Tag emotions

Snapshot.

“Human beings act, feel, and perform in accordance with what they imagine to be true about themselves and their environment.  What you imagine to be true becomes, in fact, true.  Hold a given picture of yourself long and steadily enough in your mind’s eye and you will become that picture.  Picture yourself vividly as defeated and that alone will make victory impossible.  Picture yourself vividly as winning and that alone will contribute immeasurably to success.”

Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko

Alone Together I: MDS Robot “Nexi”

One of the books that I am reading now is called “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other” by Sherry Turkle.  The book is divided into two parts – the first focusing on the relationship dynamic between robots and people and the second on recent developments such as Facebook, Twitter and the like.

Over the past several years, I’ve realized (particularly in the workplace) that more and more people are turning towards technology and less to each other.  I am reading this book because I am just a victim to this unfortunate trend and I am at a point where I can’t afford to stay the course any longer.

This fact doesn’t lessen my interest in the subject as there is a great deal of psychology embedded within this topic that warrants understanding.

I’ll share more thoughts about this book as I progress further.  In the meantime, here is a video of a robot (not from this text) that exemplifies the lure of a robot as a potential replacement or stand-in for another human being:

[youtube width=440 height=278 style=”text-align:right”]aQS2zxmrrrA[/youtube]

Resilience V – Missing Persons

Here is another example of a situation where I was somewhat confused by my (internal) emotional reaction.  First, let’s describe the adversity in a straightforward and objective manner:

Adversity: A resource on our team has been out of the office for an extended period of time and no communication has been made stating why.

Now let’s describe what I was really feeling at the time:

Belief: “Where is s/he?  I have a project schedule that has many overdue tasks and it’s frustrating there hasn’t been any real communication regarding her/his absence.  If communication is a highly valued competency, why isn’t anyone communicating?!”

Consequence: Some anger / frustration and sadness

This is interesting; frustration makes sense, but anger & sadness do not.  Because of this, let’s go through the Q&A format that I shared in an earlier example:

Question: Why does your colleague’s absence frustrate you?

Answer: I have some work that needs to be done and I don’t have the information I need.  While I was able to pull up with another resource, it would be helpful to know when s/he is returning to the office.

Question: What is the worst that can happen if you aren’t kept informed?

Answer: Ultimately, the project schedule won’t be updated and people will look to me for the answers.

Question: Let’s assume that people come to you looking for answers, why does that bother you?

Answer: At a basic level, it bothers me because I won’t be able to respond appropriately to their inquiries.  At a deeper level this bothers me because I could be adding greater value if I was serving in a different capacity, and thus I would not have to rely upon others to provide these updates to me.

As you can see here, while it initially appears that I am frustrated because I don’t know what is going on, what is really at play is my lack of control regarding the underlying effort.  My feelings of sadness (albeit minor) stem from being in a role that is separate and distinct from my true strengths and background.  In some respects, my colleague’s absence triggers feelings of inadequacy and loss.

Resilience IV – Is my dog unhappy?

In an earlier post, I summarized the ABC resilience methodology described by the authors of The Resilience Factor.  In this post, I’ll introduce a very simple example of a belief that seems to affect me on a fairly routine basis.  I will likely progress into more advanced examples in the future, but this is an easy one to explore and share this particular analysis methodology.

Adversity: My dog is staring at me and I am not sure what he wants to do.

Belief: What does he want now?  I need to focus on other things right now and I am not sure I really want to go outside again.

Consequences: A combination of frustration and guilt, and sometimes even anger.

While it’s perhaps easy to see why I would feel frustrated and even guilty, I have often been puzzled why I sometimes feel angry – sometimes to the point of being stressed out!  Let’s explore what these emotions are really saying about my belief system in this particular case.

Question: I take care of my dog almost better than I do myself.  Why does his staring bother me so much?

Answer: Because I don’t know what he is feeling and whether he is bored.

Question: Let’s assume he is bored, what is the worst part of that for me?

Answer: If my dog is bored, then I think he is unhappy.

Question: What does that mean to me if he is unhappy?

Answer: It means that I am not taking as good care of him as I should be and he deserves more than I may be providing.  It may mean that I am not doing a very good job at being a pet owner and that ultimately I may not be able to achieve a good balance between work and personal life if and when I do have children.  In some respects, I feel helpless.

