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You Must Have A Vision❣

I remember when I first relocated to the US with my baby girl. I had a clear #vision of the life I wanted for us.
So, I casted a vision of me working in a university setting or government organization that would give me flexibility, stability and a set schedule to care for my daughter, as we settled.
👉 I wanted my new  opportunity to provide an environment for me to grow and develop &add value .
👉I wanted work life balance to have time to  take my daughter to the playground in the evenings &church on the weekends.
❌I didn’t want a job that required travel, or night/ weekends.
❌I didn’t want the hustle & bustle of city life.
Sounds like a clear& perfect vision  right?

🎯Well, prior to our big move,  I  researched the area I was moving to, roles that were a fit for my educational background & professional experience & started applying for #jobs. By the time I moved, I knew where the Arlington Employment Center was, their schedule and services & hit the ground running.

😔 I would love do tell you that I found a job that fit my vision quickly and things turned out as planned.But one month became two, three , four & eventually six…
I went to the center 5 days a week, applied up to 10 jobs a day, attended workshops on everything from #interviewskills, #resumewriting#networking, #jobfairs   etc. And still no job.
There were many interviews & second interviews and applications that sunk to the bottom of sinkholes of applicant tracking systems.
I grew anxious, worried,  doubtful of my vision and  whether I had made the right decision to move to the USA. I also struggled with the opinions & suggestions of friends and family about what I should be doing, jobs I should apply to and even suggestions to move again.

🙏But I held on to my vision and pushed on.  By month 6, the job offers came trickling in,  but none that matched my vision exactly. The job I eventually accepted landed me in a limited term role working as administrative assistant at Fairfax County Government . The role was not commensurate with my background and experience but it brought me closer to my vision. I reckoned a foot in the door was all I needed.

😀Now 9+ yrs later- the vision has been realized.

🎯So what am I saying here :
*Having a clear vision doesnt mean things will go as you hoped or planned.
*Preparedness does not equal automatic success .
*Detours dont equal failure.
*Acheiving your vision  will require perseverance.
* You can accept counsel but you have to ignore the noise
* And most importantly, your vision must be clear, simple and easy to communicate  to help you get the support you will need.

Over to you- do you have a vision for this stage or chapter for your life? How are you pushing past the obstacles to stay on track?

Until next time, Remember,ItsALearningLife !


#visioncasting  #careerdevelopment #careerstrategy #careerstory #opportunity #success  #personalgrowth #selfleadership #professionaldevelopment #experience #lifelessons  #itsalearninglife4real

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You Will Need Courage!

Coffee mug with words courage

10 Reflections for 10 Years: On this day, 10 years today, my daughter and I embarked on a journey of a lifetime as we migrated from Jamaica to the USA. As I reflect on our journey, I can’t remember exactly why I choose this month or  this day for our big move, I just know our steps were ordered and God covered us in every step and everyday. And I’m feeling truly blessed and grateful for where we are today.

In honor of our 10th year anniversary/milestone of #ComingtoAmerica, I will be sharing 10 reflections or top lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Lessons 1: You will need courage to achieve your dreams, goals, or to pursue your desire to walk in purpose.
So, what is courage you ask?  While, there are many definitions for courage, the one that resonates with me the most most is the one on a coffee mug gifted to me by a supervisor (now friend ) after she had heard my story.
And it reads:
“courage doesn’t always roar, sometimes courage is that little voice at the end of the day saying- I will try again tomorrow”.

As I write out those words, I let out a deep, long sigh. A sigh of relief that …..my little princess (now young lady)  and I , made it this far. I cab feel the tears welling in my eyes, as I think of all those painful and difficult moments when I had to cling dearly to that small voice and  find the strength to try again tomorrow.
In this moment , I am so very grateful that back then, I had the courage that roared and empowered me to bravely leave my successful job, home, professional network , friends and comfort zone to begin life again with my then 2 yr old daughter.

Cofffe mug with the Definition of Courage

Even though that Big Roaring Courage served me well throughout the years, it was and still is, the small voice of courage that centered  and steadied me through numerous failed job interviews in my efforts to transition back into my career field, and to continue to grow.
It was that small voice of courage that whispered for me to keep trying when I lost out on so many offers when trying to buy our first home here in the US, until we did.
And it’s that small voice of courage that encourages me still, to boldly use my voice, to play to my strengths and talents and to step out in faith to ‘lead, learn, engage and develop people where I go’.

I share all of this to say, we all have courage within us, that beckons us to try something new, step out of our comfort zones, push past setbacks and failures and fight for that which we aspire to.

So, if you are reading this, I hope today is the day you find your courage (Big or small) to chase your dreams and to pursue your goals. You’ve got this!

Until next time and my next lesson share, Remember #ItsALearningLife4Real.
#10thanniversary #celebratingsuccess #comingtoamerica #courage #personalgrowth #personaldevelopment #selfleadership #motivation #life #lessons #reflection

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7 Mistakes to Avoid in Giving Feedback!

We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve

Bill Gates

The say that feedback is a gift. But do you struggle with giving this gift? Which mistakes do you often make? Which mistake have you suffered from?

Believe or not, many people struggle with fear or discomfort in giving feedback in both their personal and professional life. Regardless of how you feel about giving feedback, this is a skill we all need to build and maintain positive and healthy relationships and promote effective communication. And when we give feedback to our friends, families and coworkers, we help them to develop greater self-awareness and understand the behaviors they might need to stop, change or continue.

So how do you avoid the 7 top mistakes in giving feedback?

Watch this Video for 7 Top Mistakes to Avoid in Giving Feedback!

Watch and Subscribe to My YouTube Chanel for More Personal Growth & Professional Development Videos

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Is Your Saw Sharp? It’s Time to Sharpen Your Saw!

Is Your Saw Sharp?
Sharpen The Saw is the # 7th Habit in Stephen Covey’s bestselling book – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
In explaining the 7th Habit, Covey tells the story of a wood cutter who spent hours sawing away at a tree. He was strained and exhausted. A young man walks up to him and asked him what he was doing. He responded- isn’t it obvious, I am cutting down the tree. The young man says- you look tired, why don’t you sharpen the saw. Why don’t you rest?
The old man responded- I don’t have to sharpen my saw. I don’t have time to rest.
I have to cut down this tree.

I don’t know about you, but I have shown up as this woodcutter in both my personal and professional life to the detriment to myself.

So, my question for you is- Are your that woodcutter? Do you need to sharpen your saw?

Watch This Video to Understand How You Can Keep Your Saw Sharp

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife4Real!

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Who Moved My Cheese? 7 Tips to Deal with Change Video!

🤔Are you struggling with deal with change in at work and in your personal life? 🎯Change can be difficult, but it is a constant part for everyday life.

🎯This video is based on Who Moved My Cheese 🧀 book by Spencer Johnson.

Watch this video to find out about the 4 common responses to change.

🎯Get 7 Tips from Who Moved My Cheese to improve how you deal with change at work and in your personal life.

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How to Deal with the Problem with Love Languages!

Do you know your love languages?

Do your loved ones speak it?

How do you deal with the problems and complexities of love languages when you and your loved ones don’t express or receive love the same way?

According to Gary Chapman, “the 5 Love Languages are a simple and effective way to strengthen your connections, so you can experience greater joy and harmony in all of your relationships.” According to 5LoveLanguages.com, ” the premise of The 5 Love Languages™ book is quite simple: different people with different personalities give and receive love in different ways. By learning to recognize these preferences in yourself and in your loved ones, you can learn to identify the root of your conflicts, connect more profoundly, and truly begin to grow closer.”

This video is a conversation with my 11-year-old daughter where we discuss the five love languages and some of the problems, we experience in trying to express love and build and maintain positive, healthy and happy relationships.

Watch this video to learn about the 5 love languages, and some of the issues and problems that might arise when children and parents don’t speak the same love language and how we can deal with those problems and overcome them.

the-problem-with-love-languages-video

Until next time, Remember, It’sALearningLife4Real!

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11 Tips on How to Drink from the Firehose and Not Drown!

Firehose-Spraying-Water
Firehose Spraying Water

Over the last few weeks, I have found myself drinking from the proverbial firehose in my new job. That is, meeting new people, navigating a new work environment, taking in new information, listening, learning the scope of my new responsibilities, and asking questions to better understand the operations of the organization. Prior to starting this new role, I had never heard of the metaphor of drinking from a firehose. However, as soon as I heard it used, I could not help but smile at how well it described what I had been experiencing as I settled into my new job. Afterall, the many meetings, the rapid flow of new information, new acronyms, names, faces and roles sometimes passed in a blur, as I attempted to take copious notes and prayed for good memory. Which I imagine is exactly what drinking from a firehose might feel like?

What Does Drinking from the Firehose Mean?

According to the Urban Dictionary, the metaphor “drinking from the firehose” is defined as “to be overwhelmed (with information, responsibility, work, etc.); to do something intensely; to be inundated.” This experience or feeling is typical for most new hires during the first few days and weeks settling into a new job. During the onboarding process, (See previous article), new employees spend the majority of their early days getting to know their team(s), learning about business operations, key stakeholders, listening to customer needs and expectations, while scanning for opportunities to apply their skills and knowledge. And if not careful, one can quickly feel like the gushing firehose is spilling more water over one’s face and clothes, rather than what ends up in one’s mouth.

So, what can you do? How can you learn how to drink safely from the firehose and avoid the drowning feeling of being overwhelmed by the rapid flow of information, scope of work and many expectations that comes with your new role or job?

When I started my new role, I really wanted to do my best. So, I decided to draw on the wisdom of the crowd by asking my professional network on LinkedIn to share tips and advice to help me to position myself for success in my new role and confidently apply my skills and knowledge. I received over 100 valuable responses offering wisdom, tried and tested advice and key reminders that can help anyone achieve success when starting a new role or new opportunity.

How to Drink Well from The Firehouse

Here are the top eleven tips that you should keep in mind as you put your best foot forward and drink well from the firehose:

  1. Believe in yourself and your abilities. Do not be consumed with trying to prove yourself- you are the person for the job
  2. Listen twice as long as you intend to speak. As you do so, pay attention to what is said and to what isn’t. Keep your eyes and ears on the ground.
  3. Be a learn it all, not a know it all. Rather than be an expert, be a sponge and ask questions to learn and understand. Be humble.
  4. Be social. Try to say hello to everyone and try to meet as many people as you can. Remember to smile and be respectful of everyone.
  5. Build relationships and connections. Surround yourself with the right people. The relationships you build will be the most valuable currency you have to spend.
  6. Remember that trust and vulnerability go hand in hand. Be willing to be vulnerable and to trust your team as you get to know each other and vice-versa.
  7.  Learn the organization structure and culture. Understanding this will help you to get a sense of how you fit in and can contribute, as well as how things get done.
  8. Maximize your first 90 days by setting realistic goals. Once you have gotten an understanding of your role and responsibilities, work with you manager to identify and agree key work priorities and goals to be achieved over the first 30-60-90 days.
  9. Be open and ready to learn, fail and make mistakes. Things will not always work as planned, nor will all your bright new ideas be accepted. Don’t take this personally. Continue to listen and pivot. Fail fast and early and recover well. And as you do so. extend yourself grace and remember progression is better than perfection.
  10. Ask your manager and team for feedback. Regular feedback will help you to gauge how you are doing, how you can add value and gain insights on your opportunities for growth. Allow yourself time to settle into your new space and work environment. And celebrate all your wins- no matter how big or small.
  11. Be your authentic self. Don’t pretend to be someone you are not to impress others or fit in. Own your unique talents, perspectives, abilities and recognize the value you bring to the organization. Also remember to be patient and present for each step of your new journey.

At the end of the day, failing to manage the firehose and to drink safely while settling into a new opportunity will lead to frustration, burnout, stress, fatigue and less than optimal results. As you adjust to your new role, remember to pace yourself, and ask for help when and where you need it. Also, be willing to set healthy boundaries to maintain work – life balance and to ensure positive overall well-being.

So, what additional tips would you add to help others drink from the firehose and not drown?  What has worked for you? What advice do you have for someone who is starting a new role or a new opportunity? Share and let me know.

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

Watch & Subscribe to My YouTube Channel for More Personal Growth & Professional Development Videos

Mothers -Day- Special- Interview by My Daughter
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How to Onboard Your People Right!

New Employee Onboarding-Image

Let’s face it – starting anything new can feel daunting, exciting, and challenging at the same time. Whether it’s a new job, new relationship/partnership or resettling to a new area, the process can be nerve-wracking. Because of this, it is not unusual for people to experience mixed emotions once the decision has been made. In fact, one of the most common emotions that many people experience is uncertainty -due to one or a combination of the following reasons:

  1. Change isn’t easy and moving out of your comfort zone can prove difficult and painful.
  2. People fear failure and want to do well and/or succeed in their varied endeavors. But the fear of failure, low risk tolerance and not wanting to make a mistake can be crippling.
  3. The desire to do well or make an impact can create undue pressure and drive feelings of anxiety and self-doubt.
  4. No one can predict the future; the future is unknown and even the best laid plans can go awry.

Last week, all these things became real to me as I started my new job. While I knew I was capable and competent to do the job and felt confident that I had made a great decision, when the first day came around, I couldn’t be sure of how things would unfold. How would my first day turn out? How would I feel at the end of the first week? Would the people be warm and welcoming? Would they like me?  Would the environment be open, positive, supportive – one where I could learn, apply my talents and grow?

It is safe to say that my musings and thoughts are not unique to me. Most new employees approach their first day on the job with excitement and hope for a great experience, but with lingering fears of the outcomes. Fortunately, by the end of my first week, I could happily report that all went well. The team was warm and welcoming, the scope of work was what I expected, and the work environment was one where I felt confident that I would make a positive impact and continue to develop.

While I was deeply grateful for the positive experience, I am keenly aware that this is not always the case for many new employees on the first day, week or month on a new job. This is primarily due to the approaches that various managers and organizations use in onboarding new hires.

Importance of Effective Onboarding

Depending on the culture of the organization, the style of leadership and management and/or the quality of onboarding systems and policies, starting a new role can be equals parts chaotic, confusing and stressful.  According to the Society for Human Resource Professionals (SHRM), “Onboarding is a prime opportunity for employers to win the hearts and minds of new employees”.  Amy Hirsh Robinson also points out that “Onboarding is a magic moment when new employees decide to stay engaged or become disengaged”. And “it offers an imprinting window when organizations can make an impression that stays with new employees for the duration of their careers.”

Unfortunately, however, some organizations waste this opportunity by not creating the right conditions to set new employees up for success or the environment for them to feel safe and thrive. Robinson cautions that “new hires who experience such badly planned and executed initiations may conclude that the organization is poorly managed and decide that it was a mistake to take the job. And “rather than setting new employees up for success, organizations with poor onboarding processes are setting the stage for an early exit.”

How to Set New Employees Up for Success

Whether the role is in -person, remote or hybrid, new hires expect their managers and organizations to provide opportunities to help them learn and understand their roles, familiarize themselves with the organization and understand policies and procedures. Research suggests that “69 percent of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced great onboarding. And “new employees who went through a structured onboarding program were 58 percent more likely to be with the organization after three years.”

So, what can employers do to ensure they are effectively onboarding new employees and get them started on the right footing.

According to Gallup, effective onboarding of new employees should focus on people, learning and processes.  On the people side, the focus should be helping new employees meet and connect with new team members, ask questions and foster positive relationships. The learning should focus on helping new hires understand the mission and vision of the organization and how they fit in and can contribute in their respective role(s). With the processes, managers should provide new hires with a clear structure and journey for learning the job, the tools, systems, and technology, so that they have what they need to do the work.

Six Tips for Effective Onboarding

So, here are six tips recommended by Gallup that managers should consider as they seek to set their new employees up for success with effective onboarding practices:

  1. Find creative ways to build connections:  Whether it is in person or online, managers need to create opportunities for people to connect and build relationships as they acclimatize to the organization and their roles. This could include but is not limited to virtual coffee chats and or in -person meet and greets.
  1. Encourage tenured employees to reach out: Ensuring that new hires feel supported is a crucial part of the onboarding process. As such, a word of encouragement or check in from senior staff can help to build confidence in new employees and provide reassurance that there is help should they need it.  
  1. Lean into Learning: Effective onboarding processes should help new employees understand the greater mission and purpose of the organization. Gallup emphasizes that “When employees understand why and how their job fits into the bigger picture, they can start delivering brand promises faster.”
  1. Add experiences that bring your culture to life: According to Gallup, new hires need to see and feel how the organizational culture plays out and how they fit into it. This requires both communication and firsthand experiences and accounts from existing employees at all levels of the organization and/or provide opportunities for new hires to observe the culture.
  1. Create a formal mentorship program: One of the main expectations that new employees have of their managers and their organizations is for them to provide opportunities for growth and development. Gallup suggests that “to meet this need and promote retention — leaders should pair new hires with a mentor or adviser who can answer their questions and help them learn and grow.” Mentors can also serve as a sounding board and a source of inside knowledge to help new hires navigate their roles successfully.
  1. Prepare managers for an active role: Gallup emphasizes that “managers must be present, involved, and available throughout new hires’ onboarding journey.” Managers should model the culture, demonstrate the values of the company, and provide learning experiences that bring the culture to life. For effective onboarding, managers need to become coaches and connect their new employees with the right people and provide the support and mentoring they need.

Finally, in today’s job market where most organizations are struggling to attract and retain top talent, the saying – “First impression counts”, does not just apply to the new employee who is trying to impress his/her boss. The research confirms that managers and organizations need to get their onboarding processes right and to create the right conditions for their new and existing employees to engage. For when all is said and done, the quality of the onboarding experience can make all the difference in whether new hires decide to stay or with the company or jump at the first opportunity they get.

So over to you- what has been your experience when starting a new job?

Did you feel supported? Did your onboarding process provide structure, clear information, specific job-related goals and the resources you needed to do the job? Did the onboarding process set you up for success?

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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The Flip Side of Being “The First”!

1st Place Blue Ribbon
1st Place Blue Ribbon

“The First”- is the label usually attached to the person or people who come before all others in the context of time or order. For those who have earned the distinction of being “the first”, great honor and fanfare go with the achievement. And while being “the first” to achieve a major goal or milestone event should be celebrated, being “the first” can easily become a double-edged sword.

The label of being “the first” can create lofty expectations of the title holder that might quickly become isolating and burdensome. In fact, when someone becomes “the first” to achieve a significant goal or accomplishment, you will often hear much about the accolades and the hard work that led up to it. But what happens after? Does being “the first” guarantee future success? Does the label help or hurt? Is being “the first” a blessing or a burden?

Being “The First”

There are many benefits to being the first. Being “the first” gives the title holder bragging rights, and honorable mention in the history books as the first male or female to ever do “it”. Whether it is a personal or career accomplishment, being “the first,” gives the individual an opportunity to blaze a trail to lead others into the future, make a difference and to pave the way for those that come behind them. At the same time, being a forerunner presents great risk as there might not be any precedent or roadmap for the novel big idea.

Being “the first” might also mean longer hours devoted to building a new business, huge sacrifices to personal life, costly mistakes and failures, and tireless efforts to get support, develop new systems, and incredible pressure to be a great example. Because, when you are “the first” to do something big or new, you have both the burden and opportunity to cast the vision, get buy in, create access, identify opportunities, or transform systems.

So, whether you earned the first-place position, are a first born, was the first to start the business, first to graduate college, first to purchase a home, first male or female president/vice president- being “the first” is hard. Research tells us that many first-time entrepreneurs fail, in their first attempts to establish a business. First generation minorities to attend college, suffer from high dropout rates due to an absence of adequate resources and support. And first-time leaders are prone to make mistakes that can permanently derail their careers or set them back personally and professionally.

The hardships, uncertainty and risks associated with being the first is also true for anyone taking on a new role or doing something for the first time. For example, many first-time supervisors and managers lament the many mistakes they made, in making the transition from being a member of the team, to becoming the manager/leader of the team. First time managers often find themselves struggling after landing the job because they were not properly trained, or prepared to handle on the scope of work, varied expectations, and new responsibilities. As a result, they find it difficult to perform important functions such giving feedback, managing the work, engaging, and developing their people. Usually, after some trial and error, they gain the experience and confidence to help them turn things around. So, there many growing pains associated with doing anything for the first time.

Blessing or Burden?

I remember the first time I heard of the newest U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown-Jackson. Brown Jackson became “the first” black female justice in America’s highest court. Prior to the confirmation hearing, I had never heard of her of President Biden‘s nominee. And though all of whom watched the hearing were very impressed by her credentials, legal acumen and background, most of us were equally appalled by how she treated by the republican senators during the hearing.

While the treatment of the Justice might have been partisan, the hearing and the subsequent favorable outcome for Justice Ketanji Jackson Brown shone a light on the significant hurdles that black and brown people and other minorities in America and elsewhere face, in their journeys to become “the first”. Her ascension to the bench also highlighted the disparities in holders of the highest offices of the land and why representation matters. To her credit, Justice Ketanji Jackson Brown navigated the confirmation hearing with poise, grace and patience and made people who looked like her- very proud.

Personal Reflection on “Being the First”

For me, Justice Ketanji Jackson Brown‘s journey to becoming “the first”, though different, is similar to the experiences that may people face in their efforts to be “the first” and achieve their career or life goals. It also struck me that being “the first” does not guarantee future or continued success either. In fact, history books are littered with men and women whose initial success never amounted to much. And many first timers suffer from imposter syndrome or the fear of not able to sustain the success they have achieved. If anything, the scrutiny, pressures that come with being “the first” and the need to live up to expectations, can create undue stress, anxiety and fear that might cripple many first timers and holders of the title “the first”.

So, how do you avoid the dangers of being “the first”? From my perspective people who earn the distinction of being “the first”, as well as first timers, need three basic things to thrive and build on their past success:

  1. Self-Belief /Assurance:  When no one else sees or trusts your vision or the mission you are seeking to accomplish, you will need the conviction to believe in your talents and abilities, trust your judgement and to walk in the purpose you have defined for your life. This will help you to hold true to your values, ignore the noise and push past fear to pursue your goals and dreams.
  1. Support: No matter how hard you work, how talented you are, you will never be able to fully realize your goals and objectives without support and engagement from key stakeholders and partners. In fact, most organizational change efforts fail because of the lack of leadership support, inadequate resources and the absence of employee participation. On a personal level, efforts to get to the goal might be tougher, if you do not have support of friends and family to help you physically, mentally, and emotionally.
  1. Perseverance: When you look at successful and famous inventors and inventions, their history is marked by repeated failures on the path to success. As such first timers will need to demonstrate the resilience to able to pivot and bounce back when their best efforts fail. And to choose to hope again and again.

So, what advice would you offer up to a first-timer or someone who is struggling with being “the first”?

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearninglife.

Watch & Subscribe to My YouTube Channel for More Personal & Professional Development Insights

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Quit the Excuses!

What's- Your- Excuse -Image
What’s Your Excuse – Image

I can still remember my high school’s days when the then popular “My Dog Ate My Homework” caption was plastered on 3 ring binder folders to serve as the classic excuse for students who had not done their homework. As funny and implausible as that excuse was back in the day, today, many of us use varied excuses to justify our inaction or failure to follow through with important daily tasks and activities. One might even argue that it is human nature for people to come up with reasons or excuses to justify or explain why work projects and tasks were not completed, phone calls were not returned, emails went unacknowledged, key decisions were not taken or dreams and goals were never fully realized. And while there might be good explanations for any or all the above, how do you distinguish between when it is an excuse or a valid reason?  Why do people make excuses anyway? And at what point do the excuses no longer add up and need to stop? This article will attempt to answer all these questions.

People use a mix of reasons and excuses to account for their thoughts, behaviors, or actions. And though reasons and excuses are sometimes used interchangeably, the two concepts are not one and the same. Difference Between explains that “a reason simply refers to a cause or explanation. Reasons explains why someone did something or why something happened. On the other hand, “An excuse, is also a type of reason that specifically justifies or defends a fault.” Based on this, the main difference between the two is – a reason is merely an explanation, and an excuse specifically focuses on justifying a fault. So, how do you account for your behaviors and actions?  Do you have good reasons, or are you merely making excuses?

Why Do People Make Excuses?

According to Tony Robbins, “Making excuses can almost always be traced back to one of three reasons: fear, uncertainty or lack of purpose”.

  1. Fear:  The fear of failure is perhaps the biggest fear that most people have. Robbins goes on to explain that fear and more specifically the fear of failure can cripple some people and cause them to make excuses that prevent them from going after their dreams. This fear of failure might play out as self -doubt or self-limiting beliefs and result in a lack of confidence in one’s potential and ability to succeed.
  1. Uncertainty:  Robbins explains that “as human beings, we all have Six Human Needs that drive our decisions. And one of our most powerful needs is certainty- that is the desire to avoid pain and seek out things that we know will bring us pleasure”. Because of this, people are more likely to remain in their comfort zone and situations that are less than ideal. So, when we are faced with circumstances that we feel uncertain about, our brains prefer, or are likely to default to making excuses over dealing with uncertainty.  Nonetheless, you can override these natural impulses and stop making excuses.
  1. Lack of Purpose: According to Robbins, “people who make excuses often come across as lazy, uninspired and apathetic.” However, he notes that this perception might not be true as it is more likely that they haven’t yet discovered their purpose. Therefore, Robbins advocates that “People are not lazy. They simply have goals that do not inspire them.” So, if you focus on finding your passion and living a meaningful life, the tendency to make excuses will stop.

Top Excuses People Make

Sometimes, I am just as guilty of making excuses as anyone else. For years, I have used both reasons and excuses about timing to justify not starting a doctoral program I have done the research to identify. I have also used excuses about not knowing how, to delay writing and publishing a book that I hope to. But all my excuses and reasons really mask- is my fear of failure and doubts about my abilities. I share all this to say, making excuses is a part of the human condition and is as natural to many of us as breathing.  

So, while the following list of common excuses people make is not exhaustive, you might easily find that the excuses you make are only slightly different from the ones below and might be linked to the reasons given above. Here are seven common excuses that people typically make:

  1. I don’t have enough time/money/ resources:
  2. I am afraid of failure
  3. I am not inspired/ I’m stuck
  4. This is not new/ it’s not original enough
  5. I am afraid of the competition
  6. This is not the right time to do it
  7. I have too much going on /I don’t have the support

So, how do we move past the excuses and avoid sitting like a frog on a log?

