Resilience Revealed – Optimism Part 3

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Optimism is like humour – in crises and times of adversity it sometimes gets lost or becomes more difficult. Even if it is particularly important in exactly these situations!
Being confident when everything is going well is easy.
Maintaining confidence when you have been stuck in uncertainty and constantly changing conditions for months is a different ball game.
Easily we switch to “victim and complaint mode”, losing valuable energy ruminating and in action-blocking lamenting. As a result, we may lose sight of the three pillars of our well-being*:

  1. Meaningfulness of our actions (We stop acting for “it all makes no sense”)
  2. Comprehensibility and clarity (We don’t know where to start!)
  3. Feasibility/manageability (We lose the feeling that we can control and can master the situation)

One of the characteristics of more optmistic people is that they maintain a more realistic view, especially when it comes to assessing what they can and cannot influence. As a result, they are more likely to take responsibility and focus their energy on the areas that are within their control to improve the situation for themselves. They are therefore more realistic, convinced that they can make a difference – and consequently take action.

Even though you may not have been born with this attitude – it can be developed. I like to compare this with sports training. Some muscles are simply not as developed because we have not used them over the years. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there and can be activated at any time!
At the beginning, it may feel a little “mentally sore” (feels strange, unfamiliar, awkward, has to be consciously controlled …) but over time they become stronger and stronger (movement/thought patterns happen automatically, faster and more naturally) and we become more and more agile and able to act.

Therefore, today you will get a seemingly simple – but very effective – exercise that trains your optimism muscle in challenging situations. It helps you to gain clarity, to take meaningful steps and to regain a sense of control. To do this, proceed as follows:

  1. Identify and name the situation that is challenging for you.
  2. List all the things that are under your control in this situation. Take your time, keep asking yourself “what else?” This way, you will also explore the points that may only occur on second sight.
  3. Next, list the things that you cannot influence, things that are beyond your control.
  4. Put both lists next to each other – and now make a conscious decision on where you want to focus your energy and resources (feel free to say this out loud).
  5. Plan purposeful action on the basis of your decision.
  6. Go for it!

What you do with the “I can’t control list” is up to you 😉
Sometimes it is good to ritually say goodbye to it – i.e. to consciously dispose of it.
But maybe you also want to keep it as a reminder for the moments when your thoughts and energy drift there again.

You are the hero and not the victim of your life!

Have a creative week,

Take care,
Birgit

*Salutogenetic Model according to Aaron Antonov

Resilience Role Models

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Imagine…

  1. … you have this idea to invent a new technology that has never existed before. You are convinced that it is needed and will change the world. You tinker, you try, you tinker. You’ve been at it for months, years – but even after 10,000 attempts you haven’t managed to make it work. The press has become aware of you. They write about you, not necessarily very favourably. One article even calls you “out of your mind”. They ask you why you continue after so many failed attempts. How would you feel? What would you think, what would you say?
  2. … you have this idea for a new business model – but you need money to start. You write your concept, your business plan, and show up at various banks to ask for start-up capital. Some just shake their heads, others just smile without belief, others tell you that it won’t work. In the meantime, you have received a rejection from over 300 banks. What would you do? How would you feel?
  3. … you were born with a slight paralysis in your face, which also manifests in your pronunciation. At school you are teased, you are an outsider. But after an experience in the theatre club, you are on fire. You are determined to become an actor. You apply at universities, drama schools – you are ridiculed, you are repeatedly told that you have ZERO talent for acting. What would that do to you? What would you do?
  4. … you have this idea to develop computer technology in a completely new way. Together with a couple of friends you start a company that after a few years makes it to the top of the world. Pretty much at the peak of success, you are thrown out of your own company by the management of the company you yourself had put into place. And now? What do you do? How do you feel?

Do you know these stories? They are the stories of famous personalities. Mostly, however, we only hear about them when they become successful. Rarely does anyone talk about the rocky road to success. (Resolution below).
Why did they come to mind this week? Because I think it’s wonderful that we have so many resilience role models “out there”. For me, they are an inspiration especially in times when I think I have it hard or everything is so problematic.
I don’t have to become like these people. But I can take some of their qualities as an example.

Do you have such role models?
Biographies that fascinate you?

Do you want to make a difference? Or simply want to change things?
At what point in your life have you perhaps already resigned, lost faith (in yourself)?
There is always as much possible as you think is possible.
No one said it was easy.
But it is always more possible than you think!

