Willpower is something that we tend to believe is a zero sum game. Some people are blessed with endless reserves of willpower and others just aren’t. This idea might comfort those of us who consider ourselves in the latter category. But, it is a dangerous belief to maintain. Willpower is critical to the success of our careers, relationships, and health. We can all learn how to improve this critical skill that produces benefits in all areas of our life.
Willpower is described in the research literature as self-discipline, self-control, or executive functioning. It refers to the ability to work towards a specific goal in spite of momentary alternatives that may seem more attractive. Self-discipline is more important than IQ in determining students’ final grades . In fact, being goal directed is one of the best predictors of major life success.
Setting goals and remaining focused long enough to achieve those goals is important for career success. Surprisingly, self-discipline shapes romantic relationships as well. A study revealed that people with low levels of self-control were more likely to select mates with high levels of self-control. It seems as if they are using relationships to compensate for limited self-control. Yet this type of romantic pairing puts extreme pressure and stress on the relationship. This is type of imbalance occurs in most codependent relationships. This is where one person assumes responsibility for the wellbeing of the other. These relationships generate high amounts of resentment and conflict. Over time, they weaken the functioning of both individuals as well as the relationship.
We can see that self-discipline is not an insignificant part of our lives. It influences our career, relationships, and health outcomes. Our ability to set and achieve our goals ultimately shapes our success and happiness in life. Now that we understand why willpower is important, let’s begin to describe what it is. More importantly, how we can increase it in our lives?
Research suggests that there is a strong biological component to will power. Specifically, willpower seems to be correlated with glucose levels in our bodies. When our glucose levels drop below the optimal range, our willpower weakens.
Glucose is the energy source that drives our willpower. Like other sources of energy, our supply of willpower is limited. We have our greatest amount of this energy in the morning which depletes as we go through the day. Every exercise of self-discipline, whether big or small, decreases the amount of energy available for the remaining activities.
In a laboratory experiment , researchers found that self-control activities reduced blood glucose levels. Researchers instructed participants to focus attention, regulate emotions, or suppress a thought. Although we may not think of these activities as hard work, they do require some level of self-control. Therefor they lower our energy reserves. This explains why you may feel tired after you’ve been concentrating. Or why you may desire a sugary snack after exercising restraint in a difficult conversation. In each of these situations, you are drawing upon your energy reserves.
In the same laboratory study, people who exercised self-control in the first phase of the research performed poorly in the second self-control task. Much like a withdrawal from your bank account, exercising self-control reduces your remaining balance. Each day is filled with many tasks requiring self-control. Thus, your ability to remain focused and disciplined on your goals decreases as you move through the day.
It’s no wonder you are unable to work out at the end of the day or that it takes you twice as long to read that report. There’s a reason why you blow up at your kids and spouse when you come home from work. You have depleted your self-discipline reserves. You literally do not have the energy to follow through on your goals.
Lack of follow through on your goals doesn’t mean that you’re hopelessly lazy. It also doesn’t mean that you’re really not invested in accomplishing your goal. Once you understand the science of willpower, you can better manage your energy reserves, increase your self-discipline, and improve your goal attainment.
Research reveals that increasing our levels of monitoring increases our success in self control. In a study college students were asked to perform one of three monitoring tasks: watch their posture, check their emotions, or track their food intake. Regardless of the tasks, the act of monitoring improved their ability to do another unrelated self-control task. All three monitoring groups performed better than the students without any monitoring activity. Thus, the act of monitoring itself seems to strengthen your self-discipline muscle.
Pick a goal and start monitoring your behavior related to that goal. Monitoring your behavior will improve your success rate. But the even better news is that it will also improve your success at all your other goals! You are actually increasing your capacity for self-discipline through any type of goal monitoring. As you strengthen this muscle, it will be able to work better for you in all areas of your life.
Taking a short 10-minute break is an excellent way to increase your energy reserves. This improves your capacity for self-discipline. We know that any type of self-control activity depletes your glucose energy reserves. Yet, a research study demonstrated that taking a 10-minute rest period restored the participants’ energy reserves to optimal levels. Another study showed similar results when participants performing a brief relaxation activity.
