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If you’re ready to take your career up a notch, look into your company’s mentoring programs. They can provide a significant benefit to mentees and mentors alike. The value of learning from someone who has “been there, done that” can’t be overstated, especially since the best mentors are creative individuals who are well-suited to serve in this role as models, sounding boards, and guides.
These programs match people with a good deal of experience to those who are less acquainted with the industry, and typically offer mentees the opportunity to become familiar with the organization, develop their skills, and learn how to navigate office politics. If you are in such a program, choosing someone who you feel you can learn from and develop a rapport with is important. In particular, the mentor must like and feel invested in your growth and success.
The best corporate mentoring programs provide some structure for the relationship by offering mentor and mentee training. For mentees, these orientations help you understand how to appropriately use your mentor and get the most from the experience. Here are some tips from programs I’ve conducted:
Own your career growth and personal/professional development plan. It’s not your mentor’s job to set your goals or ensure you have a strategy. You must be in charge and be proactive, with your mentor simply supporting you on your behalf.
Venture outside your comfort zone to explore and grow. You won’t grow if you don’t stretch yourself. Take some risks and seek guidance and support from your mentor.
Create a clear goal and objective. The clearer the objective, the better your mentor can focus his/her efforts to support you. Make them SMART: Specific, Aggressive or Attainable (your choice), Relevant, and Time-bound. Be prepared for all of your meetings.
Take the lead with new relationships. You should reach out first and get time on your mentor’s calendar. But don’t feel that you have to limit yourself to one mentor. Research has proven that developmental networks are the most powerful way to ensure quality support of your career goals and action plan.
Most corporate mentoring programs have a finite timeline, anywhere from six months to a year, but their effect can be ongoing. In many cases, the mentor-mentee relationship will convert to informal status once the program has concluded, with “graduates” adding their former mentors to their developmental networks and continuing to benefit from their guidance and valuable connections.
–Andrea Zintz, Career Coach
In recent years, there has been a move from traditional mentoring – hierarchical, single-pair relationships inside an organization – to that of the developmental network – multi-level, several relationships, inside and outside your organization. Developmental networking is a very powerful way for you to establish a support group for your professional goals and development. This practice expands the traditional mentor/mentee relationship to an awareness of the many people that have guiding roles in your life – one may offer career support, another psycho-social support.
Developmental networking works because the people in your support-circle are providing help in the areas where they have the best expertise, strength, and comfort level. Some might be good listeners, while others might give honest and valuable feedback. Some may provide sponsorship for positions or special projects that will build your skills.
Here are some ways that you can start building your own network:
Write down your goals. They may be career-oriented or focus on personal development. It may be a career, position, or department to which you aspire to work in or a personal strength you wish to develop.
Pick your people. For each objective you listed above, make a list of people with whom you have a relationship – or have the opportunity to build one – who can offer some help in that area. Choose a variety of people who can provide something of value based on your knowledge of their strengths and expertise.
Take action. Generate a list of ways that you can approach each person for assistance. Respect their time and limit the meeting to no more than 30 minutes with a clear objective in mind. Let them know why you are seeing them and ask for the help. Do not ask them to be your mentor. This can be a turn-off. If they become your mentor as a result of strong rapport and mutual satisfaction, this is great.
I have benefited more from my developmental network than any single mentoring relationship. Here’s how:
–Andrea Zintz, Career Coach
Last week, I shared how you can make a great impression at a new job – by getting oriented with the company, building relationships with colleagues and clients, and proving your credibility. While keeping these tips in mind, also realize that your new position comes with several advantages and pitfalls, and you should know how to make these work in your favor.
Advantage #1: No Affiliations. When you are new, you have no allegiances to anyone within or outside of the company. You are not beholden to particular people, causes, or factions. All organizations – commercial, non-profit, or otherwise – have politics, and it’s critical for new entrants to stay above them. It’s liberating to be new, and you can ask all sorts of “clueless” questions during your orientation phase, which typically lasts for 90 days.