How To Stop Making Excuses

According to Tony Robbins, “making excuses is normal from time to time. But if your  excuses  start to interfere with your life and prevent you from reaching your goals, it might be time to learn how to quit doing so. As such, Robbins suggests the following tips that you can use to stop making excuses and take meaningful action towards your goals and dreams:

  • Take Responsibility: Robbins suggest that “the first step to stop making excuses is always to realize that you alone control your destiny. Robbins reminds us that “No matter what has happened to you in the past, your future is up to you.”
  • Shift Your Perspective: Robbins argues that “when you take responsibility, you begin to see that problems are opportunities, not obstacles. Life is happening for you, not to you. Everything that has happened in your life brought you to this moment – and you can either transform your life or keep making excuses.”
  • Uncover Your Limiting Beliefs:  According to Robbins, “People who make excuses are likely have certain limiting beliefs that are holding them back. These are the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. If you believe deep down that you’re not deserving of success or that you don’t have the inner strength to overcome failure, you’ll continue making excuses to avoid going after what you really want.”
  • Change Your Story: Robbins recommends that “Once you’ve identified your limiting beliefs, you can change your story and stop making excuses for good. Do this by identifying negative self-talk and replacing any limiting beliefs with empowering ones. When you change your words – and your story – you change your life.”
  • Find The Lesson: Robbins says that “People who make excuses don’t bother to look closely at their mistakes and determine what went wrong. They blame others and never learn the valuable lessons that failure can provide. Successful people always look for the lesson and apply it to future decisions.”
  • Stop Overthinking: Robbins tells us that “The path to success is to take massive, determined action.” So, to quit making excuses, you must stop overthinking, let go of the past and take decisive action.”
  • Define your vision: Robbins encourages that  you “Go back to the drawing board and examine your blueprint for your life. What do you really want? Create a powerful vision that you’ll be proud to follow, and you’ll never make an excuse again.”
  • Set Goals:  Here Robbins points out that “Discovering your purpose is valuable, but setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible. Working toward actionable goals forces you to stop making excuses and start creating a compelling future. Start small and set achievable SMART goals. As you build confidence, set bigger and bigger goals.”
  • Get Support: When all is said and done, Robbins emphasizes that “The key to stop making excuses is to hold yourself accountable for your actions – but this isn’t always easy.” Therefore, lean on your trusted friends and family for your support.

Over to you- what excuses are you using to undermine your progress and chances for success in your personal and professional life? Whatever they are, it’s time to quit.  Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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How to Affirm Yourself & Encourage Others?

Positive Affirmation Statements-Image
Positive Affirmation Statements-Image

“Be Kind. For Everyone You Meet is Fighting A Battle You Know Nothing About.”

Unknown

The need to feel affirmed, supported or appreciated is one of the most deep-seated needs that all human beings have. From time to, we all will need a “pick me upper”, a personal boost, or a word of encouragement to help us move forward. Afterall, some days are better than others. Some struggles longer and harder, and some experiences more painful and disappointing than the ones before. So, what do you tell yourself when the going gets tough and your best laid plans or best intentions fail or fall short?

When faced with new, uncertain, or challenging situations, one of the first thing that many people do is to question themselves and their abilities. In so doing, they risk becoming paralyzed or overwhelmed by fear, fatigue, doubt and a lack of focus. Others may even become overwhelmed by negative thoughts as they question their abilities, resources, or self-worth. Affirmations have been touted as a powerful strategy for people to use to tackle and overcome negative thinking and inspire themselves and others.

Importance of Affirmations

According to Psychology Today , affirmations are  defined as  “positive phrases or statements used to challenge negative or unhelpful thoughts.” Love them or hate them,  “affirmations are used to reprogram the subconscious mind, to encourage us to believe certain things about ourselves or about the world and our place within it.”  This view is supported by Walter E. Jacobson, M.D., who argues that, “there is value in affirmations of this nature, because our subconscious mind plays a major role in the actualization of our lives and the manifestation of our desires. What we believe about ourselves at a subconscious level, he says, can have a significant impact on the outcome of events.”

Afterall, you can’t do difficult things with negative thoughts. Just as you use positive affirmations to shape your thoughts and actions for good, if you flood your mind with negativity, this is likely to lead to negative outcomes. In that, the more often you speak negative affirmations (E.g., I can’t do it) about yourself and your situation, the more likely you are to believe it and act accordingly. And overtime, these self-limiting beliefs and self-defeating behaviors will hold you back and become a form of self -fulfilling prophecy. So, if you get to choose what you affirm about yourself or your situation, why not make it positive?

The-Power of Affirmations-Image
The -Power- of -Affirmations- Image

The Power of Affirmations

I know first-hand, the importance of using words of affirmations to encourage myself and others as one of my daughter’s love languages is words of affirmations. In his book the 5 Love Languages, Chapman describe words of affirmations as “unsolicited compliments and encouragement offered to someone to express love or appreciation.” So, every day before she goes to school, I place a handwritten card with words of affirmation in her lunch box to encourage her, remind her who she is and build her self-confidence. Although I write her a card daily, I never stopped to think about what she does with the cards after she reads them.

One day, she came home upset about a stack of cards that had somehow gotten wet in her lunch bag pocket. As she tried desperately to dry and save them, I asked her why it was so important for her to keep them. She then shared that her cards served as a ‘pick me upper’, she turns to when she is experiencing doubt and fear or feeling sad or bad. After she shared that, I bought her a huge photo album which she now uses to archive her words of affirmation cards.

While I don’t write positive affirmations and words of encouragement to myself and others as frequently as I do my daughter, I frequently use words of affirmations to encourage myself to push through low moments, remind myself of who I am, what I am trying to do, why I do what I do and to show myself compassion and grace.  But I know my daughter and I are not alone with these struggles. None of us are immune from experiencing doubts, regrets, or disappointment from decisions made, words spoken, actions taken or not.

So, can develop your own affirmations?

How to Write Your Own Affirmations

While not for everyone, positive self-talk or affirmations are used by many to overcome adversity, banish negative thoughts and to empower them to work towards their purpose and goals.  HuffPost offers 5 steps below that you can use to write your affirmations and make them work for you:

  • Step 1:  Make a list of what you’ve always thought of as your negative qualities. Include any criticisms others have made of you that you’ve been holding onto; whether it’s something your siblings, parents and peers used to say about you when you were a child, or what your boss told you in your last annual review.  Make a note of them and look for a common theme, such as “I’m unworthy.” 
  • Step 2: Now write out an affirmation on the positive aspect of your self-judgment. You may want to use a thesaurus to find more powerful words to beef up your statement. For example, instead of saying, “I’m worthy,” you could say, “I’m remarkable and cherished.”
  • Step 3: Speak the affirmation out loud for about five minutes, three times a day — morning, mid-day and evening. An ideal time to do this is when you’re putting on your make up or shaving, so that you can look at yourself in the mirror as you repeat the positive statement. You can look at yourself in the mirror as you repeat the positive statement.
  • Step 4: Anchor the affirmation in your body as you are repeating it by placing your hand on the area that felt uncomfortable when you wrote out the negative belief in step one. Also “breathe” into the affirmation while you are saying or writing it. As you reprogram your mind, you want to move from the concept of the affirmation to a real, positive embodiment of the quality you seek.
  • Step 5: Get a friend or coach to repeat your affirmation to you. As they are saying for example, “you are remarkable and cherished” identify this statement as ‘good mothering or good fathering messages. If you don’t have someone who you feel comfortable asking them to use your reflection in the mirror as the person who is reinforcing the healthy message.

Words of affirmation can be powerful sources of inspiration and positive self-change for the person who repeats or hears them. No one likes to feel unsupported, unappreciated or to have their hard work and efforts go unacknowledged. Positive affirmations provide another technique you can use to reframe negative thoughts, overcome hardships, spread kindness, peace, and love. Our words and actions have the power to make to break someone, to positively shape their lives or turn moods and day around.

So, over to you- how will you affirm yourself and become more intentional about encouraging others?

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

Watch & Subscribe to My YouTube Channel for More Personal Growth & Professional Development Insights!

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How to Say NO!

Speech Bubble Saying No
Speech Bubble Saying No

“No is a complete sentence. It does not require justification or explanation”.

Unknown

One of the words that toddlers love to say as soon as they start talking is NO. While toddlers and young children have no qualms about saying no to everything and everyone, the older we get, the more we seem to struggle with repeating this simple yet powerful two letter word. In my last article, I wrote about the Hidden Costs of Yes, and how our yeses place our relationships, resources, and reputation on the line. For the purposes of this article, I want to explore the other end of the spectrum- that is saying no.  

Saying No

It is easy to say no to something or someone when a request goes against rules, policies, laws, and established codes of conduct for behavior. Saying no might even get easier, when it goes against your expressed values, deeply held beliefs, purpose and priorities. But what about those situations when the lines are blurry, and the parameters less clear? That is, when the person making the request is in a place of power, when your no might impact your future, when the consequence of saying no is uncertain, when you are overwhelmed by the fear of missing out? How do you decide when to say no?

In some instances, your decision to say no is going to be heavily influenced by the person asking. Whether it’s at work or at home, the power dynamics between you and the person doing the asking, or the nature of the relationship might significantly impact your answer. Afterall, it’s not hard to say no to someone with who you don’t have a personal or professional relationship or are seeking to build one with. However, saying no becomes much trickier when the person doing the asking, is someone with whom you have a valuable relationship, or one with whom you aspire to have one or preserve for personal or professional reasons.

Additionally, saying no, has the potential to take a toll on the person saying it, as well as to the person receiving it. For some people, the desire to help and do more while not being able, can drive negative thoughts and frustrations about their abilities and deep-seated emotions such as guilt and shame. While it’s important to acknowledge these emotions when they surface, dwelling on them after you have said no, is neither healthy nor helpful.

Why People Fear Saying No?

Many people fear saying no, because they don’t want to appear unambitious, unsupportive, lazy, uncaring, or selfish. They also avoid saying no to prevent themselves from disappointing others or hurting people’s feelings. In the process of doing so, they say yes, to the ever-increasing demands and priorities of their colleagues, friends, loved ones. Overtime, their inability to say no and set appropriate boundaries add up, and results in increased levels of stress and burnout. And they sacrifice themselves, their goals, their happiness and what is truly important to them. But what if you learned to say no as boldly as young children do?  Would saying no make you any less caring, supportive, or hardworking? Truth is, saying no does not make you any less of those things.

When you say no to a request, relationship, or opportunity, you might simply be stating any one or a combination of the following things:

  • I have the right to change my mind.
  • I don’t have the time, or this is not the right time for me.
  • This opportunity or relationship is not for me, or this is not what I want to do.
  • I have the right to decide how I spend my time, talents, and resources.
  • I have established clear and healthy boundaries for my relationships
  • I am choosing to put me first, and not the other person or the opportunity.
  • I will no longer choose to engage or invest my time, talents and energy in people, relationships and activities that do not uplift me or move me forward.

Just be careful to ensure that your no is not driven by bias, malice, resentment, or the desire to get back at someone.

How to Say No!

According to Susan Newman, PhD, “Saying ‘no’ is not something that comes naturally to the majority of people. Learning to say no is a skill that all of us can learn or get better at.” So, if you are struggling with saying no, here are seven tips from psychotherapist and author Johnathan Alpert (writing at INC Magazine) that can that help you deliver your no more effectively:

  1. Say it:  Rather than stalling or not providing a clear answer, it is recommended that you give a straight answer to the person making the request. While you are not required to give an explanation, you can provide a brief one if you feel inclined to do so. But the general rule to note is less is more.
  1. Be assertive and courteous: Though your answer might be disappointing to the requestor, the key is to be respectful. Whether you are saying I’m sorry I can’t right now but will let you know when and if I can.”  Or “I appreciate your asking me for help, but I’m stretched too thin right now to devote the time to be of quality help to you.”, be clear about what you do or don’t have the capacity for.
  1. Understand peoples’ tactics: People will use different tactics and emotional appeals to get you to do what they want. Be aware of these manipulation techniques and be ready to hold firmly to your no.
  1. Set boundaries: One reason people sometimes have a hard time saying no is because they haven’t taken the time to evaluate their relationships and understand their role within the relationship. When you truly understand the dynamic and your role, you might not feel as anxious about the consequences of saying no. If your relationships are strong, they will withstand, they can withstand your saying no.
  1. Put the question back on the person asking: This is highly effective in a work situation. Let’s say a supervisor is asking you to take on several tasks–more than you can handle. Alpert suggest that you might say, “I’m happy to do X, Y, and Z; however, I would need three weeks, rather than two, to do a good job. How would you like me to prioritize them?”
  1. Be firm: If someone can’t accept your no, that is probably a good indicator might not be a genuine friend or respect you. In such case, stand firm, and don’t feel compelled to give in just because that person is uncomfortable.
  1. Be selfish: Here Alpert suggests that you “Put your needs first. Not those of the person asking you for something. If you prioritize that person’s needs over yours, you’ll find your productivity will suffer and resentment will mount. Perhaps we can learn from Warren Buffett, who said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.”

Though you might still struggle with saying no, remember it is not possible to say yes to everything and everyone. Don’t allow yourself to be overtaken and stretched too thinly by the ever-increasing demands of those around. You will only make yourself miserable and become resentful in the process. Every time you fail to exercise the courage to say no, you sacrifice your peace of mind, your right to choose and your overall wellbeing for others. Saying no could simply mean you are choosing to follow your gut instincts, acknowledge your thoughts and feelings and you are listening to your body at this time.

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

Watch & Subscribe to My YouTube Channel for More Personal Growth & Professional Development Insights !

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The Hidden Costs of Saying Yes!

Quotes About Saying Yes
Quote About Saying Yes

Why Do People Say Yes?

Many of us go through our daily lives, continually saying yes to a range of requests and demands from others around us. With each interaction, we say yes to new tasks, responsibilities, opportunities and relationships. And every time you and I say yes, we expand our varied roles, add to our existing workload, schedules and obligations. And before you know it, you find that your bandwidth has shrunken, and you feel overextended from having stretched yourself too thin. With so many people struggling with fatigue, burnout and stress, why do you continue to say yes?

There are many reasons people say yes to the seemingly never-ending demands on their time, resources and talents. Some of the main reasons they say yes include, but are not limited to their need to:

  • Respond to challenges and seize new opportunities
  • Build and preserve relationships personally and professionally.
  • Meet the expectations and needs of friends and loved ones.
  • Fulfill varied roles and responsibilities related to work.
  • Learn new skills to enhance their growth and development
  • Expand their influence and impact on the world around them.
  • Be recognized, valued or affirmed.
  • Respect the power dynamic in relationships and organizations (Playing politics).
  • Avoid the consequences of saying no, or the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).

Regardless of your reason for saying yes, have you ever paused to consider the hidden costs of doing so?

The Power of Saying Yes

In her TED Talk- My Year of Saying Yes, Shonda Rhimes talked about her experiment where for one year, she said yes to everything that scared her, made her nervous and pushed her out of her comfort zone. Rhimes shared how the act of saying yes and doing the things that scared her, made them less scary. And she further explained how saying yes to everything, changed her, her life, helped her rediscover her creativity and ultimately saved her career. She is not alone. Founder of the Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson is also a big champion of saying yes.  According to Forbes, he earned the nickname Dr. Yes, because he prefers to say yes instead of no. And his belief in saying yes and “fortune favors the bold” were instrumental in shaping the Virgin Story.

Therefore, there is no denying that saying yes can be life changing. Whether it is to a marriage or business proposal, this three-letter word has the potential to open doors to great possibilities and to unleash power to those who say it. Afterall, saying yes to a call for volunteers can expand your personal and professional network and give a new sense of meaning to your life. Saying yes to a work assignment, can equip you with new skills or shift you towards a new and exciting career path. Saying yes, can provide you with limitless experiences and exposures that could expand your horizons.

The Hidden Costs of Saying Yes

Every yes you give, has an opportunity cost. With only 24 hours in a day, and 365 days in a year, time is a precious and scare commodity. Each time you say yes, you are saying no to something and someone else. And before you know it, your yeses can add up, and become very expensive to your well-being and overall personal effectiveness. For example, saying yes to a project team at work, might mean less time during the workday to complete your primary duties and potentially longer hours in the office. And saying yes to a new opportunity, could result in less time for leisure activities and downtime on the weekend with loved ones. So, with each yes you give, you risk taking on increasing responsibilities, which left unchecked can lead to you becoming overworked, overused and burnout.

And if your word is your bond, or you do as you say you will do, saying yes also obligates you to show up for others. A yes to a simple, small or random request from a co-worker, stranger or loved one, will require you to organize yourself and your resources to respond. This can become especially problematic for people who hold themselves to high standards. In that, the need to perform, meet expectations and fulfill promises, can create additional stress and pressure which can become burdensome fast. Ultimately, saying yes will require you to practice greater levels of prioritization and to make deliberate efforts to maintain work -life harmony.  So, each time you say yes, you put your reputation, resources and relationships on the line.

Additionally, being labelled a “yes- person” isn’t exactly flattering.  Saying yes to everything and everyone could create the impression that you’re a people pleaser. And that you lack the ability to communicate assertively what your needs, goals and priorities are. It might even suggest that you lack the ability to manage your time and set appropriate boundaries. So how do you decide when to say yes?

When to Say Yes?

I recently came across a quote that says, “It’s not hard to make decisions once you know what your values are.” This means that in saying yes, you should consider how your yes aligns to your priorities, broader objectives for your life and how you want to impact your world. But as you do that, you will still need to be careful not to bite off more than you can chew.

So, here are two tips from A.T. Gimbel that you can use to evaluate your yes /no and still maximize opportunities to achieve your goals and live a successful and fulfilling life:

  1. Evaluate your gum balls vs your glass balls:  According to this analogy, “Glass balls break when dropped and need to be handled immediately or the mess from it breaking is even worse to clean up. Rubber balls will keep bouncing over and over again and do not need to be immediately picked up. Eventually they stop bouncing and often roll away; worst case you have to stop and pick it back up. Say yes to the glass balls over rubber balls.”
  2. Be explicit about tradeoffs:  Ask yourself, “What am I saying no to if I say yes to this? If I am choosing between A or B, how do I make it clear to my customer/team/partner that I am making this prioritization?” Doing this will make it easier for you to explain and get support for the tradeoff you are making and why.

In the final analysis, you cannot and shouldn’t say yes to everything and everyone. Your yes should mean something and be given after you have considered your existing roles (at work and at home), the potential costs and benefits to you and your loved ones, and the impact you wish you have on the world around you.

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

Watch & Subscribe to My YouTube Channel for More Personal Growth &Professional Development Insights!

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Time for Action: If Not Now- When?

Time to Act

Riddle Me This, Riddle Me That:  Five frogs are sitting on a log. Four decide to jump off. How many are left?

If your first answer to the question is one, you would be wrong. The correct answer is five. You and I know, there is a big difference between deciding to do something and acting on it. Day after day, many of us fail to follow through on crucial decisions and best laid plans and remain on various logs in our personal and professional lives. Deciding to something does not equate to taking the required action. And from time to time, our inability to act undermines our progress and success in important areas of our lives. So are you one of the five frogs sitting on the log?  

If you are struggling to act on your important decisions and plans, you’re not alone. Research suggests that every year, up to 70 percent of people who make new year resolutions in January, lose their resolve by March of that same year. And according to the statistics, “Of those that made a resolution in 2020, 35% kept all their resolutions, 49% kept some of their resolutions, and only 16% failed at keeping any of their resolutions.  So, what is standing in the way of you following through and actively pursuing your goals and dreams?

Common Reasons Why People Fail to Act?

There is no one reason to explain why people fail to act on their decisions. Like the frogs sitting on the log, the reasoning behind an individual’s failure to act, or follow through with their expressed intentions and plans, can be explained by any one or combination of the following factors.

The Law of Diminishing Intent

According to the Law of Diminishing Intent, “The longer you wait to do something you should do now, the greater the odds that you will never actually do it.” For example, if you decided to take vacation and travel this year, but took no action to request the time off or buy your tickets by a certain time, that vacation is less likely to happen. Whether your decision or plan is to travel, go back to school, change careers, or make a big move, when you act is crucial. Nonetheless, many people use waiting for the “right timing” to justify not acting. And before you know it, days turns into a week, weeks into months, months into years and later regrets that they never did what they planned to.

So, is there ever a right time? That is, the perfect set of conditions for you to launch that new business, start that home project, expand the family, write that book, overhaul your finances, or make that lifestyle change to improve your health? Probably not. The last few years of the pandemic forced both individuals and organizations to pivot and adapt as the world as we knew changed. Whether we liked it or not, were ready or not, most of us were forced to learn new skills, adjust to new technologies, processes, and systems.

Many of us had to figure out how to work effectively and productively from home and to conduct business, serve customers, attend church, and school online. And we even had to get creative about keeping connected and celebrating holidays, milestones while socially distancing. If anything, we learned that “time waits for no man” and the true meaning of “carpe diem or “seize the day”.

Fear of Failure

Another reason why people fail to act in the direction of their dreams and goals is the “fear of failure”. At some point or another, we have all had to grapple with the fear of failure and to take big leaps of faith to overcome it. But for some people, the fear of failure is a bigger and potentially crippling emotion. According to the University of Kentucky,  the “ irrational and extreme fear of failing or facing uncertainty is a phobia known as atychiphobia.  And this “irrational fear of failure (caused by a traumatic event or experience)  can make a person doubt one’s abilities and believe that they are not good enough to try new things.

In extreme cases, atychiphobia keeps a person stuck within their comfort zone and prevents them from moving forward in life. Regardless of whether the fear of failure is mild or extreme (phobia), if not managed, it has the potential to prevent you from achieving your personal and professional goals or making progress towards having a meaningful and fulfilling life.

Analysis Paralysis

A third explanation for why people fail to act on the decisions they make is analysis paralysis. This is where you spend a great deal of time thinking about a decision to be made, researching to gather information on your options, weighing the benefits and risks, asking for additional advice to inform your decision and still fail to act. While analysis paralysis might be motivated by a strong desire to make the right choice, the decision making and planning process will yield nothing, if you do nothing. Overthinking a decision does nothing to move you forward. Instead, it can lead to further procrastination, self-doubt, and create the impression of acting but doing nothing at all. 

Perfectionism + Procrastination

Like paralysis analysis, the twin combo of perfectionism and procrastination also prevent people from acting on their goals. According to Healthline, “people with perfectionism hold themselves to impossibly high standards and think what they do is never good enough.” This causes them to procrastinate and delay acting while they try to make every perfect. In so doing, the small imperfect efforts to just get started and the gradual improvements that can be achieved overtime are dismissed or overlooked as not good enough. To avoid procrastination and perfectionism, acknowledge that you might not have all you think you need. Recognize that sometimes all you truly need to get started, is what you have.  Don’t allow doubt (your and others) about your abilities to keep from taking action.

Time for Action

In the final analysis, people make decisions on big and small issues and fail to act on them every day. Decisions mean nothing without action, and acting requires courage and conviction. Since history does not reveal its alternatives, you will never know what your failure to act might cost you in the long run, or what life changing opportunities you gave up as a result.  Sometimes the best opportunities, are hidden beneath the cloak of wrong timing, not being the most qualified and not having all the money or support you need. By taking a leap of faith, you might come to realize how talented, resilient, resourceful, strong and creative you are.

So, back to the frogs on the log in the riddle – what decision or plan have you been sitting on? When will you jump? And if not now, when will you take action to leap toward your goals?

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

Watch & Subscribe to My YouTube Channel for More Personal Growth & Professional Development Insights

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Who Are You? How to Understand Your Identity!

Question -asking- Who -Are -You? Image
Who Are You? Image

Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I—I hardly know, Sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

Alice in Wonderland-Lewis Carrol

Who Are You, is not the typical question many of us get asked daily, nor is Who Am I, a question many of us normally ask ourselves. Yet as simple and straight forward as these questions might seem, many people struggle to conceptualize and communicate a response that clearly expresses their self-concept/self-identity or how they see themselves. When asked the question-who are you, many of us go with the obvious responses that include sharing our name, job title, family relations, hobbies, religious beliefs, and cultural background. While these responses explain parts of our self -identity, they barely scratch the surface of who we are as individuals. The “who are you” question challenges us to, pause and think about our beliefs, perspectives, experiences, values and how we make sense of the world around us.

So, who are you and why should you care?

Understanding Self- Identity

How do you identify yourself?

  • Do you identify according to your job/skills?
  • Do you identify yourself according to your family relations?
  • Do you identify according to your feelings or your natural talents?  
  • Do you identify according to you race or socio-economic status?  

Encyclopedia.com defines “Self-identity refers to a person’s self-conception, or self-definition that people apply to themselves because of the structural role positions he or she occupies or a particular behavior he or she engages in regularly. Self-identities reflect the “labels people use to describe themselves” (Biddle, Bank, and Slavings 1987, p. 326).”  

Based on this, there are no straightforward answers to the question of who we are.  Since none of us are any one thing, our self-identity is just as complex as we are. Like onions, our self-identity has several different layers and can shift as we grow, mature, and evolve. Nonetheless, our self-identity affects how we show up and approach life, bounce back from hardships, work with others, develop and maintain relationships, make decisions, and navigate life challenges.  And, understanding who we are, can help us cope with stress, improve work performance, and increase our overall psychological well-being.

What is Social Identity?

The societies we live in and our cultural backgrounds play a huge role in defining our self-concept/identity. And the concept of social identity offers us one of the best ways of developing a better understanding of who we are and how others experience us. The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), defines social identity as “the labels that people use to categorize or identify themselves and/or others as members of specific groups.” Afterall, how we see ourselves influences how we interact with and treat others. And as organizations and workplaces become more diverse, understanding our social identity will also determines how we lead, manage and work with others.

CCL- Social Identity Model
CCL- Social Identity Model

Based on  CCL research, our social identity is made up of three parts represented by concentric circles.

  1. Given Identity: This is the outer ring which presents information about our ascribed characteristics for which we had no choice about. They include traits we received at birth such as name, nationality, race, ethnicity, sex, and personality and other physical descriptors such as height and age.
  1. Chosen Identity: This second ring represents characteristics that you control, the choices you made and the skills you have. Examples of your given identity includes your career or occupational choices, religion, hobbies, political affiliation, sexual orientation, and relationship status etc.
  2. Core Identity: The innermost ring signifies the qualities that make you unique. While some of these may change over your life, areas such as behaviors, values, and deep-seated beliefs remain constant.

