Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Power of Personas

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us." 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Working through transition is exhausting some days. And its days like these that make it impossible for me to access the wonderful and amazingly talented Leena that I know and love.  In a recent coaching session with my coach (Awesome Awesome Awesome Coach Lee), we were working through some of the goals I had established at the beginning of our work together and I expressed my frustration at not being able to find my own “elation state”.  Considering we thrive from accessing our motivational state of mind, this block was impacting my ability to realize my aspirations and I felt stuck, unsure of how to pull myself out of my own funk.

My coach suggested that I use my persona. I didn’t understand at first and she went on to explain a visualization exercise that she had done that allowed her to discover her powerful persona, Queen Elizabeth I.  She chose Queen Elizabeth I because she admired her strengths and could really identify with Queen Elizabeth I’s path. Coach Lee’s persona allows her to channel her personal greatness when she needs a boost in confidence and to tap into her natural abilities and gifts. I smiled as I listened to her describe this phenomena because I suddenly understood what she meant.  

Wonder Woman has always been someone that the creative and empowered part of me identifies with, much to the chagrin of my adult logic (who says that adults have it all figured out anyhow?).  I can remember as early as four or five, being enchanted with the beauty, strength, and power I saw in Wonder Woman (Linda Carter played her in the hit series from 1975 to 1979). So much so that my brother even got me to eat cream cheese (something I hated as a child) by telling me that Wonder Woman ate cream cheese.

I know that on a sub-conscious level, I have adopted Wonder Woman as some sort of source of personal power; my dream map includes Wonder Woman and I know that people in my world associate me with this super hero because I’ve received many Wonder Woman gifts over the years such as mugs, photo albums, greeting cards, and heck, even a Christmas ornament.

The use of personas is not that unusual when you really think about it; Beyoncé uses an alter ego when she performs; her album I am Sasha Fierce, is a reference to her persona; that powerful part of herself that she taps in to to push past any insecurities or fears when she is singing, dancing, and acting. In an interview Beyonce shares that "Sasha Fierce is the fun, more sensual, more aggressive, more outspoken side and more glamorous side that comes out when I'm working and when I'm on the stage." It's working well for her!

So I’ve been channelling Wonder Woman for the last little while and was surprised at how helpful this has been in helping me to pull myself out of my funk.  I’ve even gone so far some days as to ask myself “What would Wonder Woman do?” when faced with a dilemma. As a Coach I understand the value of structures and how the most important part of any habit or discipline we choose works to the degree that we believe it does. There is a chance for a new beginning when we stop 'knowing" ourselves too well.

So what about you? Do you have a powerful persona? If you do, who is it, and what aspects of yourself does this persona allow you to access?

 If you don’t currently have a persona, dream for a while, and share with me who you would choose!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

No Risks=No Champagne

I don’t think I know anyone who hasn’t, at some point in their life, taken shelter in a safe refuge, physical or otherwise. Whether it’s sticking with a life situation that is safe but unsatisfying, or going with the flow rather than standing up for something you believe in because it’s the easier thing to do, or simply keeping your head down and focused on the deeply ingrained pattern of your life rather than looking up to consider that there are other ways to live life, other options to consider. I know that I catch myself in “Saferefugeville” (Safe Refuge Ville) every now and then so it was with gratitude that I was recently reminded about the illusory trade off we make when we choose between safety and leaping into the unknown.

I recently returned from two weeks of traveling that involved a hectic family wedding, family reunions, visiting a dear friend, short and jam-packed day trips, and needing to rely on a foreign country’s medical system. I have to say that Glenda the good witch had it right when she reminded Dorothy that there really was no place like home.  There is nothing like sleeping in your own bed after a long trip! 

My partner-in-crime and I were in Milan, en route to the Malpensa airport one morning and we were admiring the graffiti culture.   The art form seemed to be thriving even more robustly here than back home in Toronto.  Amidst the customary "Down with Communism", swear words, and professions of eternal love, was one phrase, sprayed across a bridge, that became my favourite: No Risks=No Champagne.

What a fantastic reminder about the downside of living in Saferefugeville!  

