Break the Vicious Cycle of Destructuve Criticism with Mindfulness

The movie, “Loveless” depicts the escalating costs of the vicious cycle of destructive criticism in a graphic manner.  The movie is set in Russia and was directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev and co-written with Oleg Negi.

The couple involved in the movie are separated and in the process of divorce but are consumed by anger, frustration and hatred for each, despite each having established a relationship with a new partner.  The movie brings into stark relief the impact of their vehemence on the life of their 12-year-old son, who is seen as cowering and crying when the parents verbally abuse each other in a escalating tirade of insults and name-calling.  The son is invisible to them as they pursue their mindless criticisms of each other.

The climax of the movie comes when the son disappears, and the parents are forced through police inaction to join in the volunteers’ search for their son.  In summary, not only is their son’s life impacted negatively but so also are their new relationships as the toxicity of unresolved resentment eats away at them.

We can be caught up in a cycle of destructive criticism when relationships go bad, when we are frustrated that our expectations are not realised or when we become absorbed in the pain of hurts from another by replaying them in our mind.  Sometimes, our criticism is a projection of our own sense of inadequacy or ineffectiveness.  The cycle of negative criticism, and its costs, are compounded when each party attempts to inflict ever greater pain on the other by caustic and demeaning remarks.

Breaking the cycle of destructive criticism by mindfulness

The cycle of negative criticism is difficult to break as each party is mindlessly attacking the other without any thought of the long-term consequences for themselves or the other person.

Margaret Cullen suggests a three-step mindfulness process to wind back resentment and hurt and break the cycle of destructive criticism:

  1. Get in touch with your thoughts and name your feelings and their intensity.  Take advantage of the space between stimulus (the other person’s words and/or actions) and your own response.  Avoid reactivity that will have you saying something you later regret and add to the destructive cycle of abusive criticism.
  2. Undertake and honest and open conversation – explain what happened and how it made you feel.  Avoid blaming and name-calling in this conversation and use empathetic listening to rebuild trust.  You have to take this step to break out of the cycle or you will be consumed by resentment, as portrayed in the movie, “Loveless”.  If you want a relationship to improve, you have to change your response, not deepen the hurt experienced by the other person.
  3. You can let go of disappointment and bitterness by undertaking a forgiveness meditation – which can be directed to yourself and/or the other person.  Holding onto resentment can only harm you both in the short term and the long term.  It will contaminate your relationships at home and at work.  Forgiveness, on the other hand, creates freedom.

As we grow in mindfulness through regular meditation, we increase our response ability and develop ways to handle personal criticism.  This enables us to avoid the cycle of destructive criticism which is so injurious to ourselves and our relationships.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of KERBSTONE on Pixabay

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Our Thoughts Can Affect Our Performance

In the previous post, I discussed how nervousness can affect your mind and body and impact your performance.  I also looked at two strategies – naming your feelings and accessing your success anchor – to gain control over your nervousness.  In this post, I want to focus on how our thoughts can affect our performance.

Our negative thoughts

When we are nervous or anxious about our performance before some public activity, our minds tend to race, and we lose control over our thinking. We can be bombarded with a whole host of negative thoughts – “What if I forget what I was going to say?”, “What will people think of me?”, “How will I ever recover if I embarrass myself in front of my colleagues?”,  “Will I cope if they reject me?”, or “What if I do not meet their expectations?”

These negative thoughts often lead to procrastination.  I have found many times that people fail to start something because of these kinds of negative thoughts.  Sometimes, these disabling thoughts are not at a conscious level – they may just manifest as nervousness or anxiety.  This is where an exercise to name your feelings and the thoughts that create them can be very helpful.

Reframing with positive thoughts

I was recently following up people by phone who had participated in one of my courses – effectively a coaching session.  I was wondering what was causing me to procrastinate.  I have facilitated hundreds of courses and the people I was ringing were participants on my most recent course and yet I was nervous about the phone activity.  I started to follow the suggested step of naming my emotions and identifying the thoughts that gave rise to them.  The thoughts predominantly related to, “Would I live up to their expectations?”, and “Could I actually provide them with some help with their practice or project?”.  Sometimes, our doubts are not rational, but they persist.

