What Do You Value?

This is a guest post written by Marilyn Edelson, MCC, CPCC, of OnTrack Coaching and Consulting, Inc, one of Boston’s leading coaches.

Every single last choice we make is based on our values. Whenever we decide between alternatives, we invariably choose the alternative what we value the most. Whether we acknowledge it or not, everything we do is a demonstration of what we consider most important at that moment.  So, knowing our values and organizing them in an order of priority is the starting point of personal strategic planning. It is only when we are clear about what we value, and in what order, that we can effectively organizing and plan our lives. Recently, in anticipating Hurricane/ tropical storm Irene, federal and state government entities all over the east coast had to choose between spending money during a time of fiscal scarcity and keeping people safe. They chose safety, no doubt with the memory of Katrina in mind. Of course, there was the inevitable media dissection afterwards but few – even the tea partyers—could deny that the value of life and safety had to be top priority.

What are Values?

Values are the principles upon which we base our actions i.e. they are an internal reference point for determining what is good, beneficial, important, useful, ethical.

Values are often lumped together with honesty and “integrity” (as in what is “right”) but can also be associated with what is personally meaningful – art, beauty, laughter.

Three accepted distinctions of values are:

  1. What you find most important
  2. Intrinsic worth
  3. Your standards for judgment and appraisal.

The opposite of values are negative drivers. . . the closely held beliefs that lead us down a negative path: resentment, control, need to get even, proving oneself, martyrdom, the desire to generate sympathy and the need to look good in the eyes of others. Since we can’t be in two places at once, finding our true values can often save us from our worst selves.

Know Your Values

There are many reasons it is helpful to know one’s own values. Values shape our choices and can guide us when we have to chose between two conflicting paths (work/family is a common one of those) . When we go against the grain of our values it erodes our self-esteem and can lead to more bad choices. Most importantly, values help us find our true purpose in life. . . what we believe in, stand for, would sacrifice for but, ultimately, what will fulfill us and make our lives truly worthwhile.

Value are typically not taught in school (although they should be!)  I, for one, never thought about mine until I became a coach even though they always influenced me from behind the scenes. Looking back, I might have made a number of different decisions in my life or, at least, not taken so long to find my true purpose.

Widely Held Values

It probably comes as no surprise that some the most commonly held values are: loving my family, compassion, making a difference and personal integrity.

Values Clarification

There are a number of ways to determine one’s top values. I usually suggest, narrowing down your list to 3-5. Usually values are captured in one word or a short phrase. Here’s a pretty complete list:

Accomplishment/ Results , Achievement, Adventure/ Excitement, Aesthetics/ Beauty, Altruism, Authenticity, Autonomy, Building things, Clarity, Commitment, Community, Compassion, Connection/ Bonding, Creativity, Developing others, Ease, Emotional health, Environment, Excellence, Family / family first, Financial freedom/ wealth, Fitness, Freedom/ Independence. Fun, Health/ Well-being, Honesty, Humor, Integrity, Intimacy, Joy, Leadership, Love, Loyalty. Making a difference, Mastery, Openness, Orderliness/ Accuracy, Partnership, Philanthropy, Power, Privacy/ Solitude, Recognition/ Acknowledgment, Religion, Risk taking, Romance, Security, Self-expression, Sensuality, Service/ Contribution, Spirituality, Success, Trust, Vitality and others we may have overlooked.

To do your Values Clarification first narrow down to 10 from this list, adding any you find missing. Then, you can choose one of the two following methods:

Method 1.  Prioritize those 10 first in order of importance to you and then according to how you actually live them.

Method 2. I call this one “Sophie’s Choice.”  For all of you familiar with the very sad movie starring Meryl Streep who had to make an impossible choice to keep only one of her two children with her in the concentration camp, this method involves prioritizing all 10 by asking yourself “if I could have one but not the other . . .” This provides an opportunity to be crystal clear about if you are ever in conflict.

Either way, once you know your values, you can take a look at your life and/ or business and see if there is a relationship between what is and isn’t working and make necessary adjustments. Don’t worry if those adjustments need some time to make . . . they just may. At least, you’ll be on your right path.

