Author Archive

Why You Should Be a Power Poser

Power-Pose

Social psychologists study the ways in which we influence others through our body language, but did you know that body language also influences our own behavior? It is part of our human nature to draw conclusions based on information we collect from social cues and context. I’m very keen on how people present themselves so I notice how they move, walk, speak, make eye contact, and hold their physical frame. You can infer a lot about someone by their posture, facial expressions, and other non-verbal communication. How you show up in your body provides clues about your mental and emotional state, and it subtly suggests elements of your character. People often comment on my “perfect” posture and it’s a running joke among my close friends. I have always believed that the way you carry yourself on the outside reflects what is happening within you, but which of these variables predicts the other?

Amy Cuddy, Harvard Business School Professor, studies the connections between nonverbal behaviors, emotions, and social judgments, and how these relationships impact business and society. In her 2012 TED talk, she explains how the use of “power poses” can literally change the way a person feels, reacts, and ultimately performs. If you want to feel something, embody it! If you want your brain to react like everything is in order, stand tall and walk with composure. The biofeedback loops which connect brain to body transmit signals back and forth about the state of the union, so if the body is being held in a submissive way, then that is how the brain will respond. If you want to display confidence, even when you’re not convinced of it, hold a confident stance and your body will tell your brain to feel that way.

With over 23 million views, this wildly popular video has likely caught your eye and it is definitely worth 20 minutes of your time. Yes, I’m a bit of a posture freak, and I hope that after watching this video, you’ll become one too. Why?…Because it can make you powerful. I do not always feel confident and collected but I move with purpose and carry myself with poise because I have learned that I can cultivate what I need and so can you. Sometimes you just have to “fake it ‘til you make it.” Amy Cuddy talks about the paralyzing trap of the imposter syndrome, but her research shows that true power comes from realizing you can create an alternate reality simply by taking a stance. Give it a try! Strike a pose for power.

About the Author: Sarah is a Professional Services Intern at The Ken Blanchard Companies. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in Consulting Psychology, and her research is based on mindfulness. Contact: sarah.maxwell@kenblanchard.com.

Wandering The Navajo Pollen Path

Annual events such as birthdays, holidays, or the New Year inspire us to re-orient ourselves as we ask some important questions: Where am I and how did I get here? What goals did I set what have I achieved or missed? Where am I headed and how will I get there? What have I learned and who has helped me? What I am grateful for and what would I like to change? Where did I struggle and where did I rise?

Three years ago, when I was emerging from great struggle and conflict into self-realization and growth, a dear friend introduced me to the Navajo Pollen Path, pictured below.

Navajo-Pollen-PathAccompanied by a ceremonial chant:

Oh beauty before me,
beauty behind me,
beauty to the right of me,
beauty to the left of me,
beauty above me,
beauty below me,
I am on the Pollen Path.
In the house of life I wander,
On the pollen path.

The Pollen Path symbolizes an individual’s journey through life and it is rich in myth and meaning. Originally created as a sand painting, it was used in ritualistic healing ceremonies during which community members gathered to support an individual on their spiritual exploit. Following their own footprints at the bottom of the image, the initiate passes by two guardians who usher the individual into the spiritual world. As the initiate continues up the cornstalk, which symbolizes sustenance, there are several points along way where pollen is sprinkled to germinate his growth. Within this sacred space, the individual experiences positive and negative forces and he encounters spiritual messengers, depicted as male versus female and representing the different energies of the sun and moon. These helpers arrive at a critical time when the individual’s path is dramatically struck by a bolt of lightning, electrifying his opportunity to either seek and accept help or be stalled on his journey. If he is brave enough to continue forward in the after-shock, the individual meets a dove at the top of the cornstalk, which symbolizes peace at the end of his path. He has reached spiritual enlightenment and is now free to follow his footsteps back to the beginning where he will be ushered once again into a new pollen path.

It is circuitous to remind us that our journey has many starting points, stalling points, opportunities for growth, and people in our surroundings who are there to help us in ways we often are not aware of until we emerge from the path stronger and ready to start again. The Pollen Path can be used as a reminder that struggle is a natural part of life and a necessary condition for progress. It can serve as a reminder to never take for granted the beautiful hearts and souls who have helped you along your journey, and it can provide a sense of purpose knowing that you might be instrumental to someone else’s growth.