Social Identity Example

Based on this social identity model, my given identity, includes being a 42 years old, 5ft. 6in. black woman who was born in Kingston, Jamaica to a teenage mom. I have two sisters and one brother. I’m extroverted, outgoing, assertive and love people. For my chosen identity, I am educated to the graduate level and have spent the last 18 years working as a learning and organizational development professional. I reside in USA and have dual citizenship. I am also a single mom to one beautiful daughter, a Christian and friend. I enjoy reading, writing, dancing, swimming, watching movies, great conversations and hanging out with friends. At my core, I believe God, I love people and I am passionate about learning. I value friendships, responsibility, consistency, communication, and love. And I am deeply committed to becoming a better version of myself and helping others so the same. So how about you?

And just as our social identities can change, some aspects of identity can be less or more noticeable depending on where we live. For example, when I lived in Jamaica, I never paid much attention to what being Jamaican meant. But, when I moved to the Northern Virginia area with a more diverse population, my identity as a Jamaican became increasingly significant. As I interacted with my new environment, I experienced a need to maintain my self-identity, while I sought to reinvent myself and to establish who I am and where I come from. Suddenly, my car had Jamaican plate holders and little flag, my ID lanyard at work was in Jamaican colors and I made sure to speak Patois more often than I ever did while living in Jamaica.  

Challenges to Self Identity

So, what happens when who you are changes? That is, the way you see yourself and your identity is challenged.

Major life events such as migration, an accident, death, divorce, debilitating illness, and other hardships can fundamentally change aspects of our identities. These changes to identity may cause some people to question their WHY, lose their way, their sense of purpose and to struggle with how they see themselves as well with other people’s perceptions of them. In fact, studies by Harvard Business Review, reveal that transitional experiences, such as job changes or romantic breakups, typically decrease self-concept clarity.

The research also goes on to state that “when living abroad, people’s exposure to novel cultural values and norms prompts them to repeatedly engage with their own values and beliefs, which are then either discarded or strengthened.”  On the other hand, the studies also states that another common response some people have to moving abroad is culture shock. In that, the “anxiety that results from losing all of our familiar signs and symbols can produce a level of anxiety  that leaves them feeling alienated and isolated and unable to establish a clear sense of self”.

When all is said and done, understanding our self-identity may help us to find commonalities with others around us, bolster our self-confidence and improve our overall self-awareness. In turn, this can improve our abilty to develop and maintain positive relationships, reduce communication breakdowns and misunderstandings. And best of all, knowing who we are can also enhance our capacity to deal with stress, adapt to change, be resilient and navigate life’s challenges. So, know thyself.

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearninglife!

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Let’s Talk About Your WHY?

Definition- of -Why

What’s your WHY?

Imagine for a second that you were in a conversation, or an interview and you were asked the question- What is your WHY? How would you respond? Would your answer explain why you do your job or had taken that specific career path? When asked this question, most people immediately begin by talking about their work and sharing what their job is all about. If you did this, you would be wrong, but you’re not alone. The What is your WHY question,” is not meant to uncover why you do your job. Instead, it is intended to have you think about the deep-seated reason that motivates you to get out of bed each morning (not money). Your WHY speaks to the purpose for which you were created, the thing you are most passionate about, or the role or contribution you play in the lives of others and the world around you.  So, what is your WHY?

Writing in his book ‘Start with Why’ Simon Sinek explains that, while every one of us has a WHY, a reason for being, not all of us know what it is, or are able to clearly or confidently articulate it. Sinek explains that, knowing your WHY, and being able to communicate it clearly, is a game changer and differentiator between highly successful and inspiring people and companies and their less successful or inspiring counterparts. He further adds that knowing our WHY, help us to wake up inspired to go to work and come home at the end of the day feeling fulfilled by the work we do. Knowing our WHY, provides us with the ability to inspire and influence people and enlist their support and loyalty. And the people who know their WHY, are driven by a purpose and a cause that enables them to push past their disappointments and mistakes to do what they believe they are called to do. Therefore, do you know your WHY?

Start with WHY!

In Start with Why, Sinek uses the “golden circle model” “to explain that every organization, every person regardless of their industry operates on three levels – what we do, how we do it and why we do it.  What we do refers to our job/role, products, or services we sell. The how we do it is related to what makes us different from our competitors and stand out in the crowd.” Sinek (2017) argues that once you understand your WHY, the better able you will be to express what makes you feel fulfilled and satisfied, and to better understand what drives your behavior when you are at your best. Knowing your WHY enables you to be more intentional about the choices you make for your business, career, and your life. Knowing your WHY, allows you to work with purpose, and to do things on purpose, to achieve your goals and create the life you want or desire. And when you do that, Sinek explains that you will have a point of reference or road map for everything you do going forward.

For as long as I can remember, I have always had a passion for leading, learning, sharing and engaging with others. And when I look back at my life over the years, transitioning from childhood to young adulthood, whether it was student leadership, speech, drama or debating clubs, I can see many clear examples of me always being involved in activities that gave me many opportunities to influence others, use my voice, share ideas, and help others. While I didn’t always know my WHY, this passion led me to my first teaching opportunity where I tutored undergraduate students on campus while pursuing graduate studies. And it would later help me transition to my first professional role, where I facilitated adult learning with working professionals who were seeking to improve their knowledge and skills through lifelong learning, education and professional development.  

Today my journey continues, and I know that my WHY is to “lead, learn, engage, and develop people wherever I go.” Therefore, I am passionate about helping people grow and develop to become a better version of themselves- personally and professionally. As a result, I use my skills, lessons, experiences to share insights and resources to help others navigate their own journeys towards personal and professional development and to impact their world for good. It is this bigger purpose that motivates me to write this Blog even when I doubt anyone will read it, or to start a YouTube channel even though I questioned if anyone would find the content useful.

It is also this same WHY that drives me to volunteer at my daughter’s school, at church, at work and to pay it forward and serve my community. And in my day job, this strong belief drives my commitment to working collaboratively with others, to continue to bravely ask the hard questions that challenges the status quo and to share ideas and suggestions for new initiatives (Even when they are not approved or implemented.) And at the end of the day, this bigger purpose helps me to find meaning and fulfillment in my life.

So, how can you find or discover your why?

Find Your Why!

To discover your WHY, the authors of Find Your WHY offers up several strategies that organizations, teams and individuals can use for their WHY discovery. For individuals, they suggest that you work with a partner (preferably not a loved one or friend) to follow the three-step process below to develop your WHY story that will help you discover and articulate your WHY:  

Step 1- Gather Stories and Share them: According to the authors, “each of us has only one WHY. Our WHY is an origin story which we can develop by looking at the most significant experiences in our lives, the people who influenced us, the highs, and the lows to identify the patterns. Our WHY is not a statement about who we aspire to be, it expresses who we are when at our natural best. And this helps us to identify and play to our strengths (See previous post and video).

 Step 2- Identify Themes: As you reflect on your defining life experiences and share your stories with your partner, notice the themes and insights about yourself about yourself that you may never have expressed before. As the process unfolds, the themes will get bigger and more important.

Step 3- Draft and Refine a Why Statement: According to the authors, your WHY story should culminate in a WHY statement that starts with TO________SO THAT___________.  The first blank represents the contribution you make to the lives of others and the second blank represents the impact of your contributions. Your WHY statement should be simple, clear, actionable. It should also focus on the effect you will have on others and expressed in positive language that resonates with you. For example, my WHY statement is: To Lead, Learn, Engage and Develop People Wherever I Go, So That they can grow and develop to become a better version of themselves (personally and professionally) and impact their world for good.

Finally, I have seen individuals struggle with feeling a lack of self-worth, direction, and fulfillment with their lives because they didn’t know their purpose or how to discover it. Knowing your purpose will help you to stay committed to your beliefs, focused on your goals when you face setbacks, or are struggling to find the motivation to continue. So, if you or someone you know is finding it difficult to determine their WHY, find someone to help you take the time to use the three steps mentioned to start your process of digging deep . The process will help you to uncover the moments when you have been at your best and the defining life experiences that shaped you and influenced the person you have become. And as you do so, I hope you find your WHY and discover a new and more powerful reason for getting out of bed each morning and leave a legacy you can be proud of.

Until next time, Remember, It’sALearningLife!

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It’s Not Your IQ, It’s Your EQ?

Head -with-A -Heart-Image
Head-With A -Heart

EQ or IQ- Which One Matters More?

Much like the soft skills debate, there is a seemingly never-ending debate about whether cognitive intelligence (IQ) or emotional intelligence (EQ/EI) matters more for your success. For a long time, IQ or book smarts has served as a key predictor for an individual’s success in life and to determine who is afforded opportunities and who is likely to be more effective on the job. Overtime, this bias towards cognitive intelligence has resulted in a perception that intelligence (IQ) matters more than its emotional intelligence counterpart. And this misguided approach has led many people to focus more on developing their intelligence (IQ) and to neglect or minimize the value of emotional intelligence (EQ)in their efforts to improve personally and professionally. But not so anymore.

An overwhelming amount of research suggests that “more real-world problems get solved with people skills than raw intelligence. That means you can get more bang for your self-improvement buck by focusing on EQ”.  Google, also adds that “leaders with high emotional intelligence make better decisions”.  “Emotional intelligence gives you the ability to read the environment around you, to grasp what other people want and need, what their strengths and weakness are; to remain unruffled by stress and to be the kind of person others want to be around” (Stein& Book 2011).

What is Emotional Intelligence?

According to the authors of Emotional Intelligence and Your Success, intelligence, or IQ “is the measure of an individual’s intellectual, analytical, logical and rational abilities. It gauges how readily you learn new things, focus on task and retain information, engage in a reasoning process and solve problems”. Simply put, your intelligence speaks to your capacity to carry out a specific activity, perform a technical skill and certain tasks. On the other hand, emotional intelligence can be defined as “a set of emotional and social skills that influence the way we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain social relationships, cope with challenges, and use emotional informational in an effective and meaningful way”.  

Therefore, your ability to demonstrate emotional intelligence will determine your ability to influence others, communicate effectively, resolve conflict, and build and maintain healthy, positive, and productive relationships personally and professionally.  In other words, your emotional intelligence or street smarts are key to how you live and operate in the world around you. People operating with high IQ and low EQ are like wrecking balls that can potentially damage or destroy everything and everyone in their path. By not being able to identify and manage their own emotions and to recognize and respond to the emotions of others, they create conflict and toxic environments which make it difficult for people to live and work with them.

Why is Emotional Intelligence Important at Work?

Over the last few years of the pandemic, we have seen a huge amount of change and disruptions in every area of our personal and professional lives. Now more than ever, many employees find themselves struggling to navigate the new emotional landscape at work and to cope with unprecedented levels of stress, burnout, uncertainty, and grief driven by the pandemic. The pressing need to constantly pivot and change the way we do business, work, or serve clients, have taken a physical and psychological toll on employees mental and emotional well-being. Today, many employees report feeling increasing levels of anxiety, unhappiness, social isolation, and fatigue.

To respond effectively to all these challenges in the environment, emotional intelligence matters individually and organizationally. For leaders in organizations, leading with emotional intelligence means communicating clearly and frequently to reduce uncertainty, having a pulse on what employees are feeling in response to change, determining what is motivating them or not and implementing strategies to support the emotional and mental well-being of their employees. Managing with emotional intelligence will require supervisors to be flexible with how they manage the performance of their direct reports who might be struggling with meeting deliverables and showing empathy to employees who are experiencing tough times.

On an individual level, having emotional intelligence will help an employee to build and maintain positive and healthy personal relationships with their co-workers, show care and empathy for each other, collaborate, work effectively in teams, solve problems effectively, cope with stress and navigate change. Employees with strong emotional intelligence, are more self-aware and better able to manage themselves and their emotions and set boundaries to protect their overall well-being. 

How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence Skills?

To build your emotional intelligence skills, it is important to understand the different dimensions of EQ. According to the Bar-On Model  of emotional intelligence and social intelligence, EQ can be broken down into five dimensions and 15 characteristics  summarized below:

  1. Self-Perception: This refers to your ability to understand your emotions (emotional self-awareness), pursue self-improvement (self-actualization) and the extent to which you have confidence and respect yourself (self-regard).
  1. Self-Expression: This speaks to your ability to be self-directed (independence), communicate your feelings and beliefs in a non-offensive way (assertiveness) and constructively express yourself (emotional expression).
  1. Interpersonal:  This focuses on your ability to form and maintain mutually satisfying relationships (interpersonal relationships), appreciate how others feel(empathy) and help others around you (social consciousness).
  1. Decision Making: This includes your ability to be objective (reality testing), find solutions when emotions are involved (problem solving) and to delay or resist an impulse to act.
  1. Stress Management:  This deals with your ability to cope with stressful situations (stress management), overcome adversity, maintain a positive outlook on life(optimism) and to be adaptable with your thoughts and behaviors (flexibility).

One additional indicator of this emotional social intelligence model is – happiness. This measures the degree to which you feel content with your life, your ability to enjoy yourself and others and experience joy in a range of activities. Altogether, these elements represent what it means to be emotional intelligent and the skills you will need to demonstrate it. It is important to note that your performance in any one or combination of these dimensions can be stronger or higher than the others. The key here is to identify areas where you have gaps and work towards strengthening them.

So, how do you rate your emotional intelligence skills?

Which area (s) might you need to improve?

Where do you intend to start?

The good news is- emotional intelligence is a skill that you can develop and strengthen overtime. Your journey toward becoming emotional intelligent will need to start with an honest self-assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, a recognition of your limitations and intentional efforts on your part to address them. Enlist the support of trusted friends, coworkers, and family members to provide you with feedback that will help you to identify the blind spots that might be affecting how you show up and impact others. When all is said and done, your emotional intelligence will determine the quality of your relationships at work and in your personal life, ability to bounce back and overcome adversity, manage stress, make decisions, and find meaning and satisfaction in your life. 

So, when it comes to intelligence – Your EQ, not Your IQ Matters More! Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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How to Get Your Personal Board of Directors!

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Chess Pieces- Image

Do you have a personal board of directors?

Every successful company has a board of directors or governance structure that is responsible for providing the necessary oversight and direction for it to grow, perform and succeed. So, if you are the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the company called you, shouldn’t you also have a personal board of directors? I first came across the concept of a personal board of directors (PBOD), while participating in a leadership development program. The concept was introduced as a key tool or strategy for professionals to use to manage their professional development and career success. Not unlike a company’s board of directors, Forbes explain that “Your personal board of directors “exists to act as a sounding board, to advise you and to provide you with feedback on your life decisions, opportunities and challenges”. This article will explain why you need a personal board of directors and offer guidelines on how you can use this tool to advance your career goals.

Why a Personal Board of Directors?

Are you feeling stuck or wondering about your next career move? Do you need advice to deal with a difficult situation at work?  A personal board of directors can help you. Throughout my career, I have benefited from having trusted advisers who have provided input, guidance, and encouragement to help me navigate crucial career decisions and manage challenging work problems. Similarly, a personal board of directors exists to:

  • Provide advice and perspectives that will help you craft a vision and strategy for your career success.
  • Hold you accountable for your actions and behaviors, as you work towards executing key activities relating to your goals.
  • Help you identify new opportunities and provide feedback to help you to grow and improve.
  • Be an advocate for you in rooms where you don’t have an ear or a seat.

Who Should Be on Your Personal Board of Directors?

Who you select to be on your personal board of directors is critical for its success and yours. While your personal board of directors might include a friend or loved one, that should not be the main criteria for selecting the persons who will serve in these important roles. According to Harvard Business Review, “The people on your board of directors should know more than you about something, be better than you are at something, or offer different points of view. Choose people who can make different contributions to your thinking.”  Using these criteria, your board members could include a current or previous manager or a colleague you admire — or both. Regardless of your job, your PBOD should include people who are experts in your field or industry. Relying heavily friends or relatives for guidance on key career choices, will limit your ability to get the objective advice you need to pivot, grow, and take your professional development and career to the next level.  

Positions for Your Personal Board

While there is no fixed rule, your typical personal board of directors should have 3-4 members with the following roles or positions:

  • Coach:  By asking powerful questions, this is the person(s) who will engage you in deep and reflective conversations about your behaviors and actions. Your coach will provide feedback that might be uncomfortable to hear and help you to deepen your self-awareness by holding up a mirror to yourself.
  • Mentor: This is someone senior to you that you respect and trust. Your mentor(s) should have experience in navigating an area you are struggling with or have expertise on a subject that you aspire to grow or upskill.
  • Sponsor: This is a person of influence at your current organization. Your sponsor’s role is to look out for you, spot trends, and help you make connections to expand your professional network and boost your visibility and impact at work.
  • Peer Mentor: This is a trusted colleague that supports you and is always willing to lend a helping hand. Your peer mentor should be someone you often share, learn and collaborate with.

When it comes to putting your board together, bigger does not always mean better. The roles you choose might depend on your specific career goals. Ultimately, the size of your PBOD will depend on your needs and the availability of the people in your network to support you in this regard. It is also important to note that your PBOD does not need to meet at any one time. The key is to consult each member of your board when you have important career decisions to make, and when you need help with coming up with a plan of action.

Directional -Signs- Image
Directional -Signs- Image

Guidelines to Build Your Personal Board of Directors

I have utilized my personal board of directors at crucial stages of my career. I remember a few years ago when I was struggling to stay engaged at work due to a hurtful work situation. I shared my challenge with my coach, and our monthly conversations were instrumental in helping me move past the discouragement I was feeling and get back on track with my goals.  Similarly, my current mentor was the hiring manager for a job I interviewed for and failed to get. After the interview, I reached out to him for feedback to help me prepare for my next opportunity. That conversation led to me asking him if he would be my mentor and he agreed. Since then, he has helped me to come up with strategies to navigate challenges in my current role.

Over the last few years, I have had a few sponsors at different levels of my organization. My sponsors have provided leads and opportunities for me to make important connections to expand my network and increase visibility for the work I do. My peer mentors remain a source of ongoing learning, shared collaborations, and encouragement.

So, are you ready to set up your personal board of directors?

Forbes offers some guidelines that you can use to put your board of director in place:

  1. Choose people who you regularly keep in touch with, so when you ask for their help, it feels like a natural partnership to them. It is also important to build rapport and maintain positive relationships with them.
  2. Once they have agreed to serve on your board, let them know that you appreciate their guidance and will carefully consider it, whether you follow their advice or not. You should also let your PBOD members know how their assistance helped you with a decision or moved you closer to achieving your career goal.
  3. Since serving on your board is an unpaid role, think of ways that you can give back to your board. Think about what you can do for them or who you can introduce them to. You can also offer to help them out with a project that you are skilled in.
  4. Respect your PBOD’s time. Establish what their availability looks like from the start, the most convenient time to meet and the best channel to use to stay in touch. When you do meet, be prepared, and have clear objectives for the check in.

Finally, your career and professional development are serious matters and should be treated as such. Surround yourself with the right people who have the experience, expertise and connections to help you position yourself to level up!

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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Hard vs Soft Skills: Why You Need Both!

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Hard Vs. Soft Skills? -Image

“While hard skills may get a candidate’s foot in the door, it’s soft skills that ultimately open it”.

Lydia Lui – LinkedIn Global Talent Trends 2019 Report

When it comes to hard and soft skills, there is a big debate about which of these skillsets bring a greater value or a higher premium to the workplace.  This debate usually raises questions about whether employers should hire more for hard or soft skills? And which one of these skills (hard or soft) makes for the most effective employees?

When recruiters and hiring managers post new positions or write job descriptions, they usually outline the preferred qualifications, skills and experience they want in the ideal candidate for the job. For a longtime, the typical position description and recruiting process were skewed towards prioritizing candidates’ hard skills rather than soft skills. Afterall, the successful candidate selected for any job needs technical skills to perform effectively. While hard skills still remain important, this dynamic is changing. The last few years has seen an increasing recognition and strong demand from hiring managers and companies who are looking for employees who have both strong soft and hard skills. This shift signals that now, more than ever, soft skills matter for your success.

According to the LinkedIn Global Trends Report 2019, “80% of companies say that soft skills are increasingly important to company success.” The report also stated that while “Soft skills have always been important, they’re increasingly vital today. Hard skills alone are no longer enough to be successful.” Moreover, “Most hiring and firing decisions come down to soft skills”. This trend toward prioritizing both hard and soft skills is also reflected in the increasing use of behavioral interview questions to assess candidates hard and soft skills in job interviews. So, what are hard and soft skills?

Soft Skills vs Hard Skills

Balance Careers define soft skills as the “interpersonal attributes you need to succeed in the workplace. They are how you work with and relate to others. Soft skills enable you to fit in at the workplace.” No matter what you call them (interpersonal skills/people skills or transferable skills), this set of skills are of huge importance to employers trying to find people with the right attitude and character traits needed to do the job well. Hiring managers are also using situational interviews to assess candidates people skills to determine whether they might be a good fit for their teams. Your soft skills include and are not limited to your personality, attitude & mindset, your communication style, your flexibility, ability to work cooperatively and collaboratively with others in a team, how you lead, adapt and deal with change.  

On the other hand, GCF Global defines hard skills  as “Concrete skills that are specific to your job and are required for you to actually do your work. For example, if you’re a chef, cooking would be a hard skill. Or if you’re a computer programmer, coding would be a hard skill.” These technical skills are usually developed as a part of your formal education, training, and experience.

Different -Skills- Needed- for- the -Job-Image
Different Skills Needed for the Job- Image

Making the Case for Both Soft & Hard Skills

Since the start of the pandemic, people across the world have had to deal with more change, stress, uncertainty, and loss than ever before. Both employees and employers have been forced to constantly pivot and adapt to respond and cope with the challenges in the environment. And mental health, stress and burnout have now become hot button issues for organization to tackle to support their staff. Consequently, the need for employee to have and utilize soft skills such as communication, empathy, interpersonal skills, teamwork, critical thinking has never been greater or more urgent. As such, companies have had to become more intentional about equipping leaders and managers with the soft skills to care for their teams and to create a culture that supports their mental, physical, and emotional well-being

So, what are the soft skills that are in high demand?

Based on the Monster’s The Future of Work 2021: Global Hiring Outlook report, the most important skills that employers want are: Teamwork/collaboration, Communication and Problem solving/critical thinking. Meanwhile, the LinkedIn 2019 Global Talent Trends report, suggested that the top five soft skills that are organizations need, but they have a difficult time finding are:

  • Creativity
  • Persuasion
  • Collaboration
  • Adaptability
  • Time Management

So, how do you measure up with these skills? Where might you have a soft skills gap or an opportunity to develop.

Addressing Your Soft Skills Gaps

While soft skills are not as easy to measure as hard skills, they are easy to observe and spot when lacking. In today’s world of hybrid work, poor communication, and problem-solving skills, coupled with an unwillingness to change and work collaboratively in a team, will undermine your success. So how can you develop or strengthen your soft skills to improve your chances for success and promotion at work?

  1. Do a Self-Assessment: Start by reviewing your job description to identify the soft skills needed for your role. Then conduct a personal SWOT analysis or some other form of self-assessment to identify the key soft skills needed to be successful in your role. These could be social, emotional, or cognitive. You could also ask your coworkers, supervisor and those closest to you for feedback on one area you can improve. Use the insights gained to make efforts to address your soft skill weak spots.
  2. Find a Coach or Mentor:  We all have blind -spots and depending on your level of self-awareness, you might be operating in yours. By working with a coach, you will be able to share your challenges and benefit from having a trusted person ask you deep questions that can help you work through your issues and come up with better ways to handle difficult situations. Similarly, your mentor might be an expert in an area you are trying to improve. Take advantage or their knowledge and experience to help you learn how to tackle your growth and development.
  3. Utilize Soft Skills Building Training/Learning Resources: There are no limits to the variety of resources and personal development opportunities available to you online. Depending on how you like to learn, choose between trainings that are self-paced, live on-line or an in-person workshop (if available).  Alternatively, you can also use other informal tools such as books, videos, and podcast (see previous post) to provide you with insights and advice to level up your soft skills.
  4. Practice, Practice, Practice: For some people, soft skills might be harder to develop and could require a considerable investment of time and effort. Even so, the only way to get better at active listening or being empathetic is to intentionally put these skills into practice in your everyday interactions. The more frequently you flex your soft skills muscles, the stronger they will become.

Finally, when it comes to hard and soft skills, you do not get to choose. If you are talented or highly skilled and cannot get along with others, you will not be successful in the long term. And if you are a super nice person but are lacking the core hard skills required for your role, your overall performance will suffer. To be hirable and successful, you need both hard and soft skills. Therefore, you need to continually assess your hard and soft -skills and find opportunities that will enable you to develop and improve both!

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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How to S.T.A.R. Your Next Job Interview!

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Your Chance -Adobe Stock Image

You’ve dusted off your resume, applied for a couple of jobs and have landed a job interview. You’re excited, but now, it’s time to prepare for the job interview and to polish up your interviewing skills. Whether the interview is in-person or online, many people find formulating the best responses to the interviewer(s) questions to be the trickiest or most nerve -wracking part of the job search process. And today, most companies are shifting away from traditional interview questions in favor of behavioral type questions which provide the interviewer(s) with greater insights on the candidates’ capabilities to perform the role being hired for. So, being able to effectively respond to behavioral type interview questions will help you stand out and be a star in your next job interview.

Traditional vs Behavioral Interviews

When it comes to job interviews, there are two types of questions that are commonly used- behavioral and traditional. Behavioral type interview questions are based on the premise that past behavior is a great predictor of future performance. As such, interviewees are asked to respond to questions by using specific and concrete example of how they have successfully applied their skills and expertise in the past. The examples or stories they provide for these behavioral interview questions give the interviewer(s) crucial information about the candidate’s capacity and capability to do the job.

Behavioral type questions usually begin with or include phrases that ask you to:

  • Tell me about a time when…
  • What do you do when…
  • Have you ever…
  • Give me an example of…
  • Describe a…

On the other hand, traditional(classic) interviews uses specific questions that produce straight forward responses. Examples of traditional interview questions include but are not limited to:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why did you leave your last job?
  • What do you see yourself 3-5 years from now?
  • What makes you the best candidate for this job?
  • How do you deal with conflict?
  • What do you consider to be your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
  • What would your previous supervisor say about your work performance?
Three Flags with Interview Questions-image
Interview Questions- Adobe Stock Images

How to Use the S.T.A.R Interview Method

S.T.A.R. is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, Result.  This method provides interviewees with an effective way of ensuring that their responses to interview questions are clear, concise and demonstrates their competence and expertise. With this approach, interviewees are encouraged to use the different elements of the method, to provide clear examples/ stories of how they have performed in previous roles to showcase their knowledge, skills and experience.

