(Another) Gratitude Prayer

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. This summer, followers of this blog will enjoy bi-weekly archived posts that have appeared on The Spirited Woman but never before on this site. 

Many times I have written of my gratitude for a blessed life. Tonight, as I am full (and very tired) from a week of good work, good friends and good fortune, it’s all I have left to share.

At the risk of being repetitive, I wish to offer my prayers of gratitude to you today as catalysts for your own. It doesn’t matter if this has been a tough week or an easy one, a full and rich expression of life or a rather dilute or convoluted one. It’s my belief we all have something to be grateful for, and in expressing that feeling we draw more of it in.

Here is my list. Add to it as you wish, or create three new items as I did.

  1. I am grateful for the open minds and hearts my clients brought to our work this week. In what way (large or small) did your work open a small window for someone?
  2. I appreciate the small kindnesses I was shown in the midst of a busy schedule. What small kindness were you offered (or did you have the honor of contributing)?
  3. Tonight I am warmed with gratitude for the kind people who help me rescue another death row husky. And I’m even thankful in advance for all the help I’ll get with her. Is there something you did this week that felt exhausting but necessary? Look for the gifts that were given to you along the way.

I will sleep more soundly tonight having acknowledged this small yet important grace. If you are feeling anxiety, stress or even simple weariness, try gratitude as an elixir. It just might give you the boost you need.

The Mentoring Opportunity

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. This summer, followers of this blog will enjoy bi-weekly archived posts that have appeared on The Spirited Woman but never before on this site.

Two years ago I was asked to make a presentation on mentoring to a women’s business organization. The woman who asked viewed me as an informal mentor of hers, and apparently thought that qualified me as somewhat of an expert on the topic. I felt ill-equipped – mentoring had been an ongoing part of the give and take of my life and career, but I had never stopped to think about the profound impact it had on me.

When I took a look back over my life and asked myself how I gained the experience, skill, knowledge, and ability I have today, I realized that perhaps the most significant learning came from the advice, counsel, and sharing of experience by others – none other than “mentors,” both formal and informal. I would not be doing the work I am doing today if not for the contribution of mentors.

To prepare for that presentation, I conducted an informal survey of many of my colleagues. I received incredible stories of how mentors impacted lives – influenced career direction, helped them through low points or gave information needed to affect an important result. But I was most struck by two things.

  1. Several of the women I spoke with had received little or no mentoring. Probing, most of them said they were hesitant to ask. Some said that at least in the past, they had too much pride, or saw asking for help as a sign of weakness – they thought they should be able to handle everything. One stated it well: “Super women who are locked into do-it-yourself can’t even see that they need help. Others are super women because they know how to ask for help and involve other people.”
  2. Others who had indeed received valuable mentoring had never mentored others – because they felt they had little to offer!

One colleague I spoke with offered a less formal definition of mentoring as a “co-creative” relationship. She participates in ICAN’s Women’s Leadership Circles, patterned after Meg Wheatley’s model of shared inquiry and dialogue. Unlike traditional mentoring programs, these circles are based on peer-to-peer learning conversations. The belief is that when you speak, you are acting as mentor and when you listen you are a mentee.

Perhaps we should relax our definition of mentoring and take advantage of the incredible opportunity social media (to name just one venue) offers us to “speak and listen” – opportunities like Sharefest. At any moment we can choose people or messages that either bring us down or build us up. And it’s a choice.

A few years ago, Newsweek published an article listing qualities of successful women leaders. It said we don’t listen to other people who try to discourage us from reaching our goals, and it also said we don’t try to be the expert in everything. To me, that makes a great case for having positive mentors in our lives.

A mentor can have a transformational impact on your life. And when you contribute as a mentor to someone, the gift keeps on giving.

Ease

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. This summer, followers of this blog will enjoy bi-weekly archived posts that have appeared on The Spirited Woman but never before on this site. 

Every now and then, things just fall into place. It starts with some initial incident (large or seemingly insignificant), a sequence of events ensues, and before you know it I am looking back, saying “Thank heavens that worked out.” Or, more often lately, I just smile at what appears to be an everyday miracle.

Those of us (that’s me and some of you) who have lived life as if it was a challenge to be reckoned with, find “ease” a bit odd. And, the drivers in the recesses of our psyches that cause us to seek that which is difficult or even impossible scream for attention.