Means and End Goals

Make sure you differentiate between “means” goals and “ends” values. For instance “money” is a means to get to something else. The “end” value might be power, freedom, security or luxury/comfort. Always try to state your values as “ends” and not “means.”

You might also examine each value  to make it active, precise, and meaningful to you. For example, the value “Freedom” may mean “freedom from oppression”, “freedom to be myself”, “expanding freedom”, or some other phrase that more precisely describes your particular values. Finally, ask people close to you if the list agrees with how they know you to be.

Your Values and Goals and Choices

Values ultimately can evolve into high level goals. People may value freedom or hold freedom and social justice as “an important goal that I work to achieve”. . .

That brings us back to strategic planning. When our values and what they lead us to are clear we can then plan accordingly (This is true for individuals and for businesses.).

Copywrite 2011, Mariyln Edelson, OnTrack Coaching and Consulting, Inc, all rights reserved.


How To Thrive In Spite Of Stress

Below is a repeat of an article I recently wrote for Greater Jackson Business, for which I am new regular contributor.

After the looseness of summer the return of more strict schedules can be a welcome return to structure. It also can invite stress back to the forefront. Essentially stress comes from the external forces in our lives that push our buttons and/or cause intense emotions.  Positive and negative aspects of life can be sources of stress.  A promotion can be as stressful as a termination.  Reaching a well-defined ambitious goal is stressful, as is uncertainty about the future.  Starting a career can be as stressful as considering retirement.

The root cause of stress is our perception and reaction to events in our lives.  When we experience stress the level of adrenaline and other hormones rise, causing increased heart rate, rapid breathing, increased blood pressure, muscle tension, dry mouth, etc.  These are the body’s reaction to a threat, perceived or real. Stressful events that are too frequent, too long or too intense lead to distress.  Distress is what we commonly refer to as stress. Not all stress is bad.  Eustress, healthy stress, allows us to perform well. It is the challenge that keeps you going, engaged and excited to be pushed.

Living in a time when there are many sustained pressures, like paying off a mortgage, is enough to cause prolonged stress. To complicate matters, we are clever enough to create all kinds of stressors in our heads in addition to the real ones we face daily.  For example, you might worry endlessly about saying the wrong thing at a meeting. People are gifted at extending the experience of stress. We can turn on our stress response just by thinking about a stressor, future or past, such as, “What will happen if our fourth quarter numbers fall?” or reflecting on a mistake.

Here is the good news. You can thrive in spite of stress by using people’s extraordinary capacity for thought and language to help mitigate your experience of stress.  You can articulate where your stressors are generated, what they do to you, assess what you can and will do about them and then act. Doing so, when confronted with a stressful event, you can focus and come through the experience as easily and intact as possible.

Thriving in spite of stress requires first appraising the situation and then taking appropriate action. Appraising the situation is a deliberate two-part process. Primary appraisal is when you decide is something is a threat to you or your interests. Secondary appraisal is when decide if there is any things you can do the change the situation to minimize bad outcomes and increase the possibility of positive outcomes. Developing a habit to stop and assess during a stressful event affords you the opportunity to affect a measure of control over the situation and the outcome, minimally your reaction to both.

All too often we go to an extreme of either total denial or absolute overt catastrophizing the issue or stressor.  Finding a middle ground goes a long way to averting an excessive stress reaction in mind and body and positions you to take constructive actions. The middle ground is anchored in 3 things:

  1. Check in with yourself and your assumptions. Give yourself the mental space to put daily events into the larger perspective. It is worth exploring the roots of your assumptions and negative appraisals about what is happening.
  2. Give yourself a break. Accepting stress and learning to live successfully with it is a process.
  3. Have a bag of tricks. A personal set of techniques, tips and tools you can use to manage stress.

Here are nine tried and true stress management strategies. Different combinations and expressions of these strategies work for different people.

