Mindset Shift: the Good News About Stress

stress help calendar

June is always a crazy period for me- end of school-year activities, cramming in work projects before summer vacations start (like this newsletter!), extra social events, tending to the garden, not to mention that I want to go outside and enjoy the sun that’s finally here. There just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day and I hear the conversations about how busy we all are, running from place to place, losing sleep, not being able to settle in and actually be present for any of these myriad of activities. It’s all so STREEESFUL! And we all know how terrible stress is for us… but is it really, and in what ways? I’ve been reflecting on the impact my relationship to stress has on me and those around me, and took a deep dive into some of the newest research on the topic showing that it might not be as bad as it seems.

A University of Wisconsin- Madison study asked 29,000 people to rate their stress level in the last year and how much they believed stressed influence their health. Then over the following eight years, they recorded the number of deaths by any of these subjects. What they found is that people who reported having high levels of stress and who believed stress had a large impact on their health had a 43 percent increased risk of death. Those who experienced a lot of stress but didn’t perceive its effects as negative were amongst the least likely to die in comparison to other participants in the study. Forty-three percent! Given that I don’t anticipate giving up my work, family and other commitments, it might be worth making this mindset shift.

Furthermore, a study by Roy Baumeister shows we believe the most stressful events are often the most meaningful. (Childbirth comes immediately to mind!) And when we work hard in our careers, give our all to our kids, and get engaged in our community, we may indeed, be stressed, but it is also be an indicator of a life of great meaning. I like that. I think going forward when people ask me how I’m doing, instead of saying “Wow- good, busy and stressful,” maybe I’ll try out instead, “I’m leading a life of great meaning!” I’ll let you know how people respond.

Finally, you can channel your stress into energy that increases your performance. When we see that stress is a natural part of life, we’re in a better mindset to find ways to deal with it, ask for help and see stressful events as challenges rather than something to be avoided. I often say to clients, anxiety is excitement without the breath. And that’s the exciting part, because we can become aware and can choose how we perceive the situation: problem or challenge? Danger or opportunity? Fear and anxiety, or excitement?

How you speak about something matters. I remember my daughter saying one time, “I’m completely overwhelmed and freaked out about my test tomorrow.” I responded to her by asking, “Are you completely overwhelmed, anxious or a bit nervous?” She responded by saying “a bit nervous” and her body visibly relaxed, shoulders lowered, and she exhaled. Studies show people who have some stress going into a test or a public speaking actually do better than those who don’t have a little adrenaline running through their body. I’m going to go back to my day and my To-Do list now, a little more grateful for the stress in my life.

Book Review: Leading and Managing in the Social Sector: Strategies for Advancing Human Dignity and Social Justice

Leading and Managing In The Social Sector

Editors: S. Aqeel Tirmizi and John D. Vogelsang

For the first time, I’m able to recommend a book that I participated in writing! While it’s hot off the shelves and I haven’t read all of it yet, (though I know that Chapter 12 on Women’s Leadership Development is very good), this book offers important developments in the field of leadership for the social sector in order to have more impact. The opening quotation of the book, by bell hooks (who doesn’t capitalize her name) expresses the intention of the book compellingly: “There must exist a paradigm, a practical model for social change that includes an understanding of ways to transform consciousness that are linked to efforts to transform structures.” The book covers Leading Social Innovation, Engaging Meaningfully in the Complex Social Context, Fostering Organizational Resilience, Leading in Social Sector Organizations, and Measuring Success. I highly recommend it! (Please email me if you’d like me to send you just a copy of my chapter on Women’s Leadership Development Through Networks of Support).

Moving From Theory To Action: The Importance of Celebrating Progress

ACT

To support you in practicing celebrating successes, here are some reflection questions:

 1. Looking back on my most recent accomplishments, are there any that I or my work team haven’t celebrated yet? Is it possible to do so now from the perspective of “Better late than never?”

2. To what extent do I have clear, measurable, meaningful goals at work? (Research shows that we need clear goals and they need to be personally meaningful to us).

3. If there are big goals, what are some milestones along that way that I can mark my progress? (The Power of Small Wins by Harvard Business Review, 2011,goes into this more)

4. How might I celebrate these successes and milestones? With whom?

5. What can I do today to set a celebration in motion? (Identify a few possible ways to celebrate? Send an email to someone to have a conversation about this? Set some possible dates?)

The Importance of Celebrating Progress

Marla and Kerry

Marla and Kerry

This month I’ve succeeded in an important goal and I want to invite you to celebrate with me. With my colleague, Marla Solomon, Director of Partnership Programs for Five Colleges, I am co-author of a chapter for the book, Managing in the Social Sector: Strategies for Advancing Human Dignity and Social Justice. The chapter shares the scholarship and research behind the Women’s Leadership Circle of Vermont model and the positive impact it is having on the women leaders who have participated. We have been researching the efficacy of the circles and analyzing since 2011 what makes them work so well. I also presented our findings at the Global Conference of the International Leadership Association this past fall, and it was a huge honor to contribute to the field of leadership on an international level. Marlboro College Center for New Leadership, my organizational partner in offering the WLC program around the state, hosted a book launch party for me in January, and I noticed how re-energized I am. It has me curious about the importance of celebration of milestones in one’s life.

