For Clarity and Insight Go Out of Your Mind!

Mary’s story started with her arrival at her parents’ home and then looped to other times and places as her mind raced and words sped past my ears.

I recognized the nervous energy driving the storytelling. The voice is higher pitched, the words flow fast. I couldn’t see my client through the phone, but I easily imagined her energized tense upper body as she looped more memories into her story. 

Two other clients that same week took similar detours and got lost in storyland trying to connect loose ends inside their thoughts. (I am known to do this myself! You too?)  There is a kinetic nervous/excited energy that takes over and propels thoughts and words forward. The energy kicks into overdrive evading any discomfort in the body.

You might not present this way in a coaching session, but chances are you also have times when your thoughts are sprinting ahead of you, running through mazes of connections that keep you looping around the same ideas.

It happens when you are a little anxious about the story, the audience, or what you should be doing in that moment. You invest energy trying to think your way into a new situation. In a society that gives a lot of attention to language and talking heads, you scan your thoughts and your mind for ideas and solutions.

So often you are trying to analyze and control your thoughts and feelings that you completely bypass the emotions in your body and the important information that they can share with you. Sometimes you speed by those emotions intentionally because you don’t like the way that they feel.

Time after time, just guiding a client out of her mind and into her body (really into a mind/body integration) yields profound shifts during a coaching session. When the client is in her body, she connects with her own inner wisdom and insight. She is in her experience instead of talking about it. She is in touch with what she senses and feels. Instead of thinking about the concept of what is, she is living it.

Your conscious thoughts represent only a small percentage of what you know. Throughout the day, you collect a lot of implicit knowledge that goes under the radar of the linguistic brain. When your conscious brain is driving the thinking train, it moves slowly and more clumsily. In contrast your body stores a lot of implicit knowledge that you can access if you slow down and give it a chance to bubble to the surface.

How does this happen? The storytelling part of your brain is the part that analyzes, learns new concepts, thinks through problems and plans. It wants to fill in all the dots between what you have seen, heard and understood. It wants to create certainty and give you a why and how for the where, what and who that we observe. 

When you settle into yourself and relax with your breathing, you allow the different parts of the brain to talk to each other and work together. You slow down the wordy part of your brain and access more of the information your body has learned from experiences.

To get unstuck and to get creative, you need to go out of your mind.

Get into your body. Get integrated.

Here are two kinds of tools that I use with my clients:

Slow down and Breathe.

  • Try taking deep and long exhales, letting all the tension and stress release with the breath.
  • Inhaling and Exhaling for even counts of five or a number that you choose can all amplify the connection between the mind and the body.

Bringing your attention into the senses can also integrate the mind and body to become more resourceful.

  • Listen. What do you hear? What is the most distant sound you can hear? What is the quietest sound? What is the loudest sound? What else do you hear if you listen closely?
  • Touch. What do you feel on your skin? What surfaces are you touching? Where do are you touching something cool? Where are you touching something warm?

Asking Mary to stop for a moment, breathe and then slowly go back to her story completely transformed the way she sounded and the way she showed up in the session.  Her emotions rose to the surface and she started to have insights about what was really at the heart of the issue for her.

When my clients slow down and breathe, they get much more in touch with their intuition and wisdom. They uncover the root emotions and the cause at the heart of the quick language and storytelling. Once they have discovered it and named it, the power it holds over them diminishes. Instead, my clients develop the power to use that information in ways that serve them in living their values and reaching their goals.

Try it. The next time you want to get off the speeding train of your thoughts, try one of the exercises above. Then ask yourself a question and just listen.  If the answer doesn’t come, breathe again and listen again. Notice how you are feeling.

What wisdom and insights bubble up to the surface?

When Mary allowed herself to feel the emotions that surfaced, she got clear about what was really bothering her and found real power in her authenticity.

What will you find?

Leaders! Why aren’t you giving that feedback?

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What’s the feedback that you’re not giving your team members?  

Why aren’t you dealing with it? What’s holding you back?

Are you not giving feedback because you feel that “they should already know what to be doing and not be doing? You shouldn’t have to explain it to them.”

Or is it because you don’t want to sound too critical or mean?

Maybe its’s because it could create a big conflict. You’re afraid that it will “turn into a blow up and you will lose control over the situation?”

Or is it because you are hoping the issue will just resolve itself?

You probably aren’t addressing any of these things because they feel uncomfortable and might put you in uncomfortable situations that you’d rather avoid.

But at what cost?

As a young elementary school teacher I wanted all students to feel loved and appreciated. I held back from giving certain directions because I didn’t want to make students feel disliked judged, humiliated or shamed. What I didn’t realize then that by not addressing a certain behavior directly and with clarity, I tacitly allowed the behavior to continue.

