Needs are everywhere. We spend time each day meeting the needs of others or ourselves; it’s a never-ending process. Not all needs are created equal; some feel optional (reading for pleasure), while others are essential to maintaining our well-being (sleeping and eating). So what happens when circumstances arise that make you feel bad about yourself, asserting an emotional need? We have three typical responses to our emotional needs and while we use all three to cope in a world that doesn’t always set us up for success, one of these will be the place you start to meet these needs.
The first of these three responses is the direct route, acting on our need to feel good about ourselves. We fix the problem, justify our actions, demand something of others or find some way to re-take control of the narrative (internal or external) that we find ourselves immersed in. While taking action is often a good thing, do not confuse action with accountability; sometimes we act in ways designed to protect ourselves that don’t include getting to the heart of the matter when it involves making us feel vulnerable. Actions are a two-sided coin; to either work through unwanted feelings, or to subvert them, depending on what is motivating us.
Another way to meet our emotional needs is to earn the trust and respect we crave to ensure the way we want to feel is consistently present in our lives and work. We may try to appease others, or be of best service, to maintain or regain feeling good about ourselves in their eyes. This type of response is all about meeting expectations. Being aware of (and using) expectations as a motivator can be a very good thing, but when taken too far it can result in a polarizing outcome, where we either feel we are “better than” others (more moral, ethical, loving, etc.) or “less than” others (becoming a doormat or emotionally dependent on others for our own self-esteem). Earning the respect and trust of others is also a two-sided coin, being there for ourselves emotionally versus making others fill this void for us.
The third way we beautiful human beings try to meet our emotional needs is by withdrawing (as in “Stop the world, I want to get off”); moving away from conversations, situations and people (mentally or physically) as a way of coping with overwhelming feelings. Here the motivation is to take time to process what is going on, turn it over in our minds and see what it is all about. As adults we get very good at doing this in socially acceptable ways, like tuning out in the midst of a conversation; being there, but not really being present (or actually leaving, slipping away unnoticed). While stepping away from something stressful or meaningless can give everyone time to think, doing it without the intention to resolve the problem (preferring the more rational, fertile space of our inner mind to the harsh and unpredictable outside world) abandons responsibility. Withdrawing from others as a coping mechanism is also a two-sided coin (considerate time out versus abdicating accountability) depending on what our intentions are.
Learning which of these responses feels most familiar to you can help you to better see whether you are using it to work through something difficult (owning it), or to escape unwanted feelings (running away from it). Getting in touch with this essential part of you (coping with how you feel about yourself) is a powerful way to realize your full potential, at work and in life. Love yourself first.
“When we are stuck in our convictions and personas, we enter into the disease of having good ideas and being right…We think we have a lock on truth…but the bigger we pump ourselves up, the easier we are to prick with a pin. And the bigger we get, the harder it is to see the earth under our feet.” ~ Anne Lamott, Almost Everything, Notes On Hope
(These three ways we meet our emotional needs are based on the work of Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Triadic Self, page 60 - 63)
Photo Credit: Brigitte Thom on Unsplash
Today’s business world is very focused on results; deadlines, budgets, outcomes, efficiency, productivity, etc. Performance is measured in results, with the accompanying metrics that let you know how effectively you arrived at your results in your role. We even put our results on our resumes in the form of accomplishments, helping others to see our demonstrated knowledge, skills and abilities and how we could make a difference to an organization.
But do results tell the whole story of you in your work?
No, they do not, for they are too one-dimensional to do that. Results are really only the beginning. Results are sexy, there is a lot of thought and hard work that goes into making something happen in the right way, at the right time. Results get a lot of glory, but in reality they are not the whole story, because most of us don’t get out of bed to chase results, we get out of bed to make a meaningful difference…and that means we need to look beyond results to the impact those results have on ourselves, our organizations, our communities and our families.