Like many of you, I have reflected on my trials and triumphs from the past year and I welcome a fresh start at the dawn of the New Year. May you find what you seek in 2015! In the house of life you wander, on the Pollen Path. It’s a continuous journey—Make it a beautiful year!

Photo Credit: Pollen Path

About the Author: Sarah is a Professional Services Intern at The Ken Blanchard Companies. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in Consulting Psychology, and her research is based on mindfulness. Contact: sarah.maxwell@kenblanchard.com. Continue reading

Managing Your Mind

Doorway to Consciousness

Before you can effectively manage your career, relationships, home, hobbies, and the pursuit of your dreams, you’ll first need to master the skill of managing your mind. Yes, it is a skill. Yes, it can be learned and strengthened through the practice of meditation. Essentially meditation is mental training. Mindfulness—my preferred form of mental training—is the practice of focusing on present-moment experience. As simple as it sounds, it certainly is not easy! Mindfulness is learned experientially and getting a firm grasp on it takes time, but not as much as you might think. In this popular TED talk, Andrew Puddicombe explains it best:

The mind is the seat of consciousness, the realm of all mental and emotional processing, somatic sensation and perception, and the intricate combination of moment-to-moment experiences we call life. That’s where it all plays out, in your mind. Knowing that, you can see why a calm and well-functioning mind is the foundation for health and happiness.

How can mindfulness help? Focus. Blanchard consultants and coaches will attest that in order to sustain learning after training, focus is key. Without focus the untrained mind is like a puppy, distracted by anything that moves. Training a puppy takes energy and discipline. The process can be frustrating and it won’t work without consistency and patience. Mental training is similar. In its natural state the mind is like a puppy, running in circles and sometimes colliding with walls because it can’t stop. Frantic mental activity perpetuates stress, anxiety, pain, and struggle. When we lack focus, we lack control over our experience. We cannot always change the events that occur but we can change how we experience them. Mindfulness is a way of redirecting attention and thus acting with greater intention and less struggle. It starts with noticing what you are experiencing in the present moment and simply observing without judging it—Sort of just sitting with it rather than reacting to it. Mindfulness is the space between stimulus and response.

mindfulness_poster_UK

A common misconception about mindfulness, as Puddicombe explains, is that “people assume that meditation is all about stopping thoughts, getting rid of emotions, somehow controlling the mind. But actually it’s…about stepping back, seeing the thought clearly, witnessing it coming and going.” Did you know that we spend nearly half of our waking hours thinking about something other than what we’re doing? Astounding! Cognitive neuroscientists have shown that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind, and an unhappy mind is an unproductive one. Instead we can choose, in any moment, to sit with reality by mindfully bringing our attention back to here and now.

TNH_Meditation

Looking for an introduction to the practice of mindfulness and how it can improve your wellbeing? Here are some resources to get you started:

Mind full, or mindful? The choice is yours.

About the Author: Sarah is a Professional Services Intern at The Ken Blanchard Companies. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in Consulting Psychology, and her research is based on mindfulness. Contact: sarah.maxwell@kenblanchard.com.

You Are Always Hypothesizing

One simple statement really stood out to me from a conversation this week: “remember that you are always hypothesizing.” During an executive coaching class, my colleagues and I were role-playing coaching scenarios around dealing with perceived resistance from a client. Note the key word, “perceived.” The group discussion and activity were meant to illustrate the fact that in coaching relationships, what we perceive as resistance might actually be indicative of something else. If we can acknowledge that our perceptions are just our interpretations of what we are experiencing as we interact with another person, then we open ourselves to the possibility that our interpretations might not be accurate. It’s easy to misinterpret because we are, in fact, always hypothesizing.

According to Merriam-Webster, a hypothesis may be defined as:

  • “An idea or theory that is not proven but that leads to further study or discussion”
  • “An assumption or concession made for the sake of argument”
  • “A tentative assumption made in order to draw out and test the logical or empirical consequences”

Notice that a commonality across these definitions is the element of making an assertion for the purpose of verifying or validating it. A hypothesis is ground for further action; it is an antecedent and not an end result. Miscommunication is often attributable to misinterpretation, but we can avoid this fundamental error by noticing our assumptions and investigating them with a sense of openness and curiosity. The challenge in any interaction—whether your role is a coach, manager, advisor, teacher, peer, or friend—is to become truly curious about the other person’s experience so that testing our assumptions is an act of gaining clarity about that individual’s experience from their perspective rather than from our own.

