Last week’s blog post described the hamster wheel kind of life that so many people find themselves caught up in.  It’s the vicious cycle that can’t seem to stop.  So we live in exhaustion, discouragement, lack of energy and inspiration, and a

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/lisegagne

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/lisegagne

sense of being victims to our schedules and environments.  A terrible and unhealthy way to live!

The good news is that there are two ways to strategically move beyond this painful cycle.  Last week’s blog described the first strategy:  get clear on your identity and what your identity is based upon.  Click here to read that post!

I’m illustrating both strategies with the ancient story of the Jews’ experience of slavery in Egypt under a cruel Pharaoh and his slave masters.  Here is the second significant strategy.

Strategy # 2:  Get Clear About the Difference Between Energy vs. Time

The Jews were giving most of their time to the Pharaoh via the slave masters.  They were forced to produce bricks, at the risk of death should they stop.  They were in a losing battle if time were the only resource available to them.

But every seventh day, they did something counter-intuitive.  They stopped.  They rested.  It was called Sabbath.  So what?

The way Sabbath was structured for them was that this was a very intentional time to remember their true identity.  they were not primarily slaves to a human taskmaster.  They were children of Yahweh, the God who had called them and claimed them–who had chosen them, not because of how “cool” they were, not because of how good they performed or how much they produced, but simply because God chose them to belong to the God of the universe.

Their identity was based upon a stable truth:

“We are chosen, valuable human beings simply for being.  We are called for a special purpose.  We are not slaves.  We are free.  And we’re moving in our history toward the ultimate liberation of living in perfect congruence with our given freedom.  Our task masters can take away our time.  But they cannot take away our mindset, our identity, our humanness.  We control that.  And we choose freedom, even while we’re having to work painfully for cruel masters!”

Develop Reinforcing Rituals & Practices

So every seven days, on the Sabbath, they remembered, they realigned their mental picture, they stepped into that reality.  How? By engaging in practices and celebrations and rituals that reinforced the truth about themselves, that re-energized their sagging souls and aching bodies.

The power of this kind of regular ritual and practice is that the emphasis is not on time as much as it is on energy.

Time is a finite resource.  We only have 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

So if we based our experience on managing our time, no matter how important that is, we are in a losing battle.

But energy is renewable.  When we learn to manage it, steward it effectively, we can not only sustain our capacity we can increase our capacity.

Engaging in Energy Boosters

So my client and I began a conversation that he described as the most important thing he’s done.  We identified rituals and practices he could engage in that would renew his energy.  He creatively conceived of “mini-sabbaths” into which he could step and feel a boost, remember his true self, pay attention to his soul, renew his energy.

Energy boosters.  Even if it was taking out his “dusty” harmonica and playing it for 10 minutes.  Even if it was catching up on his New Yorker magazine for 10 minutes, reading what he enjoyed.  Even if it meant going to the bar every week to enjoy Trivia night with his friends.  Energy boosters.

When we neglect positive energy boosters in our lives, when we disregard positive rituals and practices that remind ourselves of who we really are, we degenerate into nothing more than “slaves to a task master” of our never-ending work or the demanding expectations of others in our lives.  We give up control.  And then we slip into a victim mindset.  It’s a losing battle, every single time!

Make Your List Now

So make a list right now.  What are activities you can schedule regularly (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly) that give you positive energy when you do them?  If you can actually schedule them into your calendar, then you won’t have to waster brain energy by always having to think through when you want to do them.  If you do that, I guarantee you’ll your busy schedule will trump your rituals & energy boosters every time.  Put them into your calendar so that they simply come regularly without serious planning and forethought so all your energy can be used in actually engaging and being present when that time comes.

You’ll find yourself moving steadily from a “slave” mentality to a liberation mentality.  You’ll be control again; you’ll reclaim sovereignty over your time and energy and life.  That’s a far better way to live!

hamster wheelDoes it ever feel like your job is sucking the soul out of you?  Is your work environment fueling a sense of powerlessness where you feel you’re being mastered rather than the other way around–you’ve become a slave to the master of your work–you’re trapped in a never-ending cycle of demands from everyone around you, urgent needs and To Do’s, so you’re drained of all energy at the end of the day?  And this habitual pattern has repeated itself for years until you feel like there’s no hope for anything better?  Do you feel like you’re on the proverbial hamster wheel, running and running and running, expending all your energy but really getting nowhere?

One of my clients was feeling this way in deep and profound ways when he came to me.  “What do I do?  Is there anything I can do to get out of this vicious cycle?” he asked plaintively.  “I’ve lost all of my passion and creativity!  Can I get it back?”

One of the first things I did was affirm his courage and gumption to come see me.  That in itself was a positive proactive step he was choosing in order to take back his life.

So many people get to that hamster wheel space and simply cave in to the feeling of being a victim:  “There’s nothing I can do about it.  The never-ending demands are simply not things I have any control over.  I mean, if I want this job, I have to put up with this vicious cycle.”

But here’s the thing:  you are never a victim to your life!

True, you may work for an awful boss.  Your team members might all act like jerks.  You may never get affirmed and appreciated for your hard work.  Colleagues may steal your ideas and take the credit.  More and more work might keep getting dumped on you when you’re already overwhelmed.

But you are never a victim to your life!