Advantage #2: Objectivity. The upside of “cluelessness” is objectivity. Your clients will be reaching out to you to push their own agendas, but for a short period you will be able to take an unbiased view of everything you’re told and weigh the merits of all viewpoints. You will be able to see things that others who have been “inside” too long can no longer see because of the norms and values within the organization. This is useful because as a new employee, you don’t know which solutions were tried before and failed, nor do you know where the black holes are that nobody wants to reveal.
Advantage #3: Everyone Wants to Talk to You. You need to learn what happened in the past, why some problems never got solved, and who is who in the organization – a snapshot of what’s going on and how it got to where it is now. The good news is that at the outset, everyone will want to talk to you. As an outsider, you carry a different perspective on how their organization appears to those who aren’t inside. This gives you a unique opportunity to get a fresh point of view. You can take all of these perspectives to craft your own theories and hypotheses.
Pitfall #1: The Outsider Advantage is Short Lived. Once you form your own views, people will align with them or against them, and then you have lost your outsider perspective. That’s when the real work will start. Be careful of the words, “At my former company, we…” People will be curious for about five minutes, and then will become irritated by your frequent comparisons to your previous employer.
Pitfall #2: Don’t Become Judgmental. Be compassionate and descriptive about the issues you see and be even-handed in your recommendations for changes. Use some of the people with whom you developed rapport during your interview process as sounding boards, advisors, and mentors. Ask for feedback and challenges to your thinking. Remain curious. This is your best strategy for getting support for your new ideas as you seek to implement them.
–Andrea Zintz, Career Coach
Jessica was both excited and anxious about her new position. A talented woman and an engineer by profession, she had over 10 years of experience in her career. For the past two years she had successfully managed a complex project at a non-profit organization, but was now moving into a management role inside a for-profit corporation where she would have to lead and influence many people. Her challenge was to quickly build relationships with peers, new employees, key stakeholders, get oriented with the company, and prove her credibility in the first 90 days.
Jessica was feeling anxious. How could she quickly build the traction that her new manager expected? All eyes were on her, and she knew the time was short to make a great impression and generate results. Here’s how she did it.
Build relationships. The most important factor in successfully establishing credibility in a new position is developing meaningful interpersonal relationships. This includes the ability to collaborate with various departments in the organization, the ability to influence others, and the ability to “crack the company culture.” A lack of technical or business skills is rarely a cause for failure, as these can be strengthened along the way.
Get others on your side. Jessica already knew her strengths included diligence, detail-orientation, and an eagerness to please. The areas she needed to strengthen included her tendency to over-worry – when she worried, she tended to keep her distance and close her office door, which lead others to perceive her as distant and uninvolved. Jessica resolved to spend her first six weeks building strong relationships with her peers to ensure she would be successful moving forward.
Make a plan. Detail all of the relationships you need to cultivate. For Jessica, this meant using her project planning skills and attention to detail to create a comprehensive spreadsheet, where she tasked herself with learning stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities, and their current and emerging challenges. She even created columns for listing their spouse and children’s names and any outside interests, so she could deepen these relationships. She then asked each stakeholder these four questions:
The result? Jessica exceeded her – and her manager’s – expectations for building credibility quickly. Now think: as you move into new jobs and meet unfamiliar challenges, what plan can you put into place to lay the foundation for successful relationships with your most important stakeholders? What has worked best for you in the past?
–Andrea Zintz, Career Coach
Questions are such an important tool for accessing the best thinking – our own and from others. If you observe a room of people – or even just two – having a dialogue, it’s always the person asking the questions that has the power. Why? Questions naturally direct the attention of respondents to search for the answers. Follow these rules to use questions more skillfully.
Be clear about your purpose for the question. Know what you want before you ask. For example, is this a question to get information, to start an action, or to think about a new subject? Asking questions to elicit information and data is different from asking questions designed to get others to ponder, reflect, and think outside the box.
Observe the Golden Rule. Ask questions of the other person as you would like to be questioned. For instance, keep questions simple and be careful about how the question is delivered. To neutralize “defensive listening,” deliver questions in a neutral or accepting tone. Use welcoming facial expressions and body language (remember, even on the phone you can tell if a person is smiling!). Ask only one question at a time.
