Communication

Creating Community

On this week's Embracing Intensity Podcast, I talk about the Power of Community. I believe that growing up with supportive and accepting community is what gave me the foundation of support I needed to find or build my own community wherever I go. 

Unfortunately, a lot of intense, gifted and creative people don't always have that foundation of people who "get" them, so it can be hard to even know where to begin the process of connecting with and/or creating community - at least community where you feel comfortable and at-ease. 

Creating Community: 5 ways to build deeper connections - Free Find Your Superpower Course inside

I share a bit of my own journey and challenges making friends as an adult on the podcast, but I'd like to share here a few steps that I've found have consistently yielded bbetter connections for me. 

Find an existing community. I assure you, there are people out there, the trick is figuring out where to find them. I talk a little bit about where I've found connection in the past in this post here, and since then I've also found networking groups for women to be an additional place to find connection since entrepreneurs tend to attract an intense crowd. I also frequently refer to this post from Paula Prober on where to "find your pips."

Invite people to connect 1:1. If you really want to connect, you can't just stop at attending events, you have to reach out beyond the event. Believe me, I know this can feel like asking someone out on a date, but once you break that barrier, the connections you make can get much more deep and rich. Nowadays, social media can help - as you interact with them more online it can make reaching out in person more comfortable. In fact, I connected with an amazing family through Facebook based on a page like and a gut feeling and all three of them got along fabulously with all three of us (the trifecta of family friendships!). I never would have known though if I hadn't reached out and asked. Remember that if you are feeling a need for deeper connections, there are people out there who are feeling that as well and are just as scared to reach out. 

Don't take things personally. This is single handedly the most important part of making new connections without losing sanity. Not everyone is at the same place at the same time. Perhaps this person you feel you could deeply connect with has one too many things on their plate to add one more. Trust your gut in who to reach out to, but remember that if they say no, or don't have the time, it is not about you. I repeat this quote all of the time, but it especially rings true here - "You never know what someone else's motivation is, so you might as well assume the one that is best for you." (Paraphrased from The Charisma Myth) This pretty much sums up the way I try to live my life, and when I am successful I can truly see the power of assuming the best in others!

Manage your expectations. This goes back to seeing the best in others. As intense people, we hold ourselves to high expectations and can expect the same from others. This can be a recipe for dissapointment when no one person can meet our expectations. You may have different friends who meet different needs. One person can't always be everything to you, especially if you have complicated needs. Take time for gratitude and appreciate what the people in your life already have to offer. Express that gratitude often and your connection will grow. 

Invite larger groups if you'd like. If you are an introvert and/or prefer only 1:1 interactions, this step might not be relevant. If you are like me, however, and thrive in a community that you had a hand in creating, this can go a long way. Once I had a couple of close friends in the area, I could start inviting people to events where I knew at least one other person would join. Having that solid foundation, I could reach out to more people and feel the sting less when they didn't respond. If they came on occasion, or continued to reply (even if they were too busy to join), I would keep inviting them. If they didn't respond at all, I would eventually stop reaching out. When I first started with my closest group of friends, I would send individual texts. Now that group is so tight-knit a group message usually will do, though there are those that I know prefer an individual reach-out. 

To help you explore your own unique gifts so you can connect with others who "get" you, I created a free Find Your Superpower Course to help you: Identify your individual areas of excitability with an excitability checklist; Customize the name of your own unique superpower; & Explore how you can harness your own power instead of suppressing it or letting it get out of control.

No One Way

No One Way: The fallacy of the "one right way" - Free retreat planner included!

On this week's episode of Embracing Intensity, I got a little personal about my relationship history and how I used to mistake drama for passion. I thought that drama was just a biproduct of two intense people in a relationship, but I have since found otherwise. Not to say that there's no drama in my current relationship, but there is definitely an ease to it that I had not experienced in the past. 

I was going to write a blog post about the key factors that I have found useful in minimizing drama, namely open communication (Nonviolent Communication is a great tool for this), identifying your "hot buttons" or "triggers," managing your expectations and not making assumptions. I go into these on the podcast, and planned to go into it in more detail on the blog when inspiration hit me on my afternoon walk. 

The heart of most drama in relationships is the idea that there is "one right way." 

When we have a need that isn't met, we get an idea in our head about what strategy will best meet that need. Sometimes we confuse the strategy with the need and think that it is the only way to get that need met. 

While this may work when we are flying solo, in relationship if you get stuck on one particular strategy or point of view, your communication can be perceived as a demand rather than a request. 

Strategies are very personal, while needs are universal, so if you can focus on the need, then you can better communicate about how both partners can get their needs met. The Center for Nonviolent Communication has a great Needs Inventory list here. Most of our needs fall under one of these 7 categories: connection, physical well-being, honesty, play, peace, autonomy and meaning. 

So the next time you feel stuck on something that you want but aren't sure you can get - take a look at what need it would meet and explore other possible options to meet that need. You might surprise yourself and find something even better than what you thought was the "right way."

To help you take time out to connect with your own needs and explore creative ways to meet them, I created this free Retreat Planner!  It includes information on: How to prepare for your retreat in the way that’s best for you; Simple, accessible, and straightforward practices to deepen your experience; A template planner;  A guide to using essential oils to enhance and deepen your healing experience; A recommended reading list; and more!

You CAN Make a Difference

You CAN Make a Difference: 10 ways to make a difference

When you feel things intensely, it is easy to be an idealist and even easier to get burned out or disillusioned when reality hits hard.

You start out with a mission and little by little that mission starts to slip away when the reality of the system, or entrepreneurship or whatever framework you are using to further your cause keeps putting roadblocks in your path.

