Shifting the Story Line

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A well done movie, beautifully written book, or catchy song have a way of immersing us in the experience of the moment. They capture stories that evoke positive sentiments of love and emotional connection as well as take us to dark and disturbing places. When a scene or element is particularly salient, we might even think about it again sometime after we’ve left the theater, finished the book, or the song has ended.

Our minds are busy every day, so many times each day, being the movie-maker, book author, or song writer of our lives. We take in sights and sounds and sensations that our mind works very hard to process. It considers, evaluates, judges – all to make sense of things for us and guide us.

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Throughout the day, our minds tell us things – they write little short stories, sometimes drama and sometimes tragedy or comedy. These stores are as powerful as a movie, book or song that sticks with us because these stories shape our attitudes and actions. These stories have been written over the course of years, sketched on the pages of our mind through our experiences.

The stories of our lives have ‘stickiness’: They stay with us. They become habits of the mind. Consider:

  • What’s the first thought you had when you awoke this morning?
  • What’s the last thought you had as you were going to bed last night?
  • What words or phrases do you often use to describe how you’re feeling or what is happening?

Maybe you don’t know. Here’s the opportunity.

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Consider the story you are writing of your life right now. If you want to bring your best to whatever you do, tune in to the channel where the voice in your head talks almost incessantly. Notice what it says. And listen.

After removing the static that is the business of our lives that keeps us from being present, identify the story lines. Are there any that really serve you? Celebrate them. Maybe the word ‘strong’ shows up as a way you characterize yourself, for example. Are there any story lines that get in the way of your greatness? Explore them. Maybe you say you can’t do something as your default reaction to something new, for example.

The story might be as short as a word – a single word has such power! See if you sense a different energy when you say or hear “can’t” versus “can” or “have to” versus “get to” or “work versus “play” or “deal with” versus “engage” or “struggle” versus “challenge” or “problem” versus “opportunity” [read more].

In my story, the phrase “I’m overwhelmed” repeats itself, enough that I finally noticed. As I’ve listened and examined the situations that evoke it, I’ve realize that it shows up when I’m thinking too much about all of the things I have to do, versus just being with the task at hand. It takes trusting that there’s enough time for anything that really matters, that I will know what really matters, that I have what it takes to do what needs to be done. The shift that enables me to move forward in a way that is of service to what I want to be creating in my life goes more like this “I have enough time and the capability to take care of what really matters.”

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Replacing the default mantra with this new perspective brings me into the present moment, calms me, and enables me to refocus, all in a matter of seconds. (It helps, too, to take a deep breath. You can read more about other techniques that can bring you into the present moment HERE.) An invisible shift within my mind that has a profound effect on how I feel and what I can deliver.

Here are some questions that might support exploration into your stories:

  • When do you feel elated, encouraged, satisfied?
  • When do you feel deflated, discouraged, disappointed?
  • What kinds of things are you thinking and feeling in these different situations?
  • Is there a word or phrase or story line that keeps showing up repeatedly?
  • Is there a different perspective that opens you to a different way of framing what’s happening?
  • What story, phrase or word would most support you in moving forward in a way that aligns with what you want to be creating in your life?

 

* I took the opening photo on my summer vacation on the beautiful Irish Aran Island of Inis Oirr. This image is of the post master delivering mail on a day where clouds gave way to fantastic blue sky.

Mindfulness@IBM

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I had the opportunity this week, thanks to my colleague, Peter Mostachetti, to meet Joshua Erlich, author of Mind Shifting: Focus for Performance. We are interested in Joshua’s pragmatic approach to mindfulness in the workplace. Perfect timing to fuel the mindfulness campaign I have been co-creating with our health and wellbeing team and a global volunteer cadre of passionate IBMers who are part of IBM’s mindfulness community. Joshua validated for me that mindfulness is not only a practice of meditation, it is also a practice of “present, open, engaged, attention” that can take the form of simple everyday mindsets and actions (e.g., celebrating, establishing interruption free zones, hosting walking meetings, sharing your point of view, balancing attention to process and outcomes).