Do you have the same underlying thought that I did then: Do you believe that giving feedback sounds like correcting or criticizing and will make someone feel bad?

Do you fear being the dominating, aggressive or critical leader who puts down others and makes them feel small, so you don’t do anything? (That was me!)

Do you have the underlying thought that confronting problems only leads to arguments, hurt feelings and more conflict?

It’s common for leaders to assume that feedback = criticism = hard feelings. People also tend to think that engaging with conflicts means escalating them.

And that is what often happens.

But, it doesn’t have to happen that way.  

So, how do you deal with negative issues without escalating conflict or making anyone feel put down?

You give feedback and engage with conflict in positive and meaningful ways.

It starts with changing your underlying beliefs and your approach.

Your underlying beliefs about why people show up the way they do will affect the entire organization and environment.

What you believe affects your actions which affects everything!

Below are three core beliefs that can totally change the way you show up in your leadership environment. I adopted these when I was leading an organization knowing that there was no one to advocate for me if any stakeholders got upset. I had to make sure that everyone had a positive experience even when I was redirecting them, giving feedback or disagreeing. I couldn’t take responsibility for their emotions or behaviors, but I could take responsibility for mine.

The beliefs that guided me:

1) Leaders have a responsibility for creating a positive and supportive atmosphere in the shared work environment.  The energy you give is the energy that you will get.

I showed up with an open heart and accepted every person where she was.  I did the internal work necessary so I could operate from a place of positive emotions. (Now I coach others how to do the same!)

2) Everyone wants to succeed and will appreciate well intended and well timed efforts to help them improve as long as leaders communicate in a supportive way. 

When I needed to give a correction or direction, I assumed the position of the encourager who wanted them to succeed. I made it clear how my request connected to their individual or our collective success.

3) Everyone (including me!) is doing the best that they can in any given moment.

This doesn’t mean that they are always performing at their best. They may not be living up to their potential or performing at their best at each moment. With leader support and guidance “their best” improves.

Ah, I hear your questions:

“How am I supposed to stay calm and positive when the people I lead do something to upset me?  They should see that they’re actions upset me!”

While it may be entirely valid for you to be upset, it is not necessarily productive or helpful for you to communicate from that place.

Shifting from your emotion to leading effectively is one of the most important skills you can learn.

The clients I work with build the self-awareness and self-management that allows for these kinds of shift and consequently their influence and impact on the people that they serve increases. (Learn more about developing self-awareness in a previous blog.)

“But when if they really are slacking! Am I supposed to pretend that they are doing a good job?”

No, you don’t need to pretend. If you believe that you and the people you supervise are doing their best and working to succeed then you don’t see them as slacking. You get curious about why their work isn’t meeting their potential and you offer the support they need to support that gap. You challenge and support them to do better. (By the way, this works really well with teens too!)

By using a non-critical, non-judgmental tone and coming from real open curiosity the person has no reason to get defensive. They may tell you something happening in their life causing them stress, or even confess that they aren’t feeling great about their work.

They will let you in which opens the door to solving problems peacefully.

What are the underlying beliefs that drive the way you communicate with others about your shared work environment, growth opportunities and solving problems?  What tools do you need to be the leader who turns problems into opportunities for connection and growth?

Are You in Your Right Mindset?

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A couple of years ago after a not so great singing audition that shook my confidence, I started regular voice lessons again. One day in the voice lesson when we were preparing for an upcoming audition, my teacher said to me, “Stop trying to prove yourself. You’re there.”

I didn’t get it then, but she was right.

I had been trying to prove myself.

I had been trying to prove to myself

…that my voice was trustworthy,

…that I could sing with the same quality as others who had been doing this for longer

…that everyone who had ever criticized my voice and thought I wouldn’t be able to do it had been wrong.  

I had been trying to prove to myself and others that I belonged onstage.

Like many of my clients, my mindset was holding me back.. I had come to identify so strongly with being a “wannabe.” I had to shift to a mindset of being “there.”

But how? How could I build that confidence?

Experience. I needed to just keep doing it. I would record the auditions and listen to them to hear how I sounded. My teacher noticed at first that I brought 50% of my voice to an audition. Then the percentage started to get higher. Some songs and auditions felt easier and I did better. Some were harder. I just kept going to auditions, to any event that would let me sing on stage. My confidence started to rebuild.

Even so, it wasn’t until reading https://mindsetonline.com/Carol Dweck’s book Mindset that I felt a significant shift in my own mindset. I already knew about the growth mindset and that students who considered success to be a result of hard work fared better than those who thought it was a result of a fixed trait like intelligence or a talent. But, I hadn’t ever realized that in the singing part of my life, I was working with the fixed mindset.

“Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you only have a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them.”