I notice that as a person who works for herself, there aren’t any big company celebrations or regular work colleagues I see daily with whom I can share success. This book launch party was a reminder of how important it is to have people witness and celebrate achievements. For me, it was a chance to pause and reflect on how far I’ve come with the Women’s Leadership Circles program since the first circle in 2011. It helped change my mindset. I’ve never thought of myself as a researcher-type, yet here is my work in a graduate- level academic book. It has helped me to change how I see myself, and I now have a new touchstone for accomplishing something that I thought might not be possible for me. It felt good! My husband and daughters gave me flowers at the event, and it was great to have them recognize this achievement. (For all you armchair neuroscientists-that was the dopamine release). It fueled my energy. I feel recommitted to the importance and impact that the Women’s Leadership Circles are having on the state of Vermont, and I can feel myself wanting to double down and move to the next phase of work. I was also told it inspired them. Several people came up to me sharing how it got them energized and excited about going back to their circles. Celebrating success can reconnect us to purpose and meaning.

In my work as an executive coach, I frequently support clients in goal-setting. I always ask people, what they will do when they accomplish their goal? What are the milestones they want to mark along the way and how will they celebrate? I often receive the comment that “accomplishing the goal is reward enough.” But the research says differently. It really does matter for a number of reasons.

  1. It helps us self-reflect on where we have come from and where we are heading.
  2. It helps create a success mindset.
  3. It feels good.
  4. It energizes and builds motivation for future endeavors.
  5. It creates a positive environment that inspires others.

Taking the time to celebrate has been critically important to completing this cycle of work, from the inception of the idea to having the book chapter published. Off to have a glass of champagne now!

Book Review: Aung San Suu Kyi’s “Freedom from Fear” Speech (1990)

Aung San Suu Kyi

Having just returned from the B Corp* Champions Retreat in Philadelphia, I’m going to deviate from my typical book review format and instead offer a speech that was discussed at the Retreat. Each year the conference organizers select a speech designed to invite us to pause, deeply reflect and be inspired by courageous leaders in the world, and then discuss it in small groups. This year’s selection was

Aung San Suu Kyi’s “Freedom from Fear” Speech (1990)

Aung San Suu Kyi led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to a majority win in Myanmar’s first open elections in 25 years in 2015. The win came five years to the day since she was released from 15 years of house arrest. In 1991 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for or her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights.. Suu Kyi asks us to look at at least one of the root causes of exclusion – fear, and invites us to consider what is required of each of us to rise about our most base emotions to live into our highest aspirations. The text is a short three pages and offers a different cultural lens with which to look at the human condition. I believe her message, written over 25 years ago from another context, is very relevant to understanding our current US political arena.

*My business, Watershed Coaching, LLC is a certified B Corp– a Benefit corporation committed to business being a force for good.

Curious vs. Convinced

replace-fear-with-curiosity

I’m going to go out on a limb and talk about politics. This presidential election season has been hard for me. The name calling, rudeness, and divisiveness of this campaign has me disheartened, and I know I’m not alone in this sentiment. I just can’t wait for it to be over. The major media outlets including The Huffington Post, The Atlantic and even Fox News are writing about how to manage election stress. It feels like the negative election energy is seeping into our pores, and to try to prevent that, we armor up and get rigid in our views and stay in our camps of righteousness in order to not feel the fear, and the pain of not understanding one another. Yet I don’t want to harden myself against half the population. That feels like a very high cost to us as a nation, and I’m in the inquiry of how to hold my dignity and the dignity of others through this election period.

“I’m right, they’re idiots” is what it boils down to in our political dialogue, not only with the candidates but also how we look at our neighbors, colleagues and family members who disagree with us. Recently I’ve been thinking, “Where do I go from here? How do I get out of this righteous mindset?” Rather than convince myself more that my side is right, how might I open the door to curiosity instead? Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind, Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (click to his fascinating 19-minute TED Talk) offers a path of understanding. He explains that reasoning with others doesn’t work because our beliefs are based more deeply than that. He asserts that there are six fundamental ideas that commonly undergird moral systems: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. Republicans and Democrats vote based on these moral interests, and how they weight each in importance tends to define their vote.

For me, this premise helps me to be a bit more curious and less judgmental. Fundamentally, I believe that fear is a prominent driver in our life, as our brains are hardwired to sense danger and to protect. And if we fear that our moral values are at stake we will fight to protect them. In this case, fighting is the rhetoric we hear in the election arena. But instead of fighting the Other, if I can understand the fear behind others’ view I can then find a place where I can connect with them– what do they fear losing? What are the values they hold dear? It doesn’t mean I’m negating my views, but for a few moments, it allows me to pause and connect with their humanity and mine. Haidt’s research helps make it more concrete for me.