It’s a safe bet that some pet owners don’t experience these feelings, but I am sure that many do.  Guilt, I think, naturally comes with having children or pets.  If you truly care about your pets and/or children, you are always going to want the best for them (i.e. their happiness) and thus any activity that impacts those feelings is going to result in some feelings of guilt.

As it relates to my feelings of anger, clearly these feelings are inward-facing.  My dog has done nothing wrong, and frankly it is unlikely that he is bored; perhaps he is staring at me out of pure affection? (or he just wants another treat!)

My anger is primarily about not being able to understand or satisfy a need that may not necessarily be there in the first place; feelings of helplessness are a natural byproduct.  At a much deeper level, it’s about potentially failing later on in a future partnership or family environment either due to a lack of understanding and/or an inability to make a positive impact / change (i.e. will I be able to attain a balance between my personal interests and those of my wife’s and or children’s?).

As you can see here, by taking a closer look at my emotions surrounding this particular adversity, I’ve learned quite a bit about this seemingly innocent dynamic. Given this in-depth analysis, however, it’s clear that this belief needs to change.  Being resilient in this case means the following:

  1. I’ll never understand what my dog is thinking, so yes I will perhaps always feel helpless but I can do what I can to ensure his happiness.
  2. Achieving a balance in this relationship (and in future relationships) is a simple means of establishing “boundaries” (in this case a loose schedule) and continuously measuring against those same boundaries to see what is working and what isn’t.
  3. There are some things in life that I will be able to change and many others that I will not.

While this is a simple example of approaches recommended in the text, you can see just how much information is uncovered and whether existing beliefs should stay or go.

Resilience II: The ABC’s

“Resilience, then, is the basic strength, underpinning all the positive characteristics in a person’s emotional and psychological makeup.  A lack of resilience is the major cause of negative functioning.  Without resilience there is no courage, no rationality, no insight.  It is the bedrock on which all else is built.” – Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté, The Resilience Factor

In my last post, I introduced the topic of resilience and how the key to greater self-esteem is self-efficacy.  The path towards greater self-efficacy is resilience, and the path to greater resilience begins with an understanding of the ABC model – a resilience-building methodology presented in The Resilience Factor by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté:

  • Adversity – What pushes your buttons?
  • Beliefs – What are your beliefs at that moment?
  • Consequences – What do you feel and what do you do about those feelings?

While it would be easy for me to fabricate an example to illustrate this technique, I think it’s beneficial if I share a personal example from my own professional experience.

In a previous role I was responsible for maintaining a project schedule of nearly 1500+ tasks.  Since the team was still getting familiar with the overall PM structure and methodology, there was bound to be some communication breakdowns, and I eventually found myself in the middle of one.

Prior to this event, I had established a weekly schedule where updates would be collected from the various workstream leads and subsequently incorporated into the larger program schedule.  This particular breakdown occurred because the schedule was compromised, the reasoning was unclear, and I found myself in the spotlight for issues I was also unaware of.

Let’s walk through this example to illustrate how the system works.

First, let’s summarize the Adversity in an objective and specific manner:

“Shortly after responding to inquiries about the project schedule, my colleagues sent follow-up emails that highlighted the urgency of the related changes and asked that these changes be made as soon as possible.”

Next, I’ll describe what I was feeling at that very moment: (my Beliefs)

“What is wrong with these people?  What happened to the schedule that was established weeks ago?  If they are unhappy with the manner by which I am maintaining the schedule, why aren’t they updating it themselves?”

“Ticker-tape” beliefs are beliefs that you may not be immediately aware of.  In this particular case, my ticker-tape beliefs centered around my desire to do work that took greater advantage of my strengths and skill set.  And this task, while important, was not aligned with this desire.  In retrospect, my mind was already looking for potential issues.

When utilizing this approach it’s important that you avoid filtering what you are feeling at that moment.  Doing so can cause you to skim the surface of your true emotions, and you’ll gain less from the experience in the long-run.

The third and final component of this resilience methodology is Consequences: “the way you feel and what you do in the moment of an adversity or challenge.”

The authors go on to present a few standard B-C connections that one can refer to in the midst of an adversity:

  • Violation of your rights … results in … anger
  • Real world loss or loss of self-worth … results in … sadness, depression
  • Violation of another’s rights … results in … guilt
  • Future threat … results in … anxiety, fear
  • Negative comparison to others … results in … embarrassment

In this particular example, my immediate and initial B-C connection was about a violation of my rights and the feelings of anger that soon followed.  But the B-C connection was actually less about my rights and ultimately about loss of self-worth.  After all, in this role I wasn’t really leading – I was maintaining, and to receive any sort of “criticism” dealt a blow to my self-worth.  “Can’t I do even THIS correctly?”

