Stress

Be Careful, It’s Your Heart: Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

Personal note

This week’s article is a repeat of an article I do every year in February, National Heart Month.

Over the past few years, I have done countless presentations of my talk, now called “The Angina Monologue,”   during which I have not only delivered life-saving information, but I have listened, too, and gotten important information from my audiences.

If you’ve read it before, read again, and remember always to pay attention to the organ that the ancients believed was the seat of consciousness, and which we know as the center of our lives.

Be Careful, It’s Your Heart: Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

February is National Heart Month, and I have been more than ordinarily busy giving my talk, “The Angina Monologue,” in which I describe women’s heart attacks and give preventive advice.  Seeing all the “red” clothing and decorations, hearing of all the “Wear Red” events is exciting – except that cardiac disease occurs all year long, not just in February.

In fact, cardiac disease is the #1 killer of both men and women in the United States; but while the rates for men are declining, the rates for women, particularly in the age 35-54 age group, are rising.

We are surrounded by information about cardiac disease in newspapers, magazines, on the radio and on television, yet most people remain surprisingly ignorant about some of the simple facts of cardiac disease.  So I am once again providing a fuller description of the symptoms, as experienced by real people I have known, including myself.

The “Hollywood Heart Attack,” where the character, clutching his chest,heart slumps to the floor immediately, does sometimes happen.  But many heart attacks do not mimic this model.  In particular, women’s symptoms of heart attack may be very different from men’s in both quality and severity.

(Note:  since first writing this article, I have heard from  some audience members that their husbands also displayed these subtle symptoms, and never progressed to the more typical male symptoms.  Luckily, they paid attention and got help. But, I do think that women are more likely to have these subtle symptoms. No one should overlook them, however.)

It can be too easy to brush these more subtle symptoms aside; as one woman in my cardiac support group said, “Compared to childbirth, this is nothing!”  But of course, they are something.  And the sooner you pay attention and get help, the better the outcome.

Because I paid attention to a small signal, and took action immediately, I have almost no heart damage and was able to return to a full life immediately.

So I’m going to provide some descriptions here that might give women a clearer picture of what to look for.

Chest discomfort:

Men typically experience crushing chest pain and pain radiating down one arm.  Some women do also, but many women do not. I only experienced one second of pressure in the middle of my chest, accompanied by a complete lack of breath – once again for one second only.  Luckily, I paid attention.

Another woman I know reports that she felt as if her chest were on fire.

Any pressure, squeezing or burning in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or comes and goes is a warning sign.

Upper body discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach:

One woman I knew had pain in her jaw; another was awakened in the middle of the night by very painful elbows, which she fortunately recognized as being related to her heart.  Others tell of pain in the neck, the shoulder or across the shoulder blades.

At a talk I gave recently, a woman told me of a pain in her jaw.  She had been checked for both a dental problem and a tempero-mandibular joint problem, but no evidence of either had been found.  Should she see a cardiologist, she asked?  I almost shouted, “Yes!”

Any pain in the upper body that can’t be explained should be suspect and you should take action.  See a cardiologist; if the pain is marked or persistent, dial 9-1-1 and go to the ER.

Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort:

Once again, when there is no rational explanation, such as allergy problems or just having run up a flight of stairs, you should be suspicious of shortness of breath.

Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, nausea and vomiting, cold sweats:

I began to experience nausea and lightheadedness a few days after my experience with pressure (I had already seen a doctor, who found nothing wrong with me). It could have been a virus, but I had no temperature. Taking your temperature is a good idea before you decide it is a virus and dismiss the idea of a heart attack.

After I got to the hospital, I began to experience severe gastric distress, a little like the commercials for acid reflux disease, with figurative nuts and bolts revolving around in my stomach!  A doctor asked me, in fact, if I did have acid reflex disease, and when I said no, it was another factor on which they decided to do angioplasty (go in and see if there was blockage).

I know of a young woman athlete who began to faint after she finished races.  She, in fact, had an undiagnosed congenital defect of a heart valve for which she needed surgery.

So, once again, if there isn’t a good explanation for the symptom, seek help.

Feelings of anxiety, fatigue or weakness — unexplained or on exertion:

I have met at least one woman heart patient who tells of being overwhelmed by inexplicable anxiety as her major symptom. Once again, there was no precipitating event in her life, so it was a very suspicious episode.

