Many entrepreneurs believe that by the year 2030, Artificial Intelligence (AI) will replace one-fifth of all current human occupations. The rest of those jobs that AI will remain unable to replicate are considered characteristic to the fundamental human traits of creativity, imagination, intuition, and curiosity. Even with all that occurred in this past year, creativity allows us to experience an authentic pathway forward. Specifically when we know resources are limited, needs are many, and situational changes are constant.
Creativity is especially crucial. Creatives provide value in a rapidly changing world.
Even when resources are scarce, creativity invites individuals and organizations to use what they have for high-level impact. Among the innumerable examples, craft distilleries were able to use their warehouse inventory of ingredients to produce hand sanitizer during the very early days of the pandemic. A 3-D printing company in Italy was able to innovatively produce respirator valves to supply the demand chain at a locally overwhelmed Intensive Care Unit.
Channeling creative strength during seasons of adversity and cultivating related skill sets of innovation have been historically beneficial for success and growth outcomes alongside sharpening problem-solving capabilities. Creativity allows for endurance and stamina to emerge amid tough situations. Very often, individuals in non-artistry fields compare themselves to those that have talent within the music, film, fashion, or design industries and feel that they have come up short.
Creativity is all around us in many ways when we think of imagination as a key player in the creative process. Whether at school creating engaging presentations, strategically planning for the future, or making shortcuts for managing our time and productivity - we can see creativity on display. Cooking a new meal, swaying and improvising in dance moves to our favorite artist, or attempting a new hobby while at home also invite the creative process. Everyone has the potential to tap into their creative flow, and it can be seen as a skill to be strengthened.
Creativity has an inherent power to make our work and our lives more satisfying and altogether fulfilling. Creative potential breaks the barriers of self-limiting beliefs and allows us to transcend cognitive biases since it generates new possibilities and approaches to challenging problems. Even amid a global healthcare crisis with a rapid reaction and defense response styles in play across schools, businesses, and organizations, accessing our creative potential is about being malleable, authentically imaginative, and reinventing our narratives to tell a different story and rebound from being exploited for a lack of flexibility and ingenuity in this season.
With imagination and creative potential, we can do better than merely adapt within our current landscape. We can actually thrive and influence it.
Regain the art of reflective thought.
Brain science, as popularized by Daniel Kahneman’s work, tells us that “slow thinking” is negatively correlated with “fast thinking,” and slow thinking allows for us to better examine our core beliefs, assumptions, and knowledge base. Time for slow and deliberate thinking, in contrast to reactive thinking that is fast and instinctual, allows for us to effectively navigate a culture of information overload and over-reliance on instinctual thinking. Safeguard reflective time for reading extensively, pursue personal development projects and interests, and consistently seek out new perspectives from people that have a different outlook than your own. Creative potential can be recovered when we practice reflective thinking and rediscover who we are called to become in the moment.
Schedule unstructured time.
Time is a true precondition for slow thinking and accessing a creative flow potential. Time for reflective thought needs to be protected from the tyranny of the urgent. Some individuals block out two hours every single day as a productivity tool and outlet for deep work in the creative process to initiate. Others take 45-minute walk breaks to stimulate their creative flow and think about what they came across in their morning reading. Some might even take day trips to disconnect and intentionally concentrate on reflective thought. One individual comments that, “Thinking is the one thing you can’t outsource… Holding this (unstructured) time sacred in my schedule despite the deluge of calls, meetings, and emails is essential.”
Cultivate self-examination through prompts for reflective thought.
Most creative ideas rarely just appear. Creativity and imagination require some form of inspiration with thought stimulation and tactical consideration. Questions for self-examination can be a form of divergent thinking that resonates with personal vision, strategy, leadership, and organizational influence. Prompt questions, challenges, and observations in a structured dialogue with other individuals and use the Socratic Method to invite them into your creative process.
Become quiet and protect yourself from information overload.
American psychologist James Kaufmann has been known for his research on divergent thinking. Variant methods to exercise your creative muscles in a quiet space will carve out your pathway to success. Adapting these kinds of methods into less tangible scenarios as searching for a part-time job, improving your virtual social network, or handling a difficult conversation will be easier to imagine and meet your goals. Open-ended activities such as journaling and writing, improvisational games, and solitude can be outlets for arriving at multiple vantage points and alternative perspectives. Straying from too much information stimulation in a quiet space can contribute to creative problem-solving and the practice of divergent thinking.
Have fun and break up former routines.
