The Gift of Time

This isn’t what you think it will be about. It’s not about time management or getting things done in a more efficient manner, though both are important in the context of well-being.

The gift of time I’m referring to, is the one which exists between a trigger and your response. In the words of Viktor E. Frankl “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

It is our subconscious perception of a stimulus – that situation, person, or thing – which repeatedly triggers the same (sometimes explosive) reaction in ourselves. We experience something as irritating once, twice, maybe three times and the next time it happens, we react predictably – often called a knee-jerk reaction.

We may not be happy with our reaction. In fact, we may realize that our reaction isn’t supporting us at all but we continue to react in the same way. It’s not always easy to pinpoint the reason for our discomfort or stress. Our brain filters and stores so much information, most of which we aren’t conscious of. Researchers have indicated that only a fraction of the stimuli from our surroundings reaches our conscious level.

Underlying every not-so-feel-good emotion we experience (e.g. irritation, anger, frustration, fear), is a need we have, which isn’t being met. Something we value. A need such as respect, love, being seen, being heard. We have many needs, some more important than others. The more important the need, the faster and stronger we will be triggered.

Knowing what your needs are, can go a long way to choosing the right response. In order to understand which need isn’t being met, you need to give yourself the gift of time; ‘the gap’ between stimulus and response.
Self-awareness is key to achieving the gap. Knowing your stress signs and signals when you are being triggered, is of paramount importance. When you become aware of the first signs that something is generating a not-so-feel-good feeling in you, this is the moment to start breathing slowly and deeply. The act of breathing slow and deep has an immediate response on your autonomic nervous system, telling your brain that you are relaxing.

By knowing and being able to name the need that wasn’t being met, you are able to take some of the significance out of the situation. When you feel ready to respond, you’ll be ready to make a choice that is going to support you, rather than being hijacked by your emotional brain. When we allow ourselves to be triggered into a full-blown stress reaction, our pre-frontal cortex, that part of the brain responsible for creative, logical thinking, shuts down to one degree or another.

Become resilient and practice finding your gap. Breathe and thrive!

It’s Time to Wake-Up, Organizations!

Organizations need to wake-up. Employees are looking for more than just a paycheck. Job security is a thing of the past. The ‘war for talent’ is an oft-used expression, for good reasons. Nothing is, as it was before. It doesn’t make sense to pretend otherwise.

The Past
My father, if he were still alive, would be 106 years old now. He passed away at the age of 82. He was secure that the company he worked for, and was extremely loyal to, for 30 years up to his retirement and afterwards, would be there for him, year after year. And it was. My mother continued to receive a portion of his pension until her death at the age of 99, another 20 years later. Molson’s Brewery, started in 1786 in Montreal, Canada, is still there today. An M&A in 2005 with the US based Coors company, and the Molson Coors Brewing Company was formed. Beer is a staple. A good tasting beer, will stay its course (under the right direction, of course).

Even if Dad didn’t agree with decisions made, he would never have spoken out against the company that employed him. He lived in a different era, had 5 children and his wife to support. He was grateful for what his company offered him. As children, we learned this gratefulness also.

The Present
Young people today don’t have, and many don’t want, the kind of job security my father desired. They also don’t ‘buy’ into the work ethics of those who have been around for 20+ years, toeing the company line. Working against your personal values, causes stress. If an ‘anything goes’ attitude thrives in a corporate culture in order to achieve results, then they begin to doubt what role they want to ‘play’ in that business. Since there are currently a plethora of jobs, they can choose the kind of company they want to be employed by. In his Forbes article, The Power of Putting People First, Rasmus Hougaard states “shareholder wealth has steadily become more important than employee health”. If you don’t want to lose valuable talent, either to sick-leave or to the competitor, then you need to change some things.

The Solution
It starts with a culture of care. Putting people first, not profits. That’s not saying profits aren’t important. Only a fool would say that. What it does say, is that by putting people first, the profits are going to come.
Organizations can take a page out out of the mission of Marriott International’s, a Fortune 200 business: “If we take care of our people, they will take care of our customers, and the customers will come back.” Or another page from Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller Companies Inc, who states: “Our company exists for its employees”.

There are many aspects to consider when taking care of your people: values which live in the halls and not on the walls; a growth mindset at all levels; finding meaning and purpose; great communication skills; developing resiliency in stressful situations; and creating healthy life-style habits; just to name a few.

Together with the partners I collaborate with, we provide the best solutions for organizations to ensure employees are engaged and thriving!

