Tagged: communciation

Smile Away!

I have never been a very “smiley” person. It’s not that I’m mad, sad or hostile, I just do not walk around smiling. Perhaps it’s my childhood inherent shyness still lurking beneath the surface, or the fact that I’ve always been self-conscious of my teeth (five years of braces will do that to you), but even if I’m feeling happy and carefree, my face doesn’t display it. I’ve heard from others who have joined me in complaining about strangers who walk up to us saying smile pretty lady, why so serious? This has happened at the gym or grocery store on more than on occasion, and I know I’m not alone in this. I usually find it to be quite annoying, as it sounds a tad demeaning, not to mention that they really have no clue what’s going on in this woman’s world – maybe there’s a very good reason why she’s not smiling!

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But recently at the gym as I pondered my smile-less demeanor, I simultaneously noticed how many women wouldn’t smile at me as I passed by and made eye contact. My initial reaction was one of defensiveness – what’s wrong with them, are they threatened by me or feeling superior? Then I realized how many people must think the same thing of me. These other women could be shy, could be seriously focused (as I usually am), or could be suffering from a bad day or some sadness I could never know about. I also reflected upon some of my friends who are very “smiley” people, and how they’re always quick to smile and say hello, and consequently receive a lot of friendly acknowledgment back.

Having heard for years (from doctors to yoga gurus) that smiling had huge health benefits, I did a little research and found a myriad of “benefits” cited out on the internet. Here are the most common and compelling:

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  1. LOWERS YOUR HEART RATE.  Smiling slows the heart and relaxes the body. This lets the heart work without overworking. People who smile and laugh often are less likely to develop heart disease. Smiling also temporarily reduces blood pressure.
  2. LOWERS STRESS, IMPROVES MOOD, BOOSTS IMMUNE SYSTEM. There is a definite lowering in physical tension when we smile as smiling releases endorphins that counteract and diminish stress hormones while also lifting your mood. Endorphins also are natural anti-inflamatories which help to reduce pain in our bodies (another reason we might not be smiling). The reduction in stress also allows our bodies to be more ready to fight infections or viruses, thus boosting our immune systems.
  3. ENCOURAGES TRUST.  Studies show that we are more trustful of others when they smile and smile genuinely. Trust is an important aspect of our social health when dealing with people, whether loved ones, co-workers, or even strangers.
  4. CONTRIBUTES TO SUCCESS.  Smiling makes us appear confident, self-assured, and approachable. Those who smile are more likely to earn more money through tips and raises, and are more readily approached with business ideas and other career opportunities or advancements.
  5. LOOK YOUNGER.  Smiles naturally lift the face which studies have shown can make people look younger (around 3 years younger on average).

There were many more smile-benefits listed, but I figured these five were strong enough. So I decided to run a test – I would smile randomly throughout my day, with a specific attempt to make more eye contact with people while I smiled.

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The results … first off, my workout was more relaxing and thus effective. I had fun working out while smiling at my fellow “gym rats,” and left feeling more satisfied, both physically and emotionally. My interactions at stores and restaurants were far more pleasant and I received better service and prices (grocery checker offered me several coupons just because she had them). At the end of the day I looked less tired too (i.e., younger).

Based upon this, I say smile away people! You might have to force yourself initially (though don’t force the smile – those look creepy and fake), but once you garner a few positive reactions it becomes easier. Just find something to think about that puts a smile on your face and you’ll look (and be) sincere. The benefits will follow. Please feel free to share your test results with me and my readers!

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Mother or Martyr

Even before I became a Mother, as a personal trainer and life coach I was very passionate about helping women not be martyrs just because they had children (and spouses). Knowing from first hand experience (my childhood) that a women could be a mother and still achieve her career goals and have a personal life too, I always had the perspective that being a mother did not have to end my time as an individual who has interests, hobbies and needs.