Campaign Keys

The aim of our campaign, to launch in the fourth quarter, is to show IBMers the many opportunities in their day that they have lead in ways that support them and their team members in making smart decisions fast, opening the creativity that leads to innovation, creating personal connections foundational for successful teams and long lasting client relationships, and living healthy so they can perform at their peak every day.

MF@IBM LogoOver the past 15 months, I’ve been leading a mindfulness movement in IBM. I’ve seen our virtual community grow from just over 200 to nearly 2000, and over a dozen mindfulness-related communities emerge within the company.  I’ve learned an incredible amount from the more than 100 blogs community members have posted, the education they have created (e.g., on neuroscience), and the webinars they’ve led (e.g., on topics such as an agile workplace, compassionate leadership, health).

MF@IBM Around the Globe

We have IBMers in over 15 countries practicing mindfulness together at the office, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, England, France, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Poland, Scotland Slovakia, Spain, and the United States, thanks to passionate IBMers taking the initiative to make a difference at their IBM sites.

We’ve created virtual mindfulness programs available on-demand, and there are a number of ongoing and scheduled mindfulness series accessed via teleconference (e.g., 15-minute Monday teleconference sessions hosted by a team in the UK led by Sharon Conway, and 6-8 week series of weekly 30-minte recorded conference calls around themes such as “Stress Less” and “Wise Action” led by me and an amazing mindfulness guru, Katiuscia Berretta).

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We developed curated collections of mindfulness-related mini-habits and mindful pauses that can be integrated easily into one’s life, as well as collections of mindfulness quotes and books.

Increasingly, our executive team is opening to the possibilities of mindfulness. For example, last month Joanne Wright, VP Supply Chain, asked us to host a mindfulness booth at a summer fun day being hosted at our Somers, New York site, and this month Laura Sewell, who leads our Talent Partner team for Global Technology Solutions, and Debbie Kestin-Schildkraut, Director of our Worldwide Business Partner Digital Strategy who leads a group of Emerging Leaders, will be hosting one-hour introductory mindfulness sessions for their teams.

A team of IBMers, led by Simon Tierney, is building an app that helps people be more productive and healthy through mindful approaches. This initiative took off as part of IBM’s #cognitivebuild, an enterprise crowdfunding initiative to drive internal awareness and usage around the power of Watson.

We’ve been invited to share at external engagements including a Dallas-Fort Worth Women in Business & Technology luncheon where Angela Assis spoke and the Montreal International Society for Performance Improvement The Building Blocks of Culture Strategy event (Vicki Flaherty & Daniel Poliquin).

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IBM has been featured in several external articles (Evidence for Mindfulness: A Research Summary for the Corporate Sceptic, 3/25/16, Business Record, 4/15/16, and The Australian, 3/19/15), and we (myself along with Megan Moyer and Katiuscia Berretta) are writing externally about mindfulness on the IBM Jobs blog (Why Mindfulness Matters, Building Your Focus Muscle – Using Your Breath to Create Greater Awareness, Get Going with Mindful Mini-Habits, The Goodness of Gratitude, Have a Little Compassion, Starting with YOU).

It’s a very exciting time of transformation at IBM. We are leading a new era – a cognitive era – and I believe it’s critically important that we be present and lead with intention to get to our envisioned destination. I am grateful to the incredible colleagues who are co-creating a great future for IBMers, IBM, our clients, and the world.

 

* The beautiful opening image is part of the Mindfulness Program recently launched at the IBM Client Innovation Center in Brno which was created by Jana Mitzoda.

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Other mindfulness posts by me:

The Color of Mindfulness

Myriad Ways of Practicing Mindfulness

Tasting Mindfulness

Understanding the Mind

Beyond Striving – Inspired Connection

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IMAGE: County Clare, Ireland | Vicki L. Flaherty

This past week I had the opportunity to speak about mindfulness with a class of over 150 new IBM executives as part of a leadership event that I run in New York with my colleague Jennifer Montana. At first I was super excited about my 15-minute time slot, followed by uncertainty about what exactly to share and worry about the perfect delivery.

I desperately wanted to make a difference for my clients. How could I guide these amazing professionals, tasked with transforming one of the biggest corporations in the world, in seeing the opportunity of mindfulness for strengthening their leadership? I had so much I could share with them. I wrote it down, organized it, filtered it, rehearsed it.