Clarity About Pursuing Happiness at Work

In March this year, a few cities in the Netherlands acknowledged and celebrated Dutch Happiness Week. This is an initiative of Fontys University HRM and Psychology students, which began in 2015 in Eindhoven. A leading theme, ‘the economy of happiness’, in these departments was the motivation behind the initiative.

Last September, an initiative of two Dutch women saw the kick-off of the International Week of Happiness at Work. Throughout the Netherlands, a number of municipalities and organizations sponsored various events around this theme. This year it will grow, I’m sure. I hope. We certainly put enough attention to the problem each year in November, with the Week of the Work Stress. For good reason, as stress is the number one occupational challenge in the workplace in the Netherlands.

A misperception of happiness at work?

But what is this often elusive state of happiness in the work space actually? It seems many of us are in pursuit of it but defining it seems to be a bit more problematic.

When one of our KVC app respondents replied to a question regarding their happiness at work score (6/10) with ‘I don’t really emotionally recognize the feeling of happiness’, it set me to thinking. Are we misleading people with the concept of happiness at work?

It’s not that I believe we shouldn’t be expecting to be happy in our work. To the contrary – I believe it’s fundamentally necessary for thriving employees and workplaces. It’s just that I question whether people understand what’s behind the phrase ‘happiness at work’.

Happy people are portrayed in advertising, television and movies with smiling, laughing faces, having loads of fun. Is this somehow the perception people expect to see in the workplace, if they are truly happy at work?

Often employers think, they’re getting a paycheck aren’t they? They should be happy with that. And maybe in my parent’s generation (or even my own, seeing I’m now in my mid-60’s) that was the case. However, younger generations aren’t ‘buying’ that platitude anymore. They know that money can’t buy their happiness.

Adding to the confusion

The word for happiness in Dutch is ‘geluk’. It has two meanings. One is happiness and the other is luck. So ‘gelukkig werken’ is a concept that doesn’t seem to resonate for many Dutch.

Turning to the research

We need to understand that happiness is a state of being which is a natural consequence of well-being. And “well-being is a complex construct that concerns optimal experience and functioning.”

It’s not only about ‘hedonic well-being’ portrayed by the media: that of “increased pleasure and decreased pain leads to happiness”.

It’s also about ‘eudaimonic well-being’, which is “based on the premise that people feel happy if they experience life purpose, challenges and growth.”

What is needed for a thriving workplace?

One of our partners, the HappinessBureau, has created the P3F model. This about sums up what is needed.

Purpose: You are happier at work when you have the feeling the work you do is meaningful and you are making a positive contribution.

Flow: Every day you are able to use your talents, see progress and receive recognition and appreciation. Autonomy plays a significant role in how you use your talents. Being immersed and absorbed in the task at hand, is part of flow.

Fun & Friendship: Maintaining good relationships at work and sharing (in) positive moments.

In summary

Happiness@Work is about how you ‘feel’ about your work and the feelings you derive from your work. If you ‘feel’ you are contributing, are valued, are seen, are appreciated, well then, you can give yourself a 10/10 for your happiness@work score.
Most organizations have a long way to go, to ensure their people are thriving. Step up sooner, rather than later, is my advice. The war for talent isn’t going away any time soon.

Whistle While You Work

Impact of Music on Workplace Productivity

Some interesting facts, in the infograph below by,  on the benefits of music in the workplace, not only for productivity but also for well-being and engagement.

In a Forbes article I found an answer to a question I posed to myself after reading this infograph: Can listening to music (with headphones) in the open flex work areas which have become so prevalent, help those employees sensitive to the excess stimulation they experience in these environments? It turns out, it can and does.

A New Day: A New Chance

Your Inner Critic 

6 weeks ago, we entered a new calendar year. Fixing our eyes forward, I’m wanting to share with you some inspiring words of wisdom to continue into 2019 with a different mindset, a different perspective, and perhaps with more grit, creativity, and resiliency.

New Year’s resolutions, goal setting, and good intentions are on almost everyone’s minds. We know that the majority of us will have given up on our resolutions before this first 6 weeks passed. At which time, your inner critic, that voice in your head, starts calling you on the fact that you’ve failed, again.

“It’s a New Day, A New Chance”

In the spirit of keeping it truly short and sweet, I’ll quote my husband. René greets the start of every day, and I do mean every day, along with most people he sees (including me) with: “it’s a new day, a new chance”. He’s done this for so many years, I’ve actually forgotten when he started. The staff in the fitness club where he works out every morning, have heard this so often, greet him with these words. It’s become almost a competition: who gets to say it first.