While I chose to deal with this adversity head-on, expressing my concerns directly to my colleagues, I let the combination of anger and sadness result in a criticism of their abilities in managing related tasks.  Thus, I was faced with yet another B-C connection – one where I inadvertently violated another’s rights, and felt a sense of guilt for doing so.

Events and experiences that I have been faced with over the past several years have helped strengthen some of my ticker-tape beliefs, and it’s those same beliefs that unfortunately played a key role in the consequences I’ve just described.

What is critically important here is the fact that “… our emotions and behaviors are triggered not by events themselves but by how we interpret those events.”  Responding to my colleagues initial requests using an altered belief system could have resulted in a less direct conversation, leaving greater flexibility afterwards for a less charged dialogue, thus obtaining perhaps greater results in the long-run.

The next natural step for me is to take a closer look at my belief system to determine which beliefs are working and which are not.  While my job may not always be 100% in alignment with my strengths, my relationships with others should not have to suffer because of it.

Resilience I: Self-esteem vs. Self-Efficacy

I recently finished reading  Andrew Shatte’s and Karen Reivich’s book entitled The Resilience Factor – 7 Essential Skills for Overcoming Life’s Inevitable Obstacles.  I found the book incredibly useful as it provides a formulaic approach to understanding the reasons why certain events trigger certain emotions, and to develop constructive ways to work through those events / emotions.  Since adversity is a constant factor in people’s lives, improving one’s resilience is critically important for future successes – both professional and personal.

Now having closed a rather turbulent period of my life, I felt the time was right to take additional steps to improve my resilience.  While my creative abilities allowed me to manage through this period in a constructive way, I felt there were some core lessons I was still missing and needed to develop.  When I stumbled upon this book, I knew that this was the piece that was missing from that journey.

Towards the beginning of the book, the authors make several key points that really set the stage for the remainder of the text.  They talk about the need to focus less on developing self-esteem and more so on self-efficacy.  There is a difference as one is a by-product of the other:

“…self-esteem is the by-product of doing well in life – meeting challenges, solving problems, struggling and not giving up.  You will feel good about yourself when you do well in the world.  That is healthy self-esteem.  Many people and many programs, however, try to bolster self-esteem directly by encouraging us to […] believe that we can do anything we set our mind to.  The fatal flaw with this approach is that it is simply not true.  We cannot do anything we want in life, regardless of how many time we tell ourselves how special and wonderful we are and regardless of how determined we are to make it so.”

The authors go on to discuss why self-efficacy is the first step to building self-esteem:

“We know that as people start to build a track record of small successes by solving problems, self-efficacy follows naturally.”

The skills taught in The Resilience Factor equip one with tools to solve the problems in one’s life and to meet the challenges that confront her/him.  These tools allow one to develop self-efficacy, which ultimately translates into greater feelings of self-esteem.  And it’s this unique combination that can empower people to do even more with their lives and experience greater joy from the lives they already have.

The book “works” because of the numerous anecdotal examples presented throughout the text.  In fact, the book’s lessons are best assimilated by using them when adversity strikes.  The adage “practice makes perfect” is indeed valid here.

In my next post on this subject, I’ll introduce a few key points from the text along with some personal examples to illustrate just how well these tools truly work.

Related Article: Recalibration I

Mental Evolution I (“Realization”)

[This is part one of multi-part series related to my experiences in searching for a new career opportunity.]

I read an article on CNN today which really hit home with me.  The article was about the rescue of two boys who were lost at sea for nearly two months – having recently been found by a tuna ship off the coast of Fiji.  The story is nothing short of a miracle.  While the concept of faith is perhaps an underlying factor in their survival, the final sentence of the article is a very powerful one:

“They’ve got a lot of gusto, a lot of strong mental spirit,” Fredricsen told the Morning Herald. “Physically they are very [distraught] but mentally they are very strong.”

When I attempted the summit of Mt.Rainier in 2007, the main reason I was unable to accomplish this goal had everything to do with a lack of mental toughness and very little to do with physical capability.  This was very surprising to me.  The fact that these boys’ survival was based primarily on their mental strength says a lot – not only about them but about me as well.