TNH_Understanding

Contrary to common belief, hypothesis testing is not a function of proving our theory, but rather it is a function of trying to uncover whatever truth exists. Yes, in scientific pursuits, we hope to furnish evidence in support of our hypothesis, but this is not the case in pursuits of human relations. True communication and connection with others requires humility and acceptance of the fact that our assertions and conclusions may be incorrect. If we are always hypothesizing then we must also be ever curious and open to alternatives, asking, “What else might explain this? What might I not be aware of?”

Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced Tick-Naught-Han), is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, author, teacher, Zen Master, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee for his activism and advocacy of nonviolent solutions to conflict. You do not need to endorse Buddhist philosophy in order to appreciate Thich Nhat Hanh’s approachable writing style and germane messaging. In one of his seminal books, Being Peace, Thich Nhat Hanh uses the quote above to explain what is needed in order to achieve true understanding in communication. If we only seek to validate our own preconceived notions without acknowledging that our way of thinking might be flawed, then we will not be able to truly understand whatever we are facing.

ansel_adams_quote

Each interaction, each conversation, each moment of life is associated with some image in our minds. We create a story about that image, and Ansel Adams reminds us that we are not the only ones looking at our pictures. Others are involved in those interactions, conversations, and moments.  Two photographers can stand aside one another taking in the same landscape, but the images they see and capture through their lenses will be different depending on what and where they choose to focus. Two viewers may look upon the same photograph and see or describe it in very different ways depending upon their interpretation and the meaning they assign to what they see. It’s all about how you make sense of what you observe.

ansel adams_fuzzy concept_quote

In the art of communication, the skilled performer is ever conscious that the image seen may not reflect the one captured, and the story created by the viewer may not match the one being projected by the sender. If you truly seek to understand another person’s point of view, you must be willing to see the world through their lens. Like photography and all fine arts, perspective-taking is a skill which is developed over time through diligent practice, keen observation, acute trial and error, and endless wonder about the natural world. You are always creating images and painting pictures from your own pallet of interpretation. How might someone else see it differently? What would it be like to view the world through another lens? What is the potential benefit and beauty of considering another point of view? What else might be present? What else could sharpen your image? What are you not seeing? In what other ways could this situation being conceptualized or understood?

Remember that you are always hypothesizing, so ask yourself, “what am I not yet aware of?”

ansel_adams_awareness_quote

About the Author: Sarah is a Professional Services Intern at The Ken Blanchard Companies. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in Consulting Psychology, and her research is based on mindfulness. Contact: sarah.maxwell@kenblanchard.com.

Image Credit: 1, 2, 3, 4

Robin Williams and the Pink Elephant at Work

pink-elephant

We must bring to light a dark topic which most of us would rather avoid. It is more common and detrimental in the workplace than we care to admit, and likely each of us knows someone who suffers from its burden. It is raw and painful and most people would gladly keep it in the shadows, but it is also pervasive and powerful so we cannot ignore the pink elephant at work: Depression.

For the week following his suicide, Robin Williams’s tributes were a main topic of social media feeds which quickly gave way to ice bucket challenge videos, but let’s rewind the tape for a minute. The recent death of Robin Williams (1951—2014) has sparked an important conversation that deserves your attention as a leader and quite simply as a human being.

Depression affects more people than we know about because it is often a hidden struggle. The general public was shocked by the news that Robin Williams was experiencing an inner battle and ultimately chose to take his own life, but the wake-up call here is that there are more people just like him whose pain and suffering is silent. Depression can make people feel weak, disengaged, isolated, hopeless, void of value, and imprisoned by thoughts of desperation, which can have a negative impact on everyday functioning.

Leaders, take note! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • 18.8 million American adults will suffer from a depressive illness yearly.
  • Approximately 80% of persons with depression reported some level of functional impairment and 27% reported serious difficulties in work and home life.
  • In a 3-month period, persons with depression miss an average of 4.8 workdays and suffer 11.5 days of reduced productivity.
  • Depression is estimated to cause 200 million lost workdays each year costing employers up to $44 billion.

Sometimes depression is severe. What are the warning signs and how can you help someone in an emotional crisis? If you manage people at any level, then you might face this enormous challenge among your staff. Broaching the subject is likely outside of your comfort zone but the American Psychological Association offers some guidance:

  • Look for sudden changes in behavior (e.g. poor hygiene, weight change, social withdrawal)
  • Reach out in a supportive and non-judgmental way. Listen more than you talk.
  • Get professional help: consult your Human Resources department, reference your organization’s employee assistance program, or use the APA’s Psychologist Locator service.
  • Intervene immediately if you suspect that someone is considering suicide. Trained crisis prevention counselors from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline are available at 1-800-273-TALK.
  • Utilize available resources to help people who are struggling to cope after suicide.