I had such a moment a couple of weeks ago when I realized I was starting to become exactly what I entered in education to avoid. You see, when I was in college I was tested for learning disabilities and because all they looked at was an arbitrary state criteria, which I didn't fit, I was asked why I even bothered to get tested. What they didn't acknowledge as a roadblock was that my auditory processing was significantly below my visual processing - meaning I really sucked at taking in what I heard and read (unless it was in the form of meaningful conversation).

I became a school psychologist because I wanted to help students understand themselves better, regardless of whether they met some arbitrary state qualification. Recently though, I started to find myself slipping into black and white thinking, which is the enemy of effective problem solving.

So this got me thinking of how I've moved myself over the years to create real positive change within a set structure.

Reconnect with your why. You probably didn't get involved with this cause to jump through the hoops of paperwork, red tape and/or marketing. You had a purpose or you wouldn't have signed on. Reexamine that purpose, and look for new ways to move toward that goal.

Find common ground. Just as you had your reasons, the people you share space with have their own motivations too. I have always gotten through in this field with the assumption that everyone in the room wants what's best, but they may have different approaches or ideas of how to reach that. There's a great quote from Olivia Fox Cabana in The Charisma Myth, "In most situations, we don't know for certain what motivates a person's actions. So we might as well choose the explanation that is most helpful to us." In helping fields, such as education, I generally find the most favorable answer to be true. When we recognize our common goal, then we can come to appreciate their different approaches.

Think outside the box. Boxes can be useful for giving us a framework with which to organize our world, but they are also often arbitrary. If we are not careful they can encourage black and white all or nothing thinking. This stunts our natural creative problem solving.

Appreciate the good. It's there really! Even if you are currently feeling overwhelmed with what's wrong in the world, there is so much to celebrate! Find it and appreciate it - out loud so that others can hear. What we focus our energy on is what we start to see more of. When I worked at a school for children with severe behavioral needs, they had a strict policy of using 3-4 positive statements to every negative one. As both an employee and a colleague, I saw how powerful this is for adults as well as children.

Find the humor. Changing the world for the better is heavy stuff. When we can laugh at ourselves or our situation, it makes the whole process more fun!

Connect. Find others you can connect with on a deeper level. Even one or two people who share or understand your cause. Life is much easier when you don't have to go it alone.

Let go. If it's not serving you let it go. Let go of those expectations of perfection and how things "should be" and accept things as they are. Only then can we move forward and shift things in the positive direction of what "could be."

Change your story. Events may trigger thoughts, our thoughts may trigger feelings and our thoughts and feelings may trigger actions and our actions will trigger an outcome. We may not be able to control the events, but we can control our thoughts and actions.

Put your own oxygen mask on first. If you constantly put the needs of others before your own, eventually you will burn out. Take a look at your typical day and look at what activities nourish you and what activities deplete you. If you find more depleting, which is often the case, find ways to add more nourishing activities back into your life. Take small breaks to be mindful of your body and surroundings, take a walk, move, meditate, get out in nature. Whatever it is that makes you feel most alive. Even 5 minutes will do a world of good.

And remember, what you do is important! You have a heart for making positive change. You already are making a difference, and have been for years. Just please, be sure to take care of yourself in the process so you can keep on being your awesome self!

What has helped you move from disillusionment back into hope?

You CAN Make a Difference: 10 ways to make a difference

A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place

For years I've been meaning to take a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class. My aunt, who teaches it in California had offered to let me Skype in to her class, but it felt kinda weird the first time I tried and it was always on nights when I had my son. I didn't think I had the time, but she was right in saying that when I didn't think I had the time was when I needed it most.

I finally decided toward the start of this year that I needed to take a class one way or another, but living out in the Columbia River Gorge now the drive would be even greater to get to Portland. I was going to try an online class, but when I mentioned it to a colleague it turned out she was starting a class in just a few weeks so we could carpool.

The weekly classes have been helpful, but I have to admit I haven't been as good with the formal practices as I'd have liked. I was a little worried then as we approached our full day meditation retreat this weekend. I wasn't sure how I would deal with that much silence.

It turns out the day went way faster than I had feared. In fact, the guided meditations and mindful activities made the day go fast enough that I could have actually gone with even more silence than there was (not a lot more mind you).

I shut down my phone for the day, and had no sense of time. It was pretty freeing to just be told what to do and just go with the flow. In fact, the time that felt to drag on the longest was when we all got to talk about our experience.

An interesting thing I've observed about myself on a couple of occasions in class is that I feel uncomfortable with empty space in conversation. I also tend to get uncomfortable with empty space in my day. Not that I'm always productive by any means, but I often fill it with business or social interaction either in person or online.

My goal this week is to find that quiet place more consciously and often and appreciate the times without a lot of chatter. My brain has already slowed down it's chatter during the guided activities so my hope, with practice, will be to slow and step back to observe it on my own.

A Quiet Place

Top posts of 2015

2015 was an eventful year indeed! In the fall alone, I went back to my "day job" full time, got married, turned 40, and acquired a small retreat center. I also got a new computer, which switched up my fonts and images a bit. Needless to say, I've been a little preoccupied to post weekly, but there have been some well followed posts along the way. Special thanks to Hoagies Gifted Education blog hops for connecting me to a wider audience even when I haven't had the chance to widely promote my work. For the first part of 2016, my plan is to focus on self-care and get comfortable in my new home. I plan to start a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program in the new year and to keep a journal about my experience. I'd like to start weekly blog posts again, so keep your eye out.

In the fall, I will plan to launch my Embracing Intensity podcast and find ways to share our new Quinn Mountain community through in-person coaching and small retreats

For now, enjoy my top posts from 2015!