Getting in touch with my feelings and negative thoughts enabled me to move on and actually conduct the phone coaching discussions.  What I found was that by controlling my negative thoughts through mindfulness, I was able to change my mindset and view the phone coaching differently.  I came to appreciate the very positive aspects of this exercise and this helped me to reframe the activity as relationship building.  I found that the participants were actually putting into practice in their workplaces the skills we covered in the course and they were having a positive impact on their workplace and the people in their team (intrinsically rewarding feedback!).

I came to the realisation yet again (somewhat blocked by my current anxiety), that my major role was to listen and ask questions for clarification and understanding (mine and theirs).  The experience then was very reaffirming.  Reframing the activity in positive terms, rather than focusing on possible (but not probable) negative outcomes, freed me up to perform better in the coaching interviews.  However, I have a long way to go to be free of “ego” concerns.

Becoming free of ego concerns

When we revisit our concerns or negative thoughts, we often have in advance of some public activity, we begin to realise how much “ego” is involved.  We are concerned about our image – how we will be viewed or assessed, what impact our performance will have on us or our future, what impression we will make or how embarrassed will we be if we “fail”.

These issues constitute ego concerns.  Tom Cronin (The Stillness Project) in his blog post, How to Find the Confidence to Speak in Front of 300 People, suggests that controlling your ego is a key aspect of gaining that confidence.  The less ego plays in determining how you feel about your forthcoming performance, the better you are able to just be present and appreciate the moment. Your presence and sense of calm can be very effective in helping you access your creative abilities and best performance.  He recommends daily meditation as a way to dissolve the ego and gain peaceful presence, no matter what we are doing:

… meditation plays a HUGE role. In the stillness of meditation we connect with that unbounded state of peaceful presence, beyond the limits of the ego. The work is to put aside time to meditate, and then outside of meditation, to observe the difference between that which is ego and that which is not. 

To remove all ego from our thoughts and activities requires a very advanced state of mindfulness.  As Tom indicates, this is a lifetime pursuit, because ego often gets in the road of our performance and our ability to have a positive impact.  However, we cannot wait until we are cleansed of all ego before we perform.

I have successfully addressed 1,800 people at a World Congress in Cartagena, Colombia in South America.  The topic was on action learning and I was doing the opening address as President of the Action Learning and Action Research Association.  My luggage had not arrived by the start of the Congress, so I had to present in my jeans that I wore on the flight over and a colourful Cartegena t-shirt I bought in the street outside the Congress.

I had to let go of any ego concerns about my standard of dress (the other dignitaries were in suits) if I was to actually get up on the stage.  I think this need and the casualness of my dress helped me in my address – it was particularly well received by the Colombians who were present amongst the representatives from 61 countries.  I certainly had ego concerns but the momentousness of the occasion and the potential contribution of the Congress to global cooperation, helped me to get through and manage my nerves.  But you can see I still have ego concerns that are alive and active when I undertake a relatively simple phone coaching activity (as described above) – lots more meditation to do!!

As we grow in mindfulness, we can clear anticipatory, negative thoughts about our performance, identify and control our emotions and progressively remove our ego concerns.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of xusenru on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

 

Overcoming Nervousness through Mindfulness

Everyone experiences nervousness at some time.  It is part of the human condition.  However, it can be debilitating if you let it control you.  If you use it to your advantage and get in touch with the associated feelings, you can actually come out stronger and perform better.

I want to talk about two things that you can do to get nervousness under control – naming the feelings involved and developing a success anchor.

Naming your feelings

In a previous post, we discussed naming feelings as a way to gain control over them – you may recall Dan Siegel’s dictum, Name It to Tame It.  Nervousness will affect your thinking – your ability to concentrate and your clarity.  It can be felt in the body as agitation, tenseness, shaking, pacing sweating , a dry mouth, shallow breathing or any multitude of other bodily manifestations.

Nervousness can severely impact your performance.  I recall chairing one job interview panel for a managerial position and one of the applicants was so nervous that he had difficulty breathing.  I spontaneously started breathing slowly and heavily and he began to pace me with his own breathing and regained control so that the interview could proceed.

Behind the nervousness can be any number of feelings or a group of feelings, such as hesitant, anxious, doubtful, wary, fearful, uncertain, unsure or uneasy.   There are also expectations by others and our own expectations that can intensify our nervousness and our associated feelings.

