Thriving During the Trump Presidency

Last week I attending an inspiring and beautiful tribute to the late Martin Luther King Jr (thank you Office of Institutional Diversity and Michelle Garfield Cook!).   I did not realize prior to that event that I was carrying a large load of grief and sadness for the upcoming presidential transition.  Dr. King’s vision never seemed in so much jeopardy.

Yet I’m trying to maintain my sense of optimism.  Here’s what is helping me:

  • 20% of the US is freaking out right now, which is a different 20% that freaked out when Obama was elected. We felt they were being unreasonable and over-reactive at the time, and so I probably am overacting to some degree as well.
  • We’ve had 8 amazing years with the Obamas’ wisdom and grace. His election, twice, says as much about America as this current election.
  • Even if Trump may not be the best mechanism for needed change, change will happen. Change is usually painful and difficult, and the lower we fall, the more change we will be willing to undergo.  For that reason, I usually celebrate the opportunity when someone hits rock bottom, and I will celebrate this now, given that most of us are in agreement that something is broken in Washington.  Good change will be informed by understanding, compassion, justice and an aspirational vision for a better future.
  • All this catastrophizing I’ve been doing is causing me pain. I remind myself that “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”  (Shakespeare).  My thinking is causing me pain so I’m trying acceptance.
  • Acceptance does not mean being passive. Acceptance means I understand that our reality is changing and that I should take whatever action I can to create a positive outcome.  I keep trying while also accepting my limited ability to make an impact.  I will use my negative emotion to motivate me, and use my strengths to contribute the best way I can.  For example, I have not felt the urge to blog now for 6 months and now I am once again inspired to do so.
  • All things are impermanent.  The Obama presidency had to end, and so will Trump’s.  We will survive, and even better, our post-traumatic growth will be spectacular.

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    Growth and beauty during adversity.  Photo credit

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Equity and Diversity in Name Only

 

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Justice for all; Photo credit

‘No justice, no peace’

We all understand this phrase in the context of our larger society.  If we don’t have fairness, due process, appropriate consequences, and a semblance of equal opportunity, we cannot have a harmonious society.  The most evident examples of this philosophy can be seen with events such as the OJ Simpson trial, Rodney King, Treyvon Martin and the many subsequent shootings of unarmed black men, all sparking outrage nationally or even internationally.  Similarly, relationships where fairness and reciprocity do not exist tend to be troubled (for example, see J. Nicholson).

The importance of equity is evident on both a macro and micro scale.  What about in between?  What is the importance of justice in a group or on an organizational level?

A 2014 report by Coffman and Neuenfeldt at Bain & Co. demonstrate that companies that provide a sense of gender equity in career opportunity and advancement tend to have higher levels of satisfaction and engagement by both men and women, which then correlates with better business outcomes.   The report then explains how women’s ambitions and confidence erode in the workplace over time, in part due to the workplace culture, too few role models, and implicit bias.   Bain then makes a broad set of recommendations for promoting equity in the workplace, primarily by having managers on the frontline and organizational leaders globally “encourage, develop and support their female employees.”  Finally, the report suggests the power of encouragement at all levels as key to fostering confidence in others.

On the other hand, there is also a risk to taking a half-hearted or poorly-managed  approach to equity efforts, which may then result in equity and diversity in name only (EDINO; I made up that term). As a double minority, I am acutely aware of the companies that have speeches, branding and policies that promote equity and diversity.  Ad campaigns, marketing materials, and programs that demonstrate commitment to diversity is terrific.  After all, it wasn’t that long ago that you would find no minorities (or only negative stereotypes) in print or television, and silence on the need to create equity in the workplace.

However, if that same company that brags about their commitment to diversity still has substantial pay discrepancies or persistent underrepresentation at the higher levels or in certain units, you may have a company that has EDINO.  True, the organization may be in evolution and in the midst of creating what is, in effect, slow change and is actually living its values in word and action despite appearances. On the other hand, progress that is inordinately slow or intractable may be the result of hidden, competing values.  Those competing values may have to do with implicit bias, but other factors may also be invisibly at play.  For example, resistance to any kind of change, a desire to protect existing privilege or status, especially one’s own, ineffective leadership or management, lack of effective training to identify and overcome implicit bias, or a misguided belief that ignoring or burying diversity concerns is in the best interest of the organization may be undermining an organization’s ability to create real change.  Structural issues, such as the institution’s policies and procedures or the informal practices regarding hiring and promoting may also be making the change more difficult.

