Stress Test

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by Andrea Chilcote

 

The following is a recount of an event that took place over a year ago. It seems like an appropriate message as this week closes.

Every now and then, I get a simple stress test. I had one last night.

It was 1:45 a.m., late enough that I was finally in a dream state, yet sufficiently early enough to not be disturbed by thoughts of unfinished to-do’s or the bottle of water I finished before bed. Delicious, deep sleep.

Then suddenly – lights, pulsing beeps, and a repeated, recorded announcement: “Proceed to an exit. Leave the building now.”

I sat up in my hotel bed and looked around. No smoke, no smell. For a brief moment I considered ignoring the warning – a misguided, sleep-induced idea of course – and then I heard doors opening and closing in the hall. I would join the others who must be more aware of what was happening than me.

What to wear? What to take?

I located a sweater and pulled it on over my pajama top, more for decency than warmth. Next I found my room key (didn’t they always say to take your key in the event of a fire?) and my phone, and exited, joining many other guests on the parking lot. I was on the first floor, so my trip to a side door exit was a short one.

Understandably, no one spoke to one another. We all found separate places to stand or sit. I chose a corner curb, but not after envying many who had brought along their rental car keys and entered their cars, making a nap a possibility.

Why had I not brought my car keys? And my wallet? I briefly considered the hassle of having my wallet burned in the potential fire, a scenario that seemed unlikely given that there were no signs of anything amiss. It was a lovely evening – quiet and warm – and a catastrophe was not in the offing.

About the time the sirens came roaring in, I was becoming annoyed. Who or what caused this interruption of my sleep? As I often do when things outside my control create stress, I had a conversation with myself. “You’re only making it worse. It is what it is. You’ll surely get some sleep before the alarm goes off.” And perhaps the most significant advice I had for myself: “Look around you. No one else is getting agitated. Just chill.”

“Why,” I wondered, “do I still sweat the small stuff?”

Soon enough, an official fire department vehicle drove through the parking lot, telling us it was safe to return to our rooms. While I wanted to know what had happened, sleep was more compelling.

Back in bed, I struggled to relax, stressed over the fact that my own alarm was set to go off in just a few hours.

At about 3 a.m., once I had finally gone back to sleep, the event repeated itself. This time I dressed, and took my wallet and car key. I would have gone immediately to my car had I not been stopped mid-trip by other guests returning at the advice of the staff. The alarms were quieted. I went back to bed again.

I’m guessing I got 90 minutes of sleep after that, for a total of four or five hours. It was certainly not a crisis, and I knew I would be able to (and did) function just fine the next day.

Why do I let these irritating yet small things annoy me?

When I checked out of the hotel this morning, the front desk manager was apologizing profusely to the man in front of me. “No problem,” he said with a smile. “It happens.”

I relaxed and tried to model this man’s equanimity. While I probably fooled the manager, I still felt annoyed.

Many hours later, I’ve let it go – of course. What I haven’t (completely) let go of is the question of why I compound stress by worrying about that which is out of my control.

Do you ever waste precious time and energy thinking and feeling violated by unintentional inconveniences? I do, too often. I’m going to memorize and practice the other guest’s line: “No problem – it happens.” I’ll let you know how it goes.

Gravitas

Maya Angelou

A wax figure of Maya Angelou seen on display at Madame Tussauds on December 6, 2013 in New York City.

I’ve been hearing the word “gravitas” a lot lately. Gravitas – poise under pressure, strength of character, self-esteem, confidence. It’s described as hard to define but visible to the naked eye. And, there’s debate about whether it can be learned or if it’s just part of the package – (or not).

Often I work with people to build what’s called in my world “executive presence.” And according to author Sylvia Ann Hewlett and research by the Center for Talent Innovation, the biggest contributor to mastering executive presence is developing gravitas.

In my experience, a key part of the equation is that word confidence. Yet we’ve all known people whose seeming over-confidence was a turn-off. So what’s the relationship between presence  (executive or otherwise) and confidence?

Confidence might be a prerequisite for external presence, the thing that attracts and influences others. Is that surprising? Let’s look at what destroys our ability to show up, focus on the matter at hand, listen and respond.

  • We are not present when we worry. Worry is almost always a condition of projecting the past onto the future, or simply making up stories of what the future might hold. Presence means we embody “now,” confident that the past has passed, and the future holds promise – within our creative control.
  • We are not externally present when we’re feeling negative emotions. People who have strong external presence can fluidly move from an emotional state to an objective state. The stamina to step outside and look in surely requires the confidence to trust what we might see.
  • We are not present when we are focused solely on ourselves, unless we happen to be alone and without any other inputs. It takes confidence to face whatever inputs show up.

In a post on The Spirited Woman, Pam Hale wrote a beautiful tribute to Maya Angelou. This woman embodied the word gravitas.

Can we learn to muster more of it? Oh yes, if Angelou could, we simply must.


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

 

Inspired

Andrea Chilcote, Erik's HopeThink about something you do that inspires you, something for which you feel such passion that you never tire of it. Time seems to pass without notice.

Does that inspirational activity come to mind easily? Is it what you’re doing right now (or at least right before you began reading this post?) Is it your work? Your hobby? Your longing?

I’ve been thinking about inspiration a lot in the past few days, as I’ve prepared for an overdue vacation. I definitely am inspired by my work – oh, I don’t mean to imply every day is bliss, but the work itself is something I pursue with passion. And I can tell when I need a break, because I begin to get impatient and cynical, and the feelings start showing up, ever so slightly, in my day-to-day communication.

Writing is part of my work, a part I love. And one of the symptoms that appears when I need a break is a lack of inspiration for writing. So odd – that which usually energizes me becomes a drain. It’s not that I don’t want to write. It’s more that the things I hold precious get lost in the sea of demands and to-do’s.

Just this week I saw a LinkedIn post entitled “What if you’re not passionate about anything?” I rolled my eyes and read no further. But seriously, I thought a lot about it. “How can that be?” I felt a sense of compassion for whoever wrote the statement, and wondered if lack of passion was an indication something else was at play.

One meaning of the word “inspire” is inhale, or breathe in. How interesting that taking a breath, literally or metaphorically in the form of a vacation, serves to engage. Regardless of the sense of mission or passion felt, we simply cannot give of ourselves without taking in. I think it’s a rule of our humanness.

So back to my earlier question, does the source of your inspiration come to mind easily? Or do you need a breath (or several) to gather the mojo or light the fire? I’ll be rekindling mine by the sea. Perhaps I’ll see you there.


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

Do You Coach or Give Advice?

Andrea ChilcoteBy Andrea Chilcote

I don’t mean “Are you a coach?” – though some of you might be, in your role at work as a manager, in a sports context, or perhaps as a professional. What I’m asking is, when someone needs help, do you provide coaching – or do you advise, give feedback, solve others’ problems for them, criticize, or judge – with the intent of being helpful?

As a professional coach and also one who teaches others to do so, I give a lot of thought to what coaching is and isn’t. And I think the world needs more coaches and fewer critics; more empowerment to think on our own, and less advice.

Think of an example in your own life – as a parent, as a friend or as a leader. When presented with a situation in which someone needs help,

  • Do you ask enough questions to fully understand the situation – or do you already know what you think is going on and what they should do?
  • Do you listen objectively to understand, or do you listen with a biased ear, one that either agrees or disagrees?
  • Do you encourage them to identify strategies and solutions, or do you simply give advice?

And one final question, has anyone ever made a significant change because you told them they should?

In my work, the purpose of coaching is to affect change – create movement and shifts in people’s perceptions, viewpoints and behaviors. And I’m betting that’s the goal of the situation you just thought of. It’s all about change, subtle or substantial.

People change when the factors that create their experience change.  In order to do change a person’s experience, we have to:

  1.  Understand the current situation from their perspective.
  2. Clearly define their desired future or result.
  3. Understand what it will take to get to the result.

The process I described takes time and patience. It takes dialogue. And it requires a mindset of objectivity (a willingness to suspend our own biases), and positive intent.

In my experience, it works with teenagers, significant others, friends and team members. Here’s a simple version:

  • First ask:  “What’s going on? What’s causing this situation? What’s the impact?”
  • Then ask:  “What do you want? And (important!) – What will having that do for you?”
  • Finally, ask: “What will it take to get to the result? What are you willing to commit to?”

Do you want to help another change? Try empowering him/her to help their self.


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

The Difference Dilemma

Andrea Chilcote, Erik's HopeWe all know the value of different perspectives and different styles, whether we’re seeking counsel from a close friend or are in need of fresh approaches to problem-solving.

You’ve probably experienced the difficulty that different styles, preferences or personalities can cause, even in the most solid of relationships.

One of my trusted and valued colleagues has a very different thinking and communication style than mine. And, our differences are what I value most about her. I couldn’t (and wouldn’t want to) do the detailed, precise and consistent work she does. And my guess is that she wouldn’t want to live in my world of ambiguity and constant change. The quality that comes from our collaboration depends upon both of our unique strengths. Sounds like paradise, right?

The trouble with stylistic differences is that we all not only have distinct modes of behavior, but we also have unique and often unconscious needs for how others behave in relation to us. When these needs go unmet, or we experience inputs counter to our needs, we risk a phenomenon called “stress behavior.”

