The Art of Being Alone: Here’s How To Enjoy “Me” Time The Right Way

How you chose to spend your free time is based largely on your personality type and temperament. And while your preferred choice of activities is a great way to spend your free time, you may not be optimizing your “me” time.  You can end up feeling even more drained, depleted and depressed than you did before.

When you think of unwinding and getting in some “me” time, what comes to mind?

Is it a quiet evening at home with you curled up in your favorite spot with a cup of hot tea and a good book? Or maybe it’s an entire day spent binge-watching consecutive seasons of House of Cards or Orange is the New Black on Netflix.

You may be one of those people who prefers to grab the girls and spend the day shopping and the night dancing. Or maybe you call up the bros and shoot hoops or catch the game together.

Or maybe you just sleep all day…

The Purpose of “Me” Time

The true purpose of “me” time is to give yourself the opportunity to get away from the activity and nonsense of life, quiet the noise in your mind and focus on self-care.

It is a time of reflection and self-assessment. It’s a self-imposed mental, emotional, spiritual and physical check-up. It’s about shutting off the world, unplugging and turning your attention inward.

It’s a chance to pause and reboot.

The Art Of Being Alone

Whether you are an introvert, extrovert or ambivert you need time alone. There is a difference between merely being alone and actively being alone.

One is intentional and purposeful while the other is just a circumstance.

Journaling–by either writing down or audio recording your thoughts–is one of the most beneficial things you can do for yourself during this time. It allows you to focus on things that have caused you stress recently and find a way to mitigate that stress moving forward. When journaling you want to:

  • Identify specific incidents that caused you to be upset or feel stressed.
  • List all of the feelings you experienced associated with each incident–such as anger, disappointment, embarrassment, feeling unappreciated, etc.
  • Write down how you overcame those feelings. What did you do to calm your self down, cheer yourself up or move on? Were you able to resolve the situation? If so how?
  • Write down ways that you can avoid the stressor altogether (whenever it is realistically possible) and steps you can take to resolve the situation and appease yourself when you do become stress.
  • And last but most importantly, always end with a list of things for which you are grateful. Research shows that maintaining an attitude of gratitude is one of the quickest and easiest ways to pull yourself out of a mental funk and to move forward. It always helps to look at the bright side of things.

Engaging in reflection and then journaling provides clarity and declutters your thoughts. It allows you to sort, process and make sense of your feelings. It also helps you create a plan for attacking negativity when it rears its ugly head.

Actively being alone allows you to be fully present in the now

Actively being alone helps you eliminate distractions. It allows you to be fully present and in tune with right now. It makes you conscious of what you are doing, feeling and thinking.

Worrying about the future, and being consumed with whether or not you’ll achieve your goals or create your perfect vision of a fulfilling life diverts your attention from the present causing you to miss out on the beauty and opportunity that is in front of you, right now.

You miss the magnitude of moments always reaching for the future.

Learn how to be alone with yourself. And purposefully decide to love yourself enough to spend time with you–with your thoughts. Once you’ve spent time processing your thoughts, you will find that your state of mind changes. Your mood improves and your outlook is better. You can then spread sunshine and goodwill instead of doom, gloom and sadness. You will be a refreshed better version of yourself.

Activating your active alone time

In order for the refreshing to truly begin, you have to remove distractions.  Go to a quiet spot and sit amongst nature. Go to a beach, a wooded area or a quiet park tucked away. And leave your phone in the car or turn it off.

If you can’t take an afternoon to get away, set aside the hour before you go to bed as your active alone time. Shut off all of your electronics, get in touch with you and record your experience.

If you have plans to go to lunch or shopping with friends during your free time, carve out time before or after to disconnect from the outside world and turn your attention inward. You will become a better, more balanced version of yourself.

Make it happen

You will become over-saturated with life from time to time. And getting away for a week in the Bahamas to rest and recharge is not always an option. You have to learn how to create your own little oasis right where you are. You have to make time to spend time with you. This form of mental exercise will help to restore your spirit and give you the type of true rest that recharges your battery and keeps you moving forward.

 

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Dating And Unhappy? Here’s How To Know When You Should End It

The dating scene is a jungle. It’s kill or be killed– or at least it feels that way.

In the age of side-chicks, sexual ambiguity and gender identification issues, sweetheart scams, catfishing and all the other shenanigans that come with dating, finding someone to settle down with seems impossible.

But then you strike gold.

You find yourself in a committed long-term relationship that has the potential to go the distance… and you’re unhappy. Being unhappy is not reason enough to end a solid relationship–is it?

Your partner is the correct gender, he/she is not abusive or a psychopath, has a job and seems to be committed to you and to the relationship.  That should be enough.

But what if it isn’t?

Love versus convenience

Humans are creatures of habit. Once you find something that works and that makes you comfortable you fight to keep it. You embrace the status quo and shun change.  Comfort becomes your default. You will endure sadness, depression and live a life that is unfulfilled because it’s convenient.

You rationalize staying for a variety of reasons. Maybe

  • You have kids together.
  • You’ve been together for a long time.
  • You feel that you’ve got too much time, energy and money invested in the relationship.
  • You just don’t feel like starting over.

And while some of these–such as having kids together–are legitimate reasons to stay in your relationship, if you really perform a deep assessment of how you truly feel you will most likely find the driving force behind your decision to stay is, it’s just easier

You stick with your default–comfort and convenience at all cost.

Longevity does not measure quality

Psychology experts believe that unconsciously we all believe that longevity equates to “goodness.” And there are a plethora of instances where this is an accurate rationale. When a particular product or methodology has stood the test of time, it is probably superior to alternatives, at least in some respects.

The problem is that longevity and tradition aren’t always accurate predictors of goodness — inertia, habit, and the good old fear of change can all be the true reasons why we stick with what we have.

The first problem with chasing longevity or quantity over quality is that you rob yourself and your mate of the opportunity of finding true love and a fulfilling relationship.

The second issue with trying to force something that isn’t meant to be is it can cause resentment, anger, depression and a host of other emotional issues. Feeling unfulfilled for long periods of time can lead to you lashing out at your mate–unfairly–and can also be the breeding ground for affairs and create a toxic environment for you and your partner. You could wind up hurting each other so much deeper than if you simply ended things amicably. Staying can actually do more harm than good.

How to get out of the box

Communicate

The first and most important thing you must do when contemplating ending the relationship is to communicate with your partner. You may be surprised that you are both on the same page.

Regardless how they feel and what you ultimately choose to do, your partner deserves to know upfront that you are unhappy and are contemplating ending the relationship. Having this type of crucial conversation is not fun or easy. But it is the right thing to do for both yourself and your partner.

And even if your partner is devastated initially, chances are when they step back and evaluate the relationship, on some level they already knew. In the end,  honesty is always the best option.

Press Pause

Sometimes, easing out of a relationship is easier than just ripping the band-aid off. Taking a break from each other could be the best way to give you both space to breathe and really evaluate the relationship.

Here are a few ground rules if you do decide that a break is the best way to go:
  • Establish a time limit: Set a time limit for how long the break will last. Once the predetermined amount of time has passed, be sure to come together and discuss next steps. You never want to leave the relationship or your partner in limbo. You, the relationship and your partner need closure.
  • Don’t date other people: Taking a break is not a license to cheat nor is it an opportunity for you to see if there is someone out there better than what you have. The break is about self-reflection and self-evaluation. It’s a trip you have to take alone. If, perchance, you do find someone else while you are apart, break things off with your partner immediately. You always want to act with integrity.
  • Establish ground rules: Sit down with your partner and spell out what is acceptable behavior during the break. Establish how often you will communicate, if/when you will go out or see each other and under what circumstances. Be clear about the space you need and respect the space your partner requests.
  • Don’t establish false expectations: Whatever you do, don’t insinuate or hint in any way that you will get back together after the break. Be clear about your intentions and your desire to end the relationship amicably. Don’t establish false hope or make your partner think that if he or she changes something that the relationship will continue. That is not fair to either of you. Don’t blame them for the relationship ending–simply let them know that you are unhappy in this relationship but not because of anything he or she has done. It just isn’t a good fit. Be lovingly firm in your explanation.

Deciding to end a dating relationship is never really easy–if you care for the other person. Having the courage to let a stale and unproductive relationship go is a tremendous sacrifice and an act of love. It could be the greatest thing you’ve ever done or it could be the biggest mistake of your life. But that’s how life works.

If you want a genuinely happy, healthy and fulfilling relationship, you have to be willing to take some risks. Staying in a relationship out of fear, guilt or for any other reason except genuine and true affection for the other person is damaging to you, your partner and the relationship.

Featured image by Anil kumar on Flickr

Fighting Fair: How To Deal With Conflict In Romantic Relationships

We’ve all seen them…that awkward couple who argues in public.

The lady jumps up and throws a drink in her companion’s face, snatches her purse and storms out of the five-star restaurant in tears.

The angry, loud couple at Wal-mart who get into a heated shouting match that escalates to the point that they start throwing shoes at each other.

OR the poor sap angrily pacing on the street corner waving his arms wildly as he shouts obscenities into the phone.

As bystanders, we may chuckle and shake our heads as we witness these scenes. Vowing, deep down inside never to be that couple.

And then one day, YOU are the one being escorted out of Wal-Mart by security and threatened with legal action if you and your mate ever return.

Congratulations. You have become that couple.

It happens to the best of us

Arguments in romantic relationships are normal and actually healthy. In fact, research shows that a couple that doesn’t argue is in more trouble than the ones who make public spectacles of themselves. According to author and relationship expert Diane Sawaya Cloutier, healthy couples don’t shy away from conflict and are not afraid to broach difficult topics. She believes that

“when taboo or uncomfortable topics remain unaddressed, they can turn any benign event into a big drama that could have been avoided in the first place…”

Relationship experts all agree that healthy relationships are riddled with arguments. And it makes sense. You have two passionate and intelligent individuals with entirely different backgrounds and histories sharing the same space and having to navigate life together. Under those circumstances, arguing is inevitable.

It’s not about the “what.” It’s all about the “how.”

The concept of conflict or arguing conjures up negative thoughts and emotions in most people. If your mate doesn’t agree with you, you may feel a sense of betrayal and lash out at him or her because you are hurt. You may

  • give him or her the silent treatment.
  • disappear without checking in for hours or even days on end.
  • attack your partner (name calling, belittling) instead of the issue.
  • make an issue black or white/right or wrong with your point of view as being entirely right and their’s entirely wrong.
  • bad mouth your mate to your family or friends or even worse–posting cryptic messages on social media.

The normal human inclination is to lash out or retaliate when you are hurt or threatened. The problem with retaliation is that it only compounds the issue–not resolve it.

The truth is love is a scary thing. When you are truly in love, you open yourself up and become vulnerable. You are exposed and subject to being hurt.

Fighting Fair

The key to healthily handling conflicts that arise in your relationship is to respond constructively–with love and logic. And work to avoid knee-jerk fear-based reactions.

Conflict is inevitable. Instead of waiting for it to arise and dealing with it on the fly, it is far more productive to take a proactive, intentional approach to dealing with conflict. And while you can’t anticipate the nature of the argument, you can plan a tactical response.

Below are a few strategies to help you and your partner constructively deal with conflict:

1. Assess your feelings before you engage

In lieu of flying off the handle and laying into your partner, take a moment to check your emotions and gather your thoughts. You have to move from your initial visceral and primitive feelings to a place of practicality and analysis. The quicker you do this the better.

When you feel anger and other negative emotions begin to bubble toward the surface, take a break and calm yourself down. You are allowed to feel how you feel. Your feelings are valid and legitimate. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they should be expressed at that moment. Your feelings will change and fluctuate, it’s important to understand how you truly feel (at least to some extent) and why before you discuss.

2. Watch your mouth

Once you’ve had a chance to process and sort through your emotions, then you are ready to share your feelings with your partner. When discussing the issue:

  • Be open and honest about your feelings.
  • Use “I feel” statements and try to avoid negative “you” statements.
  • Explain why you feel the way you do and allow your partner to ask clarifying questions. The key here is to discuss your emotions without giving into them. It’s tough, but it’s doable.

3. Don’t run away

Avoiding or refusing to deal with conflict doesn’t make it go away. Avoiding issues will turn molehills into mountains. And everything becomes a huge fight.

The primary goal in any conflict is to resolve it. But there are other underlying benefits to addressing conflicts even when a resolution is not possible. You make your partner feel heard. You make him or her feel valuable, special and loved. These are far more important than any temporary dispute. Stay and fight fair.

4. Agreeing to disagree

More often than not, there may not be a clear right or wrong answer. Although your viewpoints may be on the opposite ends of the spectrum, they both are valid and worth considering. In some cases, after you’ve hashed out how both of you feel in a calm and rational manner, you may have to agree to disagree.

Reaching an impasse can feel like a complete waste of time initially, but going through the process of trying to correctly resolve the conflict will strengthen the relationship long-term. Although a resolution wasn’t reached, both parties leave the discussion feeling heard, validated and valued. Everybody wins!

In the case when action must be taken, give it some time. Allow yourself time to process all that your partner has said and work to find a solution that takes into account how they feel and also produces a solution you can both live with. This process takes time and may take multiple discussions. But the more you do it the easier and more natural the process becomes.

5. Choose your confidants wisely

Discussing the issue with someone else is a great way to gain a different perspective on the issue. The danger with talking to a third party is they could offer advice that could exacerbate the situation. When choosing a relationship confidant here are a few things you should look for:

  • Someone who knows you very well.
  • Someone who can be objective and level-headed.
  • Someone who has your best interest at heart.
  • Someone you respect.
  • Someone who will lovingly tell you the truth and not just what you want to hear.
  • Someone who has a successful relationship or at the very least understands how to handle conflict productively.

Once you’ve gotten good solid advice and have had a chance to reevaluate your position, go back and readdress the issue with your partner.

Final Word

It’s normal for a couple to quarrel from time to time—it comes with the territory. But it shouldn’t be the background music of your relationship. Conflicts and arguments don’t jeopardize a relationship. How you chose to respond does.

Successful couples have the ability to solve problems and let them go. They focus on taking care of the issue rather than attacking each other. Even when angry, they find ways to be upset and stay close at the same time.

Conflict gives you and your partner the opportunity to identify issues, address them, improve yourselves and the relationship and move on. All couples fight. Successful couples fight right.

Featured image by Vic on Flickr CC 2.0 license

Relationship Dull And Boring? Here’s How To Add Some Sizzle

The attraction was instant. Those lips, hips and fingertips–head to toe perfection.

The smile melted your heart and those eyes stole your soul.

It was like finding the perfect piece of fruit at the Farmer’s Market. An unblemished apple. Deep-red, shiny, polished and juicy.

You had to have that one.

Then one day–six months or so down the road–you happen to see an orange.

What if…

Your eyes are open and begin to wander and you discover other tantalizing delights. Mangos, pineapple, strawberries, bananas and other exotic fruits.

Your apple goes from shiny, red perfection to old, boring and unappetizing.

The brain loves surprises

The brain craves excitement and novelty. It’s how we’re wired.  In fact, studies show that the brain’s pleasure center “turns on” when we experience new and pleasurable events.

The problem with this natural tendency is it leads us into believing that the relationship is somehow flawed because the feeling of excitement and intense passion has faded.

Once the excitement and passion die, you tend to lose interest in the relationship and then your partner. You stop working. You stop seeking common ground and to understand each other.

In fact, six out of ten couples are unhappy with their relationships, citing lack of spontaneity, romance and sex as the primary factors contributing to their dissatisfaction.

Once the romance dies and you begin to lose interest your relationship will begin quickly tumbling towards its demise unless you proactively begin to work to counteract and embrace this new slower pace.

When deciding how to handle the boredom and salvage your relationship there are a few things you should avoid doing:

1. Ignoring the issue

  • Keeping the same routine after realizing that you and your mate are bored by the relationship is a bad idea. Things don’t just get better. You have to make them better.
  • Refrain from adopting the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it attitude.” You know you and your partner are both a bit underwhelmed by the relationship but you may feel that things are ok the way they are. Nothing’s wrong per se, so you feel you shouldn’t fiddle with things and end up making the situation worse. However, when it comes to a relationship “ok” doesn’t equal good. A relationship is perpetual work.

2. Seeking excitement outside of your relationship

  • Don’t stay in a relationship simply because it is the safe thing to do. Choosing to stay in a relationship because it’s safe and even comfortable is selfish and unfair to your partner. You’ll end up wounding your spouse with “extracurricular” activities. The old cliche, “you can’t have your cake and eat it too,” definitely applies here.
  • Dating other people or seeking other forms of excitement outside of your relationship will provide you a temporary reprieve from the boredom. But it won’t last. And you will create an infinite loop that will have to be repeated over and over. The only way the loop ends is with heartbreak and your partner feeling betrayed and emotionally crushed.

3. Ending the relationship out of boredom

  • Love trumps excitement. Choosing to end your relationship simply because you are bored could cost you a once in a lifetime opportunity. In every relationship, the honeymoon will end. It is inevitable and unavoidable. Understanding and accepting that your relationship will become stable and a bit routine is the first step towards experiencing pure love and having a mature adult relationship.
  • Moving on when excitement wanes also drives you towards another infinite loop. You will go from partner to partner and end relationship after relationship searching for excitement. You may achieve pockets of excitement but you will forfeit true love. True love emerges in the everyday grind. When the relationship becomes monotonous that’s a sign that it’s time to work not run.

Combating boredom

The key to combating boredom and keeping the relationship healthy is in doing a couple of things:

1. Accept that boredom is a part of a healthy relationship

Boredom in a relationship signifies that you and your partner are comfortable with each other and you know each other pretty well. This is a good thing. It signifies that the relationship is stable and both partners are at ease. You have a routine and routines provide stability and a sense of security and calm. These are good things.

However, acceptance doesn’t mean that your relationship should stay in a stagnate and uninspired state. It simply means that you should look at boredom as a positive part of a healthy relationship and then work to deepen your bond and spice things up.

