Guidance Versus Intuition, and Love

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Image by Pixource from Pixabay 

How do you make decisions?  Are you analytical or intuitive, or some combination?

In the past I would usually relied on intellect and analysis to make decisions, using my brain to guide me.  The trouble with using my brain as the primary tool for decision-making is that the brain is driven by fear, and my decisions would therefore be fear-based.  Perfection and control, both demanding mistresses.

Though I’ve historically relied on my brain for most decision-making, I did use my heart for important decisions such as career trajectories, major relationship decisions, or what car or house to buy.  Somehow I knew that with the big decisions, I should rely on my heart since my heart ultimately decides how I feel about the decision.

Why I felt that was true only for big decisions is a mystery to me.  After all, don’t dozens of small decisions add up to a big one?  Somehow I think I just convinced myself that using my brain for everything was the right thing, even when that meant hurting others because I couldn’t be bothered to calculate the human element into the equation.

My change of heart (pun intended)on this topic has since resulted in a switch in my Myers-Briggs personality trait from a strong “T” (thinking) to a moderate “F” (feeling) as the primary way that I make decisions.  I’m proud of this flip flop because it means I can alternate between T and F frames, but I now erring on the side of considering the human part of the equation.  Which is where I want it to be.

Using feelings to make decisions is one step removed from using intuition.  As a person who over relied on thinking for decisions, I was pretty disconnected from my intuition.  For example, when deciding how to best handle an interpersonal situation, I used to do a calculation in my head based on the rules, and my values and principles, which did not usually include other people’s feelings.  Now I tap into my own feelings and try to ascertain how others might feel in the situation, and integrate that information into the decision.  This is called emotional intelligence.

Now, I’ve added a deeper element, which is intuition.

I’m trying here to unpack the difference between guidance and intuition.  Guidance comes in two different flavors in my experience.  First, there’s the explicit, in-my-channel conversations that I have with my guides.  But there’s also the more in-my-gut feelings that I get from my subconscious, and I believe, the divine.  I imagine it’s this latter form of communication that most people use when receiving divine guidance.

The advantage of intuition is that it provides a deeper and more holistic understanding of situations that’s not available during a conversation with my guides.  Intuition is more instantaneous compared to conversation, which is relatively linear, inefficient, and slow.  I’m also learning that as time goes by, I’m relying more on intuition than dialogue, and my connection feels more integrated in this manner.  However, I imagine there will always be instances where the specificity of dialogue with the guides is needed and cannot be replaced by intuition.

Regardless of the mode of communication, the message that comes across pervasively, and loud and clear, is that Spirit/God loves each one of us, even when we transgress into behaviors and actions that are not in alignment with his wishes for us.  This is true for all people, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, income, country of origin, ability, or other aspects of our social identity.  Spirit/God loves all of us, no exceptions, and God wants us to love each other and Earth unconditionally.

To fail to do so is against Spirit/God’s will for us and karmic consequences will follow, either way.  For example, if I treat someone as unwelcome because of their age or gender, then I will feel unwelcome in my life.  If I am welcoming, then I will feel welcomed.

I believe we all have, deep down, an intuition that we should all love each other no matter whether we approve of another person’s social identity.  The Arbinger Institute has written a series of books that discusses how we unknowingly create problems for others, and it starts when we make a (usually subconscious) decision to betray our own values and do the wrong thing.  What ensues is a cascade of events where we have to blame the other for our transgression, thus escalating the insult on the other, when in fact the origination of the problem is when we decided to do the wrong thing.

For instance, in the above example where I decide not to include or welcome someone, in my subconscious I justify it by now believing that the person is scary or unworthy, then acting unfriendly towards them as a result.  They act unfriendly in response, which justifies my belief to further exclude them, not realizing that I believed they were nice enough before I decided to betray my own intuition and values, and exclude them.

We are entering into the holiday season which is about togetherness, peace, and love.  Perhaps we should all be intentional about tapping into our intuition that we are all connected, and to do even a small injustice on someone else creates injustice for us all.  Create the karma that you want for yourself, and show kindness, forgiveness, gratitude, and compassion towards yourself and others every day this holiday season.

It may become your new habit for 2020.

I can’t think of a better time to start than right now.

Silver Linings Blog Relaunch

IMG_0258It has been almost 3 years since my last Silver Linings post, which ended a 4 year run that included approximately 400 blogs.  It’s time to relaunch the blog since we need it now more than ever.

The blog was created in November 2012 as I was beginning my exploration of creating a good life through intentional practices and the science of wellbeing, ie, positive psychology after my 20 year marriage ended. I was so surprised back then to discover this field after spending a lifetime experiencing challenges and struggling to create a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

The blog was really a way to translate my reflection into learning and sharing.  Those lessons were hard-earned, often involving sleepless nights, many tears, and sometimes at the expense of relationships, my personal self-esteem, or even the self-esteem of others.  I don’t regret having to learn any of those lessons.  We all have to learn them sometime, somewhere.  What I regret are the lessons I failed to learn at the time and the people I hurt despite my good intentions.

What has transpired since my last blog has been an incredible, wonderful, yet tragic span of my life.  About that time, I had just started a job at the University of Georgia supporting faculty success and wellbeing using all the precious life lessons and training I had cultivated over the many previous years.  I felt I was doing the work I was meant to do, and sharing my lessons so that individuals and the organization as a whole could benefit from every tear I shed and heartbreak I endured.  But it was not meant to last because I lost my beloved sister, Sabina, and husband, Christopher, to cancer in 2018, just 7 months apart.

What followed was another crash course in survival, perspective-finding, transformation, and inspiration that led me to eventually quit my job and start a new nonprofit called the Foundation for Family and Community Healing.  Because relationships have been so important to Sabina, Chris, and me, combined with what feels like a crisis in our ability to hold our families and communities together in a healthy way, the focus of FFCH is on helping others to learn to create healthy and rewarding relationships with themselves and others.

Also, as I sat with the forest in my backyard, day after day, holding vigil for my sick husband or my own grief, I realized that it is not just our relationships with ourselves and each other that are in crisis, but also our relationship with Earth.  Thus, FFCH is also helping all of us to restore our healthy and balanced relationship with Earth, not just on the physical level, but also emotionally and spiritually.

We are leading a social media campaign to discuss this more emotional and spiritual side of our relationship with Earth and asking people to become more aware and intentional about their relationship practices and habits with Earth and our natural world.  Please join us as we explore humanity’s opportunity to heal this relationship and provide support for Earth as she heals, as a novel (and also ancient) climate change solution.

I am relaunching the Silver Linings blog here as well because I am in a place of acute transformation and generativity that is above and beyond where I left you in October 2016.  Just as I shared my journey, reflections, and lessons with you after my divorce during the first phase of the Silver Lining’s blog, I wish to again include you in this new phase which is so full of inspiration and hope, despite my personally tragic year 2018, since to do otherwise would feel irresponsible and selfish on my part.

I invite you to join me, anew if you were a previous reader, as I continue to learn and reflect upon the many lessons of hope, transformation, mortality, connection, spirit, our natural world, our relationships, and our purpose.

Despite much effort and attention in the self-help world, I continue to hear that people do not have time to consider such subjects.  They are busy with their goals and responsibilities, many of which are absolutely real and often important, if not critical.  However, I also encourage you to take a step back and look at your life from the 30,000 foot view, and ask yourself what really matters right now given the challenges we are facing as communities, families, and individually? When will you prioritize your own, your family’s, or your community’s wellbeing and peace of mind?  Are all the things on your list really more important than that?

At some point we have to put our proverbial feet down and refuse to continue to buy into the notion that all of our ‘shoulds’, ‘have tos’, and ‘musts’ are real, and to instead, consider and commit to those things that really matter.  Peace.  Hope. Compassion.  Kindness. Connection.  Care. Love.  Is your entire list of priorities really more important than cultivating these things in your life, family, community, and world?

If the answer is No, be bold, get a big, fat Sharpie, and cross things off your To Do list, remove yourself from obligations that no longer hold meaning and purpose for yourself, and commit to taking the time you need to reflect on your values and priorities given what’s going on in your life and world.  Then reallocate your time to pursue the things that are most important and urgent. Perhaps your new To Do list will include sharing your journey with us through this or our other communities.  If so, I appreciate your willingness to learn and share with me and others in this space.

As a seasoned coach, I know that we have the individual and collective wisdom to accomplish anything and solve any problem, if only we will stop running around and take a reflective and experimental approach to identifying problems and solutions.  So stop.  Now.  Tune in.  Engage.  Take action.  With us, and/or elsewhere.

I look forward to seeing you in this space going forward.  May you have peace and hope as you take action to create the world in which you wish to live in.

Our Responsibility Regarding Bully Leaders

I hadn’t actually heard the term before, but when I googled it, it turns out bully leadership is a thing. It’s several steps beyond an authoritarian leader, since while both authoritarian and bully leaders fail to obtain input from others, bully leaders use fear and intimidation as their primary tools for influence.   Though that style may feel effective and efficient, in the end, it does not pay off.