Ariarne Titmus, 17-year-old Australian winner of the 400 metres freestyle swimming race at the 2018 Commonwealth Games (Gold Coast, Australia), in a Commonwealth Games record, said that she was nervous before the 800 metres race.  When asked why she had been nervous, she said that it was because of the expectations she placed on herself about the result.  She went on to win by a large margin and broke the Commonwealth Games record again.  So, no one escapes nerves, no matter how good they are.  If you care about how you will perform, whether in a sporting event, job  interview or presentation, you will be nervous.  The challenge is to use the energy of nervousness in a positive way to perform to your best, rather than be crippled by it.

I discussed a meditation on emotions practice in the previous post on naming your feelings.  This can help you manage your nervousness.  The initial mindful breathing step slows down your body and reduces your bodily reaction to nervousness.  The second step of body scan helps you identify and release points of tension in your body.  The third step of naming each feeling helps you to get in touch with each feeling and the expectation set that is influencing your nervousness.  Once you name the feelings that give rise to your nervousness, you will be better able to control them and to keep the impact of your nervousness under control.  You can access the list of feelings to help you name your feelings.

Developing a success anchor

One way to help manage nervousness is to recall when you were successful with a similar event that you are nervous about (or even some other successful activity).  Picture yourself experiencing the success event and the positive feelings associated with this success – confident, delighted, thankful, relaxed, energetic, reassured – and absorb those feelings.  Now recall what you did to make it a success – planning, practice, deep breathing, consultation or another precursor activity.

This anchoring process helps you to move to a more positive mindset, and to remind yourself that you were nervous the last time and that you successfully overcame those nerves.  It also helps you to get in touch with the success strategies you used previously, because when we are nervous we sometimes have difficulty accessing these past successful strategies – we are too tense, agitated or anxious to be able to focus properly on what is required.   Revisiting the positive feelings of success reassures you, too, that you can be successful.

As you grow in mindfulness, you develop self-awareness and are better able to name and tame the feelings giving rise to your nervousness and you can more easily access prior successful experiences and strategies.  This, in turn, builds your self-management capacity.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of LoganArt on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace

If you revisit the previous post and listen to Goldie Hawn’s statement about the tools and skills that children are given in MindUP™ , you come to realise that she is creating the foundations for mentally healthy workplaces . As Goldie pointed out, she set about creating a new culture, conducive to world peace, by developing children as future leaders with dignity and humanity.

In their guide, Mental Health at Work, produced by Portner Press, the authors discuss the need to create a workplace culture that is conducive to developing and maintaining mental health in the workplace. What they identify as the elements that go into making a mentally healthy workplace culture align very well with Goldie’s focus and goals.

They also align very closely with the manager development work I have been doing over more than a decade with my colleague, Julie Cork.  The Confident People Management Program that we have been facilitating for over 2,000 managers is a longitudinal, action learning program of four to six months focused on people management skills.

To create a culture that is conducive to mental health in the workplace, requires, fundamentally, an awareness of, and willingness to address, the basic needs of staff.  Staff have three basic needs, (1) tell me what is expected of me, (2) give me honest feedback about how I am doing, and (3) provide me with the resources to meet the expectations of the job.

Job expectations

Clarity around job expectations is particularly critical for creating a workplace environment that is conducive to mental health. Much stress, conflict and mental illness is caused by unclear job expectations which are manifested in role confusion, role ambiguity and/or role overlap.

Communication of expectations should cover both performance expectations and behavioural expectations. Performance expectations, in terms of the quantity and quality of work to be done, have to be reasonable and not excessive. It is okay to establish high expectations as long as you enable negotiation of those expectations and provide the requisite level of support to achieve the desired outcomes.

The other aspect of job expectations is behavioural standards. It is one thing to communicate workplace values, e.g. professionalism, it is another thing to explain these values in behavioural terms so that staff understand what is required of them behaviourally. So for a value like professionalism, a manager would need to ask, “What does professionalism look like behaviourally in our workplace context?” (or, alternatively, “what would be considered unprofessional behaviour in our context?”).

Clarity around job expectations, both performance and behavioural, is a critical first step for a mentally healthy workplace.

Feedback

An essential component for a workplace culture that is conducive to mental health is regular feedback about performance and behaviour. This involves both positive and corrective feedback.

Positive feedback builds a person’s self-esteem and sense of self-efficacy. It respects and values their contribution and encourages positivity in the workplace.

Corrective feedback is designed to correct performance/ behaviour so that the staff member can meet the job expectations. If it is provided in a professional manner it can be generate respect – the focus being on the performance/ behaviour, not the person or their personality.