  1. Pacing: know your stress and energy levels and act accordingly. Fatigue is the early sign of distress don’t ignore it. Like sleep cycles we have cycles of energy and concentration, 90 minutes on average. Taking a 20-minute break and then go back to what you were doing supports peak functioning throughout the workday.
    Realistic Expectations: Things often push our buttons or upset us not because they are inherently stressful, but because it’s not what we expected or wanted. Setting realistic expectations does not equate with settling for less. Realistic expectations can make life feel more predictable and manageable. Expecting less from people who cannot give you what you want makes life easier and less upsetting.
  2. Reframe: Get a different perspective or change the way you are looking at something, in order to feel better about a situation. There are many ways to interpret a situation.  Useful questions to ask to reframe include: “Is there anything positive here at all? What I can I do with it?” ,“What is the underlying motivation for so-and-so to do that?” and “On a scale of 1 (minor hassle)  – 10 (worst catastrophe), just how bad is this?”
  3. Work-Leisure Ratio: Leisure comes from the Latin root for permission. Give yourself permission to take a break, a healthy amount of respite from your day-to-day pressures. This can include exercise, recreation hobbies, socializing, relaxation, vacation, or entertainment.
  4. Limit or Eliminate Caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant that generates a stress reaction in the body. Less caffeine usually results in people feeling less jittery, more relaxed, and getting better sleep. You do not have to go cold turkey, try decreasing by one drink a day until you are down to one or even better none.
  5. Get Physical: Channeling nervous fidgeting into a more complete form of physical activity helps to “burn off the stress”, preventing our bodies from staying in a stress arousal state for a long time, which can have serious health consequences. Get some regular aerobic exercise; dance, run, walk, hike, bike, swim, play football with the kids, whack a ball on the court, kickboxing . . . find out what works for you.
  6. Laugh and Smile: Laughter releases “happy” hormones and releases tension.  Humor is an individual thing, find what makes you laugh and keep that at hand. When you laugh you smile triggering the limbic system to tilt towards calm.
  7. Ventilation System: A problem shared is a problem halved. Talk it out to “blow of steam”, get a different perspective, encouragement or advice helps to mitigate your stress. Other options include “write it out- then get rid of it” or slowly counting to ten, and then reacting.
  8. Be Mindful and Present: We have the ability to intentionally be present in the here and now, not letting our thoughts run away unchecked.  Doing this neutralizes the physiological effects of stress. Your heart rate goes down, your breathing slows, and your muscles relax.  As little as 20 minutes once or twice a day has real benefit. A simple exercise you can do just about anywhere anytime is to close your eyes, breath in and out deeply, repeat several times.  Notice how your body begins to feel more relaxed. Keep your mind focused on breathing and your body if it wanders, just bring it back.

Deirdre M. Danahar, MSW, MPH, LCSW, is a coach and consultant who helps busy people with complex lives focus on priorities so they can soar.  She owns InMotion Consulting and Coaching, LLC, based in Jackson, MS. Reach her at Deirdre@inmotioncc.com. Copywrite 2011.



Why Work is like Pac-Man (and what to do about it)

Ever feel like you are one of those little dots that Pac-man gobbled up? Becoming consumed by work is an easy state to slip into when you are intent on providing well for your family, yourself and your community.  Because of, or in spite of, the recession, work-life balance is a concern for the vast majority (89%) of American workers surveyed by StrategyOne (2010). Of those 54% call it a “significant” problem.  Both men and women feel this push-pull between the competing priorities from work and the rest of your life. Forty-four percent (44%) of men ages 34-54 say they do not have adequate work-life balance (StrategyOne, 2010).  A June 2011 Nelson survey of women in to 21 countries representing 60 % of the world’s population and 78% of GDP, showed that 54% of woman in developed countries and 62% in emerging countries feel pressed for time.

So yes, becoming consumed by work is an easy state to slip into especially with the current economic pressures and climate. When work-life balance is upended time with family is the first thing affected (37%), followed by personal down time (22%) (StrategyOne, 2010). Being worried about the stability of your job, or when you are the boss, or when your income is directly tied to sales or commissions frankly it can seem miraculous when you are not focused on work.  Remember, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”.  More importantly all work means you, your staff, and colleagues do not have the necessary resources to perform at their peak, to focus, to be effective and efficient and that is not good for business at work or at home.