With messages from a previous incredible speaker, one of my colleague’s Angela de Longchamps on executive presence and communications, echoing in my ears: “say it and stop,” no verbal litter’, and ‘own’ the stage, I knew what perfect delivery looked like. Oh, how I wanted to role model it.

The weight of what to say and how to say it started to become very heavy. I felt like I was standing in a storm. Holding myself firm amidst the clouds and wind exhausted me.

Clouds to Sunshine

IMAGE: San Agustinillo, Oaxaca, Mexico | Vicki L. Flaherty

Once I let go of the need for perfection and opted to be curious about what might show up to guide me, the way clouds gave way to sunshine. I listened more intently to what our speakers were saying and sensing the energy of the class. I began to hear mindful nuggets of wisdom embedded in the speakers’ comments, and I found loose threads that I could weave together in a unique and meaningful way.

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A fortuitous interaction with a special colleague friend, Cristina Gonzalez, reminded me of how my poetry sometimes invites mindfulness. I decided to make my poem A New Day a punctuation mark at the end of the session. The relief and joy I felt when I saw members of the audience sitting with closed eyes taking in the words of the poem assured me that following my intuition and letting go of my tight script was a winning approach.

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I was ultimately able to create what I really wanted because:

  1. I brought something of who I am to it…such power in a good dose of authenticity and vulnerability to connect with others.
  2. The session became fully about the audience. In the end it’s not perfect delivery, it’s about delivery that enables you to connect.

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I listened – to what I truly wanted to create, to what I sensed the executives would most value, and to what would benefit our organization most. My mind and intellect did the heavy lifting, and then I remembered to let my heart lead the way.

Some questions I asked along the way to move me to the magic place of openness are provided below. I share them that they might prove valuable to you next time you have an important challenge.

  • What do I really want?
  • What am I holding on to?
  • What makes it hard for me?
  • How can I make it easier?
  • How can I let go and open to what might be possible?
  • What is needed of me in this moment?

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Learn more about what I’m co-creating with my colleagues related to Mindfulness@IBM and follow my mindfulness series on the IBM Jobs Blog.

Catch Your Mind and Smile

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Sometimes I wonder that I ever have a good day with all the chatter that goes on in my head! I’ve been noticing how the voice in my head talks.

Sometimes the voice of my mind can be anything but optimistic. The day has barely started, and my mind is running with stories about what’s not going to happen, how there’s not enough time or space for something, how inadequate I am, how someone else is inadequate…blah, blah, blah.

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Sometimes the voice of my mind gets caught up in drama. Maybe it’s something that happened in the past and my mind replays it, filling me with regret or dissatisfaction or some other emotion that weighs me down. Maybe it’s anticipating something that I need or want to do and I imagine all the things that could go wrong or ways that I could mess things up. My mind has created this anxiety about things that are not even real, other than in my head! Why would I do that? J

Sometimes the voice of my mind feeds feelings of overwhelm and impatience. I’m doing one thing, then there’s an intrusion, and I feel the demands of something else. I want to finish what I had started, and at the same time please the person asking for help…so I try to do them both. My mind , ever the critic, tells me that I’m could do better, that I need to move faster. And, I’m left feeling unfulfilled.

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As I’ve become more aware of my mind at work – by noticing those moments when something doesn’t feel right or is out of alignment – I see opportunity. Opportunity to shift my thoughts to something that is of service to me and others. Opportunity to take responsibility for creating what I want instead of letting thoughts run wild creating what I don’t want.

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When I catch myself having unfulfilling thoughts, I’ve been trying something new. I say “Oh, there is my mind again doing that thing that she does!”, and I smile. This creates a shift. This small action opens me to loving kindness and self-compassion, and I begin to accept my human nature. I recognize that this is just the way the human mind works; it’s not who I am.

I read about the science of smiling and learned that, when the smiling muscles in our face contract, neural signals are sent to the brain, which stimulate feeling joy. Of course, when we feel joy, smiles come naturally, and a feedback loop is activated: we feel joy, we smile, and smiling, feelings of joy are reinforced.  We can activate the loop with a smile. Each time we smile, we change what’s happening in our brain for the better. Apparently smiling reduces stress that your body and mind feel, similar to getting good sleep, and it can generate more positive emotions.