Results are a product of our actions; impact is a product of our intentions. Most of us find a sense of purpose and meaning in our work because large aspects of it align with our core values. Our values, in turn, form the quality of our intent in our work. Being able to articulate your impact at work is far more powerful than just focusing on results. Learning to demonstrate how your values-based intentions lead to value-driven actions and positive impacts allows your employer to see your worth beyond the binary “did you get it done or didn’t you”. It gives you an opportunity to demonstrate what you learned along the way, how this work will serve the team/organization/end clients beyond its current result. In essence, it helps everyone to see how your work makes a meaningful difference to others.
So how do you do that? There is a simple “recipe” for writing an impact statement, something you can use to help your manager, team or organization see how your work has reach beyond just today. It is RESULT + YOUR VALUES = IMPACT and it looks like this (on a self-review or in an e-mail); “In completing the work on this service offering, integrity, teamwork and innovation ensures that not only will this meet our current company mandate for this client, but we have a ‘blueprint’ that is easily replicable for future offerings that will allow us to consistently exceed customer expectations.”
Try it. Take a recent result you achieved at work, and write it up reflecting the values you used in making it happen and see if the impact of that doesn’t write its self. We need to own more of who we are in our work, making it visible to others as well as ourselves, celebrating how we make a difference with the 40+ hours we invest every week at work. Show them what you’re made of, what you’ve got, and how it is moving the organization forward one good intention at a time.
Did you know we each have a “favourite” stress response? The expression of stress is unique to each of us, and to the situation we are in, but we have a “go to” stress expression when the inevitable peace shattering, *stuff* hitting-the-fan event happens. We either express anger, shame or anxiety; sometimes just one and sometimes all three in a “merry-go-round” from hell. Which of the three we typically start with when overwhelmed by emotions is an expression of our core belief. “Core Beliefs are deep-seated perceptions that everyone has about the world in which we live, work and play. Core Beliefs impact how we think, feel and behave as well as how we interact with other people and our general view of the world.” (Peter Barow, Core Beliefs). Each of us use our core beliefs to make decisions, they are useful in helping us navigate the world. However, a core belief is ever-present so its there “helping” you navigate when you are stressed too.
In these descriptions we can feel our instinctual reactions to stress, disappointment, etc. What’s important to remember here is while we may not always like it, being emotional isn’t a bad thing; we are emotional when we are excited about something, or when we feel tears of joy. Your instinctual stress response appears when your behaviour surrenders to the pressure you are under, and so begins the “merry-go-round”. While one of these responses is your “go to”, you can easily move into all three; you forgot a deadline at work (shame), someone was less-than professional about calling you out on it (anger) and now you are worried everyone thinks this way of you (anxiety). Merry-go-round from hell. Round and round the feelings go, and when it stops nobody knows. The longer you stay on it, the more entrenched the overwhelming feelings get, the more frequently they come visit you, the faster the merry-go-round spins keeping you on it longer each time…and you ask yourself things like ”Why is this happening to me!!!!”
You do control how long you are on that merry-go-round, and this can be accomplished with just a few simple but intentional actions. First, get familiar with identifying when you are on the merry-go-round and (when you are there), rather than asking yourself “Why is this happening to me?” ask yourself “What is this trying to teach me?” The act of re-framing what is happening stops the carousel of chaos, letting you off to begin a much better journey, one filled with curiosity and self-compassion.
(The three stress responses is based on the work of Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Triadic Self, page 49 – 59)
“Failure has always been a part of the plan. Without it, we don’t grow.” ~ Carleen Hicks
Photo credit: Ben White on Unsplash
You get out of bed each morning to do your best at work and for your loved ones, but along the way *stuff* happens. Traffic is bad, your boss is in a mood or that work that was supposed to be done by the client is delayed…or whatever other disruptive event puts a dent in your day. Feelings of anxiety, anger or shame arise (sometimes all three in a merry-go-round from hell) and really make it hard for you to continue in your day feeling good about yourself or your work.
You need a break.
However, most of us don’t give ourselves the break we need when we are feeling ashamed, frustrated or stressed out about work; we put our head down and work harder. Ignoring your needs is a losing proposition. Here is something to think about so you remember to take a well-deserved break, allowing you more well-being at work (even on a “bad” day). It’s called H.A.L.T.