  • Situation:  For this first step, you will need to draw on past experience to provide the interviewer(s) with a relevant example of a situation you were in and explain what you were required to do. Your response should help the interviewer understand the who, what, where, when, and why of the scenario.
  • Task: Having described the situation, the next step is to state your position, your objective and what you were responsible for doing in the scenario being shared.
  • Action: In this step, you will need to clearly outline the actions you took to achieve the goal or complete the assignment.
  • Result: Finally, you will be required to describe the outcome or what happened because of the actions you took. Bear in mind that your response should reflect positive outcomes. If you failed or things didn’t go as planned, be ready to share with the interviewer (s) what you learned or gained from that experience.

As you share your stories or examples, remember that the star in the scenarios you share should be you. Interviews that use behavioral type questions are not an opportunity for you to show off your teamwork skills (unless asked to share an example of how you work in teams). The questions are intended to draw out what you have done in the past and your expertise. Use I statements, instead of We to help the interviewers understand what you have done and what you are capable of. So, use the suggested prompts to keep your answers brief and don’t ramble on.

How to Develop Your S.T.A.R. Example/Story

I frequently have opportunities to conduct interviews as a member of interview panels. Before the interview starts, the panel meets to discuss the position, interview questions, what we are looking for in the ideal candidate for the job and to go over the rubric or scoring sheet that we will be using to assess each candidate. While all candidates being interviewed qualify for the position and might be able to do the job, how they respond to the interview questions is the key differentiator or litmus test for who will be selected for the role. I have seen instances where someone who is acting in the position interviews for the role and not get selected, and instances where the best candidate on paper interviews poorly. From the experience of being on both sides of the table/screen, I know the importance of answering interviewing questions effectively.

How can you share stories or examples that tie your experience and accomplishments back to the question to showcase your skills and expertise?

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!

Every job posting/ announcement carries a description of the responsibilities of the position, key words and the important skills and abilities that the employer is looking for. To use the STAR method effectively, you will need to prepare by reviewing the job description to identify the essential skills needed to execute the role successfully. Examples of these could include project management, customer service, leadership and management, database management, financial management/budgeting and so on. Since these skills will be the focus of the interview, you must be ready to share your relevant experience with the interviewer/panel.

Once you have identified the key skills, reflect on your previous experiences and exposures (work or volunteer) to find specific examples of a time when you used those skills.  Then use the S.T.A.R. method to write a clear and positive story of your best example managing a project, leading a team, or developing budgets. Write down an example/story for as many of the key that were listed in the posting. While you won’t know the questions beforehand or the type that will be asked in the interview, the examples you have prepared will help you tie in your experiences and accomplishment to whatever questions you are asked.  

S.T.A.R. Method Example

Here is an example below of the S.T.A.R. Method in action from Flex Jobs:

1. “Tell me about a time when you experienced conflict on the team and how did you resolve it?

  • Situation: I was tasked with implementing a new project management system. This meant I had to coordinate the tasks and goals across several teams. Unfortunately, there was a long-simmering conflict between two of the team leaders who were going to have to work closely on this project.
  • Task: I started by creating the timeline, then figuring out when those two people would work together to accomplish joint tasks.
  • Action: I met with each of them individually to explain that they would be working together and asked how I could help things work smoothly. As a result of those meetings, I was asked to sit in on all of their project meetings as a neutral third party and provide feedback. I was also copied on every written communication to ensure things were handled professionally and appropriately.
  • Result: There were a few times when friction was a problem. But, because I was involved from day one and acted as a neutral third party, we were able to finish the project on time. Projects that were completed on time increased 20% during Q1 and Q2 this year”.

Finally, regardless of whether you are contemplating a career change or are preparing for your next opportunity, you will have to get through an interview process. The S.T.A.R. method has proven to be an effective approach to preparing and communicating the best responses to behavioral type interview questions. So, when you have your next interview, arm yourself with some great stories or examples (Developed using the S.T.A.R. method) which will help you stand out, star your next interview and land that job.

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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7 Ways to Tackle Your Personal & Professional Development in 2022

Feeding Your Mind- Personal & Professional Development
Feeding- Your -Mind- Personal- &- Professional -Development

In my last post, I wrote about how some people use the new year to set new intentions, goals, and resolutions to improve their lives. Personal and professional development are two areas that they typically focus on for self-improvements. But what is the difference between the two? While personal and professional development are inextricably linked, they are not one and the same. According to Indeed, “Personal development is the ongoing act of assessing your life goals and values and building your skills and qualities to reach your potential.” Personal development efforts are usually geared towards changing mindsets, attitudes, and behaviors to improve individual effectiveness and to increase one’s satisfaction with life. On the other hand, professional development refers to any effort taken to improve one’s effectiveness and performance on the job, increase knowledge and skills and to continue learning/education after entry to the workforce.  

While making improvements in any one of these areas can result in significant progress and provide positive benefits to one’s life, not everyone takes them seriously.

Importance of Personal &Professional Development

There is a popular quote by Albert Einstein that states “Once you stop learning, you start dying.” While the quote might sound morbid, it underscores the importance of being a lifelong learner and being intentional about pursuing ongoing growth and development to stay relevant and adaptable. Yet, one of the common mistakes that some people make is, assuming that their growth and development is a destination that they get to. Truth is that life and the world around you is constantly changing, and your development is dynamic. The skills and experiences that got you from one level or stage will not take you to your next level of success. Areas of strength in one season of your life can become weaknesses in another. And the weaknesses that you considered minor at one time, can become major issues or blind spots that can undermine your interpersonal relationships and overall effectiveness. 

Therefore, to maximize your potential and increase your chances for success and fulfillment in your personal and professional life, you will need to be proactively engage in ongoing self-reflection and seek feedback to pinpoint the hard and soft skills you might need change or improve.

Who’s Responsible for Personal Growth &Development

There is a commonly held belief amongst many employees that their professional development is their employer’s responsibility. And rightly so, since employers have an obligation to invest in their talent and workforce by equipping them with the tools, skills, and knowledge they need to execute their roles in a way that meet or exceed their organization’s productivity standards. With this expectation, many employees go to work with the expectation that their supervisor and/or organization is responsible for training them and equipping them with the skills they need to be efficient and effective in their roles. While this expectation is valid and fair, the rapidly changing nature of today’s work environment now demands that, employees be proactive about their development and not rely only on mandated trainings or wait for the annual performance review where the supervisor recommends training for a performance issue as a cue for development.

This passive and reactive approach to personal and professional development can prove risky at a time when the technologies you use, the way you work, the skills you need and the demands of the customers you serve are changing quickly. The reality is, your employers might not have the necessary supports in place to help you stay relevant and build your skills. In fact, many people complain about getting promotions on the job and not being adequately trained to perform effectively or not having the time to attend trainings due to the volume of work. Therefore, though employers have a responsibility to develop their people, you must become an advocate for your own personal and professional development and ultimately take ownership for it.

Time to Own Your Development

So how can you take action to become more proactive about owning your personal and professional development?

In an age where you have unprecedented access to information at your fingertips, there is really no excuse for not investing in your personal growth and professional development.  Regardless of your interests, how you like to learn or process information, there are many different options and formats that you can use for lifelong learning and self-improvement. Here are 7 ways that you can tackle your personal and professional development in 2022:  

  1. Do a SWOT Analysis: This process will require you to identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats and to take intentional actions to address them. Ask trusted and objective friends, coworkers, and family members to provide you with feedback that will help you to identify behaviors you need to Stop, Start and Continue.  
  • Invest in Continuing Education:  Depending on where you are in your career, this could involve going back to school to pursue a degree or diploma to gain new knowledge or to help you switch career paths. For others this could mean attending webinars, conferences, enrolling in a course or certification program to develop a new skill or improve an existing one. Remember ongoing learning is a great resume builder.
  • Attend YouTube University: YouTube is probably one of the most underutilized or underrated ways to access learning for free. If you can think of a topic, there is content on YouTube that can help you learn more about it. So, find a topic or skill you are interested in learning about, look for credible people speaking on the topic and get learning.
  • Read, Read, Read: In this social media age where attention spans are short and people are overwhelmed with snippets of information and tweets on their timelines, it is easy to become lazy about how you access and acquire knowledge and information. Rather than relying on your feed, join a book club, read books, articles, and blogs that are related to your industry and interests to ensure that you are staying abreast of current ideas and insights to improve your personal effectiveness.
  • Listen to Podcasts: Podcasts have gained popularity in the last few years. They provide a convenient and flexible way of learning on the go. If you are not a fan of reading, you can listen to podcasts as you exercise, complete chores, do errands or while driving. And like YouTube, you can find a podcast hosted by experts on any topic for free. So, search for podcasts apps on your devices and start listening.
  • Volunteer: Whether it’s at work or in your community, volunteering to serve on project teams or committees can be a great developmental tool and a way to build your network, learn new skills, help others, and pay it forward.  
  • Follow Subject Matter Experts on social media: Apart from showcasing the highlight reel of your life and that of others, social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Meta can also provide you with access to thought leaders who teach and share content/ideas that can inspire you to action or provide resources you can use for your development. Be sure to find these experts and follow them.

In conclusion, pursuing a path towards personal and professional development will require deliberate effort on your part and changes to how you spend your limited free time. Although it might seem overwhelming at first, enlist the support and help of trusted and objective coworkers, friends, and family members to help you figure out areas you need to focus on.  But ultimately, you are in the best position to act on the changes you need to make, chart your career journey, identify your next job opportunity, identify the skills and talents you need to hone to keep growing and achieve satisfaction with your life.

Until next time, “Remember ItsALearningLife! “

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It’s A New Year: How Will You Make 2022 Count?

Happy New Year 2022
Happy New Year 2022

For many people the start of a new year is a time to make bold new resolutions, big plans and to declare a ‘word for the year’ which reflects the positive changes they want to make in their lives. For others, the beginning of a new year is just like any other day that passes without fanfare, not unlike the others before it. Celebrating a new year can be difficult in situations where even though a new year has started, the old problems and issues from the preceding year still persist. Whether you choose to celebrate the new year or not, there is no denying that time is passing, and life is moving on. So, how will you make 2022 count?

New Year, Fresh Start?

With every new year, we all get a fresh start and a new set of 365 days to use as we will. In fact, many people are already thinking about the changes they want to make to improve their lives and the goals they want to pursue. People who are highly motivated usually express their intentions in resolutions, vision boards or carefully thought-out action plans. While people who are less motivated or are uncertain about their goals or future might be more reluctant to make any plans or set new intentions. Regardless of how you motivated you are, resolutions and plans do not sustain themselves.

As the days and weeks progress, motivation can fade very quickly, and even the best laid plans and resolutions might be forgotten in the cut and thrust of daily life. In fact, the results from one study suggest that “an enormous 77% of resolvers lost their resolve in under two weeks.

But why?

One possible reason why people fail to achieve their goals is offered by James Clear, (author of the bestselling book Atomic Habits,) who explained that “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. Your goal is your desired outcome. Your system is the collection of daily habits that will get you there. This year, spend less time focusing on outcomes and more time focusing on the habits that precede the results.”

So how do you sustain your goals and avoid abandoned goals in 2022?

There is no fool proof way of ensuring that you stay true to your personal goals, plans or resolutions. The people who make resolutions to lose weight, save more, find that new job or start that new business or project, typically do so with the best of intentions and with a strong desire to do so. But like the earlier statistics suggest, somewhere between the first two weeks of the month to perhaps March, gym memberships are abandoned, and people begin to procrastinate or push back their goals to a later date. And before you know it, they lose their mojo and plans are shelved indefinitely. 

Personally, I seize the opportunity of a new year to formulate new plans and establish goals for my personal and professional life. And while I don’t make resolutions, since 2007, I have chosen a word to guide my actions and approach towards the different aspects of my personal and professional life. This gives me an opportunity to clearly define the attitudes, actions, and behaviors I will engage in and that are consistent with my word. For example, my word for 2022 is FOCUS and my primary objective will be to eliminate or minimize anything that would undermine my efforts to achieve the financial, physical, spiritual, professional, and relational goals I’ve set.  I’m also happy to share that over the years, this approach to tackling each new year and a few proven strategies, have helped me achieve continuous success in both my personal and professional lives.

This Year I Will- Planning
This Year I Will -Planning

Strategies to Tackle the New Year

If you are looking to set new intentions/ goals for 2022 and need help to stick with them, or are thinking about that you might do differently, here are 7 strategies that might help you make the new year count:

  1. Remember your why: At a time when people are sharing plans about how they want to improve their lives, it is easy to get caught up in the excitement and the hype. But before you set your goals or declare your intentions for the new year, think carefully about where you are at this stage of your life, what is important to you, the things that will bring meaning to your life or help you achieve purpose. Align your goals and actions to these things and ignore the noise.
  1. See habit change as identity change:  Changing habits is a big part of making self-improvements. But what if you have been approaching habit change all wrong? According to James Clear, when most people think about the habits they want to build, they focus on outcomes they want to achieve. E.g., I want to lose weight. He suggests that a better approach is to build identity-based habits by focusing on what you want to become, not what you want to achieve. E.g. The goal is not to lose weight but to become a person who makes healthy food choices.
  1. Smart Small: Making a change of any kind can be hard. So rather than biting off more than you can chew, set yourself up for success by starting with small changes that can lead to large changes in behaviors overtime. In Atomic Habits, James Clear recommends that if you focus on getting 1% better every day, you will be 37% times better at the end of a year. So, if exercising more is one of your goals, what is one tiny change you can make and consistently maintain?
  1. Set realistic goals:  A huge reason behind why people fail to act on or achieve their goals is that they were not SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timebound) or practical in the first place. Take the time to carefully think about what you want to achieve, the resources you have at your disposal and what you will need to support your success. Then do it.
  1. Anticipate the barriers: Acknowledge the fact that you are going to hit setbacks in your efforts to execute your plan or achieve your goals.  So, spend some time identifying the things that are likely to stand in the way of you achieving your goals. Once you have identified the potential obstacle(s), devise a plan for dealing with them when they occur.
  1. Consider the cost: In a lot of instances, people give up on their goals and dreams because of fear, doubt, the sacrifice they will have to make or due to life events that aren’t convenient at that point in time. And often they do so without fully considering how making that choice/decision, or not taking a particular course of action might cost them in the future. Therefore, before you decide to act or not to act on a goal, consider what you might be losing, saying no to, or giving up if you don’t follow through. What will it cost you in the long run?
  1. Build in accountability: Having come up with a SMART goal or plan, ensure that you have something or someone to help you stick to your plan(s). You can build in accountability by sharing the goal or plan with your inner circle or someone who will check in with you periodically to help you stay on target and offer encouragement when you need it. Additionally, you can use apps such as your calendar or organizers to set affirmations or reminders for activities you need to complete or things you need to focus on.

Ready or not – 2022 is here and 2021 is gone. There is no changing the past, the mistakes, or the things that didn’t go as you hoped or planned. Celebrate the gains or progress you made last year- however small.  You now have another year with new opportunities to create the future you want, build on the progress you’ve made, and move purposefully in the direction of your goals and dreams.

So, what will you do in 2022? How will you make this new year count?

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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A Look Back at 2021: 11 Questions to Ask Yourself!

2021 Year in Review
2021 Year in Review

With only a few days left in 2021, many of us are looking back at the stories that made the news, the personal and professional challenges we overcame, our wins and losses, what we want to leave behind and our hopes for the new year. Coming out of 2020, many had hoped 2021 would bring a return to some semblance of normalcy, an end to the COVID -19 pandemic and some relief from the stress and anxiety arising from all the changes and uncertainty in the environment. Instead, 2021 brought even more political tensions and sparked a raging debate about to vax or not to vax which threated to divide societies as well as friends and families. We watched decisionmakers and governments struggle with decisions about when and how to reopen the office, public spaces, business, schools, churches, and relaxing mask mandates.

2021 became the year of the “great resignation” or the “great reshuffle” as many people pivoted to make new career moves or shifted their attitudes towards work to achieve greater flexibility and work/life balance. But most importantly, 2021 raised significant concerns about mental health as people struggled to cope with the pressures of the ongoing pandemic and the unrelenting need for them to adapt or keep up with the constant changes happening all around them. All across the world, we saw an increase in demand for treatment of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, while both employees and employers struggled to address the damaging effects of fatigue and burnout.

Calendar with December 31, 2021
Calendar with December 31, 2021

My Year in Review

Since 2007, every new year I have chosen a theme or word to guide all areas of my life for the given period. For 2021, I declared that I would be intentional about pursuing wholeness in my emotional, spiritual, physical, financial, professional, and social areas of my life. For me, this meant I would strive to ensure that my words, actions, and mindsets led to improvements in my overall sense of well-being. In keeping with this commitment, my goals included eliminating all personal debt except for my mortgage; improving my physical fitness and nutrition; spending more time praying and studying the bible; honing my craft by learning new skills; consistently publishing my blog; and building and strengthening my relationships.

But like many of you, I too experienced my fair share of challenging situations in 2021 that threatened to derail my goals and plans for myself. At times, the issues I faced brought tears and feelings of doubt and discouragement that I had to push through to stay on track and encouraged. Fortunately, I recognized the areas and times I was struggling and got the support I needed to help me recover well and tap into a new level of resiliency. Despite those difficulties, I was also blessed with many new and amazing opportunities to expand my sphere of influence, build and leverage new relationships, enhance my knowledge and skills, use my talents to encourage and help others and make a positive impact at work and in my community.

Needless to say, I didn’t achieve everything I set out to do, but I made great progress with my goals, and I will continue to build on them in the new year. Better yet, I believe I’m ending the year better than I started it.

But what about you? How was 2021 for you?

11 Questions to Ask Yourself

As we close out 2021, it is easy to focus on all the things that didn’t go right or things that didn’t go as you hoped or planned. But as you reflect on the past year, remember that your progress and success should not only be assessed by whether your plans unfolded exactly as you wanted them to. Rather than taking that approach, assess yourself on the progress (big or small) you made during 2021, the steps you took towards your goals, the new perspectives you developed, the knowledge you gained and the experiences you benefited from. Chances are that your low moments, setbacks, or failures revealed more to you about you and others than anything else could ever do. Therefore, your task is to take those insights and lessons and use them to help you make better choices in the future as you strive to become a better version of yourself.

So regardless of the challenges you might be facing today, you survived 2021 and made progress in some way shape or form.  As you take a few moments to look back at 2021 and celebrate your experiences, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How did I make time to have fun?
  2. How did I make self -care a key part of my regular routine?
  3. How did I set myself up for success financially and physically?
  4. What is an important lesson I learned this year?
  5. What is the best thing that happened to me?
  6. What challenges did I overcome?
  7. What new skills did I learn to enhance my career?
  8. What did I do to enhance my personal growth and development?
  9. What did I do to nurture/strengthen my relationships?
  10. What do I need to change/improve or do differently?
  11. Did I steward my resources well?

I’m sure your answers to those questions might be different from mine since we might be at different stages in our lives. Whatever your answers to those questions might be, acknowledge your feelings about how things went for you and the lessons learned- even the painful ones. And as you do that, remember to stay true to who you are and the person you are becoming, while holding firmly to the vision you have for your life.

In closing, my hope is that you would have joy, love, and peace as you celebrate the holidays and look forward to a new year full of successes big and small!

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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5 Ways to Avoid the Stress of the Holidays

The upcoming holiday season is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. But for many, the pressure to clean the house; buy or find the right gift; cook and host the festivities; navigate strained relationships with family and friends is nothing but stressful. While the holidays provide opportunities for friends and family to gather, share and recharge, people quickly find themselves struggling with all the pressures and expectations that the holidays bring. And what makes it even more stressful is that we are still 18 months into the coronavirus pandemic with a new variant that continues to threaten the lives and livelihood of many people across the world. So, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with all these different stressors, rest assured that you are not alone.

Christmas List Brainstorm -Adobe stock image
Christmas List Brainstorm -Adobe stock image

The Biggest Holiday Stressors

According to the  American Institute of Stress,  “while the holiday season typically drums up visions of sugarplum fairies, bright lights, gifts, and cheer, many people admit this time of year is filled with an overwhelming amount of physical and emotional discomfort.”  “Recent statistics related to holiday stress reveal that nearly 69% of people are stressed by the feeling of having a “lack of time” and perceiving a “lack of money.” And over 50% are stressed about the “pressure to give or get gifts.” These statistics further indicate that “many health experts believe that exceedingly high expectations for peace, love, and joy during the holiday season can negatively impact both your physical and mental health — and much more than many people realize.”

So where does that leave many of us?

With only 11 days left before Christmas, many people are experiencing heightened amounts of stress as they try to get everything ready for the festivities. And perhaps the three biggest stressors during this season are as follows:

  • Hosting Christmas Dinner/Party: Recently, I was talking to a friend about her holiday plans. She shared that she would be hosting a Christmas dinner for about 15 of her closest family and friends. As we spoke about the menu, she shared that she was doing it potluck style to avoid a repeat of her last Christmas dinner, where she was so worn out from all the preparations that she could not participate in the celebrations and had to be sent to bed to rest. Her experience is echoed by the results of an American survey which found that  “Fifty-one percent of respondents said hosting a party or dinner during the holiday was the most stressful part of the holiday season.”
  • Increased Holiday Spending: Another big source of stress during the holiday season comes from increased spending and expenses that come with gift giving, travelling and other festivities. A survey of “2,000 Americans conducted by Yelp with OnePoll discovered that 28% of respondents said they’ve gone into debt during the holiday season.” The pressure to give gifts or to make loved ones happy, force many people to overspend or ignore their budget which in turn creates debt that results in other forms of stress. And for many people, “That debt has an average life-span of three months, which leaves family and friends chipping away at bills and credit card payments all the way through March.”
  • Strained Family Relationships:  As families and friends come together for the holidays to spend time with each other, personalities and personal preferences and unresolved conflict can easily spoil the atmosphere and prevent everyone from having a good time. Navigating these tense relationships during the holiday gatherings can trigger anxious feelings and thoughts for those who have complicated relationships with their loved ones. And for people dealing with loss (see previous post) the holidays can present painful reminders of loved which can be difficult to process.
Happy Holidays-Adobe stock image
Happy Holidays-Adobe stock image

5 Ways to Avoid Holiday Stress

Though the holiday season can create stress, this does not have to be the reality. A huge part of dealing with stress of any kind is recognizing the potential stressors and finding ways to lessen them. This will allow you to truly focus on enjoying the positive vibes and warm feelings  that the holidays bring. So, here are 5 ways to avoid holiday stress and create lasting and positive memories with your loved ones.

  1. Remember the reason for the season: With the commercialization of the Christmas holiday, promotional sales and emphasis on gift giving, it is easy to forget the true meaning behind the season. For those who celebrate it, the Christmas season is about celebrating Jesus’s birth, God’s love and of giving of self to others. The Christmas holiday gives friends and families opportunities to come together in peace and enjoy each other’s company, share food and laughter with a spirit of joy and happiness. So, make that the main thing as your gather.
  • Avoid overcommitting: Whether you’re visiting your family or friends or giving to others, you should avoid overcommitting. You can’t please everyone and there is no point in stretching yourself too thinly, making yourself unhappy or taking on debt to do so. Manage your time and energy and be realistic about your budget or what you can afford to spend. The best gift and joy of the season should be in the quality of time spent in the company of those you love and not how much you gave or received.
  • Practice Self Care: In your efforts to be all things to everyone during the holidays, be a good host or make the festivities fun, it’s easy to forget about taking care of yourself. Be intentional about setting aside some “me” time to do something that is just for you. Ensure that you get enough sleep and rest when you need to. This will help you to avoid become overly tired and irritable and dampening spirits anyways. And while the holidays might involve indulging in your favorite foods, don’t overdo it. Be careful not to consume anything that will seriously derail or compromise your overall health goals or make you sick. Eat and drink responsibly!
  • Be kind to yourself and others: The holidays are supposed to be a time of cheer and joy with loved ones celebrating with each other. Be sensitive to the people who are coping with loss and who might be triggered by the holiday season. Regardless of the type of loss (Death of a loved one, a broken relationship, loss of employment or hardship) be respectful, understanding, and supportive. It costs you nothing to show empathy and offer a word or encouragement to someone who is struggling. And if you are struggling with feelings of unhappiness or any form of mental health issue, remember that is ok to acknowledge your feelings. Just try not to dwell on them and ask for help when you need to.
  • Manage your thoughts and emotions: You really can’t control the behaviors and actions of anyone else but yourself. Resist the temptation to become offended or respond to careless comments made by friends and family members that will lead to arguments. Choose not to engage in any interactions that drains your energy and leaves you feeling sad or down. Sometimes being right or having the last word simply isn’t worth it. Give your self-permission to be quiet when you need to. Assume positive intent, ask questions, and don’t make assumptions. Life is too short for you to spend time creating stories that are only real in your head.

In conclusion, just as with make-up, less is more during the holiday season. The children in your life do not need expensive gifts to be happy and the adults in your life already have what they need. The true spirit of the season lies in creating memories that will last a lifetime and spreading joy and peace wherever you go. Happy Holidays to you and your family!    

Until next time- Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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5 Things to Know About Coping with Grief and Loss!

Broken heart stitched up
Broken heart stitched up

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

Vicki Harrison

Last week, I had conversations with two men who were struggling with grief from recent losses they had experienced.  One of the gentlemen had lost his promising young adult son in a harrowing car accident two months ago, and the other had just gone through a divorce. Despite the differences in their personal situations, age and background, both were grieving and struggling to cope with the painful and overwhelming emotions associated with their losses. These conversations reminded me of my own most painful experience in dealing with loss and prompted me to do some research on how to best cope with grief and loss.

I know from other people in my circles that these men are not alone. Over the last 2 years, many people have dealt with loss in some area of their personal or professional lives. Some of have lost friends, coworkers, neighbors and loved ones to the COVID-19 pandemic or were unable to be with a loved one when they died or to mourn the death in person with friends and family. Other kinds of loss that people have suffered from include a big move, illness, divorce, loss of employment, reduction in earnings, and even a loss of normalcy in their everyday routines and lifestyles due to drastic changes associated with the pandemic. But regardless of the type of loss experienced, grief is a part of life and a natural response that everyone has to loss. 

Though everyone deals with or processes grief differently, some of the common responses to loss include but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Anger and resentment
  • Strong feelings of sadness or depression
  • Loss of sleep and appetite
  • Shock, disbelief, and denial
  • Decline in mental health and overall well- being.

It is also important to note that there is so set time for grieving a loss. Grief like happiness is a universal emotion and people go through the process of grieving at their own rate and pace. Notwithstanding, understanding the grieving process will help you to cope with your own feelings when you experience a loss or help you show empathy and support to a friend or loved one who might be grieving. Additionally, it important to remember that you cannot measure another person’s grief or judge how they express their grief. Even with two people dealing with the same loss, you might find that one person is able to bounce back quickly, while the road to recovery might be longer and more challenging for the other person. Grief can be a singular and deeply personal matter. So, if anything, be patient and kind and do not judge.

