There are plenty of ways to relieve stress — exercise, a long soak in a hot bath, or even a massage. But believe it or not, something you’re doing right now, probably without even thinking about it, is a proven stress reliever: breathing.
As it turns out, deep breathing is not only relaxing, it’s been scientifically proven to affect the heart, the brain, digestion, the immune system — and maybe even the expression of genes.
Mladen Golubic, a physician in the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine, says that breathing can have a profound impact on our physiology and our health.
“You can influence asthma; you can influence chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; you can influence heart failure,” Golubic says. “There are studies that show that people who practice breathing exercises and have those conditions — they benefit.”
He’s talking about modern science, but these techniques are not new. In India, breath work called pranayama is a regular part of yoga practice. Yoga practitioners have used pranayama, which literally means control of the life force, as a tool for affecting both the mind and body for thousands of years.
Take A Breath
Judi Bar teaches yoga to patients with chronic diseases at the Cleveland Clinic. Bar uses yoga and modifications of traditional yoga breathing exercises as a way to help them manage their pain and disease.
Our breaths will either wake us up or energize us. It will relax us, or it will just balance us,” Bar says.
She demonstrates a “firebreath.”
“So, at first we pant like a little doggy, and then we close our mouth, and then the nostril breath starts right after that. OK, here we go,” she says.
Bar then begins to pant, first with an open mouth and then through the nose. It almost makes you feel lightheaded just watching. Afterward, she says she feels a little dizzy but energized enough to run around the block a couple of times.
Putting On The Brake
Research has shown that breathing exercises like these can have immediate effects by altering the pH of the blood, or changing blood pressure.
But more importantly, they can be used as a method to train the body’s reaction to stressful situations and dampen the production of harmful stress hormones. Esther Sternberg is a physician, author of several books on stress and healing, and researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health. She says rapid breathing is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system. It’s part of the “fight or flight” response — the part activated by stress.
In contrast, slow, deep breathing actually stimulates the opposing parasympathetic reaction — the one that calms us down
“The relaxation response is controlled by another set of nerves — the main nerve being the Vagus nerve. Think of a car throttling down the highway at 120 miles an hour. That’s the stress response, and the Vagus nerve is the brake,” says Sternberg. “When you are stressed, you have your foot on the gas, pedal to the floor. When you take slow, deep breaths, that is what is engaging the brake.”
Changing Gene Expression
Harvard researcher Herbert Benson coined the term “The Relaxation Response” in 1975 with a book of the same name. In it, Benson used scientific research to show that short periods of meditation, using breathing as a focus, could alter the body’s stress response.
In his new book, Relaxation Revolution, Benson claims his research shows that breathing can even change the expression of genes. He says that by using your breath, you can alter the basic activity of your cells with your mind.
“It does away with the whole mind-body separation,” Benson says. “Here you can use the mind to change the body, and the genes we’re changing were the very genes acting in an opposite fashion when people are under stress.”
Of course, breathing is not the answer to every medical problem. But Benson and others agree: The breath isn’t something Western medicine should blow off. It’s a powerful tool for influencing individual health and well-being. And the best part is all the ingredients are free and literally right under your nose.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
While driving down the highway in the fast lane, the person in front of you appears to have no idea what the fast lane means. After running all over town with the kids, you arrive home. They know they have rooms yet insist that the entire house is their closet and drop things wherever they please. It’s your birthday and your best friend gets you just what you needed, nothing. It seems that in these instances, the first reaction is to take things personally. As if what was done was intentional, a personal attack.
As odd as it sounds, we often think that there are many forces against us and we are innocent bystanders. I don’t agree. While there are some truly random events, much of what happens is our own doing. How we feel and react to the things going on around us will largely determine what happens to us. In the preceding examples, what makes us think that the things that happen to us are directed at us? Instead of reacting with a “How dare you!” we often react with a “How dare you do this to me!” The truth of the matter is that each person is really more concerned about themselves than they are others. It’s survival of the fittest. The person driving slow in front of me in traffic is more concerned about having a wide open lane ahead of them than they are with me getting past.
A lot of our life is spent worrying about what others may think or feel about us. To paraphrase Dr. Phil, we wouldn’t worry near as much about what others thought about us if we knew how seldom they did. When we are emotionally reactive to things in life, we give up our power to choose. If we take things personally, whether intended personally or not, our reaction intensifies. All of the sudden we have to defend ourselves, though many times a response is not warranted. Instead it would be better if we could learn the art of self-soothing. To be able to calm ourselves in the midst of emotional reactions opens a whole new range of responses.