Hungry: When was the last time you ate? If you are thundering through your day on the dying fumes of the granola bar you ate at 10:30 a.m. then you are not going to be resilient when the next disruptions hits. Get something nutritious to eat, give yourself the quality fuel you deserve (which is not at the drive thru of a fast food restaurant…)
Angry: You are going to get angry at work for a variety of well-deserved reasons. You were cut-off mid-sentence in a meeting. Your idea was shot down unceremoniously by the new guy (whom you trained…), the list is endless really. If you are angry, call it and take a walk, get a coffee or sit in the “quiet” room at work to allow your emotional self to catch up to your present self. You’ll thank yourself (and you are worth it).
Lonely: It is possible to be lonely at work, in the midst of the hum and bustle you can feel abandoned (your boss missed your one-on-one), cut off (not allowed to speak freely in a meeting) or like you have been metaphorically left on a hill to die (when you don’t even remember how you got there). Find a friendly face or voice and give yourself some love.
Tired: How much sleep do you get a night? Ouch! How much sleep are you supposed to get a night. Yup, 7 to 8 hours. A night. Since most of us upstanding adults don’t get quite that much uninterrupted sleep, give yourself a break when you are tired at work, sit and do nothing for a few minutes in between tasks to rest. Commit to getting more rest a night (this is an important life skill to build). You are not yourself when you are tired…you are a walking petri dish susceptible to whatever illness is making the rounds at work (or at your kids school…). Recognize when you are tired and plan to get the rest you need before you get sick…or snap at someone.
H.A.L.T. is a great tool to give yourself permission to take a break at work...and when you can do this compassionately for yourself, you are much more likely to be able to be compassionate with others. It’s an act of kindness to understand your needs (or someone else’s) and do the right thing. “There is virtue in work an there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.’ ~ Alan Cohen
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash
Let’s look at the word “career” for a moment. A career is typically understood to be any working experience throughout your active life (both paid and unpaid); from your first “paycheck” job to the day you retire from actively engaging in work (volunteer or otherwise). However, most of us would argue that isn’t a career; my client’s come into career coaching identifying a “career” as the professional pursuits they have on their resumes. The work that launched them into professional life, the work they are most proud of, the work they feel their best at.
While we can (and should) be selective on what we represent to others on our resumes and social media profiles (so as to attract and retain the types of work that really interest us), this “selective reasoning” often obscures the fact that many of us end up getting bumped around in our careers, following meandering paths of employment based alternately on hard work and luck. Let me ask you this; is your profession a career? If that question gave you pause then let me ask another one; where does your career “compass” point?
In order for our work to be fulfilling and gratifying it needs to be grounded in meaning and purpose. If we haven’t intentionally sat down to think about what we feel our purpose is in what we do for a living, then many of the benefits of a working life cannot be leveraged (beyond the paycheck…and money alone isn’t enough to give us well-being in our work). Often our working lives become “scenery”, something we go through, not unwillingly, but without a lot of conscious thought, joy, gratitude or intention. If looking at your career from where you are now makes you feel like you are not where you want to be, you’ve got an example of the collateral damage drifting through your working life can cause. Dissatisfaction, malaise, anxiety, imposter syndrome and many other energy-sucking feelings arise when we don’t take full accountability for actively managing our career, recognizing our own great potential.
You may be in the best profession, in the best job and in the best company for you to be working in right now and you might not even know it. Take a moment to look around and see (and if you are in the right place, take time to enjoy it). If you know you are not in a place that makes you feel good about yourself in your work, then where would you like to go? Plan from there back to where you are now. Yes, this takes time. Yes, it means facing potential gaps in knowledge and skills. Yes, it means investing in yourself (or convincing your current employer to invest in you). You are worth it, right? (Hint: the answer is “yes”).
Most of us spend 10 hours or more a day getting to, being at, and then getting home from work (work plus commute). That is a lot of life to be living in “meh” because your potential isn’t being engaged. No one else is likely going to determine your career course with purpose and intent, only you can do this for yourself (and you are worth it). So, how do you want to invest your abundant potential?