5. An Orange In the Apple Barrel

Bonus - 25 Things Only a Highly Excitable Person Would Understand - Not posted in 2015, but by far my most visited post this year!

Open to Receive

Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgement to giving help. ~ Brene Brown

A few years ago I was involved in a mindfulness community and a speaker said something along the lines of Brene Brown's quote above. I remember this struck me because we were in a room full of professional helpers. To think that if we judged ourselves for needing help, we were also judging others made me a little uncomfortable.

If you think about it though, it's that discomfort that makes asking for help so much more difficult than giving it. Asking for help requires vulnerability. We have to put ourselves out there and risk rejection.

Offering help is easy. It makes us feel good to help others feel good. It helps us to connect without feeling vulnerable because we are not putting our own stuff out on the line. It also may make us feel powerful, but is it at the expense of the power of the other?

As Brene Brown points out, vulnerability is uncomfortable, but it is a crucial element in being what she calls "whole hearted."

So who should I ask for help?

Well Brene shares some types of people it would be wise to avoid sharing your vulnerability with: Someone who hears your story and feels shame for you; Someone who responds with sympathy ("I feel sorry for you") rather than empathy ("I've been there"); Someone who looks to you to be a pillar of worthiness and perfection; Someone who is so uncomfortable with vulnerability he/she scolds you; Someone who thinks you must be exaggerating; Someone who always tries to one-up you ("you think that's bad...").

Instead, share your story with someone who loves you because of your vulnerability not despite it and can respond with empathy. This is the type of person who can be trusted to help to the best of their ability. You may only have one or two such people in your life, but if you give them the chance to help you it will deepen your relationship even further. 

The Difference Between Sensitivity and Drama

When I was young I was super sensitive to tone of voice. I remember telling people not to yell at me and they would respond that they weren't yelling. While they might not have been raising their voices, I was picking up on an angry or annoyed tone and made the assumption that they were yelling.

In my first marriage, the tone I was sensitive was one of judgement, but I blew it off as just me being over sensitive. I know now that I was right in my interpretation.

When you intuitively sense things beyond what is said (or even what the person is aware of in themselves), it can leave you questioning your own judgement. For me this led to quite a bit of defensiveness and drama in the past.

I always thought drama was an inevitable byproduct of two intense and sensitive people getting together. Now that I'm getting married again to an intense but low-drama partner, I see that I was dead wrong. I think when it comes down to it, the difference between sensitivity and drama is in how we interpret and communicate about our sensitivity.

I've heard many emotionally sensitive friends talk about how they have been accused of being irrational. I actually find that often highly sensitive people are the most rational of all because they can see many sides of an issue. The intense emotional response is a highly rational reaction to the fact that there's a lot of cruelty and unfairness in the world. The drama comes in when we react before have time to fully process...

  • Sensitivity may mean reacting more emotionally than average. Drama is taking everything personally.
  • Sensitivity might involve intuitively picking up on subtleties others might not notice. Drama is making assumptions based on those feelings without clarification.
  • Sensitivity could be reacting more intensely to the thoughtless acts of others. Drama is blaming others for your feelings and actions.
  • Sensitivity often involves considering a variety of perspectives. Drama is looking for others to reinforce your own perspective.
  • Sensitivity is being considerate of the needs of others. Drama is playing a martyr.

There are two resources that I've found invaluable in handling my sensitivity while reducing the drama. One is The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by Don Miguel Ruiz: Be impeccable with your word; Don’t take anything personally; Don’t make assumptions; and Always do your best.

The other, more active, tool I use is Nonviolent Communication. NVC is all about communicating our needs in a way that respects the needs of others. It empowers us to take assertive action and live out the Four Agreements. I developed a four step process to help sensitive and intense people use the elements of Nonviolent Communication to embrace their sensitivities in a positive and proactive way. I use the acronym STAR (Stop, Think, Act, Request) to remember the steps.

Stop - Develop a self-care toolkit to help you reach a calm state and objectively observe your situation.

Think - Consider your feelings and needs around the situation then think of strategies that might meet your needs.

Act - Choose a strategy and do it.

Request - If someone can help you meet a need, make a request of them. Be sure that it is indeed a request, rather than a demand.

I share a more detailed post about the STAR process here.

We can not control the actions of others, but we can control how we respond. Considering the Four Agreements and using the STAR process we can communicate our needs in a drama-free way and live our lives proactively rather than reactively.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Books

I first diagnosed myself as an undergraduate psychology student as having, "overactive dendrites," which essentially meant that I was highly sensitive but I didn't know that term at the time. There were a lot of things I connect with about being highly sensitive, but some of it didn't quite fit as I am also a high sensation seeker and an extrovert. As I researched more about my own son's intensity I realized that I was highly excitable, which means I both perceive and respond to the world more intensely than others, not just in my senses as described by high sensitivity, but also in my mind, imagination, feelings and body.

Over the last few years, I've read all kinds of personal development in order to explore the best ways to harness the power of excitability. These are a few that have had the most impact on myself and my work (Amazon affiliate links included):

The Gifted Adult: A Revolutionary Guide for Liberating Everyday Genius(tm) by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen. Jacobsen describes a gifted adult as intense, complex and driven. She doesn't so much focus on intellect so much as the personal characteristics they share. This book is a great start to help understand your own gifts and intensities and use them in a positive way.

Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope by James T. Webb. I've found quite a few books aimed at bright or intellectually gifted adults to be either extremely academic, overly self-admiring, or focused more on problems than solutions. Webb's book does an amazing job of describing the existential dilemmas that more intense people face and describes both negative and positive coping skills for those facing disillusionment.