Here’s what I mean by this.  There are always areas of your life where you can and must take back your power and control.  Let me prioritize the two most important ones:  your Identity and your Energy.  You simply cannot compromise on either of these without terrible consequences.

Identity

Our temptation is to equate our sense of identity with our work.

When someone asks us what we do, we typically say, “I’m a [and then state our job title or type of work].”

But notice that we’re using an “I am” statement.  That’s a statement of being which is woefully incorrect and unhealthy.

The truth is, our job is simply something we do in our lives.  It’s not who we are.  Huge distinction.

Unless we get this fundamental identity issue right, we’ll always feel we lack control over our lives since we spend so much time at work under the direction and often control of a supervisor or boss or manager.  Right?  Even if you’re a CEO you’re still under the direction of the Board–you answer to them, in the end.  Even if you’re a self-employed entrepreneur, you’re still answerable to your clients.

To take back control of your life, you must be clear on your identity and where it comes from.

Remember the Jews who moved to the land of Egypt in order to escape the terrible famine in their land.  They ended up being subjugated in slavery to Pharaoh for over 300 hundred years.  Their cruel task masters lorded control over their lives by forcing them to build bricks for the pyramids.

So what was their identity challenge?  Their temptation was to view themselves as no more than slaves to another master.  All they were valuable for was production and daily quotas.  They felt powerless because in many ways they were powerless.  They felt victims to their circumstances.  They were slaves.

When I told this story to my client, he immediately resonated.

“That’s exactly how I feel–like a slave to another master.  I feel out of control.  My whole identity is consumed around my work and how much and how well I produce.  And so often I don’t feel like I’m producing enough or I’m not producing enough quality and creativity.  I feel like a loser or imposter.”

Can you relate to that?  I certainly can.  I find it easy at times to slip back into this mindset of, “I don’t think I’m good enough.  I feel like a nobody.  I’m not successful enough.  I’m not producing value enough.  Therefore I am not enough.”

So the Jews had to get clear about their true identity.  And in their environment, that was a gargantuan challenge!

What helped them get clear?  What did they do to take back control for their lives in the most fundamental area?

Here’s the next significant issue.  It’s engaging in strategies that empower us to align ourselves with our true identity.

Stay tuned for the next post.  Effective living is all about energy management, not time management.

Here Are Some Reflection Questions for You to Answer (try writing your reflections down on paper or computer):

How would you state your personal identity?  What words do you use to describe who you are at your very core, beyond what you do every day or the work or profession you have?  What gives you your value?  What are your true core values that drive your choices (the North Stars by which you navigate your paths forward)?  Finish this identity sentence:  “My value is in the truth that I am …”

Be clear on your identity!

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Looking for a Speaker or Coach?

If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for a keynote speaker or workshop teacher for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it.  And interested in strengths coaching?  Feel free to email me at greg@gregorypnelson.com or look at the Speaking or Coaching pages of this site.

I had a conversation recently with a highly educated professional–brilliant and successful in his field–who is, as he described it, having a breakdown in his life.  His stress levels are sky high, his body is falling apart, he’s depressed and discouraged, and his family life is strained.  His energy stores are depleted.  He’s going nonstop at work.

candleWhen I had him identify his top 5-7 core values–those values most important to him that he believes should inform all of his life choices and decisions–first on his list is what he calls “biology over technology.”  When I asked him what that meant, he gave a profound definition, “I believe human beings look and feel their best when they move at the speed of biology not technology.”

What he is realizing is how far he’s allowed himself to unalign with this first core value on his list.  And his incongruity with what he values most is causing him to pay a huge price, like it does for all of us.

Moving at the speed of biology not technology.

Challenges of Success–A Double-edged Sword

Highly successful people constantly face a conundrum.  On the one hand, they are successful because they get a lot done.  They know how to prioritize, they’re highly responsible, and they make things happen.  And they do it all with passion and excellence.

You’ve heard the saying, “If you want something to get done, ask a busy person.”

So on the other hand, this creates a wave of activity in their lives that often turns into a tsunami, overwhelming them.

Success is a double-edged sword.  It produces great things.  But it also exacerbates busyness and over stimulation.  The pressures and demands increase dramatically with success.  And the proverbial “burning the candles at both ends” becomes more and more a reality with painful consequences.

Technology, though often helpful, can contribute to this overload of the human system if not managed and stewarded effectively.

So how do successful people get out of this vicious cycle?  Is there an effective way to manage all the demands and pressures short of hiding out in a cave away from everyone and everything?

The answer is Yes.  And here’s one of the nonnegotiable, indispensable, and effective ways more and more successful people are building into the structure and fabric of their busy lives.

Moving at the Speed of Biology Not Technology

Dr. Daniel Goleman, the father of emotional intelligence (or EQ), in his book Focus, prescribes a framework for success that enables people to develop enough clarity about where to direct their attention in ways that strengthen rather than weaken their systems.  This framework positively impacts not only their own lives but also the organizations they lead or work in, including their family systems.  This focus begins with themselves, then moves toward others, and then toward to the external world–in that order.

Dr. Goleman states that cultivating this type of focus requires

“regular practices that allow your brain to fully relax and let go of the anxiousness, confusion, and pressures that can fill the day.”