Use common sense. For instance, don’t ask a complicated, difficult, or emotional question when the other person is running late for a meeting or swamped with work. Instead, set up the question to let them know what may be coming. For example: “I have a question about that situation with XYZ Company that we talked about last week.”
Resist quick, automatic answers. In general, people are rewarded for answering quickly, not thoughtfully. To make room for creative and critical thinking, create a gap between the question and possible answers so new thinking can occur. A method of doing this is to use “wait time.” Research indicates that if a teacher waits for three to five seconds for students to answer a question, the thought process is richer, deeper, and more complex.
Encourage “first draft thinking.” Make the meeting a safe place to think up new ideas by letting employees know that this is just the first stage of development. They will be more willing to throw out fresh – but perhaps not fully fleshed-out – ideas that with further brainstorming can have true potential.
Using questions skillfully and strategically can be the best quality a leader can have. Happy question asking!
–Andrea Zintz, Career Coach
Do any of us really like conflict? Personally, I prefer to avoid the ugliness of the turmoil that arguments may provoke, especially when we become unreasonable. Anyone who has gotten into an argument with a teenager knows what I mean – the harsh words, the emotional distress, the yelling. I have caught myself in the throes of an emotional surge and walked away, seething. Holding one’s tongue and swallowing strong feelings may work in the short run, but it can lead to great problems down the road. It takes much more discipline to resolve the issue calmly and keep a clear head. Here are some tips that I’ve found helpful:
Being able to work through a disagreement with both sides feeling they were heard and respected is a big win for everyone, even if you didn’t necessarily “get your way.” Learning to embrace conflict is a key skill to master – while keeping your cool may be hard, losing it will likely just get you in hot water.
–Andrea Zintz, Career Coach
Ten years ago, my husband was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma. He is alive today, and we consider this a miracle. We also learned a great deal about how uncomfortable others are with illness – co-workers and friends. Some friends called every day and some stayed very distant, not knowing what to say. Colleagues said things that didn’t land very well; “Oh my God!” “How are you?” “You’re so brave and inspiring!” “Everything happens for a reason.” “You look great!”
We can all feel awkward in the face of another’s illness or tragedy. What can we do or say at work that will be appropriate for our friend and colleague? I heard a wonderful interview with Letty Cottin Pogrebin who released her new book in April, How To Be a Friend To A Friend Who’s Sick. She had some excellent tips to impart to listeners.
Letty calls this “compassion etiquette.” It’s helpful to have something we can say that expresses our support to others when we feel at our most awkward.
The sun is out, the temperatures are rising – spring has now officially arrived! Help us kick off the beginning of May by welcoming our career coach for the month, Andrea Zintz!
I'm Andrea Zintz, your Career Coach for May. I am once again happy to be your resource as you pose questions, ideas, and experiences about navigating workplace, relationships and career.
A little about me: I specialize in executive and high potential leadership strategy, succession and development. I have over 30 years experience in Leadership Development, Change Management, Human Resources Development and Training. For 13 years, I have consulted to large corporations on leadership, team, and organization development.
I cultivated my experiences as a coach within the diversified healthcare and pharmaceutical, defense, and retail industries. As Vice President of Human Resources and Management Board member of the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, Ortho Biotech, Inc., I helped lead the growth of the company from $40 million to $500 million in a 6-year period, and launched breakthrough biotech products. I also led executive leadership development for North America from J&J Corporate. My special interests include executive women advancement, diversity/inclusion, and mentoring. My doctoral dissertation was about mentoring: What constitutes effective mentoring for women who are stuck in their careers within large corporate settings? I received my M.A. and Ph.D. from Fielding Graduate University.
Today my clients include J&J, Lockheed Martin, Boehringer Ingelheim, Nokia Siemens Networks, and GE. A specialty of our company is crafting powerful and strategic questions we can ask ourselves (and others) to access the best thinking. Since questions are a powerful leverage point for thinking, if we change our questions, we can encourage our best answers and this can help our thinking, decision, behaviors and results.