The extreme fatigue that a heart attack sufferer experiences is like having a hole in your “fuel tank” from which all the energy has drained out.  One woman I know told me that she was so tired she lay down on her bed, and, feeling cold, wanted to pull the covers up but she couldn’t because it was too much effort.  That was when she realized she needed to get to a hospital.

Take Action

There is an e-mail that keeps circulating on the internet, with advice about heart attacks.  Some of it is good advice: carry an aspirin and take it immediately if you believe you are having a heart attack.  In fact, crunch down on it and wash it down with a full glass of water.

But this e-mail always ends with dangerous advice: “Call and friend or relative and wait by the door,” presumably to have that person take you to the hospital.

This is the message health care providers want you to hear: Do not drive yourself or ask a friend or family member to drive you.

If you have any of the above symptoms, dial 9-1-1.  If you are having a heart attack, emergency responders can start treatment in the ambulance. This can be crucial.

Women, who are often reluctant to have a fuss made about themselves, will dial 9-1-1 in a minute if a loved one is threatened, but will not do so for themselves.

Those few minutes in which you wait for help can make all the difference in the world between life and death, or between a quality life and an impaired life.  One of the possible consequences of heart attack is loss of oxygen to the brain, causing irreversible damage.  You could survive, but only as someone very dependent on others.

The last message I like to leave women with is this:  strive to live the heart-healthy life, and you will feel better than you have in years.  Would you like to wake up every morning eager to start the day, with the kind of zest you had as a child? You can do it!  The women in my support group, cardiac survivors all, glow with health.

The path to  is the path to joy.  And who doesn’t want joy?

Make good habits easy!

Personal note

2013 has started with a bang for me: a CBS radio interview about my The Confident Introvert book with Roshini Rajkumar (hear the podcast at www.wcco.com/roshini); then speaking engagements this month that will include:

“Stress, the Silent Killer” seminar, at which I will be delivering “The Angina Monologue” on Saturday, January 26. Register here with the promo code “Stress” to receive a discount: http://mnwellnesseducators2.eventbrite.com/#

“Become Your Own Best Caretaker in the New Year”: A full half-day of condensed wisdom to ensure that your year not only starts well, but stays that way all year!
See more about this seminar and register at: www.stlouispark.org/learning-courses.html

And finally, The Confident Introvert FREE teleseminar on January 30. Be sure you sign up now at www.ConfidentIntrovert.com/teleseminar If you’re tired of being overlooked and undervalued, and want to blossom into a new confident you, this is the way to start 2013!

Make good habits easy!

Good resolutions often fail because our default position is to take the easy way.  The neural pathways to that automatic habit that you’ve been doing forever – slumping back into a chair to watch TV instead of exercising, grabbing a fatty snack instead of a healthy one, biting your nails – are well-worn paths.

Creating a new, good habit, on the other hand, means you have to overcome that inertia and switch to a new path. Why not make it easier?

Make it easy on yourself:

Think of everything you will need to perform the good habit:

For example, a set of exercise clothes, shoes, even socks. Lay them out in advance: the night before if you plan to exercise in the morning; in the morning, if you plan to exercise after work.

Or, put out all the things you need to make a healthy lunch or snack to take to work with you the next day. If you do this at the same time you are preparing dinner, you will remember what it feels like to be hungry, and will be sure to include healthful snacks when temptation overwhelms you the next day.

Want to meditate more? Pick a time and place to meditate, and construct the setting in advance: perhaps a yoga mat, a player of some sort, headphones. Have them ready so that you just have to settle into place and begin your practice at the time you have specified.

Don’t resist temptation; get rid of it:

Think of what you don’t need to tempt you.

You may think that you can control your consumption of rich, not-very-healthy foods. So when the Big Box store offers a really good price on a large quantity – gallons of ice cream, crates of cookies or chips, jugs of soft drinks – you opt to save money, vowing to ration it out to yourself, or your family.

The availability of these treats will absolutely be the greased pathway to failure.  Vow to buy small quantities, or none at all. Better yet, make a decision that, when you want a cookie, a dish of ice cream, or whatever, you will have to go out and get just the quantity that can be consumed at one sitting. Even better, see if you can walk to buy it.

Turning on the TV automatically when you come home, or just leaving it on all day, tempts you to set aside healthier activities and collapse on the couch. Pick a schedule for viewing, one that is meaningful to you, and stick to it, so that you don’t waste valuable time consuming whatever is being served to you visually.

