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The Mental Shift That Can Change Everything

…RESPONSE-ABILITY at work and at home.

adapted from Fred Kofman, PhD. April 2013

“Sorry I’m late.
Traffic was awful!”

How many of your meetings start with this lame excuse? You know it’s a cop-out, yet an irrepressible urge makes you take the easy way out over, and over, and over again. It is not your fault, I know. It’s the irrepressible urge that makes you do it.

In Control versus Out of Control There are two types of causes: those within and those beyond your control. You have a choice about where to focus. The latter makes you look innocent. You are not to blame. The former makes you powerful. It is your “response-ability.” Being “response-able” means focusing on what you can do to respond to a challenge. It’s about taking ownership, rather than assigning blame and playing the innocent victim. As I wrote here, the price of innocence is impotence.

You can explain any result as the balance between these two causes: the challenge versus your ability to respond. When your ability is higher than the challenge, you succeed; when it is lower, you fail. Think of it as weight lifting. If your strength is bigger than the weight, you lift it; if it isn’t, you don’t. There is a funny asymmetry, though. When you lift, you call yourself “strong.” When you don’t, you call the weight “heavy.”

Has anyone ever told you that he was not capable enough to do the job? Yet how many times have you heard, “the job is too difficult!” The missing terms at the end of the sentence, the most important ones to avoid the victim mindset are “for me,” as in, “the job is too difficult for me.

Both explanations are (partially) true. The victim story gets you stuck in resignation and resentment. Someone is harming you and there’s nothing you can do. Life is not fair! The responsibility story empowers you. The ball is in your court. How are you going to play it?

Why are they stuck? My colleague Andrés found himself under the gun. While he waited for his garage door to open in Buenos Aires, two armed thieves assaulted him. “Get out of the car!” they threatened. He did. “Open the door of your house or we’ll shoot you!” they barked next. Andrés teaches people how to be response-able. Shaking, he calmly said, “My wife and daughter are in the house. I will give you my car, my money, anything you want. But I will not open the door.” The thieves took his car, his money, his watch, his phone and his laptop, but they didn´t take his life. I asked Andrés what he thought at that crucial moment. “If these guys were going to shoot me for not opening the door, God knows what they would have done to my wife and daughter inside. If they shot me in the street, they would have had to run. I could have died, but I would have protected my loved ones.”

The ability to respond does not mean the ability to succeed. Response-ability does not guarantee that you win, or even survive. It only reminds you that you can choose how you play and how you live.

Asleep with the Enemy We all want to be liked, as Dave Kerpen writes. The problem is that rather than following Dave’s counsel, many of us attempt to be liked through Idiot Compassion. We collude with the person stuck in the victim mindset. We blame, we moan and we groan.

“I can´t believe they did that to you!” “They shouldn’t have!” “You deserve better than that.” “They should fix it right now!”

These comments are soothing – like a drug – and equally deadly. They calm you down with sweet protection and rev you up with righteous indignation. But they don’t give you a way to address the situation. You may think the person making them is on your side, but your drug dealer is not your friend.

Fight Back! I am always tempted to collude with my clients. They are in pain and I want to be compassionate. However, I want to offer them wise compassion. For example, a call center manager whom I coached had a bad case of victimhood. His automatic response when his boss asked him about poor customer satisfaction was to blame his employees for poor manners, the finance department for small budgets, and the training department for lack of skills. I listened to his story, feeling for him. I expressed my sorrow and then asked him if he wanted my help.

When he agreed, I challenged him with these questions:

  • What is the challenge you are facing? (Instead of “What did they do to you?”)
  • How have you responded? (Instead of “What should they have done?”)
  • How has that worked out for you? (Instead of “How are they wrong?”)
  • What could you do now? (Instead of “What should they do now?”)
  • If you need help, whom could you ask? (Instead of “Who should fix it?”)
  • What can you learn from this? (Instead of “How should they be punished?”)

