Thursday, March 10, 2022

Managing Strong Feelings


The humanitarian crisis in Ukraine has many of us feeling helpless. Sure, we can open our wallets and send money or buy much needed supplies to be sent to aid the refugees. Yet, beyond those actions, what more can we do? As gas, oil, and other prices surge, this adds another layer of stress over things we cannot control. The frustration or anger that can well inside us from situations that are out of our control chips away at our peace of mind and releases stress hormones which, left unattended, can lead to health-related problems.

However, there are things we can do to manage the emotional toll. The capacity to manage strong feeling, emotions, and impulses involves being able to:

  • take action without being impulsive and responding out of emotion
  • put emotions to the side when clear thinking and action are required
  • use thinking as a way of managing one’s emotions

When we allow ourselves to get worked up, we are needlessly causing our bodies to go into fight-or-flight mode. That's why perspective is so important. I remember my mother, who was a young woman during the World War II era, talking about the rationing of bread, flour, sugar, and other staples. I, myself, remember gas rationing back in the the 1970s. And while we are not there (and hopefully will not get there) think of all you do have.

The people in Ukraine are losing there homes, businesses, schools, towns. On February 23, sixteen days ago from the writing of this post, people in Ukraine were living life as we live it today..... planning weddings, graduations, awaiting the birth of a child.....all the thing that are part of the normality of everyday life. And then it all was shattered. In two weeks time, nearly two-million people fled from their lives as they knew it on February 23.

Take a few minutes to think about that. Imagine yourself waking up on February 24 and having to flee your home, your town, your life as you knew it, with little more than the clothes on your back. Think about this when the urge to complain about the price of gas as you fill up your car....the car that will then take you to the store, to your workplace, to the comfort of your home.

Perspective. Perspective can and will make the difference in how your manage your emotions and your stress.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Be A Creative Thinker

 Why is it . . .

  •     Superman could stop bullets with his chest, but always ducked when someone threw a gun at him?
  • man evolved from monkeys, yet we still have monkeys?
  • necessary to nail down the lid of a coffin?

"Good learning starts with questions, not answers," wrote Guy Claxton. And, I will add, sometimes it is the most outrageous questions that can jump start our thinking, get us looking at a problem in a new way.

Creative thinking calls into question the assumptions underlying our usual ways of thinking and acting.

Creative thinkers consider rejecting standardized formats for problem solving. They have an interest in a wide range of related and divergent fields. Creative thinkers take multiple perspectives on a problem and will use trial-and-error methods in their experimentation. When we step into new territories, tentativeness is normal.

Be a creative thinker. Pose new questions to yourself everyday, even outlandish ones like those above. Have a future orientation; have self-confidence and trust in your own judgment. Deepen your self-knowledge by exploring your inner strengths, your weaknesses, your skills, biases, expectations, and fears.

Examine the patterns, the habitudes that are holding you back, keeping you stuck in the 'same old, same old.' As Stephen Covey said, "Live out of your imagination, not your history."

Thursday, February 24, 2022

My Mom, and a Life She Touched

 "Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones.
A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you."
~ Shannon L. Alder

A few years ago, I received the following e-mail via my website:

Dear Ms. Schiano:
I am writing you with the hopes that you are Rita Schiano, the daughter of my beloved piano teacher, mentor, and second mother Jane Marie Notarthomas Schiano of Syracuse, NY. I was on Route 20, heading to the Brimfield Fair when I saw your name on a sign. If it is indeed you, I would love to say hello. I moved to Boston 27 years ago and am a church organist, thanks to the inspiration and teaching of Jane.
                                        Sincerely, Bobby DeRegis

It took a few months to coordinate our schedules (and I must be honest and admit I let this fall through the cracks of time at one point). However, we found a few dates and decided that Westborough would be the logical, halfway meeting point.

Bobby suggested Friday, January 18, as he had an appointment in Westborough that day. Unfortunately, I had another commitment that afternoon.

I responded, "Perhaps the following Friday, 1/25 or 2/1? Actually, February 1 is the anniversary of my mom’s passing," I wrote. "Perhaps that might be a nice remembrance.”

Bobby responded, "I think February 1st might be a sign from above. Let's do it."

The last time I saw Bobby was in 1986, at my mom's funeral. He was seventeen years old. Now a man of fifty, I was so heartened by the extraordinary detail with which he remembered her.

"She saved me in so many ways. Helped me through difficult times and losses," he told me. "She gave me a love for music. And she had such deep faith."

Over the next few hours as we talked of her passionate, loving and giving soul, Bobby would pause often to wipe a few tears from his cheek.

In my office at home I have a framed newspaper article written about her many years ago. The columnist described Mom as a ". . . big, warm-hearted woman whose delicious sense of humor dances in her dark eyes. She is also a woman of deep religious faith revealed through her music."

In addition to teaching private piano and voice lessons, Mom was the organist and choir director at St. John the Baptist Church in Syracuse, NY. Although a Catholic, mom shared her rich, dramatic contralto voice in the quartet at the Temple Society of Concord worship services every Friday night.
And she was extremely proud of her special choral group, the Out of Sight Singers. "They may lack eyesight, but not voices, and I love every minute I work with them," she said.