I enjoy coaching and my goal is to make a difference every day. I live in New Jersey, am married to an elementary school teacher and have two wonderful daughters, 18 and 20.
Please feel free to comment with any questions or special requests. I look forward to a great month!
—Andrea Zintz, Career Coach
Regardless of your gender, industry, age, or experience level, there’s one thing that every worker needs to excel: good communication skills. If you can’t master the talking and listening basics, you’ll never make it to that corner office. Here are four ways to be a better communicator and get the results you want.
Learn to be a good listener. Listening is more than just hearing. It’s stopping what you are doing to pay attention to your employees, colleagues, or family members. Face the person when talking to them and paraphrase what they say to you to make sure you understand them. While everyone may be speaking English, words can have different meanings depending on geographic origin, age, culture, and ethnicity. Do not assume you understand without checking it out first; use statements like, “If I understand you correctly, you are saying…” And be sure to ask clarifying questions if you are not sure of their intentions.
Make sure you are understood. Be clear that both of you are agreeing to the same things. Instead of telling an employee you will talk to them later, set up a specific time. Later means different things to different people. Be careful using slang or idioms when communicating with people whose cultures are different than yours, or at least be sure they comprehend your meaning. When you ask an employee to do an important task, getting a “yes” doesn’t necessarily connote understanding. Ask open-ended questions to get into their mindset, such as “How do you plan on accomplishing this?”
Let people know they have value. Give feedback during conversations, and let your colleagues and employees know if you like their ideas or comments. If you have trouble understanding an employee because of an accent, ask them to repeat it slowly – it may feel uncomfortable, but they won’t mind if it means that they will be heard correctly. I was with friends at a new restaurant recently, and the server got three of our four orders wrong. When we told him, he got defensive and said he couldn’t understand me. He could have asked me to say my order again. The manager then came over and berated him in front of everyone. No wonder the service was so bad – the manager didn’t communicate well with her staff, and they in turn didn’t value the customers.
Check your assumptions and biases. Everyone has assumptions and biases, based on our backgrounds, age, experiences, and awareness. If not checked, these can affect how we communicate with other people. Be willing to look at yours and their impact on your relationships with those different from you. Are there cultures that are you less comfortable with? Do you avoid talking to people from those cultures or give them less time and credibility? The concern and respect you show in communicating will impact employee service and turnover, which in turn affects customer satisfaction. All of this translates into more or less profit.
–Simma Lieberman, Career Coach
At a recent workshop on women in business, I heard several women from the baby boomer generation complain that millennial women seemed to have a poor work ethic and that it was hard to mentor them. They said that younger women are so busy on the Internet that they don’t bother building relationships. At the same time, I heard younger women of the millennial generation complain that older women are condescending, resist change, and don’t understand how to use technology and social media.
These complaints were by no means the norm or represented consistent themes, but they could result in women segregating themselves by generation – which would be detrimental for all generations of women. Here are three reasons why segregating generations in the workplace is a bad idea.
1. Millennials bring a new way of using technology. They are able to get more done in less time. This does not negatively affect interpersonal relationships as some older people claim, but it can actually improve the way employees interact with each other. Employers should encourage open communication between older and younger employees so that they can learn from one another.
2. Experienced workers are more likely to feel threatened and concerned that they will be perceived as dinosaurs and become obsolete. Millennials will have to move beyond the perception that they will be ignored or their knowledge invalidated because of age and lack of experience. The sharing of information and cross mentoring between older and younger employees will create organizations that are repositories of knowledge. Employers can take action to make older employees feel respected and acknowledged and more willing to share what they know, so that in turn younger employees will feel appreciated, be willing to learn, and share their insights on new technology.
3. Millennials are more outcome-based, and won’t want to sit in an office all day when it’s unnecessary. Some organizations have telecommute programs, using technology to allow millennials to work from home, coffee shops, or satellite offices. This can also benefit older employees who are taking care of parents and children or find that they just get more done outside of the office. Adapting to the needs of one generation can also improve the situation of others.