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
- from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
(Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash)
Persistent worries do not come from nowhere. Our imaginations can take a fleeting thought and quickly blow it up into concern for a reason – the concern our imaginations tap into is already in us, waiting for a vulnerable moment to make itself known. This is one of the things that makes it so difficult to manage every day fears and concerns…while they are not objective, or even based in fact (because worry is focused on something that may happen in the future) worry does arise from the deepest part of us, and that gives it a level of credibility that carries it further into our lives then we intend.
If you have ever taken your worry out for a cup of coffee, explored it as a companion sitting beside you (rather than an invisible force inside you) then you may have learned that worry has it roots in deep caring. We worry about work because we have a deep commitment to what we each do. We worry about loved ones because we care for them so very much. This deep knowing lives inside of each of us, but it also makes us feel powerless because we also know that we only control ourselves (not the wider world around us); it is a state of humanness that at times is overwhelming.
When we are overwhelmed the control we do have kicks in, and we find ways to disconnect ourselves from these persistent, invasive emotions; to give ourselves a break, sometimes by numbing out with TV, food, alcohol, etc. This is how (as beautiful human beings) we get disconnected from ourselves, our bodies, our best intentions and our loved ones. "The symptoms of this disconnect are familiar: lack of self-trust, emotional and intellectual rigidity, fear of change, perfectionism, narcissism, addictions, and free-floating anxiety...This dis-ease is commonplace in our society, regardless of age or sex, race or class, education or income. The world we live in is a breeding ground."(from: Writing The Mind Alive, page 91; Linda Trichter Metcalf, PH. D. and Tobin Simon, PH. D. Ballantine Books, 2002).
The antidote? It is mindfulness. Mindfulness is about connection... re-connection to be specific. Mindfulness is innate, which means each of us is born with the ability to be mindful; that is to be in the moment. This moment right here. Not reactive or overwhelmed, but fully present occupying no other thoughts or actions other then to see this moment just as it is. It is a powerful way to re-connect to our lives, our loved ones and ourselves. Its free and ever-present; something you can practice anywhere. While mindfulness is innate, it is also a choice; it is up to each of us to engage it. Mindfulness asks you to do nothing... with intention. Just sit. Listen to yourself. Really listen to yourself without getting attached to what you are thinking. Take some time for yourself to do this because mindfulness only gives, it never takes from you; it gives you more connection to yourself, to your body, to your loved ones, to your work. You will be better able to face your fears, to see the “story” in what your worry is telling you. With this truth you can be discerning about what is real and what is not and compassionately address your fears. You will be more fully connected, a gift that only gives and is always there for you. Be present in your life, you are worthy of this gift.
Find resources to support mindfulness at http://www.loveyourworkinglife.com/mindfulness.html (in addition to the practice, there are smart device apps and other options listed at the bottom of the page).
Worry, attachment, over-identification or anxiety; whatever you call it we all do it or have it. Worry is something we all need, it’s what allows us to get the critical work done, to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and makes up a part of our conscience, keeping us our best self. But worry and anxiety are also energy sucking, joy-killing, life limiters when they are running the show. Can you tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy worry?
Here is what healthy worry sounds like; “Oh, I’d better make sure I submit that report on time!”. And this is what unhealthy worry sounds like; “Oh, I’d better make sure I submit that report on time!”. See the difference? This is what makes it hard to understand when our worry is helping us, and when it is not. Worry has a couple of “friends” that turn a fleeting thought into fear. The first is imagination. A thought can come and go like clouds in the sky, impermanent. However, if there is something about a thought that triggers our mind to start thinking, our imagination can take that thought and turn it into something else entirely; “Oh, I’d better make sure I submit that report on time! I don’t want to end up laid off from work like Sally, and everyone knows she was often late with her work. I can’t be out of a job right now, what would happen to my Mom? She depends on me to buy her groceries…” All of us have fleeting thoughts our imaginations take into whole new directions, creating fear and anxiety.