Make the bad habits harder, and the good habits easier!

Is relaxation time impossible for you to find?

Personal note

It’s late August, and amazingly enough, Fall is in the air. Leaves are already showing color, temperatures at night are dropping, stores are full of school supplies, and a sense of urgency to get things done after the languid days of summer seems to overtake us.

I am on a mission to get everything in my office necessary for a successful Fall season organized by September 1, so that I can devote myself to my passion – writing, and especially meeting and interacting with people, whether as individuals or audiences for my talks.

I have to remind myself to program “Islands of Peace” into every day, or I could end up starting this exciting season exhausted and ill instead of charged and ready to go.

So could you. This week’s article is a reminder that you don’t necessarily need to book a weekend at a bed-and-breakfast inn (although that would be nice) to give yourself a restful break.

Is relaxation time impossible for you to find?

Find RelaxationDo you find yourself rushing all day, hoping to save some time at the end of the day in which to relax? Only to find that the time you “saved” by rushing wasn’t to be found later on? Perhaps your day is filled with “must do or else” activities that make it difficult for you to find time to slow down and take care of yourself.Here’s an “Island of Peace” you can find, even amidst that kind of chaos. Some time during your day, you must be on the move – from the office to your car, from bus stop to shop, from home to store. Why not use that time productively, not by worrying (which is seldom productive) but by quieting your mind and body.

Try using your travel time for this variation of a “Walking Meditation.”  Here’s how it works:

Body awareness

Start by taking a few deep breaths. As you exhale, imagine that a shower of relaxing energy is pouring down your body, from the crown of your head to your chest and shoulders, then flowing out of your fingertips and toes, washing out all tension and care.

Walk mindfully, feeling your feet touch the ground and being aware of the powerful force rising through your legs to your whole body.

If you are one who can imagine hearing music (or you have ear buds), walk in rhythm to a favorite piece of music.

Mental awareness

Focus on your immediate environment rather than your hectic thoughts about the future or draining thoughts about the past. Look for things to delight you that you might otherwise not have noticed: clouds of an interesting shape, the tint of the sky, the way that leaves on a tree are a different color on the underside, a delightful pet or child, an interesting person, a mellow, faded brick wall….  The list is endless when you are truly looking at what is in front of you.

Just for a few minutes you can step outside of your overly-busy mind and experience the delight of being truly in the present.  You have experienced an “Island of Peace.”

You had to take this walk anyway. Why crowd it with stressful thoughts about things – telephone calls, conversations, letters, projects – which you can’t do anything about while walking?

Notice how many occasions you have during the day to repeat this experience.

Then make sure you repeat it.

Stress – it’s a matter of choice

Personal note

For many of us, the busy part of the year runs from September through May, and we spend the late summer gearing up for the flurry of activity that we are sure to encounter.

In fact, it has already started, with requests coming in for me to speak at such venues as the 2012 Midwest Worksite Health Promotion Conference as well as numerous smaller workplaces.  It is refreshing to see how seriously employers are taking the health crisis for which stress is a major piece of the foundation.

On a lighter note, I am now mastering – well, trying out – Pinterest, that visual board where you can post pictures to illustrate what you have to say.  Check out my “People I Admire” board to be introduced to women who truly are making a large difference in the world, and whom you may want to meet. Feel free to ‘re-pin” the posts, so that other people can benefit from these introductions, too.

Stress – it’s a matter of choice

It’s time for a reminder about the basics of good stress management, and especially about the skills you can easily master that will make you more stress-resistant – i.e., less likely to develop a stress response that you have to “handle.”  Life should be about more than just “handling” negative events; it should be about freeing you to make exhilarating choices.Over the past few decades, information on stress management has mushroomed into a huge field.  Yet, with all this attention, stress hasn’t gone away; it is now estimated that 85% of sickness is due to stress.

Luckily, we now know that only 10% of stress is due to what happens to us; 90% is due to how we think about what happens to us. And that we can change.

First, make sure that when you are faced with stress – a job change, a deadline, moving, etc. – you get enough deep, restful sleep.  Make it your top priority. Sleep deprivation sets you up for stress, increases your craving for sugar, fat, and salt, and decreases your motivation to exercise.  Good sleep can make molehills out of mountains.