The pattern is simple: turn “they” and “should” into “I” and “could.” Stop blaming them, but don’t blame yourself either. Ability to respond does not mean guilt. It doesn’t matter who is responsible for the situation. What matters is that you see yourself as able to respond, improve and learn when confronting the situation.

What my client found is less important than what your colleagues can find when you ask them these questions with intelligent kindness.

A final word of caution: Remember that to earn the right to challenge someone out of victimhood, you must first listen, acknowledge his or her pain and ask permission to help. I have seen too many relationships broken by eager friends and spouses who interrupt with, “Oh c’mon! Quit being a victim and start thinking of what you can do to solve this problem!

“The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior
is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge,
while an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or a curse.”
— Don Juan, Mexican shaman (quoted by Carlos Castaneda)

Question for readers: What is your favorite victim explanation?

Fred Kofman, PhD. Economics, is Professor of Leadership and Coaching at the Conscious Business Center of the University Francisco Marroquín and a faculty member of Lean In. He is the author of Conscious Business, How to Build Value Through Values.

Fear Busters

This article’s theme area:
FEAR / SELF-DECEPTION

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When you get stuck,
you have countless ways to free yourself. Here are five potent fear-busters from Dan Neuharth PhD MFT:

1) Measure Fear’s Track Record
2) Get Curious
3) When Fear Plays the Survival Card, Call Its Bluff
4) Check Your Assumptions
5) Recognize and Break Denial

Fear-buster #1: Measure Fear’s Track Record
Fear’s job is to get your attention, yet for many of us fear has a lousy track record. We worry about worst-case scenarios regardless of likelihood. To bring fear back into line, try this experiment: Write down everything you are afraid of or anxious about that might happen to you in the next week. Then put your list away and forget about it. Seven days from now, take out your list. How much of what you feared actually came true? Most people find that few of their fears materialize and, for many of those that do materialize, they aren’t as bad as you’d thought or you find yourself able to handle the situation just fine. And remember, you’re not alone in having self-doubts. Look what some others have said:

“I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.” – Leonardo da Vinci
“There will be no proof that I ever was a writer.” – Franz Kafka
“My life has been nothing but a failure.” – Claude Monet

Fear-buster #2: Get Curious
In the face of overwhelming feelings, asking yourself the right questions can move you from a reactive to a proactive stance. For example:

  • If you find that you tend to criticize yourself or others to excess, keep the question “What positive thing can I say at this time?” close at hand.affirmation courage
  • If you feel emotionally numb, ask, “What am I feeling right now?” or “What was the last emotion I recall?”
  • If you’re an overwhelmed overachiever, a question might be, “What would be most satisfying right now?”
  • If you’d like to improve the quality of your primary relationship, the next time you are around your mate, keep in mind the question, “What would she most appreciate from me right now?”

Creative questioning can give fresh perspectives and innovative solutions. For example, when faced with a perplexing challenge, look at it from several different angles. Ask yourself:

  • If this was my only problem, how would I solve it?
  • If this was my smallest problem, how would I handle it?
  • If I knew I could make a difference, what would I do?
  • How much will this matter in a year?
  • How would I assess this situation if I were ten years older or younger than I am now?

survival3

Fear-buster #3: When Fear Plays the Survival Card, Call Its Bluff
Our worst fears devolve into concerns about our survival. When your fears deal the survival card, play it out. Ask yourself:

  • Is my actual, physical survival at stake?
  • What is the likelihood that a life-threatening situation will materialize?
  • What are my options for action?
  • What have I done in similar situations in the past?

Fear-buster #4: Check Your Assumptions
Fear makes the leap from possibility to probability, and it does so on the backs of unrealistic and illogical assumptions. For example, you might think: “If this relationship falls apart, I’ll never find another love.” Such a fear is based on such unfounded assumptions as:

  • We only get one love per lifetime.
  • Whether I meet appropriate partners is completely outside of my control.
  • I don’t have the ability to mourn, heal, and move on.

