feelings in amygdala

If you’ve been noticing your moods and emotions these last two weeks, you might have learned more about yourself. Perhaps you had a lot more feelings than you previously thought in any one day. Perhaps you held them in check, (had feelings and sat on them for example), but then at night, you got hit with them one after another—boom, boom, boom—when a family member said something ‘harmless’ to you, and you reacted and things escalated. What did you do after that?

Perhaps you had trouble becoming aware of your feelings as you were having them, and then after a blurt, an unkind remark, a rant, or a bout of indigestion, became aware that you just had this feeling of anger, anxiety, fear, etc., (fill in the blank).

To all these “perhaps” I say good! because your level of self-awareness about your moods and feelings is rising! The only way we can ramp up our EI is to start by becoming more and more aware of what our feelings are when we are having them. This takes practice and time. Keep thinking of building a strong foundation stone by stone.

Last post I suggested to focus on becoming more aware of your feelings and emotions as you are having them. This involves noticing, witnessing without judgment if possible!

This time around I’d like you to become more aware of your responses to your emotions and moods. We all have feelings on a regular basis. That’s a part of our being human. The question for each of us is what do we do about these feelings? Do we act on them? Witness them? Act on them sometimes, but not the other times when we are applying reason and logic to our emotions and our situations?

A TRUISM WE OFTEN FORGET: WE CANNOT CONTROL OUR FEELINGS, WE CAN ONLY CONTROL OUR RESPONSES TO OUR FEELINGS. In other words, feelings happen, but we can control how we react or respond to those happenings inside us.

To help you think about your responses to your emotions here are some examples of behavioral responses to feelings.

Feelings of anxiety

I have one client who talks faster and faster, and basically stops listening as her anxiety rises. A barrage of words is her defense against anxiety. It doesn’t work well as a response to her emotion of anxiety though, because those around her become angry and anxious themselves when they aren’t listened to, or can’t get a word in.

Another client gets more controlling, and makes demands rather than requests of her staff as her anxiety builds. As she barks orders she spreads the anxiety, and pretty soon the staff is operating on automatic pilot—just going through the motions to ‘get the job done’. The result is that creative thinking goes out the window, innovation will probably not happen, and the same mistakes will be repeated time after time in the effort to calm the boss and the atmosphere.

So what can you do to recognize that your emotions are sometimes playing out unconsciously in your behavior?

Tips

Make a self-study: what are your more automatic responses as you react to your own feelings? This is where your self-awareness, the foundation of EI, is your best friend. We want to know our default responses to our emotions and moods. The goal is to be able to pick and choose our responses, and not always go into default mode. The reason is probably pretty obvious: sometimes our default mode works just fine. Other times, our default mode is dysfunctional, or merely not effective, or just a poor choice when there are other more collaborative, calmer, effective responses from which to choose.

See if you can answer these questions over the next few weeks:

1     When I get anxious in the work arena I often/sometimes….

2     When I get anxious outside of work I often/sometimes…..

3     When I get angry at work I often/sometimes……

4     When I get angry in my personal life I often, sometimes…

5     When I feel centered in situations I often/sometimes….

6    When I feel calm in meetings I often/sometimes

7     When I feel powerful I often/sometimes…..

8      When I feel disappointed in myself I often/sometimes…

9     When I feel disappointed in others I often/sometimes…

Perhaps it’s time to start your Inner Fitness™ journal. In it you can keep track of your answers to your self-study and jot down whatever miscellaneous thoughts you have as you take this journey.

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Sometimes, there is simply no cure for great sorrow, such as losing a child, a loved one, a family member.

In our culture, people often try to cheer up their sad friends and family, and to help them ‘move on’. “Don’t cry” is a familiar expression fathers say to sons.

I have a different suggestion. When you are deep in sorrow, let yourself be there. You may feel raw, miserable, empty, or beyond human redemption. Stay in your sadness, as there is really no place else to go. Any place else would be inauthentic, and papering over your deep and true feelings.

Some sorrows will scar you for life and your life will never be the same. Think about it….another human has made such an impact on you that you will never be the same. You might think of that as a very special state of being—that you have allowed someone to penetrate your being so deeply that his or her absence has changed you forever.