This is what my client is describing as “moving at the speed of biology not technology.”  It’s strategically utilizing how your body and brain are wired and giving them what they need most in order to develop effective living.  It’s leveraging opportunities to relax your brain and body.

Practices of Mindfulness

This strategic practice is known as mindfulness.  And there are many different forms for it:  prayer, meditation, journaling, long walks, jogging and/or physical workouts, in depth conversation with spouses and other trusted people, devotional reading, technology sabbaths that provide more face-to-face time.

The common thread with all mindfulness practices is the intentional choice to create

“regular introspective practices that take you away from your daily routines and enable you to reflect on your work and your life–to really focus on what is truly important to you.”

A vast amount of research continues to show the absolute vital nature of these kinds of daily practices for effective living–intentional ways to move at the “speed of biology not technology.”  Those who engage in these activities experience far more happiness, engagement, fulfillment, and effectiveness in everything they do.  Period.  You are paying attention to your biology and partnering with its needs.

The outcome to establishing these regular rituals is a dramatic increase in focus, clarity, compassion, and courage–the four qualities needed for successful people

“in order to resiliently cope with the many challenges coming their way and the resolve to sustain long-term success.”

Examples of Mindfulness

Jesus deliberately incorporated these into his every day life.  As the demands on him grew, the more intentional he became with his practices of prayer and meditation, long walks, intimate conversations with those closest to him at meals and on the road and in boats, weekly worship in the synagogues, acts of compassion.  These habitual rituals kept him centered and grounded in what was most important to him.  They relaxed both his brain and body regularly so he could stay focused on not the urgent but on the most significant.

Mahatma Gandhi, at the height of his mission to drive out the colonial power from his homeland of India, all the while trying to keep the Muslims and Hindus from slaughtering each other,  said, “I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours instead of one.”

Significantly enough, more and more leaders of today’s hugely successful corporations and companies are recognizing the indispensable value of engaging in mindfulness practices.  Their response is:  “I can’t afford to NOT take this time!”

And these leaders are going beyond themselves to also encouraging and providing opportunities for their employees to “take more time to reflect on what’s most important in order to create ways to overcome their own difficult challenges and increased pressures.”

Learning to move at the speed of biology not technology.  It’s indispensable to effective living!

So do you have mindfulness practices structured into your life?  If you don’t, why not?  What specific activities could you adopt right away?  Will you write some specific times into your calendar right now?  This will be the most strategic decision you make.

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Looking for a Speaker or Coach?

If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for a keynote speaker or workshop teacher for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it.  And interested in strengths coaching?  Feel free to email me at greg@gregorypnelson.com or look at the Speaking or Coaching pages of this site.

man+looking+in+mirrorOne of my clients came to me dealing with deep uncertainty about himself.  His lack of confidence was at an all-time low.  He was de-energized at work and that was bleeding into the rest of his life.  He was having a difficult time making proactive decisions.  He felt stuck, almost paralyzed in his creative work.  And the more stuck he felt, the more he withdrew and didn’t give his best contributions.

“How do I find my place of confidence and self esteem again?”  he asked me with deep sincerity.

He was experiencing what I call Identity Drift.

What Is Identity Drift?

Identity Drift is when

  • you begin to lose your sense of self;
  • you’re not sure who you really are anymore;
  • you’re feeling uncertain about yourself, little by little unable to recognize what makes you You;
  • you find yourself trying to take on qualities and attributes that are no longer yours but are someone else’s (you’re trying to be something other than what you really are);
  • you’ve lost confidence in yourself;
  • you’re becoming more and more satisfied with status quo (not rocking the boat wherever you are for fear that you’ll get judged, criticized, or devalued, which is more blows to your sense of self worth–so you prefer to simply go with the flow and not creates waves)–you begin to simply drift along with whatever current you’re in;
  • You’ve lost your center and place of most authentic power.

Have you ever felt some of those things?  If so, you’re not alone.  Many of us are caught up in Identity Drift.

What Are Consequences of Identity Drift?

The consequences are painful:

  • living in a state of high stress and anxiety
  • losing your confidence
  • lowering your sense of worth / value
  • feeling lack of energy
  • feeling depressed about yourself, your future, and everything else in your life
  • comparing yourself to others and always coming up short
  • wishing to disengage and withdraw either emotionally or physically
  • experiencing the onset of physiological symptoms and health problems

So what can you do if you find yourself caught in Identity Drift?  How do you stop the drift?  Here are several suggestions.

5 Ways to Stop Identity Drift

Know your strengths

Because your strengths are based on your natural preferences (specific wiring in your brain), when you discover them, embrace them, and pay attention to them, you are placing yourself right in the middle of your true Self.  They are accurate descriptions of who you are and how you best live your life.  Leaning into your strengths places you in alignment with authenticity.

Identify how you’re currently using your strengths in your every day life

The more aware you become of how you’re using your strengths, the more competent and confident you become.  Paying attention and developing awareness are key.

Keep a diary in which you record evidences of strengths-based behaviors you engage in during the day

Increasing awareness and consciousness of your strengths increases exponentially when you keep a record of you behaviors and actions that manifest your strengths.  And every time you write a note describing an action, you’re increasing your sense of self and your confidence in your abilities to live well.