In other words, there may be bona fide issues above and beyond implicit bias that may be contributing to maintaining the status quo.  Regardless of true intent, the gap between what the organization says and does will not be lost on its employees and the community.    Not only is the organization failing to enjoy the many benefits that diversity brings to the workplace, but now they have a hypocrisy issue as well.

On an individual level, this gap between one’s stated beliefs and actions results in cognitive dissonance.   Cognitive dissonance is a discomfort that results from competing beliefs, or when we act in ways that are contradictory to our beliefs.  When I am experiencing cognitive dissonance, I use self-reflection to identify my underlying beliefs, followed by serious evaluation to resolve that conflict.  This reflective process creates the pathway where I act in ways that align with my values.  This process of reflection, analyzing, trying something new, then evaluating the outcome is how we learn about ourselves and to better navigate our world. Like individuals, organizations that take the time and effort to learn and grow will be more knowledgeable and enjoy better outcomes.

I’m not going to lie (believe me!):  this process takes effort, time and even some courage.  We have to be able and willing to look at ourselves and admit some hard truths.  I’m not always able and willing to do that since it’s easier to blindly believe in and defend my virtue. However, once I have accepted an unpleasant truth, I feel a sense of relief that I can now address a problem directly and effectively.  Forward progress is made possible by forgiveness: a realization that I’m only human and it is my destiny to struggle and fail on the path to success.

Resources:  Government Equalities Office, Department of Business Innovation & Skills, Business case for equality and diversity, January 2013; Immunity to change: How to Overcome It, Lahey & Kegan Harvard Business Press,  2009.

Part 1: Thinking-Feeling Spectrum: Our Self-Concept

Who are you?  Really?

Do you believe that you are the sum of your thoughts, knowledge and beliefs? That your identity is entirely dependent on those thoughts?  If so, what happens when you change your mind, beliefs or knowledge?  Are you the same person?

Or do you believe that you’re a feeling, emotional being who happens to have thoughts and ideas?  What happens if you don’t have an emotional reaction in a given moment or are stuck in depression? Who are you then?  What does it mean if your emotional reactions are context-dependent?  Are you still you?

One way to think about the questions above is from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator’s T (thinking) and F (feeling) personality types.  We are on a T-F spectrum in terms of how we tend to make decisions, whether using our head or our feelings. I also think about the T-F spectrum as the mechanism by which we interface with reality.   I’m guessing that T’s tend to use their head to take in information, both about themselves and others, and use that information to decide who they are.  Similarly, F’s view themselves and the world through the lens of their feelings, using that information to define themselves.  (After all, I’m a T and this theory makes sense.)

However, I don’t really like the binary nature of that scale.  We all think.  We all feel.  Trouble is, we may not be very aware of the end of the spectrum that we are unfamiliar with.  Ts are often unaware of their feelings and Fs are often unaware of the thoughts and beliefs underlying their feelings. This is where we get into trouble.

Thoughts and feelings are interactive and synergistic.  Our feelings are profoundly influencing our thoughts, and visa versa, even if we don’t realize it.  That complex dynamic then determines our behavior  (I’m feeling more F-ish today, and this feels right.)

Being in touch with both our thoughts and feelings help us to have a more complete understanding of who we are, how we feel, why we think what we think and why we feel what we feel.  Our habits of thought, feeling and behavior that define our personality, in the end, are really just habits.  We can break and change those habits, yet we’re still the same person underneath, aren’t we?

I like the person you are – that combination of your hidden and portrayed self.  It’s one of my gifts to see the best in others, including that hidden part of you.  I also hope for your growth and improvement in your life’s satisfaction, sense of authenticity and empowerment.  Changing habits that are maladaptive does not change who you are, it merely helps you be a better version of you.  You can be happier, more peaceful, have better relationships, and improved health by taking a holistic and appreciative view of yourself and your world.

All that being said,  the question of Who am I? remains unanswered especially if you acknowledge that most of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are malleable.  I am not a theologian or philosopher, so I will leave that question to those wise scholars.  As an applied positive psychology practitioner, I reflect on that T-F dynamic and how we can use that self-knowledge to create the best possible life.

