The Middle

Do you know what the hardest part about chasing your dreams is?

1)The middle – that in-between place where the initial excitement of starting something new has worn off and the end, where you cannot see the finish line and it feels like its a long way off.

2) Picking yourself up when you loose your way.

Do you know what the best part about chasing your dreams is?

1) The middle – that place where we learn what we are made of and just how much grit, resilience, determination and gumption we have. That place where we struggle, often through blood, sweat and tears. Without the middle, we will never know how truly great we are.

2) Picking yourself up when you loose your way – Each time we pick ourselves up and start fresh, we remind ourselves that each day, hour and individual moment is an opportunity to start fresh. By picking ourselves up, we grow. Growth is hard, sometimes painfully so, but what other option do we have?

Brush off those knees, turn your face to the sun, smile, and start running again.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

–Mark Twain–

The Hard Math of Meditation

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I’ve had an on-again off-again relationship with meditation. The act of meditating really appeals to me, and yet, finding the time to sit down and practice meditation is another story. I chalk this up to my busy life – School, work, relationships, family – and I am quite clever at filling my days so full of stuff that I barely have a moment to breath. Just ask my husband.

Science has repeatedly shown that even in small doses, meditation make a lasting, positive change. Stress and anxiety reduction, pain management, cardiovascular health[1]…the list goes on. According to the father of modern day mindfulness meditation, John Kabat-Zinn, meditating for 20 minutes a day is all you need[2].

Here’s the hard math:

If I am awake for 960 minutes a day, which is approximately 16 hours, then taking 20 minutes or 2% of my day, for something that is SO beneficial seems like a no brainer. (No pun intended).

A study published in 2010 by Harvard University found that as humans, we spend approximately 47% of our lives lost in thought that is completely unrelated to what we are doing. 47% of our lives in trapped in either the past or the future, never in the present, and furthermore, according to their study, “the wandering mind is an unhappy mind”[3].

As developed species, the ability to think is one of our greatest assets and what sets us apart from our closet cousin, the ape. However, it is this greatest asset that is at the root of many of our life challenges; over thinking, ruminating, worry, anxiety, fear, and stress to name but a few.

If living in the present moment is related happiness, then it is time to start changing the way we live. I spend more than 20 minutes a day on Facebook, and according to some research, this leads to unhappiness and reduces life satisfaction[4]. Where did we go wrong?

No matter where you are today, or what you are doing, I urge you to take a couple moments to breath deeply and come back to this present moment. Again and again and again. Your health depends on it. Literally.


 

[1] Horowitz, S. (2010). Health benefits of meditation: What the newest research shows. Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 16(4), 223-228.

[2] Kabat-Zinn, J., & Hanh, T. N. (2009). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. Delta.

[3] http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/

[4] Mukesh, M., Mayo, M., & Goncalves, D. (2014, January). Well-Being Paradox of Social Networking Sites: Maintaining Relationships and Gathering Unhappiness. In Academy of Management Proceedings (Vol. 2014, No. 1, p. 14709). Academy of Management.

Feedback

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Feedback.

It’s such an ugly word and honestly, what does it really mean?

My past experiences with receiving feedback have been mixed at best, and even just hearing the words “can I give you some feedback” invokes panic and catastrophized thinking. Interestingly enough, according to neuroscience, the word feedback triggers pain receptors in our brain and we experience pain similar to the pain we’d feel if we physically hurt ourselves[1].

Why is it that in the face of information (which, in a manner of speaking, feedback is), we tend to get pulled to the dark side and create negative unpleasant and often untrue stories, based in nothing but our fears and self-doubts?

Last week I received feedback from my thesis advisor on a draft of my thesis proposal. It wasn’t pretty. Not that there was anything wrong with his comments or suggestions, but just reading the first page, marred with red ink and copious amounts of big red letters, I thought:

  • See, I knew this was a stupid idea

Followed by

  • Are you kidding me? I’m such a bad writer. I’m never going to do this. I’m not good enough to be writing this thesis

And the thought that took them all…

  • I knew it, he didn’t like what I wrote, he doesn’t like me and I’m a failure.

 

As you can imagine, these thoughts spiraled me into the wasteland of totally negativity and destruction, and it wasn’t before long that I was a wreck. I’m talking ugly cry, slumped in the corner kind of wreck.

Sure this is an extreme case, exacerbated by stress and lack of sleep, but before you think I’m totally crazy, let me ask:

How often in the face of information (positive or negative) do we seek to gain a deeper understanding?

Dr. Brené Brown, one of my favorite authors and speakers, talks about the ways in which our mind makes up stories in the absence of information[2].