Sure, it’s pretty and quaint, with a manageable and predictable pace, and the food is great because you always know what it will taste like. Besides taking a few day trips away from Saferefugeville, there really is no need to leave because you can have all your basic needs met in this town.  But was Saferefugeville ever meant to be a final destination?  Or merely a stop on the journey of life that we come to from time to time when we need a break from the crazy pace of life?  What about Curiosityville and Challengeville?  You have to admit that the view is better from the mountains and valleys that you find in these towns. You may get a super spicy burrito every now and then, or some bitter coffee, and the weather is not always predictable; but the champagne, the fruits, they are truly bar none.

Especially if you had to go through Failure Town to get to these places.

Where in your life do you find yourself stuck in Saferefugeville?

Can you think of a time when you went to Challengeville and had an awesome time? 
What’s keeping you from going there again?

“To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily.  To not dare is to lose oneself.”  ~Soren Kierkegaard

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Making the Most of a New Year: Leveraging the Power of Mantras

“When we are motivated by goals that have deep meaning, by dreams that need completion, by pure love that needs expressing, then we truly live life.” –Greg  Anderson

As another year winds down, I inevitably find myself thinking about New Year’s resolutions.  This is a structure in my life that has historically worked for me.   This is not a post about how to set goals; for some great guidance on goal setting, take a look at this post on Zen Habits

While I do have some concrete goals in the areas of health, career, education, and relationships, this year, I wanted to try something different. 

I've decided to use mantras to guide my actions.  A mantra is defined as a commonly repeated word or phrase.  The word "mantra" is derived from two Sanskrit words. The first is "manas" or "mind," which provides the "man" syllable. The second syllable is drawn from the Sanskrit word "trai" meaning to "protect" or to "free from." Therefore, the word mantra in its most literal sense means "to free from the mind."

After much thought, here are my three mantras for the next year:

1.)       Make it Count.
2.)       Focus.

3.)       Be patient.

The work I did to choose these came from taking an inventory of my life over the last year.  While the purpose of the life inventory was to celebrate the achievements and wins I had in 2010, the point was also to take an honest look at the learning that came from missed opportunities, or falling short of my intended targets.

"Dissatisfaction is a great starting point, for it is right there that we have the most power,
strength, and energy to push change through." - David DeNotaris

Reflecting on your missed opportunities does not mean that you should beat yourself up about your perceived failures.   After all, failure is one of the most important teachers we’ve got in life.  What I do know is that nothing motivates me like knowing that an incremental increase in effort could have yielded an exponential difference in the outcome.

1.)          Make it Count

“I figure life’s a gift and I don't intend on wasting it. You don't know what hand you're gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you... to make each day count.” - Jack Dawson, Titanic

I chose this mantra to challenge me to rise above going through the motions; to remind myself to be the driver in my life, and not the passenger.  I will use this mantra to remind me to make the most of each effort that I am expending. I see myself using this mantra by asking questions such as:  “How can I make each moment count?”   

Or more specifically:

“How can I make this workout count?”
“How can I make this meal I am eating count?”
“How can I make this school assignment count?”
“How can I make this meeting count?”

I’m hoping that the very act of pausing to ask myself this question will allow me to live more presently in each moment, and to create a natural tendency to pull in the next two mantras.

2.)          Focus

“Whatever you focus on expands.” – Christopher M. Knight

While I view my natural penchant for being curious as a blessing on most days, I acknowledge that it can also cause my focus to be spread too thin at times.  So in addition to encouraging myself to make my actions count and to focus on the task at hand, I am also embracing this mantra as a reminder to stay focused on the three or four big goals I have set myself for the year.  Before taking on anything new, I will ask myself if focusing on this task or project will move me closer to achieving one of my goals.  If the answer is a no, then I know that now is not the time to be devoting energy to that project or task.

3.)          Be Patient.

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” -Unknown

This last mantra will probably be the hardest for me to listen to; when considering the amount of work required to achieve a particular goal, I often get overwhelmed and want to surrender before I’ve even begun.  I love this quote about how to eat an elephant because it reminds me that any big undertaking can only ever be completed one action at a time. In reflecting on significant milestones in my life, many of them required patience that I evidently must have had to have achieved them. To know that I was patient with my process in the past lets me know that I can tap into that patience again because it IS in there somewhere.