A Change in Mindset

But what do these words mean? For me, they mean that we don’t have to wait for a ‘new year’ to make changes. Even if we ‘shortchange’ ourselves by giving up early on our New Year’s resolutions, if they are important to us, it means we can start a New Year every day of the year. There is an expression that says “this is the first day of the rest of our lives”. Make each day, that first day. And if you fail today, then wake up tomorrow knowing you have another chance to get things right. In fact, you have 365 chances to get it right.

Don’t beat yourself up, if you don’t make your resolution a reality. Take each day as it comes. Failure is only failure if you don’t attempt again. Giving up is failure. As Cyriel Kortleven says, think about your failures as ‘Nearlings’ – as in ‘I nearly made it’. Not so bad, right?

Thomas A. Edison, known as someone who didn’t give up, apparently responded to a friend’s query regarding the volume of experiments he’d done, that hadn’t delivered any results with: “Results! Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work!”

Stay focused on what you want to achieve. When you lose your focus, regain it. This will mean that you ultimately reach your goal, whatever it may be.

Thinking Makes it So

Did you ever stop to realize that our thoughts create our reality? That they even create and change our physiology, our internal chemistry?

Thoughts Are That Powerful

After you read this article, you will be a changed person. That’s my promise to you. Awareness is the first step to change. Since after you’ve read this article, you will know how thoughts trigger reactions in us, then forever more, you will have the personal responsibility to ensure that your thoughts, your thinking, will support you. You will be ‘response able’ as Stephen Covey said.

The quality of our thoughts impacts our lives. Everything from our stress levels and general health, to the progress we make in our professional lives and relationships.

Some Interesting Facts About Thoughts

A number of years ago National Science Foundation researchers estimated that an average person thinks approximately 12,000 thoughts per day. A deep or creative thinker up to 50,000 per day. Other estimates run as high as 60,000/day. Break it down – that means 8 to 42 thoughts per minute. PHEW! I’m tired already.
And how much of that thinking is supporting us? Creating health? Boosting our immune system? It’s a huge opportunity to make ourselves ….miserable…. and it appears that’s what we do, really well.

Estimates say between 70 – 80 % of our thoughts have a negativity bias. Researchers have found out that our brains are hard wired to register and remember negative events more quickly and deeply than positive ones. This was good when we had to be alert for lions lurking around the corner and to avoid possible dangerous situations but not so handy in today’s world. Today, the snake turns around to bite its own tail.

The Physiology of Thoughts

What happens when a not so supportive thought occurs to us. Let’s take a thought such as: “she doesn’t like me anymore” or “I’m going to lose my job.” Short little sentences but what an impact they can have, if we let them. Or how about our internal critic, that brain ‘voice’ that tells us how incompetent we are, how unworthy we are…You’re getting the picture, right?

The moment we utter fearful sentences such as this either in our head or out loud, the reaction gets transferred via electrical impulses which race along our neural pathways. At the same time, elsewhere in the brain, signals are being sent to the areas where hormones are made. Almost instantly, hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are being pumped into the bloodstream. Betwixt and between about 1400 biochemical signals and processes are taking place. Everything is happening so fast. Electrical signals in the neural pathways cause our muscles to contract, our heart rate and blood pressure increase, just to name a few.

As a fearful thought loops around and around in our brain the effects manifest themselves everywhere. If it’s an especially fearful thought, we lose our ability to think clearly for 4- 6 hours. Our immune system is compromised for up to 6 hours.

In a Word?… Mindfulness

So how can we influence this chain of events? How can we put the brakes on thoughts that are exerting a
non-supportive response in ourselves?
As I mentioned at the start of this article, the first step is awareness. And that is what has been created here in each and every one of you. We need to truly practice mindfulness, ‘hear’ our thoughts and make a decision as to whether this pattern of thinking is supporting us or not. If it’s not, then the responsibility is upon you, and only you, to decide how to deal with it. We don’t always get to choose what happens to us, but we can choose, we must choose, how we will react.

Once you are mindful you are able to ask supportive questions. Asking yourself ‘why’ questions keeps us focused on the negativity, often in a victim role. Ask yourself a ‘how’ question and you’ll see new opportunities unfold. It’s all there for the asking. You just need to be aware. To be ‘response able’ and choose for possibilities. Will you do this?

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Hamlet

Holiday Needs in Your Time of Need

For many of us, the holidays, which are fast approaching, are a stressful time. Holiday stress manifests itself in a multitude of symptoms due to a variety of causes.
Here is a tip that can help you celebrate the coming days in full holiday cheer: behind any one of your energy draining stressors, lies one or more needs that aren’t being met. If you can identify the need or needs not being met, you can then do something about it. If you choose to.

