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Looking Back and Forward

Acclaimed Canadian Indigenous writer Richard Wagamese wrote “we are all connected, we all belong to each other”.

I took these words to heart in 2018. They inspired a series of paintings I completed entitled “Namwayut – We Are All One” and they sparked a decision to commence training in Therapeutic Horticulture.

The article  Indigenous Knowledge Is The Solution To Canada’s Health Inequities” gave me much to think about including the value of traditional Indigenous knowledge applied to health and well-being today. In 2019, I’m looking forward to increasing my knowledge of traditional and natural healing options.

Stanley Park Tree

10 Mindfulness-Based Suggestions for Reducing Stress at Work

less-stress

We all experience stress. Stress is a normal part of daily life including work. Stress at work can be positive like having a deadline that motivates you to complete a task or project or it can be negative like having to cope with long term work overload or under-load. Exposure to excessive negative stress can be harmful and trigger physical and mental health problems. So it’s in your best interest to maintain an awareness of signs you’re experiencing distress and be ready to address them before they become problematic. Here are 10 mindfulness-based suggestions you can do before, during and after work to help keep your stress manageable while building stress hardiness and resilience.

1.      Your first stressor of the day might be the ring of your alarm clock signaling to you it’s time to get up and get the day going. After you turn it off, take a few extra quiet moments for yourself to affirm your gratitude for the day ahead. Acknowledge that YOU ARE CHOOSING to go to work today. Being able to choose how you view your work can go a long way in determining how stressful work turns out being.

2.      Be mindful of as much of your process preparing to go to work as you can. I find this helps me to enter a positive head-space before I arrive at work. Try starting your day with 15 – 30 minutes of mindfulness-based activity like mindful movement/yoga to help you become aware of your body and breathing. As I leave my home in the morning, I’m aware of my walking, standing and waiting at the bus stop, riding and getting off the bus, and finally the walk into work. As I’m walking into my work-space for the day, I’m aware that I’m crossing a different threshold.

If you drive into work, try driving into work without the radio on. All that information about traffic, news headlines and yesterday’s sports scores may be informative but it can also be distracting and could be triggering your stress response without you even knowing. When you arrive at your parking spot for work, take a few extra minutes for yourself again to simply breathe deeply before you get out of the car and head into work.

3.      Try smiling at people as you walk into work. I once worked with a manager who did this all the time. No matter what was going on in her life or in the office, she made it a priority every morning to stop by and check in with each and every person who worked there and greet them with a smiling face. This simple gesture had such a positive impact on me and on many occasions, helped to lift my mood into a more positive one.

4.      While at work, take frequent mini-breaks to monitor how your body is feeling. Try mini-meditations of one minute duration to tune into your breathing on a regular basis throughout the day. Self-Care moments like these can help maintain focus and replenish your energy throughout the day.

5.      The ability to competently multitask (or “task switch”) may be a required skill for work these days but it can also create a lot of stress. Research supports it actually takes more time to get tasks completed if you switch between them than if you do them one at a time. Instead, reduce stress by focusing on doing just one thing at a time and giving it the full attention it deserves.

6.      Biophilia is defined as the inherent human inclination to affiliate with nature and it doesn’t require you making a special trip out into the wilderness. An urban forest close to where you work will do just fine. Make it a goal to get out for a daily walk in nature as part of your break at lunch. Set out to really pay attention to the environment around you using all your senses. Pause a moment to touch the bark of a tree, smell a flower, listen to the sound of wind moving through foliage, follow with your eyes a bird in flight or try foraging for an indigenous berry or two along your way. Slow down and just be for a while in nature.

7.      Consider “greening” your work-space with a plant(s). Evidence supports that plants in a work-space are associated with a decline in employee health problems like fatigue, headaches and complaints about dry hands and sore throats. People and plants share a rhythm of life; they both evolve, change, respond to nurture, live and die. Plants are non-judgmental, non-threatening and non-discriminating and in our unpredictable and ever changing hi-tech world, plants have a fixed cycle we can rely on.