We all have this ability. We are born with it. Just the other day, my 2 year old was climbing up on a toy in the house for the first time. As I watched her, she had a moment of pause just before she stood up tall and proud. In that moment of pause, she gathered herself and found the internal courage to stand. We do the same thing just before we honestly speak our mind, or address an issue with our spouse or kids. Self-soothing can be enhanced and used in all situations. And doing so gives you much more power over life’s circumstances.
To put this another way; you teach people how to treat you. If you feel that many people treat you wrong or take advantage of you, it only happens because you let them. Learning how to self-sooth, then stand up will produce a different outcome. This in turn will change the way others treat you. If you demand respect, trust, love, honor, comfort, or whatever, accept nothing less. Whenever you receive less than you expect, rather than taking it personally and reacting as such, calm yourself and address the issue. Either put yourself in their shoes and see it from their perspective or stand up and be honest, or both. If this honesty comes from both your mind and heart, it carries much more weight than just emotional reactivity.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
When your partner feels jealous, you may get triggered too. Their intense feelings may trigger a painful counter-reaction in you. Often the feeling or belief is, “She/he thinks I’m a bad person, a liar, a cheater.” Then YOU feel threatened. Your sense of self – of being a good, kind and loving person is threatened.
When we’re “under siege” – having an experience like the one above, we lose the ability to think clearly and empathize with our loved one. If your partner’s jealousy make you feel angry or hurt, your primary aim and focus will naturally be restoring your own feelings of worth and goodness.
You may argue, trying to convince him/her that he/she is wrong. Or you may withdraw, protecting yourself from the negative words and feelings. But these reactions don’t work. Your partner can’t be convinced, no matter what you say. And if you withdraw, he/she gets even more upset – in his/her fear of losing you, he/she has in fact “lost” you – even if its only for a few hours.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
What is hypnosis? Have you ever been totally absorbed while reading a book, cooking or watching a movie? Did you zone out to the point you didn’t notice what else was going on around you? If so, you’ve experienced a trance-like state that’s similar to what happens to you during hypnosis.
Hypnosis, also referred to as hypnotherapy or hypnotic suggestion, is a trance-like state of mind. It is usually achieved with the help of a hypnotherapist and is different from your everyday awareness. When you’re under hypnosis: -Your attention is more focused -You’re deeply relaxed and calm -You’re more open to suggestions, and less critical or disbelieving
The purpose of hypnosis is to help you gain more control over your behavior, emotions or physical well-being. Hypnotherapists say that hypnosis creates a state of deep relaxation and quiets the mind. When you’re hypnotized, you can concentrate intensely on a specific thought, memory, feeling or sensation while blocking out distractions. You’re more open than usual to suggestions, and this can be used to change your behavior and thereby improve your health and well-being.
Who is hypnosis for? Hypnotherapy has the potential to help relieve the symptoms of a wide variety of diseases and conditions. It can be used independently or along with other treatments. According to scientific studies, hypnotherapy may be used to: · Change negative behaviors, such as smoking and overeating · Reduce or eliminate fears, stress and anxiety · Lower blood pressure · Control nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy · Reduce the intensity or frequency of pain · Treat and ease the symptoms of asthma Although hypnosis may have the potential to help with a wide variety of conditions, it’s typically used as one part of a broader treatment plan rather than as a stand-alone therapy. Like any other therapy, hypnosis can be helpful to some people but not to others. It seems to work best when you’re highly motivated and your therapist is well trained.
Types of hypnosis
There are a variety of hypnotic techniques. The approach you choose depends on what you want to accomplish as well as your personal preferences. For example, in one method a hypnotherapist leads you into hypnosis by talking in a gentle, soothing tone and describing images that create a sense of relaxation, security and well-being. While you’re under hypnosis, the hypnotherapist suggests ways for you to achieve specific goals, such as reducing pain or stress or helping to eliminate the cravings associated with smoking cessation. In another technique, once you’re under hypnosis, the hypnotherapist helps stimulate your imagination by suggesting specific mental images for you to visualize. This conscious creation of vivid, meaningful pictures in your mind is called mental imagery, and it’s a way to help bring about what you want to achieve. Self-hypnosis is a third technique. A certified hypnotherapist teaches you how to induce a state of hypnosis in yourself. You then use this skill on your own to help yourself. For instance, hypnotherapists can help executives visualize what they want to accomplish before they perform it, such as giving a presentation or making a sale.