Red ink on my proposal equaled 1) my thesis advisor not liking me 2) my thesis advisor thinks what I wrote is stupid and 3) living under a bridge due to my failures as a grad student.

The red ink (feedback) was information. In the absence of asking for clarification and supporting information, I created a story of destruction, where all my worst fears were coming true.

Two things are at play here, one which I cannot control and one which I can.

  • Biology – according to evolutionary psychologists, we are programmed to see the worst, and expect the worst. Always being on guard for that saber tooth tiger that lurks in the bushes. The human race survived mainly because of our ability to quickly detect fear and act according to what would keep us alive. In a sense, feedback is a type of saber tooth tiger, metaphorically speaking.

 

  • My perception and subsequent behaviour. I perceived the red ink as negative. My negative perception lead to the behaviour (crying wreck) that was reflective of that perception. I can control that.

 

How?

Ironically enough, more feedback. Or, as I like to say, more information.

Last week ended by scheduling an appointment with my advisor and go over his comments. They were all positive and encouraging. I asked “so you don’t think its bad?” His response was everything contrary to what I had come to believe to be truth.

Funny how that is.

The lesson? Ask for more information, test your assumptions and change the way you perceive the situation. Also, don’t use the word feedback. It will save you and all those around you a world of hurt.

 


[1] Rock, D. (2009). Your brain at work. New York: Harper Business.

[2] Brown, B (2015). Rising Strong. New York. Spiegel & Grau.

A Moment to Pause

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It’s the long weekend here in BC. Chris and we were able to find a few cracks in the schedule to get away. These days it feels like a rare exotic treat for us. Between work, school and this thing called life, finding corresponding times to reconnect and re-energize is a gift – One that I do not take for granted.

I woke up this morning with the sun streaming through the windows in our room, the ocean beyond that. It’s a beautiful day here, on the sunshine coast. As I lay in bed, the week ahead ran through my mind. My list of to-do items, appointments and commitments erased the sunshine and still waters and replaced it with my fears and anxieties.

How often does the stress of future living rob us of our ability to enjoy this moment in front of us?

There are only a few remaining hours before we have to take the ferry back to reality. I’m going to take a deep breath, pour another cup of coffee and breath in a deep salty breath of fresh air. Tomorrow will come whether I am ready for it or not. I can’t control that.

I can control is my perspective towards this moment. Right now I choose to be here, in this moment, my heart overflowing with gratitude. Happy Family day.

The Horrors of Goal Setting – Part Two

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This question doesn’t always have a simple answer. And as my dear friend Seka says, “Simple doesn’t mean easy”.

And that’s just the point. Goal setting is simple. Determine what you want, make a goal, put together an action plan, and voila, you’re ready to go.

But…

That’s only the beginning. That’s when the work starts. When the rubber meets the road. It can be that moment of reckoning – “oh !@#*% – Can I really do this? What if I fail? What happens if I don’t succeed?”

The irony is that we set ourselves up to fail before we even begin. This is particularly evident when we set big audacious goals. We find all the things that could go wrong, plan to go wrong and will go wrong, throw our hands up in the air and say “see, told you so”. We give up on ourselves before we’ve even begun.

So, as I see it, that’s the real horror: The horror of ourselves. Between the negative self talk, self-sabotage and sometimes, total self-destruction, we take our dreams and squish them. Sometimes with deliberation, sometimes by no conscious thought of our own.

We never stop and ask ourselves the simple question: What does success look like?

What would happen if we set ourselves up for radical success?

When we focus on the positive, our world begins to expand and we start to see possibilities. We create upward spirals of growth and positivity, thus expanding our awareness for new and exciting ways to make our goals come true.

Research in positive psychology backs this up. By engaging in positive thoughts like “what does success look like?”, we broaden our awareness for new insights and opportunities and overtime, build our personal resources in a positive way.

Today, right now, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, ask yourself:

What does success look like?

Go Run after that.

The Horrors of Goal Setting – Part One

 

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When you hear the term “goal setting” or “goals” what comes to mind?

This question was so aptly answered for me last week when I was casually chatting with someone about our day’s activities. She asked what I was up to for the day and I responded with “off to teach a workshop on goal setting and intentions”.

She put her fingers together in the shape of a gun and brought them to her head.

Ouch.

I hate to admit it, but I think that’s the unfortunate truth on the state of goal setting.

When you ask people if they have heard of SMART goals, heads nod, often robotically, with matching facial expressions – a mix of boredom, disgust and fear all rolled into one. It’s quite the sight to behold.

Somewhere along the way, goal setting has become synonymous with meaningless work BS – Nothing more than a check mark on our yearly performance evaluations.