Another nuanced way to access creative potential and experience creative genius is to pursue fun and games. Much research has already evidenced that fun decreases our fear of failure, causes us to be more comfortable with not having it all “put together,” and empowers more freedom of thought. Play is necessary. Puzzles, legos, riddles, and brain teasers are examples of infusing these fun activities into the creative process. We are creatures of habit and interrupting our beloved routines can benefit the creative flow as well. Having fewer restrictions and burdensome parameters can support the creative process and allow creativity to flourish. Mix up mundane tasks, swap one routine for a new one, and allow your mind the freedom to wander in unexpected ways.
Nurturing your creative potential will be an invaluable pathway forward as a resource for the future.
How will you pursue your creative flow this summer?
Think on your feet, meet new people, make an effort to try new things in this summer, and share what you know with others. Persevere and trust in the channels that provide your potential and remain open to the activities that tone your creativity in this season. Your creative core is waiting for you to experience hope, joy, enthusiasm, and curiosity!
Many scarcely go a day without an emotional response to commonplace experience. Emotions can have a wide range of expression and intensity while they simultaneously describe a range of life’s experiences. Diverse emotions have been felt in every corner of the world. Challenging emotions can promote conflicts, sow thoughts of unrest, sink negotiations, and color misperceptions. Happiness, sadness, gratitude, anger, shame, guilt, and fear are just several of the universal experiences of human emotion.
We can change what we notice. By building a capacity to observe our emotions, we will not be overrun by them. As we launch into this summer season, it has been apparent that many are interacting with consistent themes of strong emotions with a fear of failure, financial instability, and even negative social evaluation from others about not being good enough. Distraction, fear, and a lack of curiosity about oneself and the world have been true barriers to experiencing more well-being and happiness.
Processing and reflecting on current emotions, both positive and negative, have been known to yield greater measures of happiness. In a broad concept called emodiversity, there is a growing body of research citing that awareness through having a rich, complex, and authentic emotional life will promote subjective well-being and the overall health of groups of individuals.
This pandemic season invited all of us to lean into uncertainty, embrace a fuller spectrum of emotions, and intentionally adapt to ever-changing circumstances with grit and present-tense meaning. Happiness is not the end itself or the final outcome. In seasons of unpredictability with raw emotions, we are invited into a methodology to hack happiness. Australian entrepreneur and businesswoman Penny Locaso describes this fulfillment:
Happiness is being able to ride the wave of every emotion that life throws at you, knowing that you can come out the other side just a little better than what you were before because you have the skills (focus, courage, curiosity), the resources (a positive mindset), and the support structure (a community) to make that happen.
Emotional adaptability invites us into a new personal narrative. When students and staff were given the opportunity to better describe their personal feelings during the pandemic around the country, there was a torrent of emotional responses:
“I’m exhausted, overwhelmed, and anxious.”
“I feel frustrated and dismayed that we’re in the unknown.”
“I’m feeling more fearful and tired.”
“My current situation is wild and unpredictable.”
Negative emotions related to this global season are just as infectious as the virus itself. Fear, fatigue, overwhelm, and panic all influence our ability to have clear thoughts, creatively negotiate our daily circumstances, manage our important relationships, and make smart and informed choices while placing attention on priorities.
From a physiologic standpoint, psychologists coined the term allostatic load to account for the ongoing wear and tear of our thoughts, emotions, and body-related reactions to chronic stress. In addition, allostatic overload denotes how the external demands of chronic stress outweigh the internal resources to successfully navigate these stressors. This ultimately leads to poor decision-making, burnout, and an emotional breakdown.
How do we respond and effectively build resilience?
When we feel most threatened, our survival self tends to be most active. It causes us to hurry to our defense and respond to circumstances impulsively, reactively, carelessly, and counterproductively. Usually seen with many in survival mode, our prefrontal cortex (PFC) tends to progressively shut down. With a narrowed vision, we cannot see past the threat in sight. In many ways our reactivity replaces thoughtful deliberation. Problem-solving becomes amiss with multiple steps when our attention is mobilized to respond to the threat.
Often we are trained to believe that strong emotions need to be suppressed. Whether unspoken, organizational, or societal - there may be rules against giving expression to strong emotions. Anger, stress, anxiety, depression, and fear are commonplace among other emotional responses inside these pandemic circumstances; moreover, bringing language to better describe the nuanced precision of these emotions and their impact will allow us to more critically interact with ourselves and the world around us.
It has already been well-noted that when people avoid expressing their emotions, this leads to lower well-being and more symptomatic concerns (i.e. headaches, elevated blood pressure, weight gain/loss). There is a cost to avoiding our feelings.
Increase your emotions vocabulary.