Bobby is not the only person to reach out to me about my mom over the years. Numerous people have contacted me via Facebook and shared their memories of her. And like Bobby, many have gone on to study music in college and work as professional musicians and music teachers. And each and every one makes it a point to say, "I loved her."

I loved her, too. I was blessed to have her as my mom and mentor in life. The greatest lesson I learned from my mom is to be mindful of how my words and deeds affect the people I interact with each day. Be it a friend, colleague, cashier, attendant, someone I pass by in a store or on the street.

"See them," she’d say. "Look beyond appearances. Be grateful for the smallest act. And always show the world your true self."

Words to live by, indeed.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Ambition, Achievement, Fulfillment

 A colleague once said to me, “I admire how ambitious you are.” Her words stopped me.

“Ambitious? You see me as ambitious?” I was puzzled. I never thought of myself in that way, so I had to ponder what she meant by that.

I turned to my internal dictionary and thesaurus — the one my grandmother had drilled into me as a child by insisting that I learn the list of spelling bee words she tore out of the Sunday paper each week.

Ambitious: a go-getter, power-hungry, zealous. That’s not me. Determined. Hmm. Determined. Now that is me. I am determined, purposeful, motivated, and an enthusiastic learner. I am an achiever.

This got me thinking about what is achievement? Achievement is the experience of accomplishment, of attaining the goals you set for yourself. While ambition is the chief driver of achievement, it seems to me they are variables in the equation that equals fulfillment.

Fulfillment is the achievement of something desired, promised, or predicted; it is the feeling of satisfaction or happiness as a result of fully developing one's abilities or character. You may have all the success and money in the world, yet be internally bankrupt and feel that life has no meaning.

Fulfillment is accomplished by two things: continuous growth and continuous contribution beyond oneself. It comes from living a life of meaning, of significance. Achievement, however, is pleasure; achievement is of and in the moment.  

In my studies in strategic intervention, I learned that the strongest drive in human beings is the “drive for fulfillment, and that all human beings share this need to experience a life of meaning and purpose.” (Robbins-Madanes) Fulfillment can only be achieved when we focus our lives on the need to grow continuously, and the need to contribute beyond ourselves in a meaningful way.

My desire to grow continuously and to contribute beyond myself in a meaningful way is fueled by an inner ambition to do so.

Perhaps my colleague was right. I am ambitious.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

That Four-letter "F" Word

Do you sometimes find yourself spewing that 4-letter "F" word?

No, not THAT one . . . I'm talking about that other 4-letter "F" word -- FEAR.

Fear is a distressing negative emotion brought on by a perceived threat. It is a basic survival mechanism that triggers your 'fight or flight' response. Our fears, however, can often take on a life of their own and stop us dead in our tracks.

Rejection is an irrational fear that others will not accept us for who we are. Fear of rejection is one of those insidious, perceived threats that can hold you back, keep you from achieving your goals. Fear of rejection pervades our minds, often rendering us incapable of doing or saying anything for fear of others' rejection, lack of acceptance, or disapproval. Yes, there will be times in your life when you will face rejection. How will you handle rejection if it does happen?

To start, be prepared. Identify your limiting thoughts, such as...

    People dislike me
    I am a failure
    I am not worthy of their approval

. . . and then dismiss them one by one.

To do so effectively you need to build your self-esteem. And you build self-esteem by understanding your self-worth.   So make this list instead . . .

    People like me because...
    I have been successful in...
    I am worthy of others' approval because...

Work on your self-worth list everyday by adding just one good trait about you. Remember my equation:

Self-confidence + Self-worth = Self-esteem

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Are You Feeling Challenged By Obstacles?

 Are you feeling challenged by obstacles? Are you clear as to what that "thing" is that is preventing or hindering your progress?

I view any obstacle that gets in my way as an opportunity to learn something new. It's not always an easy lesson. And sometimes the learning of the lesson takes time, patience, and reflection.

Changing the way we think about obstacles effects our success rate for as the Zen Buddhists say, "The obstacle is the path." To begin, we have to identify the type and source of the obstacle. Ask yourself: Do you view the obstacle metaphorically as a pebble, a rock, or a boulder? Is it external or internal?

External obstacles are those things outside of your control, such as environment, money, physical limitations. Yet, because they are external does not mean you should give up. What is always in your control is how you choose to respond (cognitively) not react (emotionally) to the challenge.

Internal obstacles are things such as fear, self-doubt, and what I call your Habitudes -- Patterns of thought and behavior affecting our attitudes towards life; habitual ways of thinking and acting that may or may not serve you.

Our beliefs and thoughts about a situation affect our reaction to it. The way we think about things can actually give things more meaning than they actually deserve. By giving meaning to things, we give them power in our lives. That's why I asked you to think metaphorically about the obstacle. What is its size? How easily, based on that size - pebble, rock, boulder -- can you remove it from your pathway?

"Obstacles don't have to stop you," said Michael Jordan. "If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it."