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10 Questions To Ask Yourself To Stay Positive When Facing Difficulties

10 Questions To Ask Yourself To Stay Positive When Facing Difficulties

Everyone faces difficulties from time to time.  It’s a natural part of the cycle of life.  Just like we can’t really know hot without knowing cold, we can’t really know the good times if we don’t know bad times.  Sometimes the difficulties we face in life come from situations out of our control, and other times our difficulties are a direct consequence of the decisions we make.

In life, we cannot change events or their outcome.  We can, however, choose the emotion and meaning we attach to them.  It’s like the saying goes “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react”.  Our brains are designed to store information and then, at every single second of every day, when new information is received, our brains search for a reference memory to lay the foundation for our response.  Think about it, this is why if you have a bad experience on a roller coaster or eating a certain food, for the rest of your life you have an automatic impulse reaction whenever you come across them.

We have to retrain ourselves to see the positive in even the most challenging times.

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Am I Still Breathing?

Sometimes the best we can do is breathe.  During overwhelmingly difficult times, our stress levels rise, our breathing gets shallow, and our body’s natural rhythm gets all out of whack.  At these times it’s essential to stop and ask yourself, ‘am I breathing?’.  If you are then, hey, you live to fight another day.  If you find yourself highly stressed out, take 10 minutes, find a quiet space, and just breathe deeply.  Diaphragmayic breathing has been shown to lower stress levels and helps relax your automatic nervous system.  One of the keys to staying positive is to be relaxed, and making sure you’re breathing correctly is the best way to start.

What Is My Part In This?

Notice this said your ‘part’, not your ‘fault’.  There’s a huge distinction in these two words.  One is acknowledging and accepting your responsibility for your current situation, the other is self-defeating and simply assigns blame.  Focusing on your part instead of just casting blame reduces the challenge you’re facing to a more manageable size.

What Is In My Control?

When life feels completely overwhelming, we often lose sight of those things we can change.  Assess your situation honestly, and look for those things you can control.  This will help you to feel more centered, more focused, and assist you in being able to tackle the challenge.

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What Is Out Of My Control?

Sometimes there’s things we just cannot control.  Whether it’s other people, mother nature, or just plain bad timing, no matter how much we want to, we cannot control everything.  Take time to look at your difficulty, identify the things that are out of your control, and then let them go.  Too often we view the totality of our difficulties and it is overwhelming.  Being able to segregate what you can and cannot control makes the problem smaller, your stress levels lower, and often the path to the solution much clearer.

What Is My Emotional State?

Making decisions when we’re overcome with the emotions that are inherent in difficult times is about the worst thing we can do.  We’re more likely to make poor choices when we’re in the wrong emotional state.  Being able to recognize that we’re not ‘of our right mind’ in the middle of our trials allows us to stop, breathe, and get ourselves in a better emotional state, allowing us to make better decisions.  When we make better decisions, we’re more likely to feel better about our circumstances because it gives us a sense of empowerment.

What Is The Most Important Thing I Can Do Right Now?

Sometimes the best thing we can do is nothing.  Sometimes the best thing we can do is make a phone call.  Focusing on and doing the best thing you can do right now when in the midst of difficult times helps center you and relax your nervous system.  It also increases our confidence in ourselves that yes, we can weather this storm.  Progress is progress, no matter how small, and progress towards resolving a difficult situation will boost your self-esteem.

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What Can I Learn From This?

With every difficulty comes a lesson.  As crazy as it sounds, if we can see even the smallest lesson, the smallest purpose in the trial we’re facing, it gives it positive value.  It also gives us an outcome to move towards, whether it’s improved health, more stability in finances, or fixing a broken relationship.  Suffering without purpose leads to a feeling of helplessness.  Shift your belief from “Why me?” to “What can I learn from this?” turns the challenge from just a random happenstance of bad luck into a problem to be solved.

Am I Taking Care Of Myself?

There’s an abundance of evidence that stress wreaks havoc on our physical health.  There’s also abundant evidence that our physical health directly impacts our mental health.  When challenges arise, the most common things we do are eat less, sleep less, and get less physical activity.  Overwhelming challenges have a tendency to cause us to completely shut down.  Don’t.  Sacrificing your physical health isn’t going to make the challenge go away any faster and may actually make the challenge worse because now you’re a physical wreck.  Maintain a normal sleep schedule.  Eat healthy.  Stay hydrated.  Get some physical activity.  Maintaining your physical state is a key to maintaining your mental and emotional states.

What Are My Choices?

Make a list.  Write them down.  Weigh the pros and cons.  Creating a list of choices brings clarity to the path we need to take to overcome the difficulty.  It also helps us realize that we actually have choices, which is a big thing when we feel powerless.

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Will This Matter 5 Years From Now?

Don’t sweat the small stuff… and really, 95% of our difficulties are all small stuff.  Looking into the future and thinking about whether or not the current difficulty will matter 5 years from now often brings it into perspective.  We’re naturally oriented to turn molehills into mountains and imagine the worst possible outcome to every challenge.  If you’re having difficulty with this, try to think of a difficult time you faced 5 years ago that you thought was the ‘end of the world’.  Very few difficulties have the kind of impact that resonates through time.  Take heart and have faith that what you are facing now isn’t as bad as you’re imagining it to be.

Challenges and difficulties are a natural part of life.  We can stop from feeling overwhelmed by finding and focusing on the positive in our lives.

Featured photo credit: Geralt via pixabay.com

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

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Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

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