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Mr. Widrich points out how children smile nearly 400 times a day, yet happy adults only smile 40-50 times a day, with the average adult only smiling 20 times a day. WOW. Such opportunity for creating something different with the simplest of actions. I’m challenging myself to increase the number of smiles in my day. Want to join me?

Smiling is like a little hug you give to yourself. Sometimes it’s also like a hug to someone else because smiles are contagious!

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If you are interested in ways to notice your mind at work, you might be interested in this blog series I’ve been writing for the IBM Jobs Blog about mindfulness:

1. Why Mindfulness Matters

2. Building Your Focus Muscle – Using Your Breath to Create Greater Awareness

3. Get Going with Mindful Mini-Habits

4. The Goodness of Gratitude

* I took this photo of a puppy and her mother in Pelekas, Corfu in the summer of 2014.

 

What Yoga Taught Me about Being a Leader

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Have you ever read something that came at just the right time for you to fully absorb it because you were ready for its wisdom, something that opened you to a new perspective and shifted your thinking, providing a different way of being and inviting new possibilities? That’s what happened to me on December 16, 2005 when reading Day 14 in Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the path to yoga by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison.

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I was stuck in my career and didn’t feel like I was growing. I couldn’t find my way out of the work I was doing and into a new role. Then, when I read “Rest in the posture”, I saw it: I was in a perpetual cycle of resistance with my work. A light bulb went on: Maybe I could quit fighting and stop trying so darn hard to get away from where I was. When I noticed the fear of getting stuck or the pain of pushing for change, I acknowledged and accepted it, although it wasn’t easy and I didn’t just let go. I started by backing off just a little to relieve some of the tension.

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The mindset that the book was shaping met up with the breath and body work of a local yoga class that I had started taking around the same time. Day by day as I practiced, the universe opened more and more, and soon the pathway seemed to be pulling me along. I was no longer pushing against the obstacles to pave the way. I was becoming a leader in my life – no longer a victim of my work place, nor a hero in trying go it alone to find a fulfilling job, or a villain beating myself up because I wasn’t making something happen quick enough. (Thanks to Therese Keinast and Radical Leadership for helping me see this!)

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Here’s a quick list of 10 things I learned from yoga that enable me take each small graceful step in the direction of possibility.

  1. Self-awareness….awaken to our authentic selves, being present to that which is already within us and honoring our innate capacities (e.g., to love)
  2. Clarity… about what we believe, how we want to show up, and what we want to create in the world
  3. Presence…just showing up and opening to what we find there, recognizing that each moment offers choice and an opportunity to act with integrity
  4. Acceptance…opening to what is, without judging it, just embracing the mystery of the both dark and light
  5. Connection…knowing that we are not alone or separate from everything else
  6. Compassion…opening our hearts to ourselves and finding empathy
  7. Flow…being open and curious, letting go of control, and having a capacity to trust the brilliance of the universe
  8. Balance…being in action, an energized and inspired creator, and taking time to rest and rejuvenate
  9. Resilience… using the breath, the mind and the heart to find our way through challenge
  10. Celebration…pausing to appreciate simple joys, rather than just moving through to what’s next

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Just how does it work, this yoga thing? You take time to just be, with all the fear and possibility that entails. You engage in practices that open you to noticing what is going on in your mind, in your heart, and in your body. You focus your attention as you move in particular ways. The movement of your body, mind, and attention creates awareness. You notice physical sensations (e.g., tension, energy, tiredness) and discover ways to make minor adjustments that support you in moving as powerfully as possible given where you are. For example, you’ve got your shoulders up around your ears and just a slight adjustment to the position of your shoulder blades creates a release. You notice your chattering mental voice and the endless stories it makes up, as well as your beautiful essence and the light that shines there.

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You don’t need to make an elaborate plan to attend a yoga class or participate in a meditation retreat, although those are great ideas!  You can start right here, right now with a small step. Your daily life can be your yoga studio, and you can engage your mind, body and spirit in little ways during your day.