I am physically very strong.  Mentally, however, I think there is opportunity for improvement.  Of course, the degree of “weakness” depends upon a number of factors – and there are certain circumstances where I can be quite resilient when many others cannot.  In any event, this ability to adapt can be strengthened – and this identification is the first step towards a stronger “mental infrastructure.”

Using my personality type (INFP) as the basis for this journey is key.  Without going into elaborate detail about the aspects of this personality type, I was able to locate ten INFP-specific “rules” to achieve greater success and become mentally stronger.

In scanning this list, and looking back over the past year, it’s safe to say that my ability to “follow” these rules has varied depending upon the situation.  Fortunately, given the degree of personal introspection I’ve invested over the past two years (e.g. this blog), nearly all of these rules are ones that I employ on a daily basis.  But, there are two major exceptions:

  1. Express Your Feelings. Don’t let unexpressed emotions build up inside of you. If you have strong feelings, sort them out and express them, don’t let them build up inside you to the point where they become unmanageable!
  2. Assume the Best. Don’t distress yourself by assuming the worst. Remember that a positive attitude often creates positive situations.

The first one has been the most difficult for me – primarily because I tend to internalize everything I’m feeling before expressing those feelings.  In certain circumstances, this can be a positive but in many cases it causes me significant stress – particularly if those same feelings remain “hidden.”

The second is another area for improvement.  While my ability and desire to help others can be seen as having an optimistic outlook, I’ve found that this level of optimism is in contrast to what I sometimes feel in my personal and professional lives.  I need to take steps to employ a similar perspective independent of the situation.

While this CNN article prompted me to share these thoughts, they have been there for some time.  Given my experiences over the past several weeks, I’ve felt this lack of mental toughness to be something that I really need to pay close attention to.  When you strive for success on a daily basis, any and all barriers need to be managed accordingly – and increasing my mental strength is my primary barrier right now.

Emotion Detector.

Several years ago, I was introduced to the concept of a “trigger” – a specific action or event that results in a specific emotional response.  I found this very interesting because the very nature of a “trigger” helped me formulate a conceptual model that I could use to manage my emotional response to specific actions or events.

Over the past few weeks, I thought of expanding upon this idea to broaden its use.

Let’s first explore what a “trigger” really is.  To do this, let me give you a very basic example from many years ago.

I used to work very late hours because I was fortunate enough to truly enjoy what I was doing.  When it came time for me to leave, a co-worker would frequently ask – jokingly – “Are you leaving early?”  Interestingly enough, my co-worker’s question (the “trigger”) indirectly resulted in feelings of guilt and sometimes even anger (!):

Guilt = “Am I not working hard enough?”

Anger = “What else do I need to do!?”

After many weeks of hearing the same question, I stopped to think about why this question was so problematic for me.  After much reflection and self-analysis, I was able to understand the underlying reasons behind these feelings.

The limitation of the trigger is that it doesn’t really “solve” the problem.  A trigger is telling you that you will have a specific emotional response given a specific event, but it does not ultimately address the underlying “issue”.  It does, however, point you in the right direction.

By the very nature of the brain and one’s personality, everyone will have triggers – so the objective is not to eliminate the need for triggers, but instead try to perhaps minimize the need for them.  The way to achieve this is through “emotional containers”.

An emotional container is a way to conceptually “compartmentalize” a particular issue that you may be dealing with in such a way where you can better manage it.

The number and magnitude of each container is highly dependent upon one’s life experiences – both past and present.  Furthermore, some containers are “permanent” while others are “transient”.

To help visualize this concept, someone who has experienced numerous challenges in their life, may have one one large container that is linked through numerous triggers – i.e. many different “events” can trigger a single emotional response (of significant “magnitude”).  Another person may have numerous containers linked by a single trigger – i.e. one question or comment could trigger multiple (and varying) emotional responses.

More specifically, an emotional container contains the “root” issue along with the emotions that relate to that issue.  If one were to partition their subconscious mind, it could be perhaps represented through these “emotional containers” and their associated “triggers”.

In order to build this “subconscious superstructure”, one should ask themselves the following questions:

  1. What are the things that result in immediate emotional responses?
  2. Where do these triggers link to?
  3. What is the underlying issue or theme behind these triggers?
  4. Is there a way to minimize these containers or even eliminate them completely?

The goal – over time – is to become your own “mind cartographer”.  By taking the time to understand the concept of a “trigger” and “emotional container” you may be able to improve your ability to constructively deal with (negative) thoughts and feelings.