Self Management Training
Self-Management and Writing
Why do many people find value in writing diaries or journals to work through issues or track progress? Researcher James Pennebaker has spent a lifetime exploring human beings and our relationship with the written word. It seems that we have a better memory for things in our lives that are unresolved and also a need for completion and resolution. He found that we have a strong desire to understand and learn from the situations in which we find ourselves (including trauma). We search for meaning.
Writing helps us structure and organize our thoughts. This leads to understanding and helps us find meaning. We slow down our thought processes and can better follow an idea to its logical conclusion. Writing is personal self-expression and helps the mind let go of an issue. There is great benefit to be found in in translating an experience into words, especially a powerful emotional experience. In Pennebaker’s work with people writing about trauma, he found that repeatedly writing about the same trauma allowed different perspectives to emerge. Over time people became more detached and often less emotional as they summarized their story. The situation seems to become less overwhelming in a summarized form.
The language used in writing has an impact. The more positive emotional words used by the writer the better their subsequent health outcomes. Pennebaker also found that when the use of cognitive thinking words such as “cause, effect and reason” (shows causal thinking) and “understand, realize and know” (shows self-reflection) increased over time the writer benefitted. The writing process creates a story line from the jumble of elements they initially describe. This helps the writer move to completion and resolution of the incident which allows them to let it go.
We are inhibited when we have to deal with difficult things in life and aren’t able to talk or write about them. Thoughts and feelings aren’t put into words. We live with the story continually running on a loop in our heads. When we write or talk about the situation we come to understand the event and no longer feel trapped by it.
Consider writing the next time you are dealing with a thorny problem. It may provide the clarity you need. Check out my book review of Pennebaker’s work Opening Up.
Fern Richardson MBA PHEc
Self-Management and Change
Making personal change can seem to be a hit and miss effort sometimes. We’ve all set change goals and then put them aside. James Prochaska and his colleagues explored this phenomenon and developed a model of predictable stages of self-change. They found that if we rush or skip a step in the process it lowers the chance of success. So what does the process look like?
Pre-contemplation At this stage we are unaware and unready to take any action to change. The change isn’t even on our radar as a possibility. Others may see the need for us to change but we don’t.
Contemplation At this point we are now aware that there is something we could change. We start to consider the why’s and how’s of making that change.
Preparation Enough contemplation has occurred and now we are ready to start actively doing something to achieve the change.
Action The rubber hits the road and we are doing it! We see our positive efforts to change are now becoming new habits. Be aware that success may not be long lasting. It takes 7 attempts on average before we succeed at a personal change.
Maintenance The change is now our new normal. It is a regular habit.
Where are you at with your change effort? Here is a short self-assessment from Changing for Good by Prochaska, Norcross and DiClemente. Consider your change and answer these questions:
- I solved my problem 6 months ago
- I have taken action on my problems within the last 6 months
- I’m intending to take action in the next month
- I’m intending to take action in the next 6 months
- If you answer no to all 4 items you are in pre-contemplation
- If you answer yes to item 4 and no to others you are in contemplation
- If you answer yes to the last 2 items and no to the first two items you are in preparation
- If you answer yes to item 2 and no to item 1 you are in action
- If you answer can give an honest yes to item 1 you are in maintenance
Change is a process and it takes time as well as effort. An understanding the process can help you achieve the lasting change you want.
Fern Richardson MBA PHEc
Self-Management and Goal Success
There is an art and science to goal setting. The first step is to have some! Having no goals comes with a guarantee that you won’t meet them. What can’t be measured can’t be achieved. Just because you write down a goal doesn’t mean it will be effective. Goals set too low or poorly planned goals generally achieve subpar results.
The best goals have the following characteristics. They are specific and challenging which increases your accountability. Write them as approach goals. Describe the goal as something you want to achieve not avoid. Make them intrinsic by being values drive- something you really believe is important. A great goal will create feelings of independence, connectedness and competence. The goal should be measurable and provide you with immediate feedback. Ideally it isn’t in conflict other goals so you can leverage goals to reinforce each other. Break big goals into sub goals to prevent being overwhelmed. Sub goals also give you feedback through mini progress updates.