1)    Did you talk about setting goals? Check!

2)    Did you talk about SMART goals? Check!

3)    Did you set SMART goals? Check Check!

Over time (and trust me, it doesn’t take long), we realize that goal setting is a meaningless, unproductive exercise in kissing ass. To add insult to injury, nothing every happens with our goals. They gather dust in our employee files, abandoned and forgotten, waiting to be replaced with next years 2.0 version.

Where did we go wrong?

The saddest part is that goal setting works. Like, legitimately works. Science reveals time and time again that when we set big hairy audacious goals, beautiful things happen. From increased motivation to self-efficacy and performance, everything experiences an up swing. When done right, goals setting creates this perfect storm of success. Don’t believe me? That’s fine. Believe science.

Something’s got to change.

Today I say to you, it’s time to start standing up for goals. SMART goals even. Because if I don’t, who will?

Today I say to you, make a goal. A big audacious goal. One that scares you. One that makes you feel something. Anything. Fear, anxiety, excitement. Write that goal down and stare at it. Make a plan to achieve it. Arm yourself with empowering research, heroic stories, and your own past achievements. Fearlessly, and with reckless abandon, charge after your goals.

This is your life and you’ve only got one shot. Why not fill it with your highest aspirations and biggest dreams? What do you have to loose?

The F-Word

“What are you so scared of?”

It felt like I was swirling through a series of déjà vu moments. That familiar feeling of standing in that same position, arms limply hanging at my sides, the visible lump growing in my throat.

“I dunno…” I trailed off. One single tear strolled down my cheek.

“No, honestly Julie, what are you scared of”

The truth was, I did know. I knew very well what I was scared of. The all encompassing, soul sucking, F word.

Failure.

Failure – one of those concepts that is so highly lauded by others (for others) and hard to swallow personally. Everyone from Bill Gates to Abraham Lincoln has quotes on the merits of failing, and sure, it looks sexy from the outside, but being stuck in the torrents of failing is not exactly sunshine and ponies.

I recently read an article that started with “Failures have traditionally been considered as better motivators than success…”[1]. That seems hard to digest, particularly in the face of a failed experience.

Does failure help me to be a better person?

Is it the failure itself or my perspective on failure?

And why does it suck so much when you’re going through it?

The truth is, we will ALL fail at something, sometime, somewhere. Having the grace to accept it, take what we can learn from it, and move forward is one of the hardest things we will have to face in our lives. It’s those experiences that teach us who we are, what we are made of and, honestly, reveal things about ourself that would never come from success. That’s something I can raise my glass to.

 


 

[1] Ellis, S., & Davidi, I. (2005). After-event reviews: drawing lessons from successful and failed experience. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 857-871.

This I Say to You

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I got big new yesterday. It was the kind of news that made me shriek and bounce in my seat, only to be followed by a dance/shuffle combo move down the hallway and a couple of good fist pumps for good measure. This news was the Ican’tbelievethisishappening! #winning! (When something good happens, Chris and I make sure to hastag it, in real time. Because we are cool like that…)

After the news settled, the “holy sh*t, what have I just agreed too” crept in and for a moment I was immediately struck with “what if I can’t do this…”

I was recently reading an article that urged the reader to take the perspective of a friend. What would you say to a friend in times of self-doubt and trepidation? What pieces of encouragement would you lovingly bestow upon your friend? This author urged, almost begged me, the reader to take the same approach with myself.

It’s so easy to take the negative path. Research has shown that negative thoughts are like Velcro and positive ones are like Teflon. But just because it’s easy doesn’t make it good or helpful.  Just because that’s the way I am biologically programmed doesn’t mean that this is the path I must take.

Even though the thoughts of doubt linger in the corners of my mind, I choose something different. I choose to be that friend who whispers encouragement and support.

Today, I say to you:

You can do this! I believe in you and all that you are capable of. You have all the right stuff to make your dreams come true and the inspiration to bring them to life. Whatever you need, I’m here, ready with a quick word of encouragement and love. You’re good stuff. You’ve got this. I’m with you 100%.

The Definition

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If the statistics are true, and I highly doubt that Gallop is wrong, we’ve got a problem on our hands. A big one.

If you were to honestly ask yourself right now, “am I engaged in my work”, what would the answer be?

According to Gallop, for every 5 people that read this post, 3 of you will be disengaged.

Perhaps it is not fair of me to ask such a loaded question like “Are you engaged in your work” without telling you what engagement means. Does engagement mean you show up  on time and do your work? Or approaching all tasks and jobs with ENTHUSIASM and a SMILE?

