Connectedness As A Strength

Those of you who have been reading my blog this week know I’m obsessed with StrengthsFinders at the moment. Yes, it’s true.  My Intellection strength makes me want to delve deeply into a fascinating topic until I understand it.

Right now the strength that is fascinating me is Connectedness. I have never really been very spiritual or religious, until recently when I started on a personal journey spelunking into my spiritual side.  After my divorce, I felt completely open to exploring anything and everything about myself and my world as I was no longer sure how I fit into either of them.  I’ve read mostly Tolle as my guide and subsequently have been contemplating our unseen connections.

I haven’t been completely convinced about these connections.  I sense them and I believe in them, but there’s a limited certainty to those beliefs.  After all, I’ve been trained as a scientist, and we scientists are skeptical and want evidence.  Feeling is just insufficient.

Yet Connectedness is a bona fide strength in StrengthsFinders.  What that means is certain people are inherently talented in this theme, and can use this strength to have more fun, feel more engaged and be more effective, productive and creative at what they do in both their personal and professional lives.  Connectedness people understand the unseen threads between people, events, and all things, and believe that everything happens for a reason.  Or perhaps more accurately, as Tolle says, everything that has happened was supposed to happen because it did happen.  Make sense?

I guess one could dive deeply into the validity of the StrengthsFinders assessment:  are these real strengths?  How reproducible and reliable is the assessment? The strengths were identified after years of research and interviewing people as to what qualities they felt helped them to be successful.  And guess what.  Connectedness came out as one of the 34 strength themes since a significant percentage of people felt that this theme had tangible benefits to their success and well-being.

So, to improve the effectiveness and utility of the Connectedness strength means to pay attention to these insights and gut feelings, to be aware of coincidences, and respect those connections.  Improving also means learning, whether it’s from books or videos by thought leaders, but also by following the guidance and wisdom of those with more developed strengths in the area.

I don’t really have a conclusion or any insight to offer here.  I’m really the rookie in the house.  Rather I’m just reflecting on something that I’ve completely taken for granted most of my life and am starting to be more open to what else is out there –  not only from a curiosity perspective, but also from a what-a-great-and-useful-skill perspective.   So Connectedness people:  I seek to learn from you.  I can only begin to imagine and would love to hear from you on this topic….

Self-Awareness and Consciousness

Infinite loop

Infinite loop

I have become more self-aware of my…. self-awareness.

I know, it’s like some kind of weird infinite loop paradox, like when you’re looking in the mirror at yourself looking in the mirror.  The mirror in my bathroom is actually set up that way and it appears as if you’re gazing into infinity.

I don’t think that’s a bad analogy, that surreal, out-of-body perspective on oneself.  (You know I’ve been crazy about) Eckhart Tolle, in his book A New Earth, describes that self-awareness as our Being.  That is who we are, contends Tolle, not the actual things we think or do.   We are that sentient being who observes ourselves as if we are an outsider. It is our consciousness.

Consciousness also bring to mind another type of self-awareness, and that is our hidden scripts and beliefs.   I’ve written more than once about how those emotional assumptions and habits we have color how we view the world – and not often in a very positive way.  Becoming aware of those assumptions and habits allow us to question and understand them, so they no longer hold power over us…should we be brave enough to go there.

Going there is something that I have spent most of my life trying to avoid.  Hitting rock bottom has been my modus operandii to open the door to my subconscious.  It sort of implies my subconscious is at the bottom of something.  Of what?  It’s at the bottom of my egoic mind.  My Ego obscures my wisdom and insight.

That power of self-awareness was once again brought home to me  by my StrengthsFinders training this week.  In StrengthsFinders, we’re focusing on our strengths, so bringing our hidden strengths to our awareness is therefore doubly exciting.  Not only are we focusing on what we’re already good at (bam!) we are also learning more about ourselves (bam! bam!).   I’m still experiencing the euphoria of embracing a strength I’ve previously rejected and repressed.  I completely have my classmates and instructors to thank for that.