But I think I’m out of space.  I feel I must finish this discussion in my next blog, Part 2: Thinking-Feeling Spectrum – Our Alien Brain.  Perhaps the outcome of your thought-feeling dance will be for you to join me.

8 Tools For Thriving During Change

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Embrace change!  Photo credit

The only constant is change, yet we often fear, dread, or fight change. It’s a natural tendency since, as a species, we tend to be wary of threats to our wellbeing, and change is just as likely to bring challenge as opportunity.

In addition, we have a certain change style, where our affinity and comfort with change ranges from low to high. Conservers prefer to take a measured and incremental approach to change, whereas Originators like rapid and broad change. In the middle are Pragmatists who prefer change that is practical and effective. Each style has its advantages and disadvantages; respect for and understanding of our own and others’ change styles can help change occur more smoothly and effectively.

We do not always have the luxury of the pace and extent of change matching our change style.   Often change is faster or slower, broader or narrower, than our comfort would dictate. When change is not under our control, it will feel challenging.   As with any challenge, I use my main Go To Tools to help turn that challenge into an opportunity:

  • Be mindful and present – Plan for the future but don’t dwell on it. Worrying about the future creates anxiety. The present moment elicits neither sadness, regret, nor anxiety.
  • Take care of yourself first – Rest, exercise, a healthy diet, and time for play are good antidotes to stress.
  • Reflect – Change is scary. Acknowledge your fear, anxiety, distress, or sadness. Feel it. Put a name to it. Feel it some more. Then let it dissipate.
  • Identify and challenge your belief or schema – What is the belief that is causing your emotion? If it’s a negative emotion, then name and challenge your belief or schema.   Introduce doubt into that belief. If it’s a positive emotion, then savor and amplify your optimism.
  • Identify the downside of the status quo – What’s bad about maintaining the current situation? What opportunities will pass you by if you resist change? What damage can occur by failing to grow?
  • Find a positive perspective – Your negative feelings result from focusing on the worst-case scenario. Instead, consider what is the best possible outcome.   Imagine it in full detail. What does it look like? How does it feel? What did you learn? How did you grow? What is the pathway to this outcome?   What challenges might you encounter, and how would you surmount them? What would your future self, who is enjoying this positive outcome, say to your current self?  Say it to yourself. Repeat as necessary.
  • Identify your strengths – Given this ideal outcome, identify what strengths (either StrengthsFinders or VIA) that you can use to achieve this outcome and surmount those obstacles. Make a plan.
  • Identify your support – Who can help you on this journey? Maybe you need a sounding board, a sage, a playmate, a home team, a cheerleader. Enlist their support, and be specific about what you need from them. Continue to communicate with them so they understand what their roles are as the situation evolves.

Now, go get ‘em! You have a positive future, go create it!

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

Your Call to Embark on Your Hero’s Journey

Almost every great story follows the format of the monomyth, or Joseph Campbell’s description of the Hero’s Journey.   But it’s not just a great story in a book or movie. The Hero’s Journey has to do with our daily, even ordinary lives as well.

My masters capstone was on callings. During my research, I have come to believe that a calling is really just our sense to pursue our own Hero’s Journey. That Journey is comprised of distinct phases, most of which are not easy. Pursuit of the Hero’s Journey requires that we face our inner or outer demons, grow and change.  The story of Luke Skywalker is perhaps the classic example of a Hero’s Journey, and compelling and universal for that reason.

However, given the epic nature of the Skywalker tale, the images of the Hero’s Journey are always in a circle, as so astutely pointed out by The Sage Abyss. Does that mean Luke has to repeat the cycle again and again? Doesn’t he just go home and retire? Get book deals and interviews and live the good life?

Apparently not.

I suppose each Hero’s Journey cycle isn’t necessarily of the epic scale of Skywalker. But look at the Harry Potter tales. Harry apparently had at least 7 Hero’s Journey cycles while at Hogwarts, each rising to their own epic proportions.