Ways that you think about your emotions matter. When a moment comes along where you experience a strong emotion, write it down. Use two or more words to describe this feeling. After deliberating, you might become surprised at how there are more depths to the surface layer of this emotion with what you are uncovering! You can go beyond the surface to the deeper layers by using this list.
It will be important to note both the positive and negative emotions alike. Saying that you are excited about the new part-time job at Home Depot and are trusting of your friends is just as important for setting the intention for the relationship and being on the road to greater success down the line.
Also deliberate over its emotional intensity. On a scale of 1-10, what is the depth of this emotion? How urgent is it, and how strong? Will this self-assessment make you choose a different set of words to describe the experience?
Emotional acceptance is all about acknowledging our emotions... but not being threatened by them. In this stance, it is dynamically related to knowing that, if you desire, you can transform them. People who accept their more challenging emotions as they arrive actually experience less intensity in their emotions than people who are non-accepting of them. Simply being aware of the emotion and choosing not to be reactive can help in the long-term outcome of transforming it and becoming harmonious with it.
Write about it.
As a researcher from the University of Texas, James Pennebaker has over 40 years of evidence on the benefits of writing and understanding emotions. He acknowledged that those who dove into more stronger emotional themes as feelings of rejection, humiliation, anger, anxiety, and relationship difficulties had far more physical and emotional well-being than their control group counterparts that did not write about emotionally-charged experiences. These writers were able to use phrases as “It struck me that,” “I realize…” “I now understand” and “I have learned that.” More insight and clarity emerged from their own regular writing and reflection. Here is a writing exercise from his research:
Use this as a point of reference to consider how to grow in capacity for hope and optimism from this season:
Read more fiction.
Fictional literature brings us into direct interaction with an author's imagination. Writers are able to tap into believable, complex, and even abstract human emotions that are at times more convincing and authentic than reality itself. Fictional accounts can introduce us to understanding a panorama of human emotions that we may not have previously experienced. You can read more here.
Build a future more deliberately through understanding what you are experiencing and by describing this more accurately. In the wake of strong emotions, there are complicating consequences for emotional suppression. Find reliable ways to discharge strong emotions and quiet your mind and still your body. By more precisely defining our internal experience, we can become better equipped for constructively responding to our emotions.
In many ways in this season, our ability to stick with goals, passions, and tasks is crucial. What indicates the difference between a person who gets A’s and the other who gets C's? Or the distinction between the person who finishes a marathon and the one who did not get started? What about the individual who receives the lead role in a play she was vying for and the other who did not? Is it IQ and personal aptitude? Athletic ability? Raw talent? Not necessarily.
We would all remain stunted if we did not persist when mastering a new language, learning to ride a bike, or overcoming anxieties and beliefs that hold us back.
Researcher Angela Duckworth studied the concept of grit and the power it has in serving people to achieve their goals and experience success. According to Duckworth, “Grit is passion and perseverance for achieving long-term and meaningful goals.” It does not require a high IQ, strong athleticism, or even talent. Grit requires persevering against all obstacles to obtain something that is fervently desired.
Duckworth describes grit as, “living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” It means continuing toward the goal day in and day out despite the prevailing circumstances, challenges, or required investments. When we get confronted with complications, we push through and remain persistent despite the discomfort.
Being gritty doesn’t mean not showing pain or pretending everything is O.K. In fact, when you look at healthy and successful and giving people, they are extraordinarily meta-cognitive. They’re able to say things like, ‘Dude, I totally lost my temper this morning.’ That ability to reflect on yourself is signature to grit.
People that cultivate grit generally maintain courage, conscientiousness, perseverance, resilience, and passion. Courage involves overcoming fears. This includes a fear of failure. Grit is practiced in order to grow stronger. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “do something that scares you every day.” Roosevelt was not referring to taking physically harmful risks, but moving past what feels comfortable and challenging oneself even if failure is a possibility.
Duckworth also found that conscientiousness is closely linked to grit. There are two types of conscientious individuals: goal-oriented and dependable. The distinction between them could make a radical difference in the level of overall personal grit. Dependable people are generally more self-controlled while goal-oriented people will do what is necessary to complete the task. Both of these conscientious types can be positive. The goal-oriented person stands a better chance at success because of being more likely to take necessary risks.
You need perseverance if you want to be gritty. It involves continuing with a task even when it is difficult while delaying gratification. People often quit because it was more challenging than anticipated. Giving up seems more likely when the goal is seen as too hard to achieve. Perseverance means that we prioritize long-term goals and future rewards over the short-term pleasures of the present.
Resilience is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.” This allows us to get back up and try again when it feels much easier to stay down. Miller (2020) states, “Grit is the engine that moves us toward our goal. Resilience is the oil that keeps the engine moving.” Without the ability to keep moving forward through challenges, long-term goals cannot be achieved.