Commit your goals to writing and post them where you can see them. Written goals create a pre-commitment and self-accountability. They provide a behavioural contract which produces superior effort and success. “This is what I’m going to do. This is how I’m going to do it. This is how I will reward myself.” Posted goals remind us to scan our environment for possibilities and opportunities. Visible goals lead to a more hopeful mindset that generates multiple solutions when challenges arise. They also help us identify possible goal conflicts and to adjust the plan as needed.
You don’t need to set goals for everything in life. It makes sense however, to think about your important goals. Then put in the effort to craft well thought out goals that will help you succeed.
Fern Richardson MBA PHEc
Self-Management and Choice
Friday, May 24, 2019
Life often places us on the horns of a dilemma with choice. Should I stay in my current job or go back to school? Is it time to open that business I’ve been thinking about or should I wait until the economy is better? What if I take my dream job even though it pays less money?
Fear is the main reason we choose not to make a leap. We see the threat of loss as being a greater hurt than the positive things we can gain from a win. Ironically, it turns out that we are more likely to regret the risks we didn’t take as opposed to the ones we did, even if the results were unsuccessful. Initial regrets over a risk that fails fade over time and we often come to see the experience in a positive light. Surviving a risk increases inner strength and builds both our self-confidence and belief in our capabilities.
As we reach midlife we tend to experience more regrets about the risks we did not take. Many people find they can turn this regret into energy to help set new goals and take action. When people feel stuck it is more often due to a lack of confidence in their ability rather than other factors like money.
You can stretch your comfort level with risk taking through practice. Take small risks outside your emotional comfort zone. Think of it like interval training for risk.
Some people find visualization a helpful motivator to action. See yourself doing “it”.
Let go of old goals that no longer serve you. This isn’t admitting defeat or quitting but rather being realistic about changed circumstances.
Imagine your future. Consider where you will be in one year, five years or ten years if you choose to stay where you are now. How will you feel about yourself and your life?
Life is choice and no one can accurately predict the outcome of one choice over another. The good news is that although risk is a four letter word many positives can be gained. Don’t let fear hold you back.
Fern Richardson MBA PHEc
Self-Management and Time Strategies
Wednesday, March 6, 2019
Can you carve out time in your work life for the important things that only you are able to do? Time for those important tasks can be swallowed up by work that is constant and less critical in nature. The development of good work habits and a routine for important work can help you find time and energy for periods of unbroken concentration.
In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport highlights four different ways to create time for concentrated work.
Some people, generally those who do one thing exceptionally well, eliminate all non-important work and focus solely on the important. This requires clear goals and others who see to the day-to-day requirements of the workplace. Someone needs to be sure the “doors are locked every night.”
Other people create clearly defined times when they focus on the important work. For example this can be carving out one day a week, one week a year or even sixth months each year. This is most effective when the time set aside is at least a full day. The remainder of time is spent on the day-to-day work requirements. This method is effective when we define the times clearly and share it widely with others so they know our availability.
The third method of creating time for important effort works well with standard office jobs and the reality of human nature. Develop and schedule important work as a regular habit. For example, mornings between 9 a.m. and eleven or the first hour of every Tuesday are blocked off for important work. Add it into your schedule with visual reminders or a specific start time. Using this method in an ad hoc way will not be effective.
The final way to make time for important work is the most challenging and requires experience and practice. It involves finding free time in your schedule and using it. We need to have an eye out for pockets of time and be prepared and able, to switch tasks quickly. This method can deplete our energy.
Successful people recognize their valuable work and create time to get it done. One strategy won’t fit every person or position. Consider which style allows you to be your best.