Stop comparing yourself to others

Reducing Identity Drift comes about by focusing on yourself not on others.  When we’re drifting, we tend to compare and think that we should be more like others (since we’re not very clear on who we are).  But we need to stop confusing ourselves.  We need to pay more attention to how we’re strong and how we use those strengths.

Intentionalize ways to step into your strengths more frequently

Start identifying specific actions you can take that are genuine expressions of all your strengths.  Write them down.  Look at them every day.  Set one behavior goal each day based upon one of your strengths.  Why?  When you’re using your strengths in authentic ways you increase your sense of self, confidence, and personal energy.  You’re aligning more deeply with the way your brain is wired.  You’re rediscovering some very core pieces of what makes you uniquely You.

When you choose to become the expert of your strengths, you are making the decision to step more fully into who You are.  I have yet to see someone who makes this a priority not recover their personal confidence and core power again.  The drift lessens little by little until it finally stops.

So go ahead, leverage the real You by embracing what makes you unique and intentionally choosing to live that out, expressing it more fully!

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Upcoming Workshop about How To Build a Strong Marriage or Committed Relationship

There is such a thing as Marriage Identity Drift–when two people lose their sense of couple identity–they simply float along without any energy or confidence in their couple presence.  If you want to experience my strengths process in your marriage or committed relationship, check out the upcoming workshop I’m giving on this.  Go to Events for more information and registration details.  Registration deadline is this coming Monday, March 17.  Space is limited to 10 couples.

________________________________

Looking for a Speaker or Coach?

If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for a keynote speaker or workshop teacher for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it.  And interested in strengths coaching?  Feel free to email me at greg@gregorypnelson.com or look at the Speaking or Coaching pages of this site.

Posted by: Greg | 03/11/2014

UPCOMING WORKSHOP

“How To Build Your Strongest Relationship:

Identifying and Leveraging Your Top Strengths to Move You From Me To We”

This workshop is for you if …

  • you’re interested in strengthening your committed relationship
  • you’re not necessarily looking for therapy but want to have fun learning together how to build a stronger relationship based upon how you each are wired
  • you’re drawn to an emphasis on strengths rather than weaknesses
  • you want to understand your partner’s unique strengths
  • you want to be validated and affirmed for your unique strengths
  • you want to see how you are strong as a couple – to identify the twin pillars of your relationship and what your unique couple “presence” is
  • you want to establish a couple mission statement and identify specific and the strongest ways (based upon your strengths as a couple) you will live out that mission this year

The workshop will be followed up by a 60-90 minute personal skype session with Dr. Greg.

THIS WORKSHOP IS LIMITED TO 10 COUPLES.

Registration Deadline is March 17, 2014.

Date: March 23, 2014
Time: 1:00 – 5:00 p.m.
Event: 7 Days left to Register!
Topic: “How To Build Your Strongest Relationship: Identifying and Leveraging Your Top Strengths to Move You From Me To We”
Venue: Fort Mason Center
Location: 2 Marina Blvd.
San Francisco, California 94123
United States
Registration: Click here to register.
More Info: Click here for more information.

david_v_goliathRemember the ancient story about David and Goliath?  A young shepherd David going to battle against the enemy giant Goliath?  He ends up killing Goliath with only a few smooth stones torpedoed by his leather slingshot.

The part of the story that is particularly powerful is what happens before that final scene.  The King, whose people are battling Goliath’s army, calls David before his throne and offers his own personal body armor to wear to go up against the giant.

Now this is no small offer.  The King has been a hugely successful warrior and leader of his people, achieving epic victories through the years.  And he’s always worn this special armor to protect himself and he’s used the sacred sword to defeat his enemies.  Now he offers them to David.

So David tries on the armor and the sword.  But they don’t fit him … at all!  He staggers and stumbles around under the weight of someone else’s armory.

And now David makes the most strategic decision possible.  The King and others see it as foolish.  But David knows it’s smart and courageous.

“Thanks for your generous offer, O King, but I have to go into battle in my own armor, using what I’ve always relied on and what I’m best at!”

So David goes to face the giant, dressed in his shepherd’s clothing, and holding in his hand the weapon that has brought him success in protecting his sheep against the wild animals in the wilderness–a leather slingshot and some smooth stones.

And the rest is history.

Here’s the point.  When it comes to facing your life well, the most effective, strategic decision you can make is to stand in your own armor, not someone else’s.

Why?  Because standing in your armor is when you’re at your strongest, most powerful, and fulfilled place.  It’s all about strategic energy management.

I’m talking about your brain function and its natural preferences.

Brain Function and Natural Preferences

Your brain is wired with neuronal synapses–connections between cells (neurons) that produce certain behaviors.  By the time you’re sixteen years old, you’ve lost half of these networks (billions and billions)–thankfully–otherwise, you would as an adult be like a small child frozen in sensory overload.  So in this case, less is more.

By your teenage years, the synapses that have remained are the ones from which are created your talents, your natural preferences.

Your smartness and your effectiveness depend on how well you capitalize on your strongest connections.

As Marcus Buckingham puts it,

“Nature forces you to shut down billions of connections precisely so that you can be freed up to exploit the ones remaining.”

So you begin to notice that when you engage in certain behaviors and reactions, they just “feel right” to you, while others, no matter how hard you practice, always seem stilted and forced.  This is good and as it should be.