Another example: “I could never tell my lover some of my negative thoughts about him.” The underlying assumptions:

  • If you love someone, you won’t have negative thoughts or feelings about him.
  • People who love you will leave you, retaliate, or fall apart when they hear a negative judgment.
  • There is something wrong with me that I sometimes think negatively about my lover.

When you recognize unrealistic assumptions, you have the chance to redefine your reality from a healthier perspective.

Fear-buster #5: Recognize and Break Denial
We all have a personal “Defense Department” designed to keep internal emotional and psychological peace. A certain amount of denial can be adaptive. Ignoring, forgetting, or pretending can help you through rough times. However, like a faulty circuit breaker, denial sometimes trips prematurely or stays off too long. We are not always aware when we avoid our feelings or overreact to events.

Denial is the glue that binds the parts of ourselves which disturb us. The good news is that if denial is the glue that allows for self-deception, awareness is the solvent that dissolves denial. Here’s an exercise to bring your denial into the light of day where you can dissolve it.

Think of a current or past situation that troubles or puzzles you. Then ask yourself:

1) Are any of my thoughts, feelings, or actions serving to . . .

  • Sidestep or camouflage more painful feelings?
  • Procrastinate or avoid something?
  • Assuage my guilt?
  • Pre-empt loss?
  • Take the focus off me?

2) Do I feel distracted or fixated?

3) How grounded and authentic do I feel right now? Is this how I want to feel?

4) If someone I deeply admire asked me what I’m in denial about, what would I say?

5) How would the best part of me handle this situation?

Feeling Insecure?

This article’s theme area:
SELF ESTEEM / MEDITATION

Feeling Insecure: How to Get a Self-Esteem Boost
-Ed and Deb Shapiro

Have you ever been to a party and 10 people tell you how good you look, but one friendself_esteem_whiteMirrorBLOG says, “You look weird,” and all you can think about is that one comment?

If lack of self-esteem has got you down, find out how meditation can transform your negative fixation and help you find the inner confidence you’ve had all along.

The Dalai Lama met with a group of Western psychotherapists and asked them what was the most common issue their patients came to see them about. We were told they were unified in their response: a lack of self-esteem. Apparently, he found this quite hard to believe because self-esteem was not a known problem in Tibet. Later, we talked to one of his translators, Tashi, who’s now living with his wife and child in London. Tashi told us children growing up in Tibet would be welcomed and loved by the whole village, which he found very different from the way children are raised in our more nuclear family–oriented culture.

Perhaps it is this culture that has contributed to confidence issues, because it can be difficult to develop a good feeling about yourself if your home life is conflicted or limited. Ed’s family of five lived in a three-bedroom apartment in the old Bronx, at a time when children were told they were to be seen, but not heard. This inevitably influences a child’s—and later the adult’s—sense of worth or self-respect.

We watched as an eager, young television reporter from CNN asked the Dalai Lama:

What is the first thing you think of
when you awake in the morning?

We thought the world’s most famous meditator would say something deeply profound or insightful, something along the lines of vowing to save the world from its own ignorance. Instead, the Dalai Lama simply replied,

 “Shaping motivation.”

He said everyone, including himself, has to be vigilant so intentions are focused in the right direction, and that shaping his motivation on a daily basis reminds him to extend loving kindness and compassion to all others. Such motivation takes you beyond yourself so you are not limited by a lack of confidence or self-esteem.

When we met privately with the Dalai Lama at his residence in Dharamsala, India, he held our hands tightly as if we were dear friends. It felt as if he was filling us up with that kindness and compassion, so that we were re-invigorated with self-belief and certainty.

2 ways meditation can give you inner confidence
There are two very specific ways meditation can help you transform a lack of self-esteem into inner confidence and self-belief. First, it enables you to meet, greet and make friends with yourself. You get to know who you really are, and to accept and embrace every part. You’ll soon find that your doubts, insecurities or fears are really only superficial, as you begin to connect with a deeper place of trust, dignity and self-worth.

meditation3Second, it awakens you to the inter-connection between everyone, the sense that you are not alone here. Rather, you are a part of this wondrous planet, and the more you extend yourself with kindness, the less you will be focused on your own limitations. Discovering your inter-connection takes you from a place of self-centeredness to other-centeredness.