Balance is paramount when addressing such a heavy and uncomfortable issue, so let us share and enjoy the laughter, lightheartedness, and life lessons of the man whose loss we mourn and whose memory we celebrate. I have always been fond of Robin Williams, and the 1989 film, Dead Poets Society, made a marked impression on me which I still appreciate 25 years later. Although depression may rob individuals of their ability to call upon their own internal resources to pursue their passions, those who are blessed with the capacity to do so, must seize the day and write their verse!

Every person has limitations and struggles, and every person has gifts and talents. As a leader in any aspect of life, can you truly recognize and accept this dichotomy of our human nature? Only then will you be able to contribute a verse to this powerful play that goes on and on.

What will your verse be?

About the Author:

Sarah is a Professional Services Intern at The Ken Blanchard Companies. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in Consulting Psychology, and her research is based on mindfulness. You can reach her at sarah.maxwell@kenblanchard.com.

Photo credit: pink elephant

Boldness Be Your Friend

The past couple years for me have been nothing short of a bold adventure dotted with opportunities, seen and unseen, to face my fears. Head on. And I don’t regret a second of it. I previously earned the nickname “safety cat” (a light-hearted play on “scared-y-cat”), but I have learned to embrace a maxim put forth by the great playwright and poet:

Boldness

Fear is such a primal force. It does funny things to the brain. Fear works its way into the psyche and hijacks all reason and logic. It can be gripping and paralyzing, or rousing and electrifying. It can prevent you from thinking clearly and cause you to react without will or succumb to danger. When I was younger, I had a terrifying recurring dream when distressed that I was drowning in deep water. Dozens of times I have watched myself in this nightmare desperately struggling at the water’s surface but slowly sinking into a murky abyss. It was absolutely horrifying, every single time. Every once in a while, when I’m swimming around in fear surrounding some new challenge or perceived barrier, it sneaks in again and haunts my slumber. Naturally I’ve developed an irrational fear of being in deep water and therefore, I have never been comfortable in the ocean. Drowning is a powerful image of fear, so imagine my reaction when my brother approached me about getting scuba dive certified on vacation in the Virgin Islands! Knowing that he also harbored some anxiety around the idea of breathing from an air tank underwater, and not wanting to discourage him from challenging his own fears, I agreed to do it. I managed to say something like, “that would be fun for us to do together,” while in the background my brain was completely freaking out!

Fear2

Fear is powerful, but it is not absolute. Although the brain’s course of translating fear-inducing sensory information into a behavioral response is largely an unconscious process, neuroscience has shown that we can learn new ways of reacting to fear-inducing stimuli. So how did I do it? Well, it was basically a matter of diving right in! I chose to be bold.

My brother and I signed up for the PADI Open Water Diver certification course, affiliated with a reputable dive shop in St. Thomas, and completed our e-learning modules. Then there we were on day one, all geared up with BCDs, tanks and regulators, and ready to begin the confined water dive skills portion of our training, and my brain started freaking out again. “All you have to do is breathe through your mouth and everything will be fine,” I told myself. “That’s crazy, you can’t breathe underwater, don’t do it,” my brain fought back with me. With my heart pounding, I submerged and instantly hated it. “Go back to the surface and rip your mask off so you can breathe through your nose like normal,” my brain shouted at me. “Just try to take slower, deeper, more controlled inhales and exhales,” my yoga teacher self told my brain. My chest was tight and I felt like I couldn’t get enough air no matter how hard I tried. “I’m suffocating…This is horrible…I hate this,” my brain cried out in panic. I struggled through the entire morning, dreading the impending open-water dives that afternoon.

”Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.” – Helen Keller

Facing your fear is often about taking calculated risks and learning how to handle them. I chose to override my instinct to give up on diving, but my internal argument continued during the boat ride out to our first dive spot. “50 feet down is a long way…What if your regulator doesn’t work and you suffocate? What if you can’t clear your mask and you breathe in some water and choke on it? This is really scary. You don’t have to do this,” my brain tried to convince me. “Look here, amygdala, you’re not winning this time,” I answered back. Standing on the edge of the platform at the boat’s stern and heeding my brother’s advice from earlier that day, I rehearsed what was going to happen. “Walk yourself through it,” he said, so I reminded myself that I was in control and I stepped out into the ocean. We carefully made our first descent to the ocean’s floor and began our first underwater exploration!