–Simma Lieberman, Career Coach
The world can be a tough place sometimes, and we often don't make it any easier on ourselves by constantly worrying, planning, and striving for perfection. Juggling too many tasks and taking on too many assignments can leave you feeling drained and overwhelmed. So how do you bounce back when there doesn't seem to be an end in sight? We asked members of our community to share their tips for taking a step back and relaxing amidst the chaos.
Heather Palleiko: Sit in the sun and listen to music or lay in my bed and take a nap. Lately I've taken to going for a run.
Executive Impressions: I find if I step away from the computer, make a tea or get some sunshine, then things do look brighter!
Maria Desilva: I binge eat...need to work on that one!
Katherine Edge: Read a good book to switch off at night and going for a walk and getting fresh air helps during the day.
Maryann Squadrito Richards: I like to crank up the music and dance around the room
Corinne A Korytkowski: Meditate. Works like a charm every time!
Christina Atkins: Getting a manicure!
Danae Bales: Going for a walk helps
When Jillian Mourning agreed to a modeling gig in Arizona in 2007, she had no idea her life was about to take a dramatic turn. Her manager of four months had arranged the supposed photo shoot – but when Jillian arrived at the hotel, he and two other men raped her and filmed the attack.
“I kept thinking, ‘How did I get here? Is this my fault?’” she says of the moments following the attack. She tried to block it from her memory, but her ordeal was far from over. After blackmailing Jillian with the videos and threatening to post them on the Internet, her manager continued to fly her across the country and sell her to men for sex. Terrified of the footage going public, she complied with his demands.
Then, after six months, all contact stopped; her manager was arrested for unrelated financial crimes. While doing research on the man who had caused her so much pain, she made a discovery: she wasn’t the only victim. “Other models came forward, admitting to having been victims of sex trafficking at his hands. Until that point, I had never even considered myself a sex trafficking victim. I was in denial.”
She realized that few people know what sex trafficking was, nor did they realize it can happen in their communities. Over 300,000 children are at risk of sex trafficking in America each year, the majority having been runaway girls. “People don’t want to talk about it because they believe it won’t happen to them or to someone they care about. But this needs to be a national conversation, because no one is exempt.”
Jillian, now 25, founded the nonprofit All We Want is L.O.V.E. – Liberation of Victims Everywhere in Charlotte, North Carolina. The organization helps connect victims to professional services and resources, from legal advice and counseling to clothing and shelter.
Through her nonprofit, Jillian has launched several initiatives. Student Traffick is a program implemented in several high schools and colleges to raise awareness and funds to respond to the cause. The organization will also lead workshops for law enforcement officials and cable companies on how to spot the signs of sex trafficking. Cable service providers are often welcomed into homes, and can be taught to look for typical indicators including bare mattresses on the floor, too many girls sharing a living space, and numerous men coming to and from the residence.
“Through education and victim advocacy, we hope to put a face and name to the issue,” Jillian says. “We need to stop blaming the victims and start spreading the message.”
Inspired by Jillian's story? Check out Kayla Harrison, a sexual assault survivor turned Olympic gold-medalist; Rebecca Johnson-Stone, founder of the Walk Against Rape; and Kayrita Andersen, advocate for sexually-exploited children.
April is National Stress Awareness Month, so take some time to learn how to get a grip on your stressors. Take the following points into account to calm your nerves and give you back your control.
–Simma Lieberman, Career Coach
Happy Earth Day! We only have one planet, and we can all do our part in keeping her safe for generations to come. Take the time to change some of your non-eco-friendly habits not just today, but every day. Here are a few simple ways that you can help out and have an impact.
Give up bottled water. There will undoubtedly be some moments where there is no other option, but your day-to-day fluid intact should not rely on fresh bottles of water. If your tap water is not safe to drink as is, invest in a Brita filter to reduce your carbon footprint. Overtime, the filter will pay for itself.