2. Get out of the rut

Relationship coach and therapist Anita Chlipala believes that when couples engage in new, challenging and exciting things together they can reignite the passion and invigorate the relationship. She suggests that both partners try new things and tackle a task together as a couple. Below are a few examples:

  • Go camping
  • Recreate your first date
  • Take a class together such as a couples’ painting class.
  • Do something adventurous and a little scary. Go to an amusement park, bungee jumping, skydiving, go-carting, zip-lining or something else that excites and excites you both.
  • Plan and go on a staycation.
  • Surprise your spouse with a romantic evening. Pull out all the stops and surround them with all of their favorite things.
  • Try a 30-day challenge where you do something different–outside of your normal routine–every day.
  • Commit to a standing date night. Go out, stay in, whatever a date means to you as a couple–commit and make it happen.

In the end, you decide the type of relationship you have. Whenever you hit a time where the fun, spontaneity and excitement seem to dissipate just remember that it just a phase and all relationships experience the dreaded rut. Then find creative ways to spice things up.

Couples who find ways to add novelty and excitement to their relationship report higher levels of relationship satisfaction. Once you embrace the fact that boredom will come and go throughout your relationship you can proactively attack it and live happily ever after.

Relationships: The Secret To Romance And Longevity

The first six months are magical. There are flowers, candy and hundreds of emoji-filled texts that are all promptly read and reciprocated.  When you end a romantic evening, you go your separate ways only to rush home and Facetime one another.

You eat off each other’s plate, wipe each other’s mouths and walk down the street with your hands in each other’s back pocket. You have become THAT couple but you are oblivious to what others think.

You’re in love.

And you now have the confidence in this new relationship to change your Facebook status from “single” to “In a relationship,” and to post cute pics on Instagram with “#couplegoals” as the caption. And that seals the deal. It is official.  You are in a genuine adult relationship.

Life is good.

You are happy.

And then you break up.

Why good goes bad

Most dating relationships fizzle around the 18-month time frame and the breakup occurs before the two-year mark. During that time, you slowly go from hot and heavy to “meh” and the feelings associated with being in love–the butterflies and the longing–dissipate. You and your mate begin to wonder if you’ve found “the one.”

If you’re married, you’ve probably heard of the “seven-year itch.” That’s the time when psychology experts believed a marriage is at its most vulnerable. But new research shows that marriages are actually more susceptible to demise far sooner. New studies show that marriages begin to falter around year three— earning the handle “three-year glitch.” And most first-year marriages that end in divorce do so within the first three-and-a-half to five years.

After year three, you’ve probably seen your partner at their absolute worst–physically and emotionally. You’ve seen some things that you don’t particularly care for–and so have they.

You are left with the reality that your mate is flawed and a little crazy.

The honeymoon is officially over.

The feelings of being “in love” are waning. The passion is gone. Your days are bland. And sex has dwindled to the occasional, routine, uninspired and mediocre romp.

So how do you avoid splitting up?

It’s just a phase

The first thing a couple seeking a viable, long-term relationship must understand is that infatuation and love are not the same. Infatuation is the feeling. Love is the action.

Infatuation is the feelings associated with new love–butterflies, extreme longing, giddiness and the lack of objectivity. It is wonderfully intoxicating to be infatuated with someone. The problem with infatuation is that it is a feeling. And feelings change.

Love, on the other hand, has nothing to do with feelings. Love is a commitment to doing whatever it takes to make a relationship work. Including staying committed and faithful during the “down times” of the relationship.

The second and crucial thing you have to understand and embrace is that every relationship goes through a series of phases. And in order to maintain a long, happy and viable relationship you have to endure all of the phases.

You’ve got to enjoy the good and survive the bad.

Below are the five phases every relationship must endure:

1. Infatuation

This is the honeymoon stage. It is filled with lots of kisses and touching each other for no particular reason. It is when you are completely taken by your mate and are blind to his or her flaws. You are on your best behavior, take extra time getting ready and use your “A” material. It is the easiest of the five phases to endure and it is very intense.

2. Coupling

This is still within the infatuation or honeymoon stage. You are still blinded by love but have the clarity to see that this relationship has long-term potential. This is when the relationship becomes exclusive and you begin making long-term plans with your partner.

You are hot and heavy and can’t seem to get enough of each other.

There is still lots of hand-holding, cuddling and you give each other meaningful nicknames. You begin to share yourself more intimately with your mate.

3. Disillusionment

Stage three is when the relationship becomes real. The blinders are off and you begin to see your mate for who he/she really is. Physical touch–hand-holding, kissing and other forms of physical intimacy–maybe starting to slow down a bit. The butterflies are gone and your mate is not as cute as they once were.

The hardest part about stage three is that you both begin to question the relationship.

4. Team Building

Once you’ve chosen to move past stage four and to stick with the relationship, you develop a deep and intimate bond. This is the time when couples really begin to merge their lives. Serious discussions concerning marriage, kids and finances ensue and plans are made to move the couple forward as a unit.

A partnership has formed.

Many couples make it to this phase experience a long, healthy and productive life together.

But there is one more phase…

5. True Love

Stage five of the relationship is when the couple becomes a solid team. The relationship moves past “me and you” decision-making and the team becomes more important than the individuals. It requires selfless acts of sacrifice, extreme levels of endurance and doing whatever it takes to make the union work.

This is the part of a relationship everyone longs for but few reach. It’s the true love phase.

It’s when the couple has its best chance of making it to “happily-ever-after.”

That’s not to say that there will not be challenges, hardships and bumps in the road. But it does mean that both parties are committed to staying and making the relationship work–no matter what.

It the place of full acceptance and unconditional love.

Stuck in stage three

Most relationships that end do so somewhere within stage three. Other relationships can last for years and never make it out of stage three, but the relationship is not healthy and neither partner is fulfilled.

The first thing you must understand when you began to feel disillusioned is that feelings don’t sustain a relationship. Feelings are unreliable because they vary and are subject to moods and external factors.

Think of when a family celebrates the arrival of a newborn. At first, all of the attention is on the new addition and everything is sweet and cute. After a few months of dirty diapers, spit up and random crying the initial excitement passes but the parents still deeply love the child.

Romantic relationships function this way as well. It’s the struggling process that helps both partners grow and this process also helps the relationship grow into something better, something that will last.

Struggle and hardships are the glue and strengthening agents of the relationship, not the good times.

Giving up at Stage 3 is like declaring a patient dead while there is still a pulse.

Moving forward

The second thing you must understand is the duration of each stage is different for every couple. For some couples, the honeymoon stage may last for years and for others a few months.

The important thing to note is the length of the stage has no correlation to the viability of the relationship.

The third thing to remember is when you reach stage three, you determine how long it will last. Getting out of stage three requires you to make a decision. You must decide that your relationship is worth it and you must choose to go all in.

Here are a few things you can do to get past stage 3:

Recognize that questioning your relationship is normal and necessary.

Allow yourself time to assess whether or not your concerns are simply connected to a loss of passion or if you have legitimate concerns about your partner and the relationship.

Share your concerns with your partner.

Saying something as simple as “I feel that we’ve lost the romance and passion we once had,” could be the jolt the relationship needs. It can initiate a healthy dialogue and assist you both in actively addressing your concerns.

Sharing your concerns and seeking advice from others during this time is normal and acceptable, just be careful who you listen to.

Make a decision and then put in the work.

Once you decide that the relationship is viable–do something about it. Don’t make your decision and then hope things will get better. Actively work to improve and enhance your relationship.

Try new things. Do things your partner likes to do. Be romantic on purpose. Relationships take heaps of effort. It’s time to put in the work.

All relationships take time, energy and targeted intentional effort. It doesn’t matter how “lovey-dovey” cute and cuddly you are in the beginning. The honeymoon will end. And when it does you must work in order to make it last. Stage three doesn’t have to be the death of your relationship. You control whether your relationship lives or dies.

You control whether your relationship lives or dies.

Featured image by IG@Blackcitygirl 

Productivity Virtual Summit

Denise Hill Presents: Conquering The Fears In Front Of Our Goals

September 21st at 2 pm eastern

THIS FREE EVENT EMPOWERS YOU WITH PROVEN STRATEGIES AND TACTICS TO ACCOMPLISH MORE PRIORITIES, FEEL LESS STRESSED, AND LIVE A HAPPIER LIFE

 

Click here to watch my session: Conquering The Fears In Front Of Your Goals

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

 

 

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.

The Secret Sauce: You Are A Good Leader. Here’s How To Be A Great One

There is no prescription or secret formula for being a good leader. I know you’ve read articles such as “Seven Ways To Lead Successfully,” or Ten Things Every Good Leader Should Do,” and so on… But the truth is that a concrete methodology or a specific set of skills, abilities and character traits that make up a great leader just doesn’t exist. There is no secret sauce…

Stop Chasing Ghosts

You want to be a good leader—no scratch that–you want to be an exceptional leader. To do this, you must first disassociate yourself with all of your preconceived notions concerning leadership and empty your repertoire of the canned and contrite leadership advice you’ve heard along the way.

Leadership is situational. What works in one situation or with one team would be disastrous in another context. Understanding and truly embracing this fundamental truth is the first step toward becoming a great leader. You cannot imitate a great leader and then become one. Every situation, organization, team and individual has a unique set of circumstances, nuances and factors. Consider this, a person can be a strong and exceptional leader in one aspect and completely inept in another. Some of the best and brightest corporate CEO’s struggle as parents. A pastor of a large congregation may flop as an entrepreneur. Leadership is situational and dependent on a plethora of factors.