Second, you must remember that “stress makes you stupid” which means that, under stress, you make stupid choices.  Here’s a way to slow down and consider more options, using the Stress Buster Formula I teach all my clients: Pause, Breathe, Choose:

Pause:  That’s all – when you feel irritated, angry, sad, or just plain rushed, just say gently,  “Stop it” to yourself.  Then pull yourself together and take the next step.

Breathe:  Let the muscles of your chest and belly go and breathe in slowly to the count of four, letting your entire body fill with air like a slowly inflating balloon.
Then exhale for four counts.  Repeat several times.  Once you have done this, you are now able to proceed to the final step.

Choose:  Look at how you are responding to the situation, and ask yourself a question or two, such as  “In the long run, what really counts?”  or  “How bad will it be if I am a few minutes late?” “Will worrying now make the situation better?”

Just contemplating these questions and the answers you come up with will slow down your stressful thinking.

(The above article will appear in Kristen Brown’s soon-to-be published book, The Happy Hour Effect:  12 Secrets to Minimize Stress and Maximize Life.)

Underlying Issues

Personal note

In Minneapolis, as in much of the country, we are sweltering under an unprecedented heat wave.  This Northern city, which was once a choice vacation spot for Southerners hoping to escape the heat in the South, has posted numerous temperatures in the high 90’s and even 102 a few days ago.  And those temperatures are taken at the airport, where they seem to enjoy better weather than I do in the center city.  My thermometer has recorded a temperature as high as 106 degrees in the past week.The maddening thing about human-unfriendly weather is that it keeps you from doing what you planned, in my case gardening, reading on my front porch, and taking drives into the country.

The good thing about it is that you can find you now have lots of time to organize and to be creative about the next steps in your life.

Once again, it’s a choice.  And I have chosen the less stressful choice: my files are orderly, my house is on its way to being pristine.

How about you?  Are you fighting nature or going with the flow?

Underlying Issues

What’s the real source of your stress?

Coaches and therapists will tell you that when people are stressed or angry, what they say they are upset about and what is the real cause are two different things.

If a driver cut in front of you and made a rude gesture, is the irritation you feel really because of that? Are all of the times you feel irritated during the day – waiting in line while a customer ahead of you requires an extensive price check, watching the pharmacist have what seems to be an overly-long conversation with a customer – just the result of random, unrelated events, or is there something else going on?

Here are some underlying causes why life may seem continually annoying:

You sense a loss of power
Someone or something in your life seems to be more in control of a key situation than you are.  This is particularly difficult for a Dominant person, whose major motivation is to control situations in order to achieve a goal.

Ask yourself if you have given up your power by not asserting yourself, when in fact you have some expertise to contribute to the situation.  Or is it a case where you feel vaguely uncomfortable when someone else is in charge, even when you don’t have the skills important to that situation?  Try to relax and learn; your leadership will emerge as you show your ability and willingness to master an unfamiliar situation.

You feel rejected
Someone else is getting the credit or attention that you desire, or that you normally get.  If you have a strong need to be a motivating leader, you feel this loss more keenly than many others.

You can show your leadership by refraining from making negative comments about the other person and supporting any genuine qualities that you see this person exhibiting.

You’re disturbed at what seems to be a lot of conflict around you
There is a high noise level or disagreement in your environment.  Even if it is not directed at you, you can end up feeling fatigued, jangled, and even threatened that at some point it may be directed at you.

If this bothers you, you may need to program a few five- to ten-minute breaks in your day in which you retreat to your “Island of Peace,” a mental state in which you relax by breathing deeply and taking an imaginary trip to a peaceful site you have created.

There are people who thrive on a noisy environment and lots of stimulation and are startled to learn that it disturbs someone else. In some cases, you can point out to these people who are noisier than you are that you would appreciate it if they would keep the din down.

You are being unduly rushed
This is particularly unsettling if you are a conscientious, detailed-oriented person, not just because you feel you can’t do your best work, but also because it suggests that whoever is rushing you doesn’t grasp who you are and what is your value.

You may have to question them (and yourself) as to whether what you are doing right now requires a perfect performance.  (See my article on Persistent Perfectionism in the archives.)  If it does, let the other person know firmly what you require in order to turn out the job they themselves have required.

If you are feeling overwhelmed in one of these key areas, you may be inclined to find life irritating in general.  Look at the real cause of your irritation and take some steps to challenge it: getting annoyed at small irritants in your daily life without confronting the real cause will just escalate your stress.