I will keep you posted over the next year, with a periodic post about how my mantras are working for me.

What will your mantra (s) be for 2011?

Wishing you a fantastic 2011 ahead!

“Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it's not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won't.  It's whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.”
- Barack Obama

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What's Your "Ace"?

Your talents, your strongest synaptic connections, are the most important raw material for strength building,  Identify your most powerful talents, hone them with skills and knowledge, and you will be well on your way to living the strong life.”
-Marcus Buckingham & Donald O. Clifton, authors of Now, Discover Your Strengths

I had coffee with a friend recently and had a great a-ha moment to go with my latte. 
We were discussing a conflict I was experiencing with another friend and how I was dealing with the situation.  Somehow the flow of conversation got us to talking about empathy; while I felt that my response to the conflict was weak, he defined my approach as empathic.  We were on two different sides of the coin in terms of our perspective; he saw empathy as a personal strength to be admired, and I saw empathy as a weakness to be overcome. 

I should probably put some context here otherwise you might be asking yourself “What kind of life coach sees empathy as a weakness as opposed to a strength?” There have been times, in my work in the non-profit sector, when I just didn’t want to care anymore.  Not because I didn’t care about what I was doing, or the population we were serving, but because I was beginning to feel that the experience was becoming too draining, and also because I wondered if the intensity of the emotion was affecting my ability to make the right decisions.  I have discussed this experience with other friends in the non-profit sector and they have echoed these sentiments (emotional burnout).

In making the transition into the corporate sector a few years ago, one of my main objectives was to work more from the energy of my mind, rather than my emotional energy.   That was definitely easier said than done.

Coming back to my discussion with my friend, he listened to me describe why I was seeing empathy as a weakness (in my situation)and how I wished there were a dial on the ability that I could turn up or turn down as needed.  He surprised me when his response was “But that’s your ace!” My first instinct was to dismiss his comment. He went on to explain “we’re all dealt a hand of abilities in life, (by the cosmic dealer I guess?) and it’s up to us how we work this hand.”   I honestly couldn't argue with his logic.  It made sense.  His comments reminded me of the essence of Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton’s book Now, Discover Your Strengths; we need to focus on strengths and find ways to manage our weaknesses. Below is an online summary of the book:

Most of us have little sense of our talents and strengths. Instead, guided by our parents, our teachers, our managers and psychology's fascination with pathology, we become experts in our weaknesses and spend our lives trying to repair these flaws, while our strengths lie dormant and neglected.

At the heart of Now, Discover Your Strengths, is the Internet-based StrengthsFinder® Profile, the product of a 25-year, multimillion dollar effort to identify the most prevalent human strengths. The program introduces 34 dominant "themes" with thousands of possible combinations, and reveals how they can best be translated into personal and career success.

I remember finding the message of this book refreshing when I read it a few years back; in a world where the education system, our upbringing, and most obviously employee professional development programs usually work to develop one’s weaknesses, the rationale espoused in this book actually made sense to me.  While I did identify with the message of this book at the time, somewhere along the way I lost it.   What I ultimately learned from my time away from the non-profit sector is that the very thing that I was trying to avoid was the one thing that I missed the most; the feeling that I was truly making a difference in my community. 

My friend’s comment reminded me that rather than to waste time suppressing or resisting my abilities, whatever they may be, it would be a better use of my energy to embrace my strengths, and to do work that leverages these strengths. 

The work of changing my inner script is not easy but I am working to “Embrace my Ace.”  I know that the message is sinking in because the opportunities I now focus my attention on engage my passions and my talents.

What’s your Ace? 
Are you leveraging it or letting it atrophy?

Friday, November 26, 2010

There's no Place like Home

“You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it's all right. “ -Maya Angelou

I was reading through some of Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s works recently and one piece in particular got me thinking about the definition of the word home.  Born in Vietnam in 1926, Hanh grew up under French colonial rule.  Banned from his country for his non-violent, nonpartisan stance during the U.S., he has spent the last 40 years in exile in France.  In Together We Are One Hanh shares that “I have arrived, I am home” is the embodiment of his practice, and also expresses his understanding of the teaching of the Buddha.

“It was because I did not have a country of my own that I had an opportunity to find my true home.  Our true home is the present moment, whatever is happening right here and right now.  Our true home is the place where we no longer seek, no longer wish, no longer regret.  Our true home is not the past; it is not the object of our regrets, our yearnings, our longing or remorse.   [When} we stop trying to find our home in space, time, territory, nationality, culture or race, we find happiness.”

Have you ever felt, at some point in your life that you don’t fit in? And that if you could only find that safe place to call home, things would be better?

I was born and raised in Canada by parents of Indian descent and have always equally acknowledged the influence of both cultures on my identity. I experienced racism as a child, which first made me conscious of the way that some people saw me, that I wasn’t from there (Canada), when in my experience, it was the only place I had ever known (the India I knew at that point was what I saw in Bollywood films).

After graduating from University, I spent some time in India, where I thought I would finally be fully accepted and at home, because my family’s roots were there, and because I “looked” like everyone else. The opposite happened; people did not truly accept me as an Indian because I spoke Hindi with an accent, I carried myself differently, and did not always act according to the customs of the community. I wasn’t upset as much as I was fascinated with people’s reactions towards me.

For a long time, I struggled with the reconciliation of how the world saw me, and how I saw myself, as if I had to choose one culture to identify with.  Eventually I came to the realization that I was grateful for every influence that helped me to become who I am today, regardless of what people’s ideas of me were. I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I would be a very different person if I had been raised somewhere else (India, or even the U.K as my family settled there first before moving to Canada) and am grateful to know the experience that I call my life as it is (warts and all).

For a few years in my life I was living and travelling abroad so much so that I remember thinking “home is wherever my bags are.”  Although the experience helped me to detach from my traditional idea of home as being where I was raised, and with the people in my family, I still felt a profound sense of homesickness, and longing for the known in my life, especially when things became challenging in my work overseas.  It's ultimately what brought me back to Canada.

I aspire to the inner sense of home that Hanh refers to, and hope that through meditation, personal reflection, and through Hanh’s readings, I will be able to find that place within myself. Home.

Where do you feel the most at home?
What would it feel like for you to embrace Hanh’s idea of home in the present moment in the here and now? To see home as a state of mind rather than a physical place, or with specific people?

“Every one of us needs a home. The world needs a home. There are so many young people who are homeless. They may have a building to live in, but they are homeless in their hearts. That is why the most important practice of our time is to give each person a home.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Opportunity in Silence

"He who does not understand your silence will probably not understand your words."
- Elbert Hubbard

I was sitting in a local coffee shop a few days ago reading a book and I saw an older couple enter and order lunch.  They took a seat at the window, positioned so that they would both be looking out at the street. My first thought was “Uh oh, that’s a marriage in trouble. Why on earth would a couple sit facing outward, away from each other, rather than inward (towards each other) unless they had nothing to say to each other?” I continued to observe them as they sat for sometime in silence.  The husband got up to get their meal when it was ready and the wife proceeded to pour them both a cup of tea. Wordlessly, looking out the window, they ate their lunch. Tea was refilled, empty plates were put aside, and again, barely a word was spoken between the two.  By now, my mind was fabricating a variety of scenarios about the kind of life the two must lead; loveless, the absence of joy, emptiness.  And then I saw them look at each other as they rose to leave.  The husband smiled at his wife and lovingly helped her to put on her jacket.  He put his hand on the small of her back as they walked out of the coffee shop and towards their car. 

That’s when I caught myself.  I realized that I had been comparing their muted interaction as a couple to the animated and vocal way my husband and I interact ( a relatively young relationship compared to the older couple), and had unconsciously attached positive value to discussion versus silence because it was not something I regularly practiced in my relationship.  Only a month earlier, a meditation course I attended emphasized the importance of silence in helping to create space in our lives, to developing some detachment in our experience through reflection.  The course concluded with an entire day of silence, encouraging students to remain in a state of contemplation. I found the act very powerful, experiencing a full gamut of emotions throughout the day that had been tucked away; peace, sadness, fear, confusion, joy, contentment, happiness, and gratitude.  At the end of it I felt spiritually rejuvenated and had more energy than if I had gone to the gym for a workout. 