What is your yoga? Running, journaling, and gardening are other ways I create some of these beautiful possibilities for myself. Does this happen for you when you watch your child sleep, when you walk your dog, when you take in a beautiful new vista while on holiday? Maybe these exploratory questions will point you to something:

  • When do you simply sit with yourself, allowing yourself to look inside and see the amazing human being you are?
  • When do you pause to tune into your experience of the day – what you are thinking, what physical sensations are you having, what emotions are you experiencing?
  • How aware are you of the stories you tell yourself? What do you say in your head repeatedly that is not serving you? Do you explore what you might say instead?
  • When do you notice the miraculous-ness of your own breathing – how rejuvenating and healing it is, how it can focus you and give you clarity?

You’ll find some ideas for ways you might experiment in this blog series I’ve been writing with my colleague Megan Moyer (links to the previous blogs are in the post). Lean into your yoga, whatever form it might take, and discover the riches there.

Real life is right here, right now. Don’t miss it!

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* I took this photo off the Amalfi Coast of Italy, Summer 2015

Listen & Look

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A recent New York Times magazine feature, What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team, concludes that the best teams are those who listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs. What differentiated good teams from dysfunctional groups was how team mates treated one another. They found that in good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, and they were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on the tone of voice, their expressions, and other nonverbal skills.

In these teams, members engaged in emotional conversations, brought their personality to the office, and felt free enough to share things that scared them. Bottom line is that listening and understanding created the psychological safety that enabled members to feel heard and seen. They were valued not as resources that get work done but as people who want to make a difference and accomplish meaningful things.

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Just after reading that article, I happened to read the February edition of the IBM Systems Power version article: IBM Explores How Affective Computing Can Benefit Society. “Ideally, we would like the computer to reply in a natural way, as if it has emotions.” Hmmm…just like a person on an effective team. “Most existing applications for affective computing are based on capturing what the emotion is, and recording and reporting that emotion.” If we expect our computer systems to identify and name emotions, wouldn’t we expect our people to do the same?

Makes me wonder if we are paying enough attention to how well we understand and manage our own emotions (If you read Feeling It, you’ll know I’m working on that one!) and whether we are tuned in to what’s going on emotionally with those we engage with.

Researchers are analyzing real discussions and the interaction that takes place, evaluating what went well, and using that information to teach the computer how to respond. How do we learn the best ways to respond? Are we tuned in to what’s happening in our conversations and seeking our own and others’ feedback to learn and get better at engaging?

They are teaching the computer how to read emotions using signals in the voice, such as tone and pitch, as well as facial expressions. The computer is listening with its ears and eyes. Maybe we can take a cue from the computer.

My challenge: In my conversations, see if I can give my whole attention to the other person, listen to the words they use, watch their face and body for signals. And then respond based on what I discover. I know it’s inevitable I’ll get distracted, and, when I do, I’ll simply notice and bring my attention back to the person.

Want to give it a try? Let’s “Listen and Look” as we engage with each other and discover a powerful secret to richer human relationships, and building effective teams.

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* The photo of that furry cute pup was taken in San Agustinillo, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Setting Goals

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I love the intentionality that comes with clarifying expectations and desires. I appreciate the opportunity to pause, especially after a few weeks into a new year, when I am a somewhat grounded and have some momentum, from which aspirations more naturally arise. Lately I’ve been thinking about goals – what they represent, why they are important, how they serve us, how to make them meaningful.

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Goals support us in aligning our energy with important objectives. Goals are intentions, and when captured and shared, begin propelling us in the direction we want to go. They enable us to move with meaning and purpose.  Goals require us to dream, to pause and envision the future. Great goals come from slowing down and reflecting on what’s possible.

To create meaningful goals that put us in action, it’s helpful to engage a variety of senses. Of course, we have to use our heads and think. It’s to also valuable to engage our hearts and feel. Like many things in life, there’s a big A.N.D. – it’s about our heads and our hearts, it’s about thinking and feeling.

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When setting goals, be they personal or professional, applying a process that engages us fully is optimal. We can use our heads, gathering input, analyzing data, organizing information, writing stuff down. And we can bring our hearts along. Maybe we explore what being in movement contributes – it could be as simple as going for a walk and getting outside where nature can inspire you. Maybe we explore what opening to our feelings creates – perhaps call a friend or talk to your dog or cat, or journal or read an inspiring book to tune into what energizes you and awakens your passions.