Great leaders are not reproducible. Think about all of the great leaders throughout history: George Washington, Ben Franklin, Marin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Jesus, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, Barack Obama and the list goes on… All of these people have one thing in common—they were originals who have not–and never–will be duplicated. And even if we brought them back to life, gave them a new company or re-elected them into office, their leadership style would be different and their success as leaders is not guaranteed.

What a good leader is

The definition of leadership is the power to influence. That’s it. It is not outcome focused. It has nothing to do with one’s ability to strategize. It is not dependent upon charisma, drive, or intellect. Leadership is dependent on your ability to impact people in a way that makes them want to follow you or are in some way influenced by you.

John Maxwell, bestselling author, speaker and leadership guru put it this way:

“True leadership cannot be awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence, and that cannot be mandated. It must be earned. The only thing a title can buy is a little time-either to increase your level of influence with others or to undermine it.”

James R. Bailey, author and contributor to the Harvard Business Review echoes Maxwell’s sentiments about leadership. He describes a leader as one who excites, energizes, and stimulates. He sees a great leader as one who can galvanize the masses. A truly great leader is able to spark collective action and stir passion within people.  Think about the leaders I listed above… They influenced entire generations and nations of people.

Leadership is dependent on how others see, feel about and respond to you. It is not what you can accomplish or bullying others into submitting to your will. You can be the greatest strategist on earth with an IQ of 160 but if no one willingly follows you and helps champion your cause—you are not a good leader. Conversely, you can have the intellect of a peanut, and be a poor planner yet if you can connect with and inspire people enough to take on your cause, not only are you a great leader, you will also accomplish more than a mere intellectual.

If you are following along and doing some deductive reasoning, you’ve probably realized that great leaders are good with and passionate about people—not just results.

What a great leader is not

Now that we’ve established that a great leader has to be adept in dealing with people meaning they must be: empathetic, compassionate, approachable, trustworthy, articulate, good listeners, effective communicators, experts in conflict resolution, understanding  of the strengths and weakness of each team member and of the team as a whole, etc., you have a clearer picture of what traits you need for your situation. But before you dive in and transform yourself, let’s discuss what a great leader is not. A great leader is not:

A Con-Artist

Master manipulators are not, I repeat, are not good leaders. The difference between manipulation and influence lies in the intent of the leader and the will of the follower. If the person you are leading is following you under false pretenses or you’ve coerced them into following you, they are not truly being influenced. They are being tricked. A person who positively influences people is attractive because their cause, methods and approach resonate with their followers. People genuinely want to be a part of the leader’s vision and efforts. The key word here is genuine. The leader’s motives must be pure and the team’s allegiance must come from a place of honesty and free-will.

A Bully

People submit to bullies out of fear. A bully may get what he or she wants for a while but one thing they will never experience is true loyalty from their followers. A great leader doesn’t use intimidation, threats and strong-armed tactics to lead. Pride, selfishness and arrogance are embedded in the heart of a bully and these three traits are exactly what undermines effective leadership. Case in point–Donald Trump… enough said.

A manager or boss

Most people don’t consider their boss, supervisor or direct superior a great leader. Bosses are in no way inspiring or influential. Don’t get me wrong, your boss or supervisor could be a great leader, however, most often, that is not the case.

A “boss” is task oriented. A good boss is a master at maintaining the status quo, keeping the boat a float and the passengers alive. He or she guides processes, is strategic and manages the work environment. A great leader impacts and changes the environment, charts a new course and ignites passion and excitement in his or her crew.

A boss is selected based on his or her ability to get a job done, meet deadlines and keep the staff or team from killing each other. Bosses are not problem-solvers in the truest sense of the word. They manage and handle problems. Great leaders—because of their ability to connect with others, can get to the heart of an issue and completely resolve it. Bosses are not bad people, but they are not great leaders.

Transcending good and becoming great

So far we’ve created a well-rounded view of what a great leader looks like. We all know them when we see them but how do we, as leaders move from being good to great?

Remember there is no method, prototype or recipe for becoming a great leader. It is highly situational. You must have the ability to assess the situation, your team and yourself to determine what it will take for you to truly impact the hearts and excite passion in your team members. Some team members may not believe in the mission or the outcome but they will believe in you. Below are three core traits all great leaders have in common:

1. Intuition

Intuition is knowledge that comes from internal instincts rather than conscious reasoning. It’s that “gut feeling.” An intuitive leader is experienced, observant and very astute at reading people. Unfortunately, intuition cannot be taught, it can, however, be developed and sharpened through time and experience. Here’s an interesting fact about intuition: scientist believe that your instincts are accurate between 70% and 90% of the time. The answers are already inside of you.

Intuitive leaders have discovered how to access and listen to that still small voice that tells them something is wrong, this is the opportunity of a lifetime and to see potential in people where it isn’t obvious.  And an amazing thing begins to happen once you begin listening to and following your instincts—that little voice grows louder, becomes more powerful and even more accurate.

3. Integrity

This is another trait that can’t be taught. Integrity levels grow and shrink based on how you operate when integrity is needed. Integrity, at its most basic level, is what you do when no one is watching. When you can get away with something without being caught. A good leader operates with integrity most of the time. He or she is able to count the cost and determine when they can bend the rules.

A great leader operates with integrity ALL of the time.  The hallmark of a great leader is his or her ability to stay true to their mission, vision and core values and they demand and hold others accountable for maintaining the same standards.

3. Insight

Insight encompasses and transcends being a visionary. Insight requires you to see beyond… It is the ability to see into the core of people, situations and circumstances. It is both long-term focused and short-sighted. Insight is kin to intuition and drives our instincts. You can’t influence what you can’t truly see. Insight comes from wisdom and wisdom is born through experience and learning how to think. The best way to develop insight is through mentorship. Pick the brains of successful people. Ask questions—incessantly. Bounce your ideas off those who are older, wiser, more experienced–and more importantly– more successful than you are.

The Secret Sauce

At the beginning of the article, I told you there is no secret sauce to becoming a great leader but that isn’t quite accurate. There is a secret sauce—it’s YOU. YOU are the primary ingredient that determines how successful you are as a leader and how well your team works to realize the mission. Leadership is your ability to influence. YOU are the common denominator, the equalizer and the “it factor” that determines if you are a good or great leader.  YOU are the secret sauce.

Breaking Up Is Easy… Here’s Why You Should Stay

We’ve all had the dream. You see the man or woman of our dreams across a crowded room. Your eyes lock. And at that moment you both know… And then you ride off into the sunset and begin your “happily ever after.”

While most people do get to experience “happy for a little while,” only a select few make it to “happily ever after.” Relationships are tough. And sustaining a relationship after the butterflies are gone, and you’ve seen her without makeup or have been assaulted by his morning breath–is especially difficult.

Relationships are tough

That is the honest, hard truth. A relationship takes time, effort, energy, patience and lots of work in order for it to succeed. Most people bail as soon as things get a little rocky. Society has deceived us into believing that if we are unhappy in a relationship, that is a sign that it wasn’t meant to be. Nothing could be further from the truth. Romantic comedies, fairy tales and sultry novels have distorted our view of a relationship’s dynamics.

Lisa Blum, Psy.D,– a clinical psychologist in California specializing in emotionally focused therapy for couples–believes

“the strongest most enduring relationships take lots of hard work… our culture, education system and parenting styles don’t prepare us for the fact that even good relationships take effort.”

Divorce/Breaking up doesn’t solve the issues

Desiring a relationship and sustaining one are two very different things. Most people want to be in a relationship. According to the American Psychological Association, 90% of folks have been married, at least once, by the time they are 50. The divorce rate for those who marry hovers somewhere between 40 and 50 percent. And the divorce rate for second or third marriages is even higher.

Divorce and breakups do end the relationship but don’t necessarily resolve any issues. This is why the divorce rate for subsequent marriages is so high. Most often a person will leave a relationship, hop into another one and repeat the same behaviors and cycles. It is easier to bounce from one relationship to another than it is to stick it out, put in the work and make your current relationship last.

That’s not to say that if the relationship is abusive or toxic that you should stay–especially if you aren’t married. There are times when breaking up is the best and safest course of action. Often times, however, we quit because we feel unhappy, the passion has waned or we feel we are exerting too much energy to make the relationship work.

Should I stay or should I go?

So you’ve read the first part of this article but you’re still not sure if you should stick it out or not. Here are some things to consider:

Are you both willing to do the work?

Marriage is NOT 50/50. Marriage is 100%–however you can get there. It is rare that both people are in the same place–emotionally, spiritually, mentally and sexually–at the exact same time. Sometimes one person is in a position to give more in an area than the other. One may be putting in 70 and the other 30 and that’s ok–for a season.

The problem arises when one person is always giving more than the other. Having an off day or being in a bad place is understandable–laziness is not. If you are dating someone for a period of time and you realize that you are doing all the work in all areas–you may want to reconsider your position. That is not sustainable–or healthy–over a long period of time.

Is the relationship fulfilling?

Happiness is relative and dependent on external circumstances. It ebbs and flows with the tides of life. Fulfillment, however, is a more constant and steady state. It doesn’t change as often as happiness does. Fulfillment, not happiness should be the barometer of your relationship.