Strategic energy management is all about utilizing and building on your natural preferences.  That’s the most energy efficient.

Brain experts remind us that when we are operating outside of our natural brain preferences, our brains are expending 100 times the level of resistance; as contrasted  to when we are leading with our natural preferences which expends 1 times the level of resistance.  So which way is more energy efficient?

T1 vs. Dial-up Connections

It’s like connecting our computers with a hyper-fast T1 line versus an old dial-up connection.  Which works better?  Which is more efficient?  Which has the greatest speed and productivity?

Living our lives from a place of personal natural preference is the T1 connection.  Living life trying to be something we’re not is the ancient dial-up connection.

And the consequences of “dial-up” is devastating:  fatigue, hyper-vigilance, immune system suppression, reduced function of the frontal lobe (the thinking, processing, evaluating, and creativity brain center), memory problems, discouragement and depression, self-esteem problems, high levels of ongoing stress.  We are literally killing ourselves prematurely.

Dr. Phil puts it this way,

“Ignoring who you truly, authentically are can literally be killing you.  Forcing yourself to be someone you are not or stuffing down who you really are will tax you so much that it will shorten your life by years and years.”

Why Strengths Work Is So Vital

This is why I value strengths work so much.  It’s about identifying our natural preferences and then discovering specific ways we can utilize those strengths more intentionally.  It’s about validating and affirming each other’s strengths (which really is a way of validating the true person in front of you and setting them free, via their T1 line, to be at their best and strongest place).  It’s about exploring together how each person’s strengths can be brought together with the other person’s strengths and strategically managed and leveraged in ways that help the couple to be at their strongest, most effective relational place–discovering the relationship’s T1 line.

Imagine what happens when couples approach their relationship from this vantage point–the affirmation and honoring of each other’s most authentic self, and then building a relationship on this strongest of strong foundations.  It’s allowing each other to wear the right armor as opposed to forcing them to wear something else.  It’s identifying the couple’s unique armor and then together going into battle to face the giants of life.  That’s the way giants are battled successfully.

Here’s the way one couple I did this strengths work with described their experience:

“My husband and I have been married for 14 years and have worked through our share of challenges during that time.  Working with Greg helped us re-kindle the spark that we had lost track of during those challenges.  We now have a renewed vision of why we’re together and how to honor and leverage each of our strengths in exciting ways.  Thank-you, Greg!”

I’m teaching a strengths workshop for couples about these very issues (March 23, 1-5 pm, San Francisco, CA).  Registration deadline is March 17.  And it’s limited to 10 couples.  If you’re interested, go to this link for more information:  Strengths-based Couples.

______________________________

Looking for a Speaker or Coach?

If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for a keynote speaker or workshop teacher for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it.  And interested in strengths coaching?  Feel free to email me at greg@gregorypnelson.com or look at the Speaking or Coaching pages of this site.

romantic-couple-in-rain-display-pictures-for-couples-profile-pics-111214I was finishing a coaching session with a couple and decided to ask the question, “So which of your strengths would you like your partner to ask you to contribute to your marriage more often?”

What followed was 45 minutes of profound, deep, honest, heartfelt sharing between both of them.

She stated that from the beginning of their marriage, when she had tried to organize and activate him around one of their tasks, he had told her not to nag him.

“I realized at that moment that because I never wanted to be a nag in our relationship, I simply stopped contributing my strong achiever strengths.  But I realize right now that I am extremely strong in being able to activate things, get things done and organized.  I really want you to ask me to use those strengths on our behalf as a couple, for our sake together.”

He looked at her, some tears in his eyes, and said, “I can see that now – this is your area of powerful strength.  You were being sensitive to my feelings.  But now I want you to know that I deeply honor your strengths and I want to ask you to use them freely on our behalf, to make us even stronger than we are.”

In turn, he said to her, “I want you to ask me – to trust my deeply relational strengths – to use my abilities to pull people in, to go deeper with people, to include and help build deeper relationships, even in our relationship with each other.  I want to know that you truly honor and respect these strengths and their wisdom in me.  I want you to ask me to use them even more.”

I sat there, realizing that I was witnessing a powerful sacred moment – two people truly “seeing” each other, truly being seen by each other – two people honoring and respecting the pure goodness and strength in each other.

I’ve seen again and again that this is what happens when couples take the time to

  • identify their top strengths,
  • to share with each other what those strengths are,
  • to affirm and validate each other’s strengths and how each person is using them,
  • to engage in dialogue and discovery about how their individual strengths can work together in creating the strongest, most authentic, and effective relationship,
  • to apply this discovery to developing a relationship mission statement, along with specific ways (goals) to moving forward as a couple in building on that mission,
  • and to truly honor who they are as a couple and the unique, relational presence they can have in the world around them.

It’s a powerful things to observe!

That’s why I’m offering a four hour workshop to help lead couples through this kind of experience and process together (and it also includes a personalized 90 minute skype session with me after the workshop).  The potential of building an even stronger relationship is powerful, especially when you focus on your strengths.  It’s about learning how to leverage your strengths in a way that transforms your relationship from mere survival to thriving.  Who among us wouldn’t want that for the most important relationship in our lives?

Here’s the link for more information:  “Building Your Strongest Relationship: A Workshop Helping You Use Your Strengths to Transform Your Committed Relationship into a Powerful Team.”