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Having meaningful goals – goals with a clear purpose – makes all the difference. How are our goals important? How do they align with a larger strategy? Work is, well, work. And much of the time, to do it requires us to act very tactically, to be quite operational. When these activities are connected to the greater good to which they are of service, it’s easier to find joy in our work. The result? We approach our responsibilities with greater passion, hope, and energy. We bring a positive, forward-propelling attitude. The inspiring story of the three bricklayers makes the point well.

Goals without meaning are just tasks, actions that we often move through like a list, checking them off one by one, from a place of doing, without fully experiencing what is happening. That’s missed opportunity. When we are awake to what’s going on as we engage with the world, that’s when we make new connections, what enlivens our creative energy, inspires us to new heights. It can be helpful to give some consideration to how we want to show up as we execute against our goals – and to make that part of our goals. For example, we might ask: who we are, what makes us feel alive, what are our strengths, how do we best engage with the world?

One of my immediate goals at work is to design a mindfulness campaign in partnership with our health organization. I’ll be pulling together a program, identifying resources, engaging collaborators, developing plans, leading meetings, and more. What will keep me motivated as I complete the varied tactical responsibilities is the fact that I am being of service to my colleagues’ health and wellness and supporting individuals in bringing their very best to their work and lives. As I complete my work, I want to be collaborative, social, and agile; I want to fully engage, continuously learn, and be of service to others.

I’ve captured some questions to use when pausing to consider our intentions:

  • What are my goals?
  • What will I give my attention?
  • How are the goals meaningful to me?
  • How do they focus my energy?
  • What outcomes will be created through my actions?
  • How will I show up to deliver against these goals?
  • How will I capture and share them?
  • When will I pause to see how I am doing?
  • Who can I ask for support and feedback?

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* I took the photo in Kruja, Albania in June 2014.

Speaking Our Truth

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I knew I had to write this month’s post about speaking our truth – despite several possible topics lingering in my mind and on snippets of paper – when I opened the card that I wrote to myself back in September. I had made cards for me and some friends with fall leaves on the front so we could capture our personal transformation aspirations. My card reminded me to ‘sound the fierce flute” and of the clarity, conviction and courage needed to speak my truth.

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When we speak our truth, we honor our place in the world. When we share what we see, from our unique vantage point, we contribute to something bigger. In a world that increasingly values creativity, openly sharing our ideas and insights is not just a nice to have, it is critical to success. By sharing, we open dialogue, vet ideas, uncover assumptions, expose biases, notice limitations and see possibilities.

What we find in the world always comes through the lens of our own reality. Evaluations, judgments, or assessments are pictures we paint with the brush of our life experiences. Even with guidance to help us broaden our perspective or aids to tune into our unconscious thought patterns, we see the world through our own eyes.

Radical Leadership really brought this home for me.  At the end of the first day of our retreat, each of us identified two gifts – that is, insights and feedback – that we shared with each individual in our small group. We gathered in a circle and took turns sitting in the position of honor at the front of the room. You sat in an open position of receiving while each person around the circle shared in turn their two things with you. As the receiver, you were simply to show appreciation for the gift, no defending, excusing, embellishing, just taking it in and expressing gratitude for the gift of it, whatever it was. While a key intended take-away was for us to see how we tend to dismiss our brilliance by talking past or around a compliment or valuable feedback, unable to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and accept our beauty and grace. The most powerful take-away for me came later that evening, when we were encouraged to look at our list again, considering how each gift written for another actually applied to ourselves. Whoa! Clearly, what I saw in my colleagues was a reflection of myself. My gifts were all provided through my unique, very personal life lens. (You can read more about this experience in Through You I See.)

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We are all different. We all see, hear, feel, breathe in things that are uniquely ours in the world. You and I can be in the same place at the same time and take away a completely different experience. Our mood, our mindset, what we need at the time – these affect what we take in and how we process it.

These filters through which our experiences of the moment move…well, sometimes they aren’t very open. They don’t always easily let in new information, especially information that we are not ready for or that runs counter to our own beliefs. This means that sometimes people won’t be ready to receive what we have to share. Sometimes what we see as possible is just not accessible to someone else because they are in a different place. For others to understand or appreciate your truth sometimes takes time.