Ignore them. They know not the damage they might cause.

Yesterday I met with a friend who, like me, tends to be compelled to take on the most challenging endeavors. In part, it’s an effort to feel acknowledged for having accomplished enough. In this situation, my friend was presented with one of those everyday miracles as an option alongside another difficult choice. Should she choose the heavy yet attractive option, her very future lay in the balance. She could gamble and win, though the odds were against that. Or she could choose the more peaceful and balanced opportunity.

Looking at this with a sort of distanced perspective (as much as I can distance myself from something I relate to so well), I can see that following one’s heart is the prevailing principle. Those gnawing messages that cause us to pause and stop the refrain of over-analysis deserve attention.

Apparent miracles beget others – if we acknowledge them. I’m choosing ease, and I’ll let you know what happens next.

Give Your Mind a Vacation

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. This summer, followers of this blog will enjoy bi-weekly archived posts that have appeared on The Spirited Woman but never before on this site. 

“Your body hears everything your mind says,” a Facebook post advised. “Stay positive.”

I would add “stay present,” because the negative messages our minds concoct usually consist of habitual thoughts rooted in the past acting as dire projections onto the future, and they simply don’t exist in the present. Presence is awareness, and awareness can literally determine life or death.

Regular readers know I work very hard at staying present. I got another up-close illustration of just how important it is.

It’s June in Arizona. It’s very hot. Rather than forego daily hikes with my beloved friends and dogs, we hit the trail at 4:45 in the morning, in order to avoid the sun and minimize the likelihood of meeting venomous snakes. The early start affords me a sort of walking meditation before beginning my day. Except yesterday.

I hike attached to my Husky, Kairos, by a skijoring line. While he’s young and still in training, he’s an amazing partner and, most of the time, I feel more steady on my feet because he’s there for balance should I trip. When I’m present (the only safe state of being attached to a powerful dog traversing treacherous desert terrain), I feel as stable as an old oak tree.

Yesterday morning, I was climbing up out of a canyon on a steep, rocky path when Kairos, walking ahead of me, did an about-face and proceeded back down the hill. I was jerked around as he passed me, and was forced into an out-of-control downhill run as his speed increased, screaming as I went.

I looked ahead and saw my friend, Beth, stopped at the bottom of the hill. She had trailed behind to reply to a text. Relieved, I reached to catch her shoulder, slowing my forward momentum just enough to gain control of my footsteps and my dog. We found our brakes and I took a breath.

“My body was stable enough, but my mind was terrified.” These were the first words out of my mouth. The minute I spoke them, I knew the truth. While dangerous, my body had managed the run but in those few seconds, my mind had imagined the worst possible accident, another dire projection into the future. My body knew the truth – one foot in front of the other will save the day. The scenario, from the moment Kairos turned until I gained control, represented the very real danger of being consumed by my thoughts, as well as the miracle of regaining awareness of my surroundings.

You might be wondering why my dog turned and ran uncharacteristically. There was a snake at the top of that hill. Kairos is trained to warn me and avoid them. I’d rather he not do so at Husky speed down a hill (and we will be working on that). While he learns to control his impulses, I’ll be working to model his keen awareness. For now I’m thankful he led me to safety, even though it was a harrowing run.

Back in the neighborhood, I remarked how important and yet how hard it is to stay aware, even in the pre-dawn hours before the stresses of the day pile on. Beth added that so many things we do, like driving cars and crossing busy streets require full awareness. Even so, we split our attention by indulging in thoughts or actions unrelated to the moment at hand. Our guardian angels must be very busy, because most of the time we get away with it.

What are you missing by indulging your mind over your senses? Consider giving your mind a vacation and letting your body guide you.

“When we are present, our bodies are the clearest indicators of our inner wisdom.”

–Sheppard Lake

Stress Behavior

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. This summer, followers of this blog will enjoy bi-weekly archived posts that have appeared on The Spirited Woman but never before on this site. 

Want inside information (literally) about how to improve your day-to-day relationships with others? Know what pushes your buttons and (drum-roll please) – manage your reaction to them.