It is similar to grit.
Resilience can also be grown through practice and a growth mindset. Optimism is a key component. Other factors that contribute include: forgoing negative self-talk, connecting with others, making deliberate decisions, having self-compassion, looking at difficult circumstances in perspective to your lifelong experiences, accepting the need for change, and taking time to reflect on what you have learned about yourself when faced with unfortunate circumstances.
Without passion for a long-term goal, it will be difficult to overcome fears of failure, delay gratification, and get back up again when challenges arise. It can be important to explore passions and interests while creating long- term goals. Volunteering in various capacities is a way to narrow down possible passions. Completing a personality test might be a helpful place to start as well. Everyone discovers true passions at different points, but it is essential to actively pursue interests for self-discovery.
Grit can be a life-changing phenomenon. Goals and dreams are lost without perseverance and passion. Developing grit will bring life to the passion within.
It can be natural to feel stressed even amid pandemic circumstances. Formerly isolating from friends, co-workers, and even family, worrying about getting sick or losing a job, considering social unrest, and navigating an economic recession are all active agents of stress that many had to battle throughout last year and into the new.
We have been suddenly and openly launched into unknown territory. By April 2020, 2.6 billion people went into lockdown with 81% of the global workforce fully or partially shut down. Zoom participants went from 10 million to 200 million active users at the start of the outbreak. Burnout and stress became a global reality rather than meaningful engagement. Virtual experiences are commonplace and understandable along with many not having respite from demands and responsibilities.
As part of a biological survival system, stress allows us to meet any challenges and demands within our environment. Various neurochemical and neuro-electrical reactions allow us to assess our surroundings, motivate us to meet goals, sharpen our ability to attend, and very briefly boost our immune system. Usually a stress-based response allows us to experience these benefits within a matter of hours and days, not weeks and months. Stress responses that become more long-term negatively impact our body’s ability to handle viral infections and adapt to immune system needs.
Set your mind.
Rather than responding with anxiety to the day’s circumstances, it will be helpful to create space from emotion and thought to practice mindfulness. Setting our minds right each morning will establish a healthy reset for the day’s occurrences. Upon arising from slumber, it may be tempting to pull out the phone, scroll through an endless ocean of news notifications, and swim through social media feeds. Try these steps to calibrate your mind and add focus at the start of your day:
You decide what your first thoughts for the day will be. Choose well. In the event of feeling anxious and unfocused for the day, take eight minutes to refocus and practice breathing and observing your thoughts without evaluation. Bring your thoughts back to the present moment and awareness of the breath when negative thoughts redirect your attention. When in practice and you get distracted, refocus back to the next breath since there is no right or wrong in this.
Practice healthy lifestyle habits.
Refer to the previous reflection on sleep hygiene here. Self-care with healthy sleep hygiene and consistent bed-time routines are crucial during times of high-stress activity. Great sleep is an integral part of maneuvering through stress. You can listen to this interview with Dr. Matthew Walker, a sleep expert and Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. The brain thrives on consistency and regularity. Going to bed each night and waking up at the same time every morning will keep a healthy circadian rhythm in check. During times of high stress, our bodies crave starches, sugar, and salt. Eating a diet with color can ward off these cravings. Many dark and leafy vegetables will provide the energy needs for our immune system. Drinking half of your body weight in fluid ounces of water will also help to flush out toxins from the body.
Social isolation has been known to lead to feelings of loneliness. This ultimately has negative repercussions on both our mental and physical health. In a pandemic season of separation from community, former mandate for shelter-in-place, and a healthcare request for social distancing, we want to gravitate toward our social tribe for solace and comfort. Use this season as an opportunity to check in with those that are on your personal list of contacts to call and connect with. Praise them. Pursue connection through empathy. Thank them for how much they mean to you and how they made a difference. Listen well. Remain curious about how they are currently. Be creative - sing and make music together. Italy is a prime example of how people came together to sing on the rooftops and balconies in these times of social distancing. People coordinated efforts to chant, hum, and croon through windows and across rooftops in appointed times. Being open and vulnerable while pursuing connection with others will be important in high-stress situations.
Emotional resilience becomes strengthened in the face of disappointments and hindrances when we pursue purpose. You are the one that decides what story you tell yourself. An orientation beyond ourselves makes us more emotionally agile, and you can read more here.
Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, indicated that the main drive and motivation for man is not found in neither power nor pleasure but in purpose and meaning. He wrote, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, only by lack of meaning and purpose.” Frankl observed from his experiences in concentration camps that those that had a future-orientation toward a meaning to be fulfilled were the ones most likely to survive.