No matter how long you’ve been in your committed relationship, no matter your age, no matter your hang ups, healthy and strong relationships take intentionality, focus, honesty, and energy.  This workshop will offer you that space and some important tools to engage with each other.  And it will be fun, informative, and possibly even transformational.

Both of you are worth it!  And so is your relationship!  Feel free to share this opportunity with others you know.

______________________________

Looking for a Speaker or Coach?

If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for a keynote speaker or workshop teacher for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it.  And interested in strengths coaching?  Feel free to email me at greg@gregorypnelson.com.  Go to my web site:  gregorypnelson.com.

rainbow-joyChanging the Way We Set Goals

Have you noticed that most of our new year’s resolutions center around stated behaviors, action steps, goals?  It certainly makes some sense – after all, we’re trying to engage in actions that are important to us.

But often times, we don’t ask the next set of questions.  What is it we’re hoping those actions will help us feel?  What do we truly want to feel as we go through our lives this year?

Stop and think about it.  What you’re really wanting when you set a goal is a certain way of feeling.  Right?

We choose to engage in certain actions and behaviors (we establish goals and intentions) because we really want to feel something specific and good.  Underneath every goal is a desired feeling.

For example, one of my goals is to increase my public speaking engagements this year.  Why?  Just to do more speaking?  I do get a lot of joy and fulfillment from public speaking!  But there’s a deeper issue.  Because I want to feel significant.  I want to feel enthralled (which comes from using my strengths in a broader setting that puts me in my “zone,” my wheelhouse of abilities).  I want to feel like I’m making an increasingly bigger difference in the world, in people’s lives.

And as it turns out, it’s our feelings that are actually the most powerful drivers behind our aspirations.

The Neuroscience Behind Feelings

Here’s how:  the brain pathways for emotions make their way directly to the areas that generate attention (and vice versa).  In other words, the way we feel – and our choices to feel certain emotions – can powerfully direct our attention.  And where we direct our attention produces that outcome – our brains automatically begin developing a map (“motor maps/action plans”) for how to make that happen.  Attention is what brings to life our intentions.

For example, people who are anxious are more prone to identifying anxiety-provoking or fearful things than people who are not.  What’s the outcome?

“What I often tell people is that when they spend their lives in dread, they are writing an invitation to the feared outcome rather than preventing it.”  (Life Unlocked:  7 Revolutionary Lessons to Overcome Fear, p. 55, by Dr. Srinivasan S. Pillay, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and executive coach)

The point is, the reverse holds equally true.  When you choose to focus on positive feelings, you activate your attention which in turn activates your intention.  Feelings are the most powerful drivers behind our aspirations.

My Practice of Focusing on Feeling Words

So here’s what I’ve been doing the last few years:

Step one:  I look at a list of feeling words and allow any of those words to jump out at me.  Which ones are speaking to me right now?  Which ones seem to be calling out to me – feelings that I’m wanting to feel more deeply than others this year?  I make a list of 3-5 feeling words.  If your list is longer, go through that list and keep narrowing it down until you reach 3-5.

Here’s the list I use:  Feeling Words

Step two:  I write a one-two sentence definition of each word.  By specifying a definition, I’m bringing greater clarity to why this feeling word is really resonating with me.  And the more clarity I have, the more targeted and powerful my attention is and therefore the more possible my intention becomes.

Questions to ask:  What does this word really mean to me?  What does the word feel like?  What are examples of this feeling word?  Why is it valuable to me?  Why do I want to feel this way this year?  What is it about this word that is calling out to me?

Step three:  I make a list of 3-5 accomplishments (intentions) for each feeling word that I believe if I engage in them will help me feel that way.  And I like to break those intentions down like this (thanks to blogger Danielle LaPorte for this idea):

Three things I will do today to generate these feelings;  Three things I will do this week to generate these feelings; Three things I will do this quarter to generate these feelings.

Step four:  I share my list with several trusted people a) so I can stay focused – sharing deepens impact, and b) so I can have accountability with my process as the year goes by.

What I Want to Feel More Of in 2014

Here’s the way my list turned out for 2014 (in case some of this might stimulate your creativity):  MY 2014 FEELING WORDS

Every time I read my list of words, my inner spirit jumps up, I feel real positive energy inside, and hope increases as I anticipate the year.  It’s keeping me focused on what’s most important to me.  And I can already tell these feelings, and my attention on them, are driving forward my intentions.

I challenge you to do this process, too.  And let me know what your feeling words are for 2014.

______________________________

Looking for a Speaker or Coach?

If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for a keynote speaker or workshop teacher for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it.  And interested in strengths coaching?  Feel free to email me at greg@gregorypnelson.com.

Albert Einstein once made the astute observation:climb_tree

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

There are three points from Einstein’s statement I want to unpack relating to what it means to living your strongest, most authentic life this new year.

First, everybody is a genius.  That means you.  That means me. That means the person next to you, too.

Does it feel that way to you?  Does this statement resonate as truth to you?