If you are a neat freak and your partner leaves his or her clothes on the floor, eats food in bed, tracks mud all throughout the house and never cleans up after him or herself you are going to be unhappy–a lot. However, if you feel safe, loved unconditionally and valued as a person you are more likely to be in a continuous state of fulfillment even though your happiness comes and goes. If a relationship is fulfilling for both people and they both are willing to do what they can when they can, then the relationship is solid.

Happily ever after doesn’t just happen

Having a fulfilling, healthy and long lasting relationship takes time and effort. Here are the top three problems couples face and must deal with–continuously–in order to achieve the fairy tale:

1. Loss of passion and excitement

Loss of passion is absolutely, 100% normal and is experienced by all couples. The “high” you experience during the early stages of love are similar to what a drug addict feels when he snorts cocaine. When you are in love, your brain is swimming in the “feel good” chemicals–dopamine and norepinephrine. They are addicting. Which is why breakups are so hard.

Over time the chemicals begin to wear off and your body begins to regulate the production and release of these chemicals. This is a natural and physiological process. However, most mistake it as a sign that the love is fading or the relationship is dying. They end that relationship and seek out another so they can experience the love”high” again.

Here are some very practical things you can do to reignite the spark of romance and add a bit of excitement back into your relationship:

Engage in new activities with each other. Ditch the routine and shake things up a bit.

Add some mystery and excitement to the bedroom. Play around with lingerie, mood lighting, fragrances, and edibles. Tantalize all 5 senses in a different way. Try something new (but make sure both parties are “in to” whatever you suggest).

Seek arousal-producing activities. Things that get your heart racing and blood pumping are also good for the libido. Research shows that if you participate in an activity together that creates an endorphin and adrenaline rush you create a state of heightened arousal that can be transferred to your relationship.

2. Communication issues

The number one issues underpinning most problems in a relationship is communication. When communication breaks down, fights happen, people get hurt, and the relationship suffers.

Communication involves so much more than just verbal discussions. Understanding how to speak to your significant other in a manner that resonates with them is key. The 5 Love Languages is a great place to start. The premise of this book and communication model is best summed up by the words of the book’s author Gary Chapman:

“My conclusion after thirty years of marriage counseling is that there are basically five emotional love languages—five ways that people speak and understand emotional love. In the field of linguistics a language may have numerous dialects or variations. Similarly, within the five basic emotional love languages, there are many dialects….The important thing is to speak the love language of your spouse.”

According to Chapman, the 5 love languages are:

Words of Affirmation: Expressing affection through spoken affection, praise, or appreciation.

Acts of Service: Actions, rather than words, are used to show and receive love.

Receiving Gifts: Gifting is symbolic of love and affection.

Quality Time: Expressing affection with undivided attention.

Physical Touch: It can be sex or holding hands. With this love language, the speaker feels affection through physical touch.

 

3. Lack of appreciation (taking each other for granted)

This is another one of those things that is inevitable in a long-term relationship. You don’t mean to take each other for granted–it just happens over time. Taking each other for granted and focusing on the negatives of your mate or the relationship is detrimental and will keep you in a constant state of unhappiness. Once you’ve been unhappy long enough, you will start to question your level of fulfillment.

An excellent way to actively and intentionally combat this is by incorporating the 5:1 rule into your thinking and communication with your spouse. For every one negative between you, you should find five positives. For every negative comment, you should dole out five compliments. This trains your brain to focus on the positives in lieu of the negatives. It also helps you develop and maintain an attitude of gratitude toward your relationship and your mate.

In a nutshell

Relationships are tough. They require constant nurturing and attention. Having realistic expectations and a plan to combat the loss of passion and excitement, communication issues and failing to appreciate and cherish one another are the secrets to happily ever after.

Adapted from original on Lifehack.org

Effective Communication And Good Leadership Are Synonymous. Here’s How It’s Done…

Leaders are the most scrutinized, misinterpreted and misunderstood people in the world. As a leader, you must be cognizant of your tone, body language and your word choice. You have to be firm but not overbearing, assertive but never aggressive, friendly but never to familiar…and the list goes on. Good leadership is akin to walking a tightrope while juggling knives and being chased by a lion.

Communicating as a leader is difficult.

Effective communication and good leadership are synonymous. They are espoused. If the two ever divorce, efforts, organizations, and vision become orphans struggling to survive in a dysfunctional home.

One particular aspect of communication trips up more leaders than anything else…and that is providing feedback to those they lead. It’s tricky terrain to navigate. There are so many extremes and variations of feedback, from the angry boss that no one can please, to the leader who provides no feedback whatsoever. Understanding and appreciating the value and importance is one side of this important coin. The other side is truly understanding how to use feedback and criticism as a tool that corrects and empowers those you lead.

Understanding Feedback

The first step in providing proper feedback is to understand what it is. The best description that aptly frames the concept of feedback is Kevin Eikenberrry’s four types of feedback model. His model breaks feedback into four distinct categories:

1. Negative feedback: corrective comments about past behavior (things that didn’t go well).

2. Positive feedback: affirming comments about past behavior (things that went well and should be repeated).

3. Negative feedforward: corrective comments about future behavior (things that shouldn’t be repeated in the future).

4. Positive feedforward: affirming comments about future behavior (things that would improve future performance).

His approach encourages leaders to establish a balance between the positive and negative with emphasis on providing advice on how to improve in the future. This is the primary component that is largely missing from the feedback repertoire of most leaders–focusing on the future or feedforward.

Helping those you lead understand what worked and what didn’t and how they can move forward without repeating negative behaviors should be the goal of feedback. Simply providing negative–or even positive feedback isn’t enough. Feedback should be a tool that teaches, enhances and moves people forward. Feedback that isn’t accomplishing this is ineffective.

Harnessing the Power of Feedback

Now that we have a clear picture of what balanced feedback looks like, let’s turn our attention to the “how” of providing feedback. One of the most ineffective, insincere forms of feedback is the blanket praise that is vague and insincere.

“I’d like to thank the team for doing such a great job and for all of their hard work on that project.” It sounds nice and it technically is positive feedback but it doesn’t point out which behaviors were good and should be repeated and what they should do to improve performance on the next project. It also may feel disingenuous to some team members who may feel they carried more of the load than others. Everyone is aware that a leader is supposed to say “great job team!” and be encouraging, however, feedback should never have a “check the box” feel.

Below are a few things to consider as you are providing balanced, yet feedforward focused feedback:

1. Make sure your feedback is objective and not emotional in nature.

This is especially critical when dealing with massive mistakes that have been made. It’s important to take some time, cool off, evaluate the situation and choose your words carefully. Try to take a step back from the situation and view it from an objective standpoint. You want to provide feedback that is helpful, actionable and that builds the team.

2. Target behaviors NOT the person or the team.

Personality conflicts are a part of human interaction. As a leader, you are not going to like everyone on your team–but you should respect and value them. Don’t let personal feelings and preferences cloud your judgment and lead you to attack a person’s personality or character. Make sure your feedback is authentic and that it is designed to bring about positive change and is never used to inflict wounds.

3. Keep the feedback balanced. Always affirm positive behaviors you want to be repeated.

Always try to balance the negative with the positive. Giving too much negative feedback or feedforward can leave those you lead feeling disillusioned and that you are never satisfied. When giving positive feedback, make sure that it is about specific and reproducible behaviors.

4. When giving negative feedback be sure you provide suggestions and guidance on how performance can be improved in the future.

We’ve established that providing negative feedback is essential for growth, however pointing out the negative without providing suggestions for corrective actions can leave your team feeling hopeless. For example, if an employee is constantly interrupting and cutting people off in meetings, let them know what they are doing and how it affects others. Then, provide suggestions on how they can improve that behavior–such as signaling/gesturing they have something to say and would like to comment once their cohort has finished speaking in lieu of cutting them off mid-sentence.

5. Focus on the strengths of your team and show them how to leverage their strengths to compensate for their weaknesses.

Chase negative feedback with positive feedforward. If an individual is constantly late to meetings and the meetings are unable to begin on time, constantly run over or information has to be repeated; let the person know that being on time is critical to the effectiveness of the team. You could then assign them a task that plays to one of their strengths and requires them to get to the meeting ahead of time–such as prepping the meeting space, recording the minutes, moderating the meeting or calling the meeting to order.

6. Engage in dialogue, not a monologue.

The more personal and engaging the conversation is the more effective it will be. Allow your team to know that you care about them and are personally invested in their success. Encourage them to participate in the feedback process and to find ways to shore up weak areas and to improve their performance. Help them to be accountable and responsible for their own progress. Talk to them, not at them. Simply broadcasting your message ad nauseum will not have the same effect as engaging in meaningful conversation–and not a lecture or a monologue.

7. Timing is everything.

The best leaders know when to speak and when to shut-up. Feedback–positive or negative–that is targeted, well framed and delivered at the right moment can make or break your team. You never want to kick a man when he’s down–but you shouldn’t just step over him and keep going either. The ability to discern the proper time and place to deliver feedback is a skill that must be mastered in order to be a great leader.

As a leader, communication is not about you, your opinions, your positions or your circumstances. It is about helping others. Your job is to provide guidance, meet needs, understand concerns, and add value to your team’s world. It’s about picking them up and pushing them forward.

Article adapted and reprinted from Lifehack.org

Handling Criticism And Harnessing The Power of Feedback

What do you do with that response? Do you accept the fact that the shoes are okay and ignore the rest? Should you be hurt or offended?

