It seems a natural response to being hurt, facing challenges or experiencing unexpected tragedy is to respond with fear and anger and armour up. Armouring up can be anything from “From now on I copy everyone in on my emails to cover my butt.” to “I will not share anything authentic with you again.” to “I’m going to isolate myself from others.”
But research is clear about the role of optimism in resilience. While these armouring up responses are normal, it’s when they become a long term habit that our overall wellness, effectiveness and satisfaction with life can be affected.
While some people seem to be more naturally optimistic, there are times when all of us need to be intentional about it. Here are three practices I use to put down my armour:
- Lighten up. Lightening up means that we don’t take ourselves seriously and we put things into perspective, hopefully finding humour in situations. While that may not always be possible in extremely distressing situations, it can also mean giving yourself permission to “park the issue” even if it’s for a short time. This gives your brain a chance to get out of fight or flight. To lighten up, practice the “pause.” When you find yourself overly stressed, anxious, serious, in a rush, etc, take a deep breath, pause for 4 seconds, name what you are experiencing and then ask yourself a question to shift into more optimism. Some of my favorites are “Will this be important a year from now?” “Can I do anything about this?” “Can I invest my energy into something more important or positive?”
- Reframe. Reframing means that we interpret and make meaning of our experiences in a way that is optimistic. Resilience researchers followed children raised in neglect or abuse over a long period of time to see how they fared as adults. Those who did well (lived productive happy lives) did not attach the same meaning to their earlier experiences as those who continued in a cycle of neglect and abuse. The “stories” we tell ourselves about what happens to us can be even more important and crucial in determining how we do than what actually happened to us in the moment. Those children who were able to reframe their early childhood as learning experiences that helped them develop their strength and confidence did better than those who told a story of how their early childhood damaged them. Reframing also relates to how we think about things that didn’t go right for us, or failures. Resilient people are able to reframe mistakes or failures as opportunities to learn or create something different in their lives.
- Develop a daily ritual that facilitates connection to yourself, others, nature. Some of the things I do are to write down 3 things I appreciate or am grateful for, go for walks, review my file of thank yous from others, watch uplifting videos or read something uplifting, and send a text or email of appreciation to someone. I find that doing this helps me to lean more towards optimism than pessimism, put down my armour and connect to others in a meaningful way.
What are the strategies you use to put down your armour and develop your optimism?
This blog is the A in our PAUSE model of resilience – Active Optimism. Watch for the U in a future blog!!
In our strategic leadership workshops, we often hear from people some version of “But so and so won’t let me …” or “I’ve complained many times about our company’s … ” or “Our organization is so messed up that …” to which we sometimes say (kindly of course that “Whining is not a strategy.” If you are whining or looking at what is wrong, you cannot see opportunities and will not develop your skills. If, for example, you don’t think you are being provided with enough clarity about your job, instead of continuing to complain about or ask, over and over again, for clarity, ask yourself what you could learn about dealing with ambiguity. That will definitely lead to your next opportunity to learn and grow which is indeed a better strategy than whining!
I remember listening to an author once (sorry I can’t recall who it was!) who was asked about how she dealt with critics of her work. She replied, “I go where I am loved.” Most of us already have really well developed inner critics and so we don’t need to seek them out. Going where we are loved to find an audience for our work and our style (whatever work that might be!), leaves more energy to continue developing ourselves. Continually going down a path with people who don’t appreciate who we are leaves us demotivated, uninspired and worn out. Find those who love you and nurture them!
There is abundance everywhere. We just need to take time and pay attention.
The team had just spent an incredible few days, working hard to understand each other, letting go of past misunderstandings, and setting an inspiring vision and ideal of themselves that had them jazzed about what they could accomplish. I was excited as well, but I had witnessed this energy before only to return for a follow up session and discover the progress wasn’t quite as expected.
So what happens to some teams? They get stuck in the “actuality” of daily organizational life and instead of learning from things that don’t go according to plan, they look for who or what to blame and get stuck there. This judgement (which can also include judging themselves) leads to feeling stuck at best and bad communication, morale, and illness at worst. Judging is a pretty human reaction.
Our other option is to choose learning, where we first take a moment to breathe, then accept the human condition, and bring some curiosity, compassion and humor to the situation. This doesn’t mean we accept bad behaviour or sub par performance. It just means we accept human frailty, that we all make mistakes, and bring a more open energy to learning our way forward.
I have been journaling off and on for over 20 years. I have a drawer of completed journals that I’m terrified will fall into the wrong hands. I have used journaling for many reasons – to make sense of situations, understand patterns, create my future, get grounded, practice gratitude, and most importantly come back to myself.
Every once in a while I pull out a journal and read through it. I am both amazed at the progress I’ve made and depressed by some of the patterns (negative mainly) that persist. I’m entertained by some of my goals (swear less) and intrigued by others (the mind map of my ideal partner). (By the way I did find him. I just had to leave the country but that is another story 😉
But I digress … this past week, I went to a session by Lynda Monk on journaling. Lynda did a great job of gently inviting people to journal, along with helpful tips and her personal experiences with journaling. The most insightful observation for me was around how “sticky” trauma or strong emotions can be to those in helping professions. Journaling is a way to release those emotions.
I found her 5 step Life Source Writing process particularly helpful. I would say I have mainly focused on the writing, reflecting and affirming so I look forward to practising the first 2 steps of arriving and relaxing. The middle of the model is my main takeaway, that journaling brings me back to myself.
I have been taking Brene Brown’s very powerful e-course, the Gifts of Imperfection, and have been loving both the content and the course design. I read the book a few years ago and found it profoundly helpful. This course is taking the learning to a whole new level for me. I often joke in my creativity classes that I am a recovering perfectionist, and I am discovering just how much of an impact (toll?) that has on my overall ability to do my best work AND, more importantly, to enjoy my work. Brene’s definition of perfectionism as seeking to be perfect in order to avoid the pain of judgement has been an important insight for me. The remedy is to practice self compassion. Compassionate whispers replace the harsh judgments we throw at ourselves.
Well, today’s blog comes straight from the glorious weekend we had. I have no leadership tips today, just a tropical drawing I did while in Hawaii last December. Our weather yesterday was so amazing it felt tropical and so here it is!
And, on the theme of appreciation, I have finished a short paper on appreciative inquiry, incorporating all of the images from the last couple of weeks. Enjoy and do feel free to visit the store if you are interested in purchasing the images!
Download appreciative inquiry paper.
I will wrap up the discussion of appreciative inquiry by highlighting the 5D Model, the framework used to structure an AI organizational development initiative. The 5 stages are:
Define – describing the intent and scope of the initiative
Discovery – uncovering and appreciating the best of what is
Dream – envisioning what could be
Design – co-constructing what should be
Destiny – delivering and sustaining the dream
We actually use this model to organize and frame our work with clients. It has stood the test of time!
One of the first pieces of advice I was given when I started consulting was to get up every day and get dressed in my business clothes, even if I was working at home. The appreciative inquiry principle behind this is “acting as if is self fulfilling.” I think this is true. If you’ve ever been in a bad mood, but decided to smile and be nice to people anyway, at some point the bad mood becomes a good one.