(For more information on individual differences in how we experience life, see my program “Discover How Other People Misunderstand You … and what to do about it.”)

Be your own best caretaker

Taking care of other people can be a kind and charitable act.  We now know that acts of kindness can physically affect our well-being as well as being psychologically heart-warming.

Altruistic emotions – the “helper’s high” – seem to gain dominance over the stress response, according to Dr. Stephen G. Post, a professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. We may even gain improved immunity levels.

So why do we sometimes find ourselves exhausted, resentful, and guilty while being a helper?

There is always fine line to tread between taking care of others and – novel thought, this – taking care of ourselves!  As my swimming coach in college used to point out, never try to save someone else until you’re pretty darn sure you can save yourself.

Continued caretaking can result in the feeling that your life is being hijacked by someone else’s needs, creating a sense of helplessness, one of the most deadly of emotions in terms of mental and physical health.

There seems to be a strong relationship between resentment and fatigue: if you spent the same amount of time doing something you truly enjoyed, would you still feel so tired?  It’s important to reflect on what you truly must do for someone else, and what you are doing automatically, while resenting it.

You are taking care of other people at the expense of your own well-being if: You are neglecting your own good health practices to do so.

First of all, guard your sleep as your greatest treasure.  Your ability to think clearly and make good choices absolutely depends on it, as does your body’s ability to resist disease.

Make sure you keep quick, healthful snacks as well as the makings of good meals.

And remember that your exercise program can consist of short, ten-minute spurts of exercise during the day if you don’t have time to go to the gym or take a long walk. Those little exercise spurts will lift your mood, too.

You do something for another person that they can do for themselves.

Sometimes we do this simply because we are impatient, but in doing it, we not only are working too hard but we also rob the other person of a sense of autonomy and competence.  Only infants and the truly incapacitated lack the ability to do at least some things for themselves.

You are not doing or saying something important to you because you think the other person “can’t stand it.” There are a few times in life when backing off because of the other person’s emotional state is a wise idea; approaching someone who has just lost a loved one with upsetting news that is not urgent is one of those times.  But often we keep finding reasons not to tell someone we believe is weaker than we are that we have had enough, or don’t want to continue in a given role. The reasons keep changing but the underlying idea does not: that we are more powerful and therefore must bear the burden of the unequal relationship.

You believe that, because someone else needs your help, you must be constantly and instantly available regardless of your life’s demands. 

Rather than reason with someone who is needy, decide for yourself what time you need to set aside for your needs and what time you can give to someone else.

By the way, “your needs” include time spent daydreaming, reading or watching TV, exercising, taking a walk, having coffee with an undemanding friend, and a host of other things that you may guiltily feel are not important.  They are; they are the fabric of your life that helps you to be strong enough to be able to care for someone else.

Finally, remember the Platinum Rule:  “Do unto yourself as you would have others do unto you.”

Be a Good Samaritan and Reduce Your Stress

Personal note

The normal chaos of everyday life has continued in the past week, and I have had an excellent opportunity to add more coping skills to my repertory.

The inspiration for today’s article came on a particularly busy (and frustrating) day, when obstacles seemed to appear on my path with great frequency.

Be a Good Samaritan and Reduce Your Stress

The stress response in our bodies might be thought of, from one point of view, as the result of a combat between two opposing parts of the nervous system. The sympathetic division, triggered in response to a perceived threat, is responsible for the increased heart rate, higher blood pressure, faster breathing and general inner turmoil of the stress response. Its opposite, the parasympathetic division, triggers a lower heart rate, improved digestion, muscular relaxation, and a sense of serenity.

In this combat, guess who’s most likely to win? Yup, pretty much every time, too, unless we take steps to prevent it.

Deep breathing will slow down the sympathetic division and help your parasympathetic division bring peace to you – and to others around you.

Yet you may find, as you continue about your daily activities, that stressful thoughts keep intruding, throwing you back into that agitated state.

Here’s another way to handle that: be kind. You might say, “But I am kind.  I have lots of kindness flowing through my veins. Most of the time.”

Ah, but the trick is to be kind when you least feel like it, when you are threatened.

An intriguing study was done in 1977 by two sociologists, John Darley and Dan Batson, in which Princeton seminary students were told to prepare to give a speech on “The Good Samaritan,” which would then be evaluated by their supervisors.

The speech was to be given in a building across the campus, and half of them were told they were late for the presentation, while the other half were told they had plenty of time, but might as well start that way now.