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Clearly I had (have) a remarkable mother who demonstrated through her actions that you can be a woman and a mother, so in 2005 I wrote and published my first book: Joan of Arc Is Dead. A Wake-Up Call For Women Who Sacrifice Too Much. Now 10 years later I find myself coaching a new crop of clients regarding this same issue. The chronic complaints I hear range from “I have no time to work out,” “my spouse and I haven’t been on a romantic date in months,” “I miss hanging out with my friends or shopping without the kids in tow,” or “there’s no time for me or my needs.”

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In answer to all these complaints I say rubbish. YOU have set up your lives to place the needs of the children/spouse before your own. Many life coaches and self-help gurus utilize the analogy of airline safety instructions as an illustration of why this habit is detrimental. They say: place the oxygen mask over your nose and mouth FIRST, then assist your children. The reason for this is that if you pass out from lack of oxygen you’re no good to your children. Well it’s the same in life – if you are over-fat, over-stressed, unhealthy and/or (most-importantly) unhappy, what good are you to your family?

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More significantly, what are you teaching your kids (especially daughters)? We tell our children they can be anything, do anything they set their minds to. But our actions as martyring mothers suggest that once you become a parent, those things you had passion for take a back seat to the needs of the child. If I were that child, I would wonder why bother pursuing my goals if once I had a child I had to stop participating in things I enjoy.  Clearly there are times and situations that choices made by all parents put our needs last, but if you are consistently harried and/or angry that your needs and wishes are not being met, you must look at yourself for the responsibility.

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Now if  you’re yelling at your computer screen that there’s absolutely no room in your life for YOU, let me share my Mother’s journey (in brief).  She was abandoned by my father and left with two children in a rented house in Los Angeles, her college degree unfinished, in the 1960’s when divorced women were not often welcome in most other women’s homes (for fear she would steal their man). She went on to complete her Master’s degree at UCLA, then obtain Ph.D. from USC (on a full scholarship) all the while working two jobs. On a shoe-string budget, she fed us (healthy choices I might add), clothed us (often sewing our clothes), kept a clean house, was always on time, and still managed to go out once or twice a month on dates. Although my brother and I were “latch-key kids” I always felt my mother was there if I needed her and she taught me how to cook, sew, clean, spent time making arts and crafts with us as well as reading books with me. So I think if she can do it under those circumstances, you can do it!

The easiest and best first step is to begin (or resume) exercising. Choose a time and whether it’s a gym or at home, let the entire family know (including yourself) that this is a non-negotiable appointment for YOU. No matter how tired, you must push yourself to keep this appointment with yourself and trust when I say that after a very short period it will become easier and the rewards are huge. From fat-loss to mood-elevation and stress reduction – you and your family will gain huge benefits from these results.  I understand that many of  you juggle school-age children with a full-time job, and that you honestly can’t imagine squeezing one minute nonetheless an hour out of your jam-packed schedule.  But I promise if you stay open to the concept, and you can find ways to put your needs and wants into the family’s schedule.

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So the next time you lament that you didn’t get to do something you really wanted or needed, stop and remind yourself that the quality of YOUR life matters too and it’s all in your capable hands.

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Truth Is Hard

Almost everyone I talk to in my capacity as a life coach and friend has said to me at some point “I just don’t like confrontation.” If you read my March 2013 article Confrontation or Communication (and if you haven’t you might want to) then you know that the word confrontation has a bad rap. More to the point, 90% of the time when you think something is, or will be, confrontational, what’s really at stake is that you need to tell someone something you know they don’t want to hear and therefore assume they will become defensive, which makes you offensive – or the bad guy.

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But I’m here to tell you that while truth is hard, truth is always better and more beneficial than passive aggressive attempts to soften a blow, or worse yet, sheer avoidance.  So take stock of your life and relationships, and see if there’s something you need to say to someone that you’re just not saying.

Are you afraid you’ll feel guilty – that’s usually what holds people back from sharing a important truth? Let me remind you that guilt is an emotional trigger designed to let your heart know when you’ve been ethically or morally wrong to another (or yourself). Telling the truth about your feelings, especially if done with tact and respect is never ethically or morally wrong.  As for tact and respect, that does not mean candy-coating or making the ‘lead’ be so buried under tangential fluff that the recipient never really understands your feelings. How you keep tactful and respectful is by staying succinct, on point, and keeping it about facts and YOUR feelings.