So what can you do when you are immersed in great sorrow? Nothing. Just be in it. Take one step at a time, one day at a time. Just be in the sorrow and see where that leads you. It may lead you out; it will certainly lead you through.

And as you experience this pain and sorrow, you will be fully experiencing your humanity, and the fragility of life.

Our American culture doesn’t always include a full acknowledgment of death as part of life. We avoid and deny it in many ways, from the endless cosmetic and plastic surgery treatments our populace puts itself through, to keeping children away from dying relatives and funerals.

You can allow yourself and those around you to do it differently.

What do you do when you’re in great sorrow? Join the conversation.

When Illness Strikes

September 7, 2014

Sad and upset woman deep in thought

I recently was laid low by a relatively minor malady—shingles. I experienced itchiness, fatigue, some hot and cold swings, but nothing major.

In this last year, friends have been laid low by cancer, sarcoidosis, and other auto-immune diseases. I feel lucky to have dodged the bullet this time. But as we boomers age, this is the news we’ll be sharing with each other, more and more.

How are we dealing with it?  How are you dealing with it?

I know many of you are thinking of this new year with lots of positive plans, including retirement and what you’ll do in this phase of life. I think in the midst of the positivity, we can also think of other scenarios.

Each of my friends with cancer, after the adjustment to the initial shock, is thinking positively of living with a chronic disease. Each is grateful for what they have, mostly the love and support of friends and family, and good medical care.

With each new ache or pain, I think we get a reminder that we only have a lease on life.  Continuing with this metaphor, we don’t own our lives, we rent them for a while. So of course the biggest question becomes what are we going to do with this rental? And for boomers, the question now is, what is our legacy? Writ small, writ large, what is the legacy you want to leave?

I think that’s what is important to put on your list of goals. Steps you take towards reaching your legacy goals. It’s more important than how much weight you’ll loose, or how you step up your exercise plan.

So I suggest not to do anything radical, but add to your list if you still make them, and in between the ‘getting more fit’ and decluttering’, think and write about the kind of person you want to be remembered as, the legacy of meaning and action you leave, and what’s really important to you these days.

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“It’s all a labor of love,” he says. “People ask me how I can do all these things and I say ‘How can I not?’ In life, it’s about who you touched and how you touched them.”                                                                                                       ~ Viktor Ohnjec

The above quote comes from a busy man who made big changes in his life after witnessing the implosion of the World Trade Towers on 9/11. Sometimes it takes a big crisis to make the changes that result in increasing our happiness.

The last Inner Fitness™ post was a discussion about finding happiness at the intersection of pleasure and meaning. Many of you commented how that statement has gotten you thinking. There’s so much we can say about happiness and living within it as a conscious choice most of the time. Today’s post continues that conversation.

For busy people, and boomers are famously known for keeping themselves busy, it is important to find happiness and satisfaction in all this busy-ness. Otherwise, it becomes just empty activity to “kill time”. I abhor the expression “killing time” because in this one precious life of ours, time is all we have. To kill time is to kill ourselves in some way. Don’t do it! I say knock that expression out of your conversation!

Think of time as this gift we have to be the person we want to be. For Viktor, it is to “touch” people in a meaningful way. This can be done everyday of your life, whether you are working, in retirement, visiting with family and friends, or going to the store.

The question we might ask ourselves is what truly makes us happy? What gives our life both pleasure and meaning?

Here are some additional questions to get you thinking about your inner fitness and how to ensure sustaining it.

1      What has been the best year of your life so far?

2      What are you most proud of about yourself?

3      What would you most like to be remembered for after you die?

4      What is your most treasured possession?

After you answer each of these questions, ask yourself “and why?”.

There are so many more great questions to ask yourself as you build your Inner Fitness. The answers deserve to be recorded in your journal. Take the time for reflecting on your happiness.

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I once read something that I’ll never forget: the mind says YES to everything you think.

So whether it’s:

I can really work on this ‘bad’ behavior to modify it, in order to be more effective in my work life, or

I can change this ‘bad’ habit in order to be kinder to myself, or

I am really a perpetual jerk, or,

I am really hopeless aren’t I?

THE MIND SAYS YES.