Maybe these days are a good opportunity to look for a resilience role model?

Trust yourself, believe in yourself and have a wonderful week!

Birgit

Personalities:
1. Thomas Edison – and the invention of the light bulb (his answer was “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that do not work.”)
2. Walt Disney – He continued and (luckily!!) finally found a bank that gave him the money.
3. Sylvester Stallone – He decided to write a script himself that became populat – but only sold it if he would get the lead role in the movie – “Rocky”
4. Steve Jobs – You probably know that one 😉

Humor is the lifebelt on the stream of life (Wilhelm Raabe)

Photo: Pixabay

Maybe you don’t feel like laughing at the moment.
I say: now more than ever!


“If I had no sense of humour, I would have committed suicide long ago.”
Mahatma Ghandi

Humour and the laughter that comes with it relaxes on all levels – mentally, physically and emotionally.
Humour helps us to gain distance and to generate a more relaxed attitude – towards ourselves, a situation or others.
And it is precisely this serenity that we need in deadlocked situations in order to be able to recognise or generate solutions. In this way, humour promotes our mental agility – the ability to see situations from different perspectives – in a playful and enjoyable way.

Not taking ourselves so seriously also promotes empathy and gentleness – also towards other people. Plus it increases our tolerance towards mistakes and thus our courage, as we are less afraid of “making fools of ourselves”.

Laughter itself improves lung function, provides the brain with an oxygen shower, relaxes the muscles and massages the internal organs. The immune defence increases, stress hormones are reduced and happiness hormones are released. So if you laugh regularly, you are doing a lot for your health.

And the best thing about it: laughter is contagious! So if you go through life with a sense of humour, you are automatically doing something good.
Watch this:

Laughing Tram Man – Happiness with Rituals

What makes you laugh?
When was the last time you laughed at yourself?

Never be “too grown up” to laugh at yourself!

Spread the laugh!

Birgit

PS: The mask can’t stop us! Genuine laughter has sound and finds expression in our eyes!

Enjoy the Harvest

Foto: Pixabay

When was the last time you enjoyed the harvest?
And I don’t mean the strawberries you picked yourself…

When was the last time you paused to not only rejoice in your successes but also to consciously enjoy the feeling? (Yes, you are allowed to be happy!)

How often do we rush straight on? Well-known “mental slave driver sentences” usually start with “but” and continue with …
“That’s not a success, it’s a given!”
“That can be done even better”
“I’d better not rejoice too soon” (the killer phrase! Satisfaction impossible!) or
“No time for sentimentality, there’s too much else waiting on the list”.

But especially after a longer phase of stress, for example when you have put a lot of energy into something – and it is finally finished – the phase of relaxation is super important.
And if you have successfully completed something after a challenging period, you can combine this relaxation phase wonderfully with the conscious perception and enjoyment of the feeling that arises when your success bears fruit. Yes, you deserve the break! – Five minutes, an hour, half a day, maybe even a whole day or more.
When we become aware of our successes and appreciate them, our sense of self-efficacy and control increases and we practice self-care – all important factors in our well-being.
So enjoying the harvest not only ensures that we recover – but we also reward ourselves for our efforts at the same time.

What are successes?
In the end, whatever you define as such. However, experience shows that we are quite strict with ourselves – so also appreciate the little things, such as the exercise session you got up to (enjoy the good conscience and relieved feeling afterwards), the healthy meal you prepared for yourself with love (take the time to eat and feel how it positive it is for your body) or the chores you set out to do and completed.
Of course, this also includes bigger projects you worked on for a longer time or things you did for other people.
I’m sure you also have a list of several items every day.

When and how to pause?
A daily review in the evening has proven to be very useful.
In any case, you should bite into the apple of your success when it falls into your hands – i.e. whenever you are happy that something has worked out or that your work “pays off” – regardless of whether this happens in material or immaterial currency 😉

What are you proud of today?

This is to your accomplishments!

Be kind to yourself and take care,

Birgit

Oh and PS – regarding the killer sentence above in the text: yes, it will pass – successful phases will always be followed by lean periods. But that is not an argument for not enjoying the high phases! On the contrary – what a pity it would be if we missed the chance to take the momentum from the wave of success with us in order to get through the lean periods better? That’s like not wanting to eat any more because you’ll get hungry again anyway.

