Firebirdlifecoach's Blog

Pursuing a Passionate Life

The Crow and The Hawk February 26, 2013

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crow-attacking-red-tailed-hawkThis morning, like most days, I sat enjoying my coffee on my porch. For me, even in the cold of winter, it is my favorite way to start the day. This is because there almost always exists a still, meditative quality to the early morning which is enhanced by the clean brightness of a fresh layer of snow.
Like many mornings the only other creatures I come across in those early hours of a new day are the birds, and today was no exception. But rather than the usual company of songbirds, my feathered friends this morning were three squawking Crows and one very large Hawk.
You’ve seen this phenomenon haven’t you? It happens when a murder of Crows bands together to harass and ultimately scare away a bird of prey. It’s an impressive sight, as both birds have a particular magnificence about them that demand attention.
I watched as they flew from treetop to treetop until finally the Crows were satisfied with the distance the Hawk had flown from their “home-turf”, and they retreated victorious and calm. But this dance is not exclusive to these two types of birds. I have seen it play out before with other combinations of predators and prey. And as my morning moved on, I couldn’t’ help but think about their boisterous interaction and how it repeats itself over and over again in our day-to-day lives as well.
Only, in our lives, both predator and prey often occupy the same close-knit neighborhood – because in us, they represent the opposing voices inside our very minds. You see, it seems that all of us have within us two very different types of “self-talk”.
I am not talking here about the “cartoon angel and devil” sitting on our shoulders advising us on the “right and wrong” of a particular course of action. I am talking about that other kind of self-talk; that conversation between the parts of ourselves that can either “lift us up” or “tear us down”. We all have them. You know the ones… There is the predatory self-talk; “You’ll never get this done”, “You aren’t smart enough”, “No one will want to hear what you have to say”, or whatever particular combination of self-defeating words will trigger your particular psyche to shut-down. And then there is the encouraging self-talk; “You can do this”, “You are doing great”, and “You are totally on top of this material”. Unfortunately, for a lot of folks the former group gets a lot more time at the microphone than the latter. And there’s a reason for that – it’s called the “Negativity Bias”.
First described by social psychologist, Roy Baumeister in an article he co-authored in 2001 entitled “Bad is Stronger than Good”, the Negativity Bias refers to the psychological phenomenon in which humans pay more attention to, and give more weight to, negative rather than positive experiences or other kinds of information. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negativity_bias)
There is a lot of information out there about how to work with our negativity bias (See the work of neuropsychologist, Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom) – not to the extent that we are burying our heads in the sand and ignoring danger – but in order to help us temper this internal response when it’s input may not only be unnecessary but, destructive as well. But over and over again, I find that the most significant intervention we can make is to simply raise our awareness of it and recognize those negative voices when they occur.
You see, it seems that a lot of our negative self-talk likes to operate “on the down low”. When you really stop to notice them, to think about what they are saying, often this simple illumination itself can weaken the force of their message. Like the lion in the grass stealthily stalking its meal, detection significantly lowers the chances they are going home with a big supper.
Once recognized, you can work with doing a little “reality check”. You can consider more positive and encouraging things to say to yourself. You can choose to re-wire your brain by spending more time savoring the positive, or any number of other interventions. But, before you go there just take a moment to shine a little light on your self-talk. You will be pleasantly surprised to see what it has the power to illuminate. After all, if the Crows didn’t notice that Hawk in the first place, they never would have thought to chase it away.

 

A Test of Strength/s April 27, 2010

A while back I wrote a couple of blogs about the VIA Survey of Character Strengths and one of those strengths in particular, Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence. (See blog posts 1/19/10, “The Strength of Strengths” and 1/20/10, “Beauty and Excellence – Ignition”) I have been thinking a lot recently about another of my top five Signature Strengths (See: http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/Default.aspx) which is “Creativity, Ingenuity and Originality”. For purposes of this entry, this strength is defined by the folks at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center as-“Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are. You are never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible.”

It is true; I do value originality and creativity (both in myself and in others) and constantly strive to envision new possibilities and perspectives.  I think part of it is that I am inspired by the challenge of new ideas. I like it when something challenges me to think in a new way and I appreciate people’s ability to put things together in new and innovative ways. Convention has its usefulness, I am at times comforted by familiarity and the quiet ease it affords but for the most part I prefer the disquiet that a new idea affords. In actuality I guess I prefer a balanced mix – tradition is non-threatening, safe, easy and familiar while ingenuity is energizing and inspiring for me.

There most certainly is a value and a merit to each side of the coin and how one determines how much of each they need in their lives really depends on their own personal style, preference and needs. The main idea here being that the choice is individual and the most important piece here is about doing what is “true” for you. I have come to appreciate how valuable it is to work from our strengths whatever they may be. For me, this strength, “Creativity, Originality and Ingenuity – informs many things about my character and lifestyle, from the choices I make for recreation, to the people I seek out as friends, to how I dress, how I think and what inspires me. It is mine, I own it and I live it. But for you the these pieces may not factor significantly into your days. Your strengths may lie in your compassion for others, your zest for life or your courage. Each one of us has a different compliment and they are not truly fixed in time, but rather fluid with some rising to the top at some times in your life more than others.

When I work with clients, I always ask them to take the “VIA Survey of Character Strengths” located on the website listed above. It doesn’t take very long maybe 30 minutes, to answer all the questions and the results may (or may not) surprise you. All the same, knowing your strengths can be a valuable tool in creating the life you want – because the more aware you are of what they are, the more easily you can draw upon them in enhancing your life. So, if I may, I’d like to suggest that you go to the website and give it a whirl, if nothing else, it may be an affirming experience.