If this is the case, think about what you are reinforcing in your life. Where is your focus—on your defects or on your possibilities? This is an important area of choice for all of us. Many of us make this choice unconsciously. I suggest we make a more conscious choice by focusing on what we want, not what we don’t want.

One way to strengthen the possibility of getting what we want is to focus on what it would look like, and how it would feel. So for example, if you want to improve your relationship with your sibling, stop focusing on all the things you don’t like about him/her. Focus instead on what you do want and do like: better times together, more pleasant contact, the ability to laugh together.

Focusing on what you do want may open your heart and mind a bit, and that might start to change the dynamic of the relationship. If you keep focusing on all your resentments, etc, you merely build up more.

Boomers as a group have been pretty positive about achievements, winning, and getting results. But as we get older, has our focus slipped? Have we lost some of our optimism? That would be only natural of course, and that’s why reminders can be helpful!

So the next time you over-think about what’s “wrong’ with your career, or relationship, or life, see if you can flick the switch to UP and focus on what’s right.

Can you hear your mind saying YES?

 

nothing is impossible

This quote by Eleanor Roosevelt applies to all our endeavors that require a stretch and that take us out of our usual way of operating. To develop inner fitness we often have to move out of our comfort zone to get to the place of operating at our personal best.

Isn’t it comforting to know that even the great citizen Eleanor Roosevelt struggled with fear, and magnificently overcame it. Now some of you might dismiss Eleanor as the poor little rich girl. After all, she was from a very wealthy NY family. Well there are many poor little rich girls who make nothing of their lives. It turns out she was a shy young woman whose parents died by the time she was 10, whose father was an alcoholic, who married at 20, who did not attend college, who lived with a dominating mother-in-law and not in her own home until age 62. She had a lot to overcome.

For example, so that she could report back to the wheelchair-bound FDR firsthand, this shy and solemn young woman became the eyes and ears for her husband, travelling globally before and during WWII to see what was happening on the ground.

She grew from a ‘proper young matron’ with 5 children to become a great advocate for civil and human rights. As Chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission she oversaw the writing and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, her crowning achievement.

Eleanor grew into her Inner Fitness, just as we all can. Each of us has our own burdens to overcome. There are many paths to Inner Fitness. Each of us must find our own way that works best for us.

Building your Inner Fitness, and staying fit is like being physically fit; it is a continuous process. You cannot reach your pinnacle of Inner Fitness and then bask there, because you’ll loose it. Like any muscle, it must be worked.

What are you doing for your Inner Fitness?

Rewriting Your SelfTalk

April 7, 2014

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 Henry Ford said, “If you think you can, or if you think you can’t, you’re right.”

How often do you actually register the commentary that your mind “says” to you each day? Is it negative? Is it positive?

Rarely do we just observe what we do in this world. More often we ‘comment’ on it, with mental chatter that is often judgmental, such as “I’m afraid this will be a dumb question, maybe I shouldn’t ask it”, or “this writing isn’t as good as it should be”, or “I always foul things like this up, I’m such a loser”.

The negative self-talk we keep up actually affects our performance, and our presence in the world. Negative self-talk chips away at us. What we tell ourselves, if we do it often enough, can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Think of your negative talk as disrespecting yourself, something you probably would find unacceptable if someone else did it to you. So why do it to yourself?

Most importantly, negative self-talk is disempowering. Positive self-talk is empowering. On the path towards staying grounded in Inner Fitness, it is pretty clear that we want to do everything that empowers us.

Try this experiment. You’ll need to do it with another person.

Put your arm out straight, at a right angle from your body. Start repeating “I am weak and worthless” a few times.  Then, as you continue to repeat this phrase, have the other person push down on your arm as hard as he/she can. Remember how this feels.

Now put your arm out again, and start repeating “I am strong and powerful”. Once you’ve repeated it a few times, continue and have your partner push down on your arm.

What happened this time? Sum up the whole experience and never forget it!

Start a campaign

I propose an active campaign against negative self-talk.  It starts with increasing your self-awareness of how often you actually talk to yourself negatively and just what it is you say. Once you have more awareness of your commentary, then you can begin to evaluate it and see if it needs to change.