On the way, with their heads presumably filled with thoughts of the Good Samaritan, each student “accidentally” met someone in distress, who asked for their help.  Would they stop and help?

Those who had plenty of time did so.  Those who thought they were late did not.

Apparently, our goodness goes only so far as we are not pressured.

If they had stopped, they might have experienced the rush of euphoria, then calmness and improved emotional well-being that results from what is called the “helper’s high.” Physical pain and a sense of isolation can even decrease, while joyfulness and vigor rise.

Guidelines for being a Good Samaritan to yourself as well as to others:

Slow down, breathe, pause, and make the choice to be kind, even when – especially when – it is difficult.  You will slow down your nervous system, avoid accidents and stupid mistakes, and, oh, yes, spread peace in the world, not just your own nervous system.

Explore the number of ways in which you can show kindness:
Smile, say thank you with extra sincerity for even the smallest gestures, such as someone picking up something you dropped, or handing the next grocery cart over to you before taking one themselves.

Perform kind actions:
Hold a door a little extra time, graciously wave a motorist ahead of you who is trying to join a line of traffic, say something upbeat to a stranger standing in line near you.

Think kind thoughts: 
On my super-busy day, that line of traffic at a stop light that didn’t seem to move when the light turned green was at first irritating, especially on a very hot and overly-busy day.  I reminded myself to be kind, and started to think of reasons why this might be so, besides the assumption that the person at the head of the line was incurably stupid.

As we started to move, and I drove through that intersection, I found a man (it was 92 degrees outside) pushing his car off to the side.  Clearly, he was having a lot more stress than I was.  What good would irritable honking have done, except to raise the stress level of everyone within earshot?

And last of all, be kind to yourself, with compassion for your little mistakes and shortcomings.

Share your inner peace with the world.

Evaluating Other People

Personal note

This has been the last week leading up to my new seminar, “Expand Your Time, Tame Your Tension … and Expand Your Life!”. It has been filled with a myriad of opportunities to practice what I teach – remaining serene and focused when social hurricanes whirl around you. (Luckily, we haven’t had any of the real kind lately, just a lot of rain.)

Remember, it is possible to be overly-busy and still find time to savor your life and relationships, feel vital and optimistic, and “smell the roses,” all without giving up any of your activities – and definitely without any medication.  I can show you how.

Evaluating Other People

Build relationships and teams by giving value to your interaction

(This is the last of a series of articles on handling criticism constructively and without stress.)

Evaluating other people is something you will do all of your life, both formally, as a teacher, parent, or manager, and informally, as in personal relationships with your peers.

Giving feedback to others is a skill that is really worth learning.  It will make you more effective and powerful in all your relationships, particularly if you recognize that feedback isn’t always negative.

Commenting positively on a job well done is feedback, too. Too few people recognize this as the powerful tool it really is.

I remember years ago hearing a dance teacher say to his students, “I don’t have to tell you when you’re right.  You KNOW when you’re right.  It’s my job to tell you when you’re wrong.”He couldn’t have been more wrong.  People who are learning a new skill, whether it’s a child learning correct social behavior, or an office worker learning new technology, or an athlete trying to acquire a difficult skill, don’t know when they’re right.  They are fumbling around, trying to obey directions, while at the same time paying attention to bodily sensations, such as anxiety, and conflicting thoughts, including self criticism.

Here are some things to consider when giving feedback to someone else:
– Remember to provide information about what to do next, not judgment.
– Focus on the task, not the person.

Watch your tone of voice:  When someone is wrong, use a calm, neutral tone of voice. When the person does something right, use a strong, enthusiastic tone of voice.

(If you’ve ever seen one of those learning toys for children, where the child gets feedback for giving right or wrong answers, you will hear the difference immediately.  When the child is wrong, a neutral voice says, “That’s incorrect. Try again.”  When the child is right, the voice says, “That’s right!!!! Hooray!” Lights may flash on the toy, too.)

This is not just about being kind.  It is about taking advantage of the way the nervous system works.  When we are wrong and know it, we have emotions so powerful and distracting that it is hard to learn at the same time. It’s a little like trying to learn something in the presence of extremely loud, harsh noise.  We may feel disoriented, even a little paralyzed.  So, directions given in a calm low-key manner (even to yourself!) work best to improve performance.