I wrote about stress behavior in my post last year, when my “buttons” were being pushed by changes imposed on me. (I love change, but I’ll initiate it myself, thank you very much). This week, my buttons got triggered by a different need, one that followed my inability to respond appropriately to the colleague mentioned here. It was the perfect recipe for an ongoing downward spiral, something that, according to the Urban Dictionary, starts out bad and just gets worse and worse.

My colleague, whom I’ll call Julia, was experiencing a frustrating situation, one that had been lingering too long. She needed my help. My natural reflex is to approach issues in a pragmatic, objective manner. When faced with a problem, I have a bias for action – action to solve the problem. Many people – some of you as well as Julia – have a need to be heard and understood before accepting help. If you’re more like me and that sounds foreign to you, just consider someone in your own life who has that need. Chances are, you’ve offered well meaning (and sound) advice, and yet have found that the other person only seemed to escalate her feelings. To you, perhaps, she seemed unable to detach from the problem long enough to find a logical solution.

In our situation, my unwillingness to acknowledge Julia’s reality only caused the situation to worsen. My stress behavior ignited her stress behavior, and very quickly we were speaking different languages. Hers was to convey detailed accounts of the problem (which I actually needed to understand) and mine was to blow through the details in an effort to make forward progress.

Fortunately, our mutual respect prevailed that day and we got back in sync quickly. But the lesson was loud and clear. The only path to effective collaboration of any kind is awareness and acknowledgment of one another’s needs. Those seemingly subtle needs that arise from personality or style have a loud voice under stress.

You don’t have to be an expert in human behavior to put this lesson into practice. You only have to be willing to stop, observe and respond. When you find yourself at an impasse, there’s a simple way to break the logjam. Listen … acknowledge … align. Then, state what you need. Don’t be surprised when you get it.


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

Lessons Learned

Andrea Chilcote, Erik's Hope

Has this week held any challenges for you?  Read more, as Andrea shares lessons learned and her thankfulness for grace.

by Andrea Chilcote

Gratitude is a subject I have written of many times before. It never gets old. Today I am grateful for lessons learned.

In this week that held many challenges for many people in my life (and I’m betting some of yours too) – illness, strife, imbalance – I am thankful for the grace around me. That grace surrounds all of us.

For most of the week, I had the privilege of working with a diverse group in a unique experience designed to create personal insights, which led to personal transformation. (And just so you know, it was not always comfortable, tidy or easy).

No one had any idea of what the experience would bring before it began. They didn’t know what would appear before them next.

And that begs a question, what happened to you this week? What tested your mettle? What triggered your survival instincts? And, what triggered your ingrained patterns of behavior that might not serve you today?

Today, I am personally grateful for the full range of experiences I have collected in my life. (That is not easy to admit). Each has transformed what follows.

Do you seek transformation? If you experienced difficulty in the last several days, ask yourself these two questions:

  • For what is this experience a metaphor in my life?
  • What can I release that is no longer relevant?

We are either on this earth to grow in consciousness and reap the rewards of doing so, or it is a random existence in which some get lucky and others get by.

I’m betting on growth, over the lottery. How about you?


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

The Myth of Balance

Andrea Chilcote

This week, join Andrea, as she shares some perspective on the idea of “balance” and “what matters most” in life.

by Andrea Chilcote

Remember when we used to talk about balanced lives, especially work-life “balance?” Well, perhaps we still do, even though most would admit the idea of “balance” is really an ideal, even a myth. For me, a life well lived consists of constant prioritization of what matters in the moment.

I’m planning for a workshop I’ve led many times, though not so much in recent years. (Wondering why not, and why now?) It’s called “What Matters Most,” and its purpose is to identify and examine core values. At the same time, the week has consisted of talking to people who lead very full lives – yet still they say they seek “balance.”

The demands for our time and the need for our service are never-ending. We know the way to be in charge of our destiny is to declare what’s important, what matters most (what we value), and then prioritize. A simple concept, not easy in practice.

Personally, I seek to constantly prioritize the things that are most important, and this does not always produce “balance.” While I am certainly not perfect in my practice, I seek to invest my time in ways that feed my goals or my soul. It’s a moment-by-moment choice that builds a habit – a habit that gets tested when the big decisions come along.

Before you say yes or move forward on some task, request or chore, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does it give you a sense of joy, fulfillment or accomplishment?
  • Do you feel satisfied that you left someone in a better place (without manipulation or control)?
  • Are you doing or giving out of pure love?
  • Is the value of your service greater than its cost?
  • Is this the highest and best contribution you can be making at this time?

If you answer “yes,” perhaps balance is irrelevant. If you answer “no,” your personal balance, that of giving and receiving or sowing and harvesting, may need consideration.

That’s a balance I seek to strike.

_____

This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!