Check out my book review of Newport’s Deep work. http://www.edmontontraining.ca/deep-work/
Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc
Self-Management and Mindfulness (part 2)
Thursday, December 6, 2018
People often wonder how the development of a mindfulness practice benefit them?
A mindfulness practice develops four major areas of your life:
- Mindfulness teaches you to skillfully notice and attend to internal and external things that are happening right now. This habit of observation has a big impact on creativity.
- When you are in the present moment you act with greater awareness of yourself and the situation.
- Mindfulness encourages you to describe, in a non-judgemental way, the objects and events around you.
- Mindfulness teaches you to accept without judgement what is happening in the present moment.
There are a wide variety of meditation practices available. Some are called open monitoring meditations where you tune into your subjective experience. This helps us recognize our emotional and thought patterns. Non-directive meditations are another style. In this process you hold a relaxed attention on a mantra or object. This encourages us to let thoughts, images, emotions, memories and sensations pass freely through our mind. Transcendental meditation fits into this latter style.
There are lots of guided meditation practices available online which can help get you started. Remember the goal is not 24/7 mindfulness. We need a balance of mindfulness and mind wandering to be our best. Check out this site for some short mindfulness meditation practices.
Fern Richardson MBA PHEc
Self-Management and Mindfulness (part 1)
Saturday, November 17, 2018
In recent years mindfulness practice has become a common concept. With roots in Buddhist meditation practices mindfulness can be an antidote to our wired world of constant stimulation. As a practice it helps us maintain awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness practice involves the acceptance of our thoughts and feelings without judgement. When in a mindful state we tune into the present moment, temporarily leaving the past and future behind. This is different than our usual state of being in today’s world.
The ability to be in the present moment is an important skill. At its root, mindfulness is a quality of attention. Research has found both cognitive and psychological benefits for those who add mindfulness practice to their lives. These include: improved task concentration, empathy and compassion, introspection, self-regulation, and emotional well-being. The goal of mindfulness is not to live in the present moment at all times. We also need to look back, to reflect on experiences and learn from them, and look ahead to plan for the future.
In recent years I’ve been on my own mindfulness journey. I see mindfulness as an opportunity to create space in my life and I have experienced a number of the benefits noted above. I appreciate the term “mindfulness practice” as it is a skill that requires practice. One thing I have learned is that mindfulness is not all about “sitting on the cushion.” This is an important part of the practice; however it is also important to integrate mindfulness moments in everyday life such as breathing practice or mindful walking.
If you would like to experience a mindful practice there are many online sources for free guided meditations. Check out this one from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.
Fern Richardson MBA PHEc
Self-Management and Willpower
Monday, August 13, 2018
Willpower is an important part of success. Willpower helps us withstand temptation and persist when things get tough or uncomfortable. A current view of human willpower is that we have a finite amount available to us in any given day. The good news is that there are ways to develop and increase the willpower available to us.
A number of things deplete willpower. These include: holding two conflicting conscious goals at one time, supressing normal urges, trying to hide something about oneself from others and trying not to think about something to focus on a different issue.* Interestingly, doing something hard or mentally challenging, mental fatigue or low self-esteem does not deplete willpower.
So how can we boost our willpower? Here are a few ideas
- Learn effective ways to manage your stress
- Get more rest, exercise regularly and enjoy healthy nutrition
- Encourage yourself to stick to your plan
- Meditate- especially practices that feature loving kindness or impermanence
- Do something you dislike on a regular basis
- Hide temptation
- Avoid alcohol as it undercuts self-control
If you suffer from techno-interruptions in your day consider the following:
- Turn off visual and sound notifications
- Check email at pre-planned times
- Remove Instant Messaging programs from your device and use only at designated times in the day
- Remove games or other distractions from your phone or desktop
- Make access to distracting sites difficult to access by storing them in multiple layers of folders
Know what’s most important to you in your work and life goals. Be aware of goals that need extra willpower for you to accomplish. Develop check-in points to self-monitor your progress. Unmonitored behaviours don’t change. Journals, charts or diaries can help. In fact, keeping a food diary has been found to double a dieter’s weight loss.