Notice those that are living and leading with purpose in these turbulent times. Observe their lives as a teachable moment and receive inspiration to overcome your own personal and stressful season.
Challenges and difficulties during this pandemic have been uninterrupted. We can build resilience. Known as the building block that separates unsuccessful from successful people, resilience can lower depression levels, improve work-life satisfaction and engagement, and positively crystallize the path forward with overcoming setbacks and maneuvering through obstacles.
Hello February. Daylight saving time tells us it will be dark along with the seasonal grey cold. Winter may feel uninterrupted. Our school year is half realized. Some may be disinterested and disengaged from class. Others may have lost stamina to continue with new year’s goals. This might stem from nonexistent personal motivation. Without self-motivation, it can be altogether impossible to overcome tasks and challenges on a daily basis. Self-motivation is critical. We must understand it. We also need to know the impact that others have on leveling our self-motivation while identifying ways to further develop it.
What is Self-Motivation?
“Self-motivation is, in its simplest form, the force that drives you to do things.” - Skills You Need
Why does someone: train for a marathon, strive to achieve all A’s, show up for class, work hard for an employer, spend the extra time on a workout, or even get out of bed every day? It could be due to extrinsic motivation. This is when something external motivates the individual. Extrinsic motivators might look like getting a good grade, impressing an employer, satisfying adults, or working out because of the pressure from friends. Extrinsic motivation is important and effective. Yet, the motivation that drives someone to achieve personal goals is internal. Being internally motivated elicits feelings of “getting” to do something as opposed to “having” to do something. When someone “has” to do something, extrinsic motivation assists with goal attainment. Internal, or self-motivation, is more powerful than external motivation. Self-motivated individuals are more likely to achieve a personal goal, find greater satisfaction in the task at hand, have better work performance outcomes, experience happiness, and have a greater belief in their ability to succeed.
The Impact of Others
Our relationships are a key factor in improving self-motivation. If conditions are highly negative and deprived of a growth mindset, they can ultimately affect self-motivation. Changing our relationships may not be realistic, but we can try to place ourselves around positive influences.
Who we surround ourselves with will have sway in our lives. They can either be a source of strength for improving self-motivation or they can negatively impact it. Recent research found that just watching others talk about their motivational forces will have a positive or negative effect on the observers’ level of motivation. In one study, an experimental group that watched individuals chat about being self-motivated to participate in a game made the observers desire to do the same. The control group that watched individuals discuss not being self-motivated did not have motivation to participate. Negativity affects a person more profoundly than positivity. Those we surround ourselves with play a key role in our motivation. It is critical to be around positive people who are working toward goals that promote personal growth. Who are you surrounded by? Are they role models for self-motivation and productive changes?
One major predictor of self-motivation is self-efficacy. This is when you believe you can do something. Or not. If you believe you cannot meet the demands of a goal, it is unlikely you will be self-motivated to even attempt and complete it. People who have greater self-efficacy will set higher goals and will be more likely to meet their goals. Self-efficacy increases self-motivation. We can improve self-efficacy by: reflecting on past achievements, considering personal strengths, asking others to identify our strengths and achievements, setting achievable goals, and learning from others that possess strong self-efficacy.
Setting goals will be important for self-motivation. If the goal is too easy, we will not be as self- motivated to achieve it. If it is too challenging and unattainable, then self-motivation will suffer. The experience might lower self-efficacy. This results in lower self-motivation for the next task. Stress and anxiety increase when we overextend ourselves. It is essential to set a goal that complements our abilities.
Industrial psychologists Locke and Latham gained acclaim on their theory of goal setting. They gave new direction to the field and indicated that goals need to be clear and challenging with an element of personal commitment. Goals are to be simple. Individuals need ongoing feedback about their goals. This includes monitoring goal progress and its outcome.
Invest in strategies that will help you keep moving forward. Pursue what can benefit you from altering your mood.
Motivation guru, Tony Robbins, suggests that creating empowering beliefs, improving time management strategies, creating a written action plan for goals, looking to motivational quotes and role models, listening to music, spending time outside, quitting multitasking, physically moving, visualizing self-motivation, and practicing gratitude can all improve self-motivation.
Everyone experiences challenges with consistently growing in self-motivation. There are ways to overcome it. Define your goal. Remember that you are capable. Start playing your favorite tunes. Begin achieving!
Happy new year! Many are launching into this year with hope and excitement. A new season will always invite opportunities to connect and build meaningful relationships. Empathy is not just important. It is vital. Even essential. A lack of empathy can communicate a hollow, dishonest, cynical and even overtly offensive stance in relationships. Just five seconds of conversation with an empathetic individual can convey a caring, genuine, and positive air. A small shift to become more empathetic can change everything in a relationship.