I recognized myself in Carol Dweck’s words.

Something in her words gave me permission to let go of proving anything, and I shifted to the growth mindset around performing.

Every experience, even those that feel like complete failures (and there have been a few of those!) are stepping stones on the learning path. I now reframe every audition, rehearsal and performing opportunity as a chance to learn. No matter how it goes, I will learn something. And it’s been true. Not only have I learned a lot in the last year I have also performed more reliably in auditions, rehearsals and on stage. I have stepped more into my strengths as a performer.

Choosing to believe I am “there” changed the way I showed up and the way I did things. I can approach them wholeheartedly and with more courage. If I fail, it is a lesson to use for the next time. A small shift in mindset can create big changes.

What in your life are you trying to prove? What kind of intelligence, talent, skill have you always used to identify who you are? Which of those do you need to prov to yourself and others is still there?

What would change for you if you could have faith in yourself to grow and know that any current challenges are just bumps on the road along the way?

How might that change your behavior at this moment?

Contact me for a complimentary coaching session to find your right mindset and explore the underlying beliefs you may need to reach your goals. 

A certified Positive Psychology coach, Leah works with people who want to upgrade their level of influence and impact to lead others towards a vision and a common goal.

Develop the Self Awareness You Need to be a Transformative Leader

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I walked to my sixth-month review as the Director of Youth Education at the local temple wondering which programs would come up in the conversation.

Which aspects of the work I had been doing to build program infrastructure, family and holiday programs or improved communication between teachers and parents was going to be noticed?

I was stunned when the topics for discussion revolved around a handful of times when I had been less than perfectly friendly and hospitable to parents. The layperson who supervised my role had prepared for the meeting by asking people what they thought about me in an open-ended way that had invited them to share the moments when I had spoken matter of fact, abruptly or overzealously.

No one really knew how to recognize the work that I did, the quality of the programs, the changes in school culture, or any of the specifics of what had made those things successful.

What they did recognize was how I had made them feel while doing all of the above.

It didn’t matter if the distracted and concerned look on my face was from the board asking me to let go of a staff person midyear in order save money, if it was from hearing about the teacher who was drumming up conflict behind my back, or about a family that was facing hardship and financial difficulty.

It didn’t matter if the rule I had just reiterated to a parent existed for their children’s safety. Inevitably, no matter the cause, the next person I saw, would think my expression was about her and was intended for her. She might even have a reason and a story about me to go with it.

In the Jewish Tradition the ancient rabbi named Shammai teaches in Ethics of our Fathers:

Havei mkabel et kol adam b’sever panim yafot.

Welcome each person with a pleasant and smiling face.

Well, that seems obvious that we would welcome people with a smile. Would I welcome them with a scowl? It’s when I was recently reading the research on how easily smiles and happiness can travel from person to person, that the true wisdom of Shammai’s teaching and its relevancy for leaders struck me.

Daniel Goleman explains in his book Social Intelligence:

Emotions flow with special strength from the more socially dominant person to the less. One reason is that people in any group naturally pay more attention and place more significance on what the most powerful person in that group says and does. That amplifies the force of whatever emotional message the leader may be sending, making her emotions particularly contagious

Especially as leaders, we need to be cognizant of the emotions we are bringing with us into each interaction and relationships. Our emotions will affect everyone in our organization.

We need to greet everyone with a genuine smile because they will catch our smile!

An open, smiling, welcoming face on the leader, will put others at ease and can create a positivity that will influence the entire organization.

In this context, Shammai’s teaching seems brilliant to me!

In the last several years of working as a Director of Education in synagogue schools, I found it to be important to remember to always greet people with open receptivity. As long as I found a way to communicate with a genuine smile, everything went well.

(Did you get that part, “As long as I found a way?”)

How do you find a way to smile, to be open and receptive when there are stimulants in your environment or relationships making you feel otherwise?

How are you supposed to always have a genuinely happy smile when you are feeling and experiencing so many other things?

This is where self care and self management make a big difference. Not self management as in time management and organizational management, but in how you manage your own emotions.

In order to manage your own emotions, you need to develop an acute awareness of your own emotions.

So, how do you develop this kind of emotional self awareness?

To start try the exercise below:

How are you feeling right now in this moment?

  • Can you name what you feel right now?
  • On a scale of one to ten with 1 being the most negative (you have just suffered a major personal tragedy) and 10 being the most positive (you just had one of the most uplifting experiences of your life), how are you feeling right now?
  • For whatever general emotions you named, can you find a more specific word that matches how you feel right now? For example: if you said “angry” are you feeling more “frustrated,” “out of control” or “defiant?”

Now inventory your physicality to see how this mood is showing up in your body.