12 + 3 Tips for a Good Night’s Rest

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Sleep is like breathing. Both functions are vital for us, both are there as a matter of course (although many a good, restful sleep has been lost in the stress). As the saying goes, “it deprived me of sleep”) – and both are often underestimated in their effect on our well-being and health.
Sleep in particular helps our mind to process what we have experienced, to “store” knowledge and to create new connections. And for our body it is essential for regeneration.

How well do you listen to your body’s signals? When you are tired and have the chance, do you take a nap? Or go to bed earlier? Or do you sometimes ignore tiredness because you want to do that one more thing? Do you know the phenomenon of craving sweets when you get tired? Do you reach for the chocolate or the bed?

It’s clear that sleep and stress are connected. If we have too much stress and don’t manage to switch off or get away from it, we often have trouble sleeping. (For example, I have the feeling that the first thing I wake up in the morning is my head. Eyes open and bam, I have the To Do list in my head. I like to say “my processor is already running before I have booted up my body”). Less sleep, on the other hand, has a negative effect on our stress tolerance – we lose our composure more quickly.

But what can I do to break this cycle? Let’s answer a few basic questions:

What are the consequences of too little sleep?

  • Poorer brain capacity – expressed in less ability to concentrate and less creativity
  • Faster ageing process
  • Weight gain because of increased appetite (malaise and lack of energy caused by too little sleep is compensated for by increased appetite; this is promoted by the hormone ghrelin, which is responsible for our feeling of hunger)
  • Deterioration of blood sugar levels and risk of high blood pressure
  • Weakened immune system – more frequent illnesses
  • States of exhaustion
  • Increased risk of burnout
  • How much sleep do we need?

Scientific studies generally speak of 7-8 hours. It has also been proven that less than six hours of sleep per night can lead to exhaustion in the long run. The best way to find out how much sleep you need is to take a few days off or go on holiday. Follow your body’s signals and go to bed when you get tired. Make sure you have created the conditions for a good night’s sleep (see below) and don’t set an alarm. Observe when you wake up on your own the next day and feel ready to get up. After a few days you will notice that it is always a similar number of hours – your personal sleep need.

What contributes to good sleep?

How well you sleep depends on many different factors, of course, and is determined throughout the day. Basically, a healthy lifestyle (exercise, healthy food, plenty to drink and breaks throughout the day) is very beneficial. You can also pay attention to the following:

  1. Breaks: Allow yourself breaks throughout the day, for example between different blocks of tasks.
  2. Exercise: This can range from a walk to yoga or stretching sessions to a hearty exercise session. Make sure, however, that there are a few hours between the end of your exercise session and bedtime.
  3. Fresh air: Do you remember your childhood days? Outdoors all day and tired as hell in the evening? Fresh air makes you tired – so make sure you get some fresh air outdoors at least once a day for about 30 minutes.
  4. Bedroom climate: Air out the room before you go to bed or sleep with the window open; make sure the room temperature is between 16 and 18 degrees Celsius and darken the room well.
  5. Good mattress: How old is your mattress? Get advice and buy a mattress that suits your needs. A good investment!
  6. Switch off: After the thriller or the last activity on the screen, there should be some time to “switch off”. Maybe you even establish a …
  7. “Calm down ritual”: Make yourself a cup of tea and let the day pass in review on the couch; perhaps you would also like to take a warm bath or a hot shower and then snuggle up in a blanket? Or write down what you are grateful for and what your insights of the day were…. whatever is appropriate for you to end the day on.
  8. Natural sleep aids: The scent of lavender in the bedroom or a calming tea often work wonders! Perhaps there is also something you know makes you sleepy? (For example, I regularly fall asleep reading books.
  9. Well digested: Make sure you eat light meals in the evening (few carbohydrates, no salads or raw vegetables) and that there are about 3 hours between your last meal and bedtime.
  10. Counting sheep: When you are lying awake in bed, count your breaths instead of sheep or try autogenic training or a body scan.
  11. Flashes of inspiration: And if thoughts or ideas still keep you awake, it’s best to put a notepad next to your bed. Writing down what goes through your mind calms your mind and empties your “working memory”.
  12. Airplane mode: It is best not to take your mobile phone into the bedroom at all. If it is unavoidable, switch it to flight mode. This makes it easier to resist the temptation to check and read messages. Also, make sure you have activated the blue light filter on your phone screen.