I incorporate a number of these ideas into my training seminar and workshops. I also recommend reading The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal for a deeper understanding of willpower.
Fern Richardson MBA PHEc
Self-Management and Time Chunks
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Do you look back at the end of the work day and wonder what you did? Does it feel like the little things seem to get done at the expense of the important ones?
One strategy is to chunk your time. Cal Newport suggests this idea in his book Deep Work.
- At the beginning of each day start a fresh page in your notebook
- Mark every other line with an hour of the day for the full work day
- Divide the hours into smaller blocks and assign activities to them
- Circle the block and add a work task
- Include break times
- The minimum length of a time block should be 30 minutes
- Small tasks can be grouped into larger generic blocks
Sometimes in spite of our best efforts, we may misjudge the time needed and of course work has interruptions and emerging obligations. When this happens revise your schedule. Use skinny blocks on the right side of the page for revisions. The goal is not to stick to your schedule at all costs but to be thoughtful about where your time goes. A good question to ask is, “What makes sense for the best use of my time?”
Newport’s other strategy when things start to shift is to create overflow conditional blocks. This allows time for work that overflows the previous activity block. It also provides time for emerging issues or to do some non-urgent tasks. Leave time for the unexpected. I like to call this the fudge factor. If you think a task will take 20 minutes set aside 30 minutes. Allow for some flexibility.
Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc
Self-Management and Self-Compassion Part 2
Wednesday, July 4, 2018
Self-compassion, as described by researcher Kristin Neff, contains three parts. The first part is self-kindness- to hold a gentle and understanding view of self. The second, recognition of our common humanity – to feel connected to others. The third part is mindfulness- to hold experiences in balanced awareness.
An undervalued concept in Western culture, the main reason given for lack of self- compassion is fear that it will lead to laziness or self-indulgence. The good news is self-compassion doesn’t let us off the hook. To achieve our best efforts we need to feel calm, secure and confident. Self-compassion allows us to view ourselves with greater honesty and clarity. When we acknowledge our shortcomings we can work on them. We recognize our imperfect state and know what needs to be changed. This also results in less blaming of others.
Self-compassionate people are just as likely to hold high standards for themselves as anyone else. However if they fail to reach the standard, they are less likely to berate themselves about it. Self-compassionate people are more oriented to personal growth and make plans to reach their goals and create a more balanced life.
When we develop self-compassion we tap into our inner desire to be happy and healthy. We value our self deeply and make choices that lead to our long term well-being.
Here are three questions to consider if you would like to explore self-compassion:
What’s good for you?
What do you need to do to learn and grow?
What unhelpful patterns do you want to change?
Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc
Self-Management and Self-Compassion
Thursday, May 10, 2018
Compassion toward others seems so much easier than directing it to ourselves. Researcher Kirstin Neff has found many benefits to developing self-compassion. For example people who practice self-compassion are less anxious and depressed.
Neff breaks self-compassion into three components: self-kindness, recognition of a common humanity and mindfulness. Through self-kindness we view our actions with understanding as opposed to a critical and judgemental eye. Recognition of a common humanity creates connectedness to others versus feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering. Mindfulness helps us hold the experience in balanced awareness rather than ignoring or exaggerating our pain.
Self-kindness is not greatly valued in western culture. We judge ourselves harshly and engage in negative self-talk. Self-kindness encourages us to understand our foibles rather than criticize; to actively respond to ourselves as a friend. For example when in a difficult situation we can acknowledge it and tell ourselves, “This is really hard right now.” We can nurture ourselves with positive self-talk such as, “I love and accept myself exactly as I am”.
While self-acceptance and self-love are important we also need a common connectedness for self-compassion. Connection and belonging are basic human needs. Loneliness comes from feeling we don’t belong. Self-compassion reminds us that we all suffer at times and offers us the comfort of shared humanity. The human experience is imperfect and allows us to grow and learn.