On the other hand, human beings have a tendency to discount positive feedback, also known as praise.  Just think of the number of times you have heard someone, perhaps yourself, wave off a compliment, saying, “Oh, did you really think so?  I thought I was lousy.”

Positive statements, whether you call them praise, compliments, or just positive feedback, do not register as strongly in the nervous system as does criticism.

So be sure to use a strong, warm voice to tell people they’re right.

As you help others around you improve their levels of performance with your good feedback, you will find that they will trust you, come to you readily for help, and in turn give you support.

It works whether you’re a parent, manager, teacher, coach…or a lover!

What are you waiting for?

Personal note

For several years, I have been calling myself, with some embarrassment,
“The Stress Solutions Expert Who Had a Heart Attack.” 

I learned a lot from the event that I would not have learned otherwise, and now I can share it with the world.

In the past two weeks, the circumstances surrounding that 2006 heart attack have all repeated themselves, yet I’m OK.  Personnel that I needed to support the opening of the little museum I direct have all fallen by the wayside, leaving me to deal with everything from cleaning for the Memorial Day opening, to scheduling, designing promotional materials, and even making refreshments. A loved one in assisted living who didn’t take her meds ended up being taken to the hospital in restraints, which I found out from a barrage of phone messages when I returned from responding to a false security alarm at the museum…   And my 1888 house… well, I could go on, but I won’t. (There is a lot more.)

Friends and family ask me anxiously if I am taking care of myself; yes, indeed, I am.

The point is this:  the circumstances are the same, but my reaction is totally different. It’s as if I am in the eye of a hurricane; while chaos swirls around me, I am walking through my life, enjoying the beauty I still see around me, somehow finding the time, despite the pressure, to have a joyous social and aesthetic life.

These are the skills I teach now, and I have packaged them in a program for busy and overwhelmed people called

Expand Your Time, Tame Your Tension …

I am delivering a ½ day seminar on this topic on
Saturday, June 9,
from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

in Bloomington, Minnesota.

I didn’t want you to miss out on this content-rich, life-saving session. For more details, just click on this link:  www.CreativeLifeChanges.com/expandyourtime.
Space is limited, so be sure to sign up now.

Handling criticism from other people:
Go for the gain and not the pain

(In my previous article, I talked about the difference between feedback and criticism, and how we can handle our own inner voices more constructively. But what about those outer voices? That’s the topic of this article)

Into each life a little rain must fall.  Into each life a little – or sometimes a lot – of criticism will intrude.

Getting criticism from others isn’t fun, even when we know it will help us improve our performance.   Sometimes it doesn’t; sometimes we become so rattled that our performance deteriorates.

We all know we’re not perfect, but somehow it’s scary to be told that by someone else.

When you get criticism from another person, what can you do?  What if that person doesn’t understand feedback, and just gives you a list of what you did wrong?

There are several things you can do,   The first one is:

Ask for feedback
A while back I watched a contestant on one of these reality shows where one of the judges was well known for making glib, harsh comments to contestants.  Most people on the receiving end of his comments just ducked their heads and looked uncomfortable.  This young woman finished her act; he made his sharp comment.  Then she faced him and said, “What does that mean?  What should I change, or do more of, or less of?”  Startled, he looked at her with new respect and did give her a little feedback.

She was on the right track.  Sometimes you need to ask questions to elicit the information you need.   One of my clients had a manager who frequently told her she was so “aggressive”.  So she asked , “what specifically did I do that makes you feel I am aggressive? How would you have handled that situation or worded it differently?

A helpful critic will be able to tell you.  If he or she can’t, question more deeply:

“When you say I’m “aggressive”, do you mean you think I take charge too much, or that I say things that are hurtful to others, or that my voice is too powerful?”
“Do you feel I’m that way all of the time or just some of the time?”  “Are there some things you feel I have done right?  If so, what are they?”  If you can’t get useful information from this person, discount what they are saying and look for help elsewhere in improving.

Choose your critics:
Insecure people often ask too many people,  “ How did I do?” What do you think?
They get varying comments that simply confuses them and doesn’t help direct them into a better path.
When you want to advance in any field, find someone who is obviously an expert in what you are trying to accomplish; Then make sure that person is capable of giving feedback, not just criticism and that the person is genuinely interested in helping you improve.

Into each life a little criticism must fall, but like rain, you can either let it drown you or you can use it to nourish your growth.

(Next week:  giving feedback to other people in a way that helps the relationship grow.)