 

You Can Quote Me On This April 26, 2010

I recently became a member of my local BNI (Business Networking International) organization. I joined to meet other professionals in my area and to find a place to network and expand my coaching business. The meetings follow a prescribed format that is consistent from one week to the next and consists of a variety of elements which the organization (at large) has found to be effective in helping members help each other to grow their businesses. I like it and am enjoying flexing my networking muscles a bit – and stretching beyond my usual comfort zone. The meetings close each week with one member who has been assigned the task of sharing an inspirational quote with the group. At the end of the last meeting, he turned to me and asked if I would be interested in taking over this task as it seemed more fitting with my profession as a coach than with his. I gladly said “yes” and have been on a mission this week to collect and organize some quotes for this purpose.

I have to say, this indeed is the job for me! I am one of those folks who collects quotes. I have a folder of gems collected over time for various presentations I have given and am enjoying the excuse to go out and search for more. If it isn’t already obvious about me – I am a great fan of language – particularly when it is used properly and cleverly to communicate interesting and inspiring concepts. How we speak what we say and the impact it has on others is one of our most fundamentally powerful tools, often overlooked because it is so inextricably integrated into our daily experience and yet undoubtedly not just necessary but integral in shaping our life experience.

For me I think my admiration for the skilled use of language resonates with my “Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence” Signature Strength (see: VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire at http://www.authentichappiness.com ). Reading a well crafted phrase or two from a skilled and extraordinary thinker without a doubt inspires and excites me and though I am not one with an ability to easily retain both author and words I do retain their impact. And so, I am very excited for this new task before me, it is a treat to have an excuse to pour through websites and books in search of pearls to share with my fellow group members. And to me any opportunity to get to surround yourself with more of what you love is a good thing. And to that end – here is just one of the quotes that has inspired me in my search.

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.

 

Gratitude, Pure and Simple February 23, 2010

If you had asked me what role Gratitude would play in my life years ago I would likely have been stumped by the question. I don’t think I would have been able to imagine the powerful impact that it has on me. And though I likely would have been able to tell you what things in my life I was grateful for, I don’t know if I would have recognized its importance in the real and daily way that I have now grown accustomed to. As it turns out gratitude is one of my Top Five – VIA Signature Strengths, though I don’t know if it would have always ranked there. It is more than a feeling – it is a state of mind, an orientation toward the world and it is essential to helping me keep my life on the track I want to be on.

Life is not perfect, not even close but all the same when I take stock of my life, I have a lot to be grateful for. I think there is a tendency when things are hard for folks to focus on all of the various challenges, obstacles and disappointments that make up their lives. Sometimes the upsides can recede into the background, and unintentionally end up going unnoticed. But if we train ourselves to look for the positive after a while it becomes a self-perpetuating process.

A simple way to do this is to keep a “Gratitude Journal”. Just find a little pad or notebook in which each day you jot down “three things you are grateful for”. They don’t have to be momentous, they can be small observances. You can do it in the morning before you start your day, at night before you retire or throughout the day as you notice things. It may not sound like a big move – but you’d be surprised what a powerful impact it can have.

Putting your mind and heart in a place of gratitude is an incredibly healing experience. It quiets the mind, refreshes the soul and inspires the spirit. Go ahead, give it a try, there’s no downside here…

Most gratefully yours…

 

Beauty and Excellence – Ignition January 20, 2010

“Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence”, according to the VIA Survey of Characteristics which I took again yesterday after writing about it in my blog, is currently my top Signature Strength. I say “currently” because the strengths do move around a little bit. The last time I took “the VIA” about a year ago – I got similar results, in that my top five strengths were the same as they were this time, but they did shift around a bit in their ranking.

Per the survey, Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence is defined as; “You notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.” And in fact, it is true, I most certainly do. But I want to add that what I experience goes beyond appreciation and attention – I notice these things because I find them inspiring. I have thought a lot about inspiration (and plan to write a blog about it when I can gather my thoughts on what exactly I would like to say) – nonetheless this little reminder of my “Top” character strength brings it to the fore.

I had thought about the idea that I believe inspiration is the fuel that ignites our passion. And I do get very energized when I see something that is beautiful, or hear an idea that is exceptional – no matter what the context. There is something about the simple awareness itself, of something exquisite, unique and extraordinary that fills me with a sense of wonder and excitement. So though at first I was a little surprised to find this at the top of my list of strengths the more I think about it the more I become sure that at least for now, that seems to be the right place for it. Beautiful how these things work out sometimes, isn’t it?

 

The Strength of Strengths January 19, 2010

Positive Psychology seems to have found its voice in popular culture. The branch of psychology founded by Dr. Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania which focuses on positive psychological emotions, personal strengths and personal health is getting a lot of airplay these days. And why not? For too long, the field of psychology has been fixated on dysfunction, mental illness and pathology and Seligman’s drive to look at the “up-side” is a refreshing and much-needed break that takes in a fuller, more complete picture of psychological experience.
In my opinion, one of the best things to come out of this branch of psychology is the classification of 24 specific character strengths. See: Character Strengths and Virtues by Christopher Peterson and Martin E.P. Seligman. In this handbook and classification manual these two researchers set-out to define and classify strengths under a broader range of virtues which transcend various cultures and historical time periods. They are: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence. Under each of these virtues fall a number of personal strengths that are widely valued as positive traits.
I have found in my work as a coach, that having my clients take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths questionnaire is a useful tool in helping them to move forward with their goals. The survey under the Engagement Questionnaires header can be taken for free online at http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/Default.aspx
Knowing what your personal strengths are and actively engaging them in your life is a powerful intervention. So go ahead, take a look it may take a few minutes, but it’s worth it. Maybe you will be surprised, maybe not, but aren’t you just a little bit curious to see what it says?