 

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Speaking our truth can be challenging. For example, maybe we can’t be honest with our spouse about what we really want to have for dinner or which movie we want to see because of a deeply held habit of wanting to please others before yourself. Maybe we can’t share what we think at the office about the latest project plan because important people are present and we might ‘upset the apple cart”. At the root of the inability to share is often a form of fear – fear of not fitting in or being liked or loved, fear of ruining our chances to be involved in something important or losing our jobs, for example.

As with all fears, to root them out requires that understand them – that we be self-aware. So this month I’m going to explore these questions:

  • When do I hold back or suppress sharing my ideas and insights?
  • What keeps me from speaking my truth?
  • What do I need to feel OK with speaking my truth?
  • What mindset and beliefs align with my truth?

For the first week or so, I’m just going to notice when I choose to speak my truth, or not. Then, when I have a better picture of when I share and when I hold back, I’m going to ‘up my game’ and begin to explore:

  • When is it easy to speak my mind?
  • When is speaking my mind challenging?
  • What is at the root of any reluctance to open up?
  • What might be possible if I expressed my point of view and communicated my perspective?

Sometimes sharing our truth can result in something positively unexpected. Early in my career, a new client was consistently scheduling work meetings at 8am on Monday mornings, requiring that I give up part of my weekend to travel for business. When time after time, I was unavailable, she asked me about my unavailability. I remember my strong desire to make her happy, and the even stronger need to honor my family time. When I explained that 1) she is my client and I want to meet her needs, and 2) my husband and I work very hard during the week and treasure our weekend time together, she listened. Although she didn’t say anything at the time, her response later surprised me: she scheduled our next meeting at 1pm on Monday so I could travel that morning, instead of over the weekend. And, years later, she told me how much she respected me for my commitment to work-life balance. I share this story that together we might open to the unimagined possibilities that open when we are courageous enough to speak our truth.

Sound the fierce flute!

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* I took this photo at Ephasus, Turkey, 2011.

Feeling it

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This past fall, I participated in a 9-week mindfulness experience led by a colleague that was based on The Inner Matrix by Joey Klein. While I’ve been practicing various forms of mindfulness for years (such as participating in restorative yoga, journaling my thoughts/feelings, taking gratitude pauses and mindful minutes), I’ve only dabbled in meditation. The class provided the perfect opportunity to experiment with regular meditation, as it required meditating for 20 minutes every day to maximize the benefits.

The greatest gift of this meditation experience was the opportunity to see my mind, how active it is, how it never stops, how irrational it can me, how it’s always actively responding, how it tries to protect me from perceived threats, how it moves in deeply ingrained patterns. The experience also strengthened my emotional awareness, although I feel there’s more work for me to do in this space. I want to better recognize my emotions, name them, sit with them, without resistance or judgment, just let them be, to move with them as they flow like waves that come and go.

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So greater emotional awareness is my personal challenge for 2016.  I’m not entirely sure if I’m after feeling more, or just greater awareness of what I’m feeling. I want to open to the intensity of my emotions, not massage and pacify them so I can accept them or feel others will accept them. I want to understand how my feelings result from needs I have that are or are not met. I want to recognize my own emotions so that I can recognize those of others more clearly, making me more empathetic and compassionate.

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Awareness is the foundation for any kind of change. We cannot move toward something different if we are not aware of what’s true in the present moment. There is such wisdom if we listen to what’s going on inside, if we open to our personal experience of the world. My hope is that this tuning in will help me enhance my self-awareness, enable richer self-expression, support stronger interpersonal relationships, make me better at managing stress, and allow me to make less impulsive decisions.

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I’ll use a technique from The Inner Matrix:

  1. Pause several times a day to ask myself: What emotional state am I experiencing?
  2. Look inside to see what I find. *
  3. Once identified, I will state (out loud if I’m in the privacy of my home office and in my head if I’m in a public place): In this moment, I am feeling ________________. And that is OK. It is a natural human expression.

* If needed, I will reference The Emotional Scale that my friend Blair introduced me to years ago and one of the online Feelings Inventories (such as THIS ONE) to help me put a name to what I am feeling.