And finally, a few tips for napping during the day:

A so-called “power nap” should not last longer than 20-30 minutes – that is, it should end before you fall into a deep sleep. You can achieve this in different ways:

  1. Espresso: Drink an espresso before lying down for a power nap. This usually takes effect within 20-30 minutes and should then wake you up.
  2. Key ring: Sit down in an armchair to take a nap, let one of your hands hang over the backrest and take a bunch of keys in this hand. As soon as you go into deep sleep, your hand will open, the bunch of keys will fall to the floor and you will be awake.
  3. Alarm clock: also works, of course.

Here’s to a good night’s sleep and energized days!

Sleep well,

Birgit

3 things I’ve learned about listening to others talk about their emotions

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Sometimes it is not easy for us to talk about our own feelings. Perhaps because we are missing clarity about what is “bothering us”, perhaps because we are afraid of showing vulnerablility. But when we finally open up, we wish for a communication partner with whom we feel in good hands.
Are you such a partnter?
The following article was penned by my dear friend and business partner Fernando Cuevas, and beautifully describes the not-so-helpful patterns we sometimes fall into in conversations where someone opens up on how he or she is doing.
Do you recognise yourself?

Author: Fernando Cuevas

1.    Don’t assume they’re asking for advice – The most common mistake I have fallen victim to (in more ways than one) is going into ‘troubleshoot mode” and started a ping-pong match where one serves up a list of possible solutions, and the other one responds with objections of why they wouldn’t work. As a rule of thumb, my suggestion is that unless you hear a statement that clearly resembles something like “What would you do in my situation?” resist the temptation to give advice and focus on validating their emotions and listening to them. (See learning #3) Once you understand that, regardless of your relationship to the other person, your role is not to fix the problem or get rid of the emotions, but only to show your empathy and accompany them through the process, having conversations about emotions might not feel like such a daunting task after all.

2.    Don’t make it about you – We all experience the same events and the same losses in many different ways, so assuming that what helped us will help others or that what somebody is describing is comparable to our experience is quite risky. So, if you catch yourself saying things like “When this happened to me in 1988…”, “That is exactly how I felt when I thought I had lost my wedding ring” or “Yes, I also feel sad, let me tell you about a nightmare I had about it…” (Comical as they might sound, I have heard versions of these “autobiographical responses”, as Dr. Covey calls them, more times than you would think) Don’t lose focus, keep the conversation around them and their emotions.

3.    Validate their emotions – Give people space to feel and verbalize their emotions without interrupting them. Pay attention to your words and your non-verbal language to ensure you’re creating a safe space for them: Don’t tell people not to worry, or how good they have it and how grateful they should be for what they have or promise that everything will be fine- Listen to them and make your best effort not to judge them. Most times staying silent as you listen attentively or rephrasing what they have told are your best options. Save the pep talk for your next conversation.

What have you learned recently about listening to others talk about their emotions?

About Fernando Cuevas

Fernando Cuevas

Fernando is a Human Resources and Learning consultant with more than 20 years of business experience. Recently he served as the Sr Director of Learning and Development for Europe, Middle East and Africa for Marriott Hotels.

He is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and experienced coach, and has facilitated leadership and strategic workshops and presented in conferences in Latin America, Europe, Middle East & Asia.​

Fernando’s greatest passion is helping teams through team development interventions like team building and discovery experiences and facilitating learning that make a lasting impact.

LinkedIn | Better360

Relax in Stereo

Photo: Pixabay

The last articles where mainly about topics related to the development of our personality. So I think it’s time for some relaxation now.

Below this blog article (browser view) you will find a link to a Spotify playlist with so-called EMDR music.
EMDR stands for “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing”. This technique was originally developed for psychotherapy, but is also excellent servant for deep relaxation.
It is based on the phenomenon that during sleep in the REM phase (Rapid Eye Movement), we store experiences, events and the associated emotions in our “file system in the brain” and thus process them. In the case of particularly intense or touchung negative experiences, this sometimes doesn’t work – usually because our subconscious mind is overwhelmed or has no reference as to where this experience can best be sorted. Hence it continues to haunt us, can block us or – when we encounter a similar situation again – make us overreact (trigger).