The second “friend” that tags along with worry is rigidity. Rigidity takes those hyper-activated thoughts our imagination just handed us and makes them a call to action. You stay really late at work, hoping to get everything done (so you won’t be a target for lay off). Perfectionism, vigilance, judgment, or a fixation on one particular outcome are all versions of rigidity, because your imagination just sold you a story you are desperate to keep from happening. We’ve all been there, imagining the worst possible ending, getting up in the middle of the night to check on an e-mail or spreadsheet we submitted, and are now second guessing (“Was my tone too harsh? Did I get those figures right?”).
If you have overwhelming amounts of anxiety in your life, please consult a qualified health care provider to help you. Relief can begin by making the call for that appointment (my true story based on real events). For the everyday items there are things we can do to keep worry from robbing us of well-being. The first step is to recognize when your imagination has taken off with a thought; sometimes you can catch this in the act (preoccupation, clenched jaw, headache, etc.) and sometimes you see it after the fact. When you see it, take it out for a cup of coffee. Take worry out of your mind and sit it down like it is a person, have a conversation with it. In doing this (making it something you relate to outside of yourself) you are much more able to see it objectively, to ask questions and to become more compassionate with it and yourself. Then, you are more able to accurately see the difference between healthy and unhealthy worry and do something constructive with it.
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.” ~ Corrie ten Boom
Photo courtesy of Alexandru Zbrobau
Lately I’ve been thinking about my mental “junk drawer”. The place I put the things I don’t want others to see…things I don’t really want to look at either (but I can’t quite let go of…). I’ve decided it’s a junk drawer because the stuff in there is so closely aligned with the contents of the actual junk drawer in my house. Batteries that need to be recharged…but I can’t find what we’ve done with the charger (that thing I do where I make myself small around some people), keys with no locks (persistent behaviours I want to stop but don’t know how), bits and bobs that will be useful someday…but not today. And not without a lot of inconvenient effort.
The thing to remember about these items is each and every one of them has a story attached to it, just like the physical junk in that one drawer we all have in our homes. It’s easy in the moment to justify why I made myself “small” around someone; I tell myself they wouldn’t have taken lightly any challenge to their thinking, or that it wasn’t worth disrupting them, or…but that is not the story that particular item is telling. If I look at it objectively, setting that example apart from me in an act of observance, it is the story of a lack of confidence in myself. A lack of confidence in my ability to skillfully pose an alternate way forward, or influence another person’s thinking. Author Rebecca Solnit calls these “ambient stories”. An apt description as they are ever-present and influence our way of being in certain situations; sometimes we know we are doing “that thing again” and sometimes we can only see it when looking back.
In Solnit’s words; “Stories surround us like air; we breathe them in, we breathe them out. The art of being fully conscious in personal life means seeing the stories and become their teller, rather than letting them be the unseen forces that tell you what to do.” Her words highlight that we need to pay attention to this mental junk drawer and the stories we tell ourselves when we tuck something away in there, a lot of rationalizing goes into that mental drawer. Lessons from the actual household junk drawer – drawers can only hold so much before they start spilling out their contents, and they always do that at the most inconvenient time. So it is with our mental junk as well. Reaction (rather than response), unwanted tears, passive aggressive behavior, shutting down or a desperate need to “numb out” (with food, TV, alcohol, etc.) are all signs your mental drawer can handle no more junk. What to do? Recognize what is needed; time to look in that drawer with compassion and curiosity, and do some “cleaning”.
Looking at the items we don’t want to see about ourselves, or admitting a context in which we are living (at home or at work) is no longer working for us is emotionally exhausting work, but it is valuable work. Only within the act of bearing witness can we see what is needed to break free of these stories, of the mental junk that otherwise holds us trapped in a repetitive cycle that does nothing for us but cause suffering. Start gently, start by recognizing when you have put something in there, and witness the story it is telling. As Solnit says “It’s powerful, honorable, profoundly necessary work when it is done with passion and independence and guts.” If you’ve ever cleaned out the junk drawer at home you know how deeply satisfying it can be to have room in that drawer, to see all the contents. And much like cleaning out the physical drawer where things will remain (the goal is not an empty “drawer”), you don’t have to act on everything in the mental one either, only enough to give yourself room to breathe.
