the best intentions coupled with bad habits is a recipe for failure and disappointment every time. If you set a goal but fail to establish habits that support and move you toward that goal, you are sabotaging your own efforts

We are slaves to our habits. They control us. They dictate our actions and those actions determine our outcomes. When you establish good habits, you get good results.

According to Charles Duhigg, author of the book The Power of Habit, every habit starts with a three-part psychological pattern called a “habit loop.” First, there’s a cue or trigger that signals and sends your brain into automatic mode allowing a behavior to unfold. Then comes the routine, which is the actual the behavior itself. Lastly, is the reward which is something that your brain likes and helps it remember the “habit loop” in the future.

Neuroscientists believe that habit-making behaviors are located in a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which is responsible for the development of emotions, memories and pattern recognition. Decisions and conscious choice, however, are made in the prefrontal cortex which is an entirely different part of the brain. As soon as a behavior pattern has repeated the loop enough times and becomes automatic, the decision-making part of your brain goes into “sleep mode.”

“… the brain starts working less and less,” says Duhigg. “The brain can almost completely shut down. … And this is a real advantage, because it means you have all of this mental activity you can devote to something else.”  He goes on to say, “you can do these complex behaviors without being mentally aware of it at all because of the capacity of our basal ganglia: to take a behavior and turn it into an automatic routine.”

Studies prove that people will perform automated behaviors — like pulling out of a driveway or brushing teeth — the same way every single time, if they’re in the same environment. Understanding how behaviors are formed and solidified is the first step in breaking these bad loops and developing powerful habits.

4 Steps for developing powerful habits

Now that you are aware of how habits are formed and how behaviors are naturally perpetuated by your brain, you can devise a plan to eliminate negative behaviors and institute good habits. Habits are a cycle. And developing powerful habits involves intentional willful acts that establish the correct cycles. Here are 4 steps to help you with this process:

1. Engage in personal introspection and self-reflection

Introspection is a process that involves examining one’s own thoughts and feelings in order to gain insight. Introspection and self-reflection, allows you to, not only recognize patterns and cycles but it also allows you to determine if they are having a detrimental effect on your emotions and outlook. Introspection and reflection also enable you to locate your triggers so that you can interrupt or prevent the “habit loop” from starting. From there, you can find alternative approaches for these triggers and develop a more powerful habit loop.

2. Replace bad habits with more productive ones

Once you have located a bad habit loop, it’s time to interrupt the loop. The biggest mistake most people make when trying to correct a bad habit such as smoking, or overeating is by merely trying to quit the behavior. But remember, when habitual behavior is occurring the brain is on automatic. The prefrontal cortex is in “sleep mode” and requires activation to help break the cycle.

The way bad habits are broken and powerful habits are developed is by replacing a negative habit with a positive one.

Triggers initiate habits. Once the trigger occurs a behavior results. By recognizing the trigger and then consciously replacing a negative behavior with a positive one, you reset the” habit loop.” Let’s use smoking as an example. Stress is what triggers the urge to smoke in most people. When feeling stressed, a person trying to quit smoking will simply try and resist the urge to grab a cigarette. Eventually, the urge becomes overpowering and they give in, or even worse, they start smoking without even realizing it. The correct way to end the cycle is when stress triggers the urge to smoke, a new behavior such as going for a quick walk, chewing a piece of gum or some other constructive behavior should be engaged in. You must identify the cue, substitute the unwanted behavior with a new more productive one and ensure the new behavior is rewarding.

3. Create an action plan

“A goal without a plan is a wish.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

Failing to create a detailed and practical plan is a surefire way of sabotaging your own success. Developing powerful habits is an intentional act that requires a plan. Creating an action plan is a very deliberate and practical process. Below is a model for creating a “habit loop” action plan:

  • Identify and write down the habit that needs changing.
  • Write down two to three (no more than four) behaviors or steps needed to replace the habit.
  • Keep the list visible and refer to it often to keep it top of mind.
  • Try to follow the steps in the same order every time.

Hold yourself accountable for your plan. Record your successes and failures during the process and tweak the plan as often as needed. Be sure to celebrate your successes, and acknowledge your failures—but keep moving forward.

4. Create routines

Consistency is the key to developing powerful habits. Habits that support your goals should become an automatic part of your daily routine. This will ensure consistent progress. Persistence, discipline and determination are born and forged through routines.

Unfortunately, scientists have found that there isn’t a set amount of time or number of repetitions necessary to develop a habit. Biology and genetics are responsible for why some people are more susceptible to habit formation and why others are more resistant. But in every case, the adage–practice makes perfect—holds true.

“Habits are an accretive process,” says Duhigg. Each time you perform the habit, “there’s a thickening of neural pathways. It’s more automatic the third time than the first, and even more automatic the 21st time. Every single time you do it, it gets easier and easier, and eventually you cross the line in the sand where it feels automatic and it’s an almost thoughtless activity.”

Powerful habits are the force that propels you forward and significantly enhances your chances for success. Sometimes the process of change can be a long and arduous process requiring repeated experiments and failures. But once you understand your “habit loops,” can accurately diagnose the cue and find and replace the routine behavior– you gain power over it. The recipe for success begins and ends with powerful habits.