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Our emotions remind us we are alive, of our humanity. They shape us, sometimes like rough sandpaper, and other times like the softest silk, against our tender skin. To feel how alive and awake I can be, to feel and experience the richness of the moments that string together my life, to be in ever more integrity with who I am – that’s my intention as I move into the new year.

  • What intention do you want to lean into this year?
  • Why is it important to you?
  • What path will you take?
  • What choices do you need to make?
  • Who and what will support you?

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I always end the year some place that inspires reflection and that encourages visualizing the life I want to lead. That happens to be a sunny warm place of surf and sand, specifically San Agustinillo, Oaxaca, Mexico. Again this year a poem was inspired – this one about going to the deepest places – like into our feelings and emotions – to find the riches that lie there in store. (Other poems inspired by this lovely place include A New Day and A Prayer for You. These New Year Guiding Principles also arose during my quiet reflective time there.)

Into the Deep Poem

For more photos from my most recent trip to San Agustinillo, CLICK HERE.

2015: The Year in Review

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I thought it would be fun for December to capture the essence of my 2015 communiques. I hope you find something to savor again as you ease into the final month and days of the year.

A New Day: Be intentional and appreciate new beginnings“…each day – no, each moment – is a place from which to start anew…seize each fresh beginning that opens…”

Inviting Softness: Open your heart and be compassionate“It can be scary leaning into your softness at work. It takes commitment to move aside the parts of yourself that shield and protect your softness. The desperate need for connection, meaning, celebration, and acknowledgement that is apparent in the workplace of today is an invitation.”

Friendship supporting our best at work: Cherish friendship“…friends – both a work and outside of work – help us see reality more clearly, show us different perspectives on situations , and enable us to choose joy and fun and positivity. Friends care about you. They ensure you know you are not alone and make tough things bearable. Friends believe in you, sometimes more than you believe in yourself. They are there for you and cheer you on when you’re challenged. They rejoice with you and celebrate the little and big victories. Friends are fuel that provides energy for doing great stuff. Great friends are great leaders in our lives.”

Positively Affirming: Shift your thoughts with affirmations“Affirmations are attitudes, beliefs, and ideas that honor who we are. They can shift our energy, physically, mentally, and spiritually. They have the power to create amazing and awesome things in our lives. An affirmation is a declaration of our truth.”

Leap toward your dreams: Allow your dreams to come alive “make time to be with your dreams. Play with them. Experience them. Feel them. Let them guide you.” 

What is essential?: Tune in to what’s essential“Information and people and tasks needing our attention come at us in such abundance that it seems increasingly impossible to respond to it all. How to seize the infinite opportunities that each moment brings, to choose what we want to create? To live our lives from the heart to be the person we are…what an invitation.”

Retrospective: Take time to look back – “The value of taking a retrospective might be a matter of intention. Why are you looking back? Are you holding on, avoiding change, evaluating in a critical way, or regretting what you weren’t able to accomplish? Or are you opening up, embracing new possibilities, celebrating you far you’ve come, and exploring how to make and even more powerful difference?”

The Magic of Co-Creating: Leverage the power of multiple perspectives“co-creation is about sharing intentions, designing something in partnership, collaborating together as a team, and moving as one in the same direction. Co-creating is essential to move toward possibilities that we can see but don’t yet know how to achieve and possibilities that we can barely yet imagine.”

Shifting Out of Victim Mindset: Be empowered“how easy it is to play the victim, versus take responsibility for creating something different that moves us in the direction we want to go. To be an influential change agent in the midst of organizational transformation, it is essential for leaders to feel empowered to make a difference.”

Community: Embrace community in your life“We create community because, as human beings, we have a need for connection, we seek meaning in our lives, and we hunger to make a difference in the world.”

Awakening Gratitude: Create positive energy and strengthen personal connections“The simplest yet most powerful form of gratitude is acknowledging each other. Gratitude exists in looking out and seeing the person across from you. Really looking at them. Gratitude can come alive in a smile, in the speaking of a person’s name, in honest curiosity about another’s experience.”

I’d love to know what resonates most for you now…

Photos: spring honeysuckle in my backyard, summer in Albania 2014, fall in Armonk NY 2015, winter in my front yard