Moving to Baltimore to co-anchor an evening news reel at a local TV station, broadcast journalist Oprah Winfrey struggled in her position and was eventually demoted to the morning talk show in 1976. Now she is an entrepreneur and a leading media mogul of an empire. She has been able to develop her calling, align with her strengths, cross traditional boundaries, and responsibly wield influence through empathic relationships. Tim Cook, the Apple CEO, warned graduates at a recent commencement address, “People will try to convince you that you should keep empathy out of your career. Don’t accept this false premise.” He is not alone in recognizing and emphasizing the importance of how empathy can change culture. Police departments, corporate divisions, NBA teams, and various businesses are actively pursuing empathy as part of their ethos. Research now demonstrates that those that offer empathy training in workplaces tend to enjoy stronger collaboration, greater morale, less stress, and renewed emotional resilience in the face of obstacles and setbacks. Beyond the workplace, empathy must be sought out for vibrant relationships.
Empathy can transform a relationship. It works. It is not only about being humanly caring and understanding; it is altogether practical.
“Einfühlung” is seen as the German psychological term that implies “feeling-in.” In the Greek, em is “in” and pathos is “feeling,” and many started to combine the term and was officially coined at the start of the 20th century. Connection with others became the core of this concept and captured a swirl of experimental studies over the decades to better determine how people can live more emotionally fulfilled.
American social psychologist C. Daniel Batson has researched empathy for decades and argues that the term can now refer to eight different concepts: knowing another’s thoughts and feelings; imagining another’s thoughts and feelings; adopting the posture of another; actually feeling as another does; imagining how one would feel or think in another’s place; feeling distress at another’s suffering; feeling for another’s suffering, sometimes called pity or compassion; and projecting oneself into another’s situation.
Current research supports that empathy has steadily declined among young people from 1979 onward. Listen to this interview with Dr. Sara Konrath from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and the latest evidence on why empathy is on a steep decline:
Here are ways to build empathy into your everyday relationships.
Simply start with the relationship. Your relationship with the other person may not necessarily be fully established. Beginning with an empathic stance in the relationship shows that you genuinely care and have concern. You take the opportunity to create the relationship when you empathize. When both individuals express care and concern simultaneously, they are more likely to feel care and for each other. Both the recipient and the giver of empathy mutually benefit. When there might be some difficulty in the relationship, empathizing first can turn the conversation from hostility to approval and confrontation to collaboration. Many highlight that our relationships are our best assets. We are far more productive when we experience the context of a successful relationship than in a strained one. Empathy adds to the recipe of building relational health and success. It nurtures the quality of our relationships and determines the witness of our leadership.
Use active and empathic listening.
Poor listening leads to disruption in communication and unhealthy relational dynamics. Within our digital age of chronic distraction and multitasking endless social media notifications, feeds, and instant messages – the “cognitive bottleneck theory” can take place in which learning and attention suffer consequently with too much information processing. Louisiana State University’s communication experts, Christopher Gearhart and Graham Bodie, acknowledged that students low in the quality they identified as “active empathic listening” had lower scores on a social skills inventory. Essentially, being a poor listener is associated with poorer social and emotional sensitivity. Gearhart and Bodie created a measure that looked into active and empathic listening skills (AEL) and identified them as follow within the questionnaire to represent the quality of empathic listening between individuals:
Good actors have mastered these techniques within AEL and demonstrate direct eye contact and focused body language during typically intense conversations among each other. We can look to them as examples for sensing, processing, and responding in active empathic listening. Putting away the cellphone, ceasing to draw and doodle, and sitting relaxed and interested while engaging one another are critical aspects of AEL. When we clear our minds and demonstrate that we are listening, we will find it much easier to become engaged. Active empathic listening will require more effort at first, but the emotional and relational benefits will soon follow. Within the chronic distraction of the digital age, embracing the manifold and multi-faceted benefits of AEL will promote relational health in a landscape of shrinking attention spans and compulsive distractibility. Telltale signs of those that are not listening can be found in commonplace daily activities, but effective communicators are good listeners as well as good speakers.
Focus on similarities.
Muster both understanding and feeling of the other individual’s perspective by looking for similarities. Start small and identify what connections may already exist. Use these connections to light up a conversation. Offer to help out on a shared project and compliment the person on an exchange of ideas. Empathy is a choice you can make in the relational scenario. Having a generous spirit and focusing on similar goals will infuse empathy into any relationship.