The fact of the matter is accepting feedback and constructive criticism is tough. Our first inclination is to adopt a defensive posture and either deflect, explain or make excuses for the critical area. Criticism and feedback that are constructive and accurate are necessary evils tied to growth and success. You have to learn how to cope with it–without lashing out or becoming disillusioned.

Asking the right questions is the key to getting constructive feedback

One of the most efficient ways to take some of the sting out of criticism and to ensure it truly is constructive in nature is to ask the right questions. If you ask vague and open-ended questions be prepared for vague responses that miss the mark. Asking, “how do I look,” is an open invitation for abuse. That question leaves nothing–regarding your appearance–out of bounds. However, asking “does the color and style of these shoes work with this outfit,” is a much more precise and targeted question. And you are more likely to get a very targeted and precise answer.

Asking the right questions tells the critiquer specifically what to focus on. When you request feedback–of any kind–you invite and empower the responder to look for and point out your flaws. The more open-ended and vague the request, the more power you give them. Asking targeted questions not only assists you in getting the appropriate information you need, it also provides the person providing the feedback a clear area of focus. All of their attention is directed to one specific area and this helps to eliminate the tendency people have to search for things to criticize.

Below are a few ways to help you get accurate and targeted feedback:

1. Ask questions that are specific.

Ask about specific situations — for example, what could you have done differently in a particular meeting or situation. Avoid the generic “so, how am I doing,” questions and ask about specific aspects of your performance, a particular project or interaction. Tailor your questions to suit the type of feedback you need. Ask both specific and open-ended questions.

2. Ask clarifying questions.

When the critiquer is providing you with feedback asks questions to ensure you clearly understand what he or she is telling you. Be careful of your tone and body language during this part of the process. You don’t want to appear defensive. The questions should be designed to help you understand the message and it should not appear that you are questioning the individual. Ask for specific examples or instances so that you have a point of reference for the criticism. And finally, when appropriate, solicit suggestions on how you can correct the behavior.

3. Listen to understand, not to defend.

As humans, we’ve been conditioned to listen in order to respond, not to understand. As soon as we hear a portion of what someone is saying and believe we know where they are headed, we quit listening and begin constructing our response. This is especially true when we hear negative criticism about our self. However, if you can learn to take a deep breath and focus on listening to ensure you understand what is being said you can turn negative criticism into a positive change that moves you forward.

Listening intently will also help you better decipher between true criticism and criticism that is framed in emotion. Emotions change and criticism birth from emotion, most likely, will change as well. Learning to decipher between the two can save you a lot of unnecessary heartache.

4. Consider the source.

Before you solicit feedback, consider who you are asking. Is it a friend who is going to tell you what you want to hear? Does this person enjoy having power over you? Does he or she have anything to gain from your interaction? Is this person qualified to provide you accurate feedback? Do you respect the person? Is this person a person of consequence– someone you respect, admire and value in the area in which you are seeking feedback?

Before accepting and internalizing feedback–positive or negative–always consider the source. Some feedback isn’t worth your time or attention.

5. Deconstruct the feedback.

Once you’ve requested, heard and clarified the feedback, then and only then, are you ready to process it. Make sure you have a clear picture of the issue. Is it something you need to change? Is this an isolated incident with mitigating circumstances? What is the context and sub-context of this issue? Is this something you can change? Do you have a plan to address this issue if it needs to be addressed?

If you can’t answer these questions, you may need to go back and ask more clarifying questions or seek a bit more insight.

6. Evaluate the feedback.

The final step in soliciting and accepting life-changing feedback is the process of evaluation–which you must do for yourself. You must answer the question–is this something I should accept, internalize and work on? Do you agree with all or some of what you’ve heard? You make this decision after you’ve considered the source and all the surrounding circumstances. If you’ve correctly completed the other five steps, the answer will be obvious. You’ll know if the feedback is valuable or not–regardless of how you feel about it.

Getting useful feedback is one of the fastest routes to growth and improved performance. It’s not always an accurate reflection of who you are — but it is an accurate reflection of how you’re perceived. Knowing how you’re perceived is critically important if you want to increase your influence as a leader, or move up within your organization. Hearing the truth can be tough, however, not hearing it could be detrimental.

Article reprinted from Lifehack.org

How To Stay Motivated While Pursuing Your Dreams

Have you ever tried reaching a goal that was labor and time intensive such as, losing a substantial amount of weight, finishing an educational program, or training for a marathon? If so, you understand the struggle of chasing a long-term goal.

As humans, we are hardwired to seek and engage in activities that provide us instant gratification. We operate on what psychologists call the ‘pleasure principle‘. The pleasure principle is the primary force that compels human beings to seek immediate satisfaction of their needs, wants, and urges. Pursuing long-term goals is particularly difficult because it provides no immediate reward. It places us in a posture of waiting. When gratification is significantly delayed–which is directly opposed to human nature–motivation wanes and effort decreases. In order to win, you must work hard, sacrifice and more importantly–wait.

Understanding and coping with the inevitable motivational slump that accompanies most substantial achievements is critical to sticking with the process and achieving your goals. According to the University of Scranton, a whopping 92% of people do not fulfill their New Year’s Resolution. There are a variety of reasons we don’t stick with the quest to reach our goals but the common thread underlying why we quit is simply the lack of motivation. Staying motivated is the key to keep you on the path to accomplishing your goal–especially when your progress slows or stalls.

Motivation in 3 steps

Instead of fighting this process head-on, it’s better to adjust the process to flow in tandem with our urges and natural inclinations. How, you ask?

It’s actually pretty easy. Below are three simple ways that can help keep you motivated and engaged while pursuing your long-term goals:

1. Always celebrate small wins, no matter how small they are.

Celebrating small wins helps you create your own system of instant gratification. Your brain needs to win. And it needs to win often. The book, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work proves how powerful celebrating small victories can be. Authors, Theresa Amabile and Steve Kramer of the Harvard Business Review conducted a study of 238 employees from seven different companies. The study measured the impact that acknowledging small victories has on long-term and sustained success.

These researchers made a significant discovery. They found that tracking and recognizing efforts of small, daily achievements enhanced workers motivation, increased positive emotions and favorable perceptions of the organization, of their work, and their colleagues. Psychologists have found that any accomplishment–no matter how small–activates the reward circuitry of our brains. When this pathway is opened, key chemicals are released giving us a feeling of achievement and pride.

2. Track your progress, and review every milestone.

Keeping track of your progress is beneficial for several reasons. First, it allows you to see your progress over time. Second, it allows you to accurately pinpoint what works and what doesn’t. Logging your journey also counters bad habits, slip ups and lack of motivation. Frequent feedback increases your chances of hitting a specific goal and helps keep you on track and adjust when necessary.

Experts suggest that you find a way to formally track your progress and to set and celebrate small benchmarks. Using free apps such as Coach Me is an excellent way to track your habits and celebrate change. You may also want to conduct a weekly review to assess where you are and celebrate all of the small wins of the week. Tracking your progress is also a great way to find and mitigate triggers and hindrances that impede your progress.

3. Stop punishing yourself for slip ups and small failures.

We all fail, backslide and lose ground when trying to achieve something great. It is a part of the process. Instead of fixating on your failures, learn from them and hone in on your successes. Learn to forgive yourself, pick yourself up and keep moving forward. So, you ate three donuts for breakfast, woke up late and missed your gym session or failed a test. That one incident does not determine your success–regroup and keep it moving.

Sustaining your mental fortitude and tenacity during a long and arduous process is difficult. Celebrating and leveraging all the things you do well and all of the successes along the way is the key to your success.

Adapted from original at Lifehack.org

 

 

How To Determine Your TRUE Strengths And Weaknesses

“Soooo, tell me about your strengths and weaknesses…”

Do you experience that ominous “deer in headlights” feeling when you hear this question? What does it even mean? What are the things you identify as strengths? Why do you label them as such? Is it because it is an ability or skill at which you excel? Is it something you do better than most people? Who or what measures what a strength or weakness is? This question–especially in an interview–can be tricky terrain to navigate.

As one who has sat on both sides of this question–I will try to provide some insight and direction on how you should approach this extremely slippery slope.

Understanding your true strengths and weaknesses

Discovering your true strengths and weaknesses isn’t just critical for nailing a job interview. It is a fundamental key to your success in all aspects of life.

Marcus Buckingham, author of Go Put Your Strengths To Work, provides the purest and concise explanation for determining what is a strength and what is a weakness. And it has nothing to do with what you are good at or how you fair against others.

“A better definition of a strength,” said Buckingham, “is an activity that makes you feel strong. And a weakness is an activity that makes you feel weak. Even if you’re good at it, if it drains you, that’s a weakness.”

Consider that statement for a moment. Are you starting to gain a bit more context and insight into what your true strong suits and deficiencies are?

I am extremely “good with people.” I am compassionate, considerate, attentive, encouraging and accommodating. I am good at getting the best out of people, calming intense situations and making people feel heard, validated and appreciated. I work at it. I study people. I am a student of psychology and human interaction and can usually determine a person’s primary temperament within moments of meeting them and can adjust to play to their temperament strength.