What we are often trying to express when we say I want more balance in my life, is I want to feel in control and be centered. When you are centered you are not wasting energy juggling 20 balls while moving. You are playing catch with fewer, more important balls, moving in time with the rhythms of your life. You also have a sense of profound satisfaction with our lives as whole, or being fulfilled.  When you are fulfilled your life is one of the deepest joy because you feel like your life is fully worth living and that you are fulfilling a greater purpose.

So how do you get there?

6 Practical Strategies To Create Balance and Foster Fulfillment

These are 6 strategies that are practical possibilities to try. Let me preface these by saying I think absolute balance is impossible, but that being centered and living in a purposeful way that support a fulfilling life is indeed possible. Once you are centered and aligned your heart and your head, you have great energy to be an excellent spouse, parent, professional, volunteer. . . you get the picture.

Practical does not mean easy. Practical means ordinary activities that involve practice or action. Don’t get overwhelmed by assuming that you need to make big changes to bring more balance to your life. Simple goals suggested by the strategies below can have a significant impact, like leaving the office early one day next week.

Some of the strategies below may be things you already do, or have tried, and putting them into action with greater consistency might make all the difference in your ability to strike a better balance. Others might be brand new. Start with 1 or 2, give it a week and see what starts to change.

  1. Track your time and what you do with it for a week. See where you are spending your time in such a way you are efficient and getting a good return on your investment. See where you are not. Decide what is necessary and what satisfies you the most.
  2.  Create your list of non-negotiables for all areas of your life and then put them in your calendar. These should include elements that invest in your support systems and Nurture yourself.  Get some sleep, eat healthy foods, exercise. Make setting aside time each day for something you enjoy a non-negotiable.
  3.  Use a regular habits list.  Manage your tasks – not your time. Generally people perform at their best with no more than 3 “must dos” each day. I use s simple spreadsheet that lists regular habits on the vertical axis and one month’s of days by number (1st– 31st) on the horizontal axis. At the end of each day I check off these ones I did, and use it to help plan the next day.
  4.  Cut the things that do not satisfy you to the maximum degree that circumstances allow and delegate from there-  this means giving up some control. Embrace “The Power of a Positive No” too. It is okay to respectfully say no.
  5.  STOP multitasking on the important things. At first glance this seems like an efficient way to work. It is not.  Multitasking on complex task or things that require your full attention involve your “executive functions.” Multitasking requires “Executive function” switching (I am going to do this now  – ‘goal shifting-’ and here are the rules for this – ‘rule activation’) takes time, little fragments of seconds or longer that adds up.  It can cost up to 40% of your productive time (Meyer, Evens & Rubenstine, 2001). Focus on one thing at a time, putting your most important priorities first.
  6.  Cut yourself some slack. You cannot do it all, and do it all well.

Bonus Strategy: Take a break: Fatigue is the early sign of (dis)stress- don’t ignore it. Like our sleep rhythms we have cycles of energy and concentration, 90 minutes on average. Take a 20 minute break then going back to what you are doing or start on a new complex task.

The Examined Life Gets Results

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”~Socrates.

Life is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You get what you look for in life.  We have all heard these statements before and I believe they are general truths. While none of us are omnipotent (or if you are give me a call there are a couple of things I’d like to talk with you about) with absolute control over every aspect, and influencing factor in our lives we are ultimately responsible for our lives, including the paradigms we hold.  By extension we are also responsible for the ways in which these paradigms influence our choices and actions, and the resulting outcomes.

