Mirror, Mirror

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Self-reflection (picture credit:  wallpaperup)

“If only you can see how others see you” – me

One of my unique gifts is that I see the best in others. Always have, always will. This sometimes gets me into trouble because it makes me vulnerable to being taken advantage of when my trust is misplaced. However, this is one of the skills I value the most, since as a coach, I provide a positive and wise reflection of others.

Reflection, whether it comes from external sources or is directed inward, is so incredibly important.

It’s really important.

Did I say it was important?

I believe reflection is the primary method by which we gain self-awareness not only in terms of how others view us, but also with respect to how we view ourselves and the world.   By having an understanding of both our inner and outer world we can integrate the two and understand how one affects the other.   The better we understand that relationship, the more successfully we can navigate our world.

For example, I know there are times that I carry my emotional baggage just below my consciousness. I can become bristly and edgy without realizing it, and then become confused when others do not respond to me in the manner that I expected. Of course, I might blame them because I felt I was approaching them with openness and positivity, not realizing that my garbage was bleeding into the interaction. Knowing the limits of my self-awareness means that when I don’t get the response I expected, I have to wonder if I’m bringing my baggage into the interaction. Hmmm!

In other words, I need both external and internal reflection to understand the me:world interface.   My reflective practice is key to helping me become better at understanding myself. Being open to the verbal and nonverbal feedback of others, without judgment, also helps me to understand how I’m influencing the world.

Others often say they don’t have time for a reflective practice. That’s the equivalent of saying that I don’t have time to talk to my spouse or partner every day. YOU are the most important person in your life, and if you fail to listen to yourself, then you are cutting off the most important person in your world. If you did that to your partner, don’t be surprised if your relationship fails. If you do that to yourself, don’t be surprised if you fail, or at least struggle. A lot.

Don’t you think you owe it to yourself to give yourself 15 minutes per day?

You deserve it.

It’s important.

You’re important.

You should see the glorious person that I see in you.

 

 

Fate or Free Will?

How much of our lives are dictated by free will versus fate? I bet that everyone’s answer is different, depending on how much value one places on the cognitive versus the mystical. An evidence-based person will lean strongly toward the free will side, whereas a highly spiritual person may choose fate. I imagine that the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

After all, we don’t have complete control over our lives. Where we are born, into which family, and with what genetic make-up have a huge impact on who we are and our life’s trajectory. Yet we also know that major life choices can be agonizingly difficult since those choices may have repercussions for years to come.

Finding that balance in the fate/free will life perspective is tough too. Erring too far on the fate side may make someone complacent about their life, whereas erring too far on the free will side may make someone feel overly responsible and need to control.

What matters, in my opinion, is how we handle the events of our lives, regardless whether they emanate from fate or choice. For example, the best way to grieve after the loss of a loved one is to find or create meaning in the loss. The loss can become a path to growth or wisdom, or a motivation to do good deeds. In his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Harold Kushner makes the case that when we focus on why, we’re asking the wrong question. Instead, he asks us to focus on now what?   What good will come out of a bad situation?

It’s not just loss that is hard. Even positive change can be difficult to adjust to and even traumatic. You’ve heard the stories of how winning the lottery is just as likely to ruin one’s life as it is to create happiness and wellbeing. Those winnings can either be used to create meaning and purpose and to elevate others, or it can be used to create infighting, division, resentment and fear.

Regardless of whether an event is subjectively good or bad, emanated from fate or choice, in the end we’re left with deciding what next? Do we learn, grow, improve, or take action? Or do we become complacent, fight with each other, blame someone else, or fall into depression? Do we learn to make better choices or learn to let go and be more accepting of what we cannot control?

Undoubtedly in my lifetime, I have tended to err excessively on the side of free will. My challenge continues to be able to lean into accepting and embracing the parts of my life that are driven by fate and beyond my control.   I must believe that, just like every other part of my journey to become my best self, the future can be even more spectacular than I can imagine, so I should not try to control it.

Perhaps those of you who err on fate must learn to be more proactive and involved in determining your destiny. You have more power than you realize. Use it to grow kindness and wisdom in yourself and your world.

Inner/Outer Congruence

As humans, it is unavoidable and in our nature to be hypocrites (see the Hypocrisy of Hypocrisy). Therefore, one of our biggest challenges in our journeys to become our better selves is aligning our inner intentions and goals with our behaviors. Whether we strive to be a good leader, kind, compassionate, fair, strategic, loving or generous, sometimes we are our own worst enemy towards consistently being that person both inside and out.