This past Remembrance Day had me thinking about the many different meanings and possibilities of silence.  When the day came, I was on the road with a friend heading towards Manitoulin Island, and passed several ceremonies in progress.  Ironically enough, I had been battling a sinus infection and was experiencing my own type of silence because of plugged ears.   The inherent meaning behind silence observed on this day is respect for those who made (and continue to make) our freedom possible.  The Royal British Legion came up with an interesting way to commemorate Remembrance Day this year  to support their annual Poppy Appeal.  They released a single into the UK charts titled 2 Minute Silence. The single is literally recorded silence. The video features the likes of Mark Ronson, Bob Hoskins, and Corporal Simon Brown, who was shot in the face by a sniper in Iraq. All of the proceeds from the single will go towards furthering the Royal British Legion’s work in supporting serving and ex-Service personnel and their families.

It was Viktor Frankl who said that “We have the power to determine what any experience means to us.”  The truth is that I had no idea whether or not that couple was truly a happy, maybe they weren’t even a couple, but  they reminded me about the downside of judgement and jumping to conclusions; the missed opportunity to learn.  

Silence can be powerful or debilitating; it just depends on our willingness to embrace it.

When was the last time you consciously observed silence?  Where in your life do you have an opportunity to practice the act of silence?  Where has silence served you in your life?

"Silence between friends says that one's presence is enough." — Dr. Jack Hyles

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Finding your Voice in a Noisy World

“When you engage in work that taps your talent and fuels your passion – that rises out of a great need in the world that you feel drawn by conscience to meet – therein lies your voice, your calling, your soul’s code.”
- Stephen R. Covey in “The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness

Coming back to blogging after a two-year hiatus has been harder than I thought it would be.  I put my dream of being a life coach on the back-burner in 2008 to pursue what I saw as a challenging opportunity that would allow me to grow exponentially.  

So when the stars aligned recently and set the stage for me to once again pursue my dreams of becoming a successful life coach, I wasn’t ready.  Somewhere along the journey of the last two years, in the noise and craziness that my life had become, I had lost my sense of self belief in my ability to coach.  I couldn’t write. I did not have what it takes to coach.  I was rusty.  I was out of practice.  The taunts of my inner gremlins (Co-Active Coaching term for  the voices of our inner critics) were deafening.  

I asked myself what it would take to find that passion, that belief that I used to have for the power of the coaching process and most importantly, my ability to channel this gift. I needed to rebuild myself and reconnect with my passion. I spent the next few months doing things I loved; spending time with my new husband, taking meditation classes, enjoying the learning that came with being a Masters student, resuming a half-finished crocheting project (meant for two friends as a Christmas gift in 2008), cooking, painting the house, reading and re-reading books that had inspired me in the past, and traveling and visiting friends.

And yet,  when I sat down to write, or contemplated the impending coaching sessions I had booked with clients, I continued to be overcome with feelings of fear and self doubt.  I felt that no matter what I did to empower myself, I could not overcome my feelings of being a fraud.

And then I had an epiphany.  The morning before my first scheduled coaching session since rebuilding my life coaching practice, I was watching a season two episode of the HBO show In Treatment, a show that centres around Gabriel Byrne, a therapist and his practice. At this point in the series, Byrne, facing a malpractice law suit, is a disillusioned therapist questioning his abilities and whether or not he is actually making a difference in the lives of his patients.  His therapist Gina (actor Dianne Wiest), challenges him to work with his patients in the next week as if he believed he was helping them.  The change in his interactions with his clients in the proceeding episodes was evident, much improved.  

It hit me like a ton of bricks: I had to work as if I believed I had something to contribute, that I could help people, or it wouldn’t work.  No amount of external encouragement or studying could give me what I was denying myself.  Once I embraced my ability and gifts as a life coach with a passion to serve, this realization created a mental shift in perspective that has made all the difference in how I treat my soul’s calling. The excuses have vanished, the coaching has begun, and I see inspiration to write everywhere I look.

Inspiration truly does come from the strangest places.

Where in your life are your gremlins holding you back?
What would it mean to you to give yourself the gift of self-belief?

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who am I not to be? My playing small does not serve the world.” - Marianne Williamson