Mindfulness lets us to see things as they are. This clarity of seeing, coupled with a non-judgemental acceptance of what’s happening in the moment, helps us recognize our suffering. We can’t control what thoughts and emotions arise but we can change how we relate to them. Mindfulness helps us consider what to do in the next moment. We are better able to be proactive and improve our situation or recognize when things can’t be changed and need to be accepted.
Neff shares her self-compassion self-talk that encompasses mindfulness, a connection to the human condition, self-kindness and a positive intention:
“This is a moment of suffering.”
“Suffering is a part of life.”
“May I be kind to myself in this moment.”
“May I give myself the compassion I need.”
I recognize a need to work on my self-compassion and have added these words as a memo in my phone to help me in my practice.
Fern Richardson MBA CED
Self-Management and Disciplined Thinking
Friday, March 16, 2018
In today’s workplace few of us have the option of “checking our brains at the door.” Employees are asked to think, and think deeply, about their work. This distinct way of thinking about the world is called disciplined or critical thinking. This valuable skill is the habit of mind that allows us to make steady progress as we master our skill, craft and knowledge. Sometimes the road to development includes unlearning incorrect or unproductive ways of thinking and doing. Those who excel at disciplined thinking enjoy learning about the world. Given the pace of new data, knowledge and methods we must be prepared to be lifelong learners.
What constitutes this disciplined habit of mind?
In disciplined thinking we:
- Identify the truly important topics, concepts and methods in our field
- Spend significant time working with these topics and use a variety of analysis methods
- Approach the topic from multiple ways
- Show understanding of the field in a variety of conditions and situations
- Think and also act
There are multiple ways to develop disciplined thinking including timely and useful feedback, role models, ongoing skill practice and assignments that pose new questions or challenges that stretch and enhance understanding. The ability to apply disciplined thinking in work and life is worth the effort.
Fern Richardson MBA CED
Self-Management: Be Lazy and Bored
Friday, November 10, 2017
Being lazy and bored can help you produce better work. These two states help us balance ourselves and prepare for times of deep work. Cal Newport defines deep work as professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your mental capacities to their limit. This is the opposite of shallow work which is not mentally demanding, composed of logistical-style tasks and often performed while distracted.
The Latitude of Lazy
Newport suggests leisure is critical to deep work. Downtime allows our unconscious mind to go walkabout resulting in aha moments. Leisure helps recharge our batteries. Time spent in nature and exploring stimulating activities allows our directed attention resources to replenish. For example, fifty minutes spent walking in nature boosts your concentration. Generally, work that impinges on evening downtime is rarely important.
To succeed at laziness:
- Avoid any work intruding on your downtime
- Develop a shutdown ritual to tell your brain you are done for the day
- Create a plan to complete unfinished tasks, for example, a to do list to review and plan for the next day
The Benefits of Boredom
The ability to concentrate intensely must be trained and we live in a distraction filled world. It is a two-fold challenge: improve the ability to concentrate intensely and overcome the desire for distraction.
Many distractions are from the internet and social media. Block off distraction free times in your day to focus on deep work. Decide in advance when you will use the internet and avoid it outside these pre-determined times. Newport suggests putting a note pad by the computer saying when your next usage time will be. The total number of time blocks is less important than staying true to your off-line time blocks. Try this for both work and home.
Another idea to train concentration is give yourself a short deadline for a critical task. It forces you to greater focus. Public commitment to your deadline can also up the ante.
When physically but not mentally occupied, for example on a walk, focus on a single well-defined problem. If your attention wanders bring it back to the problem. Try two to three sessions a week. If your mind starts to go over what you already know, redirect your attention to the next step.
Building concentration takes time. Start your new habit with a once a week practice and increase it gradually.
Lazy and bored can help you be more productive. Sounds good to me. Why not give it a try?
Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc