Tag Archives: personal development

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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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!

Are You an Imposter? Here’s How to Deal with It!

Wooden- Blocks- Spelling- Imposter
  • Are you an imposter?
  • Do you secretly worry that others will find out that you’re not as bright and capable as they think you are?
  • Do you sometimes shy away from challenges because of nagging self-doubt?
  • Do you tend to chalk your accomplishments up to being a “fluke,” “no big deal”?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you might be suffering from Imposter Syndrome or impostorism. And you are not alone. Believe it or not, Imposter Syndrome is very common and research suggests that around 70 percent of adults’ experience it at least once in their lifetime.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

According to Harvard Busines Review,  Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.  People who suffer from it (‘Imposters) usually experience severe feelings of self-doubt or a sense of being a fraud that outweighs any feelings of success or evidence of their accomplishments. And as they struggle with doubt about their competence, skills and talents, imposters find it difficult to accept that they are worthy of the admiration and regard of others.  

Maya Angelou (Nobel Laureate and World-Renowned Writer) is an excellent example of highly talented people who suffered from imposter syndrome. Throughout her career, she expressed feeling underserving of her many achievements and having great difficulty celebrating her successes. Many other brilliant people (Including Albert Einstein), famous celebrities, world class athletes, successful entrepreneurs also admit to feelings of doubt about whether they are worthy of the high esteem and value people attach to them. The same is true for the ordinary people you encounter in everyday life who discount their value and abilities and modestly attribute their contributions or achievements to luck or chance.

Although imposters doubt themselves and do not feel deserving of the accolades they receive; this does not mean that they lack self-confidence or have low self-esteem. On the contrary, people who suffer from imposter syndrome tend to perfectionists. And because they do not see themselves and their efforts as perfect, they believe that others will see their imperfections and realize that they are frauds or not as good as they seem.

Effects of Imposter Syndrome

So, what does Imposter Syndrome look like in everyday life?

According to Harvard Business Review, some of the common things that imposter think and say usually include:

  • “I must not fail”: Here imposters put a huge amount of pressure on themselves to not fail or to avoid being “found out. This causes them to work harder and longer and therefore leads to an inability to enjoy their success.
  • “I feel like a fake”: Imposters believe they do not deserve success or professional accolades and feel that somehow others have been deceived into thinking otherwise. They believe they give the impression that they are more competent than they are and have deep feelings that they lack knowledge or expertise.
  • “It’s all down to luck”: The tendency to attribute success to luck or to other external reasons and not their abilities is a clear indicator of imposter syndrome. Imposters may typically say or think: “I just got lucky” or “it was a fluke”. Often this masks the fear that they will not be able to succeed the next time.
  • “Success is no big deal”: This is the tendency to downplay success and discount it. They might attribute their success to it being an easy task or having support and often have a hard time accepting compliments.

Additionally, when people see themselves as imposters, they avoid speaking up and sharing their ideas because they do not think they are valuable. They might even question whether they “fit” or belong in the rooms in which they find themselves. People who suffer from imposter syndrome might also miss out on opportunities for promotion and advancement because they do not believe that they are qualified for positions that are within their scope or area of expertise. The same is true for dating relationships where a man or woman might not ‘shoot their shot” with the the person they are interested in, because they believe the person is way out of their league. Regardless of the scenario, the self-limiting thoughts and doubts associated with impostorism, have led many to procrastinate in moving towards the direction of their goals and dreams – be it starting that business, writing that book, making a career decision or better yet a personal one.

Person- Pushing- Away- Boulder- Titled- Imposter -Syndrome-Image

How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome is not about having low self-esteem, being depressed, suffering from anxiety or lacking self-confidence. It mostly about the never-ending pressure that some people put on themselves to get better and the self-perpetuated feeling of incompetence and self-doubt that persist despite their efforts and achievements. As such, the biggest difference between imposters and non-imposters is how they think and what they say to themselves.

So, what can you do to deal with Imposter Syndrome?

Here are 10 tips from a leading expert on imposter syndrome that might help you overcome  it:

  1. Break the silence: Shame keeps a lot of people from “fessing up” about their fraudulent feelings. Knowing there’s a name for these feelings and that you are not alone can be tremendously freeing.
  1. Separate feelings from fact: There are times you’ll feel stupid. It happens to everyone from time to time. Realize that just because you may feel stupid, doesn’t mean you are.
  2. Recognize when you should feel fraudulent: If you’re one of the first or the few women or minorities in your field or workplace it’s only natural you’d sometimes feel like you don’t totally fit in. Instead of taking your self-doubt as a sign of your ineptness, recognize that it might be a normal response to being an outsider.
  1. Accentuate the positive: Perfectionism can indicate a healthy drive to excel. The trick is to not obsess over everything being just so. Do a great job when it matters most. Forgive yourself when the inevitable mistake happens.
  1. Develop a new response to failure and mistake making: Henry Ford once said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” Instead of beating yourself up for being human for blowing the big project, do what professional athletes do and glean the learning value from the mistake and move on.
  1. Right the rules: If you’ve been operating under misguided rules like, “I should always know the answer,” -stop. Recognize that you have just as much right as the next person to be wrong, have an off-day, or ask for assistance.
  1. Develop a new script: Your script is that automatic mental tapes that starts playing in situations that trigger your Impostor feelings. When you start a new job or project for example, instead of thinking for example, “Wait till they find out I have no idea what I’m doing,” try thinking, “Everyone who starts something new feels off-base in the beginning. I may not know all the answers but I’m smart enough to find them out.”
  1. Visualize success: Do what professional athletes do. Spend time beforehand picturing yourself making a successful presentation or calmly posing your question in class. It sure beats picturing impending disaster and will help with performance-related stress.
  1. Reward yourself: Break the cycle of continually seeking and then dismissing validation outside of yourself by learning to pat yourself on the back.
  1. Fake it ‘til you make it: Now and then we all have to fly by the seat of our pants. Instead of considering “winging it” as proof of your ineptness learn to do what many high achievers do and view it as a skill. Don’t wait until you feel confident to start putting yourself out there. Courage comes from taking risks. Change your behavior first and allow your confidence to build.

Final Thoughts

Imposter syndrome can help keep you humble and honest as you work towards becoming a better version of yourself. But don’t let it cripple you. You might never be able to eliminate it, but you can certainly manage it. Practice telling yourself a different set of messages- you are smart enough, your experiences are just as important, your ideas and insights are relevant.  As Michelle Obama once said, stop questioning if you belong at the table and recognize that you are needed at that table.

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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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.

Unknown

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Perspective is a Helluva Thing!!

elephant

Much of what we think, how we think, what we see, how we feel, and how we act is determined by our personal biases, and limited experiences. However “valid” or “right, “we believe these perspectives to be – they might not always be so. By failing to consider this, we often miss opportunities for meaningful learning , or risk missing the bigger picture. The Blind Men and The Elephant  poem below, reminds us that, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. For though our individual  perspectives might  differ, what matters more is, how we engage to collectively share our opinions, and respectfully consider the viewpoints of others through dialogue and teamwork. So, let’s challenge ourselves to not be blinded by our particular experiences, or mindsets of what we know to be “true” or “right”. Instead, let us continually look beyond the part(s) in front of us, and seek to discover the whole picture, and everything that is involved.

poem

The journey continues…

Tameca N. Brown

Copyright ©2015 http://www.itsalearninglife.com

Image Source : The blind men and the elephant. Poem by John Godfrey Saxe (Cartoon originally copyrighted by the authors; G. Renee Guzlas, artist).

That Commitment Thing….

comit 2Making a commitment is sometimes easy, but staying committed is most times hard. This is true of most commitments, whatever their shape or form. Nonetheless, at the start of a New Year, many people declare themes, set goals and share resolutions about what they hope to achieve in the long and short-term. Unfortunately though, some people are permanent non-starters, and their plans stay in their heads, on the papers they were written on, and/or are soon forgotten. Others might actually launch their plans with much enthusiasm, but fizzle out by the end the first month. For the remaining few, it is often a struggle to stay the course, juggle competing priorities and honor their commitments.

I am no different from those persons who struggle to stay committed to my goals. I started 2014 declaring ‘Increase’, as the theme that would guide my personal and professional goals for the year. I set lofty goals and plans to publish my Blog and post weekly, gain professional certification, pursue career advancement, lose weight, and the list goes on. For a while, I made steady progress with my goals and was feeling quite accomplished, as I successfully managed to balance everything. Suddenly, distractions and curve balls popped up everywhere. My rhythm was disrupted, and I began struggling to cope with all the changes, and challenges coming my way. Inevitably, I was unable to keep up with all the things I needed to do, planned to do, wanted to do, and some things started to slide. Blogging and exercising were the first activities to go, as did my little social life, while work, interviewing and studying competed aggressively for time. Fortunately though, I weathered this rough and difficult period, achieved some important goals (professional certification, career advancement) and things have begun to settle quite nicely.

Despite  my recent successes, I’m still struggling to stay committed to  my other goals. You would probably think that, success in one area of your life would automatically motivate you to push forward with your other goals. However, this is not always the case. The truth is, the road to success can be so tiring, time-consuming, energy sapping that, after you’ve succeeded in meeting a goal all you feel is relief. Relief and a strong desire to do nothing … nothing but pause, watch mindless TV, read books with titles you can’t remember, sleep, or just lie in the dark for hours of a time as you ponder what to do next.

comitThis recent experience made me think of  other people who are struggling to stay committed to the goals they’ve set. Year after year, many people struggle in their efforts to find that new job, buy that house, save to take that vacation, start or finish that degree, lose the weight and/or overcome a physical or health challenge. To the onlooker, they might seem to be failing in their efforts, but that picture of slow/no progress does not tell the full  story. At times, these people grapple with matters of survival, risk becoming  “burnt out”, and find it difficult to stay focused. Overtime, the lack of progress in meeting their goals can result in feelings of frustration, weaken their  resolve, and ultimately lead to disinterest in continuing to pursue said goals. In turn, this can fuel feelings such as inadequacy, which  further prevent them from moving forward, or even picking up where they might have dropped off.

So from one ‘struggler’ to the next, I urge you to not give up. Keep pursuing your goals. It doesn’t matter how far behind you are, or how late in the year it is, your goals are still important. Therefore, as you tackle your own life situations, here are some helpful reminders for you:

  1. Establish your priorities: Avoid being/becoming a slave to self-ambition,and spreading yourself too thinly. When you begin to feel  overly stretched and stressed, focus on the one or two activities that are likely to produce the most meaningful impact in terms or that important goal. Anything else is untenable.
  2. Put a plan in place: While it good to dream, our plans should be realistic and practical. Do not set yourself up to fail by setting goals that aren’t S.M.A.R.T.
  3. Pause and pace yourself: Give yourself some downtime. Watch a movie, read a book, or simply  do something that relaxes you. This will help you to either keep the balance in your life, or find it.
  4. Finish at least one thing and cut yourself some slack: You should always strive to put your best foot forward in whatever you do. But, bear in mind that your best effort at a particular point might be far from perfect. In these instances, do your best, learn the lesson(s), and accept the result(s).
  5. Assess yourself and your motives: Often times, the pursuit of a goal or plan can become so intense that you begin to feel burdened  by the fear of failing, or what people might say or think. If and when this happens, pause and ask yourself Why am I doing this? Does the goal still serve me or am I serving the goal? The goal should always serve you and reflect your best interest –not anyone else’s. If it doesn’t, forget it.
  6. Have a good support system: There are times when you will need to vent your frustrations and fears as you encounter difficulties. Lean on your friends and family. They will give you the much-needed encouragement you need to keep going even when you feel you can’t.
  7. Practice some self-discipline: Nothing worth having comes easy. Just ask the successful people you know. You will have to work tirelessly to meet your goals, and  honour your commitments whatever they are.

As the wise Jamaican Proverb says, “If yuh waan good yuh nose haffi run”.

Translation:  If you want good your nose has to run.

Meaning:  In order to achieve success you  will have to make sacrifices and/or work hard.

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