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Say for example your friends or family want to come visit for a week-long vacation. You haven’t enough room to house them all comfortably, and you have too much on your plate with work, kids, after-school activities, budgetary concerns, etc., so it would be highly inconvenient for them to stay in your home for an entire week, especially when you are not on vacation too.

You’re reluctant to tell them the truth and hurt their feelings, disappoint them, or screw up their plans, especially since it would feel like the dreaded “confrontation” because they’ve made it clear that this is happening regardless of your feelings.  That is of course, because you haven’t been upfront with your feelings!

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So you say something like:  of course you’re welcome, but I can’t take any time off to be with you and we don’t really have enough beds for all of you. They say not to worry, they don’t mind sleeping on the sofa or floor and will be gone most of each day sightseeing . But you know that you’ll feel the stress of wanting to keep your house clean, keep your kids on their routines and schedules, and just have your own space after a long day of work.

Then you try the more direct approach, though still veiled: any chance you can schedule this for the week of [blank] because they kids have no school then and I can take some vacation days or even join you at a hotel and have a staycation? Once again, they appreciate your idea or concern, but assure you that this is the best for them and they’re okay with you not being available.

Honesty-2Either way you been passively vague about how their visit would affect you, and neither approach took care of your needs. Now my response from the start would be I would love to see you but I have to be honest the weekdays are just not good for us to have guests. I hope that doesn’t mess up your plans, and if you need any help finding affordable hotels in the area I’d be happy to get you some recommendations.

Most people will appreciate that you didn’t martyr yourself and in many cases they would feel the same way about a disruption to their work/school week. Others may not, but again I remind you that you have not been wrong to them, you’ve been honest and right for yourself and your family. If they are disgruntled by this it’s because they wanted or needed to save money and you’ve thrown a wrench into that. But is it fair that they put a strain on your resources and family’s’ needs because they want a vacation they can’t fully afford?

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I understand that with family these concepts are often unimaginable due to the idea that family means unconditional acceptance and family-imposed burdens are a fact of life. But I feel that even with family, once we’re all adults, we have the right to put our needs and feelings first if the opposite would cause a detrimental disruption to our lives. Of course, I’m not talking about emergencies / crises – that’s when we do whatever is needed to be there for each other. My family and friends know that’s my code. But when their needs are voluntary or elective, then I speak the truth.  Ultimately I do believe your friends and family will respect you for it, and if not, at the very least, you’ll have a less stressful week!  Think about it, and as always I love to hear your perspective.

Deal With It Or Dump It

Who’s got baggage – and I’m not talking about luggage as you head out on a trip – I’m talking about unresolved issues or relationships that you tote around for days, weeks, and even years?  You know, those feelings of anger, depression or disappointment about something or someone that you just haven’t gotten over?

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Do you chronically complain to your friends, family, and co-workers about said issue, while never do anything to resolve it? Do you re-hash conversations and actions, constantly poking at the internal scabs? Are you in a relationship or friendship that drags you down, yet you remain intent on fixing what probably cannot be fixed?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. But the more important question is what do you do about that baggage? It’s simple my friends – deal with it, or dump it.

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Staying stuck on hurt feelings or problems results in only one thing – staying stuck. By choosing to deal with your feelings or a problem (i.e., face them, find a solution, and take action) you will bring a slice of peace to your life which reduces stress and puts you in a healthier state of being. If the situation or person is something/someone that simply can’t be dealt with – then just dump it or them. As harsh as that sounds sometimes the best solution is to walk away and remove yourself from the detrimental situation or relationship.

The excuses that will blast into your brain at the thought are normal fears because change is scary, and finances, when involved, are always a valid concern. But ultimately (forgive the trite adage) where there’s a will there’s a way.

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Start slowly if you need to; take small situations and just deal with them or dump them. Have a heartfelt conversation to clear the air, or start saying NO when facing something negative that you tend to involve yourself with out of habit. Stop being afraid to simply state your feelings and needs.