Stages of the Grieving Process
Stages of the Grieving Process

Stages of the Grieving Process

As you can imagine, grieving a loss of any kind can be challenging in normal times and becomes even more so during the holiday season. For people grieving, holidays, anniversaries, and other key milestones can present painful reminders of loved ones lost or the drastic changes in life as they knew it. And this can make it even harder for people who are suffering to move through the different stages of the grieving process.

So, what does the grieving process involve?

According to WebMD, the grieving process includes five stages as follows:

  • Denial: When you first learn of a loss, it’s normal to think, “This isn’t happening.” You may feel shocked or numb. This is a temporary way to deal with the rush of overwhelming emotion. It’s a defense mechanism.
  • Anger: As reality sets in, you’re faced with the pain of your loss. You may feel frustrated and helpless. These feelings later turn into anger. You might direct it toward other people, a higher power, or life in general. To be angry with a loved one who died and left you alone is natural, too.
  • Bargaining: During this stage, you dwell on what you could’ve done to prevent the loss. Common thoughts are “If only…” and “What if…” You may also try to strike a deal with a higher power.
  • DepressionSadness sets in as you begin to understand the loss and its effect on your life. Signs of depression include crying, sleep issues, and a decreased appetite. You may feel overwhelmed, regretful, and lonely.
  • Acceptance: In this final stage of grief, you accept the reality of your loss. It can’t be changed. Although you still feel sad, you’re able to start moving forward with your life.

Having established the different stages of the grieving process, it is important to recognize that each individual moves through the different stages at their own pace and might go back and forth between the stages or skip a stage altogether. And when people who are grieving are triggered by events or something, they might experience feelings of loss all over again.

Tips for Coping with Grief and Loss

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not an expert in dealing with grief. My most significant loss occurred when I lost my guardian around age 16. I can still remember feeling a loss of security and a sense of regret for words of love not spoken often enough. I also felt immense guilt for choosing to skip a hospital visit to finish a school assignment the night before she passed, because I had planned to go see her the next day. And I can still remember how drastically life changed after she passed as the family struggled to maintain order and stability. Christmases were never the same thereafter and for a long time I found it difficult to celebrate Christmas or even to be around friends who were celebrating with their own families. But overtime, I was able to make peace with my loss, move pass the regrets and start to find joy in celebrating Christmas again.

People who fail to process their loss and grieve sometimes disconnect and become numb to their pain. However, this approach to internalizing pain and walking around as if things are normal is unhealthy and can undermine one’s ability to live a positive and healthy life. So here are 5 tips from the experts at Memorial Sloan Kettering Center to remember about coping with grief:

1. It won’t feel like this forever: MSK bereavement counselor Kimarie Knowles likens grief to waves cresting and then crashing at the shore. “Part of what people find helpful is riding the wave,” she says. “Understand it’s coming up, try to find support, take care of yourself, and allow it to go.”

2. You can handle it, even when you feel like you can’t: It’s human nature to want to avoid painful experiences. When we lose someone important to us, we may feel like we won’t be able to cope with the pain of grief. But “we only learn about our capacity to handle things by moving through them,” says Wendy Lichtenthal, Director of MSK’s Bereavement Clinic. When we try to stifle or avoid our feelings, they can come on that much stronger when something triggers them, she says. Making space to experience painful emotions allows us to practice our resilience and grow our own internal resources.

3. Be gentle with yourself: “Grief is exhausting,” says Reverend Jill Bowden. She suggests caring for your body during periods of intensive stress. Carve out time for naps, eat nourishing foods, and drink plenty of water. Alcohol and sugar may seem like quick fixes, but they can actually have the opposite effect.

5. Your feelings are normal: “The pain of grief itself is hard enough to tolerate,” says Ms. Knowles. “What can make it more challenging is when you or other people around you tell you what you should or shouldn’t do.” Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you feel: anger, sadness, even relief. The emotions that accompany grief are all valid, adds Dr. Lichtenthal. “Everyone comes to their loss experience with their own story, their own unique context and meaning,” Dr. Lichtenthal says. “Whatever they are feeling at a given moment, it always makes sense.”

In closing, if you or someone you know is grieving a loss, just know that time heals. Be kind and patient with yourself and others. You don’t need to know the right words to say, being silent is okay. Just be present or what the person needs in that moment.

Until next time, Remember ItsALearningLife!

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Birthday Edition: It’s All About Celebrating Life!

Celebrating Happy Birthday-Image
Celebrating Happy Birthday-Image

Life should not only be lived; it should be celebrated.”

Osho

Have you ever wondered how the tradition of celebrating birthdays came about? I have. So, I did a little digging and found some fascinating fun facts about the history of celebrating birthdays. And since my birthday is just a few days away, I am dedicating this article to all thing’s birthdays- the history of celebrating birthdays, how that tradition has evolved and the importance of celebrating these anniversaries and other important milestones.  

From my research I learned that:

  • Birthdays didn’t begin until calendars were created.
  • Birthdays started with the Egyptians.
  • The Greeks came up with the birthday candles.
  • Birthdays first started as a form of protection.
  • The ancient Romans were the first to celebrate the birth of the common “man.”
  • Birthdays were first considered to be a pagan ritual in Christian culture.
  • German bakers invented the birthday cake as we know it today.
  • The Industrial Revolution made a way for everyone to enjoy sugary cakes.
  • The tune of “Happy Birthday” was a remix of sorts.
  •  October 5 is the most common birth date in the U.S. (Nine months before October 5 is New Year’s Eve, a common conception date.)

To Celebrate or Not to Celebrate?

Regardless of the history, today, birthdays are a time of year when friends and families come together to celebrate the anniversary of a loved one’s birth and/or when an individual celebrates life and it’s many blessings. Birthdays also provide an opportunity for people to pause and reflect on their progress and growth and intentionally think about how they want to improve and what they want their future to look like. For some people, birthday are auspicious occasions filled with family and friends, gifts and treats, the best of music, food, fashion and all the best that life has to offer. While for others, birthdays go unacknowledged, without any distinction from any other day of the year.  

But whether you choose to celebrate birthdays or not, there is no disputing that, birthdays mark significant life events and serve as important markers of life’s stages, changes and progression. According to Wikipedia, “In most legal systems, one becomes designated as an adult on a particular birthday (usually between 12 and 21) and reaching age-specific milestones confers particular rights and responsibilities.” While birthdays represent a coming of age, they also usher in fundamental rites of passage, new responsibilities and give access to certain activities such as the ability to get married, vote, consent to sex, purchase lottery tickets, drink legally and consume other controlled substances. And while this age can vary from country to country, the typical age is usually 18.

In addition to these obvious benefits, celebrating birthdays also provide some additional opportunities for you to:

  1. Express gratitude by being present and appreciating where you are in your journeys, all you have and all that you have accomplished.
  2. Celebrate you, the person you are and are becoming by practicing self-acceptance, self-respect, and self-regard.
  3. Focus on feel good and positive emotions which reduces stress, promotes happiness, and contributes to overall well-being.
  4. Practice self-love and self-care which honors your basic need to feel loved, affirmed and valued.
  5.  Take stock of the ways you can continue to grow, the things you might need to change and how to move closer towards your goals and dreams.
Tameca in Paris-Happy Birthday Me-Image
Tameca in Paris-Happy Birthday Me-Image

How I Celebrate My Birthday

For me, birthdays are super special. And as I mentioned in a previous post, November is my favorite month of all. It is the month I celebrate my birthday, the month I relocated to the US, and come to think of it, it is the month I conceived my one and only child. That said, I take birthdays seriously, and really try to celebrate myself on my birthday and honor my friends and loved one on theirs. My intentionality around celebrating birthdays, probably stems from the fact that I never had birthday celebrations while growing up. So, I promised myself that I would always celebrate me, once I got to the age and stage where I could do something about it.

In fact, I remember that, during my college years, every birthday I would get dressed in my nicest outfit and go to the mall where I would treat myself to a movie and my dessert of choice (cheesecake back then). And once I started working, I also promised myself that I would never work on a birthday. The way I see it is, if you have paid leave, your birthday should be included in one of those days. Plus, I also plan all my summer vacations around my daughter’s birthday, so I never work on her birthday either. Another thing I decided a long time ago is that, I would not allow myself to get upset on my birthday and would only entertain positive people, vibes and feel-good emotions on my special day. Anything else will be handled the following day.

That said, ever since I moved to the U.S., one of my biggest pet peeves is that, my birthday frequently falls on the Thanksgiving Holiday. And because this is such a prominent holiday, my birthday tends to get overshadowed by people who wish me Happy Thanksgiving first, instead of Happy Birthday. I am so annoyed by this practice that, when I realized my 40th birthday would fall on Thanksgiving Day, I decided to leave the country, and go on a solo trip to Europe. And there I experienced one of my best birthdays, and spent 12 memorable days exploring London and Paris.  

Although some people prefer big birthday parties and grand celebrations to mark the occasion and nice gifts (Nothing wrong with that), I prefer having an opportunity to experience something new, travel to a new country or destination, eat at an expensive restaurant or try something I’ve never done before. And I also use my birthday to reflect on the past year and assess how I am progressing physically, emotionally, financially, professionally, and spiritually and set new goals and intentions for my next 365 days around the sun.

So, what about you- what do birthdays mean to you? And how do you celebrate your birthdays? Share and let me know.

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife

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Gratitude is A Must: 5 Ways to Practice an Attitude of Gratitude!

Gratitude WordCloud
Gratitude WordCloud

One of my personal favorite reggae songs about gratitude and giving thanks  is Toast, courtesy of  Grammy winner and international recording reggae artist  Koffee. In her hit single and feel-good song, Koffee talks about her journey to stardom, acknowledges the people who contributed to her success along the way and shares her gratitude for all the many blessings she is experiencing. Giving thanks or expressing gratitude is one way of acknowledging the kindness and thoughtfulness of others, accepting help, motivating others as well as showing love, appreciation, and support. Expressing gratitude is also a sure way of boosting your mood (And that of others) and helping you push through life’s difficult and challenging moments.

Why is Gratitude Important?

According to  Harvard Health, “gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible.” Feeling gratitude helps people to appreciate the goodness in their lives, and to recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As such, being grateful helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals- whether to other people, nature, or higher power. Additionally, research  tells us that , gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness (See previous post). Receiving and expressing gratitude also help people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.

These powerful benefits of gratitude are not just limited to your personal life, and can also extend to  your environment at work According to Forbes, “People like to be valued at their jobs, with appreciation being one of the most sought-after forms of praise in the workplace. Showing appreciation to employees is not only motivating and encouraging, but it also contributes to job satisfaction, thereby resulting in better performance, reduced stress and burnout and less turnover. Expressing appreciation also builds trust and promotes employee engagement.”

Start Each Day With A Grateful Heart -Sign
Start Each Day With A Grateful Heart -Sign

Practicing an Attitude of Gratitude

For as long as I can remember, expressing gratitude has been a basic social grace and a huge part of what it means to be well-mannered and brought up. So crucial is this social grace that, children are taught to say thanks before they can even utter the words properly. And while this practice is an important part of the socialization process, practicing gratitude is equally important for adults. So lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude and just the importance of expressing thankfulness for all the ways I have been blessed, the health and well-being of my daughter and I, the family and friends I have in my life, the people and community I get to serve and influence, the varied opportunities available for me to use my gifts and talents and the list goes on.

And while it’s easy to gloss over our blessings and/or to take them for granted, we really shouldn’t. Because chances are, some of the very blessings we now enjoy (the career or job, health, finances, relationships) are things we all struggled to achieve and prayed earnestly for in another season. And for that alone, we should always give thanks. It is also important to remember that, feeling gratitude doesn’t mean that we ignore the hardships we are currently experiencing and all that is not going right in our personal and professional worlds.

Being thankful or feeling grateful simply means that that we are intentionally choosing a mindset that allows us to:

  • Focus on the positive in every situation.
  • Bounce back from challenges, fears, and obstacles.
  • Simply appreciate and be content with what we have and where we are.
  • Embrace the lesson we gain from painful experiences and find meaning.
  • Adjust our perspectives and self-perceptions and learn more about ourselves.
  • Cherish the memories of good times shared with others even when a relationship has been broken.
  • Celebrate our small wins and every indicator of progress (Not just the big ones).
  • Stop comparing ourselves and lives to others or holding ourselves hostage to our self-projected images and expectations of ourselves .
  • Be present in the moment and take in the natural beauty and sounds around you.
  • Still, yourself long enough to breathe, smile, feel your body and just be grateful that in this very moment you are alive.

5 Way to Practice an Attitude of Gratitude

In light of all the challenges you are currently facing, how can you practice an attitude of gratitude in this moment or this week?  Here are five suggestions from Harvard Health that you can try:

  1. Write a thank- you -note: You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter or email expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself.
  2. Thank Someone Mentally: No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.
  3. Keep a Gratitude Journal: Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day.
  4. Count your blessings: Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
  5. Pray: People who are religious can use prayer to cultivate gratitude.

To help you flex your gratitude muscle, here is my gratitude challenge for you to do after you have read this article:

The Gratitude Challenge
  • Pause and reflect on 1 positive thing about your day
  • List 3 things you are things you are grateful for
  • Call or text someone who you are grateful

Finally, there is always something to be grateful for. Thankful people focus less on what they lack and more on what they do have. Practicing gratitude in your everyday life can also inspire others to be kind and more helpful and is essential for maintaining a happy and fulfilling life.

Until next time, Remember ItsALearning Life!

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How to Get More Happiness into Your Life!

Two Balloons with Happy Smiles
Two Balloons with Happy Smiles

Everyone wants to be happy, and everyone deserves to be happy. But on a scale to 1-10 (1-Low and 10-High), how happy are you? How satisfied are you with your life?

According to the World Happiness Report 2021,  the happiest people in the world live in Finland, followed by Denmark. The report suggests that these two Nordic countries have figured out the secret formula for happiness that so many people yearn for in their personal and professional lives. To determine happiness levels, the report assessed people’s happiness based on six factors: levels of GDP, life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom, and corruption. Finland scored high on all these indicators because if you live there, you get to benefit from a great healthcare system, free education, five weeks of paid holiday every year. Your sick leave is paid and both maternity and paternity leave are guaranteed. With all these needs covered, it should come as no surprise that the Finns are happy indeed. But what about the rest of us? And what does happiness mean?

The Importance of Happiness

In her book The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky defined happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” Research suggests that happy people are kinder, more helpful, more productive at work, more creative, enjoy better health, and are better able to cope with stress and trauma. Additionally happy people are better able to build and maintain healthy and positive relationships in their personal and professional lives. However, unhappy people find it much more difficult to turn outward and to consider others beyond themselves. 

With all the obvious benefits of happiness, why are so many people unhappy? In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shaw Anchor explains that in today’ society, there is a commonly held assumption that if you work hard you will be successful. And if you become successful, you will be happy. But Anchor argued that this formula is backwards, since success does not lead to happiness, instead happiness fuels success.  He explains that every time we achieve success in an area of our life, we move the goal post to the next milestone we want to achieve. And if happiness is on the other side of success, happiness becomes an elusive thing that we are constantly in pursuit of- but remains constantly out of reach. He argues that if we reverse this formula, and change the way we think, we are much more likely to achieve happiness.

Anchor also points out that people who are rich aren’t necessarily happier. While money is required for well- being and happiness, it doesn’t guarantee it. Because once you get to a certain amount dollar amount, money doesn’t result in higher levels of happiness. People who pursue only money, nice things or surroundings aren’t happier than people without. Therefore, balance is the formula for happiness

How to Deal With Happiness Blockers

It is important to note that humans are complex beings with a range of emotions, and no one is happy all the time. The absence of happiness isn’t sadness and not being sad doesn’t mean you are happy. In fact, the Happiness Rule states that  “50% of our happiness is determined by genetics, 10% by our circumstances and 40% by our internal state of mind.” This means that to a large extent, happiness is a choice and our overall satisfaction with our lives is influenced by how we think and our mindsets. Our happiness isn’t determined by external events, but by how our minds process them. Therefore, just as we focus on the negatives around us, we can change and train our brains into having a more positive mindset. So, are your thoughts getting in the way of you being happy?

According to M. J. Ryan,  author of the book Happiness Makeover,  each of  have particular mental habits that keep us from experiencing the maximum happiness we could feel at any given moment. She points out that some the most common blockers of happiness are:

  • Negative self-talk and perceptions of the world around you.
  • Feeling discontent with what you have and where you are in life.
  • Worrying about things you cannot control
  • Regretting decisions and experiences.
  • Being envious of others or comparing your life to others.
  • Focusing on failures and disappointing outcomes.
  • Holding grudges against others or being in conflict.
  • Striving for perfectionism.

So, which of these blockers do you struggle with?

As a “recovering hyper-achiever”, I have repeatedly been told by friends that I don’t celebrate my wins long enough. As soon as I have reached a personal goal or professional achievement, I move to tackle the next one. While this works for being ambitious and driven, the dark side is that, this can produce a feeling of discontent, as I don’t always pause to celebrate or savor the moments/achievements despite how hard I worked to get there. As a result, the moments of joy and happiness are short lived or never fully acknowledged or celebrated.  

Happiness Loading..Please Wait
Happiness Loading..Please Wait-Image

How To Improve Your Happiness and Well-being

I’ll be the first declare that I am no happiness coach, nor do I have happiness all figured out. I am on my own journey to discovering and doing more of what makes me happy to improve my overall well-being. So, while happiness is a subjective and emotional state and your source of happiness might be different from mine, there is consensus that happiness is something we can all cultivate and is not just a benefit to be enjoyed by the rich, successful, or famous.  

So here are some suggested tips from Action for Happiness that you can use to improve your happiness and get more satisfaction in your life:

  1. Do things for others: Caring about others is fundamental to our happiness. Helping other people is not only good for them; it’s good for us too. So, if you want to feel good, do good.
  2. Connect with people: Our relationships with other people are the most important thing for our happiness. People with strong relationships are happier, healthier and live longer.
  3. Take care of your body: Our body and mind are connected. Being active makes us happier as well as healthier. It instantly improves our mood and can even lift us out of depression.
  4. Keep learning: Learning affects our wellbeing in lots of positive ways. It exposes us to new ideas and helps us stay curious and engaged.
  5. Have goals to look forward to: Feeling good about the future is important for our happiness. We all need goals to motivate us and these have to be challenging enough to excite us, but also achievable.
  6. Find ways to bounce back: All of us have times of stress, loss, failure or trauma in our lives. How we respond to these events has a big impact on our wellbeing. We often cannot choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we react to what happens.
  7. Take a positive approach: Positive emotions – like joy, gratitude, contentment, inspiration and pride – don’t just feel good when we experience them.
  8. Be comfortable with who you are: Nobody’s perfect. But so often we compare a negative view of ourselves with an unrealistic view of other people. Dwelling on our flaws – what we’re not rather than what we’ve got (See previous post)– makes it much harder to be happy.
  9. Be part of something bigger: People who have meaning and purpose in their lives are happier, feel more in control and get more out of what they do. You might find meaning and from doing a job that makes a difference, your religious or spiritual beliefs, or your family. While the answers vary for each of us, they all involve being connected to something bigger than ourselves.

At the end of the day, it is not what is happening that makes us happy or unhappy. It is how we respond that determines that. Don’t outsource your happiness to other people and external circumstances. Our happiness is our responsibility.

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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It’s Celebration Season: 9 Top Tips for Navigating Change!

9th Year Anniversary Celebration-Photo
9 Year Anniversary Celebration

It’s not an easy road

And many see the glamour and the glitter so them think a bed of rose, mi say

Who feels it knows, ooh

Lord help me sustain these blows

I cry!

Not An Easy Road- Buju Banton

November is celebration season for me! It is the month the earth was blessed with my presence (Birthday Edition Loading), the month I made the big change to move to America and the month some of my favorite people were born. So, for the month of November, I’ll be sharing lessons and insights based on my key milestones, and the deep sense of gratitude I feel at this stage of my life for all the experiences I have had and the people who have journeyed with me so far. This post will share my reflections about the top 9 tips I have learned on this my 9th Year Anniversary of moving to America.

November 1st, marked 9 years since my daughter (then two years old) and I migrated from Jamaica to the United States. As we celebrate the milestone, I find myself reflecting on that big change I made nine years ago and our journey over the years. For me, the title of (International singer /songwriter) Buju Banton’s song “Not An Easy Road, succinctly captures the struggle and  hardships I have had to overcome over the last 9 years to be where we are today. In fact, I have often told people that I cried more tears in the first 5 years of making the transition, than I did in my entire life- before or since. So, when I think of the lines from the song, I’m reminded of God’s goodness and faithfulness and how he has always provided for us and protected us.

Why Change is Hard?

I know you will agree with me that change is hard. This is true whether you are an immigrant to another country, just made an important life decision to get married, divorced, have children, change career, move to another city, sell or purchase a home, lost a loved one or are dealing with a scary health diagnosis.  According to Psychology Today, one reason that makes change difficult  “is that we are not ready and willing for change. We may be comfortable where we are and even scared to step into the unknown. If our current state provides us with comfort and security, making the change will be difficult.”  

Nevertheless, change is a constant and necessary part of life- personally and professionally. Our abilty to deal with change (See previous post based on Who Moved My Cheese)at work and at home will directly impact our progress in life, the quality of our relationships, our stress levels and whether we will thrive or merely survive.

Stepping into Comfort Zone vs Risk Zone
Stepping into Comfort Zone vs Risk Zone

9 Top Tips for Navigating Change

That said, there are huge benefits to celebrating milestones such as birthday and anniversaries. Celebrating significant events in your life provides you with opportunities to remember all the difficulties that you have had to overcome; take stock of your life and assess the progress you have made in key areas; think about the future and begin to plan for what lies ahead. And while this is uncomfortable and difficult for many, it is necessary for personal and professional development growth.

As I reflect on my journey so far, I am deeply aware that our testimonies, lessons, and experiences are not just for us. Sometimes we go through difficult periods in life that cause us to struggle with self-doubt, insecurity and that can drive feelings of despair and discouragement. And when we get through them, some of us are inclined to keep them a secret to keep up appearances that all is well or because we are ashamed of these painful experiences. When in fact, these experiences taught us crucial lessons to inform the way forward and that we can share and use to encourage other people who might need encouragement and wisdom to walk through their own valley moments.

So, if you are navigating your own life events and challenges, here are my top 9 tips and takeaways for dealing with change and navigating transitions:

  1. .Don’t ever let fear prevent stop you from taking a bold and brave leap toward the direction of your goals and dreams.
  2. Have a clear vision for yourself and the life you hope to have. This will help you on the days when you feel desperate, discouraged, and tempted to settle for less than you deserve or need.
  3. Dreams might be deferred but not forgotten. Be careful not to hold yourself hostage to specific timelines. Have faith throughout the journey and trust the process.
  4.  Preparation is important, but it never guarantees the desired outcome. The best laid plans might go awry but be prepare anyways.
  5. Be humble enough to embrace the discomfort of starting over, trying something different and learn something new.
  6. Relationships are the most valuable currency you have. If you build and invest in positive and supportive relationships, they will show up for you when times are good and bad, and you’ll always have a shoulder to lean on.
  7. Always show up as your best self. This means you must commit to keep learning and growing and making the changes that will help you become the best version of yourself.
  8. You are not your failures or your mistakes. When you fall or fail, cry If you need to but always pick yourself up and try again. You are stronger and more resilient than you know.
  9. Pay it Forward: Your gifts, talents and resources and experiences are not just for you. They are intended for you to help and support others. Give back, serve and help others.

I’m so excited for what the #NextNine years will bring!

What milestones are you #celebrating?  Share and let me know!

Until next time Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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How to Play to Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses!

Question on Blackboard-What Are Your Strengths?
Question-What- Are -Your- Strengths? – Image

If you struggle with playing to your strengths or identifying them, you are not alone. Throughout the course of your life, it is highly likely that you might have received lots of negative or corrective feedback that focused on pointing out and fixing your weaknesses rather than highlighting your strengths. The problem with this approach is that focusing on fixing weaknesses does not help you to flourish and succeed and is more likely to drive feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction with self. And while nothing is wrong with trying to understand and address your weaknesses, the focus on weaknesses can distract you from investing time and attention on your strengths and the things that you do really well.

So, do you know what your strengths are?  

Importance of Knowing Your Strengths

According to Marcus Buckingham, “a strength is not what you are good at, and a weakness is not what you are bad at. A strength is an activity that strengthens you. It draws you in, it makes time fly by while you’re doing it, and it makes you feel strong.” Therefore, Buckingham makes the point that “when individuals understand what strengthens them and actively play to their strengths daily, they can lead much more rewarding and fulfilling lives. Knowing your strengths also offers you a better understanding of how to deal with your weaknesses and helps you gain the confidence you need to address them.” In fact, research tells us that employees that receive feedback on their strengths and have opportunities to use their strengths at work are more engaged, productive, and more likely to stay in their jobs and with their organizations.

But before you can you play to your strengths and use them; you must be able to identify them or know what they are.

What Are Your Strengths?

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and these differ from individual to individual. To identify your strengths, pay attention to those areas that you consistently perform excellently in and frequently get compliments about. Your different types of strengths might be related to your character, your talents (natural abilities you are born with) or skills  you developed through training. At work, your strengths can include the ability to plan and organize, solve problems, work effectively with others or IT skills.  In your everyday life, your strengths can include kindness, optimism, listening skills and your ability to communicate clearly and effectively.  

one strength ball among many weaknesses blocks
One Strengths Ball Among Many Weaknesses Blocks

Play to Your Strengths

If you got a list with your strengths and your weaknesses, which one would you focus on first? While popular wisdom would suggest that you focus on what you do best and what helps you flourish, many people focus on their weaknesses because messages about what they do bad are stronger than messages that highlight what they do well. This is partially because negative information and emotions have a deeper effect on individuals than positive information and emotions. For example, think about that time when you brought home a report card to your parents with mostly great grades and one or two bad grades? How did they respond? Which grades did they focus on more?  And if you are a parent, when your child/dren brings home a report card, what do you focus on? In either scenario, chances are the poor grade(s) got more attention as it was deemed more urgent or important to fix. This approach carries over to work and everyday life and results is far greater attention being placed on areas of poor /low performance than areas where individuals and teams perform excellently. And this unbalanced approach causes people to focus more on weaknesses to fix what is wrong, rather than emphasizing or expanding that which is good and great.  