In both forms of feedback, it is important that the feedback is timely, specific, accurate and sincere.

Resources

It is unreasonable and damaging to mental health to provide staff with resources that are inadequate to enable them to meet job expectations – this includes the provision of training in both performance and behavioural requirements. In terms of assisting people who have mental health issues, it is important to provide access to independent, external health professionals to give adequate support for the individual involved. What is often overlooked is the need to train managers in how to deal with mental health issues in the workplace – resulting in managers experiencing undue stress and, potentially, burnout.

Listening for understanding

If a manager is to genuinely meet the needs of staff, they have to have skills in active listening. One component of this is empathetic listening skills – the ability to understand the emotions involved for the other person, to empathise with them and to work with them to help alleviate the associated pain where possible.

Being present

Underpinning the above elements of a healthy workplace culture is the capacity of a manager to be really present to their staff.  Listening for understanding, communicating expectations and providing feedback (both positive and corrective), require the manager to be in-the-moment and really present to their staff.

As managers grow in mindfulness, they are better able to create workplace environments conducive to mental health. Kindness and gratitude form part of the emergent skill-set and these, in turn, contribute mental health and happiness, not only for staff but also for the manager.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source:  Courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay

Goldie Hawn on Meditation

In an interview with Tami Simon, Goldie Hawn explained why she has developed a 10-year habit of meditation and the benefits she gains from this practice.  The interview is one of a series of podcasts, titled Weekly Wisdom, available free from Sounds True.

Goldie was introduced to meditation when she was challenged by her quick success – in a direction she had not planned to go career-wise, as she had intended to be a dancer and ended up as a famous actress.

This new-found and unexpected fame put a lot of pressure on her and resulted in continuous anxiety.  Her initial challenge was to live up to the expectations of her fans and the carping criticisms of her critics.

Expectations of others can create enormous pressure on anyone who is highly visible in any sphere of life.  Yesterday, for example, I watched live a soccer match between AC Milan and a lesser ranked team at the former team’s home ground.  The expectations of the thousands of AC Milan’s fans were very loud and clear.  They clapped any show of skill of their own team, but were hyper-critical of any mistake particularly where a player lost possession of the football to the opposition.  Their critique was vocal and expressive and left no doubt as to their displeasure.

Others’ expectations can be a very real stressor in the life of a famous person as it was in Goldie’s early career.  It can also be a stressor in our own lives – the unrealistic expectations can come from parents, in-laws, children or peers.

People think they know you and project onto you capabilities they think you have, along with the expectations that go with their assumptions.  It is not only the adoring fans who create this expectation stress, but critics who can often revert to cruel, unkind and unfounded criticisms.  So it is easy to lose your way and  to lose who you really are.

For Goldie, a key benefit of meditation was to achieve separation by finding her true self, not an image projected by others.  She was able to know herself deeply through meditation so she was not caught up in the never-ending trap of trying to live up to others’ expectations.  She not only realised what Meng had explained – that you are not your thoughts or emotions – but also that you are not the projection of others’ thoughts and, sometimes, needy emotions.

in finding out who you really are at a deep level, you achieve a groundedness and a strong sense of self-worth that is not captive to the expectations or opinions of others, whether fans or critics. Achievement of this inner calm and solidity is a lifetime pursuit through meditation and mindful practice.

However, as Goldie explains, the starting point is to overcome the fear of exploring your inner self – of gaining insight into you own inner landscape and who you really are.  This can be really scary but the benefits are enormously rich and empowering.  The  challenge, in her terms, is to explore “the Univerity of You”.

As Goldie explains, the benefits of meditation are deep, profound and life-changing because you are able to experience inner calm and clarity when you begin to realise that you exist independent of other peoples’ expectations of you:

…what I was experiencing then was obviously peace, a sense of calm, and an amazing ability to become more of a witness, rather than engage in things that actually I could not change.  That  was one of the, I would say, very positive effects of meditation for me.

… Beginning to separate that is really important, I think, in terms of where we go in life and how we help ourselves become more clear and more able to make much, much better decisions, when we take ourselves out of the centre of it.

As we grow in mindfulness through mindful practice, we gain a deep insight into our real selves and are able to achieve this separation of our self-identity from the perceptions and expectations of others – and, in the process, experience inner peace and calm.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)