Although hypnotherapists, like other health care practitioners, each have their own style, expect some common elements:
A typical session lasts from 30 to 60 minutes.
The number of sessions can range from one to several.
You generally bring yourself out of hypnosis at the end of a session.
You can usually resume your daily activities immediately after a session.
Although hypnosis may have the potential to help with a wide variety of conditions, it’s typically used as one part of a broader treatment plan rather than as a stand-alone therapy. Like any other therapy, hypnosis can be helpful to some people but not to others. It seems to work best when you’re highly motivated and your engaged in the process.
Myths about hypnosis If you’ve ever seen hypnotism used as entertainment in a stage act, you’ve probably witnessed several of the myths about hypnosis in action. Legitimate clinical hypnotherapy practiced by a qualified professional is not the same process as that performed on stage.
Myth: When you’re under hypnosis, you surrender your free will.
Reality: Hypnosis is a heightened state of concentration and focused attention. When you’re under hypnosis, you don’t lose your personality, your free will or your personal strength.
Myth: When you’re under hypnosis, the hypnotherapist controls you.
Reality: You do hypnosis voluntarily for yourself. A hypnotherapist only serves as a knowledgeable guide or facilitator.
Myth: Under hypnosis, you lose consciousness and have amnesia.
Reality: A small number of people who go into a very deep hypnotic state experience amnesia. However, most people remember everything that occurred under hypnosis.
Myth: You can be put under hypnosis without your consent.
Reality: Successful hypnosis depends on your willingness to experience it. Even with voluntary participation, not everyone can be led into a hypnotic state.
It may seem obvious, but no one is perfect and to be human is to make mistakes. However, many fear that if they are not perfect then they will be at fault, leaving them with guilt and emotional pain. Mistakes can have unknown consequences and the unknown is a threat to your sense of security. This perception of a threatening experience is one that you feel unable to cope with and the threat of unknown consequences from your own mistakes, may trigger you to habitually defend yourself against that perceived threat.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
New research on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in soldiers challenges popular assumptions about the origins and trajectory of PTSD, providing evidence that traumatic experiences in childhood — not combat — may predict which soldiers develop the disorder.
Psychological scientist Dorthe Berntsen of Aarhus University in Denmark and a team of Danish and American researchers wanted to understand why some soldiers develop PTSD but others don’t. They also wanted to develop a clearer understanding of how the symptoms of the disorder progress.
“Most studies on PTSD in soldiers following service in war zones do not include measures of PTSD symptoms prior to deployment and thus suffer from a baseline problem. Only a few studies have examined pre- to post-deployment changes in PTSD symptoms, and most only use a single before-and-after measure,” says Berntsen.
The team aimed to address these methodological issues by studying a group of 746 Danish soldiers and evaluating their symptoms of PTSD at five different timepoints. Their study is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
Five weeks before the soldiers were scheduled to leave for Afghanistan, they completed a battery of tests including a PTSD inventory and a test for depression. They also completed a questionnaire about traumatic life events, including childhood experiences of family violence, physical punishment, and spousal abuse.
During their deployment, the soldiers completed measures related to the direct experience of war: perceptions of war zone stress, actual life-threatening war experiences, battlefield wounds, and the experience of actually killing an enemy.
The researchers continued to follow the soldiers after their return home to Denmark, assessing them a couple weeks after their return, two to four months after their return, and seven to eight months after their return.
What Berntsen and her colleagues found challenges several widely held assumptions about the nature of PTSD.
Rather than following some sort of “typical” pattern in which symptoms emerge soon after a particularly traumatic event and persist over time, Berntsen and colleagues found wide variation in the development of PTSD among the soldiers.
The vast majority of the soldiers (84%) were resilient, showing no PTSD symptoms at all or recovering quickly from mild symptoms.
The rest of the soldiers showed distinct and unexpected patterns of symptoms. About 4% showed evidence of “new-onset” trajectory, with symptoms starting low and showing a marked increase across the five timepoints. Their symptoms did not appear to follow any specific traumatic event.
Most notably, about 13% of the soldiers in the study actually showed temporary improvement in symptoms during deployment. These soldiers reported significant symptoms of stress prior to leaving for Afghanistan that seemed to ease in the first months of deployment only to increase again upon their return home.