Living with Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults edited by Susan Daniels and Michael M. Piechowski. This is literally THE book on excitability. I appreciate that it looks at intensity at all stages of life. Some of the essays are more academic in nature, but others are more personal and compelling.

The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (In Real Life) by Chris Hardwick. This was by far the most entertaining personal development book I've ever read! Chris Hardwick was a "has been" MTV V-jay turned highly successful blogger and podcaster. He shares how he transformed his life by approaching it like a roleplaying game.

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg. Nonviolent communication is a tool I use throughout my work. When I first learned about it, it appealed to me right away because it was close to my own natural style of communication, and I believe why I've had a skills with communicating in difficult situations. While the actual "language" of NVC can feel a little awkward, the spirit of understanding the underlying needs we are trying to meet with our actions is invaluable. It also gives tools for making objective, unbiased, observations and understanding our feelings better.

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by Don Miguel Ruiz. This was one of the first personal development books that had a profound affect on me. Such simple concepts that really made sense to me. The four agreements are: Be impeccable with your word; Don't take anything personally; Don't make assumptions; and Always do your best. Easy to understand, but sometimes difficult to implement. It's helpful for me to revisit these concepts every now and then.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen Covey. I kind of blew off The 7 Habits for a long time as too mainstream and cliche. When I finally got around to reading it though, I realized that these were inarguable truths. The 7 habits include: Be proactive, Begin with an end in mind; Put first things first; Think win-win. Seek first to understand, then to be understood; Synergize; and Sharpen the saw.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brene Brown.  I pretty much love anything written by Brene Brown. Her TED talk on Vulnerability was the first TED talk I ever saw and set the bar for all future talks. In Daring Greatly, she takes her research and gives practical applications. I especially appreciated her chapter on wholehearted parenting. The Gifts of Imperfection is another great book!

How to be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving by David Richo. I got this book to "save" my marriage, but it also helped me to let go. The five keys include attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection and allowing. He also talks about stages of relationships and how to choose a suitable partner. His book How to Be an Adult: A Handbook for Psychological and Spiritual Integration is also a great one, but sometimes it's hard to hand someone a book called "How to Be an Adult" without extensive explanation. It addresses tools to move on from your past and take ownership of your life. My favorite chapter is on how to be assertive in getting your needs met rather than passive or aggressive. It's a great companion to NVC concepts.

Breaking Free from Persistent Fatigue by Lucie Montpetit. You might ask what this has to do with intensity or personal development, but I've found I'm not the only one who has experienced persistent fatigue from experiencing the world more intensely. I've picked up so many chronic pain and fatigue books over the years and nothing ever really clicked. I love Montpetit's approach because she looks at energy balance not just from a health perspective but from a psychological or spiritual perspective. I share some of her most useful tools for balancing your energy in my post What's Your Energy Balance.

There are a lot more amazing books out there, but I thought I'd cap it off at 10. I'd love it if you'd share below what books have had a positive influence on using your own intensity for good!

Intensity X2

The first time I got married I had observed that we both had highly intense parents that had divorced and remarried less intense partners, but this wouldn't stop us because we were clearly "meant to be." Now I won't dispute that thought because we were meant to produce our amazing son, but it did ultimately end. I believe this was not because we were both intense people, but because our particular brands of intensity did not entirely mesh well together.

The early stages of meshing together were a challenge. In hindsight I see that I mistook drama for passion and assumed it was just a part of two intense people connecting. Over time we were able to find a pretty good balance that was based on open communication, but our communication styles were very different so that took quite a bit of work to maintain. Still, I was taken by surprize when it ended. I had so many friends who complained about their spouses in a way that showed a lack of respect and I never felt that personally on either end.

What was lacking to some degree was complete acceptance. There were always things about each other that the other could not completely accept. I always wanted him to be less moody and he wanted me to have more of a filter. This seemed fair because I think these were things we couldn't completely accept in ourselves either.

For you Buffy fans out there, I used to complain that I didn't understand why everyone got all woozy over Angel when he was so broody. When things ended, I remember him saying that he was an Angel and what I really needed was a Spike (we're talking post soul here by the way).

Over the years I tried dating people who were less intense, but there was always something lacking for me.

Fast forward seven years and I have found someone who loves me because of my quirks, not despite them. Not to say that there is nothing we would change about the other, but we accept each other as we are. In fact, my Guy once said, I "accept the shit" out of him, and he does the same. He makes it pretty easy since despite a challenging past, he fully appreciates everything he has in his life. That's not to say it's all roses and no thorns, but the thorns are brief and we can talk about anything! He doesn't take things personally at all, and I'm working on it. We share the five As that David Richo says are essential in a healthy relationship, acceptance, attention, appreciation, affection and allowing.

After seven years of single parenthood, I'm moving back into the world of marriage again when I wasn't sure I ever would. If I've learned anything from my years of relationships and dating it's this - drama is not the same as passion or an inevitable outcome of two intense people meshing, and compatible communication styles save a lot of drama. Also, until you completely accept yourself, it will be difficult to find someone who completely accepts you. If you do, and it's mutual - treasure that!

Saying Yes by Saying No

When you say “yes” to others, make sure you are not saying “no” to yourself. ~ Paulo Coelho

I used to pride myself on my ability to get along with challenging people (oh who am I kidding, I sill do a bit but I no longer seek it out). One time I was working on a project where there was conflict between two parties. I did everything I could to make everyone happy. I did a good job of it for a while until in a hasty attempt to resolve an issue, I sent a message that might not have shined the best light on one of the parties. At that point I was criticised for not being fair. This hit me hard because I was trying so hard to please everyone involved.

I knew in theory that you can't please all of the people all of the time, but this was the first time it really hit home. At least with people who's opinions I cared about. I believe this was the beginning of my lesson that the true test for me is not how well I can get along with other people, but how well I can take care of and set boundaries for myself.

If you are emotionally sensitive or excitable, you likely enjoy making other people happy. It might have gotten to the point where you put other people's needs before your own. But you have something unique to share with the world and if you are too busy saying yes to things that aren't in line with your purpose and vision in life, you are saying no to something that is.

The next time someone asks you do do something, here are some questions you might ask yourself before you respond:

Will it make me pull my hair out? If the prospect of what they are asking is so stressful to you that it makes you want to pull your hair out, there is very little justification to do it.I'm certain that you can find something to move you toward your purpose and vision that isn't as stressful and if there isn't, consider reexamining you vision.

Is it in line with my vision and purpose? Now let me be clear, play, rest and self-care are contributing to your purpose and vision. You don't have to spend every waking moment working toward a higher goal. It is helpful though that if you choose to spend your time on rest and play that you are doing it mindfully and not out of default mode.

Is it fun? Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of Nonviolent Communication is fond of saying, "Don't do anything that isn't play." If it is not something you find enjoyable, ask yourself...

Is there something more fun that will move me toward my goal? It might not be fun at first, but if you can see the value in it, you can make it more enjoyable.  Find the fun in it by telling yourself "I'm choosing to ___ because I want ___.."

Do you have the time? If it's in line with your vision and purpose, is fun (or you can make it more fun) and you have the time, then by all means say yes.

If you don't have the time, ask yourself...

Does it have priority over other things on my list? If it does not, then let it go. If it does take priority, either delegate or say no to something else.

So what is something you have said no to recently that wasn't in line with your vision and purpose?

Owning Your Power!

I knew that I was going to use David Richo’s chapter on assertiveness in How To Be an Adult  to help develop my lesson on speaking up for my group program, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that he talks about assertiveness as “owning your own power.” This is so important because one of the best things we can do to increase our energy is to increase our sense of power and reduce our feelings of powerlessness. The most crucial way to do this is by getting clear on what we want and asking for it.

Assertiveness is owning your own power

Assertiveness is taking responsibility for your own needs and asking for what you want in a clear manner.We understand that we are the only ones responsible for our own feelings and needs. No one can “make us” feel a certain way. It is our thoughts about the situation that makes us feel that way. To understand this better, it is helpful to get clear on the difference between a stimulus and a cause. Someone’s actions might be the stimulus that lead to your feeling, but it is not the cause. The cause is our unmet needs and the thoughts that we have surrounding it. If we own this and get clear on our needs, we can have the power to take charge of them and make clear requests from people.

Passivity is giving your power away.

Passivity is not speak up for fear of the possible consequence. Unless of course, the person you aren’t speaking up to is out of control or violent, in which case you being assertive by taking care of your own needs. Glossing over or minimizing your concerns, or making excuses for other people’s hurtful behavior will just ensure that these things won’t be addressed. If you overcommit or do things out of “duty” then you aren’t really using your own power. As David Richo says, “what we are not changing, we are choosing.”

Aggressiveness is changing power to control.

Aggressiveness involves attempting to control or manipulate others. When you are aggressive, you demand rather than request things of others. Or else you indirectly try to control their behavior through manipulation. Other behaviors Richo identifies as aggressive include competitiveness, spitefulness, sarcasm and blame. Most surprisingly, he includes rescuing others as an aggressive behavior, because it puts you in a position of dominance over them.

Steps to owning your power:

So how can you increase your assertiveness? You can use the four step STAR (Stop, Think, Act, Request) to communicate assertively.

  1. Stop - Observe your thoughts and judgements around the situation.
  2. Think - Connect with your feelings and needs.
  3. Act - Express your feelings and unmet needs.
  4. Request - Make a request that might help meet your needs.

This will help you get clear on what you need so that you know what to ask for. Just remember, you are making a request, not a demand, so if the other person does not want to grant your request, be open to other strategies that might meet both of your needs.

Emotional Liberation

If we don’t value our needs, others may not either.

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Many emotionally sensitive or excitable folks tend to be people pleasers. We may start out denying our own needs to meet the needs of others. In Nonviolent Communication: A Language of LifeMarshall Rosenberg describes four stages in what he calls the movement from "Emotional Slavery to Emotional Liberation" (p. 57).  Simply put, we start by blaming ourselves, then start to blame others, then we can move to sensing our own feelings and needs and then the needs of others.

Emotional Slavery

Rosenberg calls the first stage "Emotional Slavery."  At this point we see ourselves as responsible for other people's feelings.  We take criticisms of us personally and accept the other person's judgement.  This inclines us toward a feeling of shame, guilt and depression.

I believe many of us are driven by the desire to be "nice," but as I discussed in my blog post You Can be Kind Without Being Nice, our culture's way of defining nice is very superficial.  It's all about presenting ourselves as pleasant people.  I personally prefer to be "kind," which to me is more about intent than appearance, meaning that you intend to communicate clearly in an empathetic way.

The "Obnoxious Stage"

I've seen quite a few folks who have felt like victims in their lives throw the baby out with the bath water and decide they are in no way responsible for anyone else's feelings.  Rosenberg calls this the "Obnoxious Stage."  At this point, we fault the speaker and we protest or invalidate their perspective.  This is driven by feelings of anger.

At this point we are no longer concerned about being "nice," but in our attempts at self-advocacy, we may come off more aggressive than assertive.