So, does this mean you should ignore your weakness? Not necessarily. It is important to identify your deficits and address those areas where you need to grow, change and improve. However, having an awareness of your faults does not improve your performance or happiness. Gallup reports that  people who use their strengths every day are three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life, six times more likely to be engaged at work, 8% more productive and 15% less likely to quit their jobs. Therefore, to become the best version of yourself at work and have a full and meaningful personal life, you need to be engaged in activities that allow you to shine and do the things you love and are naturally good at.

How to Play to Your Strengths

Having established the importance of playing to your strengths at work and in your everyday life, how do you find opportunities to do the things that invigorate you or move you in the direction of positive change? If you are struggling to pinpoint what your strengths are, use the following steps from HBR  to identify your strengths and play to them:

  1. Identify respondents and ask them for feedback: Collecting information on your strengths from a variety of sources (friends, family and coworkers) will provide insights about your special skills and talents and examples of when they have observed in action. Start with 3 persons and ask them for feedback. 
  1. Recognize patterns:  When you receive the feedback, look for common themes or patterns in the feedback. As you do this, observe yourself and notice your patterns and behaviors and then organize all the information into a table where you can review it.
  1. Compose Your Self-Portrait: The next step is to write a description of yourself that summarizes the information you have collected. The description should weave themes from the feedback together with your self-observations and create a portrait of who you are at your best.
  1. Redesign Your Job and Life: Having identified your strengths, be intentional about seeking opportunities at work that will enable you to utilize your strengths or incorporate them in the way you do your job. Additionally, you can use volunteering as a way of sharing your talents and skills, serving your community, and making a difference.

In conclusion, while it might seem strange or uncomfortable to just focus on your strengths, remember that focusing on strengths does not mean you are to ignore your weakness and blind spots. You should always be seeking to improve your self awareness through a knowledge of your strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for growth. But by choosing a mindset that focuses on investing in, nurturing and developing your strengths, rather than weaknesses, you are more likely to get better. And you will become more able to recognize strengths in others and lead a happier and more successful life.

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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Why Be Yourself (Be Authentic) is Terrible Advice!

Be Yourself-Graphic Art
Be Yourself- Graphic Art

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying is to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you have ever spoken with anyone about feelings of self-doubt, fear or uncertainty about doing something new, it is quite possible that you might have been encouraged or advised to just “Be yourself”. I’ll even admit that this is a prescription I have given to my 11-year-old daughter, friends, and colleagues when they have expressed concerns about joining a new team, exploring a relationship or navigating a tough situation. As a matter of fact, I recently received the same advice during a conversation where I was being vulnerable about an issue that was bothering me.  As I listened to this “be yourself’ advice, I couldn’t help but question whether those two words of assurance would be helpful to me as I worked through my issues. Yet, the givers of this advice (myself included) always appear convinced and confident that this simple advice is the best solution to the problem or issue. But, it isn’t.

On a surface level, telling someone to just be yourself or be authentic might seem like solid and great advice. But this advice can be confusing on many levels, and it raises a ton of questions. Afterall, which self are you advising them to be? Is it their past self, their today self, or their aspirational self (the better version of ourselves) that each of us hope to one day meet?  What if they haven’t yet figured out who they are or want to be? And to make it more complex- in which one of their roles?  As individuals, we have different layers and roles which are likely to affect or influence how we show up in different situations. I for one have several roles, that of mother, daughter, sister, manager to name a few. And how I show up or my abilty to be myself can depend on the context and the situation I am dealing with. So be yourself, can be very complex and problematic advice.

Why Be Yourself is Terrible Advice?

Definition of authentic-Image
Definition of Authentic

In her Harvard Business Review article, Herminia Ibarra offers up three ways for us to look at and understand the concept of authenticity:

  1. Being true to yourself and acting in ways that are true to your nature or personality
  2. Being sincere by saying what you mean and meaning what you say.
  3. Staying true to your values and the fundamental core beliefs that guide you.

Therefore, being authentic requires us to be fully self-aware and to practice acceptance of ourselves – values, beliefs, flaws, quirks, strengths and all. Being authentic encourages individuals to be at peace with themselves  despite the perceptions of others and other worldly influences. This is important because trying to be someone else drains energy and is the surest route to an unhappy and unfulfilling life.

However, depending on the definition we choose, being authentic or staying true to one’s personality can be used by an individual to mask stubbornness or an unwillingness to change. And if we are not careful, being authentic or staying true to our personality can stunt our personal growth, maturity and have major implications for our personal and professional development and advancement. For example, how many times have you heard or seen someone miss an opportunity because they were asked to do something that was outside of their comfort zone or require them to stretch a little to learn a new skill? I have seen people self-sabotage or pass up opportunities to advance in their career because of their own self-limiting beliefs that they didn’t have the personality to do one thing or another.

Likewise, I have also seen people fail because they didn’t acknowledge that the skills that got to them to one level would not take them to their next level. And in these trade off moments, we will need to balance doing what we need to be effective with being ourselves. Navigating these crucial moments can be tricky because most of us define ourselves in terms of the skills and competencies that got us to one point. Getting to the next level or moving up in the organization might require us to show up differently than we are accustomed to. This can be unsettling for some people who fear that they might have to sacrifice their values and integrity or be seen as a “sell out” because they changed paths. This uncertainty about what it means to be themselves then produces a version of them that is at best cautious, conservative but not truly authentic or reflective of who they want to be.

What Authenticity Really Means?

So, should we be authentic or not?

And what does it mean in real life?  

Truth is, none of us are the same today as we were five years ago, and we also won’t be the same five years from today. As we journey through life, from one stage to the next, we make decisions and experience life events (marriage, parenting, loss, career advancement) that shape us and challenge our perspectives and our deeply help beliefs. Therefore, subscribing to the idea of being yourself is unrealistic, risky and fails to acknowledge that we are never any one thing or person. It also locks us into people perceptions of who they think we are and their expectations of how they think we should be or act. But as individuals, we are constantly evolving, learning, unlearning and with that comes permission to change our minds, perspectives, and responses to the people around and the world around us.

So, in a world where so many of us feel so much pressure to live up to the standards and expectations of others, how can we be authentic? I suggest that you reflect on what that means to you and consider embracing a broader perspective that says that being yourself or being authentic is:

  • Choosing to lead your own self by digging deep to figure out what you truly want, your passions, your talents, your strengths, and your weaknesses.
  • Freedom to let go of your fears and other people’s perception and expectations of you as you forge your own path.
  • Knowing that your best self isn’t a destination since you are still becoming.
  • Embracing a mindset that recognizes that you have many layers. You can be this and still be that.
  • Deciding not to hide your feelings, thoughts, your voice and standing by your convictions.
  • Meeting people right where they are at and not twisting yourself in/out of shape to become who they need you to be.  

In closing, navigating life journey will require us to balance doing  what we need to do and being ourselves. This can cause us to feel fake or inauthentic, but it isn’t. You can be authentic and change and grow. Being authentic considers who you are and the situation, not one at the expense of another. The key is to be intentional about shaping yourself rather than being shaped by your circumstances.

Until next time, Remember, It’sALearningLife!

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How The Path We Take Shapes Our Lives

Questions About Which Road to Take-Picture
Questions- About -Which- Road- to- Take- Image

For as long I have known myself, I have always believed in the value of taking personal responsibility for my actions, charting my own path, and working hard to overcome adversity and hardships. Though this has been my personal philosophy, I fully aware that not everyone lives by these principles. Wrongly or rightly, some people choose to blame their current reality on the curve balls that life throws at them, the opportunities they didn’t get, the ones they did take, the talents they don’t have, the decisions of their parents, the actions of their loved ones, and the friends and colleagues who hurt them. And while some of their conclusions might be fair, they fail to account for the fact that we all have the abilty to forge or our paths, write our own stories and make decisions and choices that are uniquely our own as we pursue what we believe as in our best interests.

During this year, I have written many articles on a range of personal growth and professional development topics (See previous posts) based on research and my own experiences. However one of the simplest lessons on the power of taking taking charge of your life and personal growth came to me by way of a poem by Portia Nelson called the ‘Autobiography in Five Short Chapters.” The poem (See below) reminded me that life is essentially a journey filled with challenging situations that we have to navigate as we make choices and decisions to create the life of our dreams. And as we do so, we will try new and different things, we will fail from time to time, and we will have opportunities to learn key lessons. Because as we stumble or fall, we also get the chance to course correct, to change and to choose another path. In those moments, we must find the courage to take stock of where we are, clearly establish where we want to go and take bold actions to become who we want to be.

Road Sign- What Do You Want to Change?
What Do You Want to Change?

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters by Portia Nelson -Poem

Chapter 1.

I walk down the street.

There is deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in.

I am lost…… I am hopeless.

It isn’t my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2.

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in again.

I can’t believe I am in the same place.

But it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter 3

 I walk down the same street.

 There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

 I see it’s there.

 I still fall in …it’s a habit.

 My eyes are open.

I know where I am.

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

Chapter 4.

I walk down the same street.

There is a hole in the sidewalk

I walk around it.

Chapter 5

I walk down another street.

Key Takeaways

As you read the poem, did it resonate with you? Could you relate it to a current or past experience you’ve had?

For me, the poem spoke to the fact that each of us are on a journey in pursuit of happiness, success, and whatever we define as a good life for ourselves and our loved ones. While our individuals’ paths are different, nothing insulates us from the bumps, failures, setbacks and disappointments we will undoubtedly encounter as we make decisions and choices on everything (from relationships, careers, finances, parenting) to create the lifestyle we desire. Some days we will get it right, but all too often we will also get it wrong. Our best laid plans will not always work out like we hoped and our very best efforts will sometimes fall short. What matters most in those defining moments are not the things that happen to us, or situations in which we find ourselves- but our reactions to them. The key is in knowing when you need to change and what you need to change. We don’t grow in places in comfort, so there are times that you will need to find the courage to make a decision that alters your life and pushes you out of your comfort zone towards something new and different.  Afterall, the best paths are not always the easiest.

Reflective Questions for You

  • Where do you see yourself 3, 5, 10 years from now?
  • Is your current path taking you where you want to go?
  • Are you on your current path because its familiar or comfortable?
  • Is there another, less troublesome path you could take towards achieving your dreams?

When all is said and done, it’s your life and your path. Others might travel with you, but you have to walk it. The successes, failures and consequences are all yours. If the path you’re on no longer serves you, it’s never too late to begin again. You ultimately get to choose.  

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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What It Means to Feel Safe..

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid

When we hear the word safe, most of us automatically think about the absence of harm or danger. If that is where your mind went, you would not be wrong. Depending on where you live, work or your everyday environment, the need to feel physically safe can be a pressing need and reality. However, physical safety is but one dimension of safety and does not replace the need we all have to feel emotionally or psychologically safe. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (A theory used to explain human motivation), the need to feel safe is one of the most basic human needs. And this need for safety and security must be satisfied before we can focus on other higher order needs for growth and development. The longer the need is unmet, the stronger it becomes, but when the need is met, the hunger /desire goes away.

Having established that we all have a need to feel safe, it is also important to recognize that when people do not feel physically or psychologically safe at work or at home, you will not get the best of them. When we talk about feeling physically safe, we are talking about being in an environment that is free from threats of violence, hazards and anything that can present harm or danger to us as individuals. And while physical safety can be obvious, psychological safety is hidden and more complex to observe. Psychological safety focuses on the emotional and behavioral well-being of individuals in relationships. Because psychological safety is interpersonal, it requires that people feel comfortable expressing themselves around others without fear or risks.

Two Teddy Bears Hugging
Two Teddy Bears Hugging

The Importance of Feeling Safe

Whether it’s at home or at work, feeling safe is also about creating a trusting environment with supportive relationships where people are not distracted by concerns about whether they are valued, or feel threatened that something good in their life will disappear at any moment. In the world of work, psychological safety is key part of working well as a part of a team. When psychological safety exists within a team, team members will openly share their ideas without fear of judgment, feel safer to fail or make a mistake and be their authentic selves without any risk to their jobs. On the other hand, when people on a work team do not feel safe, communication suffers, trust is low, productivity suffers, and the team will not function effectively.

On the personal side, when and where psychological or emotional safety is lacking, this can negatively impact an individual’s mental health and overall well-being.  In that, people who feel unsafe are less likely to express their feelings and thoughts openly because of fear of rejection and are more likely to suffer from increased levels of stress and anxiety. They might also shut down or rely on passive aggressive behaviors to express their feelings. So, when and where people do not feel safe to be themselves and express their feelings and thoughts without being labeled or rejected, this can escalate into toxic communication patterns and relationships.

So, when do you feel most unsafe?

Is it when the zeros in your bank account starts to dwindle?

Is it when you are home alone or walking down a dark street?

Is it when you are experiencing conflict with a supervisor or coworker on the job?

Is it when you’re in danger of losing a loved one or when your relationship with your partner has broken down?

How to Foster Psychological Safety

For me, the need to feel emotionally or psychologically safe probably dates back to difficult early childhood experiences. And today, feeling safe has become a crucial ingredient for me to have lasting, meaningful and successful personal and professional relationships. So when I join a new team or establish a new personal relationship, I usually communicate my need for frequent, open, and honest communication and feedback to build and maintain healthy relationships and to minimize conflict. On the professional side, the preference for quality communication is due to the fact that I dislike not having information I need to do my job well and my fear that not having information relevant to my role will make me look incompetent and not function effectively. The same is true on the personal side as well. I have found that the absence of open and honest communication creates conflict, reduces trust and forces people to rely on assumptions, wrongly judge and label other people’s action and behaviors. I find all of this to be unproductive, emotionally draining and a big contributor to toxic relationships that are not good for my peace of mind.

So, how do we foster safety in our personal and professional relationships? There is no simple answer to this question. We all deserve to feel safe.The things that trigger you and cause you to feel unsafe might be different from mine and will require different responses. To better understand your triggers, think about a time when you felt safe or unsafe and identify what was happening in that particular situation and how it made you feel . Doing so will help you develop greater self awareness and improve your abilty to avoid the triggers and manage your responses when psychological safety is lacking. Here are a few additional tips for you to consider:

  • Build trust by providing clear, consistent, and transparent information.
  • Work as team to make decisions towards a common goal.
  • Show respect by recognizing and understanding perspectives that differ from your own.
  • Practice resiliency by learning lessons from tough situations and choose to hope and heal.

None of these tips guarantee that we will always feel safe. Being safe is not about never taking risk, never being challenged by new perspectives or never being uncomfortable. Being safe is about feeling secure, feeling protected and feeling you can be responsive―no matter the environment or situation. But we cannot do it alone. We all need people to help us feel safe. So, surround yourself with people that will help you feel safer than not.

Until next time, Remember It’sALearningLife!

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What Vulnerability Really Means!

                                                                                

What Vulnerability Really Means
Frayed Rope

Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.     

Brene Brown, Rising Strong

Have you ever felt vulnerable?

Vulnerability is one of those touchy feely words that women fear, and men rarely admit to. However, being vulnerable is a crucial ingredient of forming true connections with others, communicating effectively, and building healthy relationships. Being vulnerable involves being honest and open about our emotions, feelings, fears, insecurities. And sometimes, being vulnerable is about asking people for help.

Like it or not, we have all been vulnerable to something or someone. But what exactly does vulnerability look like? In her book Dare to Lead, Brene Brown describes vulnerability as “the emotion that we experience during times of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” Being vulnerable can make us feel raw, exposed, and uncomfortable, because it puts us in position for us to be seen by others at moments where we might not feel confident or be at our best. At the same time, being vulnerable can help us to practice self-acceptance, gain confidence in our own abilities to overcome hardships, and show empathy and compassion to others. However, there is no mistaking the fact that that being vulnerable is tough. Vulnerability requires us to trust that the person we are being vulnerable with, will not take advantage of us or use our vulnerability against us.

Myths vs Facts Call Out
Myths vs Facts Call Out

Six Myths of Vulnerability

Due to the real and perceived risks that come with being vulnerable, many of us struggle with it and avoid it at all costs. Being vulnerable is necessary part of connecting with ourselves and others. Being vulnerable helps us to get in touch with our own feelings and emotions and to seek and receive support. But, if being vulnerable is so important and beneficial, why do so many of us struggle with it? Answers to this question can probably be found in the hurt that people carry from past experiences and the common misperceptions that some people have about vulnerability. To better understand what being vulnerable means, let us look at what it does not, using the six common myths about vulnerability identified by Brene Brown.

  1. Vulnerability is weakness:  Have you ever choked up in a conversation or felt tears streaming down your face in while talking about something personal? I have. In fact, I used to feel embarrassed and annoyed that the more I wanted the stop the tears, the more freely they seemed to flow. In those moments, I have felt vulnerable, self-conscious, weak, and frustrated and that somehow it meant I didn’t have it all together. I was wrong. Feeling our emotions and expressing ourselves are healthy responses to dealing with difficult experiences. Being vulnerable takes courage and strength to share our thoughts and feelings with another person despite the fear of what they might say or that we will be judged. You can be vulnerable and strong.
  1. I don’t do vulnerability: Does the idea of being vulnerable scare you or make you uncomfortable? You’re not alone. When you’ve always had to be tough or to operate in “keep it together and push through mode”, it can be hard to embrace your vulnerable side. When we repress our emotions, we turn inwards and in some instances, we build walls that keep us isolated from others and hurting. From time to time, we all need to set our egos aside, take off the strong and tough person mask and open ourselves up to others for help and support- no matter how difficult it might feel. Afterall, we have all failed, made mistakes or done things that we aren’t proud of. In those moments, we need to surround ourselves with people who will listen, give us feedback, and offer comfort and support.  
  1. I can go it alone:  I know that we sometimes face situations that might lead us to the conclusion that it is better to go it alone. And there are times when this might feel like the best course of action. However, like the says goes “No man is an island, and no man stands alone.” Though this might seem cliche, we all need each other to get through the challenges and curve balls that life throws at us. So, from time to time, we need to reach out to our village for help and support and to lend a listening ear or helping hands as well. We build stronger and more intimate relationships with others when we can freely admit that we are not ok, when we are not o.k. For as the quote says – “What do we live for if not to make things a bit less difficult for each other?”
  1. You can be vulnerable without being uncomfortable:  There is no avoiding the discomfort that being vulnerable will make you feel. In our most vulnerable moments, we are likely to experience the fear of rejection, shame, guilt, abandonment, or judgment.  While the risks are real, when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we also open ourselves to the possibilities of love, compassion, acceptance, and support. So, think of being vulnerable as that weak muscle that you rarely ever exercise. Whenever you exercise it, it might feel sore for the first couple of days, but if you keep working it, the muscle becomes stronger and so do you. Embrace the discomfort of being vulnerable, it is a necessary part of the process.
  1. Trust comes before vulnerability: Most of us grew up hearing the stern warning to be careful of who we trust because the more we let people in or share, the greater the chance that they might hurt you. It’s no wonder then that some of us struggle with trust and intimacy in our relationships or find it hard to let our guards down. So, which comes first- is it trust or vulnerability? According to the research, the answer is not either or. It’s both. We need trust others to be vulnerable and we need to be vulnerable to build trust with others. Simply put, it you want people to trust you, you must be vulnerable and to be vulnerable you need to trust others. Tag you are it!
  1. Vulnerability means sharing all the private details of your life with everyone: While vulnerability requires honest and openness in communication, it isn’t about spilling your guts to everyone or oversharing information that might be inappropriate. It always important to respect and maintain personal and professional boundaries. You should only share what you feel safe to share and never put out information that might compromise you or put others at risk. So be smart and use common sense as you engage and connect with others.  

When all is said and done, deciding when we to be vulnerable and who we can be vulnerable are dilemmas that we will all face from time to time. However, don’t let the risks and perceived myths about what vulnerability means discourage you from doing so. The next time you find yourself in a challenging situation or have an opportunity to build a healthy and positive relationship (personal or professional) take a chance and exercise your vulnerability muscle. Because when you do, you and your relationships will thrive and become richer, stronger and more meaningful that ever before.

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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The Four Agreements to Live By!

The Four Agreements to Live By
Cartoon- of-People -Seated -at- a – Meeting-Table-Image

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz has been sitting on my bookshelf for some time having been gifted to me a few years ago. However, I was nudged to read it after hearing it recommended in a recent discussion. Curious about the what the four agreements were, I spent a few hours reading it on the weekend and was pleasantly surprised by the simple yet powerful code of conduct it shared about how we are to live our lives. I know you must be thinking- what is this code of conduct and how is this relevant to me? But stick with me, I am going somewhere.

Whether you are a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or identify as Agnostic or Atheist, you all have some core beliefs that you live by or that guides your actions. These core beliefs or code of conduct provide the fundamental principles and standards by which you live your life. And while the code of conduct offered up in The Four Agreements is not fundamentally new and you probably practice one or all of them in some way, when applied together, they have the potential to transform your life and lead to new experiences of increased freedom, happiness, and love.

What Are Agreements?

According to Ruiz, every aspect of our lives, culture, religion, language, values, and belief systems are based on a series of agreements that already existed before you were born. As children, you didn’t have the opportunity to choose what you believe or did not believe in, you didn’t even choose our own name. Instead, you learned to agree with the information passed on to you from other humans such as your parents, teachers, and other authority figures in your society.

Because of this process which Ruiz called “domestication”, children grow into adults who learn to adhere to the agreements which form their belief systems. When you obey the agreements, you are rewarded and when you go against them, you are punished. The agreements teach you everything- what a “woman” is and who a “man” is. And you also learn how to judge yourself, judge other people and judge your neighbors. You also learn to pretend to please those around you because of the fear of rejection.  You create an image of how you should be to be accepted by everybody.

In so doing, you become someone you are not, punishing yourself when you don’t follow the rules according to your belief system and rewarding yourself when you are a “good girl or a good boy.” The result is that you abuse yourself by not practicing self-love and by practicing self-rejection when you try to measure up to an ideal of perfection. And no one abuses you as much as you abuse yourself.

Ruiz further explained that while there are thousands a of agreements that you and I have made with ourselves, other people, with God, with society, with your partner and your children, the most important agreements you will make are the ones you make with yourself. In these agreements, you tell yourself who you are, what you feel, what you believe and how to behave. And the result of this is your personality. In those agreements, you say- this is what I am. This is what I believe. I can do certain things and some things I cannot do. And these are the many agreements that make us suffer, that makes us fail in life.

So, what can you do about these agreements? According to Ruiz, if you want to experience true fulfillment and happiness, you must find the courage and will to break the agreements you made that are based on fear and claim the personal power that each of us was born with. Each time you break an agreement, the power you used to create it returns to you – allowing you to change the entire system of your old agreements. And this is the personal power that you will need to adopt the four new agreements which will help you transform your life.

Wooden Hands Clasping Each Other
Wooden- Hands- Clasping- Each- Other- In- Agreement-Image

What Are The Four Agreements?

  1. The First Agreement – Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the words to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love. This agreement urges you to remember that your words are powerful. And like a double-edged sword, they have the potential to speak life or death into your life and that of others. Ruiz explained that the human mind is fertile where seeds are continuously being planted. The seeds are opinions, ideas, and concepts. So, what words do you use to speak to yourself? Are they kind? What words do you sow to your children- are they seeds of love, confidence, fear or doubt?
  1.  The Second Agreement -Don’t Take Anything Personally: This agreement states that nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering. So do not to place your trust in what others do or say. You only need to trust yourself to make responsible choices. When you truly understand this and refuse to take things personally, you can hardly be hurt by the careless actions or comments of others.
  1. The Third Agreement-Don’t Make Assumptions: According to Ruiz we all tend to make assumptions. The problem with assumptions is that we believe them to be truth and act accordingly.  We make assumptions about what others are doing and thinking, we take it personally and then we blame them and react by sending them emotional poison with our words. Rather than doing that, this agreement encourages you to find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama.
  1. The Fourth Agreement- Always Do Your Best: This agreement is about the action of the first three. It encourages you to commit to doing your best regardless of circumstances. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Nonetheless, simply do your best, and this will help you to avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret. When you do your best, you don’t have to worry about the results. Embrace the mistakes, learn the lessons, and accept yourself.
My Life- My Rules Picture
My- Life -My -Rules -Image

My Takeaways

I’ve read many books this summer, but this book resonated with me differently than the others. Not only was it deep and full of ideas that challenged my own thinking, but it made me think about the agreements I have made with myself, in my different relationships and roles (personal and professional). And while all four agreements were powerful, the one that gave me pause is the Third Agreement – Don’t make assumptions.  

I know that making assumptions is wrong and that when and where I do it, I am projecting my fears, insecurities, doubts, and expectations on others. I also recognize that I also treat many of my assumptions as truth and act accordingly. Afterall, most of us create stories and narratives in our heads that justify our positions on a issue to help us make sense of situations we are facing. These assumptions are potentially damaging to relationships as we defend our positions and try to make the other person wrong. In so doing, I sometimes take what people say and do personally- making it about me. And sometimes, this might cause me to react emotionally, negatively, and unwisely as I fail to truly consider other people and their perspectives.

I am not particularly proud of this pattern of behavior, and I resolve to do better. This book reminded me yet again that it is always better to ask questions (however uncomfortable) than to make assumptions, because assumptions sets us up for suffering. I also know that it can be hard for us to ask for what we want, and to communicate our needs. But, we can’t assume that the people around us know what our needs are and then judge them when they fail to meet our expectations. Everyone has the right to tell you no or yes, but you always have the right to ask and vice versa.

Final Thoughts

So, today I commit to breaking with my old agreement of making assumptions and to create a new agreement to communicate openly and clearly and free of emotional poison. I also hope that (by reading this article), you take an opportunity to consider how these four agreements apply to how you operate in your relationships and interactions with others and make the changes that will transform your life for better.

So over to you, which of the four agreements resonate most with you? What agreements have you made with yourself and others? What old agreements do you need to break. What new agreements will you make? Comment and let me know .

Until next Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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Danger: How to Avoid Work Stress and Burnout!

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Did you know that overwork and burnout contributed to more than 745,000 deaths worldwide in just one year? Yes, according to Psychology Today, a recent study from the World Health Organization, found that “over 60 percent employees suffer from workplace stress.” In today’s environment, the risk of feeling or becoming “burnout” has never been greater or more real. So even though we survived 2020, most of us approached 2021, cautiously optimistic that the worst was behind us, and that better days were coming with the COVID-19 vaccine. We hoped for the return to some semblance of normalcy and some relief from all the work pressures and life stressors. But here we are in the last quarter of 2021, and many of us are still experiencing a prolonged period of high stress and are at risk of becoming burnout.