In interviews, I have always listed my interpersonal skills as one of my strengths. But if I take a step back and really assess this “gift” I find that it really isn’t one of my true strengths. The truth is people drain me and human interaction, often times is akin to navigating a minefield. I prefer being alone or with my husband to being around others. My interactions with people don’t flow naturally. I am not instinctively a “people person.” I have to calculate my moves and measure my responses before I speak. I am innately shy, incredibly introverted and socially awkward. My people skills are manufactured and have been honed out of necessity. It is not a gift–it is a well-developed skill.

Keys to determining and capitalizing on your strengths and weaknesses

Below are a few principles you should consider when assessing your strengths and weaknesses:

You are your only competition.

You may be better than everyone else around you at something and it still can be a weakness for you. A strength is something that energizes you and something for which you have a natural inclination. A person who is charming, charismatic, a natural conversationalist and enjoys being around and entertaining people can list “interpersonal skills” as a strength.

A strength is something you rely on to achieve goals and to win, weaknesses are obstacles that must be overcome or avoided in order to achieve victory. Your strengths and weaknesses are only relative to you. Comparing yourself to others skews your view of your true gifts and areas of lack.

Strengthen your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses.

You can strengthen your weaknesses just as I have done with my interactions with people. A weakness, however, rarely ever becomes a strength. Once you’ve identified your weaknesses, you can attack them in one of two ways. First, you can work to strengthen the weakness so that it becomes less of a deficiency. Or, you could strengthen and learn to leverage your strengths to compensate for your weaknesses.

Learning to cope is key when it comes to handling weak areas. It is a waste of time working on weaknesses that are not related to your life purpose or tied to your goals.

I do not–in any way, shape or form–possess a green thumb. Plants and foliage cringe, shrivel and die in my presence. I could learn to care for plants and develop this skill if I chose too. However, it has nothing to do with my destiny, goals or my success in life. If I need flowers for an event, I purchase them just before I need them (they die otherwise). I have a beautiful yard which I pay someone to maintain. I spend my time and energy working on things that matter and that propel me towards my life’s purpose.

 

Use context when assigning value to neutral characteristics.

This is a huge mistake that most of us make. Take for example the characteristics, introversion and extroversion. Both of these traits are completely benign. They only become good or bad with context.

As I stated earlier, I am very introverted. I am a writer and I work in an office with other writers. Being an introvert in this environment is a strength. In this context, I don’t need to be outgoing and chatty. If I were, that would hinder my performance and put a strain on the work environment. However, prior to becoming a writer, I was an educator. Teaching requires you to be outgoing, approachable and have the ability to genuinely connect with people. In this context, being an introvert was a weakness. I had to put time, energy and mental fortitude into being what I needed to be to be successful in that context.

 

Another mistake we make is by mislabeling or overgeneralizing strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you are not talkative you may be tempted to label yourself a poor communicator–which is completely inaccurate. Being overly chatty does not make you an effective communicator. A few, well-chosen words, is multitudes more effective than mere verbal vomit. It’s about the quality not quantity of your words. Hone in on what you are adept at, identify your deficiencies and then determine if it truly is a strength, weakness or neutral based on the context.

Final Word:

When assessing your strengths and weakness:

  • Figure out what energizes and what drains you.
  • Consider what you are naturally good at.
  • Determine what your goals are and how your strengths and weakness enhance and hinder your progress.
  • Plan how to strengthen your weaknesses or use your strengths to compensate for them.
  • Avoid labeling neutral characteristics as “good” or “bad.”
  • Always work on making your strengths–stronger. Weak strengths, strengthen weaknesses.

Determining your strengths and inadequacies requires brutal honesty. You must take into account your skills and your natural inclinations. Some strengths are more desirable than others but it is incumbent that you accept yourself as you are and work with what you have. It’s the only way to reach your full potential and fulfill your destiny.

Article adapted from original version at Lifehack.org

 

A Hook-Up App For Moms?

Being a mom is a full-time job. With all of the duties of running a household, holding down a job or two and tending to the kids, who has time to socialize?

A hot new app—Peanut–understands the plight of busy moms and has created a hookup app just for you!

The Hook Up

It’s not what you think.

Peanut is an app that hooks up mothers with other moms in their area. It has been described as a platonic Tender App for moms. Like most common dating apps, moms download the free app, build a profile and select up to three categories to describe themselves. Then they find matches near them that have similar interests. Read more.

 

20 Part-Time Jobs That Will Give You Extra Cash And Time To Spare

The working landscape has drastically changed.

We are firmly in the age of start-ups. Everyone is an entrepreneur and wants to forge their own path. Traditional jobs are viewed as mind numbing, creativity stealing prisons that enslave the soul. Working a regular job–the good ole nine-to-five is considered old school and has been replaced by maintaining multiple side hustles. We are ambitious DIY-ers, content curators, and creatives and we all want to be our own boss.

While being an entrepreneur is very trendy and the “it” thing to do, it is also very hard and extremely risky. And the struggle of trying to make ends meet–especially in the infancy stages of building your brand and making your mark–can be demoralizing.

A great way to–somewhat–maintain your work independence and still survive financially is to work a part-time job. Below is a list of 20 side hustles that can help supplement your income or sustain you between ventures: read more.

Featured image by Investment Zen on Flickr

Should You Go With Your Gut Or Get A Second Opinion?

You’ve got a difficult choice to make.

You are up for a promotion on your current job and suddenly, out of nowhere, you are confronted with another, very attractive job opportunity. The salary and benefits are great for both your current job and for this new position.

If you stay on your current job you eliminate having to deal with all of the woes of transitioning to a new job and you may get the promotion you’ve been working so hard for these last five and half years.

On the other hand, if you take the new job, you will be making more money, you’ll have more responsibilities, you’ll have to learn a new system and make new friends.

What should you do? Should you play it safe? Should you take the risk? What does your gut tell you? Should you even listen to your gut?

What is Intuition?

Often times when you’re faced with a difficult decision, you just know what the right choice is. You feel the answer in your gut. That’s what experts refer to as your intuition. Intuition is defined as “the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning.” And while intuition may seem to be some instinctual and mysterious internal process, it’s actually a form of unconscious reasoning. It is a process that is rooted in the way our brains collect, store, synthesize and recall information.

The problem so many of us have with trusting our intuition is two-fold. First, the process in which we undergo to arrive at our “gut feeling” is an almost entirely, subconscious process. Therefore, you have no idea what data and processes you used to arrive at your conclusion. The second issue is that we often times confuse fear with intuition. We literally feel fear in our gut. This feeling can lead us to believe that our gut is telling us to avoid danger.

When To Trust your Gut

So, when should you trust your intuition? And how do you distinguish between fear and a legitimate gut feeling? Below are three tips that can help you determine when you should go with your gut and when you should get a second opinion.

1. Evaluate your thoughts

This is so important because intuition is a highly subconscious process. Understanding how you think and process information builds confidence in your internal reasoning process. You assimilate information and use inductive and deductive reasoning constantly. The trick is to shift the process from the background to the forefront of your consciousness.

Consider a routine task you do daily without actually thinking about it–such as driving a car. Just as you perform all of the necessary actions to operate a vehicle without actually thinking about it, if asked, you could reverse engineer your thought process. You could describe circumstances, conditions, other people’s motivations, and your own behaviors using the assumptions and calculations done unconsciously. And while this is an unnatural and somewhat difficult process in the beginning, with time and practice you will be able to understand how you think and quickly track your thought process. Here are a few tips to assist you evaluating your thoughts:

  • Observe own thoughts. Ask questions like, “What is causing me to think this way? What belief is forming this thought? What pressure is making me believe my assumption is true?”
  • Practice “beginner’s mind.” The concept of “beginner’s mind” has its origin in Zen Buddhism and encourages you to adopt a fresh perspective when looking at things. It involves considering a multitude of possibilities. Try to adopt an attitude of openness, eagerness, and steer away from personal bias when considering your choices.
  • Play Devil’s Advocate. For each option, find reasonable, logical and legitimate reasons why you should choose the other option. You could do this by simply making a list of pros and cons for each decision. Measure out the pros and cons and see if your reasonable and measured deduction matches your gut feeling.

Frequently practicing these mental exercises will lead to you knowing when to trust your instincts and when to seek the advice of others.

2. Distinguish Fear from Intuition

When trying to distinguish if your gut feeling is something intuitive or good old fashioned fear, consider the following aspects:

  • Fear is highly emotional- Fear is emotionally charged and worries about the future or the past. Fear is often anxious, dark or heavy. It has cruel, demeaning or delusional content and considers past emotional wounds.
  • Intuition is emotionally neutral– Intuition doesn’t carry overly positive or negative emotions, it is benign. Intuition is logical and not emotional. Intuition focuses only on the present and does not consider past wounds. It is a gathering, sorting and synthesizing of evidence. It does not attach itself to your emotions. It brings with it a steady calm

One of the best ways to determine if your gut is feeling fear or if it has arrived at a logical conclusion is to make a list of everything that scares you. Then it becomes much easier to recognize when a gut feeling is referring to one of your fears versus being logical. If it’s fear based–get a second opinion, if not, go with your gut.

3. Don’t dismiss your inner skeptic

Our instincts are the primal internal urges and alarms that help keep us alive. Listening to and interpreting these urges is especially critical when a decision affects your safety and well-being. In situations such as the initial stages of dating, hiring someone to babysit your child, decisions concerning your health or when making investment decisions–in short, any decision requiring you to trust another individual–you must trust your instincts.