Emotional Liberation

Once we take full responsibility of our intentions and actions, we reach what Rosenberg calls "Emotional Liberation."  At this point we shine a light on our own feelings and needs to express self-empathy.  We become conscious of the underlying issue and that there is more than one way to meet our own needs.

When we've connected with our own feelings and needs, we can move toward communicating kindly with others.

Empathy

The final stage of emotional liberation is when we can feel and express empathy toward the needs of others.  Not in a way that sacrifices our own feelings and needs, but in a way that looks to support the needs of all parties. At this point you show attempts at understanding the other person, which usually engenders more cooperation.

Once you can clearly express your own feelings and needs while taking into consideration the feelings and needs of others, you are free to explore strategies that can meet everyone's needs.

Five Keys to Self-Love

I never really thought of myself as a "responsible adult," so I counted myself lucky to have married one. His somewhat critical assessments of me seemed fair, because I judged those same things in myself.

When things started to come to an end, I found a book called How to be An Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving by David Richo in order to  "save my marriage." Instead it helped me to let go. It also helped me realize that you must have these things in your relationship with yourself before you can have them in a relationship with someone else.

Even after my divorce, I found myself most attracted to men who judged the same things in me as I judged in myself.  I was involved with a few very kind men who didn't see these judgements at all, but things just never quite felt right.  I started to wonder if I was sabotaging my own relationships because I was attracted to that judgement.

So, I spent some time trying to "fix" myself, until one day I realized that perhaps instead of needing to completely heal to find a good relationship, I needed to open my heart in order to heal.

Within a week of this realization I was in contact with my amazing Guy!

According to David Richo, there are 5 As involved with mindful loving.  These are needs we have in relationships that we must first give to ourselves.

"Attention means consciousness of the interconnectedness of all things."*  As a sensitive and/or excitable soul, it is easier to put your attention on things outside of yourself, but you must be sure to bring your attention inside as well.

"Acceptance means saying an unconditional yes to the sobering givens of existence, the facts of life."* This doesn't mean you can't take steps to make changes, but you must first accept reality as it is without judgment.

"Appreciation means the attitude of gratitude."* Appreciate not only what you have around you, but what you have within you.

"Affection means the love we feel for others and for the universe."* You are likely great at giving affection to others - turn that around to yourself as well!

"Allowing means that we grant to others and protect in ourselves the right to live freely and without outside control"* Let yourself be fully you!

The next time you feel like you need to "fix yourself," try opening your heart to yourself and offer it attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection and allowing.  Maybe you'll find like I did, that there's actually nothing to "fix" only to heal and healing starts from within.

*How to be An Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving by David Richo, p. 50

Just The Facts Please

Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please. – Mark Twain

A couple of months ago I was stressing about my dwindling income from going part time at my "day job" to focus on building my coaching business.  I'd had a few strategy sessions with potential clients who really wanted to work with me, but 1:1 was cost prohibitive for them at the moment.  Then, I got this brilliant inspiration to start a group program for them.  It would be a win win, since they would be getting a great deal and I would have the push to move forward in developing lessons for my program.  I got together a group of 60+ people in my free Stop Spinning Your Wheels program and more than doubled my e-mail list in less than a month! I also got really good feedback from people on my posts and promotional information.

Well, let's just say, when I finally launched the paid program, I did not get the response I had hoped for. The folks who had been potentially interested had life events come up, and though I didn't send nearly as many e-mails as recommended for a launch, I still lost more people from my list due to the increase in messages.

For a day or two I started to panic - this was not going according to my plan.  And to make things worse, I beat myself up a little because I knew the advice I'd gotten from the marketing programs I'd worked with said to focus on building your 1:1 clients before even attempting a group.

I stepped back and reassessed my situation.  I had several people who had indicated they would join a group if available, and probably would have if the timing had been right. Because some of the group participants I did have were part of trades, the income generated would not provide much of a cushion to my income.  But as soon as I gave up the expectation that it would, I could step back and see clearly what I did have going for me.

By that point, I had four people committed to the group who had interacted with my groups and/or other groups I am in. Setting the timeline for the group would give me the push I needed to get the lessons done so that I have them for future groups and 1:1 clients.  The positive feedback and enthusiasm I got can potentially build up for a more engaged audience in the future.

So often we get so caught up in our thoughts or expectations around an issue, it's hard to step back and see the whole picture.  Thoughts that might get in the way of this include expectations, judgments, evaluations, labels, black & white thinking, blame, perceptions and false feelings (thoughts that masquerade as feelings such as neglected or harassed).

When we stop and step back from all of those thoughts, we can observe just the facts.  This allows us to see clearly without judgment or expectation.

Once we get that clear picture, we can reconnect with our feelings around the issue and get a better understanding of where they are coming from.

Power Toolkit

Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power. ~ Lao Tzu

I've spoken a lot these past few weeks about how our intensity can be our greatest asset.  You might be thinking, "well that's great and all, but how do I use that intensity if I'm too overwhelmed by my thoughts and feelings to even know where to begin?"

One of the strategies I use in my Ignite Your Power! program is to develop a Power toolkit of things that help you feel back in control.  This involves putting together physical items that help you refocus your energy along with reminders and possibly phone apps such as guided meditations and white noise.  On the table below, I include seven types of tools that you might consider, along with some examples of the types of things you might use for each excitability.

Soothe

Soothe

This is the category that is probably talked about most often. To effectively think about your next move, you must come from a place of calm - or at least not be revved up enough so that the reasoning part of your brain shuts down.

Ask yourself, What helps soothe my mind, imagination, feelings, senses and restless energy?