Today, I’m wondering  if self-awareness is like a muscle – the more self-aware we are, the better we get at becoming more self-aware.  If we dive down deep to learn more about how our strengths manifest in us, will we also be more receptive to learning how we derail ourselves too?

I’m not at all implying that attending to our subconscious derailers means we are now focusing on negatives.  Quite the opposite.  I think those derailers are just blocks to our self-actualization and authenticity.  Removing the blocks requires we approach them with courage and forgiveness.  It is refusing to blindly accept, believe, and hold as irrefutable our most judgmental and cruelest beliefs about ourselves and the world.  No.  Those derailers are toxic to our soul, spirit and happiness.

Tolle also advocates using self-awareness when encountering these derailers.  Observe the observer.  Watch the derailers derail.  Be aware.  Just the act of self-awareness demystifies what has previously seemed unknowable.

I personally am a fan of also exercising the peace/calm/perspective muscle, and that is our right brain.  For those of you who hate to meditate or do meditative things, you can go with Tolle’s plan and stick with observation.  Fair enough?  If so, then make yourself observe yourself, especially as you are about to react to something.  Stop.  Watch.  Learn.  Grow.

Managing and Understanding Shyness



Most people who know me are surprised to find that I’m shy.  I’m always proud when I hear that because I feel it means that I have learned to successfully manage my shyness.

What I have finally learned is why I am shy.  I’ve learned from StrengthsFinders is that I am a Relator, and that Relators tend to be shy.   Relators enjoy, and are good at, diving deep and forming intimate relationships with others.  What we are not good at, necessarily, is meeting and getting to know (initially) people.  That’s the domain of the Woo, which I am definitely not.

Shyness is often confused with extroversion.  Extroversion merely describes where you get your energy.  For example, I am an extrovert so I am energized by being with people.  A great party and I can be buzzing with energy into the wee hours, even if I went there exhausted.  So it is not uncommon for me to dread a  party due to my shyness/Relator, but then to have a blast because I’m energized by being with others.  An understandable paradox in the end, yes?  Introverts, on the other hand, gain energy by being alone.  I don’t have any statistics, though while Woos are probably less likely to be introverted, the pairing probably does occur.  Those folks will be talented at meeting people but it will tire them to do so.  They will have to recharge their batteries after a social event by having some alone time.

Now that we understand what causes/does not cause shyness, the question becomes how to manage it.  In the end, shyness is managed simply by making yourself, in incremental steps, do the thing that makes you uncomfortable.  Those things might be raising your hand in class, making eye contact with strangers or even people you know, meeting new people at a party or event, or even talking to people you don’t know well.   You can start small and work your way up.  Just say hi when passing strangers.  Once you’re comfortable with that, add a benign comment, “Nice day isn’t it?”  Then graduate to, “You’d think they’d open another cash register line, wouldn’t you?”  Pretty soon you’ll be making new friends all over town!

I was so shy that I did not even realize you’re supposed to make eye contact with people as you pass them.  Those of you who did not know that either:  now you know and now you have to think about making a change.  Evil, aren’t I?

You can also be strategic about how you approach your incremental assault on your shyness.  I’ve always found parties and events to be intimidating and would make a beeline toward people I know.  Now, I approach such events with an interest in getting to know new people.  It’s actually easier than it sounds.  My secret is to find the person in the room who looks like he wishes the earth would swallow him whole.  In other words: find the shyest person in the room and go “rescue” them from having to introduce themselves to strangers.  Not only will they be willing to talk to you, but they’ll be forever grateful you saved them.  If that’s not a great way to start to get to know someone, I don’t know what is.

I won’t pretend that the latter always works.  Some people are alone at a party because they want to be alone.  I don’t take that personally.  After all, not everyone will be drawn to my charming, engaging self!  I just move on to the next wallflower.  We’re really kindred spirits, after all.   And my Relator self will kick in if there’s any chemistry and I will have a new buddy who can rescue me at the next party that lacks wallflowers.  How awesome is that?