One of the instruments I use in my work as a coach is the Birkman AssessmentA brilliant part of this tool is a component called “stress behavior.” Simply, it’s the behavior we demonstrate when we experience the stress of not having our needs met – in other words, the stress of having our buttons pushed.

Relationships of all kinds provide the opportunity for well-meaning others to inadvertently trip our stress switch. We all have different, often invisible needs. Pity the person who misreads your needs (most often assuming yours are just like his or hers), acts with positive intent and is met with – you know it – stress behavior. 

Here’s an example. I love change. Variety makes me happy and the more balls I’m juggling, the better – if I initiated the change. One of the features of my particular personality is that I don’t like it when others impose change on me, especially without my input. Some of you just roll with this. Some of you welcome a few extra juggling balls to be thrown in from the outside. Not me. So when “my button gets pushed” in this manner, unchecked, my natural tendency is to resist. Then, if it’s inevitable I’ll often take extra steps to make the change, whatever it is, mine. I “change the change” so that it suits me. It’s actually one of the toughest challenges in my (happy) 25 year marriage.

Arthur likes to change things that affect me. I’ve gotten so I don’t come unglued when he moves a picture from one wall to another. But as self-aware and disciplined as I am about these things, this past week has held daily tests (from many people, not just poor Arthur). Managing my reaction to inevitable changes has been my theme this week. Even after I began this post this morning, I nearly snapped at a client for daring to make a sweeping change at the 11th hour. It turned out to be a humorous interaction, but still…

Can you name one need you have, that, when unmet, causes you to act a little crazy? You have two choices. Get that need met – if you can. If you can’t yet command the universe to deliver on your every whim, learn to take a breath, then take responsibility. It’s probably just you.

What if Thoughts Were Prayers

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. This summer, followers of this blog will enjoy bi-weekly archived posts that have appeared on The Spirited Woman but never before on this site. 

I’ve been observing my thoughts more than usual these last few days. The practice was sparked by a theme that emerged in many conversations with clients and friends. People seem to be lamenting (obsessing?) over situations in the past, situations that, despite the energy they put into wishing, cannot be changed. Or they’re worrying about future possibilities that have not yet arrived, even creating detailed mental causal chains. “If this happens, then I will have to do that, and then it will cause ____.” (Fill in the blank with the worst possible scenario).

What if thoughts were prayers? What if our minds were sacred mechanisms that direct the flow of circumstances the moment we conceptualize them? I know this to be so in my own life. But just how does this happen?

I’m educated as a scientist. While I haven’t worked in that field for many years, the analytical, hypothesis-forming style of thinking never left me. I find it fun as well as enlightening to examine seemingly un-scientific principles and figure out a tangible explanation for why they work. It’s a way of bridging the mysterious with the material. So this week I set out (once again) to determine some of the ways in which our thoughts become our reality.

Part of it can be answered with a simple economics principle, opportunity cost. If my mind is engaged in futile or unproductive thinking, I quite literally miss out on the moment-by-moment opportunity to learn, teach, connect, find joy or simply observe. This week, I have gently coached others to adopt more discipline in their thinking in order to enjoy or seize the moment at hand.

But there’s more. Why are obsessive thoughts so dangerous? After all, they’re fleeting and hidden in privacy of our minds.

One problem is that they’re laced with emotion – negative thoughts are partnered with negative feelings, positive thoughts with positive one. Test it for yourself. The next time you find yourself thinking a pessimistic “what-if,” notice how it feels. If there’s fear or frustration, you’ll get what I mean. In contrast, the next time you have an inspirational or creative thought, notice how empowered and hopeful you feel.

We are ever more likely to be productive and ultimately successful when we live in a positive emotional state. It’s logical then to conclude that negative thoughts literally stall movement in the direction we truly desire.

If you’ve ever tried to shift your feelings unsuccessfully, try shifting what you’re thinking about instead. Not only does the clever brain partner thoughts with feelings, it attaches pictures. Much of the time, there’s an HD movie going on in our minds. Choose your entertainment wisely, because these trailers are predictive of the actual feature film.

This morning, as I was titling this post, I opened today’s “Note from the Universe.” It read:

“The reason your thoughts are so powerful, Andrea, is because they’re how you aim ‘God.’”

Yes, thoughts are prayers. And I can’t explain this coincidence. I’m glad there’s a spark of mystery left.