The most visible example of the consequences of bully leadership is – you guessed it – Donald Trump. While 30% of the public feels The Donald is an effective leader, the majority of the country and the world see right through his style. We are seeing that bully leadership is, in the end, destructive and devisive. It may feel “great” to align oneself with the bully leader, until the bully turns on you.

Do you use bullying as part of your leadership style? According to PD Strategies Blog, Business Insider and Innolect Inc, a bully/toxic leader has the following qualities:

  • You punish others, in small or large ways, if they do not do as you wish or if they appear disloyal, creating lasting damage to them.
  • You don’t try to understand others’ feelings or circumstances, and use criticism, badgering, harassment, threats and blame to control them while failing to provide the support they need to be successful.
  • You want to beat others and win at any cost.
  • Those around you no longer challenge your thinking.
  • You feel you’re better or smarter than others, and that you have the best ideas. You take credit for the work or ideas of others.
  • You use information against others instead of sharing proactively.
  • You use power excessively and will do whatever it takes to get your way or advance your agenda. The end justifies the means.
  • You don’t understand your own or others’ emotions or motivations or how to use that information to be effective.

Though bully leaders may be able to move the bottom line, in the end they hurt they organization. Consider Trump again. Indeed, he made incredible gains initially, winning the Republican primary beyond all expectation and conventional wisdom. In the end however, his take-no-prisoners approach is threatening to unravel the Republican Party and has the potential to greatly harm the country if elected.   He has been described as dangerous by many prominent thought leaders around the world.

Bully leaders thrive when their superiors look the other way to their toxic and damaging behavior.   With regard to our elected officials, we the American people ARE their bosses. Our electoral process is designed for us to choose the right candidate for the job. Therefore, we must be the ones to say “No, this type of behavior is not OK” and must not be fooled by the initially positive outcomes.

Government is not the only place to hire or promote bully leaders. They are in our organizations, families and communities.   Those who condone the behavior, either implicitly or explicitly, share the responsibility for the bully’s outcomes.

So get out and vote this November. If you have not registered to vote yet, do so now!

 

 

How To Be A Good Friend: Part 3

We all know the importance of communication in a relationship. When things are going well, good communication keeps things on the right track. When things are going wrong, you need to talk it out.  You just need to communicate more, right?

Yes and no.

When a relationship is having conflict, it’s probably not the amount of communication at issue, but the quality of both the communication itself and the internal world of the participants that is causing trouble. For example, if I think I’m right and you’re wrong, communicating that in greater quantity will not help the relationship.

What comprises quality communication in a relationship? Here are 8 components of quality communication:

  • Being present – You’re not worrying about your kids, your job, or even what you’re going to say next. You’re giving your partner your undivided attention to both their words and nonverbal communication. Being present also means being calm. If I’m pissed off or terrified, I am likely not being present.
  • Listening to understand – When you listen to understand, you’re trying to grasp the meaning of their words, not just the literal, surface content. You’re dispensing with any assumptions you may have made about their perspective or motivation. You listen with a clean slate, hearing between the lines, not taking every phrase literally.
  • No judging – Everyone has a different internal world, none better or worse than another. Respect the other’s reality, and they are more likely to respect yours.
  • Don’t take it personally – If discussing a difficult topic, this issue likely, at its emotional care, has nothing to do with you (see below).
  • Don’t interrupt – Let them completely finish what they have on their mind. You’ll get your turn, hopefully, later.
  • Reflect back – Summarize what you heard (again, without judgment or taking it personally), and ask if you got it right. Receive corrections and edit until it’s right then ask if there is anything else.
  • Go deeper – For intimate relationships and/or conversations, ask your partner to explain why this particular issue is so important to them to get to the painful (or joyous) belief behind their feelings. Try to avoid using the word “Why”: “Help me understand why this is so painful/wonderful for you.” Reflect their response back.
  • Ask – Ask if they’re willing to hear your perspective. If so, then share your viewpoint being as authentic as possible, avoiding blame and judgment on the other. Remember, your interpretation on your view of the world is your choice.  You’re entitled to your opinion, but remember that it is your opinion, not fact.  Share the feelings elicited by your partner’s behavior or words and the pain at the source of those feelings.

For example, I might say to my partner “When I was telling you how excited I was about my promotion, I felt hurt and ignored when you interrupted me and changed the subject. Giving me adequate air time, especially during important moments, helps me feel valued and appreciated.”

The deeper you can authentically go into your wounded, vulnerable place, the more impactful the communication.     In your vulnerability is where it becomes clear what is the real issue, buried deep beneath the surface argument. (Please see any of Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability if you’re unsure the benefit of making yourself vulnerable).