Often our emotional self-control and willpower get challenged in relationships. Most likely there is a risk for an amygdala hijack if your palms sweat, breath quickens, and internal temperature rises. This is the part of the brain that influences the other rational and thinking part of the brain. A demeanor of calm and openness will be needed to conjure empathy for the other individual.
Principles to Remember
Empathy deserves pursuit. Use empathy to connect well with others. It can be built and grown in its current international buzz status. With personal and intentional effort, pay close attention to how you can build and change your relationship dynamics with empathy in this new year.
It was rather impossible to predict all the events of 2020 that unfolded. The last pandemic was in 1918, the last major civil rights movement was in 1968, and the 2020 presidential election set the record for voter turnout with over 161 million people voting! 2020 has been remarkable and sobering, unforgettable and incomprehensible, quiet and turbulent, and beautiful while tragic. 2020 added more heartaches as well as incredible opportunities. Through all of it, this year has provided lessons to reflect on, remember, and incorporate into our lives for the years ahead.
First Lesson: Each year brings new growth.
Despite what this year brought to each of us, it is important to take time to reflect on where we have been, what we have overcome, how we have grown, and what we want in the years to come. There “will never be another year like 2020” some say, but this can be said for every year of our lives. No matter what this year may have looked like and opportunities it provided or took, it is important to acknowledge the meaning of our individual and collective experiences.
Time for reflection must be taken. The end of the year can be a busy time with obligations and holidays, but taking time to reflect on the past year’s opportunities, accomplishments, disappointments, and challenges can help prepare us for the year to come and the goals we make for 2021. One way to reflect is to ask deliberate questions, write down responses, and consider the meaning of the answers. People may prefer a time of quiet to do this or the atmosphere of motivational music. Here are some questions to help with the reflection process.
Questions to reflect on as we say goodbye to 2020:
Second Lesson: Each year brings perspective.
We are better together. When the pandemic began, families came together, communities supported local restaurants, restaurants supported local families, friends, neighbors, and families celebrated birthdays and graduations with home-grown parades, people emerged from their homes on daily bike rides or walks, and our medical personnel and first responders were celebrated as heros. It was quiet. It was beautiful. It was hard.
Recent research from the Institute for Family Studies and the Wheatley Institute found that teenagers’ mental health became stable or improved during quarantine. According to this research, increased family time and sleep were important factors for stability. However, another challenging transition occurred. The summer went on and school resumed. Quality sleep and family time may have become less consistent. In these ever-changing circumstances, we must prioritize sleep and time with family as well as loved ones. Doing so may be stabilizing factors in what feels like an unstable time. We prioritize what we schedule. Scheduling sleep as well as quality time with family and loved ones can reap many benefits. It may feel silly to schedule priorities that should come naturally, but there is nothing natural about time management. It has to be intentionally pursued.
Third Lesson: Each year brings both “good” and “bad.”
There is an old story of unknown origin that tells of a farmer who used an old horse in his fields. One day the horse escaped into the hills. When the farmer’s neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad fortune, the farmer replied, “Good or bad? Who knows?” The horse returned a week later with a herd of wild horses from the hills. His neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good fortune. He replied, “Good or Bad? Who knows?” When the farmer’s son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone again sympathized with the farmer over his bad fortune. But the farmer’s reaction was, “Good or Bad? Who knows?” Some weeks later, the army marched into the village and drafted every able-bodied youth they found. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg, they let him stay. So, Good or Bad fortune? Who knows?
2020 came with many surprises. Was 2020 “good” or “bad?” The answer is different for everyone and perhaps impossible to answer as the story illustrates. The reality is we can never know the full impact of everything that happened. It may seem “bad” now but could turn out “good” in the future. It is important to take time to process the challenges, grieve the losses, and reflect on the blessings. It is necessary to remember that what feels impossible and “bad” now may get better and that what appears “good” now may lead to challenges. Life is fluid and comes with ups and downs, but it is how we approach the journey that can make the greatest impact.
Fourth Lesson: Each year brings another year.
Each year brings another year, but the events of the previous year will not exist in the past. Each year’s events come with us into the next and are a part of shaping the next year as well as who we become. Often we see people talk about “leaving a year behind” and “starting over” in the next. That may sound nice but is not reality. It is worthwhile to look forward with optimism. If we neglect to acknowledge what happened to us and how it may impact us moving forward, then we will be quickly disappointed in 2021. Use the questions mentioned earlier to help reflect on what may be impacting you from this year into the next, and how you can use that impact for your personal growth.
Additional questions to consider as we forge into 2021 with hope for better days:
The year 2020 was certainly unique. Each year holds possibilities for growth, a need to take care of ourselves and spend time with loved ones, both “good” and “bad” circumstances, and an occasion for reflection. Take time to reflect over the coming months about what has been and all that is yet.