What could account for this unexpected pattern of symptoms?
Compared to the resilient soldiers, the soldiers who developed PTSD were much more likely to have suffered emotional problems and traumatic events prior to deployment. Childhood experiences of violence, especially punishment severe enough to cause bruises, cuts, burns, and broken bones actually predicted the onset of PTSD in these soldiers. Those who showed symptoms of PTSD were more likely to have witnessed family violence, and to have experienced physical attacks, stalking or death threats by a spouse. They were also more likely to have past experiences that they could not, or would not, talk about. And they were less educated than the resilient soldiers.
According to Berntsen and colleages, all of these factors together suggest that army life — despite the fact that it involved combat — offered more in the way of social support and life satisfaction than these particular soldiers had at home. The mental health benefits of being valued and experiencing camaraderie thus diminished when the soldiers had to return to civilian life.
The findings challenge the notion that exposure to combat and other war atrocities is the main cause of PTSD.
“We were surprised that stressful experiences during childhood seemed to play such a central role in discriminating the resilient versus non-resilient groups,” says Berntsen. “These results should make psychologists question prevailing assumptions about PTSD and its development.”
D. Berntsen, K. B. Johannessen, Y. D. Thomsen, M. Bertelsen, R. H. Hoyle, D. C. Rubin. Peace and War: Trajectories of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms Before, During, and After Military Deployment in Afghanistan. Psychological Science, 2012;
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Donna Talarico sat at her computer one morning, stared at the screen and realized she had forgotten—again!—her password.
She was having financial difficulties at the time, and was reading self-help books to boost her mood and self-confidence. The books talked about the power of positive affirmation—which gave her an idea: She changed her various passwords to private messages to herself, like “imawe$some1″ or “dogoodworktoday.”
“It’s something so simple,” says the 34-year-old marketing manager at Elizabethtown College, in Pennsylvania. “It just reinforces that you’re a good person. You can do a good job at whatever you are trying to talk yourself into.”
In times of stress, even people with close social networks can feel utterly alone. We’re often advised to “buck up,” “talk to someone” (who is often paid to listen) or take a pill. Wouldn’t it also make sense to learn ways to comfort and be supportive of ourselves?
Think of it as becoming our own best friend, or our own personal coach, ready with the kind of encouragement and tough love that works best for us. After all, who else knows us better than ourselves? If that sounds crazy, bear in mind it sure beats turning to chocolate, alcohol or your Pekingese for support.
Experts say that to feel better you need to treat yourself kindly—this is called “self-compassion”—and focus on the positive, by being optimistic. Research shows self-compassionate people cope better with everything from a major relationship breakup to the loss of their car keys. They don’t compound their misery by beating themselves up over every unfortunate accident or mistake. Car broke down? Sure, it’s a drag, but it doesn’t make you an idiot.
“They are treating themselves like a kind friend,” says Mark Leary, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. “When bad things happen to a friend, you wouldn’t yell at him.”
In 15 studies conducted over the past seven years, Dr. Leary has found that self-compassionate people are happier. Three of the studies, soon to be published, examine how self-compassion affects people over age 65. The studies found that people who accepted memory lapses, arthritis and other difficulties of getting older, and who treated themselves extra nicely on tough days, reported more positive emotions and were coping better with the aging process.
Self-compassion helps people overcome life’s little, and not-so-little, stressors, such as public speaking. In another study, Dr. Leary asked people to stand in front of a videocamera and make up a story starting with the phrase, “Once there was a little bear…” Then he asked them to critique their performance, captured on videotape.
People whom the study had identified as being high in self-compassion admitted they looked silly, recognized the task wasn’t easy and joked about it. People low in self-compassion gave harsh self-criticism.
Experts say you can learn self-compassion in real time. You can train your brain to focus on the positive—even if you’re wired to see the glass as half empty. A person’s perspective, or outlook, is influenced by factors including genetic makeup (is he prone to depression?), experiences (what happened to him?) and “cognitive bias” (how does he interpret his experiences?). We can’t change our genes or our experiences, but experts say we can change the way we interpret what has happened in the past.
Everyone has an optimistic and a pessimistic circuit in their brain, says Elaine Fox, visiting research professor at the University of Oxford, England, and director of the Affective Neuroscience Laboratory in the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex. Fear, rooted in the amygdala, helps us identify and respond to threats and is at the root of pessimism. Optimism, in contrast, is rooted in the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s pleasure center, which responds to food, sex and other healthy, good things in life.