Possible items might include: Inspirational writing, quotes, guided imagery, grounding objects (rock, paperweight), acupressure points, tapping/EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique); sensory soothers such as: Touch (soft, squishy). See (movement, peaceful) Hear (music, guided meditation, white noise). Taste (mints, tea). Smell (candles, oils); as well as physical soothers such as yoga, stretches, walks and calming movement.

Distract

Distract

Sometimes when our mind is going a mile a minute without stopping, we need to distract ourselves to disengage from our thoughts. The purpose of distracting yourself is to break yourself of the pattern and move on. Use these tools sparingly as you don't want to get stuck on the chosen distraction. Consider setting a timer or reminder of when to end the distraction and move on to something else.

Ask yourself, What helps distract my mind, imagination, feelings, senses and restless energy?

Possible items might include: puzzles, books, crossword puzzles, sudoku, artwork, crafts, crochet, sewing, positive websites, movies, music, movement, walking, dancing and exercise.

Observe

Observe

Once we are calm and out of self defeating thought loops, we can get the space to observe our situation.

Ask yourself: What helps me make objective observations? How do I step back from my emotions or thoughts to see clearly?

Possible items might include: Mindfulness tools, timer, journaling, progressive muscle relaxation and walking meditation.

Connect

Connect

Soothing and distracting yourself may temporarily disconnect you with your feelings, but it is important not to ignore them.  When you can make clear objective observations, you can start to connect with your underlying feelings and needs about the situation.

Ask yourself: How do I connect with my thoughts, ideas, feelings, senses and/or energy?

Possible items might include: Journal, drawing, art supplies, list of feelings & needs, yoga and breathing exercises.

counter-balance

Counter-balance

If you are prone to a repetitive pattern of feelings or thoughts, it can be useful to have tools that counter-balance those feelings or thoughts.  For example, if you are constantly self-critical, it could be helpful to write down affirmations to read to yourself.

Ask yourself: What helps counter-balance overactive mind, imagination, emotions, senses and energy issues?

Possible items might include: Mindless activities (use sparingly as with distracting items), grounding activities, affirmations, inspirational messages, funny or cheering writings or videos, pleasant sensations and calming or energizing activities.

Energize

Energize

While it is important to find soothing activities, it is equally important to find activities that boost your energy and inspiration.

Ask yourself: What helps activate my mind, creativity, positive feelings, senses and energy?

Possible items might include: Inspirational readings, ideas and messages, dream boards, things to touch, see, hear (music), taste (tea), smell (oils), energizing movement and dancing.

Reach-out

Reach out

Finally, it is helpful to remember that you are not doing this alone.  Make a list of people who you can count on to help.

Ask yourself: Who can I process my thoughts, creative ideas, emotions, sensory experiences and/or energy needs with?

Possible people might include: Friends, family, mentors, teachers, counselors and coaches.

Now it's your turn, what tools do you use to reconnect with your own power?

If you'd like to explore this further, there's still time to join us in my Ignite Your Power! program,

The STAR Process

For years I have used the STAR (Stop, Think, Act, Review) model as a school psychologist to teach critical self-regulation skills to kids.  I have revised the process for adults using concepts of Compassionate Communication, or Nonviolent Communication (NVC), which I believe can be used for better communication with yourself as well as improved communication with others.

The four steps can be used both for immediate problem-solving and more long-term exploration of an issue. They are Stop, Think, Act or Request.

1. Stop

Before we take action, we must first get a clear picture of the situation.  We can do this by making objective observations and clarifying our thoughts and feelings around the issue.

One way to do this is by understanding the difference between an observation, a thought and a feeling as described in nonviolent communication (NVC).

An observation is simply what you perceive without interpretation or judgment. E.g. “I see a dish on the coffee table”

A thought is something we add to our observation of reality. E.g. “That dish shouldn’t be on the coffee table.”

A feeling is our reaction when a need is met or not met. E.g. “It makes me mad when I see a dish on that table” (because it doesn’t meet my need for order, respect etc.)

Questions to ask yourself:

- What is going on?

- What am I thinking?

- What am I feeling?

Think

2. Think

Once we understand the needs that drive our choices, we can explore new, more effective strategies to meet our needs. We can also start prioritizing our actions.

A need is a basic requirement that everyone needs to survive and thrive. E.g. Connection, Physical Well-Being, Honesty, Play, Peace, Autonomy, Meaning.

A strategy is one approach to meet that need. E.g. Meeting the need for love and play by going swimming with my son.

Questions to ask yourself:

- What needs are being met?

- What needs are not being met?

- What are some strategies that would better meet my needs?

Act

3. Act

After you have explored possible strategies to meet your needs, it is time to pick one strategy and move forward with it.

Questions to ask yourself:

- What strategy do you think will best meet your needs?

- What are some next steps you can take to implement this strategy?

Request

4. Request

It is important to know who you can ask for help, but it is equally important to consider how you ask.

When making a request, you share your feelings and what needs you would like to meet and ask another person for their help in meeting it. A request is made with the understanding that the other person’s needs must be met as well.

Try to avoid making your request into a demand, which implies that the other person has no choice in how they proceed.

- Who can support me in meeting this need?

- What can I request from them?

I put together this STAR pdf to use this process any time you'd like!

Sign up for my free Power Zone Toolkit: 7 days to More Focus, Energy, and Fun for ways to use the STAR process and other tools. 

Serenity Now!

Last week I wrote about embracing chaos, so it may seem a bit strange that this week I'm talking about serenity.  The kind of serenity I'm speaking of is not about being calm and tranquil all of the time, but there is definitely an element of peace to it.

