Freedom to Choose

I’ve been reading Paul Selig’s book, The Book of Knowing and Worth.  He posits that we are free to choose worth and that no one else can give us worth.  I reflected and realized that I was trying to derive worth from someone else:  my mother, my job, my boss, my spouse, my child.  But it’s just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.  It’s all been within in us,all along.  It’s always been there.  Hmmm.  What a concept.


I run into this a lot with my coachees.  Many are unwillingly, or unknowingly, buying into their thoughts and aren’t able to see that they can choose how they think about things.  You can feel guilty for not visiting your father or you can feel at peace.  It’s so ingrained to feel the guilt.  But what if you were at peace?  I remember asking a client, “Can you choose to think about that differently?” and she responded, “I don’t know.  Can I?”  Yes.  You are free to choose.  So choose well.

Here are ways to choose good thoughts:

  • Authority.  Paul Selig writes that you have the authority to decide if you are worthy.  It places the responsibility to choose your worth on you.  It’s up to you.  You have the magic wand, so go use it.  There is no blaming others for your lack of confidence, your financial short fall or feeling guilty about your ex.  You get to decide if the glass is half empty or half full.  It’s all within your authority.  So go big and be worthy.
  • Quit rehashing.  Have you ever rehashed an embarrassing situation over and over and over and over and over again?  You think, “Why did I say that to my boss?” or “I’m a dummy for not catching that mistake.”  You cannot change the past.  You can change how you look at it.  I love Andy Dooley’s first step to changing negative thoughts.  You say to yourself, “Stop, cancel, clear and get the fear (he uses a graphic four letter “F” word instead of fear) out of here!”  To claim your worth, you need to stop the negative rehashing.
  • Rewire to the Positive.  You may not realize this but you can rewire your bad memories.  Your brain is so malleable that you can think back to the embarrassing singing solo you did in fourth grade and make it a wonderful success.  False memories affect us all.  As Tara Thaen wrote in Time, “The phenomenon of false memories is common to everybody — the party you’re certain you attended in high school, say, when you were actually home with the flu, but so many people have told you about it over the years that it’s made its way into your own memory cache.”  The trick is to rewire the memory by thinking about it anew.  Throw in a standing ovation when you finished your solo and someone handing you a bouquet of roses.  It’s your story.  Make it as great as you like.
  • Mindfulness.  We end up spending a lot of time and effort either living in the past wishing it were different, or planning our future and hoping nothing will go wrong.  The thing is, neither are possible.  Why not be here right now?  Right now.  Stop right now.  Close our eyes.  Take three deep breaths and be here right now.  Feel your big toe.  Feel your ear lobes. This right now is what matters.  Nothing can be done about the past except forgiveness (for yourself and others).  Nothing can be done about the future except for setting a positive intention.  So be here.  Right now.
  • Be open.  We are currently relocated as our home is being repaired from Hurricane Matthew.  My dog, a Brittany Spaniel named Baci, has been an excellent example of openness.  She is not griping about not having her favorite chair to sit in.  She isn’t frozen by my side waiting for me to show her where the squirrels are.  She is out there living in the moment and being open to all things.  The new smells, the new couch, the new sounds, the new neighbors and the eight new dogs that surround where we are living.  As Dorothy figured out, she was always “home.”  Be open.

Choose the positive thoughts.  You have the freedom to choose.

How to have a positive brain

Your coworker is complaining about their boss and you are sucked in.  You start piling on your own jabs, mistreatments and judgments.  You are cut off on the way to work and you start tailgating the person as payback.  “You can’t push me around.”  You overcook the steak and now you think the entire meal is horrible.  There is too much salt, the beans are limp and the mashed potatoes are gummy.  It all feeds on itself.  The negative outcome of one thing goes wrong and now everything else spirals out of control.  Your brain is wired for a negativity bias and in a world full of terrorism, wicked politics and “if it bleeds, it leads” sensationalized news, it can be catastrophically overwhelming.positive brain.jpg

Amazingly, you can overcome this.  It’s going to take work but it’s fun work.  Your brain is so malleable and elastic that you can actually rewire how you see the world.  You can create a more positive brain and actually become more resilient in the process.  Isn’t that great?  We do not have to be victims of our modern day culture but can be in a happier, more relaxed positive state of mind.  Are you up for this?

Here is how to create a more positive brain:

  • Pay attention to the good thoughts.  When you are having a positive thought like Doesn’t my dog look adorable next to me or I just made everyone at the meeting laugh or My husband is dancing in the doorway to my office.  It’s like catching butterflies, you need to keep your butterfly net at the ready.  Go catch them.  Unfortunately, our negative bias frequently hijacks our brain.  We tune into what is going wrong like the air temperature, the weather or your phone being slow.  So you need to be vigilant in order to catch the good things as they flutter by.
  • Figure out what this experience or memory says about you.  For example, when my dog is lying next to me in my office, I feel loved and appreciated.  When I make everyone at the meeting laugh, I feel like I belong.  When my husband dances in my office doorway, I feel joy and silliness.  As Rick Hanson says this adds and “enriches the experience.”  His analogy is that it’s like adding logs to a fire.  It burns even brighter.  Keep adding logs to enrich and strengthen the great experience.
  • Soak up the positive experience like a sponge.  Rick Hanson turned me onto this and he has a great Ted Talk on the topic: Hardwiring Happiness.  Once you have caught that great experience, observation or memory, dwell on it for a bit.  As Rick says, it can be for only 1 or 2 seconds, but marinate in the positive feeling.  It is amazing how this feels.  I feel my chest and head get warm and a smile starts on my face.  I actually feel the happiness.  Even if for a moment or two.  In a few moments, you have actually fired neurons in your brain and started the process of rewiring.  Isn’t that amazing?  You have taken one small step to rewire your brain in the direction of positivity and happiness.
  • Start a gratitude journal.  I’ve been writing in one for at least a decade.  I write down 5 things I am grateful for and I think about a situation that I turned around to the positive.  For example, if my husband didn’t respond to my text, I figure his phone must be in another room (instead of he is in the ER and can’t answer his phone).  One little reframe a day helps me keep a positive mindset and by acknowledging each reframe each day, I maintain the mindset.
  • Mediation or yoga.  You do not have to silence your self-talk.  This is the biggest misconception about meditation.  A lot of people think that in meditation, you sit quietly and a switch in your head turns off.  It is a practice and it is never perfect.  Okay, so maybe there is a monk or two out there who can turn off their brains, but the rest of us mortals are all working with letting thoughts go.  It’s letting worries go like balloons into the air.  Try it for 3 minutes.  Get an app like Calm, Whil or Headspace.  Most are free, so you can start now.  And why not sign up for a yoga class while you’re at it?  Even a once-a-week yoga session will give you physical benefits, increasing strength and flexibility.  Plus it will help you to reduce stress and have a more positive outlook about your self and the world around you.
  • Turn off the catastrophic messages.  I turned off the news some four months ago.  I don’t have any news apps on my phone.  I TiVo most of the television I watch, so I don’t need to view political ads.  I don’t know if it’s the meditation practice or turning off the news, but I am much more relaxed and positive.  It’s probably a combination of all these steps.  I just notice this one the most.  I was watching a college football game yesterday live on television and all of a sudden I was being bombarded with political ads.  I felt like I was being assaulted.  Negative ads stick more than positive (because of our negative bias), and they were hurling them at me like hand grenades.  I am still informed about the political race and am voting.  I just stay away from the distracting, stress-inducing messages.  It was a relief to go back to my TiVo recorded shows and away from all that negativity.

Being more relaxed and happy has really helped me stay resilient and confident.  This past month, I have had more speaking and facilitation gigs than ever before.  Three years ago, I would have stressed out about each gig and lost sleep over the event.  Now I just take one at a time, imagine the best outcome, and take it as it comes.  I’m a better facilitator because of my positivity practice.  Try it yourself.

How to face your fear. What to do when a tornado is approaching.

My home was under a tornado warning last week. I remember on the television screen they mapped out the path of the potential funnel cloud to “Walnut Creek 1:14.” It was 1 PM. Fourteen minutes. Suddenly my television screen was locked with a banner across the top saying to go find shelter. Believe it or not, I tried to change the channel. Like maybe I should catch “Let’s Make a Deal” while the tornado is bearing down. Maybe another channel will predict the storm going elsewhere. My cell is alerting me that I need to take cover. So I call my husband “Should I take shelter?” and he said “Yes.” Like I need permission to find shelter. Crazy things you do in the moment of


So I grab a pillow and my dog and headed to an interior bathroom. I feverishly watch the radar on my phone and listen to the television set muted through the bathroom door. I sat there on the slate floor reflecting on the fact that my dog had no idea what was happening. She was free of the abject fear of that moment. As I sat there wondering if that huge pine in the front of the house would fall on us. I reflected back on the book The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal. Hmmm. How can I use some of the things she recommends. This is the perfect Petri dish of fear to give it a try.

So here is what I did to face fear:

1. I started by reframing it. I initially thought “I’m scared.” Then I thought about reframing that to “I’m excited.” So I started to appreciate the uniqueness of this situation. “Wow, I’ve never been under a tornado warning before. This is exciting.”
So my daughter was under a tornado warning some 3 hours later in Durham, NC. She was scared. I tried to reframe it for her. She texted, “I’m scared to be all alone :(.” I replied, “We are with you. Rise to the challenge.” I don’t know if it helped her but I know that when I reframed the situation as I sat on the bathroom floor, I used my energy to focus on being proactive by searching radar information and taking my mind off awful-izing what might happen.

So if you are headed to speak in front of an audience of 100 or having to terminate an employee, reframe it to excited energy. Harness that energy to help you move forward through the fear.

2. Find the positive spin. I realized that I was glad I was with my dog. How often do I get to sit on the bathroom floor with my dog? Like never. I appreciated her calmness. She walked around in a circle and sat down like this was as good a place as any to take a nap. It’s hard to be panicked when you’re sitting next to a Zen dog. I started to think about the fact that I was safe at home and not out on the road. This was the safest place in the world. In the text conversations with my daughter, I kept up the positive spin. “The house you are in is a newer house” and “the storm is traveling fast you’ll be out of it no time” and “you are strong.” Shoring up your resources keeps your mind in a more positive state.
So when you step on that stage in front of an audience of 100, think about the positive intention you are going to bring to the folks. And when you are terming an employee? Think about their positive humanity. The upside propels you forward.

3. Find someone to connect with. I was texting my husband and daughter in a group text while I sat on the floor. I was snuggled up next to my dog as she lay on the bathroom floor. As McGonigal wrote, “Connection with others activates prosocial instincts, encourages social connection, enhances social cognition, dampens fear and increases courage. You want to be near friends or family. You notice yourself paying more attention to others, or are more sensitive to others’ emotions.”

While I was texting my daughter as she sat on her bathroom floor, I asked if I could call. We spoke on the phone as the worst of the second storm cell passed over. I don’t know if she felt better but I felt better by connecting with her. I felt like teleporting my dog up to her bathroom floor. There have been several times that I have been on the phone with my daughter and I’ve said, “I am holding you right now.” It might be virtual but I know it helps. If you are unable to connect due to loss of power or phone connection, try a mantra or affirmations. You can also imagine that your mother is there holding your hand. So when you walk up on that stage, make eye contact and smile at one or two people. When you terminate that employee, look them in the eye. Shake their hand when they leave. Connection dampens down the fear.

It’s not obvious my daughter and I lived through three tornados that day. No downed trees, damage or loss of power. But I have to say I learned from the experience. For one, I didn’t succumb to the stress of the situation. I stayed focused and positive. My husband, who had been on a group text with my daughter and me, came home that night and commented, “You did a great job.” He showed me his phone and there were apparently 80 text messages that went back and forth that afternoon between us as two separate tornados spun by my daughter’s home. If you are in a similar situation, I recommend you focus on the upside. You will think better if a catastrophe does happen instead of reacting out of fear.

How to Champion Validation in Your Organization.

You know it the minute you walk into the doors of an organization. You feel the camaraderie. People are connected. They respect and trust each other. The energy. The pulse. This place is pumping out enthusiasm and positivity. The receptionist makes eye contact, smiles and is sitting tall in her chair. People. Your associates. Your direct report. They are all looking for validation. It might stem from being picked last for the dodge ball team but it’s there. A deep need for validation. validation

I just watched an interesting YouTube directed by Kurt Kuenne called “Validation”. My co-instructor at Duke University, Sandy Lewis, shared it with our class and it is a real eye-opener. It’s a fable about a parking attendant who gives REAL validation – dispensing free genuine compliments and parking. Watching this character transform the lives of the dreary folks just walking up to get their ticket validated is interesting. He stands there and gives out genuine compliments like “that dress you are wearing matches your eyes” or “you are amazing”. Once he has the customer smiling and transformed, he validates their parking ticket. This ends up have a ripple effect and pretty soon there is an enormous line of folks looking for validation and transformation. So think about that. What if you could change your organization just through validation?

Let’s see how it’s done.

It always starts with you. This is what I admire most about my co-instructor Sandy. She is always positive. She is always showing appreciation. There are no bad apples. The glass is always half full. What kind of aura are you sharing with the world? Are you Eeyore or Winnie the Pooh? Sandy is definitely Winnie the Pooh. Spreading sunshine and connection wherever she goes. Look at yourself in the mirror. What kind of energy are you sending out? It’s impossible to validate anyone else if you can’t validate yourself. As written by Dr. Linda Sapadin in her article, The Importance of Validation, “First and foremost, you need to give it to yourself. When you recognize your good traits, you are not being narcissistic. When you praise yourself for your accomplishments (provided you don’t go overboard), you are not being self-centered.” Self-validation is the starting point.
Be present with your co-workers. Technology kills being present. Looking at your phone while sitting in a meeting or getting off a few emails while listening to your assistant complain is not going to work. This happened the other day. And when I realized I couldn’t hear what he was saying, I stopped. I said “give me a minute to finish this email. I want to be able to listen to you.” You cannot be in two places at the same time. Pick one and show up. Be present.
Constantly be scanning for opportunities to compliment folks. As Kenneth H. Blanchard, The One Minute Manager, espouses “Help people reach their full potential, catch them doing something right.” Don’t you gravitate towards folks who compliment you? The acknowledgement is infectious. If you infect one person with a genuine compliment, it spreads. A social “pay it forward”. In the YouTube spot, people lined up for the validation. You will need to seek it out. In the ladies room, “that’s a pretty blouse.” At the employee meeting, “I love your laugh”. Via email, “thanks for making this happen so quickly.” Spread the love.
Try and be as specific as possible. If you are specific it’s more genuine. Example: “Good job” or “you were so timely and accurate with this report, I was able to sway the board”. Which feels better to you? I know it’s faster and easier to just say “good job”. Heck, some folks might be surprised if at you least said that instead of deafening silence. Why do you like someone’s tie? Or what is so great about the spreadsheet? Being specific helps it connect.
If practical, be as public as possible. Vince Lombardi famously said “Praise in public, criticize in private”. Sandy did this. She asked me to swap classes with her so that she could go on a trip with her husband to Barcelona. It wasn’t a big deal to me. She told the whole class how generous I was for agreeing to the swap. It was unexpected but her public appreciation and validation was terrific. And guess who I am likely to do a favor for in the future? Right. When someone does something right be sure to publicize it.

This is not a quick fix. It is a slow process to have an impact on an organization. Similar to the story of the boy throwing starfish one at a time into the ocean to save them – The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!” So go out there and make a difference in just one person’s life. In a month or so it will be your entire department, and then your division; eventually, your entire organization.

Originally published on Change Your Thoughts on October 10, 2015.