The quality of your internal world is also critically important to good communication. Your internal world is related to the Arbinger Institute’s concept of being in the Box and your mindset. Briefly, when I am in the Box, I am focusing on my own needs, wants and desires and justifying that position by mentally and emotionally diminishing the other to be irrelevant, a problem or a means to an end. When communicating, I’m more concerned about being right, being heard and understood, or not being blamed or criticized.   My mindset is inward, focused on my own needs.

In contrast, when out of the Box, I view others needs, wants and desires as important as my own. I’m communicating to first understand, and then to be understood. I’m deeply interested in the speaker’s needs, wants and desires so as to be helpful to them, or at least, to do them no harm.   I respect their boundaries as well as my own. My mindset is outward, focused on understanding their needs, and trying to help or support them in a way that does not violate my own boundaries.

Given that this is neither easy nor simple, I find it helpful to take a strengths-based approach to communication. I use my Relator to motivate me to deepen my relationships, and I use my Capacity to Love and Be Loved and Consistency/Justice and Perspective to maintain a positive energy during difficult conversations.   A mindfulness practice is essential for staying present. I view improving on this critical skill part of my lifelong journey where I continue to learn and grow, using large doses of Forgiveness when my partner and I fall short of our expectations.

How To Be A Good Friend: Part 2

In addition to balance, healthy relationships also need boundaries.   Identifying and enforcing boundaries can be difficult, especially with adults. In contrast, identifying and enforcing boundaries with kids and pets seems pretty evident: don’t break things, eat your dinner, go potty in the right place, etc.   With adults, appropriate boundaries are more difficult to name, establish and enforce, yet critical for creating positive relationships.

What is meant by boundaries? Boundaries have to do with knowing what behavior is and is not OK with you. Communicating and enforcing those boundaries is what Dr. Phil means when he advises us “teach others how to treat you”. For example, violence and abuse of any kind should not be tolerated, and a clear boundary should be conveyed and enforced as necessary. On the other hand, verbal abuse may be subjective, subtle and insidious.   If someone makes you feel bad about yourself, diminishes your value or worth through words or gestures, or tries to control you, it may be verbal abuse.

It’s not just verbal or physical abuse that may require establishment of boundaries. Failing to respect one’s feelings, property and requests may also cross a boundary. What’s tricky here is that it’s easy to assume that others should know your boundaries. Some are probably no brainers: if I loan you my car, don’t damage it in any way; if I give you a gift or do you a favor, say thank you.  A relationship that has balance would also require some reciprocation.

However, the appropriateness of most interactions and dynamics are subjective. I may not care if you return a book I loan you unless it’s my favorite book, or expensive.   Sarcastic comments may not bother me in general, but comments about my kids may upset me. This is why communicating your boundaries is important. It’s not fair to assume the other can read your mind or understand the nuances of your preferences, no matter how well you think they may know you.

If you’ve communicated your boundaries and they still insist on crossing them, then you have new information about the level of trust and safety in your relationship. You can then use that data to determine how you wish to enforce your boundaries.   With someone who does not return my property in a timely manner and in good condition, I may decide to no longer loan them my things. With someone who always arrives late, I may choose to let them know that next time I will start without them. With someone who is always negative, I may choose to limit the length of our visit.   With someone who continues to be verbally abusive or critical, I may choose to end the relationship or interact only by email.

In the end, its up to you to decide how important that boundary is to you, and what is an appropriate response. Failing to enforce a boundary tells the other that your boundaries are not important to you, and thus that boundary should not be important to them.  Consider your kids and pets. Inconsistent enforcement is ineffective. For them to really learn to respect a boundary, that boundary has to be enforced every time, and preferably with patience and love. Communicating with patience and love is more likely to create a spirit of cooperation and deepen the intimacy with the other.

How To Be A Good Friend: Part 1

Positive relationships are essential for a good life, yet we are rarely taught how to create good relationships. Likely we have learned relationship skills by observing those who were similarly unschooled. I learned and practiced a lot of dysfunctional behaviors for a long time without ever even knowing there was something wrong with my unhealthy beliefs and practices. Creating a healthy relationship is such a fundamental skill, I believe relationship skills should be taught in K-12 Health class.

We tend to have many types of relationships, some casual and others intimate. However, the skills for creating good relationships are fairly much the same, though the relationship itself may dictate the degree a given skill is employed. A key element to all good relationships, regardless of the depth of commitment or closeness, is balance. In other words, there has to be give and take across the various facets of the relationship such that there is sufficient reciprocity in the long run.

Creating balance can be tricky since assessing balance is subjective. The relationship should not be transactional, in other words, I-call-you-only-if-you-called-me-last-type of behavior.  For example, I know Chris does way more for me than I realize, so if I only focus on what I do for him, I will over estimate my contribution to the relationship.   Also, if I only focus on the picking-up-around-the-house scorecard, for example, I contend I will always win by that measure. But he does so much for me in other areas, which I ignore at the peril of our relationship.

Therefore, when taking stock of relationships we should try to account for all of the ways we give to each other. I may only focus on the money or time I spend on a relationship, but there are other types of relationship currencies that may go unseen, yet should be accounted for. Here are 3 relationship facets, often unseen, that may affect your relationship net balance:

Affirmation –

Friends often have a tendency to either blindly affirm or refute their friend’s stance or behavior.   For example, if I complain about how I’m treated at work, my friends might either just say “Yeah, what jerks. You’re not doing anything wrong and look how they’re mistreating you.” Or they might say, “You never seem to get along with your boss. Maybe you’re too sensitive or stubborn.”

Though the former approach may seem more supportive at face value, both approaches lack balance and objectivity. They both contain judgment (either for or against), and neither help the other learn, grow or find solutions. The approach may even make the situation worse by reinforcing and validating dysfunctional beliefs or behavior.

Instead, a good friend invests effort in listening to trying to understand, and helps the other explore options and responses without controlling or dictating the outcome. Showing unconditional support for the other, without blindly affirming or judging their behavior, is a loving and helpful way to balance affirmation for your loved one.

Effort –

All relationships take effort, including initiating and planning get-togethers and keeping the energy lively and positive. The latter might include finding interesting topics to discuss or things to do, or constructively managing conflict when it arises. The care and maintenance of the relationship should be shared; if the burden falls almost exclusively on one side, then the friendship may not be a partnership unless reciprocation occurs in another area.

Some young people are surprised to learn that good marriages require a lot of effort, not in terms of paying the bills and taking care of kids, but in doing the hard work of creating a successful relationship. No one ever told me this. I’m telling you now in case you haven’t heard.

Intimacy –

Open and honest sharing of oneself and one’s feelings is an important element for our closest relationships.  There is no one right level of intimacy for a given relationship since everyone has different needs and styles for sharing. Regardless of the degree of intimacy, relationships should have balance with each person contributing in a way that works for the relationship. For example, if one friend does all the listening and rarely shares, it may be a red flag that the relationship is one-sided. That dynamic may work for the pair if reciprocation occurs in other areas.

Since relationships run the gamut from casual to intimate, partnerships to dependencies, a good relationship does not necessarily need to have all of the above facets to be positive or healthy. Rather, healthy relationships tend to have a global balance across the various ways that the partners give to each other, thus enabling its sustenance and success.

Understanding Personality Types and Using Them To Your Advantage

Until you understand yourself, you cannot understand others. Understanding others allows you to influence those that are different from you, which provides a sense of empowerment and confidence in your ability to impact your life.   Therefore, self-awareness is a critical part of personal and professional development.

There are numerous personality tests designed to improve self-awareness but with varying levels of validity. For example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, though a popular instrument, does not have as high of validity as the Big Five. StrengthsFinders (one of my favorites) has been extensively studied but by the Gallup organization that sells the instrument, leading some to question its validity.

Regardless of degree of validity, I feel the concepts themselves are helpful to understanding oneself and each other, and using that understanding to grow and improve. For example, the MBTI tells me that I have a preference for closure compared to others that have a preference for staying flexible and open-ended. I never really thought about those differences prior to taking the MBTI except to judge the flexible-minded as being indecisive. After learning about this style difference, I have since noticed instances where making a fast decision led to a less-than-stellar outcome. I’ve learned that creating a more balanced approach by judiciously and selectively employing the opposite style allows me to become more effective.

In essence, being aware and understanding the advantages and disadvantages of my default style allows me to be more mindful and intentional about my decisions, perspectives and approaches. Learning and understanding others’ styles also helps me to appreciate their unique talents and perspectives instead of judging and criticizing them. By appreciating and employing, not judging, those differences, we create a more harmonious and effective group.

But self-awareness is hard. After all, a blind spot by definition means I lack awareness of a certain aspect of myself. Excavating those blind spots is scary. What if I find something terrible?

There is nothing to be afraid of. When we understand the facets of our personality, we find that we have the same traits as other people.  Sometimes we struggle with our traits, just like everyone else. Shining a light on them allows us to understand and optimize, whereas ignoring and hiding leaves us stuck and unable to grow.

So be brave. Explore. Learn. Be open to even subtle feedback from others. You may even find an amazingly wonderful You that is waiting to be discovered.

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The wonderful sides of You