We can restore our capacity for self-control to optimal levels by managing our time after we have exercised self-discipline. Taking short breaks or practicing a relaxation activity are credits that we deposit into our energy bank account. They restore our energy after we’ve exercised self-control. Thus, they increase our capacity for self-discipline in the future.
This is why I encourage my clients to take 10-minute breaks during every hour of focused activity at work. It takes lots of energy to concentrate and a brief break will increase your ability to sustain concentration. A short break makes you both more productive and less tired at the end of the day.
Another way to make a deposit in your self-discipline reserves is to generate positive emotions. Positive emotions increase your energy levels and improve your capacity for self-control.
In a study researchers found that participants who experienced positive emotions improved their capacity for self-control. Participants were asked to perform some task of self-control. They were then assigned to one of four groups: positive mood, negative mood, neutral mood, or rest. Participants in the positive mood group watched a comedy video or received a surprise gift. Those in the negative mood group were given an activity to induce sadness. All groups should experience a depletion of self-control because they’ve performed a task requiring self-control. Yet, the positive mood group were as successful in the second task as the control group that had not completed the first task. The positive mood group was also more successful in the second self-control tasks than any of the other groups. This suggests that positive emotions actually increase and restore our self-discipline energy levels.
Use this knowledge to your advantage. Make sure that every day contains activities that make you feel good. Watch that funny you tube video. Read some pages of your favorite book. Chat with your favorite girlfriend on the phone. Too many times we deny ourselves these simple pleasures in life because we are just “too busy.” Yet these activities increase our productivity and improve our ability to meet our goals. The more we demand from ourselves, the more we need to make sure our days are filled with activities that generate positive emotions.
No not a glass of wine; grab an energy drink. We’ve learned that self-discipline has a biological component: glucose levels. Alcohol decreases glucose throughout the brain and body. No wonder it’s associated with such poor judgment and the inability to exercise self-control. Yet, there are many energy drinks that can restore our glucose levels. In a research study, participants who consumed a glucose drink between two self-control tasks showed no weakening of self-control in the second task. It seems that this glucose drink eliminated the usual impairment that occurs after exercising self-control. So the next time you exercised self-control, reward yourself with an energy drink to keep your momentum of success going.
You do not have to remain complacent with your current level of will power. Like the muscles in your body, your self-discipline muscle can be exercised in a way that strengthens your life. Practicing the techniques described above will improve your success at setting and achieving your goals. You will also reap the financial, emotional, health, and relationship rewards that come with improved self-discipline.
You owe it to yourself to start today. Please let me know if you’d like my support in your efforts to set and accomplish goals, increase your self-discipline, and improve your life. You can email me at [email protected] or call (505)66-FOCUS. Wishing you success in using self-discipline to create your life of bliss!
People who are successful in life and their careers have mastered the skill of saying no. They don’t say no to everything. Instead, they say no to people, projects, and activities that are in not line with their core values and life purpose. In this article I share how this simple word can help you create balance in your life and work. I also share two easy techniques to help you develop the habit of saying no to everything that is not in line with your core values and purpose.
Early in my career as a college professor, I was overwhelmed with service obligations. I was new on campus and everyone wanted to take advantage of my new energy and areas of expertise. They frequently invited me to participate in their projects, classes, and committees. Additionally, the fact that I was also one of a handful of black faculty on campus meant that I was the first person to come to mind for any request related to diversity.
Service is my way of life. I am always looking for ways that I can add value to others through my unique gifts and talents. I was also eager to get to know and work collaboratively with my new students, colleagues, and administrators. But the expansiveness of my service and teaching obligations made it difficult for me to find time for my research, my family, and my other life priorities.
I quickly learned that I needed to perfect the art of saying no if I was going to be able to thrive in this career and in all the other areas of my life.
Developing the habit of saying no to most request was difficult for me and is challenging for many of the women I work with. Many of us pride ourselves on being helpful to others. We are also very concerned about hurting others feelings or disappointing them. However, once you fully understand the value of saying no, it becomes clear that this is a loving and compassionate act for you and others.
By saying no to most request, we protect our time and energy. This enables us to say “yes” to things in line with our core values and life purpose.
We all have a finite amount of time and energy. Spending time on a non-priority project provides less time for our high priority projects. Many of us are overwhelmed because we are doing too many activities. When something that we really want to do comes along, we add it to the list because it’s too great to pass up. But adding to a crammed schedule means that we will not have the focus and energy to do our best in this activity. We may not even enjoy it as much because we’re exhausted from all the other activities jammed into the day.