Another Blind Spot Bites the Dust

We are strong!

We are strong!

This week I’m in training to learn how to become a Strengthsfinders coach, where it all began here at the Gallup Institute in beautiful Omaha NE.  I truly love this assessment.  The premise is that we all have an array of 34 talents that we can develop into strengths, or skills that we can use productively.  For each test-taker, the 34 talents are provided in order, from strongest to least strong (we try not to say “weak”), so we can see where our talents lie.  In order to be successful and engaged, we should focus on using our top strengths to their maximum potential.

I truly believe in this premise.  The groups that I have led through Strengthsfinders in the past have been similarly inspired to quit focusing on their weaknesses.  For some, it has been transformative as focus on those weaknesses can be  heavy burdens to bear.  For others, Strengthsfinders is merely an incredibly helpful framework to become more effective, either as individuals or as teams.

We did a little exercise yesterday where we talked about the strength we love and the one that drives us crazy.   Just FYI, the one that I love is called Relator.  As a Relator, I love to build and deepen relationships. I’m good at it, it’s important to me, it makes me happy and is also useful at work for building networks.

The one that can be hard for me is Input.  As Input, I love to collect information and data, and be in the Know (PS that does not mean that I gossip).  Input sometimes means that I easily venture into nosy-ness and I make people uncomfortable.  But I’m a relator!  I want your 411 (for the Millennials, there used to be this number you’d call to….never mind)!  I learned another downside to Input:  I get frustrated when I feel like I should have access to information and it’s withheld from me.  This, I had not considered.  The other day I practically had a tantrum because Chris hinted at something, but then refused to tell me. Drives. Me.  CRAZY!

What I never stopped to examine is how the strength I love can also have downsides.  My Relator strength also, turns out, means that I need to spend time with those that I love.  While that’s good, I make time specifically for my friends and loved ones, sometimes my loved ones need space.  I tend to try to just find others who want to get together when a loved one needs downtime, but when that fails, I find myself following people around like a puppy dog:  playwithmeplaywithme!  That’s not so endearing after the 100th or 2nd time.

I have another strength which I realized I try to downplay almost completely, is Command.  Command means I can take charge in a heartbeat, and people often look to me for direction and leadership.  My students usually will stop and listen to me when I stand in the front of the room, when other faculty sometimes have trouble commanding their attention.  I have to be careful not to walk to the podium before I’m ready to start, because they will also quiet down too early (then it’s hard to get their attention later).   I downplay it because I have a tendency to be bossy, and I usually don’t want to lead, though I usually will when asked.

So I found this lesson to be a great reminder to view all qualities, regardless of whether I view them as assets or liabilities, as part of a spectrum.  Failing to recognize either end of that spectrum leaves me with blind spots where I’m hurting myself (puppy dog) or missing opportunities.  Recognizing that I have not been using my Command strength to full advantage, part of my goal this week is to discover how to take better advantage of Command, without feeling like I have to accept all the responsibility all of the time.

This work, both as it applies to me personally as well as professionally, has me jumping out of bed each day saying, “I can’t believe I get paid to do this!”  I can’t wait to go back out and do more effective Strengthsfinders training and coaching, and to see how I can make better use of my strengths.  And though I’ve always considered myself good at viewing the entire spectra of my qualities, I don’t tend to spend enough consideration of the downsiden of my relatively positive strengths…it’s gonna be GREAT!

Boredom: An Enemy of Being Present

I’m a novelty junkie.  I like to try new activities, learn something I didn’t know, or discuss a new topic, idea or angle.  One of my favorite things to do, ever, is try a new dish or type of cuisine: combines my love of food with novelty. I had to learn to cook because I wanted to be able to control the level of variety of my diet.  Some may view this as intellectual curiosity.  I call it, on my less forgiving days, a constant need to be entertained.

On one hand, I have much energy and enthusiasm to explore the new and different.  When I can indulge this need, I am engaged, creative, interested, and in the moment.  On the other hand, I get bored easily when I am supposed to do a repetitive task, talk about a subject I find worn, take an exercise class from an uncreative instructor.  My boredom is no one’s problem but my own, but it does pose a challenge to my goal to be present.