As for “dumping” a person, obviously that’s tricky but with positive motivation behind you it’s not as hard as you think. I’m not taking about simple evading tactics (not answering calls, texts, or emails), I’m talking about letting a person know that your relationship/friendship is not functioning on a healthy level, and if they’re not willing to meet you half way to fix it, then you are no longer going to participate in that relationship.

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A lot of this comes down to your willingness to just LET GO. So many of us are “control-freaks” who simply refuse to let anything go even when it’s not working. We’re certain that somehow someway we can get it right. We don’t want to be quitters after all. Yet sometimes the best choice is to quit, to walk away, let it go but not see that action as a failure. It took me many years to learn that, and now I just let the crap go and/or walk away when I realize I’m swimming against an unrelenting current.

For those of you who find it hard to not focus on the problem – work on shifting your focus onto something positive that you can control, like exercise, nutrition, or just filling your time with only people and environments that have a positive affect on your life. I am well aware that all of this is easy to say and not necessarily easy to do. But nothing worthwhile is, and I can attest first hand that with practice it gets much easier.

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So take stock, and if there’s something dragging you down – deal with it or dump it.

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Confrontation or Communication

As a Life Strategies Coach, I work with clients to clean up the clutter in their lives, literally and figuratively.  The “literal clutter” cleanup is easy: figure out your goals, come up with a systematic and achievable plan, get organized, and go for it!  Clearing away the “figurative” mind and emotional clutter takes a bit more work. This type of cconfront1lutter is usually the result of feelings not shared with a spouse, friend, co-worker, or family member.  Holding on to these hurt, angry, frustrated, or confused feelings often results in low self-esteem, self-doubt, reluctance to take action, and even physical illness or pain.

The typical reason that most of us do not vent these vitriolic emotions is due to  fear of the dreaded . . . confrontation.  What’s so bad about confrontation?  Isn’t it, after all, simply communication?  Communication: good.  Confrontation: bad!  (Said the grunting monster.)

The problem is that most of us associate confrontation with aggression, anger, attack, sometimes even violence.  According to the dictionary, the root of confrontation – confront – means: “to face in hostility or defiance, to oppose.”  This is clearly what most of us wish to avoid.  But it also states the following: “to stand in front of or meet facing; to present for acknowledgment.”  That doesn’t sound so bad, to present for acknowledgment.  To present your feelings so that they can be acknowledged.  Surely that is the real core response we all seek, when “confronting.”  An acknowledgment of our feelings.  If you think hard about it, you’ll admit an appreciation of our feelings is far more important than who was right and who was wrong.  (Do not forget, that there are two sides to every story, and the truth is somewhere in the middle!)

But where we getconfront4 stuck when trying to communicate our feelings – where it turns into the negative aspects of a confrontation – is in our delivery and our recipient’s response.  With attention spans so short, and everything else moving so fast in our society (from food to entertainment to cars), is it any wonder that we are predisposed to offensive and defensive modes of communication?  Throw your words out there…feel attacked…respond defensively with an assault (or insult).  Rapid fire words to hit where they hurt, then duck and cover.  Muscles tighten, the body fills with tension.

That’s how I perceive many attempts at communication where hurt or frustrated feelings are concerned.  This is not communication, it is confrontation in the “face in hostility or defiance” definition.   I, too, would do all I could to avoid confrontations if that is how it would always result.

But what would happen if we all changed our delivery when a confrontation was needed?  If we calmly articulated the facts of how we feel (for the facts about how you feel cannot be disputed), and did so from a perspective of understanding that the other person may well have felt their own levels of hurt or frustration.

We must let go of the battle over which came first (the proverbial chicken or the egg), and just acknowledge that both parties used poor communication or thoughconfront2tless actions.  Promise to do our best to think before we speak or act in the future, and more importantly, acknowledge the other’s feelings in this situation.

Confrontation would loose its intimidating factor if it were nothing more than an intense communication between parties in which they stated their feelings, acknowledged each other, and moved on with a new awareness.

So if you have been avoiding confronting someone (in the old negative definition), try this new approach.  You have nothing to lose, and plenty to gain.  I can feel my muscles just relaxing thinking about it.  How about you?