Perhaps we have difficulty believing this truth about ourselves and others because we live in a culture that equates genius narrowly with IQ.  Or we equate genius with a certain kind of thinking style (e.g. those who know how to work through complex mathematical equations or quick and astute problem solving).  Or we were raised in a family that emphasized a certain style or kind of learning and since we didn’t match that, we felt stupid.  Or we were raised by emotionally stunted parents who were inherently insecure and took it out on us by putting us down and telling us we weren’t worth much and wouldn’t amount to much.

But I think Einstein is absolutely correct about people.  Everybody is a genius in some area, especially in the arena of their own strengths.

Second, we must start measuring the right things to ascertain genius.

Truth is, fish simply can’t climb trees.  They’re not designed for that (except for the Mangrove Killifish and several other types which wait out the dry season for several months on a low lying branch until the rainy season brings more water).

When is the last time you went to an aquarium, looked at the fish, and remarked disgustingly, “Stupid fish.  Why aren’t they up climbing trees!  Instead, they’re just content to swim around here under the water.  Idiots!”

No, you and I don’t judge fish for not climbing trees.  We don’t measure the genius of fish by whether they are climbing trees or not.

But think about how our culture is fixated on weakness–parents spend more time focusing on where their kids are failing or what the kids aren’t doing enough of, managers spend more time trying to fix employees’ weaknesses, politics obsesses on leaders’ inabilities and mistakes, media fixates on what’s wrong.  Everybody gets judged for “not climbing trees.”

When people are measured by the wrong standards, and they get judged by how far they are from that standard, what ultimately happens is people internalize this message “I’m stupid!”  I’ve coached people who have that mental tape that plays every time they do something and can’t do it well.  “I’m stupid.”

And they often never get to the possibility of realizing that in fact they’re not stupid at all, they’re simply being measured by the wrong standard.

We all have to do things we’re not really good at.  We have to manage around our weaknesses in order to fulfill our obligations and responsibilities.

But if we focus more time and energy on trying to improve our weaknesses to the exclusion of operating within and leveraging our strengths, we are draining unnecessary energy from our brains.  And our emotional mood plummets.  Our self esteem ultimately hits rock bottom.  And the painful and vicious cycle spirals on.

And today, self esteem is at an all time low in individuals, organizations, and even regions.  We don’t feel good enough.  We don’t feel like we’re ever measuring up.

Third, everybody is a genius in the arena of their strengths.

Coaching hundreds of people through the years, I’ve seen time and again that everyone is an expert in the area they’re suppose to be an expert in, their strengths and how to use them.

One of the reasons why I love doing strengths coaching is because of the question we focus on:  instead of asking, what’s wrong with people and how do we fix it, the question is, what’s right with people and how can they leverage it?

Those of us who work with the StrengthsFinder assessment (developed by the Gallup organization) which identifies a person’s top five signature strengths know that there’s a 1:34 million chance that someone else has the same top five strengths in the same order as you.  This makes our individual genius amazingly unique and special.

Fish instinctively know how to swim and do underwater acrobats because they’re designed and wired for underwater swimming.  Some fish are wired to even fly out of the water, but they always go back under.  They’re water creatures and that’s what we measure them by.

Once strengths are identified (and people do have to engage in the identification as they answer questions related to what behaviors they do that bring them energy and feelings of strength), everybody can increase their instinctive ability to know how to use them.  And with coaching, they are able to establish new ways to both notice and leverage their strengths—conscious competence.

Latest Research Confirming the Significance of Strengths Living

The point of strengths work centers on the well-researched fact that when we focus on our strengths, we are 8 times more likely to be more engaged and more productive in what we’re trying to do.  We believe in ourselves more and live with more confidence which in turn increases effectiveness.

Here’s some science to confirm this reality.

A recent blog post I read referred to some fascinating new studies using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to track neural activity showing how  focusing on your strengths

“arouses the parasympathetic nervous system, invoking cognitive, emotional, perceptual and behavioral openness and improving performance.  It also creates the conditions for neurogenesis, allowing people to learn and develop new healthy habits and competencies.”

By contrast, focusing on weaknesses arouses the sympathetic nervous system which increases your heart rate, raises your respiration, moves blood from one place (e.g., your digestive system) to another (your muscles), etc. These responses are all “arousal” responses which get you ready to fight or flee in times of danger—good for short term survival; terribly damaging for long term health.

Ways to Be Strengths-focused This Year

I’m challenging you to make 2014 the year of living your strengths in unprecedented ways.  * Identify your strengths – take the test.  * Notice how you’re using them – make a list.  * Establish how you can be even more intentional about using them in new ways (try planning goals this year around each of your strengths and keep track of how you’re doing).  * Learn about the strengths of the people in your life (at home, at work – I do a lot of strengths coaching with couples as well as work teams – very profound).  * Affirm their use of their strengths every time you notice it.  * Hire a coach to guide you and support this revolutionary journey of growth and effectiveness.

I guarantee that if you take these steps, you’ll notice radical improvement in your attitude, your self esteem, your energy, your focus, and even your whole body.

Einstein is right.  Everybody is a genius!  So go out and live your genius this year!  I’m cheering you on.

______________________________

Looking for a Speaker or Coach?

If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for a keynote speaker or workshop teacher for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it.  And interested in strengths coaching?  Feel free to email me at greg@gregorypnelson.com.