Often times we don’t want to say no because we don’t want to disappoint the person making the request. Just imagine how disappointed they will be when you don’t complete the job. What about when you don’t do your best work because it’s not high on your internal priorities?
People make requests of us because they value our talents and competencies. They expect us to bring our best game to the requested project. That’s difficult to do when it’s not something that we value. This is what often leads to “forgetting” to do an activity or missing a deadline on a project. It may seem as if we are disorganized or too busy. But in fact, we are unwilling to prioritize that activity given our limited resources. If we communicated this to the person at the time of the request, they could have found someone else who could focus on the activity. But, now they are doubly angry. First, because their activity didn’t go off as envisioned. Second, because they believe that you are the reason that it didn’t.
It is disingenuous to accept a project that is not in line with our purpose and values because we can not do our best work. It’s better to say “no” upfront. We will experience a smaller level of disappointment compared to the disappointment later in the process when we haven’t performed our best.
Resentment occurs when we feel out of control. Saying no helps us to regain control of our life choices. This prevents our growing resentment of others for the choices we make.
Accepting projects based on other people’s values and priorities creates resentment. We act as if they “made” us do something. This resentment is compounded if we think that they are not grateful for our “sacrifice”.
When you do things because they are in line with your purpose and values, you’re not disturbed by the outcome.
If the outcome is different than you expected, or if others don’t appreciate it, you still believe it’s valuable. It’s always nice to have your work valued and appreciated. But when you work on things that you value, it is already valued and appreciated!
We do our best work when we are focusing on projects and activities in line with our core values and life purpose. This is how we get in the flow. In flow, we are fully engrossed in a activity that we find intrinsically meaningful. As such, we are willing to go the extra mile to achieve optimal results.
Also, we gain energy when we work on activities in line with our purpose. This energy enables us to remain engaged in action. It also provides us with creative insight that isn’t available to people with more peripheral interest.
Have you found that when others tire and shut down, you can sustain your engagement? Are you able to see possibilities and opportunities more clearly than others? This resilience and problem solving ability comes from your sincere passion and curiosity. It is easy to do your best at things in line with your purpose. Your passion gives you the curiosity, insight, and motivation needed to excel.
Reflecting upon how you feel after an activity is an indicator of its relationship to your purpose and values. If you feel physically tired but emotionally energized, you are likely doing something in line with your purpose. If you feel drained and depleted, you’re probably not working within your purpose.
While the work may not be easy; it is easy to excel at activities in line with your purpose.
You owe it to yourself, and others, to only accept projects that bring out your best. This is where you can make your greatest contribution.
You understand why it’s critical to say no on a regular basis. Now let’s consider how you are going to build that habit into your life. Having “yes” as our default position has become a habit for many of us. That bad habit is not going to change without intentional intervention.
I’ve listed two proven strategies to help you address your habitual yes. These techniques will shift your default response from “yes ” to “no to anything that is not in line with my purpose and core values”.
Fasting means to refrain from food or activities for a specific period of time. The purpose of the fast is break existing habits. It is also intended to promote reflection and introspection.
Taking a yes fast means that you will say “no” to all requests of you for a specific period of time. That period may be a month or a year. I suggest at least a month so that you can say “no” long enough for it to become your new default. It will also give you enough time to observe the consequences of saying no. This will help you become more comfortable with the new habit.
At first saying no may feel very uncomfortable and others may exert even more pressure on you. This is especially true if you’ve developed a habit for saying yes. But, staying the course will allow you to observe that others’ can adjust and the world will go on. Although you may believe (or people may suggest to you) that you are the only one who can do this activity.
Saying no allows you to see that other people really can step up and do the activity. Or if the activity doesn’t occur, perhaps that’s fine as well. Perhaps that was not the best way to meet the need/goal anyway.
This will be a scary experience in the beginning.
Developing a habit of saying no requires both faith and courage.
Faith to believe that you really are meant to do those things in line with your life purpose and core values. Courage to protect the space to do that. Your faith and courage will reward you with increased time and energy. This reclaimed time and energy can be invested developing yourself and your purpose.