  • Where in your body are you feeling some tension?
  • What else are you feeling: any itching? tingling? aching?
  • What expression comes easiest to you right now?

What actions feels easiest to you right now? What do you have the urge to do?

  • Do you feel like yelling at someone, slamming a door or punching someone?
  • Do you feel like celebrating, hugging, or high fiving someone?
  • Most of our days we feel somewhere in between. What is that for you?

Recognize the urges without giving into them.

You can do this a few different times during the day then try checking in with your body during moments of heightened emotions. Just by naming your emotions, noticing your physicality and your urges, you create a little bit of space between you as an observer and you as the experiencer of the emotion. In that space is the opportunity to make a choice to react to the moment, or to bring something new with you.

In that small space, you have the opportunity to make a powerful difference in your leadership.

Contact me for a complimentary session to develop your self-awareness and self-management skills so that you can increase your impact and influence in your organization.

A certified Positive Psychology coach, Leah works with people who want to upgrade their level of influence and impact to lead others towards a vision and a common goal. 

Step Into Public Speaking

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As a young elementary school teacher, on Back to School Night, my naturally high pitched voice went even higher, even tighter and I spoke very fast. (Okay, it happened in other settings too. Think Minnie Mouse on steroids.) The excitement, stimulation, and nerves of speaking in front of all the parents influenced my speaking presence. Luckily, I was teaching in NYC where there are lots of theater professionals. Parents of a student invited me to their voice and communication workshops. Both workshops were transformative and gave me a chance to experience myself in entirely new ways.

Even so, growing as a leader and a communicator took time and is still an ongoing process. My passion for coaching communicating with presence and power grows from my own journey of becoming an effective speaker and leader. Periodically, I will use this blog to share some tips that I find working for me and my clients.

How do your nerves show up when it’s time for you to speak in front of a group?

Do you feel as if you are outside your body watching what’s happening?

Do you freeze and forget what you wanted to say?

Do you say the wrong words, say them too fast or too slow?

Do you feel short of breath? Does your pitch go up like mine did?

Do you have painful breaks between words while thinking of what to say?

Or do you ramble as the adrenaline drives your mind forward?

Here are a couple of tips for calming nerves and centering that have helped me and some of my clients. (You may also want to visit the Lighten and Let Go page to help you relax in advance.) You can use these tips to build your confidence and skills with any kind of public speaking, whether it is informal with friends, in leadership or presentational contexts.

Ground Yourself

You can do this sitting in a chair with your feet on the ground or in a standing position:

Shift your attention to the ground beneath your feet and the sensation on the bottoms of your feet. Feel solid and connected to the ground.

Imagine a purple crayon outlining your foot starting at the big toe, going over the other toes, around the side of the foot, around the heel, around the arch and back up to the big toe.

Imagine coloring in all the space within the outline and creating a purple stamp with your foot as you let your weight and awareness drop to your feet.

Do the same thing with the other foot, or do them at the same time.

Imagine all the muscles in your body melting like wax on a candle into the ground beneath your feet.

Breathe

Before you start your presentation:

Take some evenly paced inhales and exhales before you start speaking. This cues your nervous system to relax. Count 1-2-3-4-5 on the inhale and 1-2-3-4-5 on the exhale.

During your presentation

Take a breath before the beginning of your sentence. Just putting attention onto breathing as you begin a thought or a sentence will naturally slow down your pacing and bring your thoughts and body more into alignment. It will also help your nerves stay calm.

When you lose a word or forget something you wanted to say, taking a few seconds to breathe will help it resurface.

Connect with Your Audience

Imagine that you are the hostess of a big event. Act as if the meeting space isyour home and welcome everyone with your body and your eyes. Feel the welcoming energy and your body will reflect that open invitation.

Send smiles with your eyes. You don’t have to have a full smile if it doesn’t feel appropriate or natural. What’s important is that you are really seeing people and that they feel seen. Try catching the eye of an audience member and let your eyes connect for a moment, just enough to welcome that person with your eyes. Notice and allow the discomfort that may arise. Ironically, if you go with the discomfort you will appear more welcoming than if you try to hide or avoid the discomfort.

You may want to practice these tips at home on your own first and notice how they feel in your body. The more you can grow a physical awareness of how it feels, the easier it will be to use these tools when you want them.

Contact me for a complimentary coaching session to grow your impact as a speaker and as a leader.  If you are local, check out my events page for upcoming workshops.



Leah Zimmerman Headshop
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Leah is a Certified Positive Psychology Coach who specializes in working with highly educated professional moms who want to reduce stress and bring more creativity, energy, and inspiration into their lives. Leah blends her backgrounds in leadership development, education and the performing arts with evidence-based practices to help women lead more integrated lives. Contact Leah for a complimentary coaching session and to learn more about coaching.