As you bring acceptance and loving kindness to yourself, you may uncover the deeper belief that you do not deserve to be happy, that you do not believe you
are good enough—a sort of built-in self-destruction clause. As Oprah says:

“What you believe has more power than what you
dream or wish or hope for. You become what you believe.”

So you invite kindness into that self-negation and lack of self-esteem, until such uncertainty dissolves in love.

Loving Self-Meditation

  1. Find a comfortable and upright place to sit. Take a few deep breaths, and watch the flow of your breath as it enters and leaves.
  2. Bring your focus to your heart, and as you breathe in, feel as if your heart is opening and softening; as you breathe out, release any tension or resistance.
  3. Now bring into your heart either an image of yourself or repeat your name, and hold yourself in your heart, tenderly and gently. Silently repeat, “May I be freed from self-doubt, may I be happy, may all things go well for me.”
  4. Keep breathing into your heart, holding yourself with love and repeating the words. This will generate a deep, loving kindness and appreciation for yourself.
  5. When you are ready, take a deep breath and let it go. Then go about your day with a caring heart and a smile on your lips.

Breaking The Cycle of Anxiety

This article’s theme area:
ANXIETY

There are many types and many reasons for anxiety. There is no “one size fits all’ solution to resolving the anxiousness that you personally are experiencing. Many forms of anxiety require time and guidance of a therapist; most often, however, it simply requires a new perspective or definition of some old views, behaviours and habits that have more than outworn their welcome. Perhaps you can affect this yourself, or perhaps you need to reach for some assistance: whichever path you choose, there is peace within reach.

I’ll offer many perspective on anxiety to get you thinking… and more importantly FEELING! Watch for the “eeks” or “poke” feeling – that will tell you that you have hit a vein of a pattern that is no longer working. You will feel it instinctually: trust it. 

Breaking the Cycle of Anxiety

-Deepak Chopra November 05, 2010

stress2

Sometimes life’s everyday stressors can send you into a tailspin. But if you always let your emotions rule, your body won’t remember to calm down. Get Deepak Chopra’s strategies to overcome those fears that keep you up in the middle of the night.

Fear is a natural reaction built into the mind-body system triggered by danger. After the danger is past, so is the fear response. But when fear spreads out into a general condition, it becomes a mysterious thing: anxiety. Anxious people are afraid even though there is nothing “out there” to be afraid of. Others overreact to triggers that ordinarily should be fairly easy to handle, such as being left alone for a day on their own. Still others are nearly paralyzed by highly specific phobias such as fear of heights, open spaces or insects. What is going on and what can we do about it?

Record numbers of people in modern society, predominantly women, suffer from mild to extreme anxiety. Billions of dollars are spent every year on tranquilizers to treat this condition, yet as the doctor writes out a prescription, he knows that the cause of the condition is unknown. Since human beings have lived with the fear response before recorded history, there should be a way to heal anxiety, and perhaps the best way to approach the mild-to-moderate types is not as a disease, but as a challenge. In anxious anxiety weapon2people, fear is allowed to roam freely; we can truly say that fear rules the mind. Yet it should be that you use your emotions, not that they use you. The challenge is to bring the fear response back under control. Otherwise, anxiety becomes ingrained and over time will spiral downward. The anxious person begins to be afraid of being afraid, because she knows that she has no power against it.

Because anxiety comes and goes, people tend to overreact when it appears, only to forget about it when it isn’t present. In order to find an answer to anxiety, you must start by dealing with anxiety when it suddenly rears its head in panic attacks, but also healing its underlying causes. Anxious people also tend to be worriers, so that must be taken into account as well. For now, I will focus on how to deal with anxiety when it appears. The acute attack is the moment when sufferers need the most immediate help. Over the next two months, I will discuss healing the causes of anxiety as well as managing worry.