This topic feels risky for me to put out here, and as I reread it, I know that I risk being misunderstood, or considered preachy, naïve or something else. But ultimately I want to share the value in upholding the dignity of all, which is sometimes lost in the Red versus Blue war. If it serves as one small drop in the well toward understanding and healing, then it will have been worth it.

Book Review: Everyday Bias

Everyday Bias

By: Howard Ross

Howard is a dear friend and colleague, and I am glad to have the opportunity to share this book with you as it delves into the neuroscience of our own bias and how to work with it in a work environment and our personal lives. This book is filled with powerful examples and research on unconscious bias that draws you in and gets you more curious about how our mind operates.

From sports, to healthcare, music, and power in our society, Howard navigates us through these charged topics without shaming anyone, and offers ways that we can individually and organizationally begin to explore and work with our bias. It’s an eye-opening book that leaves me hopeful in times when we need it. Sending a prayer for the victims of Orlando and the countless numbers of those before them. May we each contribute in some small way today toward creating a more caring and kind world.

Moving From Theory To Action: On Learning Communities

ACT

To support you in identifying and strengthening your own learning communities.

 Reflect on a time when you had a learning community. What contributed to its effectivness?

What are your current communities where there may be a possibility of creating more of an intention around learning together and supporting one another? (This could be a work team you’re on, a particular group of friends, a volunteer group you participate on).

Are there already existing learning groups you might be interested in joining? (These could include spiritual groups, leadership programs such as the WLC, book study clubs, formal classes, etc.)

What is one action you will take based on this reflection?

Community vs Individual Learning

Strozzi Teacher Training Cohort with Kerry

The crocuses and daffodils peeking out of the brown earth remind me how I love spring, as it seems to burst with possibility and new opportunities. I was just invited to the teacher track for the Strozzi Institute, an internationally-recognized center for somatic coaching whose mission is “to produce leaders who embody pragmatic wisdom, skillful action and grounded compassion.” I will be traveling there four times this year to be with my cohort, and I am reminded of how impactful it is to be in a community of learners. The support, energy and learning is so much greater than going it alone, and I am grateful to be embarking on this journey with this amazing group of people who come from not only the United States, but also from Chile, Belize, Italy, the UK and Ethiopia. It is truly a gift, and I invite you into this reflection on your own learning communities.

There are a multitude of articles about the importance of professional learning communities. One of the biggest proponents is Peter Senge, who popularized the theory of the learning organization. In his book, The Fifth Discipline, he speaks about the importance of team learning and that this learning is done through dialogue, which allows one to go beyond any one individual’s understanding. This is the real benefit of learning with others; we get out of our own head and can question our own assumptions, and process and internalize the learning is a more powerful way than doing it on our own. As social beings, we learn through the interaction with others. When I was at Strozzi, I was curious and energized by others’ questions in the room. I found I could move my own understanding of a concept and better internalize it. When I was “stuck’ with a personal issue in my own development, having others witness me and offer perspective from the outside allowed me a way out of my automatic thinking to create a new way of seeing things. Finally, the support I feel is invaluable, knowing there is a group of people all on the same path of learning, holding one another accountable to our commitments to become great teachers of this work.

This is a key reason for me founding the Women’s Leadership Circles program—to provide others with the opportunity to learn leadership in a close community of peers. Being a leader can be isolating, and we need someone to learn from. A colleague and I have been conducting research on the impact of these Circles over time. In fact, all of the Circles have continued on their own after the initial six-month program, the first Circle now in it’s fifth year. Here are a few comments on the importance of the Circles both as a place of learning as well as strength through connection: “Meeting with them has offered me a way to consider, create, act and reflect on various experiences and learnings in my life in a way different than one-on-one friendships.” “ I feel calmer in the face of challenges knowing there are others there who care and support me.” What about you, where can you leverage the power of community in your learning?

Moving From Theory To Action: On Unplugging During Vacation

ACT

To support you in cultivating your creativity by going on vacation, I invite you to consider how you will really take a break and unplug from your devices.

  1. Who will manage your different responsibilities while you’re away? (It can be more than one person) How can you make expectations clear so everyone is on the same page? Under what (if any) work circumstances can you be contacted and by whom?
  2. To what extent can you really honor your own Out-Of-Office message? That means that you aren’t secretly monitoring your emails.
  3. How will you limit your screen time? How would it feel to go cold turkey on your social media? Could you declare for yourself a full break from your regular sites? Technology-free vacations can be really beneficial.
  4. What “fences” can you put in place to help you with this? Some examples include traveling where there is no internet, bringing a paperback instead of a Kindle, leave the phone in the car for emergencies only, etc.

At the end of your vacation, journal on: How did it feel to unplug fully? What did you learn about yourself? What practices do you want to bring back to your day once back at work?

water-shed (watr'shed') Noun: a critical point that marks a division or change of course; a turning point — © 2014 WatershedCoaching. All rights reserved.