If the thought of saying no to absolutely everything is too scary for you, set a narrow parameter. Your parameter should require you to say no to 90% of new requests but allows a small fraction to still get a yes.
After my early years of teaching, I realized I needed to change from my default yes. But, I felt unprepared to go 100% cold turkey no. After discussing this with my trusted friends and mentors, I decided to say no for an entire year to any request that would take more than two hours of my time. The two-hour time limit included the time to prepare and participate in the activity. This was a very difficult thing for me to do. I called my closest friends on a weekly basis with all the reasons why I should make exceptions to my rule. Thankfully, I have great friends who continued to remind me of my commitment and why it was important.
With the help of my support team, I was able to stay the course. By the end of the year, my default was no longer “yes”. I was able to experience the value added to my life of saying no to the many “good, but not purpose-driven” requests made of my time.
Another option to help you move from a default of yes is to establish a No Committee. The No Committee takes the stress away from you of deciding whether to say no.
You select close friends and family members that know you, your work, and your life well. You then explain to them your intention of saying no to non-purpose driven activities. Clearly articulate to the No Committee your life purpose and core values. This will become their guide for all their decisions. Inform them that you commit to abiding by the decisions of the committee.
Because the committee is made up of people who love you (but are not you) they can evaluate the request with emotional distance and clarity. They agree to compare the request to your established priorities and core values. Then make their decision based whether the request is line with your purpose.
The No Committee must have an odd number so that there is never a tie. The committee must agree to respond with a quick turn-around to any request that you pass along to them. I’ve served on a No Committee for years. I have found it a useful and effective way to support my loved ones in achieving more balance in life and work.
Your balanced life can begin today! It requires you to prioritize activities related to your purpose and core values. Say no to everything else! You’ll be amazed at how you can increase your impact on the world and your own happiness. If you’d like other resources to help you better manage your time and balance your energy, check out my YouTube videos on time management and emotion management.
Share you thoughts on effective strategies to create balance in your life. Let’s keep the wisdom flowing! Comment below.
“Every woman that finally figured out her worth, has picked up her suitcases of pride and boarded a flight to freedom, which landed in the valley of change.”
― Shannon L. Alder
When you understand your value and power, you develop boundaries to honor yourself and protect your freedom. Emotional boundaries in relationships aren’t a set of legalistic rules that constrain our freedom. Boundaries are the guardrails that protect our happiness and the security of our relationships.
If you are feeling emotionally exhausted, frustrated, or resentful, chances are you need to strengthen your boundaries. Many people are still unclear about what it means to establish boundaries. They’re also unsure about why boundaries are important and how to do it properly. As you read on you will learn the answers to these questions. You will also gain a quick, easy method for setting healthy emotional boundaries. Protecting your boundaries will increase your level of happiness and satisfaction in your relationships.
Emotional boundaries are the psychological acceptance of the uniqueness, dignity, and freedom of each individual. Boundaries are what separate us from another person. We recognize that while we may love and strongly identify with another person, we are not the same. Thus, we do not have to feel or act the same.
Through establishing boundaries, we give ourselves and other people the freedom to be unique. People without emotional boundaries need conformity as a demonstration of love. These people often expect you to take responsibility for their emotional state and “fix” their problems. Neither of these interpretations of reality are true or possible. No two people can be exactly the same no matter how much they love each other. No person can fix the emotional state or manage the life of another. Lack of boundaries create unhealthy expectations and behaviors. These unreasonable expectations drain the life energy out of people and their relationships.
Women are particularly vulnerable to ignoring emotional boundaries. We are socialized to think of our identity as primarily determined by our relationships. There’s nothing wrong with valuing relationships. But, this value can easily morph into unhealthy thinking such as:
“I’m nothing without this relationship”
“I need to do all that I can to remain in this relationship. Even if it includes sacrificing my freedom, dignity and value.”
A subtler expression of unhealthy boundaries is the thought that:
“My biggest contribution to the world is that accomplishments of my child or partner. “
Such distorted thinking places tremendous pressure on your child or partner. You expect them to live out your dreams of success and accomplishment. It also robs them of the freedom to spend their time and energy discovering and living out their own life dreams.
Accepting responsibility for your emotions and behavior without taking responsibility for the feelings and actions of others is a healthy emotional boundary. Emotional boundaries also mean giving others the freedom to not like your feelings or choices. Boundaries are a core component of emotional intelligence. As such, they contribute to our health and happiness.