Ditch plastic bags. Plan your shopping trips in advance, and bring reusable bags instead of taking the cheap ones stores provide. They make the load easier to carry and limit landfill waste.
Stop junk mail. Having an overstuffed mailbox isn’t just annoying, it’s wasteful too. Put an end to unsolicited letters by opting-out of the mail service, and remove your name from the list of credit card offers.
Buy local. Fresh, local foods not only taste better, but they have a much less harmful impact on the environment as well. Most food at your grocery store is frozen and shipped thousands of miles, contributing to air and water pollution.
Weather-proof your home. Hate feeling that cool draft on fall afternoons? Your home may not be properly weatherized, which means you’re throwing heat, fuel, and even your hard-earned money right out the window. Before the next winter rolls around, remove your air-conditioning units from the windows and seal up windows and doorframes with caulk and insulation.
Use power strips. Even if your electronics are turned off, having them plugged in still drains energy from the outlets. Since no one wants to go around and unplug every lamp, computer, and charger, take the easy way out – put them all on one power strip, so you only have to flip the switch!
Drive smart. The summer months mean there are plenty of road trips ahead. Being mindful of your speed and driving pattern can add up over time. Just going 10 miles over 60mph decreases your fuel efficiency, as does stop-and-go driving in traffic.
Visit Pinterest. It’s amazing how much of an impact a craft site can have. Visit the page to find ways to reuse and recycle common household products, and how to create your own homemade cleaning products, minus the harmful chemicals.
I’ve worked in more than one company where talented women who were continuously bypassed for promotion left to join competitors who recognized their value.
When I asked the CEO of a client organization why he never promoted these women within his company, he responded, “Those women just weren’t strategic enough. I need to find better ones.” What he didn’t understand at the time was that not everyone has to be his thinking clone – in fact, there are many different ways to be strategic and still increase profit.
I’m glad to say he “saw the light,” but it took the exit of several of the best women in his organization. He became an inclusionist leader, and before he left the organization, there were many more women in senior management roles and even on the executive team.
If you haven’t had a face-to-face with your manager to define or redefine strategic thinking, this is your chance. Be prepared to show the results of your leadership style and the way you think and act strategically. Focus on accomplishments as opposed to your process. It’s time for old school leaders to develop an inclusive mindset when it comes to female executives.
If your leadership and diverse thinking style aren’t valued, and your manager can’t see past his gender-filter, it may be time to move on. There are too many companies run by men and women who value diversity of all kinds and who want to see all of their employees succeed.
–Simma Lieberman, Career Coach
This might sound harsh, but despite all the talk about a kinder workplace and female styles of leadership, business is still about business.
You may have taken communications classes where you learned to say, “When you say (fill in the blank), it makes me feel (sad, hurt, ignored, etc.).” That’s great in your personal life, or in a communications class, but in a business situation no one cares if your feelings are hurt or you feel ignored. In fact, using that communication technique makes you sound less powerful, and creates a one-up, one-down dynamic.
You need to recognize your feelings and determine the action to take to get the results you want, but announcing how you feel about someone else’s actions won’t put an end to them. Stop taking things in business personally!
If you feel like someone is talking over you, instead of telling him or her how bad you feel, tell him or her to stop talking over you now, and speak up! If someone takes your idea as their own, instead of telling them you’re hurt, tell them how glad you are that they liked your idea, and how you’ve thought of several points you want to add. Offer to share them with the most senior person in the room, as you then ignore the “idea stealer.”
Don’t be passive aggressive, whiney, or wimpy. Feel your feelings, and then let go. Take power and action, and feel triumphant as a leader.
–Simma Lieberman, Career Coach
Unfortunately, we can't all live in spacious homes on multiple acres of land. City apartments continue to shrink in size, and even homes in the suburb can leave a lot to be desired. But with a few simple tricks, you can make even the smallest spaces look a bit bigger and a bit brighter. Interior designers Maxwell Ryan, founder of Apartment Therapy, shares some classic tricks-of-the-trade for transforming minute rooms. Check out his tips, and be sure to watch his previous video with tips for "green living" in honor of Earth Month.
