Want to Be Happy? Be Grateful: TED Talk by David Steindl-Rast

I first posted this wonderful TED Talk by David Steindl-Rast a few years ago. Given the current climate in our country, I thought it would be a good time for a “return engagement.”

A monk and interfaith scholar, Brother David believes that the one thing all humans have in common is the desire to be happy. Given my experience working with folks in all walks of life, I wholeheartedly agree.

In this TED Talk, a case is made for the need to be grateful, in order to be happy, rather than the other way around. What each of us imagines will make us happy might be different, but the desire for the feeling is universal.

How often have you heard someone say, “If only that would happen, I know that I would be happy?” Perhaps as Brother David “strongly suggests,” happiness is born from “the gentle power of gratefulness.” Slow down, look around you.

The assumption is that when we are happy, we are grateful. However, isn’t it possible that those who practice gratitude are the ones who are truly happy?

We all know people who seem to “have everything,” but they often profess to be unhappy and are constantly searching for something more. And, there are people who experience significant misfortune yet they somehow radiate happiness. Perhaps it’s because they feel gratitude for the opportunity to discover unrealized strength and learn important lessons from unexpected situations.

Gratitude can stem from being mindful of and seeing the value of something or some experience — especially when it is not acquired or earned. When we take the time to notice and acknowledge the inherent value in something (even a beautiful sunset), happiness and appreciation can result from our gratitude.

Taking it a little further, by becoming aware that each contains an opportunity to do or experience something, it becomes a gift within a gift.

“We cannot be grateful for everything,” says Brother David. “Certainly not for war or for oppression or for exploitation.” On a personal level, we cannot be grateful for the loss of a friend. However, However, even when confronted with something that is difficult, we can rise to the occasion and learn from the situation and our experience. We are then grateful for the opportunity to enhance our understanding and self-learn from the situation and our experience.

Although the explanation of grateful living seems a bit confusing at certain points, listening to the talk and reading the text is well worth the effort. It takes commitment to pursue a path of grateful living. I recommend it and wholeheartedly believe in its ability to enhance the quality of our lives.

Take a moment to check it out. I think you will feel grateful that you did — and happiness may be close at hand!

Esther C. Bleuel
MF, MFT, MDR
President and Founder
Esther is dedicated to empowering leaders and teams to improve the quality of their work and interpersonal relationships through the mastery of conversational skills. Contact Esther today for assistance with your tough conversations.

Three Magic Words: “Great Job, Self!”

We all have internal conversations. Take a minute and think about what you’ve said to yourself today. Was it critical? Was it helpful? How did you feel after this experience?

Because our thoughts are the source of our emotions and mood, the conversations we have with ourselves can be destructive or helpful. Their influence on how we think and feel about ourselves results in choices and actions we take and how we respond to the events in our lives.

Self-talk is universal and is something we do naturally throughout our waking hours. The messages that we receive — whether from others or self-generated — impact how we view ourselves. Positive self-talk therefore can increase our confidence and dispel negative feelings. Although we can’t control the comments we receive from others, the good news is that we do have choices about how we speak to ourselves.

Positive Self-Talk

Constructive self-talk that focuses on the positive aspects of a situation can help us deal with tough times by providing encouragement to persevere, improve and recover, it can increase our self-confidence, improve a healthy life style, promote financial freedom, overcome fear and doubt, reduce stress, and deal with loss. Think of positive self-talk as a way of coaching yourself through a challenging situation. And, most importantly, treat yourself with respect and kindness.

Negative Self-Talk

Destructive self-talk focuses on the negative aspects of challenging situations, brings you down and engenders a pessimistic attitude. If it’s something you wouldn’t say to a friend, don’t say it to yourself! Giving a name to a critical inner voice can help short-circuit the emotional hold of our negative thinking. Author Brene Brown calls her critical voice, “The Gremlin.”

Challenge Your Self-Talk

  • Listen to yourself. Be aware of your self-talk and notice whether your message is helpful or critical, positive or negative. Think about and feel your pattern of self-talk.
  • Test reality. What would you say to a friend in a similar situation? Is there a more positive way of looking at this?
  • Challenge the message. Listen to your voice and replace the negative or unhelpful thoughts with positive ones. For example, if you are thinking, “I’ll never be able to do this,” ask yourself “is there anything I can do that will help me to conquer this task or project?”
  • Seek perspective. Ask yourself, “Is this situation as bad as I imagine? Is there anything good about it? Will this matter in five years?”
  • Your inner voice includes conscious and unconscious thoughts, assumptions and beliefs. Some self-talk is positive and reasonable – “I’d better study for that exam.” Some is negative or self-defeating – “I’m sure I’m going to fail.” Practice messages that are uplifting and validating. Say aloud what you would like to hear.
  • Is this thinking helping you? If not, what can you tell yourself that would make an immediate positive difference? What can you learn from the situation that will make it better next time?

Words matter! The life you have now is the result of your thinking and your self-talk. We do not have to be defined by others — by their critical opinions or judgments, or even by their positive opinions of us. Because we take action on what we think, self-talk is a powerful way to create a life that is meaningful, fulfilling and joyful.