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Ever received “constructive” criticism? It doesn’t usually feel very good, and you probably remember the last occasion when you received constructive criticism. On the flip side, have you received a compliment on your work lately? Now, hold in your mind the way you felt when you received constructive criticism…name one emotion you feel as you bring it to mind. Do the same with the compliment; what emotions arise for you as you consider the compliment you received (name one)?
For most of us, the weight of the constructive criticism will far out-strip any lift we gain from a compliment…assuming we remember a compliment we received recently (and that we actually owned it or took it seriously). Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we let the negative feelings drag us down, but not necessarily let the positive feelings hold us up? I don’t know about you but for a positive event to make me feel better just after I’ve received constructive criticism, it would have to be on an order of magnitude with winning the lottery.
Science teaches us that our emotions are electrochemical signals released in our brains, and that these chemicals produce feelings that last for about six seconds (if you would like to read more on this please find it here). These feelings are designed to move us to action, so in a case where we are feeling shame, vulnerability, embarrassment or failure we continually produce electrochemical signals that make us feel bad, and on and on it goes, until another life experience knocks us off the cycle (or we manage the cycle ourselves). What this means is we have a tendency to perpetuate negative feelings, re-live them or refresh them. We beautiful human beings don’t tend to do this as often with our positive feelings and memories.
In a world where we in fact get as many items of constructive criticism as we do compliments (probability theory) then it stands to reason we should have the opportunity for balance and equilibrium in our days. When it doesn’t seem like that is the case we are falling prey to “conjunction fallacy” (a part of probability theory), which is the bias that given two statements most people will assume the first statement is always true (as in the choice between “my work is bad” and “my work is good”); on the days when you are continually flogging yourself with shame, guess which of those statements is always up first (I can find fault with myself during my morning shower without trying really hard…)?
“Our minds influence the key activity of the brain, which then influences everything; perception, cognition, thoughts and feelings, personal relationships; they're all a projection of you. ~ Deepak Chopra
What this highlights is it is up to each of us to see ourselves objectively. It’s up to us to balance the equation by taking in both the positive and negative and give them equal weight (owning that compliment, not just brushing it off). If we don’t do this for ourselves, no one else will either.
Having a sense of significance in our lives is important to our balance and well-being. Our internal guidance system is complex, but it ultimately comes down to the choices we make, and there is a fundamental logic to these choices. As beautiful human beings we choose to engage in activities that we know we are skilled in (often things we can do well or that bring us joy). We choose to engage in ways that make us feel good about ourselves, that hold value. We choose to do things that support our loved ones, our team and sometimes our community. We choose to action things that we have a measure of autonomy over, allowing us to execute on them in a felt or complete way.
When we have no choice, we can derive little joy out of what we are engaged in. That is not to say that throughout a day we will each only get to engage in things that make us happy, there is always a measure of “have to do”, in accomplishing those things that feed our sense of significance to enact our values. As an example, accounting, expenses and taxes hold very little joy for me but they are significant to me and I engage in them regularly and with purpose because they are key to enabling me to continue doing what I love to do for a living.
Meaning then is comprised of choices (large and small) that are based on our sense of self, our values, principles and awareness of what we enjoy doing (and why we enjoy it) and how it touches others. It’s often assumed that happiness is the needed focus in life – if we are happy then everything else falls into place. But happiness is fleeting, for many of us it is often conditional (we can only access it when certain conditions are present, or absent). Our relationship with meaning is quite different then the one we have with happiness; we recognize upfront there is work involved, that having meaning present in work and life isn’t a given (or an entitlement), but it is in our control to increase, and if we want what we do to be meaningful we need to look beyond our own needs and wants.
The wisest words that I could find on meaning were from Joseph Campbell; “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”
Go bring your meaning to life.
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ABOUT MY BLOG
I believe in giving back to others in many tangible ways. When I learn something new, or see something that might help others, I share it using my blog and website. You can always find my latest blog entries here, on Face Book or Linked In.