“The most resilient people experience a wide range of emotions, both negative and positive,” says Dr. Fox, author of “Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain.” To enjoy life and feel good, people need roughly four positive emotions to counteract the effect of one negative emotion, she says. People who experience life as drudgery had two or even one positive emotion for every negative one, Dr. Fox has found.
It’s possible to change your cognitive bias by training the brain to focus more on the positive than on the negative. In the lab, Dr. Fox showed subjects pairs of images, one negative (the aftermath of a bomb blast, say) and one either positive (a cute child) or neutral (an office). Participants were asked to point out, as quickly as possible, a small target that appeared immediately after each positive or neutral image—subliminally requiring them to pay less attention to the negative images, which had no target.
Want to try this at home? Write down, in a journal, the positive and negative things that happen to you each day, whether running into an old friend or missing your bus. Try for four positives for each negative. You’ll be training your brain to look for the good even as you acknowledge the bad, Dr. Fox says.
When I asked, I was pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of ways people said they treat themselves with compassion, care and kindness. Anittah Patrick, a 35-year-old online marketing consultant in Philadelphia, celebrated her emergence from a long depression by making herself a valentine. She covered an old picture frame with lace and corks from special bottles of wine, and drew a big heart inside. Using old computer keys, she spelled out the message “Welc*me Back.” Then she put it on her dressing table, where she sees it every morning. “It’s a nice reminder that I’ll get through whatever challenge I’m facing,” she says.
If Kris Wittenberg, a 45-year-old entrepreneur from Vail, Colo., starts to feel bad, she tells herself “Stop,” and jots down something she is grateful for. She writes down at least five things at the end of each day. “You start to see how many negative thoughts you have,” she says.
Kevin Kilpatrick, 55, a college professor and children’s author in San Diego, talks to himself—silently, unless he is in the car—going over everything positive he has accomplished recently. “It helps me to hear it out loud, especially from the voice that’s usually screaming at me to do better, work harder and whatever else it wants to berate me about,” he says.
Adam Urbanski, 42, who owns a marketing firm and lives in Irvine, Calif., keeps a binder labeled “My Raving Fans” in his office. Filling it are more than 100 cards and letters from clients and business contacts thanking him for his help. “All it takes is reading a couple of them to realize that I do make a difference,” Mr. Urbanski says.
He has something he calls his “1-800-DE-FUNK line.” It’s not a real number, but a strategy he uses when he is upset. He calls a friend, vents for 60 seconds, then asks her about her problems. “It’s amazing how five minutes of working on someone else’s problems makes my own disappear,” he says. Sometimes, as a reality check, he asks himself, “What Would John Nash Think?” in honor of the mathematician, Nobel laureate and subject of the film “A Beautiful Mind,” who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.
Are things really as dire as he thinks? Is he overreacting? “It always turns out that whatever keeps me down isn’t really as bad as I thought,” Mr. Urbanski says.
Here are ways to be your own best friend in stressful times.
- Instead of “pushing through” a bad day, look for ways to actively improve it. Take a small break. Get an ice-cream cone. Invite a friend out to dinner.
- Resist the urge to make your problems worse. “Ask yourself, How much of my distress is the real problem, and how much is stuff I am heaping on myself unnecessarily?” says Mark Leary, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.
- Boost your daily ratio of positive-to-negative emotions, says Elaine Fox, a cognitive psychologist. What do you enjoy doing? Seeing your best buddy, watching a funny movie, walking in the park? Make a list and do one a day.
- Then list things you really don’t enjoy. Are there people who bring you down? Hobbies that no longer interest you? Errands you can delegate? Some of this stuff can be avoided.
- If you don’t feel happy, fake it. You wouldn’t constantly burden a friend with your bad mood, so don’t burden yourself. Try holding a pencil horizontally in your mouth. “This activates the same muscles that create a smile, and our brain interprets this as happiness,”
1. THE RISK OF CHANGE IS SEEN AS GREATER THAN THE RISK OF STANDING STILL
Making a change requires a kind of leap of faith: you decide to move in the direction of the unknown on the promise that something will be better for you. But you have no proof. Taking that leap of faith is risky, and people will only take active steps toward the unknown if they genuinely believe – and perhaps more importantly, feel – that the risks of standing still are greater than those of moving forward in a new direction. Making a change is all about managing risk. If you are making the case for change, be sure to set out in stark, truthful terms why you believe the risk situation favors change. Use numbers whenever you can, because we in the West pay attention to numbers. At the very least, they get our attention, and then when the rational mind is engaged, the emotional mind (which is typically most decisive) can begin to grapple with the prospect of change. But if you only sell your idea of change based on idealistic, unseen promises of reward, you won’t be nearly as effective in moving people to action. The power of the human fight-or-flight response can be activated to fight for change, but that begins with the perception of risk.