The next step is to rewrite this self-talk into not only something more positive, but more realistic. Something that is actually more representative of reality, without the all or nothing coloration. Beware of words like “always” and “never”, or even “of course”, or “naturally”.

Work at rephrasing

Here are some examples you can use:

The Usual: This will never work

The Reframing: I’m not sure this will work but I’ll keep an open mind

This always happens to me….

Sometimes this happens but most of the time it really doesn’t

This person is not going to buy-in….

Fill in this one yourself

Exercise

•  Take note of your mental chatter and how you comment on your life

•  Are there certain circumstances where you are down on yourself more than others?

•  What are the themes that are emerging?

•  Practice reframing your self-talk

Cycling and Re-Cycling

February 7, 2014

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Have you noticed the cycles in your life?  For example, sometimes you are very rigorous about exercising, and then for whatever reason, you slack off. After a while you “get back on the wagon” and return to your routine.

The same is true for the efforts you make in staying empowered and keeping your inner fitness alive and well. Sometimes we slack off. We aren’t as centered or focused as we’d like to be, or thought we were. Maybe our attention is diverted elsewhere.

But this is not a reason to beat up on yourself, or call yourself names. Life by its very nature is cyclical, and your efforts towards inner fitness may wax and wan. But let us take a lesson from nature, and remember that nature allows for cycles.  It doesn’t mean that you are no longer strong and self-empowered, or anything of the kind. You may simply be taking a break from what you perceive as effort. You haven’t lost your foundation, you might just be on summer break.  Or your attention is elsewhere for the moment.

When you become aware of your cycles, you might just take a moment to reflect. Am I still practicing self-awareness? Am I managing my emotions as best as possible? You probably are if you are aware you aren’t keeping up with your previous practices.  Do I need to do more physical exercise? Am I just feeling a bit indulgent right now? Can I allow myself that without calling myself names?

This might be a great time to return to your journal, and write down your answers to some of the above questions. Join the conversation and tell us about your own cycles, and how you react to them. We welcome your comments below.

For a complimentary ½ hour session, contact Pamela Tudor, at pnt@tudorconsulting.net. For more information, see tudorconsulting.net.

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This is the name and focus of a book Peter Demarest wrote about achieving greater success and happiness in life using brain and value science to help you make good choices.

In a nutshell, what you have to do is keep asking yourself “The Central Question” throughout the day— whenever you want to be at your best and maximize value for all concerned.

In case you are wondering, The Central Question is: What choice can I make and action can I take, in this moment, to create the greatest net value?

He says that when you honestly ask yourself The Central Question it creates a mental shift. The question applies to all of your life situations, from your work and organizational life, to your love and personal life.

It’s not about forcing yourself to do things you don’t want to do, or repeating positive affirmations, which according to the latest brain science doesn’t work that well anyway, but rather getting clear about what you really value, making good choices based on what you really value, and then taking action, accordingly.

So what is value science? Axiology (from the Greek) is the study of value, and claims to show that there is a natural order to value (or worth, good, meaning) —a hierarchy that transcends subjective morals and cultures. The founder of this science is Dr. Robert Hartmann, a PhD who left Hitler’s Germany to study the nature of goodness and how it is “organized”.

The focus of the book is not about fixing yourself and your weaknesses, but rather building on and using your strengths. I always coach on the idea of building on your strengths, rather than fixing your weaknesses.

These ideas of “valuegenic” behaviors seem to be another path on the road to mindful living by way of mindful choices.  However you name or slice it, mindfully being aware of your reactions and behaviors (watch out for those amygdala hijacks!!) and pausing before acting to ask yourself what you really want out of any given situation is a great path towards Inner Fitness™.

It’s All Projection

December 7, 2013

Hollywood

A wise man I know, Dick Nodell, once said to me 99% of what people think about others in this world is projection. In other words, what other people think of you is not necessarily who you are, it’s their projection of you.

Think of this in terms of movie stars. We project all sorts of things onto celebrities, because of how they look, the characters they play, etc. Whatever these projections may be, their personal lives are sometimes seriously different from what people project onto them. The stars get in trouble when they start to believe too many of the projections, or experience the disconnect between who they really are, and what people believe they are.

We fool ourselves when we believe the projections we put onto others.

So how to combat this constant projecting?