Esther C. Bleuel
MF, MFT, MDR
President and Founder
Esther is dedicated to empowering leaders and teams to improve the quality of their work and interpersonal relationships through the mastery of conversational skills. Contact Esther today for assistance with your tough conversations.

How To Talk Politics Without Drawing Blood

Do You Really Want to Get Along?

Well, we have elected a new president, emotions are still running high and the country is divided. There are those of us who are encouraged and hopeful, and those who are angry and frightened. What about you?

Are you interested in understanding, or at least acknowledging, the validity of the perspectives of folks who disagree with you? And, that they have legitimate reasons for their opinions. Or, maybe you believe that those who oppose you are wrong, stupid or evil.

We may say that we want to get along. Unfortunately, what we really mean is that the other person should see things our way. The reality is that we must carry on working and living together despite a contentious election and a divided country. All we have is each other — you and me and a few billion other folks who live on this planet. We can and should decide to treat each other as if it matters, because it does. Because all you can do is all you can do, and it’s incumbent on each of us to do our best.

2016_presidential_election_by_county

So, how do we do that? How about starting with a constructive, optimistic attitude? Suspend assumptions and judgments about people and situations, especially when you lack facts. Recognize that if you want to persuade or influence someone, it is virtually impossible to change someone’s mind by arguing with them. Instead, seek to find common ground by listening to understand what they believe and why it’s important to them. The result? They will be more likely to listen to you. Democracy requires cooperation and engagement as well as competition. Above all, be civil.

Civility is:

  • Claiming and caring for your own identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.
  • Reaching consensus or suspending judgment; agreement is not required.
  • More than just politeness, although politeness is necessary.
  • Disagreeing without disrespect and seeking common ground for dialogues about differences.
  • Listening to others with your heart, mind and strength. It requires hard work to stay present when we have deep-rooted and fierce disagreements.
  • Separating your feelings about the person and their opinions from your assumptions about their character, without letting go of your moral and political principles.
  • Ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard and nobody’s is ignored.

Civility requires:

  • Respect and courtesy in language, demeanor and actions with others.
  • Respectful acknowledgment of individual differences and human decency.
  • Empathy and patience with each other.

Benjamin Franklin famously changed his abrasive and headstrong ways when he discovered that winning arguments was not very useful. Respecting other people led to goodwill and politeness helped him to avoid the bitterness of continuing a conflict. Instead of harshness, arrogance and anger, he embraced decency and kindness to encourage good humor and a willingness to find common ground. Are you willing to learn from Ben Franklin?

Each of us intuitively wants to matter and longs to be heard, understood and respected. We recoil when we feel demeaned, judged or criticized. Showing respect and compassion to others paves the way for finding the common ground that exists between us as humans and citizens.

What if it’s true that life is much more interesting and fun when you adopt a learning attitude, to gain insight and explore — not just to prove that you are right? Embrace a life full of puzzles, questions, opportunities and challenges.

I encourage you to be part of bringing the country together by reaching out to individuals within your sphere of influence. By connecting, one conversation and one interaction at a time, you can bring meaning to the words of Abraham Lincoln who famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Map courtesy Ali Zifan – This file was derived from: USA Counties.svg
Esther C. Bleuel
MF, MFT, MDR
President and Founder
Esther is dedicated to empowering leaders and teams to improve the quality of their work and interpersonal relationships through the mastery of conversational skills. Contact Esther today for assistance with your tough conversations.

Talking Politics! Can We Still Be Friends?


 

It’s no secret that emotions are running higher than usual this election year. We have two flawed candidates and much is at stake. All U. S. citizens have the privilege and the responsibility to vote — in this case for our next president. If we seek out discussions about the election or happen upon them, it is important to decide how we want to handle ourselves.

When I believe something strongly, I have invested my time and energy in forming that opinion. So, when someone criticizes, judges or attacks my position, it can feel very personal. And, I always want to understand their reasoning.

trump-hillary
You’re for [choose one] Trump/Hillary? Are you crazy!

A person’s belief is what they think, a firm opinion. It is not their identity. A position is what you want. An interest is why you want what it and is always more powerful because it encompasses our feelings. It’s what we care about, what motivates us. Because we invest emotionally and identify with issues, when our position is criticized or judged, arguments can begin quickly and escalate.

We imagine that if we show others the facts we have amassed, they will reach the same conclusions that we did. That, of course, is not true. Each individual is unique, has different life experiences, values and priorities. We imagine that if we explain our opinion logically, we can persuade them that ours is the correct conclusion. If we fail to listen and communicate with care and show respect to the person, a contentious interaction or significant disagreement can poison a relationship.

In fact, our brains are designed to be social, to belong and connect. When we talk with like-minded people, friends and associates, it is easy to exchange information, commiserate, support or gripe. When “preaching to the choir,” we usually enjoy affirming our beliefs and positions.