In fact, many of us are now grappling with heightened levels of anxiety, renewed fear and uncertainty due to the recent surges in infection and hospitalization rates caused by the Delta variants of the COVID-19 virus, possible shutdowns, a return to the office, as well as the reopening of in person school. Therefore, it is fair to say that 2021, has not delivered the well-deserved break from the stresses of life that many of us hoped or wished for.

The Stress Curve-Image
The- Stress- Curve -Image

The Difference Between Stress and Burnout

Although many people use burnout and stress interchangeably, the two concepts are very different. The World Health Organization describes “burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” On the other hand, stress is an everyday response to the demands and pressures of life. Stress affects both our personal and professional lives and can lead to a decline in productivity, motivation, and mental wellbeing, as well as an increase in lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.

In explaining the difference between burnout and stress, Forbes explained that “you can’t cure burnout  by taking an extended vacation, slowing down, or working fewer hours. Stress is one thing; burnout is a totally different state of mind. Under stress, you still struggle to cope with pressures. But once burnout takes hold, you’re out of gas and you’ve given up all hope of surmounting your obstacles. When you’re suffering from burnout, it’s more than just fatigue. You have a deep sense of disillusionment and hopelessness that your efforts have been in vain. Life loses its meaning, and small tasks feel like a hike up Mount Everest. Your interests and motivation dry up, and you fail to meet even the smallest obligations.”

Are You Burnout?

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the world came to an halt, none of us expected it to last this long. Many employees cancelled vacation plans, stop participating in some social and leisure activities that were crucial to maintaining work life balance and overall well-being because of social distancing and quarantine requirements. Without these much-needed breaks and interactions to help them balance and reset, many employees are now experiencing burnout, struggling to maintain productivity, find purpose and meet performance expectations amidst the constant change and uncertainty in the environment. Some of the common signs of burnout identified by Psychology Today are:

  • Disillusionment/loss of meaning
  • Mental and physical fatigue and exhaustion
  • Moodiness, impatience, and being short-tempered
  • Loss of motivation and a reduced interest in commitments
  • Inability to meet obligations
  • Lowered immunity to illness
  • Emotional detachment from previous involvements
  • Feeling efforts are unappreciated
  • Withdrawal from coworkers and social situations
  • Hopelessness, and a helpless and depressed outlook
  • Job absenteeism and inefficiency
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Foggy thinking and trouble concentrating

So, are you burnout or at risk of becoming burnout?

Men Holding Batteries Changing from Full to Empty-Cartoon
Men Holding Batteries Changing from Full to Empty-Cartoon

How to Address Burnout?

In trying to better understand and address burnout, it is important to look at whether work stress leads to burnout or if burnout leads to stress. In this classic chicken and egg situation, it is easy to say that work stress causes burnout or to conclude that burnout causes stress. But although work stress and burnout feed off each other, research tells us that,  “burnout has a much greater impact on stress than vice versa. Once burnout begins, it develops gradually, building up slowly over time. Ultimately it leads to work being increasingly perceived as stressful: The amount of work is too much, time is too short, and stress is too great. When people are tired, their ability to operate effectively and efficiently as well as cope with stress decreases. “This means that the more severe a person’s burnout becomes, the more stressed they will feel at work, such as being under time pressure.” Therefore, ““Employees suffering from burnout should be timely provided with adequate support to break the vicious circle between work stress and burnout.”

Having established that burnout can lead to detrimental physical and mental wellbeing, it is crucially important that we take proactive action to practice self-care (See previous post) and protect our overall well-being.  While each of us have our own strategies to deal with workplace stress and guard against burnout, Psychology Today offers some additional strategies that you can apply to boost your coping and resiliency skills:

  • Set time limits when you start and end your day and stick to those. Ideally, don’t work on weekends or at least limit your work to a couple of hours on one weekend day but not the other.
  • Use assertive communication with supervisors to set boundaries with workload and expectations.  Learn to say no.
  • Create a life vision or career plan that includes work-life balance. Your career and financial success should be harmonious with your personal life, including your health, relationships, hobbies, and more. Plan your career in the context of your life, not the other way around.
  • Be your own good parent and prioritize your self-care. Care enough about yourself to want the best for yourself not only in your career, but in your health and wellness. When you get adequate sleep, exercise, proper nutrition, and allow time for hobbies, you will be more productive at work.
  • Recover from the disease of being busy. Use mindfulness practices to reboot your mind, body, and spirit. By doing so, expect higher productivity, fewer errors, more creative thinking, improved problem-solving and collaboration, and higher emotional intelligence at work.
  • Delegate and access support. Look at your to-do list and ask yourself, “Am I the best person to do this? Am I the only person who can do this? Do I enjoy doing this? Is this worth my time?” Outsource tasks you don’t enjoy, when possible. Identify where you need help and ask for it.
  • Start your day right. Establish a morning routine that works for you and starts your day on the right foot. If you are a planner, plan your outfit, a nutritious breakfast, and set the coffee maker the night before. If not, leave yourself time in the morning for self-care. Practice a morning meditation or set intentions for the day.

Until next time Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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For additional insights on this topic, check out the additional resources at:

The Surprising Difference Between Stress and Burnout | Psychology Today

How To Tell The Difference Between Stress And Burnout (forbes.com)

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Want to Take Decisive Action? Try The 5 Second Rule!

Compass- Pointing- to -Take- Action
Compass- Pointing- to -Take- Action

Typically, when you hear about the 5 Second Rule, it is talking about the amount of time you have to quickly pick up a piece of food that has fallen to ground. This article is not about that 5 second rule but my latest summer book pick – The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins. In her book the 5 Second Rule, Mel Robbins offers up a new tool that we can use to take decisive action, overcome procrastination, hesitancy, and self-doubt to improve our lives, relationships, happiness, and work. Robbins points out that the 5 Second rule can be particularly helpful in situations where people are struggling with changing behaviors, finding the courage to do things that are new and scary and with controlling emotions and negative thoughts.

What is the 5 Second Rule?

The 5 Second Rule  is based on the idea that “there is a window that exists between the moment you have an instinct to change and your mind killing it. This is the 5 second window and it exists for everyone. She explained that “the moment you have an instinct to act on a goal (See post on SMART Goals) you must count down 5-4-3-2-1 and physically move to act on it or your brain will stop you. This is because when you need to act or have important decisions to make, your brain will kill the idea or impulse to act as you become overwhelmed by fear, doubt or become paralyzed by overthinking.   

To overcome this, Robbins recommended that you count backwards (5-4-3-2-1) as this mentally shift the gears in your mind. This mental shift then interrupts your default thinking and do what psychologists call “assert control.” By counting, you distract yourself from your worries, excuses and you can focus your mind on a new direction. And when you physically move instead of stopping to think, your physiology changes and your mind falls in line.

So, think of that one thing you truly want to do, that goal that you know you should be pursuing or that decision that you have been hesitating on and use the 5 second rule to count down 5-4-3-2-1 and then act. You can apply the 5 second rule to something as simple as making the decision to get up off the couch and exercise, to applying for a job, speaking up in a meeting, having that difficult conversation or deciding to move forward in your life.

 5 Second Countdown
5 -Second -Countdown

How to Use the 5 Second Rule

According to Robbins, you can use the countdown of 5-4-3-2-1 to push yourself to take simple actions towards your goals which will create a chain reaction since each actions improves your productivity and builds your confidence. This in turn increases your belief in your ability to control your life and make meaningful progress with your goals. So, whenever you feel an instinct fire up to act on a goal or a commitment, or the moment you feel that yourself hesitating to do something you know you should do, use the 5 second rule.

How to Apply the 5 Second Rule?

According to Robbins, here is how you can apply the rule to change your life:

  • First: “The moment you have an instinct…”

The first thing to note is that “An instinct is not a rash, irreversible decision. It’s not destructive, illegal, or harmful behavior.” Mel Robbins defined an instinct as any urge, impulse, pull, or knowing that you should or should not do something because you can feel it in your heart and gut. These are instincts of the heart. They are moments when your heart speaks to you. We all have our own unique brand of wisdom, made up of our experiences, intuition, and DNA. In those small, 5 second moments, when this wisdom bubbles up inside of you, the urges are your instincts. They are the “knowing” that you should do something even if you don’t “feel” like doing it. 

  • Second: “To act on a goal…”

The second element of the Rule that is critical for you to understand is that it’s not just about acting on any instinct, it’s an instinct that’s tied to a goal. For example, you might have an instinct at get from the couch and go for a run. In this case, if you act on this instinct, you bring yourself one step closer to your dream of transforming your health. Research has shown that our gut is our “second brain.” Do you ever get a feeling in your gut telling you what to do? We get these “gut feelings” when our hearts and minds are trying to tell us something. And usually, these gut impulses are tied to greater goals.

  • Third: “You must push yourself…”

The third element of the 5 Second Rule is that you must push yourself. The Rule is about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone even when you don’t want to. It’s about taking control of your own life, one push at a time. When the moment comes where you feel the instinct to do something related to that important goal, this becomes your window of opportunity. But if your brain senses fear or doubt, it will shut this instinct down in an effort to protect you. Nevertheless, you can take control to do what you need to do to change your life and move towards your goals.

  • Fourth:  Move within 5 seconds…”

Physical movement is key. All you need to do is move in the direction of your instinct. If you do not take physical action within 5 secondsyour brain will kill the instinct. So just start your countdown at 5 and then go take action. Robbins also stressed that while the rule is simple, it isn’t easy and will only work if you do it.

  • Fifth: “Or your brain will kill it.”

If you don’t physically move within 5 seconds, your mind will kill your dreams. According to Robbins, your brain is like an overprotective, irrational, “helicopter” parent. It thinks it’s keeping you safe when in fact it is keeping you from growing as a person, stretching yourself in your business, and fully experiencing life. One of your brains most basic job is to protect you. It does this by keeping us away from anything that feels scary, hard, or uncertain.

Final Thoughts on the 5 Second Rule

If you are struggling with procrastination or are prone to overthinking like me, the 5 Second Rule offers a valuable tool for us use our courage to take decisive action. And while it might seem like a simple or a rash way to make decisions that can have a life changing impact, the rule does not advocate that you do this “blindly” or that you use it to make quick decisions that might harm you. Instead, the rule urges us to consider those long-standing goals that we sometimes get stuck with because of overthinking and doubt and to be intentional about doing the things that we know will make our lives better off. So, the 5 second rule should be applied to those small and incremental steps you need to take to get to that all important goal.

In the words of Mel Robbins, “Life is already hard, yet we make it so much harder when we listen to our fears and convince ourselves to not take action.” So, the next time you feel overwhelmed by fear or doubt about something you know you need to do – give the 5 second rule a try.

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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The Fred Factor: 4 Ways to Be the Best At What You Do!

Make the Difference Word Collage
Make- the- Difference- Word -Collage

At some point or another, we’ve all met a ‘Fred’, needed a ‘Fred’, been helped by a ‘Fred’ or better yet have been a ‘Fred’ to someone else. So, what is a ‘Fred’? A ‘Fred’ is someone who goes above and beyond to deliver excellent service or stands out in his or her work regardless the role or circumstances. Reflect on your most memorable customer service experience or a time when met someone who provided the high-quality service that blew you away or left a lasting and positive impression on you- that was a Fred. Or think about that co-worker that always takes full accountability for getting his /her job and can still be counted on to help pick up the slack when necessary- he /she is also a “Fred”. Freds exist in every profession and provide great examples of engaged employees whose consistently outstanding performance and attitude serve as inspiration and motivation for us all.

However, in today’s environment where employee engagement is at an all-time low and many employees are struggling to stay motivated, it can be hard to be a ‘Fred’ or find a ‘Fred’.  According to Gallup, only 15% of employees worldwide and 35% in the U.S.  fall into the engaged category. Gallup identifies three types of employees in the workplace: engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged. Employees who are engaged (Freds) show up as highly enthusiastic and involved about their work and workplace. Whereas employees’ people who are not engaged put in their time but are psychologically unattached to their work and company. Actively disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work — they are resentful that their needs aren’t being met and are acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers potentially undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.

Colored Pencils With Different Emotions
Colored- Pencils -Expressing -Different- Emotions -Image

Are You A Fred?

In his book The Fred Factor, “Mark Sanborn tells the true story of Fred, the mail carrier who passionately loves his job and genuinely cares about the people he serves. Because of that, he is constantly going the extra mile handling the mail and sometimes watching over the houses of the people on his route, treating everyone he meets as a friend. Where other might see delivering mail as monotonous drudgery, Fred sees an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of those he serves.

When I think of Fred, I think of those awesome frontline workers especially in health care workers who bore the brunt of the pandemic and still showed up to work every day at great risk to their own lives and that of their families showing compassion and empathy to those they cared for. I also think of those garbage collectors, teachers, public safety officers who go the extra mile despite trying circumstances and all the other everyday people who we rely on for the provision of goods and services. Now I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always show up as a Fred. There have been times in my work life where the toxic working environments and difficult relationships with coworkers have left me feeling disengaged and resigned to doing enough to get by.  But because I pride myself on doing my best, when and where I find myself struggling, I have found other ways to engage myself and relied on the support and encouragement of my inner circle to help me remember my why and get back on track.

Different Elements of Excellence-Infographic
Different- Elements- of -Excellence-Infographic

Four Principles of the Fred Factor

So if you are feeling disengaged, actively disengaged or discouraged by your current work/life situation, consider using the following four principles of the “Fred Factor’ to refresh your energy and find your mojo to unleash creativity and enthusiasm in your personal and professional lives.

1.Everyone Makes A Difference: It doesn’t matter how large or even how screwed up an organization is. An individual can still make a difference within that organization. An employer can hinder exceptional performance, choose to ignore it, and not adequately recognize or encourage it. Or an employer can train employees to achieve exceptional performance and then reward it. But ultimately, only the employee can choose to do his or her job in an extraordinary way, either because of, or despite, circumstances.

 2. Everything Is Built on Relationships:  Here Sanborn explained that the service performed by the U.S. Postal Service of delivering his mail gave him what he paid for-nothing more, nothing less. However, the service he received from Fred was amazing because of the relationship he had with Fred. It differed from the relationships he had with any other postal carrier, before or since. Indifferent people deliver impersonal service. Service becomes personalized when a relationship exists between the provider and the customer. Fred took time to get to know and understand his customers needs and preferences. And then he used that information to provide better service and excellence.

3. You Must Continually Create Value for Others, and It Doesn’t Have to Cost a Penny: Don’t have enough money? The necessary training? The right opportunities? In other words, do you ever complain that you lack resources? Have you started believing that “more with less” is an impossibility? Then consider Fred. What resources did he have at his disposal? All Fred had was a drab blue uniform and a bag. But, he walked up and down streets with that bag full of mail, and his heart and head full of imagination. That imagination enabled him to create value for his customers, and he didn’t spend an extra dollar to do it. He just thought a little bit harder and more creatively than most other postal carriers.

4. You Can Reinvent Yourself Regularly:  According to Sandborn, if Fred could bring such originality to putting mail in a box, how much more could you and I reinvent our work? He recommended that on the days when you wake up tired, and your professional commitment is wavering and just getting the job done and going home at the end of the day becomes your primary objective- think about Fred. Because if Fred the Postman could bring that kind of creativity and commitment to putting mail in a box, you and I can do as much or more to reinvent our work and rejuvenate my efforts.

At the end of the day, while we cannot control the things that happen to us, the circumstances we face, we can choose how we respond, to have a positive ‘can do” attitude and to stay engaged.

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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How to Be Fearless: 5 Principles to Overcome Fear!

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Meaning- of- Fear- Image

I am not afraid; I was born to do this.”

Joan of Arc

What do you fear?

All the stories of people who have overcame extraordinary circumstances to beat the odds, those who rose to the top of their game to achieve great success or blazed new trails are filled with examples of men and women who pushed past crippling fear, failure, rejection, and disappointment to chase after their dreams. Their stories show how they stepped out of their comfort zone and embraced risks to achieve breakthroughs and their life’s purpose. But whether you are successful or not, every one of us wrestle with fear in one area of our lives or another.

Fear becomes particularly evident when we are faced with making decisions about important life events such as marriage, divorce, starting a new business or career path. Fear can also impact decisions about having children, managing finances and making investments – fear can affect everything. In fact, research tells us that “fear is one of the seven universal emotions experienced by everyone around the world. Fear arises with the threat of harm, either physical, emotional, or psychological, real, or imagined. While traditionally considered a “negative” emotion, fear actually serves an important role in keeping us safe as it mobilizes us to cope with potential danger.”

Having said that, when individuals are driven by fear, they can show up as anxious and unable to take decisive actions. Fear can prevent people from stepping outside of their comfort zone, taking risks, seizing bold opportunities to pursue their dreams and doing things they have never done before. How we deal with fear can make or break our efforts to live meaningful and successful lives. So, what are you afraid of? What would you do if you were not afraid?

Courage- vs- Fear- Directional Signs-Image
Courage- vs -Fear- Directional- Signs-Image

Be Fearless: 5 Principles for Overcoming Fear

In her book Be Fearless, Jean Case shared five principles for a life of breakthrough and purpose, gleaned from change makers all across the world. She tackled the question about why some people achieve transformational breakthrough while others do not? In answering the question, Case pointed out that the people who have gone on to change the world did not have extraordinary abilities, they were just passionate about making the world better. They seized opportunities despite the obstacles, loud objections and they succeeded. Therefore, if you are seeking to overcome fear and the fear of failure to achieve transformational breakthrough in your life, here are the five principles of “Be Fearless” that you should consider and apply:

  1. Make Big Bets and Make History: There is no perfect time to make a big bet. Case recommended that you start right where you are with the resources, experience, talents, and connections you currently have and just take it one step at a time. Though people will not know about your big bet until it is proven and successful, work diligently at it anyway. All it takes is a passion to make a big bet on that great idea that might change your life, solve a problem, or positively impact the world around you. Big bets change the world. So, while it natural to be cautious, strive for big ideas, not incremental change. Look at what has worked in the past and try to do more of it because history making transformation happens when people strive for revolutionary change. So, do you have a big bet or big idea that’s been burning inside you? What would it look life for you to start where you are and take your own big bet forward?
  1. Be Bold, Take Risks:  According to the Case, it is easy to get caught up in protecting the status quo or what seems comfortable rather than pursuing a different path.  Risks bring failure but we should not fear failure or making a mistake. Instead, we should try new things and keep experimenting. Because according to Josh Linker- playing it safe can become recklessly dangerous. Case also argued that even in parenting, allowing children to take risk teaches resilience and independence and promotes fun. Companies that play it safe and fail to keep abreast of trends are sure to go extinct- think of the fall of Blockbuster and the rise of Netflix. When you consider getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new to advance your big bet, make a point of also writing down the downside of not taking the risk. Then find your “courage zone’ because this is where exciting things happen. You cannot achieve great things if you do not pursue what matters to you.
Fear of Failure on Type Writing
Fear-of- Failure- Image
  1. Make Failure Matter:  We all have suffered failure in one area or another of our personal and professional lives. But for some people, failures can trigger feelings of “imposter syndrome” which causes individuals to doubt their abilities or feel like a fraud. Rather than getting stuck in a rut of self-limiting thoughts, try to apply the lessons learned from your setbacks to help you push forward. This way of thinking about your failures is best captured by the quote from Thomas Edison, who famously said, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 things that won’t work.” Making failure matter means staring down both the failure and the fears that accompany it and applying the lessons as you move forward.
  1. Reach Beyond Your Bubble: Study after study confirms that we all have biases of one kind or the other which can narrow our perspectives of people that live and think differently than we do.  To minimize or eliminate our blind spots, we must intentionally seek to open ourselves to diverse people, new ideas and different ways of thinking. This means stepping outside of our “comfort zone” and stepping into our “courage zone.” Rather than see people’s differences as obstacles or barriers, see them as opportunities to collaborate and forge unlikely partnerships and new opportunities. We are better together. Surround yourself with people that can help you reduce or minimize your blind spots. So, the next time you are at a table, ask yourself – who is not at the table, what perspectives could help us avoid blind spots?
  1. Let Urgency Conquer Fear: For some of us, overthinking and overanalyzing are a way of life. But if we spend too much time over thinking things, we will miss the boat, get trapped in analysis paralysis or just get stuck in your own way. But according to Case, we can choose to act with urgency or have urgency thrust upon us.  When our backs are against the wall, when options are few, when time is no one on your side, a certain clarity can set in bring with it a boldness you might not have had in you. So, if you find yourself in this situation, let the urgency of the moment move you to act. Adapt the Nike slogan to “Just Do It”, fail fast and early and use the lessons to move on. So, what would you do if you were not afraid? Each of us are responsible for the kind of impact we have on the world. Go blaze your own trail, follow you own path. Go be the one!

At the end of the day, “fearlessness is not a lack of fear. It is the ability to look fear in the eye and look past it.” 

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

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The Law of Attraction: 11 Steps to Attract the Life You Want!

The Law of Attraction-Image
The- Law- of- Attraction-Image

One of my all-time favorite things to do is to curl up in a comfy space and read a good book. The kind of book that keeps you flipping the pages, forget that you were hungry and or fail to notice time passing by. And though I read all throughout the year, there is something about summertime that makes me want to read more and spend time reflecting on the gems and insights I gain from all the books I find while combing through the library shelves. So, when I came across The Law of Attraction Plain and Simple by Sonica Ricotti, I became curious about what the law of attraction is, how it works and/or even if it does work. So, I read it and thought I would share some of the main ideas and takeaways from what I learned about the law of attraction.

The Law of Attraction

The law of attraction states that you attract into your life what you project into the universe. This simply means that the people and events you attract into your life are based on what you focus on and direct your attention to. The law of attraction is based on the view that what we focus on expands. So, if you and I have negative thoughts, we will send out negative energy which will attract negative people and things into our lives. But if we think positive thoughts and feelings, we will generate positive energy which will attract positive events, people, and things to our lives. So, if you are feeling negative or positive in this moment- that is the energy you are sending out to your environment and the people around you.

As a person of faith, let me start by saying that I do not necessarily believe that all our life experiences (good or bad) are a result of the energy we put out in the universe. Like me, you might have had good and bad life experiences that you did nothing to deserve or could not control. However, what I liked about the concept of the law of attraction is the perspective that we can shift our thoughts, language, and emotions to stop negative energy flow and learn to project positive energy and attitudes. And when we intentionally project positive energy and attitudes, we will experience greater levels of contentment, inner peace, happiness, and success.

11 Steps to Attract the Life You Want!

While the book is not prescriptive, it outlines 11 valuable steps or suggestions for you to consider as you seek to attract and manifest the life you truly want to live and follow your dreams:

The Law of Attraction
Positive- Attracts- Positive-Image
  1. Decide What You Want: The first step of the law of attraction requires you to think about what you want- what you really want if you want to attract and manifest it. It also points out that some people struggle to figure out what they do want or are fixated on the things they do not want. And when you fixate on what you do not want, you experience negative thoughts that releases negative energy which then attracts negative people, situations, and experiences into your life. The solution to this is to become clear about what would want for yourself if anything was possible. Once you have decided on what you want- write or type your list and post it somewhere where it will be a constant reminder of what you want to focus on and where you are going.
  1. Choose Your Thoughts and Feelings: The second step in the law of attraction is to become aware of what you are thinking and feeling. So, on a scale of 1-10 (1 is feeling bad; 10 is feeling great) how are you feeling right now? The more positive you feel, the more positive the energy you will send out. Similarly, negative thoughts lead to negative feelings which will cause you to send out negative energy. One way to increase your awareness of how you feel is to draw a big wheel with eight spokes representing the areas of your life: finances, health, family/friends, romance /significant other, career, fun and recreation, personal growth, and service to others. Then give yourself a rating for each area. This awareness will help you to shift your thoughts and energy to help you focus on where you want to be.
  1. Keep in End in Mind: The next step of the law of attraction is to think about what you want to be remembered for. What would you want to be said at your memorial service? This will help you to determine what your most important values (The things that are most important to you) are and help you to make the choices that align with your purpose or the life you want to live. Once you have figured this out, write out a list of your core values and reflect on them to determine if you are living in alignment with your values. This will also help you to generate the positive energy required to attract all that you desire for your life.
  1. Remove meaning: This step is based on the perspective that you create and attach meaning to everything you experience in life. You get to decide whether an experience is positive, negative, or neutral. You have the power to choose what feelings you attach to each situation, event, and experience by how you interpret the things happening to you. The best way to do this is to separate the facts of the situation from your interpretation of the situation. If you can recognize the difference between the facts of what happened and your interpretation of what happened, you are free to choose an interpretation that is more positive in nature.
  1. Let Go: This step of the law of attraction advocates that you let everything that is currently happening in your life be and the accept your life exactly the way it is and exactly the way it is not. Acceptance does not mean you are giving up or resigning yourself to any condition, it simply means that you stop resisting. Resisting does not change the situation and only generates negative energy, which then attracts more of the same negative situations in your life. Additionally, whenever you use the word should to describe how things should be in your life, you are resisting what is. And this generates more negative energy.
Positive Mind-Positive Vibes-Positive Life-Image
Positive- Mind-Positive-Vibes-Positive- Life-Image
  1. Forgive: Forgiveness is one of the ultimate keys to emitting and creating positive energy but is arguably one of the most difficult things to do. However, nothing produces more negative energy than unforgiveness. Holding on to grudges and resentment can feel like an anchor is dragging you down. The key is to free yourself from those negative thoughts and emotions. Because according to Ann Lamott “not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”
  1. Unleash the Past: While your past plays a big role in who you are today, holding on to the regrets and mistakes of the past can create negative feelings which some people take into their present and future. This step of the law of attraction recommends that rather than feeling like a victim of your past, you should release past experiences and the negative energy they produce. By freeing yourself from the past, you create a clear space to generate positive energy. And by being aware that you are holding on the past and recognizing that your choices are influenced by that, you develop the consciousness to make other choices.
  1. Be Grateful: The step of the law of attraction recommends being grateful for what you already have in your life by simply taking the time to recognize your many blessings. When you focus on what you already have, you feel good and release positive energy. One way that you can practice being grateful is to start and end your day thinking about 3 things that you are grateful for.
  1. Choose Your Friends Carefully: This step draws on the old adage that says “show me your friends and I will tell you who you are.” Reflect on how you feel after you have spent time connecting with your friends. Do you feel energized, encouraged, and inspired? Or do you find yourself always giving advice or feeling drained after you have been around them. Surround yourself with people who are living the life you want to live or those that will push you towards the direction of your dreams.
     