8.      Think about how you can be more sensitive to the needs of your fellow workers and how you might help others at work. Communication breakdowns are often cited as a key reason for stress in the workplace. Improve your own listening skills by practicing mindful listening. Try to maintain focus during conversations with colleagues and wait for the other person to completely finish talking before you begin your response to them. Be aware of your tone and body language too when communicating with others.

9.      At the end of your work day review what you have accomplished and make a list of things you want to do for the next day. Prioritize what’s most important so that when you come back in the next day you’re starting from a place of awareness and clear direction of what you want to accomplish.

10.  As you are leaving work, make a conscious effort to let go the events of your work day and be aware that you are now entering into a different world “coming home”. As soon as you can when you get home, change out of your work clothes and into your home clothes. Take 5 minutes to just be quiet with yourself before you do anything else.

So there you have it; ten simple mindfulness-based suggestions to help make your work day a more healthy, positive and mindful experience.

Healing After Loss

After a loss, it’s natural to feel sad. When it’s a significant loss, sadness can become grief.

What makes them different? Sadness is brief, lasting minutes, a few hours, or maybe a few days and though it’s unpleasant, it typically doesn’t interfere with your regular functioning. Grief is a much more intense and potentially debilitating experience. It too is a normal emotional reaction after a major loss, such as the death of a loved one, the breakup of a relationship, loss of health or employment. Have you heard the expression what is traumatic is “in the eye of the beholder”?  I believe that experiencing a loss is much the same.

So far in my own life I have experienced multiple losses including the deaths of family members, friends and pets, relationships and career paths ending, and having to give up sports I once loved doing because of osteoarthritis in my spine. No one is exempt from experiencing loss.

For the person grieving, grief can be extremely painful. It can have a major disruptive effect in their life and can include prolonged periods of sadness, loneliness, and mourning, which can last anywhere from a few weeks, months to several years. Mourning is the outward expression of grief.  On occasion, grief can produce conflicting feelings caused by the end of (or change) in a familiar pattern of behavior. My mother was a person with Schizophrenia. In her 70’s she was also diagnosed with Dementia. She lived until she was 88 with the illnesses. When she died, I experienced grief over her loss but I was also relieved her suffering was finally over and that my responsibility to care for her had finally ended as well.  I believe that grief repressed can lead to chronic emotional, physical and even spiritual problems. Giving ourselves time to heal also means giving ourselves permission to mourn.

I don’t believe there is any one universally correct way to mourn a loss. Each person is different, and though we may share a common type of loss, how it’s experienced is unique for each person. I think it’s important to move through a loss in a healthy and safe manner so you can return to living what’s left of your life. Dr. Alan Wolfelt talks about the six needs of mourning in his inspirational healing series of books. Whenever I experience a loss now (whether it be simple or complex) I remind myself of the six needs of mourning. I refer to them as a road map for healing. They are presented here in no particular order of importance or in what order they should occur. I think of them as fluid and flexible and I don’t put a time frame on how long any of them should last.

Need #1: Acknowledge the reality of a loss. Be gentle with yourself but confront the difficult reality that something has now ended. The full reality of the loss may occur over weeks and months. Acknowledge the reality of the loss with your head. You may want to push away the reality and defer dealing with it. This is normal. It’s okay to go slow. Take your time if you want. There are no rewards for speed. Tell someone about your loss. Talking about it will help you work on this important need. In 2015 I decided to voluntarily leave my job as a Case Manager. I was psychologically and physically burned-out yet still performing optimally in the job. It was a very scary time for me not knowing what was ahead for me and not having a plan. I did however accept that doing that type of work was over for me. Acknowledging that sooner than later helped propel me forward to exploring what next I wanted to do.