We’ve all said something similar to, “if I would have just went with what I thought, this never would have happened.” And the truth is nine times out of ten there are warning signs, red flags and things that feel “a little off” about a situation, which we choose to dismiss. Ignoring these inclinations could be costly and even fatal.

In his book, “The Gift of Fear,” author Gavin de Becker explains how our primal fight or flight instincts work. He explains that what we refer to as “a feeling” is actually the result of hundreds of quick calculations done subconsciously that register as a physical response. We feel suddenly afraid or uneasy. When there is no logical explanation for fear (it’s not tied to a past or present event or an emotional scar) you should absolutely trust your gut. And I’m talking about the heart pounding, pit in your stomach type of fear. Your brain has done the calculations and something about the situation is wrong. Becker has found that 85% of the time our calculations are accurate. The other 15% of the time our calculations are not necessarily wrong, just slightly askew.

Knowing when to trust your gut comes down to a few key things.

  • Learning how you think and becoming confident in your decision-making process.
  • Distinguishing between intuition and your own internal fears.
  • Learning to trust your primal fight or flight instincts and refusing to overlook red flags.

So, what does your gut tell you?

20 Recently Written Books Every Woman Should Read

I am woman, hear me roar!

Oh yes, I am wise, but it’s wisdom born of pain

Yes, I’ve paid the price, but look how much I gained

If I have to, I can do anything

I am strong

I am invincible

I AM WOMAN!

~Lyrics from “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy

Women are strong, sexy, intelligent, resourceful, nurturing, intuitive and resilient. Sometimes being all of these things (and more) comes at a price. As women, there are times when we become depleted and we need to be inspired, rejuvenated and our fire needs reigniting.

Reading is one of the most empowering things any person can do for themselves. A good book–I mean a really good book–can touch your soul, heal your heart and stir your creative juices.

Below is a list of 20 books that every woman should read. They will inspire, educate, transform and bring back your roar! Read more.

20 Safe and Legitimate Ways To Get Money In A Pinch

Don’t fret! I am here to help.

20 safe and legitimate ways to get money fast

Below is a list 20 perfectly legal and legitimate ways to get your hands on some cash in a pinch. Some of the ways are more suitable for some than others but the list will provide you with options and more importantly get you to generate your own creative ideas on how to increase your cash flow.

Keep in mind that these are short-term solutions. The real solution to your money problems is proper money management and planning (a.k.a. budgeting). Learning to live below your means, delaying gratification, eliminating debt and reducing your dependency on credit are the keys to financial freedom.

If you need money today…Read More.

Featured image by Chris Potter on ccPix.com

How to Talk About Your Strengths and Weaknesses in an Interview

Anyone that has ever endured the joys of a job interview has probably been faced with some variation of the dreaded, “tell me about your strengths and weakness,” question. This question is incredibly obscure and tricky to navigate. Should you answer honestly?

“My strengths are I am the life of the party, I don’t do hard drugs, I’m tall and I have a great sense of humor. My weaknesses are I am always late, have problems with authority, steal office supplies and love to tell dirty jokes in meetings”

Or, should you give an answer that is vague and where your weaknesses are actually strengths in disguise, such as:

“I am a hard worker, a logical and analytic thinker and work well with others. My weaknesses are that sometimes I work too hard, I am a perfectionist, I am always over prepared and I meet every deadline – no matter how impossible it is…”

While the first response is incredibly honest and the employer knows exactly what they are getting – you probably won’t get hired. The second response is obvious bull crap and while you may get hired, you’ve essentially set yourself up to fail. You’ve also shown the hiring personnel that you lack the ability to personally reflect and self-analyze.

 Why do interviewers ask the strengths and weaknesses question?

Before we dive in and work on how to answer this question, it’s important to understand why the interviewer is asking it. The main reason the hiring manager or team asks this question is to try and determine if you possess qualities that will enable you to succeed. They also want to know what qualities you have that could hinder your job performance. Simple as that.

How to discuss your strengths

Now that you know why interviewers ask this question and what they are looking for, you can craft a response tailored to accurately satisfy this question. Let’s look at the strengths first:

Tailor your strengths to specifically match the job description

 When facing questions about your strengths and weaknesses, always keep the job description and duties in mind. Highlight the strengths you have that are suited for that particular job. Try to include language similar to what was in the job description. Here’s an example:

You are applying for a project based position requiring lots of collaboration, meetings, and interaction with other co-workers. You would want your strengths to focus on addressing these areas. Some things you could list are deadline driven, team player, effective communicator, exceptional people skills and problem-solver. You most likely, wouldn’t want to highlight that you work best alone and are an excellent independent worker. The strengths you highlight should match your job description.

Make sure your strengths align with the organization’s mission and value system

 Aligning your strengths with the values of the organization assists you in helping the hiring official more clearly see that you were made for the position and fit the company’s culture. Do some research prior to the interview and determine what the organization values.

For example, if a tech company has on their website the following phrase: “…providing practical and innovative solutions for all of your technology needs…”, you may want to include in your list of strengths: creative, innovative thinking and pragmatic.

Be able to explain and provide a concrete example of each strength

 The best and most efficient way to attack this is to provide an example that demonstrates multiple strengths. This is the quickest and most concise way to answer this portion of the question without going on and on about yourself. It also communicates that you are precise and are prepared.

Let’s say you are interviewing for a position as a sales manager and you strengths are: you’re great with people, you’re an excellent communicator and you are flexible. You could say:

 “My strengths are: I’m great with people, an excellent communicator and I am very flexible. A great example of this is on one occasion in my last position as a sales associate, I was confronted by an angry customer who stormed into the store demanding a full refund on a recent purchase. The customer had purchased merchandise online, did not have a receipt for the item or any proof of purchase. Our store policy was that online purchases were exchange or store credit only.
 I was able to calm the customer down and listened intently to his complaint. I determined that the customer had purchased the wrong product. I explained how both products worked and the differences between the two. The customer gladly exchanged the original product for the new, more expensive one and happily paid the difference in price between the two.”

The candidate was able to provide three job-specific strengths and back them up with solid proof. When preparing your answer to this question prior to the interview, come up with two or three examples just in case they ask for more and to give you options, in case one is more apropos than another.

 How to discuss your weaknesses

Discussing weaknesses can be a bit more tricky than discussing your strengths. If the interviewer poses the question where they are grouped together such as: “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” A good rule of thumb is to discuss the weaknesses first and end on a positive note. Here are three things to keep in mind when discussing your weaknesses:

Be authentic

Give an answer that legitimately touches on an area where you struggle. Providing an honest answer makes you more authentic, trustworthy and believable. It is also so much easier to discuss something you genuinely connect with versus something you’ve fabricated for the moment.

 A great example could be the fact that you are a global or “big picture” thinker. You could explain that sometimes you can become overly concerned with the big picture that you may miss some of the smaller details.

Make sure the weakness is minor and will not directly affect your job performance

Pick weaknesses that are relatively small, will not directly affect your job performance, is not contradictory to the organization’s mission and core values and does not reflect poorly on your character and integrity. So you may not want to divulge that you are a compulsive liar, petty thief, use drugs, or cheat on your taxes.

 If you were applying for a job as a staff accountant you could pick as your weakness: public speaking, delegating tasks and being a bit too straightforward at times.

Cast your weakness in a positive light and refrain from going on and on about them. Don’t be overly critical of yourself and avoid self-deprecation. The trick here is striking a balance between being honest and humble while still maintaining your confidence.

State your weakness and chase it with a solution

 The best thing about the “describe your weaknesses,” question is that our deficiencies – no matter what they are – are fixable. This question affords you the opportunity to show that you are self-aware, own your deficiencies and are proactively working to correct them.

Let’s look at the example above. If you are applying for a position as a staff accountant and your weaknesses are public speaking, delegating tasks, and being a bit too straightforward at times, you could frame your response like this:

 “One weakness that I have is that I am not fond of speaking in front of large groups. To help me in this area, I make it a priority to be well prepared when I have to speak. I also make sure that I have a good set of talking points with me if I know there is a chance I may be asked to speak, impromptu, in a large-scale meeting. I am also a member of Toastmasters Club so I am confident and communicate well, but I still do feel the butterflies sometimes.

 Another one of my weakness is that I tend to do extra work in lieu of delegating it. To help with this, I make it a point to be aware of the strengths and aptitudes of the people who could assist with these tasks. This way I immediately know who should perform the task and am confident that the work will be done well.
 I can also be a bit to straightforward at times. To help me catch and stop myself from being overly direct, I have instituted my own personal five minute rule for written communication. So, I’ll craft an email, put it aside for five minutes and then go back and find at least three places where I can soften the language a bit and then I hit send. It takes a few extra minutes but those extra minutes would be spent explaining what I meant or apologizing for being so blunt. I truly enjoy my colleagues and really work to be a pleasant professional.”

In a nutshell

When facing the dreaded strengths and weaknesses question, keep in mind the interviewer’s intent. He or she is looking for a good fit. A single answer won’t make or break the interview, unless, of course, you say something particularly egregious. Focus your time and energy on your strengths statement and highlight what you have to offer. You are what they are looking for – and the proof is in your answer to this question.

Featured image by studio tdes on Flickr

 

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