If you can not tolerate other’s disapproval of your feelings or choices or if you can not tolerate others possessing emotions and actions with which you disagree, you are in desperate need of setting emotional boundaries. The decision to not set healthy emotional boundaries damages you and your relationships.
People without emotional boundaries have a distorted view of their own power. They either understand themselves as completely powerless or all powerful.
People who understand themselves as powerless, play the victim role in their relationships. They rely on others to manage their life and emotions. This is because they consider themselves incapable of making their own dreams come true. Victims see the relationship as the source of their security and happiness. Thus, they seek to maintain the relationship and the other person’s favor at all cost. This promotes people pleasing behavior for the victim.
People pleasing sets unrealistic expectations that the victim will (or should) always agree with the martyr. Because the victim does not feel comfortable saying no, s/he often agrees to actions that are personally undesirable. Yet, the victim often does not follow through, or execute well. This inconsistency makes the victim appear even more helpless. The inconsistency is actually the victim’s ineffectual way of acting on his/her own desires.
These “victims” often associate themselves with “martyrs”. Martyrs have an over-inflated view of their own power. Martyrs take on the responsibility of managing their own life as well as the lives of the victim. They accept responsibility for the other person’s emotions and work diligently to “fix” the other person’s life. The martyr denies the victim the freedom to choose and feel differently. This seems appropriate to the martyr because the victim is “clearly” incapable of managing life. That’s why the victim needs to trust the martyr’s judgment over his/her own. The martyr is left feeling overwhelmed with the responsibility of managing two people’s lives. S/he is also frustrated that the victim doesn’t just “go along” with the plan.
Both martyrs and victims eventually feel frustrated and resentful of the other person. This codependency prolongs the unhealthy relationship dynamic. It also promotes physical and psychological dis-ease in both parties.
The key to establishing healthy emotional boundaries is to embrace your own power. This is true for setting boundaries in leadership, marriage, parenting, and friendships.
People pleasing is giving away your own power. Playing the role of a martyr is accepting responsibility beyond the constraints of your personal power. As you embrace your personal power, you learn how to say no to things that do not honor you and your life purpose . You also learn the importance of saying yes to those that do.
There are only two things you need to do to establish healthy boundaries. First create the boundary. Second, give others the freedom not to like them. Many people give up their power out of fear or a misunderstanding of love. But, as you follow the steps below, you reclaim your power by setting healthy boundaries.
Real power comes from focusing on what’s important to you. To exercise control over your life, you must first see yourself as worthy. You need to see your uniqueness as something to be treasured. This perspective helps you to see the value of protecting your difference in the face of social pressures for conformity.
As you get clear on your unique contribution, your motivation for protecting that purpose increases. You recognize that this gift has been invested in you and needs to be advanced by you. Power is acknowledging what you have to offer to the world and behaving in a way that demonstrates your faith in yourself and your gifts. Learn to align your life 100% with what’s important to you.Embrace your ability to act
Real power is a process, not a destination. No one is completely helpless. There is always something that you can do for yourself. When you act in your own best interest, you feel and are powerful.
Power as a destination is understanding power as a finite object. It is something that you have and that can be taken from you. Power as a noun refers to differential amounts of power. Someone may have more or less power than you.
Yet, power as a process describes your capacity to act. Taken from the word Anglo-Norman French word “poeir” and the Latin word “posse”, power means “to be able”. This version of power is something that everyone has and can not be taken away. As you change your understanding of power, you immediately see that you always have the capacity to do something.
Whatever the situation, you can put your gifts into action toward accomplishing your goal. This is your power. As you act in your best interests, you increase your capacity to do so in the future. As long as you are alive, your power is there for you to use.
No one else has your gifts or unique combination of experiences. You show your power by embracing your gifts and sharing them with others. You have a role to play in this world that only you with your unique gifts and experiences can play. To downplay your power is to reject your gifts and your purpose in the world. Living out your purpose in the world means that you are willing to show up and embrace your unique contribution. No one else can take your place. If you don’t do it for you, it won’t be done.
The real measure of power is your ability to choose for yourself what’s important to you and ignore the rest. Owning and reclaiming your power means using your power to support your dreams, needs and wants.