It is the kind of serenity referred to in the Serenity Prayer:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

~ Reinhold Niebuhr

This prayer has had a special significance in my life from the time that I heard it when I was very young.  I believe that it is one of the keys to living in peace with your excitabilities.

Acceptance

Before we can change, we must accept what is.  This is the theme that I get from most mindfulness and self-help related advice.  This doesn't mean that we sit idly by and watch the world around us suffer.  It also doesn't mean that we wait around for life to happen to us without striving for more.  What it does mean is that peace comes when we can see the world more objectively.

Change

There are some things we can't change, and those things we can might get overwhelming if we try to change them all at once.  To feel most effective, we must choose the ways in which our efforts will have the greatest impact.  When we see so much that could be changed, we can become paralyzed and end up changing nothing.

Wisdom

Wisdom comes not only in knowing what things can be changed, but also in knowing what things actually ought to be changed.  Many of us excitables have spent a lot of time trying to change ourselves to fit what we think we should be based on the community around us.  We might try to be less intense, less loud, less dreamy.  When we spend our time trying to change the core of our being, we lose sight of what's really important. For me, that is living life more deliberately.  That doesn't mean we are always in control, it just means we are more conscious of our choices.

When we can accept the world objectively, and decide the best things to change, we can move forward with purpose!

The Best Friendships Sometimes Make You Cry

I am thankful on a daily basis for my amazing and genuine friendships. Sometimes I end a day with my friends and have that warm fuzzy feeling in my heart of contentment.

Having such wonderful friends made me wonder whether I was being too picky about relationships, I once said, "I just want to find someone who makes me feel as good or better than my friends," to which one of my closest friends said, "I'm sorry we set the bar so high." She was right, they did. I finally met someone who jumped over that bar, but that's a story for a different time.

So what is it about my friends that make them so great to be around? For me it's open, genuine honesty.

You see, I can be what other people might see as lacking in filter. It's not that I don't consider the impact of what I say, it's more that my tolerance for the truth is much higher than it is for many. I can also be impulsive at times and say things without thinking. This means that I occasionally will say something that other people don't like.

I am generally good at picking up on body cues, but sometimes either I'm absorbed in something else so I don't notice, or I pick up on something I can't quite interpret and make up things in my head which might not be accurate.

My biggest fear is that I will say something that will hurt a friend and never know about it.

A couple of years ago we had a big dinner to welcome a friend back to town. I had a great time, but the next day I was surprised. I got calls from not one, but two friends who wanted to talk to me about something I'd said at dinner that upset them. This took me completely by surprise because I had no idea the things I had said had had that affect. In the end, they mostly just needed to get it off their chests.  I apologized and we all moved on. The thing is though, this rarely happens to me these days. For the most part I can just be myself with my friends without worrying about what I say. With the perfect storm of hurting two friends in one night, I cried a little.

Now I reflect back on that moment and I think about how lucky I am to have friends that are comfortable enough to share with me when I say something they don't like. So often we push things that bug us aside because it's "no big deal," but then if we don't work through them they can hang over our heads.

I still get bouts of anxiety in social settings that I'm going to say something that will rub someone the wrong way. I don't feel that way nearly as often as I used to. Having friends who tell me straight up when I do reassures me that I must be doing OK the rest of the time.

We are all real people who occasionally say and do stupid things. When we accept and communicate about that with our friends, it keeps the air clear so that we are free to be fully ourselves!

Communication Breakdown

Why a Language Barrier Can Improve Communication

In my last long term relationship, it took years for me to feel like we had solid communication. Even after that experience, I've found that most of my conflicts in relationships have been based on communication issues.

Last year I met this awesome dyslexic German dude with a bad phone. As you can imagine, our first few weeks of text communication was a little dicey. The new phone helped, but more importantly I learned to decipher his messages.

You'd think that being in a relationship with someone whose first language is not your own would make communication more difficult, but I would actually argue the opposite.

One tool that I believe helps improve our communication is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. These four things can be very challenging to do at times, but we are much happier when we do them.

Here are some reasons that speaking different primary languages can help meet the four agreements, along with some considerations when we both speak the same language.

1. Be Impeccable with your Word

When speaking a second language, everything you say requires a bit more thought. If you are speaking to that person, you need to consider how to best phrase it in a way that they will understand. If it is not understood the first time, you may get creative in explaining yourself or think of better words to use.

When speaking with our language peers, we can use this idea by pausing to think through what we say before we speak.

2. Don’t Take Anything Personally

The other day I finally made a dish I had been talking about for ages. When he tried it, my Guy said something like, "it's good, you should try this thing I make..."  This immediately rubbed me the wrong way because the tone he used implied, to me, that he only thought it was OK, and what he had to make was better. I brought this up to him and realized that the tone was a language thing, and he really did enjoy it.

Even when there is no language barrier, we can take things people say personally. Next time someone says something that bugs you, ask for clarification. If you can understand where they are coming from, it is easier to take things less personally.

3. Don’t Make Assumptions

This goes along with what I said about taking things personally.  Another way we make assumptions is when we say things in short hand, assuming the other person will get our meaning. This does not always work when that person is not native to the same language.  We have to step back and be clear with our intentions.

Sometimes I start a conversation with someone midway through the conversation I was having in my head.  I have to step back and remember that the other person may not see things the way I do.

4. Always Do Your Best

If you trust each other to always do your best and have the other person's best interest at heart, you can move through a lot of communication barriers.

You can do this whether you have the same first language or not.

So, the next time you come across some challenging communication, try to remember to step back and think so that you can be impeccable with your words, not take anything personally, not make assumptions and always do your best!