Paradigm is one of those words that becomes “buzzy”, is tossed around and its’ meaning muddled. So what is a paradigm?  It is a pattern or relationship of ideas to one another that creates a model forming that basis of something.  These ideas are deeply rooted and below the surface of our general awareness, and shape our actions accordingly. A paradigm could be empowering or limiting. All to often paradigms are limiting for most people. I like to think of these as the self-saboteur’s rallying cry.  (Self-saboteurs, or “Gremlins” are the unconscious thoughts  that whisper, shout and repeat negative stories about you and me. “Gremlins” manifest from our insecurities and self doubts. Slanderous ratfinks that can just mess with your mind and focus.) Or they have served you well at one point in your life, but are no longer useful.

Jinny Diztler* presents an elegant thought-provoking model for closely examining paradigms, using four questions coupled with task of creating a new paradigm. The four questions are designed to peel back your limiting beliefs and your corresponding behaviors. Consciously or not we act in line with our beliefs. A positive attitude or belief is a fine foundation, but nothing will become of it without purposeful action.  The right attitude and mindset is exponentially more likely to lead to strategic actions that lead to desirable outcomes.

Simply thinking about weighing 15 pounds less alone has yet to result in weight-loss.  While a paradigm of “I embrace the values and habit of a healthy person” sets a different tone, creating a platform to act accordingly. Such as building in time to exercise at least 3 days a week, noting these in your calendar with the same level of importance as doctor’s appointments. Developing a weekly shopping list that includes wise snacks and the makings for nutritious lunches to take to work. That in turns leads to improved eating habits and making exercise priority, both reflecting the values and habits of a healthy person.

Using Ms. Ditzler’s approach offers a clear lens to examine your life, uncovering important, sometimes surprising patterns of thoughts and actions.  Once these are laid bare you can decide to think and act differently, putting the power and responsibility for your life squarely in your sphere of influence. Ask yourself these four questions, answering without thinking too much, allowing your intuitive answers to bubble up.

1. How do I limit myself?

Sample answers:

  • I don’t stand up for myself at work.
  • I am let myself get away with the minimum.
  • I believe my opinions don’t’ matter.

2. What has this cost me?

Sample answers:

  • A promotion.
  • My self-respect.
  • New skills.

3. How have I benefited?

Sample answers:

  • My life is “comfortable.”
  • Making sure people like me.
  • I don’t get disappointed.

4. Am I ready to stop? Yes  or  No

Why bother with the four previous questions, knowledge.  Facts do not correct limiting paradigms; these are our personal truths we hold to be self-evident. The more information you have about your negative beliefs, the more you have to work with in order to make a deep-rooted lasting change. You will have a clear picture about what you have been focusing on and now can answer this question: What you would prefer to focus on? The answer to this question will lead to your new paradigm.

The simplest way I know to create a new empowering paradigm is to flip the old paradigm on its head.  Five criteria that ensure your new paradigm is empowering are make it: 1) personal, 2) positive, 3) powerful and simply stated, 4) present tense and 5) pointing to a compelling future that is grounded in an existing truth. Getting the wording for your new paradigm just right may take several tries. The extra time and attention is worth it. This is your new operating framework, you need it to be as finely tuned, and vigorous as possible.

Limiting Paradigm Results Empowering Paradigm Results
I’ll never be loved.  No dates and no  friends. I give and receive love freely. Warm circle of friends. 
Only greedy people want to make money, but I deserve to make more. I spend more than I earn. Money comes to me in abundance, because I earned it. I am financially able to care for myself, family and community. 
I can’t do what I truly wish to do. I stay dissatisfied with my life. I have what I want because I work for it. Learning a new skill to help me shift into a satisfying career. 
No one is going to be interested in developing soft skills in this market. Limited marketing efforts. Creative, practical and generous I confidently offer my service to others. Consistent marking efforts resulting in new contracts.

Your new paradigm will take time to coalesce. Creating a new way of thing or doing -a new habit- requires practice and reminders. Writing out and posting your paradigm where you will see it every day will help to reinforce it. Here are some creative ways to do this, courtesy of my clients. Using it as a screen saver on your computer. Post it on the inside cabinet door so you can see it each morning when you get the cereal out. Carry it in your wallet.

Check your actions and decisions against your new paradigm to help it become your new operating framework. “How well do these align with my new paradigm?”

*Read Your Best Year Yet for her full discussion.