Boundaries breathe life into broken relationships. Reclaim your power and individuality. Acknowledge and respect the power of others. Choosing to establish and maintain your boundaries will increase your happiness and relationship satisfaction.
Comment below your thoughts about boundaries, personal power, and healthy relationships. What shifts occur within you when you see power as the process of living into your gifts rather than a destination?
Are you looking to resolve relationship conflict and improve the quality of your relationship? Does it take longer than it should to get a task accomplished because the people you are working with don’t trust your intentions? Do you long to experience intimacy and connection in your current relationships? Practicing courageous conversations can address all these relationship problems allowing you to create the intimacy, trust, and cooperation necessary for quality relationships.
Relationships are an important determinate of the quality of our lives. The quality of our relationships predicts our health and mortality. The quality of our relationships with our co-workers determines our productivity and effectiveness. Thus, if we want to improve our health, career, and quality of life, we can begin by improving our relationships.
I’d like to share with you a secret to immediately improving all relationships in your life. You can use this technique to improve any relationship that is important to you. Your relationship with your children. Your romantic partner. Colleagues and business associates. Family and friends. Better yet, you can start this today and it’s totally free. Ready?
The best way to improve your relationship is to improve the quality of your conversations.
The quality of your conversations determine the quality of your relationship. Superficial and conflict-laden relationships are filled with small talk and one-sided conversations. There is little revealing and sharing of the true self because the person does not feel it is safe to do so. Cooperative relationships are built on trust and need openness and a willingness to truly see the other person. Emotional intelligence, vulnerability, and courage are necessary for effective communication. This is what I call a “courageous conversation”.
Courageous conversations build trust, cooperation, and intimacy within our relationships. Most people in our culture do not practice courageous conversations. But, this communication style is seen among great leaders and people who have high quality relationships. I’ve listed below the structure of a courageous conversation to help you practice this skill in your relationships.
Courageous conversations consist of five distinct parts. 4/5 of a courageous conversation involves listening to yourself and the other person. Only 1/5 of the conversation is actually about speaking. Too often we get this ratio backwards and focus more on speaking than listening. To have a conversation that really builds trust, intimacy, and cooperation, the primary focus needs to be listening.
A courageous conversation first begins with listening to yourself. What are the stories you believe about yourself, the other person, and the situation? Stories are our unique way of understanding the world around us and they included our assumptions, attitudes, biases, and beliefs. The stories we already believe about ourselves and the situation limit the possible outcomes. For example, believing that the other person is unreasonable and irrational, leads us to be defensive. That defensive posture closes off any possibility of cooperation and mutual benefit.
Recognizing the stories that we already hold allows us to shape them to our benefit. We can challenge the stories that are not serving us. We can also develop better stories that will create the opportunities for trust and connection that we seek.
Our emotions are a direct result of our thoughts. Thus, as we reshape our stories to be more in line with our relationship goals, our emotions will follow. But, it takes time to fully internalize our new stories. Meanwhile, our emotions can quickly become activated within the conversation.
Focus on becoming aware of your emotional state. Making sure that negative emotions do not hijack your goals for courageous conversations. Take responsibility for your feelings. Connect with your highest intention. Practice courage.
Recognize that you alone are responsible for your feelings. You choose how to respond to those feelings. The other person does not “make” you angry or happy. That is your choice.
Connecting with your highest intention focuses you on your goal of building trust. It prevents you from falling into a tit for tat banter. This is particularly important when you are feeling hurt, angry, and frustrated. At these times, ask yourself “What is the highest intention I have for this conversation, this relationship, this person?” Let that highest intention guide your behavior and not your temporary emotions.
Finally, managing your emotions requires practicing courage. We often avoid challenging conversations out of fear. Fear of rejection, fear of losing the person, fear that they will no longer think highly of us. You can not let fear determine your conversations, your relationships, or your life. Courage is action in the presence of your fear. You must speak up and engage in the conversation, even when you’re afraid to do so.
Listening is a powerful form of communication . As you listen, practice listening for the other person’s stories. What are their beliefs, assumptions, attitudes? Listening for the other person’s stories helps you better understand their feelings. It will also help you better predict how they might respond to your thoughts or requests.
Listening well also helps the other person to feel better. We all want to be heard and having someone truly listen to us is a great affirmation of our dignity and value.