You Don’t Need More Rest, You Need To Learn How To Rest Properly. Here’s How…

Do you ever ask yourself, “why am I so tired?” Is the answer elusive? You eat relatively healthy, you take weekends off and lounge around the house and during the week you come straight home after work so you get in at a decent hour. And you’ve worked hard to establish a good work life balance… So, what gives?

Let’s begin by dissecting the concept of “work-life balance.” When you attempt to balance things, you put them on a scale and work to ensure that they are equal. You then expend copious amounts of time adjusting, planning, shifting and assessing things to ensure you maintain that balance. That’s a lot of work. Furthermore, you set “work” and “life” at odds with one another.

Experts are suggesting a new paradigm shift in which work and life align and work in harmony with one another. The first step to resolving the question, “why am I so tired,” is to alter your perspective and end the exhaustive exercise of trying to establish balance.

Get some rest

“Get some rest.” This has become the most ambiguous piece of advice a person can receive. What is “rest?” Most people tend to define rest as:

  • Lounging on the sofa or laying in bed
  • Doing nothing (is that even possible?)
  • “Netflix and chill”
  • Not doing chores

And while your body is in a relaxed posture your mind isn’t. Rest is a mental activity, not just a physical one. When you engage in the activities like those in the list above, you encourage mental activity that is counterproductive to rest.

If you are like most people, you’ve probably developed the habit of browsing social media while you are relaxing. This type of mental engagement and stimulation can actually leave you more tired than you were initially. Your brain is not only quietly processing all that you are taking in, it is also preparing for and encouraging you to socialize. A recent study found that when the brain isn’t actively engaged in a conscious activity, it shifts into a state of prep for social interaction with others. Mindlessly watching television, browsing the internet or reading tweets isn’t mindless at all.

Another important fact to consider is that the brain needs something to focus on in order to achieve a state of symbiotic rest. It needs a purpose. Think about an activity requiring very little focus and attention–such as showering. Most times you are thinking about other things and your mind is busy working out problems and connecting dots. This type of mental activity is necessary and beneficial but it chases away rest. Letting your mind run free is the quickest path to exhaustion.

So then, sleep must be the only way to rest then right? Wrong–well, partially wrong. The problem with sleeping is that most people tend to oversleep. Oversleeping can actually be detrimental to your health as research has found that it contributes to issues such as heart disease, diabetes and depression.  The amount of sleep you need is unique to you and varies with your lifestyle, activity and stress levels and your overall health.

Now that you can pinpoint some of the things you are doing that are contributing your continued quandary “why am I so tired,” let’s look at what you can do to achieve true rest.

What is rest, really?

Rest is an activity. It is not a state of “doing nothing.” Below are 2 important ways to trigger your brain into actively engaging in rest. They directly oppose what society typically considers rest and relaxation but I challenge you to give them a try.

 

1. Switch between tasks that are opposite in nature.

If you are working at the computer, after a few hours switch to a more physical task, or go for a walk or short run. If you are working on a very technical and detail oriented project, switch to working on something requiring a bit more creativity and whimsy. After being in meetings all day or giving a presentation, work on a quiet task, alone that does not involve other people such as balancing your checkbook or prepping food for dinner. As you participate in each activity, be sure you are practicing mindfulness–or being fully present–as you engage in each activity.

The key here is to remember the brain needs and likes focus. After engaging in some of the tasks above, you are most often tempted to just “veg out.” Giving into this feeling will sap you of the remaining energy you have left.

2. Exercise

Exercise is the cure for what ails us. Moderate exercise reduces stress, increases productivity, overall health and wellness and prolongs life. Research shows that regular amounts of light exercise is one of the best treatments for those suffering from exhaustion and fatigue.

This fact holds true for those with sedentary or physically demanding jobs. Whether you are in a tiny cubicle sitting all day or working at a dock loading and unloading heavy freight, studies show that light amounts of exercise beyond your daily routine helps your mind and body achieve rest.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Georgia found that moderate and low-intensity workouts increase feelings of energy.

“A lot of people are overworked and not sleeping enough,” said Patrick O’Connor, co-director of the university’s exercise psychology laboratory. “Exercise is a way for people to feel more energetic. There’s a scientific basis for it, and there are advantages to it compared to things like caffeine and energy drinks.”

In the study, research subjects were divided into three groups. One group was prescribed 20 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise three times a week for six weeks. The second group engaged in low-intensity aerobic exercise for the same time frame and the third group–which was the control group– did not exercise at all. Both groups of exercisers experienced a 20 percent boost in energy levels compared to the group of nonexercisers. Researchers also discovered that intense exercise is less effective at mitigating fatigue than low-intensity workouts. The low-intensity group reported a 65 percent drop in fatigue levels, while the high-intensity group reported a 49 percent decrease. It’s important to note here that any exercise is better than no exercise.

In order to truly feel rested and refreshed, you must be willing to shift your thinking when it comes to rest. How you feel you should rest is not working for you, so it’s time to develop a new norm and give your mind and body what it actually needs to rest.

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