EMDR makes use of the phenomenon of REM sleep, simulating the stimulation of the two hemispheres of the brain as it happens during the night, through various methods in the waking state. In this way we can achieve deep relaxation and let go of stress.
In the so-called WingWave® Coaching, this stimulation is achieved by inducing rapid eye movements; however, appropriate music can also be used for this purpose. And this is what the playlist is for.

When I listened to this music for the first time, I was somehow irritated. The sound travels in waves from the left ear to the right ear and back again. That’s why it’s important for the effectiveness that you wear headphones.
At first my mind found it so strange that it had trouble letting go. But when I gradually managed to get into it, I literally immersed myself. Now I use the music to meditate on days when my mental chatterbox is particularly talkative 😉 ‘
Most of the time it works quite well.
Maybe it’s something for you too?

Grab your headphones, find a quiet spot and let your subconscious ride the acoustic wave.

If your mind needs more information about WingWave® and EMDR before it can let go with confidence, I have also listed a few more links below this article.

Have a relaxing Sunday!

Birgit

Wingwave Musik

What is wingwave? | wingwave.com

EMDR coaching music helps to reduce stress & deeply relax (remstim.com)

11 Tips to “Check-Out”

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“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

For sure, the Eagles meant something different with these lines in the song “Hotel California” – but when I heard them the other day while jogging, I spontaneously thought, “Yeah, that’s what life feels like right now.”
Aren’t we all somehow “caught” in a situation from which we can’t escape? We have to endure, persevere, keep going. This requires energy, confidence, a healthy body and emotional balance.

And the best way to strengthen these resources is to realize that – even if we have to stay in a situation – we can “checkout” at any time – in other words, there are always opportunities to take small time-outs, to unplug. Especially when things get too much for us, some kind of checkout is particularly important.
How often do we get stuck in everyday situations – be it the traffic jam on the highway, the wait at the doctor’s or the line at the checkout at the supermarket. Instead of struggling through it, it often helps to press the pause button for a moment. And sometimes the emerging, relaxed attitude leads to options opening up that ease the situation.

That’s why I would like to invite you to include “checkouts” in your life in order to come to rest – even if it’s only for a short time – to recharge your batteries and stay calm and healthy.

Basically, it is already a checkout if you consciously change your activities. If you sit a lot, stand up. If you look at the screen a lot, let your eyes wander into the distance. If you have ti talk a lot, allow yourself times of silence. If you work inside a lot, go outside, etc.

The following checkouts do not take much of your time, but they are very effective. And if you prefer to do them in a quiet place, here’s a tip I often get ridiculed for: a perfect escape is the toilet.

“Check Out any time your like” – 11 Tips

1. 3 times the Breath –
Stop whatever you are doing now and close your eyes. Bring your attention to your shoulders. On the next exhale, drop your shoulders and consciously let all tension leave your body. Place one hand on your heart and the other on your belly and repeat the following breathing rhythm three times:
Breathe in consciously and for a long time.
Hold the breath for a moment.
Exhale completely.
Be aware of the “still point” between exhalation and the next inhalation – then inhale again.

2. Focus Play
Look up and choose an object in the distance to focus on.
Consciously notice that all impressions in the surroundings of this object become blurred by this focus.
Now choose another object that lies in the same line of sight, but is closer to you.
Now direct your eyes and focus on this object and notice how again everything that seemed sharp becomes blurred.
Switch your focus between these two objects 3-5 times.

3. “We think too much and dance too little”
Put on your favorite music and go wild dancing.
Level up: loudly sing along 😉

4. 5-4-3-2-1 Method
Stop what you are doing and thinking. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a stop sign.
Open your eyes again and
List 5 things you are seeing right now.
Then turn your attention to sounds and count 5 things you are hearing.
Afterwards, focus on 5 things you feel and name them.
Next, notice 5 things you smell and name them.
Start over and practice 4 more rounds: 4 things you see, 4 you hear and 4 you feel, 4 you smell. 3 that you see, 3 that you hear, 3 that you feel, 3 that you smell, etc.

5. Beginners Mind
Perform the next activity as if you were doing it for the first time. Reduce the speed of execution and look at everything with curiosity and fascination.

6. Fresh Breeze
Get up, open the window.
Stand by the window and just look into the distance for a minute.
Level up: Take a short walk (no matter what the weather!) and combine it with checkout #4, #8 and #9.