2. PEOPLE FEEL CONNECTED TO OTHER PEOPLE WHO ARE IDENTIFIED WITH THE OLD WAY
We are a social species. We become and like to remains connected to those we know, those who have taught us, those with whom we are familiar – even at times to our own detriment. Loyalty certainly helped our ancestors hunt antelope and defend against the aggressions of hostile tribes, and so we are hard wired, I believe, to form emotional bonds of loyalty, generally speaking. If you ask people in an organization to do things in a new way, as rational as that new way may seem to you, you will be setting yourself up against all that hard wiring, all those emotional connections to those who taught your audience the old way – and that’s not trivial. At the very least, as you craft your change message, you should make statements that honor the work and contributions of those who brought such success to the organization in the past, because on a very human but seldom articulated level, your audience will feel asked to betray their former mentors (whether those people remain in the organization or not). A little good diplomacy at the outset can stave off a lot of resistance.
3. PEOPLE HAVE NO ROLE MODELS FOR THE NEW ACTIVITY
Never underestimate the power of observational learning. If you see yourself as a change agent, you probably are something of a dreamer, someone who uses the imagination to create new possibilities that do not currently exist. Well, most people don’t operate that way. It’s great to be a visionary, but communicating a vision is not enough. Get some people on board with your idea, so that you or they can demonstrate how the new way can work. Operationally, this can mean setting up effective pilot programs that model a change and work out the kinks before taking your innovation “on the road.” For most people, seeing is believing. Less rhetoric and more demonstration can go a long way toward overcoming resistance, changing people’s objections from the “It can’t be done!” variety to the “How can we get it done?” category.
4. PEOPLE FEAR THEY LACK THE COMPETENCE TO CHANGE
This is a fear people will seldom admit. But sometimes, change in organizations necessitates changes in skills, and some people will feel that they won’t be able to make the transition very well. They don’t think they, as individuals, can do it. The hard part is that some of them may be right. But in many cases, their fears will be unfounded, and that’s why part of moving people toward change requires you to be an effective motivator. Even more, a successful change campaign includes effective new training programs, typically staged from the broad to the specific. By this I mean that initial events should be town-hall type information events, presenting the rationale and plan for change, specifying the next steps, outlining future communications channels for questions, etc., and specifying how people will learn the specifics of what will be required of them, from whom, and when. Then, training programs must be implemented and evaluated over time. In this way, you can minimize the initial fear of a lack of personal competence for change by showing how people will be brought to competence throughout the change process. Then you have to deliver.
5. PEOPLE FEEL OVERLOADED AND OVERWHELMED
Fatigue can really kill a change effort, for an individual or for an organization. If, for example, you believe you should quit smoking, but you’ve got ten projects going and four kids to keep up with, it can be easy to put off your personal health improvement project (until your first heart attack or cancer scare, when suddenly the risks of standing still seem greater than the risks of change!). When you’re introducing a change effort, be aware of fatigue as a factor in keeping people from moving forward, even if they are telling you they believe in the wisdom of your idea. If an organization has been through a lot of upheaval, people may resist change just because they are tired and overwhelmed, perhaps at precisely the time when more radical change is most needed! That’s when you need to do two things: re-emphasize the risk scenario that forms the rationale for change (as in my cancer scare example), and also be very generous and continuously attentive with praise, and with understanding for people’s complaints, throughout the change process. When you reemphasize the risk scenario, you’re activating people’s fears, the basic fight-or-flight response we all possess. But that’s not enough, and fear can produce its own fatigue. You’ve got to motivate and praise accomplishments as well, and be patient enough to let people vent (without getting too caught up in attending to unproductive negativity).