  2. Connect Mind, Body and Spirit: This step makes the point that most people make excuses that they are too busy juggling all their responsibilities to take care of themselves. However, self-care is an important part of taking care of your mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. So, ask yourself- what are the obstacles in your life that have prevented you from taking time for yourself and recharging your batteries? Then set aside some time to do activities to improve your mind (reading) your body(exercise) and your spirit (meditation).
  1. Allow It: The final step is the law of attraction is to allow that which you desire to manifest in your life. For you to receive it, you must be prepared to receive it and have no doubt. So, dream big and believe anything is possible if you believe.

Until next time, Remember It’sALearningLife!

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Peaks and Valleys: 8 Ways to Make Them Work for You!

Life is a Journey- Color Sign
Life- is- A- Journey-Image

Are you at a peak or in a valley? If you are reading this article, chances are you might be dealing with a difficult season, have just come out of a one or are heading into a challenging period in either your personal or professional life. But in this age of social media, where we are bombarded with images of people living their “best lives” through their highlight reels, it is easy to believe that some people have all the luck, while you are struggling or feeling stuck. Truth is, nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems. Life is a every changing journey, filled with peaks and valleys or highs and lows that each of us go through. Since no one gets to go through life without experiencing peaks and valleys, how can we make the most of these peaks and valleys to make them work for us?

The Peaks and Valleys of Life

My latest read Peaks and Valleys  by Spencer Johnson,  answers this question by explaining that- when people know how to make good times and bad times work for them, they worry less and do better. And ultimately, they become easier to live and work with. According to Johnson, peaks and valleys refer to those high and low moments we experience throughout our lives. The peaks typically represent our successes and the moments we celebrate, feel good and content. On the other hand, valleys are seen as times of struggle, anger, disappointments, unhappiness, and failures. But that is not the sum of it. There is still good in the valleys. Valleys also provide opportunities for development and growth and can serve as preparation for climbing the next peak of our lives.

As I read the book, I found the simple yet deep insights of the peaks and valley approach helpful to rethinking my own approach to dealing with personal high and low moments.  So here are my top 8 top takeaways from the book that I hope might be useful to you as you make your personal peaks and valleys work for you:

Photo Showing Peaks and Valleys
Peaks- and -Valleys-_Photo by Temo Berishvili on Pexels.com

How to Deal with Peaks and Valleys

  1. It is natural for everyone everywhere to have peaks and valleys at work and in life: Personal peaks and valleys are as natural as the physical peaks and valleys you see in the landscape all around you. Peaks and valleys are scattered all around us and are connected in similar ways. You can feel “up” in one area of your life (career) and down in another (relationships). We all have ups and downs, and no two people experience similar situation the same way- we are all different.
  1. Peaks and valleys are not just the good and bad times that happen to you. They are also how you feel inside and respond to outside events. How you feel depends on how you view the situations you are faced with. The important thing is to separate what happens to you from how you feel about yourself as a person. Losing your job does not make you a lousy employee, nor does getting a divorce make you a failure. Separate your emotions from the act/event itself. You are still good, worthy, and valuable even if a bad thing happened to you. You can still feel good about yourself even when bad things are happening to you.
  1. Peaks and valleys are connected. The errors you make in today’s good times create tomorrow’s bad times. And the wise things you do in today’s bad times create tomorrow’s good times. There is no sharp difference between where the highest part of the valley ends, or the lowest part of the peak begins. Similarly, our physical and personal peaks and valleys are connected. A lot of what you and I will experience in the future will be determined by the choices we make in the present. This includes choices about how we spend our time and money, whether we invest in ourselves and the right relationships. When we waste our resources, make poor choices, and lose sight of what matters most, we are creating your own future bad times.
  1. Peaks are moments when you appreciate what you have. Valleys are moments when you long for what is missing. How you experience a valley has a lot to do with how you spend your time in it. We are all sometimes guilty of turning our peaks into valleys by what we choose to focus on. When we do not celebrate our small wins and the progress we have made and just focus on what is missing or lacking, we can change our personal peaks into valleys. Negative thinking (See previous post) can create valleys in our own minds even when good things are happening to us, and our goals are being achieved. One way we do this is by comparing ourselves to others and using their situations to determine how well we are doing. If you want to have fewer valleys, avoid comparison. Plus, we do not get to stay in our peaks and valleys forever.  The secret is to truly appreciate and enjoy the time for what is while you are living it.
Love Live EKG -Image
Love- Life- EKG-Image
  1.  You cannot always control external events.  But you can control your personal peaks and valleys by what you believe and what you do.  For you to change a valley into a peak, you must change one of two things: what is happening or how you feel about what is happening. If you can change the situation- great. If you cannot change the situation, change how you feel about it to make it work to your advantage. This is especially important in times when you are faced with hardship and adversity. Always look for the silver lining in the dark clouds and choose hope. Choosing to have a positive mindset usually leads to a better result.
  1. Between peaks there are always valleys. How you manage your valleys determine how soon you reach your next peak. It is easy to feel unhappy and demotivated when you are going through a valley moment. Therefore, it is crucial that you find and use the good that is hidden in a bad moment. Manage your attitude and invest in improving yourself and your skills to help you reach your next peak moment. Afterall, if you do not learn in the valley, you can become bitter. If you truly learn something valuable, you can become better.
  1. A plateau can be a time for you to rest, reflect and renew. Just as peaks bring us high moments and valleys bring us low moments, plateaus provide an opportunity for you to take a break from the hustle and bustle of life. Personal plateaus are just as natural as personal peaks and valleys and can help you pause or press the reset button on your life.  Because plateaus are a neutral zone, they can help you to assess what is happening in your lives and gain clarity about your next move and steps. The trick is not to stay at the plateau too long since nothing happens there.
  1. A great way to get to your next peak is to follow your sensible vision. Imagine yourself enjoying your better future in such specific believable detail that you soon enjoy doing what takes you there.  Here is where you create the image of your future peak (think about your big dream or SMART goal) in your mind. Imagine what your future peak will look, sound, feel and taste like. When you make your future peak clear, meaningful, and sensible to you, it will serve as the pull that gets you through your valley when you encounter challenges in making it a reality. By imagining yourself enjoying the future peak or in that better place, you will start enjoying doing whatever takes you there.

At the end of the day, it is not about trying to avoid the ups and downs of life but learning how to make the best of them. The valley prepares us for the mountain top experiences.  Challenges give us opportunities to grow. Valleys are our reminders to keep showing up. If you do not appreciate your valleys, you will not be able to fully celebrate your peaks. There is a lesson to be learned from all our personal peaks, valleys, and plateaus.

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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Carrot, Egg or Coffee Bean- Which Would You Rather Be?

Carrot, Egg or Coffee Bean - Pic Collage
Carrot, Egg or Coffee Bean-Which Would You Rather Be- Pic Collage

On my most recent Library run, I came across a small book called The Coffee Bean (A Simple Lesson to Create Positive Change) by Damon West. Curious about the title and cover, I picked it up and flipped through the pages. Surprised by the simple story format and cool illustrations, I borrowed it thinking it would be an interesting and easy read. When I settled down to read it, I completed the Coffee Bean story in an hour because of its simple yet fascinating message on how to overcome adversity and create positive change.

The Coffee Bean Story

The Coffee Bean story uses the powerful analogy of a pot of boiling water and how three objects (a carrot, an egg, and a coffee bean) are changed by the heat and pressure when placed into the pot. Though the carrot goes in hard; it becomes soft from the heat and the pressure of the water. The longer the carrot stays in the boiling water, the more it loses its original form, becoming softer and softer, eventually losing its vibrant color and taste. The egg has a hard outer shell that covers its soft liquid insides, but when placed in the boiling water, the soft liquid inside begins to get hard. And if the egg stays in the water for a long time, it becomes so hard that even the hard outer shell cracks. But when the coffee bean is placed into the pot of boiling water, it transforms the whole environment and water becomes coffee. So, as small as the coffee bean is, it is not changed by its circumstances, it completely changes its environment from the inside out.

Pot of Water Boiling over Wood Fire-Photo
Pot of Water Boiling over Wood Fire

Meaning of Coffee Bean Story

The pot of boiling water represents the hardships, challenges, and adversities that you and I face in life. The carrot, egg and coffee bean represent how we respond and are affected by the various circumstances we face. I do not know what your pot of boiling water might look like, but each of us have or have had a hardship or adversity that we have struggled to overcome or are still facing. Your pot of boiling water might be a divorce or separation, a broken relationship, the loss of a loved one, infertility, illness or disease, financial hardships or the loss of a job that defined you.

When life hits you hard or knocks you down, it is easy to throw in the towel, lose sight of who you are, what you believe and to give up on the dreams you hold dear. But at the same time, we also get to choose our mindset (fixed or growth) the attitudes we display (positive or negative) to help us be resilient and overcome obstacles. So how do you respond when you find yourself in a pot of boiling water? Are you the carrot, the egg, or the coffee bean?

When I think about my own life experiences (personally and professionally), I am sometimes guilty of allowing the harshness of certain situations to change how I behave and treat others. I can think of painful life experiences that have weakened me like the carrot, reduced me to tears and left me questioning why me? In other moments, the pot of boiling water I was thrown in hardened me like an egg who became resentful of those who hurt me and even struggling to forgive. Nonetheless, adversity has made me stronger and pushed me to be more resilient(See previous post) and better. So, as a coffee bean, I have also been able to take some of my boiling pot of water moments and transform them into coffee. And in so doing, I have overcame many hardships to have a positive impact on the people and organizations I come into contact with.

Hardships and adversity challenge us and can test our determination and commitment to what we value and believe is important. But we should never allow the circumstances of life to change us (make us bitter) or cause us to act outside of our true nature and what we believe to be wrong or right. We can choose to be a coffee bean by never losing sight of who we are, the power and strength within us and our ability to change our conditions (however difficult).

Whole Coffee Beans Falling-Image
Whole Coffee Beans Falling -Image

Life Applications: Five Rules of Being a Coffee Bean

The main message of the book is that, like the coffee bean, each of us have the potential to change the environments in which we operate or be changed by them. So here are five rules from the Damon West that you can use to become a coffee bean:

1.Get up every day and work out every day:  Here the workout is not just physical, it includes spiritually and mentally.  To get and stay in shape spiritually, West recommends you have a conversation with God and ask the following questions- How did I do today? Was I a good person? Who do I need to apologize to or forgive? For the mental workout, he reminds us that we are what we eat, so pay attention to the kind of books you read, the websites you visit, shows you watch, and the kinds of music you listen to. And for the physical, be sure to exercise, get rest, and pay attention to your nutrition.

2. Serve others:  When we lend a helping hand to others without expecting to receive, we are also helping ourselves. None of us got to where we are without the help and kindness of others. So volunteer, mentor, pay it forward and actively seek ways to bless and encourage others.

3.Remember You Only Control 4 Things:  Some of us like to believe we have more control over our lives than we do. But according to the author (And I agree) the only four things we control are in our minds. This is- what you think, what you say, what you feel and what you do. Outside of that, we control nothing.  So, focus on the things you can control and other people will notice your example and you will be able to make a positive impact on the environment around you.

4.Your past does not define you. Your past is your lesson and not a determinant of your future. We should try to learn from our past but do not dwell there. Your losses and mistakes do not define you. Your present is a gift, and your future should serve as a motivation for you to become the best version of yourself each day. So ask yourself if/how the choices you make today will impact your future self.

5. Energy is about body language– Your energy and body language are what people see before you open your mouth. Pay attention to how you walk, your facial expressions, your tone of voice- we are always communicating. Your energy is contagious and can impact people positively or negatively, so ensure that you are spreading something good. And always remember to smile.

When all is said and done, we will all find ourselves in our own pot of boiling water. No one wants to be the soft and weakened carrot, nor the mad and miserable egg. All of us must strive to be the coffee bean that says, no matter how much heat and pressure I face, I will not allow my circumstances to change me. Instead, I will change and improve my environment and get stronger in the process. So, imagine your most difficult life situation and ask yourself how I can be a coffee bean?

Until next time, Remember, #ItsALearningLife!

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How to Change Your Behaviors & Build Better Habits?

Turtle climbing steps
Turtle climbing steps

In my last article, I talked about how habits work and explained that much of our behaviors are automatic habits that keep us operating on autopilot for significant part of our days and lives. So, what is the big deal? Due to the unconscious nature of these habits, some of us are functioning daily with habits that no longer serve us well. In fact, some of our habits might be undermining the lives we want to create for ourselves and our families and ways we want to grow and develop personally and professionally.

Since all of us have at least one habit that we want to break or build, I challenged you to identify one habit that might be getting in the way of your overall effectiveness. This could be a mindset, a relationship or habits related to food, exercise or how you spend your time and money. Since, our habits can work for and against us, it crucial that we understand them and ensure that they are working in our favor and not to our detriment. Afterall, we cannot fix a habit without being aware of it and truly wanting to change that behavior. But then again, changing behaviors is never easy. Our habits formed to serve a function and usually continue to do so.

Unformed Puzzle vs Formed Puzzle in Human  Mind-Image
Unformed Puzzle vs Formed Puzzle in Human Mind

Small Habits, Big Changes

At the start of the year, I read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear which talked about how tiny changes, little choices, small improvements in behaviors can unlock significant success and remarkable results. He argued that “if we could improve by 1% every day for an entire year, we could get 37% better by the end of the year.” Conversely if we got 1 % worse every day for an entire year, we would end up being 37% worse off at the end of the year. Clear explained that if you are willing to build small behaviors and layer 1% improvements on top of them, they will compound and multiply the same way that money multiplies with compound interest over time.

One example of this could include you increasing your water intake daily or replacing one meal with a salad or fruit/vegetable smoothie. Making any one of these choices on daily basis might not immediately result in a drastic dip on the scale or in the pounds automatically melting away. But after a year of this behavior (and if you continued), you are more than likely to experience and see huge gains in your health and overall nutrition than had you made no change at all. The full impact of those actions will compound as getting 1% better every day counts for a lot in the long run.  

From Seed to Plant-Different Stages of  Development -Image
From Seed to Plant- Stages of Development -Image

How to Change Habits?

Whether you or realize it or not, we tend to describe ourselves based on our behaviors and preferences. People who love coffee will say they are coffee drinkers, while other who prefer teas will identify as a tea drinkers. And this applies to how people see and describe us as well. So, when it comes to changing habits, identity plays an important role as well. According to Clear, the most effective way to change your habit is not to focus on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become. Your identify emerges out of your habits since every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become

Clear advises that rather than setting a goal to read 12 books this year, see yourself as reader. Then ask yourself, what do readers do? Answer- readers read (even one page every day.) When you embrace the identity of a reader and read, you are intentionally casting votes for that person you want to become. And the more you do it, you will start to see yourself as that person and build up more evidence to support that identity. Once this behavior becomes your identity, there are no limits on the number of books you will read. Therefore, focusing on identity change can help you become more conscious about your habits and help you to be more intentional about your behaviors so that you can make better choices to grow and improve.

For me, reading Atomic Habits back in January was huge game changer and it helped me restart writing this blog. I had originally started this blog back in 2014 to share my ideas, lessons, experiences and engage with others. For the first year, I consistently published an article weekly, which later dropped off to once a month, then periodically and I stopped altogether in 2016. This was due to a lack of motivation brought on by the stresses of what was happening in my life at the time. Though I had stopped writing my blog, I continued my love of writing by contributing to newsletters at work and occasionally writing on LinkedIn. For the years in between, I developed a habit of spending a huge amount of my down time scrolling through Twitter and consuming long hours of TV with popular streaming services such as Hulu, Netflix, and Apple TV. I was not reading books as much anymore and I was not writing consistently which are hobbies I enjoyed and believed I was good at.

After reading the book, my biggest takeaway was that “Every action you take is a vote for the person you want to be.” When I assessed my habits and tracked how I was spending my time, I realized I was voting for an unproductive TV watcher not the writer I hope be. My behaviors were not consistent with my goal to write and publish a book someday. I knew these behaviors had to change. Consequently, I decided that my writing rut was over, and I would resume writing and publishing articles on my blog again. As I got started, I had doubts about whether I would be able to be consistent and I worried about whether anyone would read. After thinking about it for a while, I resolved that writing was more about me honoring my talent for writing and not burying my talent due to my fears.

One Day, Day One
One Day, Day One

So, I committed to posting an article every Monday and developed a system to support it. I am happy to report  that since February 1, 2021, when I started, I have a casted a vote for the writer I hope to become and now have written and published 16 articles and counting. There is now evidence to support my identity as a writer and my journey continues. I no longer allow the fear that no one will read or doubts about how good the articles are to discourage me. I just vote for myself as a writer every week. Plus, I spend way less time on Twitter and watching TV.

So how about you? Who and what are you voting for? Which new identity do you need to adopt? Clear explains that “In an election, you do not need to have 100% of the votes to win, you just need the majority.” Changing your habits is not about perfection, just progression, so just start. And even if you mess up, avoid the all or nothing mentality and get back on track to keep going.

Four Laws of Behavior Change

So how do we change our behaviors and build better habits? In his book Atomic Habits, Clear recommends four laws for behavior change to build better habits as follows:

  • 1st Law of Behavior is make it obvious: One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behavior on top. This is called “habit stacking.” The habit stacking formula is: ‘After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]. With that you then set an implementation intention that says, After work, I will go outside for a 15 minutes’ walk in my community.
  • 2nd Law of Behavior Change is make it attractive:  The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming. Habits are a dopamine-driven feedback loop. When dopamine (feel good hormone) rises, so does our motivation to act. It is the anticipation of a reward – not the fulfillment of it – that gets us to act. The greater the anticipation, the greater the dopamine spike. Temptation bundling is one way to make your habits more attractive. The strategy is to pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do. Example, I will watch Netflix while riding my stationary bike.
  • The 3rd Law of Behavior Change is make it easy:  The most effective way to learn is to practice not plan, so just get started. If you spent all your efforts thinking about the issue, researching, and gathering information but never took any action to execute, you are simply in motion. Instead, focus on performing the behavior . Habits are formed when we repeat the behavior over and over. Remember the amount of time you spend performing the habit is not as important as the number of times you have performed it.
  • The 4th Law of Behavior is make it satisfying: “We are more likely to repeat a behavior when the experience is satisfying.” So the “The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change states that “What is immediately rewarded is repeated and what is immediately punished is avoided. “If you want to get a habit to stick, you need to feel immediately successful—even if it’s in a small way. So come up with a way to reward yourself for performing the behavior.

Afterall all is said and done, there is no magic bullet for behavior change. Any kind of meaningful change takes time, intentionality, commitment, and consistency. Some days will be harder than others and what works for me might be different for you. So just get started.

Until next time, Remember, It’sALearningLife.

P.S. If you want to learn more about behavior change, breaking bad habits and building better ones, check out James Clear’s website for more insights.

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Habit Check : What Your Habits Say About You!

Habit Check
Change Habits

All bad habits start slowly and gradually and before you know you have the habit, the habit has you.”

Zig Ziglar

Have you ever driven home or to work with no memory of how you got there, or completed a chore or task without any recollection of what you did?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. Much of what we do from the moment we wake up to when we go to sleep is based on habits we perform on autopilot. In fact, research tell us that “approximately 43% of our daily behaviors are performed out of habit.” So, where you park your car, whether you park facing in or out, what you reach for first when you wake up and what you do next, your entire morning routine is made up of small or big habits.

How Habits Work?

A  habit  is defined as “A settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” Our habits usually emerge from decisions we made long ago, stopped thinking about but kept on doing thereafter. But when you think about it, it should be quite unsettling that we live so much of our lives largely unaware of our unconscious behaviors. Nevertheless, our habits become so much a part of us that people come to know us by them and form expectations of us from them as well. While some of our habits and routines are beneficial and help us to be more efficient and effective, not all of them are. Bad habits can undermine our overall personal effectiveness and negatively impact our relationships, finances, health, productivity as well as our physical and mental well-being.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Aristotle
Habit Formation Process-Image
The Habit Formation Process

The Habit Formation Process

Habits help us get through our daily lives by removing the need for us to make tiny little decisions on everything and free us up to focus on things that are new and different. In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explained that once a behavior becomes a habit, the decision-making part of our brains go into a sleep mode of sorts and the brain starts working less and less and can almost completely shut down. The real advantage of this is that we can do complex activities such as parallel parking a car without having to think about it while devoting our mental activity to something else.”

So how do habits form? Duhigg explained that every habit functions the same way and has three parts: the cue, the routine, and the reward.  Together, these three parts create a habit loop which is innate in all of us and is like a tape that plays repeatedly.

  1. The Cue – This is the trigger that prompts our behavior and makes our brain go in autopilot mode. The cue can be an emotion, a time of day, something in the environment, other people or a pattern of behavior that consistently trigger a certain routine.
  2. The Routine – This is the behavior itself; the action you take in response to the cue.
  3. The Reward – This is the why you do it or the benefit you gain from doing the behavior. This is perhaps the most important part of the habit loop and is the reason the habits exist.

Every time we perform the behavior and experience the reward, our brain releases dopamine (feel good hormone) or a sense of relief that communicates to our brains that the activity is meaningful and whether to remember it or not. And so, a habit is formed. Some habits have immediate rewards, while others have hidden rewards. As you might appreciate, habits with immediate rewards are easier to pick up, whereas those with delayed rewards are more difficult to commit to and maintain. This explains why people find it easier to pick up their phone and scroll through Facebook and Instagram or, sit on the couch and watch TV rather than exercising or going to the gym.

Habit Word cloud-Image
Habit Word Cloud

Your Habits and You

One example of how the habit loop works for me is with my nightly routine of cleaning the kitchen before I go upstairs to prepare for bed. My cue for cleaning the kitchen comes around 10:00 p.m. when I started feeling tired am prompted to go upstairs for bed. My routine is to wash the dishes, wipe the stove, clean the counter, and ensure that there is nothing left in the sink. The reward I get is the pleasure of seeing a clean and clear kitchen because I really dislike going to bed with a dirty kitchen. So, every night when I turn the lights out and head upstairs to prepare for bed, I feel satisfied knowing that when I go downstairs in the morning, a clean kitchen will greet me as I start my day.

Some of my other habits include saying grace before meals, craving a cup of warm team with cinnamon and vanilla every night as I relax, to even checking the doors before I go to sleep. I perform these tasks automatically without making any decision to. So, what are the cues, routines, and rewards in your life? What is your cue for exercising, picking up your cellphone several times a day to check for messages or notifications or scroll mindlessly? Is it an emotion? For those of you who enjoy a drink after work or at the end of the day- what is your prompt? And for the bingers who enjoy watching movies– is it moving to the couch, picking up the remote that leads to a 3–6-hours binge of Netflix series or movies?

It is also important to note that our habits can be dangerous. For some people, poor habits can show up as addiction to smoking, alcohol, junk or comfort foods, social media or as procrastination, poor relationship decisions, lifestyle diseases and huge amounts of credit card debt due to online shopping. When we stop thinking about our decisions and take all of actions based on habit, we run the risk of operating on fixed mindsets (see last post), bias and stereotypes. When and where we do so, our decisions can impact other people negatively and sabotage the best outcomes for ourselves. Additionally, our habits can cause us to be absent-minded in our interactions with others and not be present in the moment, thereby preventing us from engaging with our loved ones in meaningful ways. 

Final Thoughts on Habits

So, are we stuck with our habits?  No, not all. Habits can be hard to change but not impossible. The first and most crucial step in fixing or changing our habits is to become aware of them.  So, what is one habit that you really want to change? How does that habit serve you or not serve you? What new habit do you want to build? Stay tuned for next week post ‘Building Better Habits – The Fours Laws of Behavior (Part 2.) Until next time, Remember It’s A Learning Life!

If you want to change your life, change your habits.

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Are You Fixed or Growing ? It’s A Mindset Thing!

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You have probably heard the quote “Whether you think you can or can’t you are right.” This quote is typically used to convey the power of our thoughts and mindsets to influence the trajectory of our lives. And though we all have different mindsets, these mindsets determine how we deal with challenges, respond to stress, our personal and professional relationships and the level of achievements and personal success we attain. Our mindsets shape our perspectives on everything in the world around us- from money, health, work, play, to how we deal with adversity. Our mindsets determine our behaviors and responses.

What is a Mindset?

 So, what is a mindset? A mindset can be defined as our way of thinking, what we believe, expect and the lens through which we see the world. According to psychologist Carol Dweck, there are two mindsets:  the growth and fixed mindset. “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.” Whereas “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view fosters a love of learning and a sense of resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

Difference Between Fixed vs Growth Mindset

This distinction between the growth and fixed mindset proves the importance of our mindset in how we show up and respond to life challenges. It explains why some less talented people thrive in the harshest of circumstances while their more talented and fortunate counterparts fail or do not live up to their potential despite their privilege. People with a growth mindset believe in their ability to grow, change, and adapt, and believe that others can too. They typically see life as a journey with lessons you can learn every day and are always striving to improve on their last best effort. People operating from a growth mindset are curious, resourceful, innovative and are open to learning new things as well as unlearning old and unhealthy patterns and behaviors.

On the other hand, people with a fixed mindset believe that their talents and abilities and that of others are static and predetermined traits. When people adopt a fixed mindset, they show up as inflexible and with deep seated convictions about how people are. Usually, they are not open to broadening their perspectives to learn something new or to look at an issue through another lens. In a fixed mindset, people can also see themselves as victims and believe that life is always happening to them. Fixed mindset people have a more fatalistic view of their lives and others. They think “This is how I am; this is my personality; you get what you get and no more.”

Another important thing to note is that our mindsets are dynamic. The growth and fixed mindset are present in all of us and can change overtime as we mature and navigate different life issues. Since we are never entirely one or the other, an individual might have a fixed mindset toward dealing with a particular challenge and a growth mindset to dealing with another. And though our mindset impacts everything we do, it is entirely possible for us to be unaware of them because they were shaped very early in our lives. Some people developed beliefs about their abilities from the positive or negative words that were spoken to them and over them during their  childhood and based on how we were treated. While others discovered talents and unique gifts from the praise and encouragement they received.

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Why Does Mindset Matter?

So, think of an area that you struggle with, or something you feel strongly about. Where did you learn that self-limiting belief or develop that mindset? Was it a stereotype passed on to you? Was it something you were told? Or did you come to that position based on an experience?  For as long as I can remember, I have always struggled with Mathematics and other numeric subjects and I have the poor grades to prove it. This fixed mindset that I did not like math and was not good at it started in my childhood and travelled with me all the way through to college. However, in my first year of unde