7. Upside Down
Consciously perform the next activity “the other way around”, e.g.
Operate the mouse on your computer with the other hand.
Write with the other hand.
Walk a few steps backwards.
Intentionally put on two different colored socks etc.

8. Digital Detox
You probably know this one: go offline for an evening – or for an hour to start with. No PC, no tablet, no cell phone, no radio, no TV – just “switch off”.

9. Grounded
Take off your shoes and walk barefoot for a while –
On the carpet, the floor inside and outside.
Consciously notice how the ground feels under your feet.

10. Get Tense – to Relax
Stop what you are doing.
Take one deep breath.
Now tense all the muscles in your body at once:
– Inhale deeply to tighten your chest
– Strongly form fists with your hands
– Pull your shoulders up and push them backwards
– Tense your abdomen by pressing it toward your spine
– Tense your jaw muscles
– Press your tongue against the roof of your mouth
– Tense your forehead
– Squint your eyes
– Hold the tension for 5-7 seconds
– Let go and enjoy the relaxation!

11. RAK’n’Roll
RAK stands for “Random Acts of Kindness” – small gestures of generosity. Do something kind for someone – spend a smile, help carrying bags, hold the door open, pay the coffee to go for the person behind you in line, etc.

In addition to these “express checkouts,” it’s a good idea to regularly schedule longer time-outs into your daily routine that benefit your well-being:
– Cook healthy meals and eat with pleasure and awareness.
– Exercise and sport units
– Power naps
– Walks in the fresh air …

And if you need a song to check out, here’s the song to the article:

Take Care,

Birgit

Spring-Cleaning in your Mind

Photo: Pixabay

When I moved out of my one-bedroom student apartment several years ago, after living there for about five years, I was surprised about the number of moving boxes that gradually filled up. The first 20 were quickly packed – and I hadn’t seen the basement yet!
Over the years, a lot had accumulated in the 26 square meters. In addition to what I had taken from home, I gradually added new things – without letting go of old one. Sometimes because I didn’t even consider it, and sometimes because I couldn’t or didn’t want to let go.

So in this move was also a chance. The chance to sort out, to let go, to think about what I really still need.
If you’ve ever moved, you might know this: you suddenly have things in your hands that you didn’t even know existed anymore.
So why carry them around any longer?
If you are not so good at leaving things behind, you pack “maybe boxes” (= maybe I need this again). These are the moving boxes that then are left unpacked in the basement for years in the new apartment — and crazy enough, are sometimes even dragged along for another move.

This reminded me of habits.
Some of our habits we are not even aware of. We function as if on autopilot, without questioning. Maybe we don’t want to because then we would have to admit to ourselves that they are not good for us?
Some of our habits are like the unpacked boxes in the basement. We don’t really need them, sometimes they even get in the way when we need space for something new. But we’ve just gotten so used to them, they give us a sense of familiarity and security.
And then there are the “gifts”, habits that we have adopted because someone told us or we read somewhere that they are good and important to be successful, healthy, happy, etc. Maybe they fit into our “inner home” – but maybe we have a different style? In any case, we should also question them from time to time.

“I can, because I want to, what I must.” – Immanuel Kant

Most of the time, with habits it’s similar to moving: we only consider cleaning out and questioning when a change in the outside world prompts us to do so and we realize that it no longer works a certain way: a new work situation, new demands at work, a drastic life event. Then we can, because we have to.

But why wait for the move?
How about a regular emotional and mental spring cleaning to act more consciously and hold space?
An “I can because I want to,” so to speak?

If we manage to regularly “clean up” our habits, we create agility, lightness and space for new things. And a nice side effect is that the next “move” becomes much faster and easier to manage.

What habits, routines and thought patterns could you question and clean out next week to create space for new things in your life?

Have fun discovering, unpacking and letting go!

Take Care,
Birgit

Resilience Revealed – Optimism, Part 2

Photo: Pixabay

Last week we talked about optimism as an important aspect of resilience and about how optimistic differ from people with a less positive mindset. (Click here for part 1 of the article).

Especially in times when it feels as if the jokes turn sour, healthy optimism is essential for maintaining mental, emotional and physical health. However, optimism is not walking through life with a neverending blissful smile (even if humour does make some things more bearable). Rather, optimism is about mental agility, i.e. the ability to track down one’s own thinking traps and to develop beneficial thoughts.