You must become aware of your own emotions and learn how to manage them before you can effectively deal with the emotions of others. Managing your emotions and deep listening, equips you to effectively respond to the other person’s emotions. Remember to always be respectful, trustworthy, and curious in your response.
By being respectful, you affirm and protect the dignity of the other person. There is nothing that begins or hardens a conflict more than being disrespected.
Allow the person to share opinions that you don’t agree with or like. This demonstrates trustworthiness and openness. This communicates that you value the other person, their ideas and perspective.
Finally, responding to the other person’s emotions requires that you get curious. If someone is furious, get curious. What’s triggered their pain? What value was violated? Anger is a powerful signal of pain resulting from a violation of personal values. We are often so fixated on the anger that we forget to get curious about what’s generating the response.
The meaning of communication is not defined by what you are saying, but rather by what is being heard. Insights about that person’s stories help you to organize your communication. You can now frame your thoughts, questions, and request in a way that can be heard by that person.
In reflecting on how the person will listen, consider their stories and values. How can you connect your comments to their beliefs and values?
Also reflect on your responsibility in creating the current situation. You are not a helpless victim. Taking responsibility for your role creates new possibilities for the future. It also helps you to resist your ego’s desire to prove your righteousness or their wrongness.
Finally, reflect on your highest intention for that person, your relationship, and this conversation. Let that intention guide your thoughts, words, and responses. It may be helpful to write down key points in advance or practice the conversation.
Identify a specific person with whom you’d like to have a courageous conversation. Identify the goal of this conversation. This goal becomes your intention. Continually return to your intention throughout the conversation.
In the beginning, focus your intentions on understanding the other person. Don’t start with a goal of trying to tell them something or get them to do something for you. This will help to distinguish this conversation from the many others before. Previous conversations, when your focus has been on getting your point across, have alienated the other person. This is what has created the conflict and lack of trust you are experiencing now. Setting your intention to understand, lays the groundwork for a different relationship dynamic.
Consider the best time and place to have your courageous conversation. Do not start these conversations when you or the other person is feeling tired, hungry, or pressed for time. If possible, invite the other person for a walk.
Walking will help lower any tension associated with the conversation. It will also give you two a common visual perspective. Many times women assume that the best way to have a conversation is staring into each other’s eyes. But, an unbroken gaze is quite anxiety producing and intimidating. Consider how primates stare down each other to determine who is the alpha male. Walking provides a shared perspective. Each party has the freedom to start and stop eye contact as needed. You become a team rather than opponents.
Before you begin the courageous conversation, take time to reflect on your stories. Consider your stories about communication in general and about this person in particular. What are your assumptions, attitudes, and potential biases? Challenge the validity of your stories. Reflect on whether they are serving you. If needed, create new stories that are more helpful in promoting courageous conversations.
Consider what emotions may emerge for you in this courageous conversation. Identify the emotions and whether it will serve your intention. Consider ways to manage emotions that are inconsistent with your intention. How can you mitigate these negative emotions? How can you prevent them from subverting your intention in this conversation.
Now you have your strategy for implementing your courageous conversation. You have a plan for managing your emotions. You are ready to begin your courageous conversation. Remember to focus on your intention above all else.
Imagining yourself as a writer may help you in seeking to understand the other person’s story. Imagine you want to be able to represent this person accurately in a biography. What is his/her motivations? Points of pain or struggle? What is his/her desire in this current moment? Remember that the most important answers are rarely spoken so pay attention to body language and what is not said.
Equipped with this knowledge, you are now able to speak to their listening. You can communicate to them that you understand and support them and their goal. This is the most important point for you to communicate. If you are not in support of their most immediate goal, try to find a deeper goal that you can support.
If you can not support your teenager’s desire to spend all day playing video games, support the function that those games serve for the teen. Say something like,
“Friends are an important part of our lives. I understand that these people you meet online are valuable friends to you. I support your motivation to get and maintain quality friendships.”
This allows you to negotiate the strategy of developing friendships. You can now have that conversation without the conflict of your teen feeling misunderstood. Keep your intentions at the forefront of your consciousness.
When you take the time to practice having courageous conversations, great things happen. Remember, the quality of the conversations determine the quality of your relationships. Upgrade your conversations and your relationships today!
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