Fear and the Body
Fear is rooted in the body, which has a natural way of dealing with it, as it does with every feeling. First there is a trigger that causes the body to react with fear. Once the cause is gone, the body clears away the fear response. Finally, it calms down, returning to its normal state of balance. The body knows how to get out of fear, a knowledge it has possessed for millions of years. So why don’t we let it?

thoughts swirlPeople who suffer from anxiety bypass their bodies because they get trapped in their panicky thoughts. The voice of fear paints scenarios of disaster that seem believable. Panicky thoughts quickly become obsessive, running through one fearful outcome after another. Anxiety makes it all but impossible to make rational decisions; therefore, the voice of fear becomes ever more believable even when the disasters it foresees are not reasonable at all. For example, a phobic feels that he will die if he climbs a ladder, goes out of the house, touches a spider or whatever the phobia happens to be, yet in these cases the voice of fear is talking nonsense when viewed rationally. Rationality is not what matters here. It’s what you believe that matters, always.

If you suffer from anxiety, your mind has gotten into the habit of holding on to fear instead of letting the response follow its natural cycle. What you need to do is to get it back into its normal rhythm. Your body wants to respond naturally but is being held back. Left to itself, the fear response isn’t mental; it’s physical. There are three steps to get the body accustomed to being in charge of fear again.

1. Get out of your mind and back into your body.
2. Clear the fear response.
3. Calm the body into its natural state of relaxation.

These steps must proceed in the order above. You can’t use simple relaxation until the fear response has run its course, and the response won’t end as long as the mind keeps fueling it with new reasons to be afraid. If you perform each step thoroughly, anxiety will subside and go away.

Step 1: Get Out of the Mind and Back into the Body
It is best to notice if you’re having anxious thoughts early on, before the spiral of anxiety fully takes hold. To get out of the mind, sit or lie down in a quiet place. Close your eyes, and feel your body. The sensations won’t be nice, because fear is cold, contracted, stiff, empty and trembling. Those are the basic sensations your body will be feeling. There may also be muscle weakness like when your knees turn to jelly or an ache around the heart. A sick feeling in the pit of the stomach is common. Even though these sensations aren’t pleasant, rest assured, they want to go out. Your body always tries to discharge discomfort, but it can’t do that while you are living in your head and blocking the release that needs to happen.

free your mindTake a few minutes and let yourself settle into the feeling of being in your body before you go on to step 2. For many anxious people even a few seconds feeling the body is too long. The mind jumps back in to take control. Before they know it, they are caught up in anxious thinking. Here are some tips on how to stay with your body instead of jumping back into your thoughts:

  • Take deep breaths. Draw the air down into the pit of your stomach, then easily and slowly release it again.
  • Follow your breath as it goes in and out, feeling it pass through your nose.
  • Lower your shoulders, a very relaxing movement. Letting your head nod until your chin rests on your chest is also very relaxing.
  • Sigh or yawn.
  • Accompany your sighs or deep breathing with a low moan of relaxation.

Of course, you shouldn’t do all of these at the same time. Once you are in your body again and not overwhelmed with anxious thoughts, proceed to the next step.

Step 2: Clear the Fear Response

Now that you feel your body, bring its unpleasant sensations to an end. By its nature, fear is temporary, but if it insists on sticking around, give a clear message: Let go. The message can’t be in words, however. The body’s language is entirely physical. So you need to send your instructions physically. This is unusual for anxious people, who have been sending mental signals of distress, vigilance, tenseness or worried anticipation for years. But, it isn’t hard to do. Your body can be retrained.let go6

If you try to attack it all at once, fear is too overwhelming. So break the body’s sensations down and deal with them one at a time. This is a very effective way to regain a sense of control. Here are the characteristics of fear and the methods to alleviate the sensation:

What you feel: Cold. Your body shivers and trembles. The sensation of coldness adds to a sense of weakness, like being naked in winter.
What you do: Lie in bed under a blanket while doing the remaining steps. Make sure the room is warm. Have the lighting be soothing, neither too bright nor completely dark. Darkness accentuates anxiety.