Establishing effective thought patterns means:

  1. Willing to stop the autopilot mode
  2. Being open to consider your own thoughts as one possible way of seeing things – but not THE TRUTH or the only way
  3. Becoming aware of your autopilot mode, i.e. noticing when you automatically switch on the same thinking patterns in response to certain stimuli, stressors or triggers.
  4. Developing the ability to switch off this autopilot, get at the helm and consciously choose thoughts that are beneficial to the situation, the relationship, problem solving and/or your wellbeing.

Our life is what our thoughts make it. (Marcus Aurelius) 

Mental agility is important for personal resilience because it is our thoughts that create our emotions which in turn influence our actions. Hence, the effectiveness of our actions depends on how well we can control and influence our thoughts. For we can’t always control what happens to us – but we can control how we want to think about it (you’ve probably heard this one before ;-)).

The 5 most common thinking traps on autopilot

When we are confronted with an unpleasant or uncertain situation, it is normal that we tend to find explanations. The only question is: do we seek these explanations only in our brain (ruminating, interpreting, thinking loops) and turn what we think into a belief – or do we choose to clarify the situation externally in order to move forward?
Apart from their mood-lowering effect, all 5 thinking traps have one thing in common that makes them so bad: they block communication and thus further steps on the way to a solution.

Let me demonstrate the 5 thinking traps with an example:
A dear friend recently applied for a job and got no reaction to her application. I’ll tell you what she did about it at the end of this article. But for know let’s assume her to be stuck in the 5 thinking traps:

Thinking TrapExplained In my friend’s mind …
1.
Mind Reading
You assume to know what another person is thinking about you (which is mostly not very positive) or you expect other persons to know what you are thinking.“Well, if they don’t get back to me they did not like my application.”
“I can’t believe they did not answer! They should know that applicants do not feel good when they don’t receive any message!”
2.
Me-Trap
You believe that you are the sole cause of every setback and problem.“Perhaps I was too late with my application.”
“Ugh, perhaps I got e-mail address wrong?”
“They probably don’t like somebody like me.”
“I should have known better – there are millions of candidates that are better than me.”
3.
Them-Trap
You believe that other people or circumstances are the sole cause of your setbacks and problems.“How can somebody be so ignorant to not answer at all?”
“They are probably totally disorganized!”
“These online recruiting portals just let applications disappear.”
4. CatastrophisingYou waste all your energy ruminating on the irrational worst case outcomes of a situation, overestimating the threat and underestimating you own abilties to cope with it.“Gosh, if I don’t get this job I will not be able to pay the rent.”
“Probably they know my former boss who provided a bad reference.”
“What if my application got into the wrong hands?
5.
Helplessness
You are convinced, that you cannot do anything about the situation or problem. That’s just life and how it always is.“Well, that’s just how application processes are unfolding these days.”
“I followed all their instructions. It was probably not meant to be.”
“And again something in my life that does not work out …”

We tend to have a preferred thinking trap. Which one is yours? What program is your autopilot running on?
Awareness is the first step to switch off the autopilot and create new thoughts.

3 ways to switch off the mental autopilot

SwitchInstructionsSound
1.
Evidence
To bring your brain back on track, use solid data and facts to proof to yourself why the thought is not true and to challenge your counterproductive thoughts.Use a mental sentence starter like “That is not true because …”
“… I checked the e-mail address twice.”
“… I also did not receive a rejection.”
“I do not know how they work in this company.”
2.
Reframing
Use optimism strategically to get the outcomes you want and reframe the way you are perceiving the situations.Tell yourself:
“A more helpful way /better way to see this is …”
3.
Plan
This switch is particularly helpful if you tend to catastrophize. Create a contingency plan for the worst case scenario(s).“If x happens, I will do y.”
“If I do not get a response by the end of the week, I will …”
“If I do not get this job, I will …”

Back to my friend. She decided to act like a true optimist. She didn’t go into autopilot mode, but courageously picked up the phone (proactivity) to gain clarity (gathering information).
Through the nice conversation with the recruiter, she was able to explain her qualifications in more detail with regard to the job and to answer questions – and thus, her application moved from the rejection pile back into the application process — and finally she got the job!

See, it pays to be the driver of your thoughts and actions 😉
So, get at the helm and out on the road!

Enjoy the ride!

Birgit