However, if you find yourself in a social or work situation where politics is the topic, decide what you want to have happen. What do these people mean to you? Are the relationships important to protect? Is the issue important to you and are you knowledgeable about it? What is your purpose in participating — learning, arguing or persuading? The goal of a political discussion should be understanding, not winning — see the other person’s perspective; stand in their shoes. Find common ground because we’re in this life together and there is always more than one way to solve a problem or accomplish a goal.

If you do decide to risk discussing politics, here are 10 tips for how to remain civil and have a constructive conversation that stays on track and shows respect to others.

  1. Be prepared. Know the essential facts and points of your position. Imagine a realistic constructive result from the conversation.
  2. Assess carefully when to argue or not. Is this the right time and place? Will the person be reasonable?
  3. Clarify your meaning. Your choice of words, body language, attitude, tone and manner of speaking will affect how your message is received.
  4. Seek to understand. Ask the person to explain their thinking. Listen deeply for meaning.
  5. Respond by acknowledging their points. You don’t have to agree. Respectfully challenge the facts or their conclusions.
  6. Stay focused. Beware of distractions, side issues, “straw man” arguments. One issue at a time. Be brief and clear.
  7. Use understandable language. Keep to the point.
  8. Creatively resolve deadlock. Find one thing in common.
  9. Respect the individual. Don’t make the ideas personal. Never humiliate, embarrass, denigrate or insult the other person.
  10. Be kind always, even when angry. Communicate the source of your disagreement respectfully so the other person can actually hear you.

A free society invites debate, compromise and finding common ground. Citizens need to be morally strong and accountable as well as educated and informed about issues because we’re in this together. Because our Constitution guarantees equal rights for all, we each have the freedom to speak, worship, work, learn and contribute to the general welfare — to be part of a solution.

But, remember:

“You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.” — Anonymous

Esther C. Bleuel
MF, MFT, MDR
President and Founder
Esther is dedicated to empowering leaders and teams to improve the quality of their work and interpersonal relationships through the mastery of conversational skills. Contact Esther today for assistance with your tough conversations.

10 Ways To Have A Better Conversation – TED Talk by Celeste Headlee

Longtime National Public Radio host Celeste Headlee shares what she has found to be the ingredients of a great conversation: “Honesty, brevity, clarity and a healthy dose of listening.” Taking each of these qualities seriously and adding a healthy dose of humor, Headlee talks us through her 10 Rules.

She does address the fact that every conversation holds the potential to devolve into an argument. Our politicians can’t speak to one another civilly and even trivial issues have someone fighting either passionately for them or against them.

Longtime National Public Radio host Celeste Headlee shares what she has found to be the ingredients of a great conversation: “Honesty, brevity, clarity and a healthy dose of listening.” Taking each of these qualities seriously and adding a healthy dose of humor, Headlee talks us through her Ten Rules.

She does address the fact that every conversation holds the potential to devolve into an argument. Our politicians can’t speak to one another civily and even trivial issues have someone fighting either passionately for them or against them.

Citing a Pew Research study of 10,000 American adults, Headlee tells us that we are more polarized and more divided than ever before. She believes that much of this is because we are not listening to each other. “A conversation requires a balance between talking and listening,” she adds, “and somewhere along the way we lost that balance.”

Of course a talk about conversations cannot be complete without the mention of our unceasing use of technology. Headlee talks about an article written by high school teacher Paul Barnwell in which he says, “I came to realize that conversational competence might be the single most overlooked skill we fail to teach.” He observes that kids spend hours each day engaging with ideas and each other through screens, but rarely hone their interpersonal communication skills. “Is there any 21st-century skill more important than being able to sustain coherent, confident conversation?” Barnwell asks.

Before Headlee launches into her ten rules, she reminds us of the importance of nodding and smiling to show that we’re paying attention and summarizing what we have understood. “Forget about all of that,” she adds quite strongly. “There is no reason to learn how to show you’re paying attention if you are in fact paying attention.”

Headlee’s skills as a professional interviewer will help us to learn how to be better conversationalists. How to avoid wasting time, getting bored, or offending anyone. And, how to have conversations where we walk away feeling engaged and inspired , having made a real connection, or been perfectly understood.

Headlee’s 10 Basic Rules for conversations are very good, as are her explanations for why they are significant.

She again emphasizes the importance of listening. Having written several blogs about this myself, I totally agree. Headlee and I have both quoted author Stephen Covey who said, “Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand, we listen with the intent to reply.”

“Be interested in other people,” says Headlee. “I keep my mouth shut as often as I possibly can, I keep my mind open, and I’m always prepared to be amazed. You do the same thing. Go out, talk to people, listen to people. You won’t be disappointed. Enter every conversation assuming that you have something to learn.”

I encourage you to listen to Celeste Headlee’s TEDTalk. I promise you will not be disappointed and will find yourself having better conversations.

Esther C. Bleuel
MF, MFT, MDR
President and Founder
Esther is dedicated to empowering leaders and teams to improve the quality of their work and interpersonal relationships through the mastery of conversational skills. Contact Esther today for assistance with your tough conversations.