Thankfully, each of us are not likely battling the likes of Darth Vader or Voldemort, though our own challenges may feel that way on certain days. As I look back on my life and the times that I felt called to pursue a scary path, I realize that each one represents a Hero’s Journey cycle. The turning points in my life include deciding to value myself when others were trying to control or devalue me, moving away to graduate school 1500 miles away, choosing an academic career, choosing to stay in academia each year when I felt on the brink of failure, choosing to give up tenure and research for a healthier life, choosing to separate from my husband of 20 years, going back to school to focus on positive psychology, and choosing to distance myself from those who were trying to subjugate, devalue and control me (note the cycle there too).  Each challenge resulted in greater growth and wisdom   That’s 9 or so cycles, and I’m only 52.

Buddhism tells us not to get attached to things, situations or circumstances because all things are impermanent. The Hero’s Journey tells us that each phase of the cycle is temporary (as long as we don’t get stuck indefinitely) and that upon completion of the cycle, the cycle will later return in another form.   I suppose we can resist our own Hero’s Journey cycle and insist on staying stuck in one place. After all, the devil you know…

Choosing to stay stuck in one place may feel safe in the moment, but it’s much like financial investing. I’m worse than an amateur when it comes to money but even I know that doing nothing with your money (savings account or mattress methods) means that I’m missing out on financial opportunities. The stock market historically yields 8% interest, so as long as you can stomach the swings, over time you’ll do much better than your mattress.

Same with your life.

Monomyth says your life will cycle, but over time, you’ll grow and reap the rewards of your investment. It’s scary. You have to be brave and ride out the downturns but the reward will be yours in the end.

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Hero’s Journey cycle

Three Critical Tools to Thrive in the Face of Challenge

Though there are aspects of my life that were and are challenging in a way some can never understand, I consider myself unbelievably fortunate to have had such a great life.   I’ve had every educational opportunity and have always had a safe neighborhood and sufficient, if not abundant, food, shelter and healthcare. I have so many loved ones in my life and have, for the most part, been able to live my life as I see fit.

Not true for much of the world.   There is some real suffering out there, almost all of which makes my troubles pale in comparison.

We often forget that our troubles and the unfairness in our lives are so relative (think: first world problems).   The snub at work, the fight with my spouse, my weight gain, my hair loss, my moderate medical issues, my fender bender, my financial worries, even the loss of a loved one, are often relatively minor issues in the greater scheme of things.

Knowing that and feeling that are two different things.

Here are 3 really important tools for putting that challenge where it belongs in your life.

First, perspective. If you’re reading this blog, then you likely have electricity, a computer or cell phone, and shelter. You may even have some of the types of challenges listed above, and some real concerns. We all do. Consider how much of the world has serious, life-threatening issues that they’re dealing with on a daily basis. How do your challenges and concerns compare to that?   What do you have to be grateful for, right now? What in your life is more important than your immediate concern?

I am not implying you should not take action or feel good about a bad situation. Just consider that maybe it’s not as devastating as you might perceive it to be.  Once you’ve gained a healthier perspective, you are more cognitively prepared to decide the right course of action.

Second, growth.   Challenges become a serious problem if we allow them to defeat us.   Challenges are opportunities to learn, grow, improve and make positive change. Sometimes that positive change we must make first and foremost is acceptance of the problem and the reality of our situation.   When we accept the reality of our situation is when meaningful change (in ourselves or our situation) is possible. For example, when I accept my health issues are related to my lifestyle, then I can begin to make real changes to improve.  When I accept that I can’t control someone else’s behavior, then I can decide how I will respond to it.

Third, presence. There is a lot of talk about mindfulness these days and I totally believe that much of our unhappiness is caused by not being in the present moment. If I’m stressed or anxious, I’m probably worrying about the future. If I’m angry, depressed or sad, then I’m living in the past. In the present moment, I have access to wonder, joy, delight, love and inspiration.   I have negative emotion too but I don’t dwell there like I used to.   Sometimes mindfulness itself is the best possible growth opportunity for dealing with stress and challenge.  Mindfulness means that I’m aware that I’m not being present, I can adjust my perspective, and focus on my current growth/change goals.

I don’t believe all the hubbub around mindfulness is just a populist trend or overrated. When I’m not being present, I spend most of my energy with my head spinning in a dozen directions, or I can feel out of control emotionally.  When present, I can decide what to focus on and how I want to feel, rather than being swept away by internal forces. Most importantly, my challenges feel surmountable and even like the opportunities that they are.