Needs over time

The list of your needs is long and extends from physical needs (enough food, water, air to breathe, exercise etc.) to emotional, mental and spiritual needs. A need for calm, a need to be seen or heard, a need for connection, respect, humor, compassion, or …

The needs which are important to us, developed over time. Your experiences, beliefs, thoughts, attitudes, fears, values all contributed to how you react when a need isn’t being met. Not all family get-togethers are occasions of joy, peace and harmony. Holiday music can be very misleading.

Awareness is key

It’s an interesting concept – that just identifying an unmet need can help you turn around the energy depletion that occurs in its absence. It takes the significance out of the situation to know what is behind your reaction. Of course, every personal development change in life starts with awareness, so why should this be any different? Well, it’s not.

Develop an awareness first, to which needs are important to you. To help you do this, here is a Needs List which you can find at this link.

Your homework should you choose to accept it

Choose the 10 top needs for yourself from this list (if they’re plentiful in your life, don’t choose food, water, air etc.). Then from this top ten, whittle it down to a top five. Then from this top five, choose the one need that is MOST important to you. You now have a workable list.

Take the items on the top ten list and make a copy of it. Carry it with you. Over the coming weeks, whenever you’re triggered by an energy draining emotion, take this list out. As soon as you’re aware of the energy draining emotion, ask yourself what need isn’t being met. Look first to the most important need in your life. Is this the reason for your im/ex-plosion? If not, look further down on your list. In all likelihood, the why behind your reaction will be on this list, because it’s absent in your life.

What you need now

A final piece of advice. In order to stimulate awareness in how you’re feeling, it may help you to ask ‘what do I need now?’. Call upon your inner wisdom in the situation. Once you know what you need – ask for it. Don’t demand it and don’t expect the other person to know why you feel the way you do. Ask for the need to be met in a non-judgmental, non-accusing manner. What I need right now is ——-.

Start practicing now. You will have a wonderful resource at your fingertips to help you find enjoyment amid all the hustle and bustle. Happy Holidays!

Resiliency in Communication

The Problem

  • Have you ever been guilty of reading someone’s mind, assuming you know what the other person means?
  • Have you created fiction for yourself from something you heard someone say?
  • Have you jumped in, offering your two cents worth, not knowing the whole story and ending up with the proverbial foot in your mouth?
  • Have you ever been offended and not taken the time to ask for clarification?

Oh what conflicts are caused by ineffective communication. And conflicts of course lead to stress, usually for both sides. They often lead to long term grudges as well, which are hugely toxic to us physically, mentally and emotionally.

There are many aspects to communication and we assume we do them all equally well. What we don’t know is just how ineffective we can be in both communicating what we really want and hearing what the other person needs.

The Brain’s Perspective

We think we know how to communicate. After all, most of us are pretty literate. We know how to speak, write and read. The first question I ask is, do we really know how to listen?

I fear not. The reasons are many and they are somewhat complicated. They have to do with how our brains function. We carry our own baggage into conversations. Our past experiences, needs, values, language, self-image, beliefs, prejudices, attitudes, wants, fears, mind-sets all influence what we hear and how we interpret what we hear. It’s a long list.

Our brain filters the information it receives based on all of these factors. We think we know what the other person says and means but we can never, ever truly stand in their shoes. Your reality won’t be, can’t be, their reality.

Have you also ever noticed how as someone is speaking, we’re already formulating our responses in our brain? There is a constant barrage of thoughts or judgments. We can’t wait for the other person to stop talking, so we can make our point.

If this is so, how can we be listening coherently? From our hearts?

Communicating Effectively

Really effective communication is like a couple dancing in total harmony with each other. It can be learned. But it takes a lot of practice. And we’ll make a lot of mistakes, before we master it.

In my work of teaching others how to develop more emotional agility and hence resiliency in stressful situations, I share how one can become coherent in the moment using their breathing. In past articles I’ve elaborated on this theme. Even in the midst of a conflict, slow and deep breathing opens up a gap between a stimulus (what someone said or did) a.k.a. the stressor, and our response.

Instead of the knee-jerk reaction we’re so used to, it allows us to respond with supportive choices in the moment. There is a physiological reason for this: a brain that isn’t engaged in emotions like anger or fear is a brain that can think logically and creatively. That brain helps us find more helpful ways to look for the win-win in situations.

Prevention is the Best Medicine

Best of all would be preventing conflicts from occurring. Marshall Rosenberg, a U.S. psychologist, developed a method he calls Nonviolent or Compassionate Communication.

Those who practice this way of communicating learn to resolve differences peacefully. It teaches us how to connect compassionately with ourselves and with others. It’s useful in both personal and business conflicts.

