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.

Gratitude

by Andrea Chilcote

Today’s post consists of an exercise – if you dare. Want to feel more empowered and alive, regardless of the state in which you find yourself right now? Practice gratitude. I’ll be with you all the way.

I’m feeling grateful today, and I’m expressing it as prayer. Oh, not a prayer in the purist sense perhaps, but a prayer as I define it. It’s an earnest expression of a strong emotion, intended to connect to others in a positive way. How’s that definition? Here we go.

Today I am grateful for Arthur’s health. After celebrating a milestone birthday this year, he is preparing for many more. I could focus on fear of the future, but instead I focus on what’s true today. He is healthy and whole.

Who in your life is model of health and longevity? Who inspires you to care for your physical body even when you’re tired?

Today I am grateful for all of the clients who entrust me with work that is important to them. I am, right now, feeling a “flow” of work that is meaningful and important. I could grouse about the hours and the stress. Today I choose to be thankful for the abundance.

What is “flowing” forth in your life? What abundance is blessing you?

Today I am grateful for the love of my playful dogs. No matter what they need (or demand) when I’m too busy or too tired, fulfilling it creates a spark of energy.

What calls you to play? What distraction gives you the energy to persevere? Give thanks for that.

Today I am grateful for this opportunity for connection – connection with all of my cherished friends and colleagues, and with each one of you who is reading this message. If ever I feel alone, I can reach out to you.

Who are you thankful for today? Who gives you a lift when a lift makes all the difference?

Perhaps my list was not complete. It’s simply my list, this one day. Make your own. What are you grateful for today?

Passion

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared in February on The Spirited Woman, where Andrea is a weekly blogger. We’re happy to report the pup you’ll read about here is now healthy and happy, living the life he deserves. For more on his story, see Flipper’s story: From baby knees to little husky prince.

Husky RescueIf I had to identify the emotion I’ve been feeling for the last 24 hours or so, I would label it passion. Oh never mind that it’s Valentine’s Day as I write this post…that’s not the kind of passion I’m referring to. I’m passionate about a cause, a need that touches my heart.

It’s been said that we cannot think or act in love or in harm toward another without affecting, in some small way, all others including ourselves. This truth becomes more evident to me each and every day. We are all connected. What we think, say and do to members of our planet – people and animals, as well as our earth itself – has profound and far-reaching impact.

Consider this story. Right now there is a beautiful Siberian Husky pup being cared for by a Los Angeles area rescue group. He is a product of irresponsible breeding and was sold as a tiny pup to unsuspecting owners who were misled about his health. This precious angel was born without kneecaps in his back legs and needs very expensive surgery. With it, he can thrive. Without it, he will die. People from around the country are rallying to donate to his medical fund, and the angels from the rescue group are lovingly working with specialists to get him the best care.

Despite a full work schedule and many demands on my time, I am consumed by passion – compassion actually – for this sweet pup. And I know that many of you are equally consumed by passions of your own. Most all of us have some cause or mission that evokes a strong desire to contribute, make something better, or right a perceived wrong. We cannot help but be affected by circumstances that surround because we are in relationship to one another. We are connected.

I love words, and writing gives me an opportunity to study them. Today, my word “passion,” describes the drive to action I have felt, and the deeper feeling underneath is “compassion.”  I was surprised to learn that the Latin root of the word passion is “suffering.” Compassion’s root is “to suffer with.” Ah, the addition of the word “with”… connection.

My drive to help this one dog could easily be snuffed out if I allowed myself to become overwhelmed by the great need beyond his. I’m reminded of the well-known starfish story in which a young girl’s refusal to be discouraged by the limitations of her own small efforts inspired others to join in and help. This is how connection works. We inspire one another.

What is your passion at this very moment? You need only to step out your own world for a mere minute and you’ll be able to feel it. Make a choice to meet suffering with love, whether through a simple kind thought or an action. You’ll inspire the same in others even if it’s invisible to you. It’s how it works.

Choose to…

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. 

Last month in my post entitled Right Now, I talked about the critical importance of prioritizing what really matters and focusing on the task at hand. One’s health as well as success depends on it.

A reader emailed me with the following comment:

“Remembering to only focus on the one task at hand will certainly help me get all my tasks accomplished. And hopefully keep me out of the sick bay. Determining which task is the ‘task at hand’ is my biggest challenge.”

I can relate to his challenge and I bet you can too. It’s so easy to allow ourselves to be pulled in multiple directions at once and become distracted by the ones that are the loudest or most compelling.

The next morning I reflected on the question of how to determine the task at hand as I began my day. I decided to let my experience inform me hour by hour.

I knew the first three hours of the day would be easy, as I had an extended session scheduled with a client. It was work I love to do, and work that requires the kind of focus that forces one to block out distractions, compartmentalize other pressing to-do’s, and be fully present. Plus, I had made a commitment to do it.

After that meeting, I got to work on the other items I had promised myself or someone else that I would complete. Not everything on the list was as fulfilling as the work with my client, though each seemed as though they “had” to be done. I was reminded of a principle called Have-To versus Choose-To. It’s infinitely more empowering to choose than to be obligated.