6. PEOPLE HAVE A HEALTHY SKEPTICISM AND WANT TO BE SURE NEW IDEAS ARE SOUND
It’s important to remember that few worthwhile changes are conceived in their final, best form at the outset. Healthy skeptics perform an important social function: to vet the change idea or process so that it can be improved upon along the road to becoming reality. So listen to your skeptics, and pay attention, because some percentage of what they have to say will prompt genuine improvements to your change idea (even if some of the criticism you will hear will be based more on fear and anger than substance).
7. PEOPLE FEAR HIDDEN AGENDAS AMONG WOULD-BE REFORMERS
Let’s face it, reformers can be a motley lot. Not all are to be trusted. Perhaps even more frightening, some of the worst atrocities modern history has known were begun by earnest people who really believed they knew what was best for everyone else. Reformers, as a group, share a blemished past . . . And so, you can hardly blame those you might seek to move toward change for mistrusting your motives, or for thinking you have another agenda to follow shortly. If you seek to promote change in an organization, not only can you expect to encounter resentment for upsetting the established order and for thinking you know better than everyone else, but you may also be suspected of wanted to increase your own power, or even eliminate potential opposition through later stages of change.
I saw this in a recent change management project for which I consulted, when management faced a lingering and inextinguishable suspicion in some quarters that the whole affair was a prelude to far-reaching layoffs. It was not the case, but no amount of reason or reassurance sufficed to quell the fears of some people. What’s the solution? Well, you’d better be interested in change for the right reasons, and not for personal or factional advantage, if you want to minimize and overcome resistance. And you’d better be as open with information and communication as you possibly can be, without reacting unduly to accusations and provocations, in order to show your good faith, and your genuine interest in the greater good of the organization. And if your change project will imply reductions in workforce, then be open about that and create an orderly process for outplacement and in-house retraining. Avoid the drip-drip-drip of bad news coming out in stages, or through indirect communication or rumor. Get as much information out there as fast as you can and create a process to allow everyone to move on and stay focused on the change effort.
8. PEOPLE FEEL THE PROPOSED CHANGE THREATENS THEIR NOTIONS OF THEMSELVES
Sometimes change on the job gets right to a person’s sense of identity. When a factory worker begins to do less with her hands and more with the monitoring of automated instruments, she may lose her sense of herself as a craftsperson, and may genuinely feel that the very things that attracted her to the work in the first place have been lost. I saw this among many medical people and psychologists during my graduate training, as the structures of medical reimbursement in this country changed in favor of the insurance companies, HMO’s and managed care organizations. Medical professionals felt they had less say in the treatment of their patients, and felt answerable to less well trained people in the insurance companies to approve treatments the doctors felt were necessary. And so, the doctors felt they had lost control of their profession, and lost the ability to do what they thought best for patients.
My point is not to take sides in that argument, but to point out how change can get right to a person’s sense of identity, the sense of self as a professional. As a result, people may feel that the inherent rewards that brought them to a particular line of work will be lost with the change. And in some cases, they may be absolutely right. The only answer is to help people see and understand the new rewards that may come with a new work process, or to see how their own underlying sense of mission and values can still be realized under the new way of operating. When resistance springs from these identity-related roots, it is deep and powerful, and to minimize its force, change leaders must be able to understand it and then address it, acknowledging that change does have costs, but also, (hopefully) larger benefits.
9. PEOPLE ANTICIPATE A LOSS OF STATUS OR QUALITY OF LIFE
Real change reshuffles the deck a bit. Reshuffling the deck can bring winners . . . and losers. Some people, most likely, will gain in status, job security, quality of life, etc. with the proposed change, and some will likely lose a bit. Change does not have to be a zero sum game, and change can (and should) bring more advantage to more people than disadvantage. But we all live in the real world, and let’s face it – if there were no obstacles (read: people and their interests) aligned against change, then special efforts to promote change would be unnecessary.
Some people will, in part, be aligned against change because they will clearly, and in some cases correctly, view the change as being contrary to their interests. There are various strategies for minimizing this, and for dealing with steadfast obstacles to change in the form of people and their interests, but the short answer for dealing with this problem is to do what you can to present the inevitability of the change given the risk landscape, and offer to help people to adjust. Having said that, I’ve never seen a real organizational change effort that did not result in some people choosing to leave the organization, and sometimes that’s best for all concerned. When the organization changes, it won’t be to everyone’s liking, and in that case, it’s best for everyone to be adult about it and move on.