One Last Helpful Hint

If you’re not clear what someone meant, don’t assume, don’t guess, don’t mind-read. Show your vulnerability and ask for clarity. You can save yourself a lot of heartache and a lot of stress.

Know Thyself!

One of the Greatest Gifts

Getting to know yourself is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. Paying attention to your thoughts, your feelings, to the bodily sensations created by these same thoughts and feelings to increase your awareness. If you know what direction your thoughts are leading you, if you’re aware of the tension these thoughts may be imposing upon you, then you can start creating other thoughts and making choices that support you.

Napolean Hill’s quote: “most people are the servants and not the masters of their emotions”, tells us that what we lack is self-awareness. Another quote from him illustrates this also: “Life either rides or is ridden. It never stands still. What choices you make determine whether one becomes the horse or the rider.” A powerful metaphor. In order to make choices that ensure you are ‘life’s rider’, you must take the time for self-reflection. And what better way than by immersing yourself in solitude, even if it’s just for a few minutes each day?

Planning for Solitude

In these days of being constantly electronically connected to the world, with noise pollution a common factor, finding time to connect to ourselves isn’t something we can take for granted. We need to plan for it.

A while back, I was having lunch with a friend and she commented on how addicted she was to checking her emails and especially her telephone for text messages. Both of her daughters are in their 20’s yet still she needed to feel connected, at all times. But what she had come to realize, is that she had very little time without distractions. She promised herself then and there that she would take one day of the week to commit to being ‘offline’. Laptop out, mobile out. Contemplatively enjoying the time alone, with just herself for company.

Disconnected for one day might be a big stretch for many of you. It would be for me. So plan carefully when and what you can give back to yourself. It’s the best gift you can possibly give to the person who is most important in your life – you!

Just a Few Benefits

Remember that as you ‘indulge’ yourself in this practice, you are re-wiring your neural hard wiring. As you increase your awareness in these moments or hours or during a day, you will notice that you’re more alert even during the busyness of your day. You will be able to bring yourself back into a harmonious state much more quickly when confronted with one of life’s many challenges.

And remember in these precious moments, to go to your heart, breathe deeply and slowly in and out and activate a ‘feel good’ feeling for yourself. You are worth it. More than you might even know.

“Know thyself” Socrates

What’s your chemical soup mix?

Photo Els ‘t Hooft: used with permission

One of my favorite parts in giving a workshop, training or a presentation, is when I get to the ‘chemical soup mix’ part. I truly believe that when one understands what is going on physiologically, as a result of a stress reaction, then we’re less inclined to let our response hijack us.

Did you know that when we have a stress reaction – say you run out of hot water while your hair is covered in shampoo; or you spill hot coffee on your newly laundered pants on your way to an important meeting; or your teenager is two hours past their curfew; or you’re on a walk in a nature reserve and come across this very large bear – that in the instant in which we ‘lose’ it, about 1400 biological, biochemical processes take place?

A Choreographed Symphony

YES, you’re reading this right – about 1400! Almost instantaneously. Without us having to ‘do’ anything. We are so amazing. Our autonomic nervous system kicks in and the brain starts choreographing a whole new symphony of reactions. Which is absolutely great. This is exactly what we need when the bear confronts us during our walk in that nature reserve. But listen up – it’s not such a supportive reaction when it’s happening for non-life threatening reasons, like worrying about things we can’t control. Or creating fiction for the future. Or beating ourselves up about things that happened in the past. Or letting someone push our buttons.

When we have a stress reaction that’s not for a physiological reason – in other words there isn’t a bear we’re being confronted with, or a car isn’t about to run us down – then we need to be able to choose our response. It’s called emotional agility. Most of our emotions don’t just ‘happen’ to us, though it often feels they are. We perceive something as being threatening and just by thinking that it is, our brain kicks into stress mode, conducting its business as if we were truly under a threat.

Why is this Important?

A body experiencing a chronic chemical stress soup mix is going to wear out much faster than one which has a supportive chemical soup mix with lots of feel-good hormones. Our creative, logical thinking skills aren’t maximized, our memory is affected (where are my car keys!), our immune system is affected. These are just a few of the consequences of not learning how to self-regulate our emotions.

Learn what signals your body is giving you, indicating that you’re having a stress response. Become aware; stop being on automatic pilot. Take time to listen to what your body is telling you.

Remember to Breathe!

When you feel that there are circumstances which could become stressful, remember to breathe. Slowly. Just 2 – 3 minutes of breathing slowly, will allow your brain to switch off the toxic chemical soup mix and turn on a mixture that’s much more supportive.