Commitments drive our calendars. Most of us follow through, at least eventually, on what we say we’ll do. The nagging question though (the real question the reader asked) is: What drives our commitments?  What drives what we choose to do?

When we’re fully conscious and aware, some greater strategic picture of life – purpose, values, potential – drives our choices. When we’re not, it’s dangerously easy to become distracted and rationalize “busy” as productive.

In their new course “The 5 Choices,” time and productivity management experts at Franklin Covey say our attention is under attack. Their research shows that now more than ever we are reacting to distractions vs. choosing to spend our time on what’s important. In their extensive survey, people reported spending an average of 40% of their time on unimportant tasks.

I’ve written before of the need to allow inspired, creative thinking to drive our deepest desires before jumping to action. I believe there’s never been a better time to ask and answer the question, “What’s important?

After a day of observing myself, I was satisfied with the choices I made. But my project was skewed by the study itself. Awareness of the choices I made, coupled with focus on why I was making those choices was, for me, the success formula. I might be onto something…try it if you wish.

Take It Easy

by Andrea Chilcote

This week, I’m having an adverse reaction to things that are “hard,” and so I’m practicing ease. This encore post seems appropriate today. It appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where I’m 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’m struck by how many of my friends and colleagues have been touched by my resolve to not look back. We all know it’s an obviously sensible ambition to remain present and move forward moment by moment – there’s nothing that can change the past – but so many of you have said “It’s hard.”

“Hard” is a concept, a familiar state of being we’ve conditioned our minds to believe. Oh, I get it … in fact, a dear friend commented on one of my recent posts saying,  “See how easy it is …” and I immediately wanted to reply: “That was not at all easy! In fact getting to that realization was very hard!”

But I realized that “hard” can be a mental concept focused on the presumed future vs. the moment (“It will be difficult to remain present when my husband’s children visit.”) or it can be literally true (“This jar is hard to open.”)

What we need are tools for escaping from the mental concept of “hard” when it bears down, eclipsing the beauty of right now.

So how do we make being present “easy?” Many before me have written of and taught tools and techniques. I offer you mine in simple form.

Breathe. Attention to the breath brings attention to the body. When we focus on (or obsess on) what happened before, we are literally out of our physical bodies and in our mental bodies. Practical tool: When you feel fear, anxiety, or guilt – take a breath, then another. Notice it. The result? Your attention will re-focus on now, if even for a second.

Empathize. This one works if you can’t get clear on how you yourself are feeling in this very moment. How is a significant other experiencing it right now? Caution – it’s against the rules to consider what he or she thought or felt moments or days before. This is about now.

Focus. I know this may be the hardest one…oops! There’s that word again. But really, it is the most liberating thing we can do. Stop right now and focus – ask yourself, “What is true now?” and really pay attention. I’m betting it’s not as bad as your mind might have conjured up. If it’s not, enjoy the break. If it is, then you just got a dose of reality to use to take remedial action. Now.

Do what you can (not what you can’t). A friend reminded me of this piece of wisdom she learned in a workshop many years ago. I had told her that while I know that not looking back is a practice we all can manage, I do not know how to advise those who have suffered tragic losses. Who am I to suggest that they leave the past behind, if the past contained love and life that is literally not here today? What I realized is this. When one practices presence in small ways (staying focused amidst life’s small irritations, for example), the “big” things become easier because of habit, not because we worked on them specifically. We never lose the memories but we care for ourselves by experiencing them in the context of this very moment.

Think about the ways in which you work to stay present in your daily lives. What do you do when “showing up” here and now is essential? If you have a practice for times like that, it can work at all times.

Closer to Fine

by Andrea Chilcote

An emerging theme this past week could be summed up in this sentence: “Show up and let yourself be seen and heard. There’s work to do.” So it seems fitting to share this post that appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where I’m a weekly blogger. 

For most of this year, I’ve been feeling like an Indigo Girl — closer to fine.

 And I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains

I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains

There’s more than one answer to these questions… and the less I seek my source for some definitive…

Closer I am to fine

Seriously, while I will seek to learn and thus grow until the day I die, my fifties (early fifties mind you), have freed me to admit I have gained some wisdom from the journey and am more or less comfortable with who I am.

And this is why I was stunned when I discovered Brene Brown. A research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, she has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Her 2010 TEDx Houston talk on the power of vulnerability is one of the most watched talks on TED.com, with over 6 million views.

I am no more than a third of the way through Brown’s current book, New York Times bestseller, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Yet  a few key sound bites have haunted me in the week since I downloaded the book to my Kindle.

Damn vulnerability. Is it not enough that I bare my heart and soul here? Not quite, I realize as I type the words. Brown writes: “Rather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgment and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen.”

I’m not just “closer to fine.” I am fine, today. And tomorrow I have an opportunity to show up with even more courage and authenticity. Right now I am weary although joyful about the opportunity. Stay tuned for the stories.