Posted by: Greg | 01/03/2014

Reclaiming What It Means To Be A Real Man

Friendship

Paul and I in a moment of spontaneous fun at his men’s friendship weekend where we spent time sharing our journeys, expressing love to Paul, and celebrating his birthday.

My closest friend Paul and I were having our weekly phone visit a few days ago on New Years Day.  We shared how we had experienced and lived out the primary feeling words we had chosen at the beginning of 2013 – the feelings we most wanted to experience for the year and what activities we had engaged in to help us truly feel those words.

The sharing was powerful and very validating, as it always is when we visit – a weekly commitment we’ve made with each other for the last 16 years.  Being able to bear witness to each other’s lives, the ups and the downs, the victories and the challenges, is extremely affirming and encouraging.

At the end of our New Years conversation, we both commented on how blessed and grateful we are to have this time set aside for deep, honest, authentic, sharing of our lives with each other.  We both know many men who simply don’t have this experience in their lives for various reasons.

The Challenge of Men, Friendship, and Masculinity

As my last blog post described, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the challenge we men have with intimacy with other men, in our friendships, in our professional associations (which manifests in such unhealthy ways in our leadership styles and insecurities).  Many of us have been conditioned since childhood that being a man means primarily being strong all the time, aggressive, not showing too much emotion, choosing confidence over authenticity, and being independent.

So our friendships tend to reflect that picture of masculinity.  We engage in activities – “shoulder to shoulder” rather than “face to face.”  We play hard with and against each other.  We joke, we poke fun.  Our primary way of communicating is through sarcasm, trash talking, knocking the other – all in good form, of course.

When I was trying to find a picture for my last blog, and I googled “pictures of men’s friendship,” out of the hundreds of photos (mostly about men playing sports), there was one showing two men in a face to face conversation.

And we wonder why our culture is so biased when it comes to masculinity and what it means to be a real man.  Taking the time to share honest feelings, to talk about how life is going, to be transparent, empathetic, compassionate, and authentic expressions of need and insufficiency or inadequacy – that’s for women.

Significant Research About What It Means to be a Real Man

In truth, though, more and more research is emerging to unabashedly reveal that that picture of masculinity is one-sided, limited, and insufficient to a healthy, strong life.  It’s in fact only one piece (and often misused piece, at that) of what it means to be a man.

Dr. Niobe Way, professor of applied pschology at New York University, wrote a Huffington Post blog last November, explaining how the tragic child sex abuse scandal at Penn State by one of the football coaches could have happened (“Penn State and the Crisis of Masculinity”).  She charts the typical process of conditioning our boys go through especially in their teen years.

And then she hits the research.  Stunning!

For example, Sociologist Kirsten Springer studied 1,000 middle-aged men, and found that those who most rigidly adhered to ideals of masculinity (such as emotional stoicism and toughness) reported the worst physical health over a 40-year period.

For example, Psychologists Joseph Pleck and James Mahalik also found that adhering to norms of masculinity such as emotional stoicism for boys and men is significantly associated with poor mental and physical health and with high rates of risky behavior and violence.

Not only is our culture’s masculine norm producing unhealthiness, it also bleeds its disease profusely into the work place.

Misguided Masculinity Impacts the Workplace

What I see often when I do consulting and coaching in corporations and businesses is that this male leadership model (which tends to refer to employee development and personal growth as “soft skills” as opposed to the “hard skills” of data and financial productivity) ends up

reducing employee engagement, increasing stress, lowering employee loyalty to both cause and company, and ultimately leaving a carnage of bodies and disillusioned minds-hearts-and-spirits in the wake of these leaders.

Many male leaders are simply not getting it because they’re acting out of a misguided sense of masculine strength and influence.

It’s About Leveraging How We’re Really Wired – Being Fully Human

The truth about men is actually counterintuitive.  Notice Dr. Way’s description:

“Primatologist Frans De Waal, developmental psychologist Michael Tomasello and evolutionary anthropologist Sarah Hrdy, among many other scientists, conclude that we need a complete ‘overhaul’ in our conceptions of human nature to account for the extensive research that underscore our deeply empathic, cooperative, and relational nature. Caring about what others think and feel is the reason why, according to Charles Darwin, we have survived as a species. Being emotionally sensitive and caring about others is not a sign of being ‘girly’ or ‘gay’ but a core element of being human, essential for surviving and thriving.”

That’s profound!  We need to stop raising our boys with the stereotypical masculine image of emotional stoicism, independence, autonomy, and being strong as not showing caring and compassion too much (not exercising all those “girly” qualities).

What I’m talking about is what it means to be truly human – how we as men are in fact wired, and why reclaiming this part is nonnegotiable to both the survival and success of humanity.

This is a huge health issue.  And it’s also about how we as men can be most effective, influential, and successful in whatever mission we’re engaged in.

My friend Paul and I, in our conversation on New Years Day, ended our time by recommiting ourselves to our regular journey of sharing, accountability, and support.  Right before we hung up the phone, we affirmed to each other what an amazing blessing it is to carve out this sacred space in which we can be real, honest, emotionally aware, and authentic.  I can’t imagine not having this kind of friendship in my life.

My friendship with Paul has and is truly making me a better man!

______________________________

Looking for a Speaker?

If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for keynote speakers or workshop teachers for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it.  And interested in strengths coaching?  Feel free to email me at greg@gregorypnelson.com.

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