I’ve talked so frequently about the importance of being present, and how it’s essential to peace of mind and happiness*.  Chris told me last night that only two short years ago, I was never present. (I think that’s an exaggeration, maybe almost never present.  But I digress.)  So to be where I am today (often present, usually present, something along that line) is a huge big-deal for me, and it has made an enormous difference in my ability to stay centered, calm, peaceful and access my creative and spiritual side.   With it, I believe I have grown my personal power.

Until I get bored or frustrated.  Frustration is a bit easier, as I can just look at my feelings with amusement, that something trivial, like an excruciatingly slow driver, can get me out of the moment and into my judgmental left brained self.  Twenty miles per hour under the speed limit?  Hahaha.

But boredom?  I have found no salve for that one.

Boredom is actually standing in my way right now.  My gym, the YMCA, for years has had three locations near my home so I can  luxuriously pick from among the array of classes, instructors and times to find a class that solves my exercise ennui.  I have managed to keep a regular fitness schedule for years, until they’ve all but eliminated most cardio classes and replaced them with repetitious, boring, conditioning classes.  The remaining cardio classes are taught predominantly by the most uninspiring instructors.  Consequently, my workout routine has gone down the drain.  The weight room?  The treadmill and weights are repetitious by definition.

Boredom also gets in my way in my relationships.  When someone talks about a topic that has a been there-done that quality to it, I just tune out.  I can’t help it.  And observing this phenomenon in myself does not help me re-engage because they’re still talking about something painfully dull once I notice (and try not to judge) my boredom.   When our boys were young, they were obsessed with Pokemon and would talk literally incessantly about the intricacies of each character and their battles.  It seems my blank and glazed-over look must be permanently seared into their fragile psyches.   I can’t imagine this is good for any of my relationships or work productivity/creativity.

So, folks, there is my dirty secret and I confess that I have made no progress on this front whatsoever.  But acceptance is the first step for growth. But I’m not going to sit and wait for something to happen, because, well, it’s like watching paint dry.

watching paint dry

watching paint dry

Here is a blog I started to write about my breakfast boredom.  I didn’t publish it because I thought you’d find it ….dull.

 Breakfast Ennui

I have had between 17,000 and 30,000 breakfasts in my life, give or take a few.  I’m not sure because I love breakfast and eat it early and often.

Trouble is, I get bored easily – with food, with a book, with a TV show, you name it. I also don’t want to put that much effort into breakfast since I’m usually dining alone.

So, let’s put the FUN back into breakfast!  How do you keep breakfast delicious, interesting, healthy yet satisfying?

My favorite, easy breakfasts are:

  1.  Toast spread with butter and avocado – add a little salt and pepper – divine!
  2. Plain or vanilla yoghurt – add berries, craisins, pomegranate seeds, nut/seed mix (I keep a jar with toasted, chopped nuts mixed with sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds and sprinkle on salads, yoghurt, oatmeal)
  3. Steel cut oats – same as above but add brown sugar, almond milk.   My sister cooks in advance and keeps in fridge, then reheats.  But I find the Red Mill brand can be cooked quickly in the microwave by addinga little water, cooking with on medium heat for 2.5 minutes, stirringthen adding a bit more water, then microwaving another 1.5 minutes.  (Use a big bowl because it bubbles up and you can end up with a big mess and no breakfast)
  4. Quesadilla – tortilla with cheese, add salsa and avocado.  Maybe not so healthy.  Nor is my brie toasted on artisan bread.  Oh well.

I love the above but I’ve had them, oh, 4-5,000 times so needless to say, even they are getting old.   Other things, like smoothies or cereal just don’t fill me up or hold me for long.  What do you love for breakfast?


*Ego v. Bliss:  A Standoff, Four Ways to Become More Patient, Newfound Respect for My Right Brain,  When You Hit Rock Bottom