Research defines engagement as the connection an individual has to their work and the way in which they express themselves physically, emotionally and cognitively while in their role. One of the original engagement researchers, William Kahn, used the word “harnessing” to describe engagement, as in harnessing oneself to their work[1].

Another way to understand engagement is to observe it from the opposite perspective – What is disengagement?

To be disengaged is to be withdrawn and defensive, and to exhibit behaviours that preserve the self and promote a lack of connection (to both your work and your relationships). It also means to remove or withdraw your personal, emotional and cognitive energy. From a work perspective, this means removing yourself or “uncoupling” from your work and suppressing your true self.

 

In looking at the definition of engagement, two things stand out[2]:

  • Engagement is a desirable thing, and,
  • Engagement is made up of both attitudinal and behavioural components that are desirable to both the individual and the organization

 

Answering the questions of “Am I engaged in my work” is not as simple as yes vs. no. In light of the definitions presented above, it might be easy to fall on one side of the definition versus another, and yet, I suspect that many answers might start with “it depends” or “sometimes…”

Engagement research has exploded as scholars try to define what engagement means and how it is related to other work factors such as culture, job satisfaction, turnover and organizational commitment.

I challenge that to truly understand engagement, we must start by looking at ourselves and our experiences. Engagement may appear to be one size fits all, however, to categorize it in this way would be short sighted.

Let me ask another, more powerful and meaningful question:

What does engagement mean to you?

To gain insight into that question, try the following thought exercise:

Think back to a time, any time, that you felt connected and your true self. This time could be a work, with friends or family, or even alone. Bring to mind this experience, and remember what it felt like to be in that experience.

What were you doing? What did it feel like? What was the environment like?

What stands out for you as being the most memorable about this experience?

What thoughts, beliefs, attitudes did you have at the time?

I urge you to write down it down. Take what you have written and look at it. It may not be the complete picture, but it’s a start. The start of knowing yourself better and knowing what it means for YOU to be engaged.

Furthermore, who wouldn’t want more the THAT in their lives?

 


 

[1] Kahn, W. A. (1990). Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work. Academy of management journal, 33, 692-724.

[2] Macey, W. H., & Schneider, B. (2008). The meaning of employee engagement. Industrial and organizational Psychology, 1, 3-30.

The Meaning of Work

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Have you ever wondered WHY you work?

I am asking seriously, because that question isn’t as straight forward as you might think.

I got my first big shiny office job in 2007. I was excited to get my hands dirty and make a difference. My future career visions had me sitting in the corner office, hob knobbing with clients, and going for lunch meetings. I think you can see where this is going…

The reality and (gravity) of the situation came swiftly and bluntly upon me and it wasn’t long before those rose coloured glasses came swiftly off my head. Where I had seen myself in a corner office turned into a cubical with fabric walls and a soiled floor mat where my office chair kept getting stuck. Instead of business lunch meetings I was alone, in the office lunch room, praying that the hour I had for lunch would slow down so I didn’t have to go back to work.

What went wrong? Where did I veer so far off of my perfect career path?

The meaning of work is a concept that is alive and well in the research literature. “Meaning”, as I am sure you can appreciate, is different for different people. Some people work to have the financial freedom to do what they wish, be that fishing or taking care of their family. Others work because they want to make a positive impact on their organization or believe that this is what they were meant to do.

Work and the meaning of work, can be broken down into three main categories[1]:

  • Job – “I work because I have to and it brings me material benefits, like a paycheque, that allow me to do other things outside of my job”. Cue the music “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend”.
  • Career – “I work for the promotion, increase in pay and with that comes increased power, prestige and status.”
  • Calling – “I have been called to do this work and it brings me fulfillment. I am working for the greater good and my work contributes to the greater whole”.

 

In 2007, I wanted a calling. Instead I got a job. Where I wanted to make a difference in my organizations, I quickly came to learn that all I was going to do was a j.o.b.

Research shows that people who believe they have a calling are more connected to their work, and gain immense satisfaction and joy from being at work.  These individuals have found work or actively sought out work that adds meaning and significance to their lives.

Wouldn’t it be great if we all have a calling?

Currently, do you have a job, career or a calling?

By understanding where you are now will allow you to take steps in the direction that you want to go. Finding work that is aligned with our core values, strengths and personality sets us on the path of finding work that is significant and meaningful. If half ours lives is spent at work, wouldn’t it make sense to do something significant and meaningful, something that brings us satisfaction, fulfillment and, ultimately, joy?

 


 

[1] Wrzesniewski, A. (2003). Finding positive meaning in work. Positive organizational scholarship, 296-308.