When life is good and stress is low, that consistency feels relatively straight-forward and achievable. However, add in a dose of fear or uncertainty, and ignite it with a dollop of lack of self-awareness, and it’s pretty easy to see how we may start acting at odds with our core values and beliefs.   Add a touch of arrogance, and now we’re defending the actions that we criticize in others.

Wow.

You know it’s not pretty. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, we probably have to admit that we’ve all been there, done that, in some manner. We don’t do it intentionally. It’s just that when we get into that flight-or-fight mentality, even if we’re unaware of it, we tend to get a little stupid. I, personally, get really stupid and even self-destructive. You know that feeling that you’re going to win this at all costs, even though part of you knows you’re barreling down that path to self-destruction? Yeah, that’s when it’s really bad.

Hindsight is 20/20 because once our fear and stress hormones subside, we get wise enough to view the damage that we’ve created.   It’s like a fear hangover, where you’re wondering, “What did I do?”

I’d be lying if I told you that I’m immune to this now. Like so many other things in my life, this is an ongoing journey for me and all I can say is that I’m better than I used to be. My self-awareness and ability to identify and manage my fears are much better, and my blind spots are fewer.   My arrogance? I’ll leave that conclusion in with my other blind spots.

I think what has been most helpful to me has been an increased openness. Though I’m still fairly opinionated, I’m less certain of the definition of reality, especially when it comes to human relationships.   I’m better at stretching the period of time that I’m looking for input before forming a conclusion. I’m better at being a little less certain after I’ve formed that conclusion. I’m better at being more curious and reflective about someone else’s perspective and reality. I’m better at observing others’ tone and body language when hearing their words.   I’m waaay better at avoiding judgment of others. After all, I’m doing the same dance with my own hypocrisy: it’s the height of hypocrisy to complain about someone else’s hypocrisy.

It’s hard to be a congruent person. However, the beauty of that struggle is that we can always improve, and that’s what matters.

Acceptance/Complacency Sweet Spot

One of the strengths that I value the most in myself is my strength of perspective.   Not only does perspective give me the ability to find the silver lining in all situations, it also helps me to try to understand the nuances between concepts like acceptance versus complacency.

On one hand, acceptance is important for having a sense of peace and healthy relationships (i.e., accepting others for who they are). On the other, if we move into complacency, resignation and apathy, we are likely settling for mediocrity and defeat. To me, the difference between the two is whether or not we have given up on change. Do we believe change can still happen? Are we working to grow in a positive direction? If the answers are no, then perhaps we’ve become complacent.

Less clear cut, perhaps, is how complacency and acceptance applies to our relationships. How can I be accepting of someone if I hope for change from them?

I believe the answer depends on our focus. Are we focusing on who they are versus what they do? Who they are is a combination of their strengths, beliefs, values and history, and includes the beautiful and necessary dichotomies of light/dark, “good”/”bad” for all of these traits.   In other words, we’re simply imperfect humans and we’re all striving to find that sweet spot where we can make best use of our strengths, values and beliefs to live the best life possible. Each of us has a different makeup, and thus, different struggles. One person’s struggles are no better or worse than anyone else’s. To accept that in others is accepting who they are.

Accepting who they are is different from accepting what they do. It’s not unreasonable to expect and nurture growth in yourself and others in a way that honors one’s individuality and unique dichotomies while also moving closer to our most effective expression of our strengths and values. It’s when we give up on improving our behavior is when we become complacent, apathetic and mediocre.

That focus on changing others’ behavior should also be balanced with an equal or greater focus on our own change and growth. By modeling the growth we wish to see in others, we can be more influential advocates for the future that we wish to realize.

My perspective strength also tells me that our human shortcomings are prerequisites for growth and positive change. If we believe ourselves to be perfect and refuse to accept our failings, then we are in essence embracing complacency and mediocrity. When we have a perfection mindset, growth and change are unnecessary, undesirable and even impossible.

In sum, by believing in our own perfection, we are not embracing excellence, we’re justifying our complacency. By accepting, and even loving, our humanity and shortcomings is when we can make real positive change happen.

Hang Ten

Sometimes life feels like smooth sailing. Other times, life feels like you’re caught in a tsunami or stuck in an eddy. My life is usually fairly calm, and it’s easy to take that calm for granted.   And there’s nothing better than a little turbulence to make me appreciate those smooth waters.