Sarah

Diving_SarahWhat a mystical experience it was to be floating freely through the abyss, not struggling and fearful, but literally and figuratively buoyant. I fell in love with diving that day! More importantly, I gained an enormous sense of confidence in my ability to overcome the greatest obstacle to pursuing my dreams: fear.

“Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

How many times have you allowed fear to speak louder than reason or passion and missed an opportunity to challenge yourself and take a chance on growth in your personal or professional life? No one is immune from fear and it serves its purpose in warning us of potential threat, but it need not hold you back. You can still explore, try new things, step into the unknown, and know that you are in control even if you’re anxious. You can likely recount your own vivid tale of standing at the edge of whatever it is you were afraid to do, then taking that giant leap forward and feeling the rush of pure joy and pride afterwards. Revel in those moments and soak in the strength of resilience that you build when you do choose to face your fears. The first step is choosing to do it. The next step is going out and doing it. Share your stories below.

Boldness be your friend!

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” -Dale Carnegie

About the Author:

Sarah is a Professional Services Intern at The Ken Blanchard Companies. She is also pursuing a Ph.D. in Consulting Psychology and her research is based on mindfulness. You can reach her at sarah.maxwell@kenblanchard.com.

The “L” Word—Is It On Your Mind?

In his closing remarks at yesterday’s company meeting, Ken Blanchard shared Covey’s four basic needs which underlie human fulfillment: to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy.

 “The need to live is our physical need for such things as food, clothing, shelter, economical well-being, health. The need to love is our social need to relate to other people, to belong, to love and to be loved. The need to learn is our mental need to develop and to grow. And the need to leave a legacy is our spiritual need to have a sense of meaning, purpose, personal congruence, and contribution.”
Stephen R. Covey

The “L” word—the BIG one—is legacy, the story of you and your imprint upon the world. It’s been a repeated topic of conversation in my spheres lately, as it should be in yours. Visioning is central to the success of organizations, teams, leaders, and individual contributors because it creates a dialogue around the meaning and value behind the work that we do. Your legacy extends far beyond your career into your personal and professional relationships; your family or community involvement and recreational activities; and in your moment-to-moment everyday experiences. What kind of legacy are you building, and where do you even begin? Covey reminds us that life is short, so ask yourself:

  • What makes life worth living? What’s missing?
  • What do I need to learn? To unlearn?
  • How will I be remembered?
  • What do I dream of?

These are big questions—Give yourself time to develop honest and deeply rooted answers.  It can be tempting to dismiss dreams as unattainable or impractical, but dreams stem from a place within each of us that British philosopher, Alan Watts, calls “the deep, down, basic, whatever there is.” In this inspirational video, Watts talks about the human need to feel significant and connected to something greater than ourselves:


There is nothing trivial about finding and giving voice to your purpose in life and however you frame the concept of legacy, the story is yours to write. In another moving video, The Real You, Watts talks about the idea of waking up and finding out who you are. An individual’s sense of self is a complex, idiosyncratic, and exquisite answer to the venerable question: Who AM I?

Before you can build a meaningful legacy, you first need to have a clear picture of who you are and what gives value and purpose to your life. Because your identity defines how you see yourself belonging in the world and relating to others, it is fundamental to creating your vision, living your dreams, and leading others to do the same. In Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the peak is self-actualization—the human need for self-fulfillment and striving to achieve one’s highest potential. This is a process of continual learning so you can always seek new ways of infusing energy and creativity into your everyday events.

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Self-development is profound work but it doesn’t need to be intense. A variation of Covey’s four basic needs overlays learning with laughter because we can’t be serious all the time. That’s also why one of the founding principles of The Ken Blanchard Companies is to have fun! On your journey of life, never forget the gift of child-like wonder—not in the sense of immaturity or naivety, but rather of being curious and light-hearted along the way. As you think about who you are and most importantly the unique story you are leading, remember that life is short. Keep the “L” word always in mind.

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About the Author:

Sarah is a Professional Services Intern at The Ken Blanchard Companies. She is also pursuing a Ph.D. in Consulting Psychology and her research is based on mindfulness. You can reach her at sarah.maxwell@kenblanchard.com.

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