What you feel: Stiff. Fear paralyzes the body. It goes tense and motionless, frozen with anticipation of something dreadful that is about to happen.
What you can do: Lie on your back, slowly stretch and twist. Be like a cat waking up from a nap. Reach up as far as you can, rotate your shoulders, wiggle your toes, and stretch your feet and legs.

What you feel: Breathless. Tense and vigilant, you stop breathing when you are afraid.
What you can do: Use conscious deep breaths, going as low into your abdomen as you can. Draw in air slowly and deeply until you feel your diaphragm start to bulge out. When it can’t comfortably go out any farther, exhale with a whoosh. Don’t push the air out, but let it escape as if your lungs were a balloon collapsing. Whenever you feel anxious and notice that you aren’t breathing, consciously take a breath. The breath regulates the movement of emotions.

What you feel: Unable to make a sound. Fear tightens the throat, and even when you feel like screaming, you can’t. At its extreme, this leads to a condition of silent horror.
What you can do: Make sounds that activate the fear to leave. This kind of “toning,” as it is often called, takes practice. Sometimes you may want to scream into a pillow; other times a low, guttural sound is needed.
Laughter can help or a silent tone that goes out the top of your head. These sounds help carry away stuck feelings that are harder to get at. But each kind of sound has to come spontaneously. Don’t scream and cry in order to exhaust yourself. The sound shouldn’t be forced. Begin by humming as your attention scans your body, using a high tone in the head and a lower tone going down to the abdomen. Breathe the fear out with the sound. In time, you will find that bodily sensations can be eased out using many kinds of sounds. However, if you find yourself getting sadder or tenser, then the tone isn’t helping. Deep breathing would be better at such moments.

What you feel: Contracted. Fear brings on a sense of seizing up or shrinking, drawing up into a tight protective ball. When that happens, many anxious people tighten up even more, as if growing smaller and smaller will make fear stop noticing them. But contraction has the opposite effect. It prevents the release of deeper residues of fear.
What you can do: Put your attention on your heart. See it filled with white light. Now, while you slowly breathe out, see the light expand. Don’t force this; perhaps the light only expands by a small amount. Take another breath and repeat the process. See yourself expanding with the light, growing more expansive and open. Let the expanding light go beyond your body. See it fill the space around you. Now have it fill the room and finally go outside the room into the rest of the house and out into the surrounding world.
After you know how to do each of these techniques, you can combine them. But as you stretch and relax, always remember to keep breathing. These steps should be taken patiently, allowing at least 10 minutes to deal with your bodily sensations.

Step 3: Calm the Bodytea chamo
When you feel the sensations of fear subside, lie on your back with eyes closed and relax. Sink deeper into your body. Soothing music and aroma therapies are helpful as well, choosing scents that are traditionally known to help clear negative energies, like orange bergamot, camphor, clary sage, peppermint, clove bud and wintergreen.

Don’t rush into activity. Your body will be in recovery mode for an hour or so. Drink some herbal tea, avoid stimulants like tobacco and caffeine. Let the calming process continue. Light reading and television are fine. Don’t enter into situations that will bring up your anxiety again.

It is natural, however, for relaxation to bring up more physical sensations like the ones you’ve just cleared. Anxiety attacks in the middle of the night occur because your body is relaxed and therefore tries to release stuck energies of fear and tension. Adopt an approach of countering anxiety in its early stages with the aim of restoring the whole mind-body system to its natural balance. Don’t rush or expect instant miracles.

Recovery is a process. Have patience with your body. The whole trick in gaining control over anxiety is to remember that your body is your best ally. Once you train it to let go of negative energies, it will willingly cooperate.

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