Planning to take a risk

Personal note

This has been an exciting time, stepping out to meet with different women’s groups, such as the Women’s Health Leadership TRUST, Magnetic Women Networking Group,  Women Speakers’ Association, and more.  During these meetings  I have met so many different women in so many professions, all of them ambitious, entrepreneurial, gifted  – and stressed.  They have added new dimensions to my life with their expertise – and I hope to add to theirs.

When I look back over my life, I’m proud of the effort I put into pushing myself to move forward, and to take risks.  The latest and best lesson I learned was that you can do all of these things, and still take care of yourself and thrive.  It just takes a little planning and a lot of insight.  I’m happy and proud to be able to share the insights I have gained over many years with others, and my upcoming seminar is my latest contribution.

Planning to take a risk

(Last week I discussed the reasons for taking a risk, and the preparation for doing so. This week’s article continues with planned steps to gain the most from taking the risk, while minimizing the stress.)

General George Patton  once said,“Take calculated risks; that is quite different from being rash.”

Calculated risks can give you a feeling of power that you cannot get from an imposed risk because you have taken charge of your life. You have put a question to rest: “Can I have this or do this?” so that you will not be haunted for the rest of your life with the thought of what might have been.

And if you follow the right pattern, you will, at the very least, have advanced your skill level. You’ll farther along than you were before you started, and more likely to consider taking another risk in the future.

Assess your tools:
Once you have decided to take a risk, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the strengths I bring to the situation?
  • Are there any skills I could acquire or information I could get that would increase my chances of success?  List them.
  • Where can I go to get help?  Find someone who is already doing what you want to do – then ask.

Have a Plan B
Do you have an alternative plan if this risk doesn’t work out?

Some years ago Ted Turner was told by his most trusted advisers that one of his  big schemes would not work, so he prepared a plan B  –  for a string of Ted Turner hamburger stands to go up all over the United States if Plan A failed.  You’ve never seen them, but you have seen the results of his Plan A – CNN.

Plan B might not be nearly as attractive as Plan A, but you’re not stuck with it forever.  It’s just something to do for now. It will keep you from becoming paralyzed and thinking. “Oh, gosh, all is lost if this doesn’t work out”, because you have an answer, “Well, for now, I will work on Plan B.”

Plan B could simply be a reward you will give yourself once the risk is over: I once took a risk, knowing in advance, that whatever the outcome, it would  immediately be  followed it by an evening of self-indulgence, complete with bubble bath, champagne, and a catered meal that I ordered in.

I knew during the risk that I had this celebration of congratulations to look forward to – not necessarily because I got what I wanted, but because I dared to do it. And when the risky event was over (no, I didn’t get what I asked for), I went home and celebrated the fact that I had done something braver than I had ever done before. My courage and skill at risk-taking had been advanced forever by this event.

Get your emotions out of the way
Olympic track and field star Edwin Moses, who also held degrees in physics and engineering,  was once asked, “How do you do everything you do, and so well?”  He replied, “I don’t take myself seriously.” When the reporters looked shocked, he added hastily, “I take what I do very seriously.”  He was indicating an important mindset that peak performers develop: separating yourself into the Actor and the Observer.

The Actor is your body, performing the actions necessary for the particular activity. The Observer is your mind’s eye, high above your body, looking down, assessing, directing, and learning from the activity. The idea is to separate your emotion (body) from your intellect (mind), so that you are not overwhelmed by emotion that will undermine your performance

Focusing on the idea that the Observer is busy learning something that will pay off in the future will keep you focused on what you are doing, rather than on your nervousness or on the possibility of a poor outcome. .

Looking to the future:
It’s important, too, to recognize that this event will not be your only chance – other opportunities will arise in the future in which to display your increasing excellence.

Nobody who wins an Olympic Gold Medal gets there on the first try; they will have spent years trying, failing, observing and learning from their mistakes, and finally succeeding.

Astronaut Alan Bean, who became a painter after having walked on the moon, was asked if his astronaut experience had contributed to a sudden rush of insight and skill in painting.  He said, matter-of-factly, “No, it’s the same process.  Study, practice, make mistakes.”

Successful people do it. What are you waiting for?

(Next week: how do you evaluate your risk-taking in a way that helps you to feel good about what you have done, regardless of the outcome?)

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Lynette is a member of MVP Seminars. Visit her at www.MVPSeminars.com

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