10. PEOPLE GENUINELY BELIEVE THAT THE PROPOSED CHANGE IS A BAD IDEA
I’ll never forget what a supervisor of mine said to be, during the year after I had graduated from college, secure as I was in the knowledge of my well earned, pedigreed wisdom at age twenty-two. We were in a meeting, and I made the comment, in response to some piece of information, “Oh, I didn’t know that!” Ricky, my boss, looked at me sideways, and commented dryly, “Things you don’t know . . . fill libraries.” The truth is, sometimes someone’s (even – gasp! – my) idea of change is just not a good idea. Sometimes people are not being recalcitrant, or afraid, or muddle-headed, or nasty, or foolish when they resist. They just see that we’re wrong. And even if we’re not all wrong, but only half wrong, or even if we’re right, it’s important not to ignore when people have genuine, rational reservations or objections.
Not all resistance is about emotion, in spite of this list I’ve assembled here. To win people’s commitment for change, you must engage them on both a rational level and an emotional level. I’ve emphasized the emotional side of the equation for this list because I find, in my experience, that this is the area would-be change agents understand least well. But I’m also mindful that a failure to listen to and respond to people’s rational objections and beliefs is ultimately disrespectful to them, and to assume arrogantly that we innovative, change agent types really do know best. A word to the wise: we’re just as fallible as anyone.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Once there was an octopus she would wrap her tentacles around firm, solid rocks to feel secure and comfortable. As she grew, the octopus ventured further out, exploring deeper water. One day the large hull of a ship came along and cast its gloomy shadow over the water. This enormous vessel dropped its strong, sturdy anchor from its bow. The octopus lung to this anchor as it plunged down. As it sank the waters grew darker and colder. The octopus could feel the pressure of the water pushing down on her with immense tension, squeezing her apart. She grasped tighter and tighter in her fright with fear from the increasing uncertainty of what would happen next. The terrified octopus cried out with panic and despair. Then a small jellyfish emerged saying, “I can help you, but you need to do something first. First you must let go of the anchor and then I will show you the way out.” The octopus did not know what to do, was this a trap she thought, for surely she was vulnerable enough that anyone could be trying to take advantage of her prone position of weakness. What would happen once she did let go, perhaps she wouldn’t survive, she had heard of other creatures that had swan deep to the sea floor but never returned. The octopus was overwhelmed as if she were stuck in a tunnel, not sure how to go back or move ahead, like coming out of a movie theater the light may hurt when we first see it, but in her core she knew what she had to do. Slowly at first, then all at once the octopus let go. She followed the jellyfish and began to feel a sense of excitement and joyous adventure, stronger and more competent with each stroke, until she was swimming ahead to the jellyfish and heard the creature say, “from here you are ready to go on by yourself.” The octopus continued to swim to the surface and onwards to new destinations, across the vast ocean, seeking new experiences, going with the gentle currents and floating with the soothing tide.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
The following are sample questions that can be used to generate discussion about a traumatic event:
I. Fact Questions
- How did you first learn of the incident?
- Where were you when the incident occurred?
- What did you see?
- In what way were you involved in the incident?
- Who told you about the incident?
- What were you doing at the time of the incident?
II. Thought Questions
- What was your first thought when you learned, saw, heard, about the incident?
- What were you thinking when the incident was occurring?
- What did you say to yourself?
- What have you been thinking/saying to yourself since the incident happened?
- What thoughts keep coming back to you?
III. Reaction Questions
- What is the worst part of this incident for you?
- Which part of this would you most like to change?
- What about the incident makes this such a difficult situation to handle?
- What are you having the most difficulty handling?
- What is the strongest reaction that you are experiencing?
IV. Symptom Questions
- What, if any, physical symptoms have you experienced?
- Has anyone experienced sleep disturbance?
- Has anyone’s appetite been affected?
- What “out of the ordinary” physical symptoms are you experiencing?
- What is your body telling you about this incident?
V. Relationship Questions
- How has this incident affected the people closest to you?
- What have others said or done that upset you?
- What have others said or done that has been helpful to you?
- Has it been helpful to talk to others about what has happened?
- Do you have people that you can speak to about the incident?
VI. Recovery Questions
- What are you doing to manage the stress that you are feeling?
- What are you doing to cope with the incident?
- What are you doing that’s working for you?
- What are you doing that’s not working for you?
- If someone else were in your situation, what would you advise them to do?
- What are you going to do to take care of yourself?
- What things have you done in the past that helped get you through a stressful event/period?
- What things do you have planned in the next several days that will help you in dealing with this stressful situation?
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