Are you a city dweller with some ideas of your own? Share them in our comments below!
–Video by Nicolena Basso
Lee Glickstein, featured on the site this month, was my speaking coach. He transformed the way I approach my talks.
He recently started a series of videos called "The Miracle Minute" featuring a variety of everyday people. I particularly like this one about the critical voice within us. Artist Cara Brown explains how our doubts and fears can sometimes leave us incapable of taking action. Breaking through that negative self-talk is essential to personal and professional growth.
How do you quiet the negative voices that pop into your head? Share with us in the comments below.
Much has been said about men and women being from different planets with their own cultures, and when it comes to communication styles, this can sometimes seem true. Indeed, many of these differences are labeled as a “masculine” or “feminine” approach, despite the fact that they can be employed by either gender. As you go about your day, take the time to listen to and observe how people are interacting with each other. I’m sure you will notice many of these differences:
Now that you know these common associations, go beyond assumptions and instead interact with others based on what the current situation requires. For example, in certain situations making a group decision may or may not be practical. Consider these two scenarios:
In the end, “feminine” styles of communication simply refer to those who are more inclusive in their decision making process, while “masculine” communication relies on impulsive decisions and commitment. To succeed as a leader, you will have to employ both styles over the course of your career, so start getting comfortable with them both.
–Simma Lieberman, Career Coach
Tongue-tied or talking too much? On edge or downright outraged – often at inappropriate times? Most likely the cause is stress. A certain amount of stress is good; it’s a challenge and a motivator. But to celebrate National Stress Awareness Day, we’re here to say enough is enough! Too much can lead to dangerous emotional and physical imbalances – which is why you need stress breakers to overcome the tough moments and open the possibilities for positivity.
Vent your anger. Ventilate your wrath by writing about it. Don’t organize or analyze your thoughts, just write until you have nothing more to say to the maddening person or about the irritating situation. You’ll know when you’ve said enough because you’ll feel lighter and released. The act of writing is a process which literally lets the emotion flow from your body through your pen, down and out onto the paper. It can also clear the air of the smoke and fumes of your anger to restore your perspective: Just how important is the issue you’re angry about?
The allowing attitude. From acupuncture to deep-breath kung fu, the techniques and philosophies of Eastern cultures have always been light years ahead of ours when it comes to mind over stressful matters. To let go of your own tension, try an adaptation of ancient T’ai chi exercise. Settle yourself into a quiet place. Interlock your fingers as if to pray. Point your index fingers upward, leaving space between them. Study the space between them, then allow them to come together. Don’t push them together. Allow them to close slowly on their own. Open them again and feel the breath of your emotions escape through the opening. Then name your stresses. Watch the stressful feelings flow out through your open fingers.
Unreel on wheels. The next time you’re stuck in a cab or delayed train, close your eyes and relax your facial muscles. Feel your back rest against the seat. Then begin consciously to inhale and exhale for a few minutes. At the end of the ride you will feel refreshed and composed. This will work an on-the-move executive, a student heading to a final exam, even for a parent on the way to a PTA meeting if you can just once get out of the driver’s seat.
Take time out. Take time out of your life each week – that is, literally remove it. Let your internal (and external) clock-watching vigilante take a short vacation. Remove or cover all visible signs of time. Take off your watch and turn off your cell phone. Enjoy yourself, paced only by your natural rhythm, not by the imposition of the sixty-minute hour. If you have an appointment, date, or other necessary ending to this exercise, set an alarm. It will signal when it’s time to get back into time.
Keys and cues. Stir up positive memories with a cue word. Begin this stress breaker by reconstructing a time when you felt terrific – when your self-esteem was high and your anxiety low. Remember this grand time in your mind’s eye and feel those feelings again. Catch them, relive them, then find a key word or phrase to name them. Any one- or two-word label will do, preferably the first that comes to mind. Got it? Now, with practice, you can condense the process, key into good times, and cal up the pleasant feelings on cue with your word association.
Adapted from Stress Breakers by Helene Lerner and Roberta Elins