Need #2: Embrace the pain that goes with loss. You have the right to experience your own unique grief and the right to feel a complexity of emotions.  It’s easier to avoid, repress or push away the pain of grief than to confront it. You may try to numb the pain by using substances. In the long run this is not a sensible strategy because it can open the door to other problems like becoming dependent on the substance. Additionally, it just delays the inevitable of having to process the loss and come to terms with it. Through embracing your grief, you can learn to reconcile yourself to it. Try slowly embracing the pain by dedicating time to mindfully thinking about and feeling the loss. When pain is resisted, it intensifies. In Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, people with chronic pain are taught not to tighten around the pain but to relax and allow the pain to be present.

Need #3: Remember who/what has been lost. You have the right to treasure your memories. When someone loved dies, they live on in us through memory. To heal, you need to actively remember who/what was lost and celebrate the positives you experienced while you were connected. It has been helpful for me to continue displaying photos of my parents and my older sister who died. They continue to live with me in my memories of them. Try brainstorming a list of positive characteristics or memories about someone/something you have lost.

Need #4: Develop a new self-identity. An important path to take towards healing is re-anchoring yourself and reconstructing your self-identity without who/what has been lost. Perhaps you will ultimately discover some positive changes in your own self-identity. When my mother died, I started journaling to help me process my thoughts and feelings. I have found a benefit of journaling is it allows me to revisit and reflect upon what it was that I lost. One journal entry I wrote shortly after my mother’s death still carries a lot of learning for me.

“I used to be a son.  Now that both my parents and a sister have died, I am more aware of how important my remaining family is to me. This makes me feel more connected to my two surviving sisters and niece and motivates me towards becoming a more caring and less judgmental person”.

About a year after my mother’s death, I started down the career path I am now fully immersed in as a Mental Health Instructor. I embraced the challenge of learning to become more non-judgmental and accepting of myself, others and whatever is unfolding in my life at any given time. It hasn’t been easy but I’m still 100% engaged in developing these skills in myself.

Need #5: Search for meaning. I think it’s natural to question the meaning and purpose of a loss like:

  • “How could this have happened?”
  • “Why did this happen?”
  • “Why me?”
  • “How can I go on?”

Try writing down a list of your own “why” questions that have surfaced for you since your loss. Then try reaching out to people who can provide a safe, supportive and non-judgmental atmosphere for you to begin exploring your questions.

Need #6: Receive ongoing support from others. When we are grieving, we need the love and understanding of others if we are to heal. One of the foundations of grief is that each and every one of us as humans are connected by loss. Remain connected with people and places that provide you with feelings of safety and acceptance. For me, this also means giving myself permission to avoid certain places or people while I am healing. I just try to follow my instincts. You have the right to talk about your grief. Identify three people you can turn to anytime you need a friend. Tell them you mainly need to spend time with them and to be able to talk to them freely. A vital part of healing in grief is often telling your story over and over again.

Additionally, good Self-Care is nurturing and necessary for anyone who has experienced a loss. Taking good care of yourself is not selfish or self-indulgent. To be self-nurturing is having the courage to pay attention to your needs. When we recognize that Self-Care begins with ourselves, we no longer think of those around us as being totally responsible for our well-being. Take good care of yourself. Try very hard to eat well, exercise, remain hydrated and get adequate rest. Taking care of yourself is one way for you to promote your own healing and to begin embracing the life ahead of you.

If ever you’re feeling you won’t make it through the next few weeks or months, talk to someone immediately about your feelings of panic and despair. Talk to a health professional like your family doctor or call, text or chat with a 24/7 crisis line service.

Heart of the Day 2018You will recognize you are healing from your grief over a loss when again you have the capacity to enjoy life and plan for the future. Your eating and sleeping habits will have stabilized and you will nurture your relationships with others again allowing yourself to be loved and to love others.

You have the right to fully experience your grief and heal. Grief is a journey, not a destination. Allow yourself time to heal whatever your loss may be.

The Art of Mindfulness

I realize that I have been practicing Mindfulness a lot longer than I thought through my art. I was first drawn to art during high school. In high school I had problems with social anxiety and was bullied. Some days I feared so much for my safety, I would leave school at lunch and not come back. I would take my time making the 45 minute walk back home and then draw in my bedroom for the rest of the afternoon. There I felt safe from negative judgment. I didn’t graduate from high school my first attempt but I do remember fondly Mrs. Adams, my Art teacher from high school. She was different from the rest of the teachers. She was outspoken, creative, and eccentric. In her class I felt safe, engaged and was able to express myself in a way that my social anxiety didn’t hold me back.

Jump ahead 40 years later and I am still using art as a strategy for maintaining my mental health. I have discovered that creating art gives me an opportunity to practice Mindfulness too. I credit my daily commitment to Mindfulness for helping me to reduce stress and keep anxiety in check. I never thought of the time I spent creating art as also another opportunity to practice Mindfulness but it really is. Here’s how.

When I’m creating art, I am focused in the present moment. I am free of the past and not worrying about the future. Instead, I am focused on the connection between the tool I’m holding in my hands and the art surface it’s in connection with. We work together in the moment to create. For me, this is the epitome of creating art.

Creating art is an exercise in being non-judgmental. Being non-judgmental is a core value of Mindfulness; accepting and being with what is present and experienced in the moment without judgement. This hasn’t been easy for me and why I have taken on the challenge to continue developing this skill in myself. It’s very challenging for me to accept without judgement the result of my creative process especially when I have my initial vision for a piece to compare it to. If my mind is left unchecked, I instinctively want to judge the result as good or bad or somewhere in between on the spectrum.  Mindfulness has taught me to notice my disdain or affection for finished pieces and to work towards accepting the finished product always first and foremost as a miracle of the creative process.

This has fostered in me another core value of Mindfulness, the beginner’s mind. Why did that application technique produce results I like? What made the paint pool like that or produce that combination of colors? How does different environmental lighting affect how the piece is experienced after? What is it specifically that makes me feel more or less attracted to a finished piece? Curiosity is healthy exercise for the mind and helps to give us back control over our thoughts.

Currently I’m working on a series of canvases that conceptually started out as one single piece.  The series is inspired by “Namwayut” with the background being the “we are all one” unifying element. There will be 12 stand-alone pieces by the time I finish. I am a bit curious to see how they come together to form the single larger piece. For now though, it’s about being in the moment and accepting each individual piece with open arms and affection from conception to finish. I love that the challenge before me is to put my trust in the creative process and letting go to what will be will be. Somehow, this makes the entire creative process very calming and restorative for me.

Occasionally, I do notice myself becoming a little impatient with myself for not spending more time trying to finish the series sooner than later but then I remind myself again what Mindfulness is all about. It’s about patience, non-striving and just being content to linger in the present moment. I am learning to savor the time a concept for a piece spends percolating in my head. This often inspires me to go out and really study the subject matter for a piece out in its natural environment like standing under the cherry blossoms and studying every detail of them. Taking those precious extra moments, I’m able to notice things I never would have noticed before which translates into a deeper insight for the creative process later. And that’s the Art of Mindfulness. Here are 3 pieces from the series so far.

What Makes a Great Coach?

I’ve been coaching in one capacity or another since 1982 and recently have been thinking about what are the ingredients that go into making a great coach.  I came to the conclusion that many things do. What Makes a Great Coach

My first experience with coaching began in sports when I was just 20 years old with a small swimming club in Ottawa. It was comprised of about 60 swimmers between the ages of 6 to 18 ranging in skill level between novice and highly competitive level swimmers. Initially I was too young to have full coaching responsibility so I was assigned a mentor. Eventually I gained the confidence of the parents and was given the title of Head Coach. Before I moved on from that role as Head Coach for the swim club, our club almost won divisional provincial championships, missing the title by just a handful of points!

I took a 10 year break from coaching sports until 2007, when I decided to try my hand at it again as a coach for an adult slow-pitch softball team. My softball team that year won both their division and year end league playoffs. I have continued to coach other teams within the same league since. In 2010, my coaching career took a very different turn when I began coaching people interested in starting their own businesses. I had operated a number of businesses myself up to that point and it seemed like a natural next step considering my background in coaching. In 2013, I broadened the scope of my coaching to include anyone in the midst of any career transition.  In 2016, I began instructing people on how to help others experiencing a mental health problem and/or crisis. My coaching skills have come in handy for this role too like when I instruct participants on how to coach others through a panic attack.

It’s remained important to me to formalize my learning and credentials as a coach throughout my career. I am a certified sports coach with the Coaching Association of Canada; as a career coach, I’m certified with the BCCDA; and to support coaching on mental health matters, I’m a certified Mental Health First Aid Canada Instructor.

Here are some of the ingredients I think that great coaches have in common.

  • Great coaches understand that each person is unique and different in ability, attitude, personality, responsibility, sensitivity and how they handle criticism and adversity. They take the time to get to know each person’s individual differences and styles. They are skilled at assessing others and have a keen eye for identifying natural talents/strengths and potential weaknesses using a variety of tools like standardized rating scales and questionnaires. Once the coach has completed an initial assessment, they have a reference point to create a collaborative and realistic plan with the person they are coaching.
  • Great coaches tailor how they treat the other person. They know that while one person may respond well to one approach, the same approach may be ineffective for another. Some coaches are fans of “tough love” while others are more lenient, but what all great coaches have in common is respect for the individual(s) he/she is coaching. Disrespect and bitterness have no place in an effective coaching relationship, and only creates further conflict.
  • Great coaches can inspire others to believe in themselves. They inspire others to do more than they think they can by reinforcing anytime a step in the right direction has been accomplished. The coach accomplishes this by expressing encouragement and optimism and building self-esteem up rather than undermining it. Great coaches do not use embarrassment & humiliation as teaching tools. They understand that focusing on a failure or short-coming is an aggressive assault on that individual that doesn’t build mental toughness or enhance performance but can tear down the person and severely undermine his/her self-esteem and create future performance problems.
  • Great coaches are great life teachers. They don’t just teach the skills, technique and strategy within the narrow confines of the specific application. Instead they look for opportunities where more important life lessons can be taught such as mastering resiliency, learning and rebounding from failures and setbacks, trusting teammates/colleagues, being prepared to sacrifice individual needs for the benefit of the group, emotionally dealing with winning and losing, good sportsmanship, fair play, honesty, integrity, etc.
  • Great coaches are mentally healthy. They regularly practice self-care for themselves. They do not feel diminished when who they are coaching fails nor do they feel that much better about themselves when they succeed. Their own self-esteem is not determined mainly by the success of others. They understand that coaching is first and foremost about empowering others and therefore they do not let success and/or failure solely define themselves as a person. Coaches who get into trouble with their mental health do so because they are drained, emotionally vulnerable, and feel threatened by a loss or failure.
  • Great coaches are great communicators understanding that great communication involves back and forth dialogue. Effective communication involves carefully listening to what the other person is saying. To do that the coach must first be quiet inside his/her own head so that he/she can fully listen. Unless you carefully listen when the other person is talking, you won’t have a clue as to what is really being said or how best to help.
  • Great coaches are continuously looking for a better approach to reach whoever they are coaching. When the person being coached struggles to learn something, great coaches approach it as a “teaching opportunity” and are flexible in their approach by changing how they are presenting the material to that person. If one approach doesn’t work, then they try another until they figure out the best way to reach that particular person.
  • Great coaches “walk the talk”. They know that what you say and how you act needs to be in alignment. They model the behaviors and attitudes that they want their clients to adopt. In my case, I make self-care a daily priority, operate my own business, and regularly network, and update my own resume and LinkedIn profile to be ready for the next great opportunity.
  • Great coaches are ready to start on time. They prepare for each session in advance by drafting a preliminary timetable, select appropriate drills/activities as training tools, make expectations clear at the beginning of the coaching session and allow enough time to adequately discuss issues and concerns. For the session to proceed smoothly, both the coach and the client must have a sense that the meeting has a distinct purpose and they must agree on what that purpose is. Without structure, a coaching session can turn into a casual meeting or conversation with no real substance or direction.
  • A great coach follows up on coaching sessions in a timely manner. Before the conclusion of each coaching session, it’s a good idea to go ahead and schedule the next one, and to stick to that commitment when the time comes around.
  • A great coach asks for a commitment to goals that have been agreed upon. Accountability is essential. To foster success, the coach provides the resources, training and necessary support. Support and assistance is essential because coaching doesn’t just end when the session ends. When the results do not turn out as expected, a great coach proactively helps to define alternative actions. Perhaps there was a misunderstanding previously, or it could be that the original goal was a mismatch for the person. A great coach is prepared to initiate a backup plan(s).

Since my first experience as a swimming coach, I estimate I have now coached more than 500 athletes and clients towards achieving some kind of athletic/career/life goal. Coaching has provided me with many opportunities to work with and learn from very diverse people and groups. It’s a key skill to develop for anyone interested in working in a leadership role. Through coaching I have been able to give back to the organizations that have supported me in the past. Above all else, great coaches are people oriented. They love working with others and helping them to become the best they can be. I look forward to coaching another 500 in whatever capacity I can be helpful.

Mindfulness Matters

There are many self-help options that a person can use to manage a mental health problem. I’m not suggesting to not seek professional medical and/or psychological help but just pointing out how complimentary self-help strategies can also prove to be successful while at the same time allowing the person to develop a sense of self-empowerment as they take charge of their own well-being. Mindfulness is one of them.

Mindfulness looks at everything with a sense of wonder like through the eyes of a child, and every moment is approached as if it were the first and the only moment of one’s lifetime.

Here are some guidelines I set for myself when I practice mindfulness:

  • Don’t expect anything. Just observe what happens.
  • Don’t strain or force anything.
  • Take my time. Don’t rush. It’s all about patience.
  • Don’t hold on to anything or reject anything. Let what comes come and then let it go.
  • Accept everything including the feelings I wish I didn’t have and any experiences I’m uncomfortable with.
  • Don’t shame myself for having flaws and failings. That’s just part of being human.
  • Be loving with myself. I may not be perfect, but I’m all I’ve got to work with.
  • Embrace my Inquiring Green (one of four Personality Dimensions temperament styles) by taking an inquiring approach to everything.
  • View my problems as challenges and negatives as opportunities to learn and to grow.

There are countless options to practice mindfulness, different styles and many books to guide a beginner. Two books I would recommend for any beginner are Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana and Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Mindfulness in Plain English

Wherever You Go There You Are

 

I have been practicing mindfulness faithfully now for more than 5 years and I credit it for helping to stabilize my anxiety, avoid burnout and manage physical challenges. Mindfulness has changed the quality of my life for the better.

Is it easy to learn? There is no learning, it’s just being. That’s not easy for me but with consistent practice, I’m noticing a lot of benefits as well.

Mindfulness is bare attention and follows a fluid process. It is noticing things exactly as they are, without judgement. When you notice your own lack of mindfulness, that noticing itself is a result of mindfulness.

The tiniest, most ordinary perception can be a stimulus to practice mindfulness: a glimpse of the moon, the cry of bird, the sound of the wind in the trees.

Three ways that I choose to practice mindfulness are:

  • simply noticing everyday occurrences as they unfold before me and as I experience them
  • paying close attention to my breath
  • loving friendliness

I take the opportunity to practice mindfulness when I choose to perform an everyday simple activity at very low speed – making an effort to pay full attention to every aspect of the act.

The next time you are sitting at a table drinking a glass of water try completely experiencing the act. View your posture as you are sitting. Really feel the glass within your grasp. Smell the subtle aroma of the water. Notice the intention to raise your arm within your mind, feel your arm as it rises, and feel the glass against your lips and the liquid pouring into your mouth. Taste the water, notice the temperature of the liquid, and then watch the rising of the intention to lower your arm. The entire process is extraordinary if you attend to it fully, paying detached attention to every sensation.

Breathing is a universal process. This is one of the reasons that breathing is usually chosen as a focus of meditation.

The first step in using breath as an object of meditation is to find it. Something that works for me is to try and notice the point where the air passes in and out of the nostrils. To find your point, take a quick deep breath and notice the point just inside the nose or on the upper lip where you experience the first sensation of the air changing direction from inhalation to exhalation. Always strive for the natural and spontaneous movement of the breath. Don’t regulate it or emphasize it in any way. Just let your breath move naturally as it wants to at its own rhythm.

Loving friendliness is part of a formal meditation practice that requires active mental participation in order to be effective. In other words you are consciously choosing to extend loving friendliness to yourself, everyone and everything else.  “I” can be substituted with “my friends”, “my relatives”, “all unfriendly persons”, “all living beings”…anyone or anything. It’s totally up to you.

Below is an example of a loving friendliness passage I express daily.

May my mind be filled with the thoughts of loving friendliness, compassion, appreciative joy and calmness.

May I be healthy.

May I be generous and gentle.

May I be happy and peaceful.

May my actions be kind and my words pleasing to others.

May my actions and words inspire friendly behavior and help me be free from fear, tension, anxiety, worry and restlessness.

The practice of loving friendliness can be done early morning after waking, before bedtime or anytime in between. I have read that it can help you sleep better and prevent nightmares. I prefer to practice it each morning before I go out into the world. Daily practice of loving friendliness has allowed me to experience many benefits. My mind is clearer, calmer and more appreciative of what the day ahead will unfold for me. I believe it has trained me to be friendlier and more open toward others, friend or not.

I love this story adapted from Bhante Gunaratana’s Mindfulness in Plain English. It really sums up for me the power of mindfulness and specifically the practice of loving kindness when used as a core guideline for our interactions with all living things.

When I first moved to where I live now there was a man down the road who appeared to be very unfriendly. I take a long walk most days, and, whenever I saw this man, I would wave to him. He would just frown at me and look away. Even so, I would always wave and think kindly of him, sending him loving friendliness. I was not fazed by his attitude. I never gave up on him. Whenever I saw him I waved. After about a year, his behavior changed. He stopped frowning. I felt wonderful. The practice of loving friendliness was beginning to bear fruit.

After another year, something miraculous happened as I was walking. He drove past me and lifted one finger off the steering wheel. Again, I thought, “Oh, this is wonderful! Loving friendliness is working.” And yet another year passed as, day after day I would wave to him and wish him well. The third year, he lifted two fingers in my direction. Then the next year, he lifted all four fingers off the wheel. More time passed, I was walking down the road as he turned into his driveway. He took his hand completely of the steering wheel, stuck it out the window, and waved back at me.

One day, not long after that, I saw this man parked on the side of one of our neighborhood’s roads. He was sitting in the driver’s seat listening to the radio. I went to him and we started talking. First we chatted just about the weather and then, little by little, his story unfolded. It turns out that, several years ago, he had been in a terrible accident and multiple bones in his body had been broken. When I first started seeing him on the road, he was only beginning to recover. It was not because he was a mean person that he did not wave back to me; he did not wave back because he could not move all his fingers. Had I given up on him, I would never have known how good this person is. Now we are friends. 

 Bhante Gunaratana

Where Do You Fall?

What’s the difference between Introversion and Extroversion? Is it possible to change from one to the other? These are two questions that regularly come up in my Personality Dimensions workshops.

Ambiverts

Extroversion and Introversion are two terms first coined by Carl Jung and are part of the foundation for personality theories. In my Personality Dimensions workshop, participants use a self-discovery tool to help them identify their preferred (dominant) Temperament Style, Temperament Blend (we are all plaid) and where they fall on the Introversion – Extroversion Spectrum. Identifying where you fall on the spectrum is an important aspect of the assessment because it can really affect how a person will project their Temperament Style and Temperament Blend. Three key differences between Extroverts and Introverts include where their focus is; how they choose to re energize; and their style of communication. There are others but these three are key.

Where is your focus?

An Extrovert’s focus is on the outside world. Their focus is upon other people, events, and situations happening outside of themselves. On the other hand, an Introvert’s focus originates from within, on their own feelings and thoughts about something.

How do you re-energize?

After a busy day of work, an Extrovert will more likely choose to re-energize by doing something that involves being around others. So on Friday night after a busy week, they’re more likely to be heading out to a busy restaurant that’s buzzing with energy and full of opportunities for social interaction. Contrast that with an Introvert who is more likely to choose some kind of solitary activity that provides them with peace and quiet to recharge their batteries. So on that same Friday night, they’re more likely to choose soaking in a warm bath followed by watching their favorite show on Netflix.

How do you communicate?

A third way the two differ is in communication styles. An Extrovert is quick to jump into a conversation and offer their opinion. They love the attention of being heard and are more likely to open up quickly to just about anyone. So at a staff meeting, they will be the first ones to speak up. Whereas an Introvert will take their time before speaking up. It’s not because they are shy or disinterested but because they need to process information and think about how they feel about something before sharing their opinion. So at the same staff meeting, they are more likely to appear reflective.

Each can be easily misunderstood and each can choose to make subtle differences in how they communicate to accommodate the other. So for example, at the office meeting the Extrovert can pause for a second and reflect giving the Introverts a chance to catch up. They could take the bold step and ask the Introverts in the room, “What do you think?” And for Introverts, on Friday night after that busy day of work, they could compromise by agreeing to venture out with their Extrovert companion to that busy restaurant but request a quiet table and take the lead initiating deep conversation over dinner.

In my experience as a Personality Dimensions Facilitator, very few people (if truly any) are at absolute ends of the spectrum. Most people fall somewhere in between with Extroverts becoming more reserved as they move closer to the middle and Introverts becoming more outgoing as they move closer to the middle. Ambiversion is where the two meet. Ambiverts are truly adaptable. They most likely have a preference for either Extroversion or Introversion but overtime they have adapted and come to the realization that there are many rewards to embracing the other side. Here’s a quick Ambiversion Assessment.

Here’s where my own story comes in. My preference is for Introversion and when I first completed an Introversion – Extroversion assessment many years ago, I assessed as a Reserved Introvert. My focus is definitely first on my own feelings and thoughts about something. I choose to re-energize usually by spending quiet time alone like taking a walk in the forest or along the beach and listening to the sounds of the forest or tide rolling in. And at the office meeting, I usually reflect first before responding so I don’t say something I’m embarrassed about later. All that said, I’ve made some big decisions over the last few years to adapt my ways so I can benefit from all the opportunities out there. I’ve come to realize that focusing all my attention within myself can get me into trouble by over analyzing things and falling into a trap of distorted thinking. I’m working on being more open minded, non-judgmental and shifting my focus to noticing what’s going on around me too instead of just within me and enjoying the increased awareness of others that goes along with that. I’m choosing to balance my solitary activities with more social activities like hanging out with the members of my softball team more regularly after a game and calling up a close friend to join me on that walk or bike ride instead of just going alone. And I’m trying to be more comfortable with speaking up earlier at meetings to share my ideas and opinions instead of waiting to be prompted.

Anyone can change. It starts with a conscious decision to know what changes you want to make, why you want to make them, how you’re going to go about making the changes, readiness to initiate change and then perseverance, patience and commitment to stick with it. You can do it.

I think Susan Cain sums it up for me best at the end of her TED talk: The Power of Introverts when she encourages us all to embrace speaking up but maybe we try for softly instead of loudly or not all.