However, life isn’t supposed to be smooth sailing all the time. We inevitably encounter the occasional rough patch, vortex or even tsunami and may mistakenly believe that our lives are supposed to be smooth.  Such disturbances are natural phenomenon in nature as well as our lives; they’re meant to be. Even so, my little eddy may seem major in the moment. In reality it’s not even minutia when compared to what’s happening in the world (war, starvation, disease, etc.) or the universe (black holes, celestial collisions, etc.).

Minutia aside, maybe there’s more there than meets the eye. In addition to making my life difficult on a certain day, profound good can also emerge from the chaos. Just as a forest fire makes room for new growth, life’s challenges have a tendency to clear out the detritus and make room for something new and better.   I cannot usually control that turbulence per se, but I can try to ride that wave with my head above water, resist fighting and instead steer within the current,  letting it carry me quickly and safely to smoother waters. Voila! Safely on the other side.

It’s not an easy or comfortable process but the wisdom I’ll gain from the experience will make it easier the next time ‘around’.

Besides, what choice do I have? It’s either that or drown.

While riding that wave, it’s hard to see the growth as it’s happening. I know it’s there because when I look back at my young self I see how much I used to struggle against things for which I had no control.  I imagine my geriatric self will be similarly amused at my current quixotic endeavors, assuming I have any recollection of them at all.   I can only hope that I will continue to grow in wisdom into my golden years. It’s a journey, vortexes and all, that I wouldn’t miss for the world.

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Riding the wave

Striving

Have you ever reached a big goal only to feel completely let-down and anticlimactic?

Been there. Done that.

I spent much of my early career thinking, “I’ll be happy when….” And when “when” actually happened, I wasn’t happy at all. In fact, in one case, it felt like the worst thing that ever happened to me.

At the time, I knew one reason why that happened. To reach my goal, I had to spend all of my time and energy on tasks that I enjoyed, but wasn’t particularly good at or passionate about. Achieving that milestone did not change that dynamic, much to my surprise.

In hindsight, I would add two more reasons for that happiness-turned-trauma. First, I know now that happiness is a choice we make every day, whether we’re celebrating or struggling. An external event or fancy toy may influence my happiness, but in the end, it boils down to making a choice for happiness each day, each minute.

Second, part of my happiness requires that I have a meaningful goal.   In the absence of meaningful goals, I’m merely settling for the pleasure I derive from my life and past accomplishments. Don’t get me wrong – nothing wrong with enjoying those pleasures. However, for me, I must always be working towards something meaningful, else those pleasures feel somewhat hollow.  Dad learned this lesson when he reached his major life’s goal too.  Interesting.

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Hedonia (doing good) vs Eudaemonia (feeling good) – mappalicious.com

The image above explains this dynamic. In the end, life boils down to the balance between hedonia (feeling good) and eudaimonia (doing good). One without the other simply feels incomplete and imbalanced. Expecting to feel happy and fulfilled with only one, and not the other, just doesn’t seem to work.

Where are you on this grid? How do you find the right balance between doing good and feeling good?

Focus on Followers

As a society we seem to have a fascination with leaders, and what they should be doing and thinking.  This focus misses perhaps the most important element of leadership: the followers.   This oversight is the equivalent of the clinician failing to consider his patient, the teacher failing to consider his student, a parent failing to consider his child, or the server failing to consider his customer.

So, what is it about followers that leaders should focus on?

In Strengths Based Leadership, Rath and Conchie remind us that followers have 4 primary needs: trust, stability, hope, and compassion. They want to trust their leader to do what they say they will do. They want to know the leader will provide support, strength and core values, and that they can be counted on. They want to know that there will be guidance and direction that will make them feel hopeful and enthusiastic about the future. They also want to know that their leaders care for them as a person, just as they would their friends and family.

In other words, this construct from Rath and Conchie is consistent with servant leadership, where effective leaders focus on what the followers need to be successful and productive. In short, this view aims to inspire and support the followers.

In contrast, managers are focused more on managing work, having power and control, reducing risk, and acting in an authoritarian manner with subordinates.   The emphasis is on the task or on the manager himself, not the person who is being managed.

The leader’s job is to create hope and stability, earn trust and have compassion for the followers.  Leaders who expect people to follow them while focusing on their own needs may have difficulty eliciting high quality performance. A leader with poor self-awareness may then blame the followers or subordinates for being disengaged and unmotivated. Now the focus may shift to the follower’s failings, a situation likely to deepen disengagement.

This scenario is not likely to have a good ending. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. An effective leader creates change, especially in the face of challenge. That change may have to start with the leader herself.  After all, if you can’t change yourself, how can you create change in others?