Goodbye 2020 and hello 2021!
As day-light savings inevitably descends for the fall season, we can give consideration to understanding the benefits of sleep. Along with many other circumstances that we value, we miss it when we do not have it! In the modern 24-hour society, insufficient sleep has global public health implications. According to the latest reflections from the National Institutes of Health, about 40% of Americans experience sleep problems and 70 million have chronic sleep deprivation.
Taking Lessons from Neuroscience
Truly, the best way to grasp the value of sleep is to receive lessons from neuroscience - a growing field that has spent significant time looking at the relationship between sleep and the brain - and what happens when we do not get adequate sleep.
In view of current evidence, those who are sleep-deprived have poorer memory, impaired thinking skills, and react more slowly during conversations. The fact that so many of us - including our family members, peers, friends, and co-workers - take much pride in losing sleep to do more work and become productive gives way to some misunderstanding. When we consistently choose work over sleep, we are choosing quantity over quality. The impact at school, work, and at home are tremendous - a good night’s rest can offer us a sharper focus, positive mood, increased alertness, and a proactive mindset.
Sleep restores the body and mind and creates optimal functioning during the waking state. High blood pressure, obesity, stress, and anxiety with poorer mental health are common conditions of those that suffer from impaired qualities of sleep and unrest. Sleep has continued to hold measures of fascination for many throughout the centuries. Our brains during cycles of sleep are like the smartphone. Even though we may not be looking at the screen all night, it never remains idle.
The brain has limited energy at its disposal and must either be aware and awake or asleep and cleaning. Sleep states allow for us to wash away the brain’s waste chemicals and toxins from the day for simple maintenance. We call this “mental wastage” where the brain is actively cleaning and permanently eliminating any short and long-term toxins that distract us from fresh learning opportunities for the following day. It can be like freeing up space and ensuring a faster processing speed. Waste elimination during sleep is responsible for learning, memory, and regulating our emotions, mood, and appetite. We can say that sleeping less to work more is as logical as not stopping to refuel the gas tank to reach our final destination!
Here are some ways that sleeplessness can impact our mind, body, and work productivity:
You forget simple things.
The hippocampus, the brain area centrally responsible for learning and memory, becomes disrupted on a single night of sleep deprivation. This brain region allows us to navigate daily circumstances and remember information in both short and long-term memory. Difficulty with concentration, being prone to more mistakes, having challenges in remembering numbers and facts, and experiencing a drop in performance are all outcomes of not getting enough quality rest. You may need to focus much more on tasks that might have come much more naturally before, and it makes focusing much more painful!
You are more prone to anger and anxiety.
Sleep will release a chemical reaction in the brain that will be responsible for emotion regulation and mood alteration. Melatonin is the main brain hormone involved with this process. Your body produces more melatonin in the evening hours to cause you to become more drowsy and sleepy at night and releases less in the mornings to get you to become awake. Often, a lack of sleep can cause you to feel cranky, irritable, and fussy - and this is noticeable to those around you, since sleep deprivation affects the amygdala, the emotional radar of the brain. Anxiety, anger, and impulsive decisions are fueled by activity in the amygdala. Changes overnight in sleep patterns can impact our behavior and how we relate to others. Negative emotions such as fear and anxiety can contribute to irritability and annoyance when sleep deprivation occurs. Get more sleep if you want to be kind and caring to others!
Your relationships are put at risk.
Sleep deprivation can harm your most important relationships. Much of the research from sleep science agrees that there is a reciprocal effect between relationship quality and sleep. Those that are happy in their relationships will sleep much better, and sleeping better will increase the quality of your relationships as well. Friends and colleagues can boast about how little they sleep. Yet with all this knowledge at our fingertips, we know the opposite is true. Sleep gives the brain uninterrupted time and freedom to develop clarity, sharpen focus, cultivate happiness, and increase in the quality of health!
Never settle for anything less than the full power and potential of your brain health on any given day.
There are many lifestyle factors that impact the ability for maintaining sound sleep. If you are looking to develop healthy sleep habits, here is some counsel to consider:
Hectic routines, inexperience with effective time management, and a sleep-unfriendly schedule in the world around you can minimize sufficient sleep and put you at greater risk for sleep deprivation. Research shows that burning the midnight oil will lead to trouble the next day. Shortness on sleep develops challenges with health, safety, performance, and an ability to learn. You would be surprised on how developing healthy sleeping patterns can change your productivity, relationships, mental health and overall lifestyle. Sleep is a biological necessity, and establishing healthy habits and attitudes toward sleep can carry you for a lifetime.