All posts by mj.ryan

About mj.ryan

A member of Professional Thinking Partners who is recognized as a leading expert in change, M.J. Ryan specializes in coaching high performance executives, entrepreneurs, individuals, and leadership teams around the world to maximize performance and fulfillment. Her clients include Microsoft, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Hewitt Associates, and Frito Lay. Her work is based on a combination of positive psychology, strengths-based coaching, the wisdom traditions, and cutting edge brain research. Her new book, titled “AdaptAbility: How to Survive Change You Didn't Ask For” was recently released published by Random House’s Broadway Books.  She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and daughter.

www.MJ-Ryan.com

The Truth Is….

 I was working with a leader who had just taken a job with lots of responsibility but very little structure or guidance.  She was about to have a meeting with her staff for the first time. “What should I say?” she asked me in a panic. “I have no idea yet what I should be focusing on.” “Say that,” I replied. “It has the benefit of being true. Explain that you are in the process of figuring out priorities and would value their input.  Then do a brainstorm. Not only will you get a sense of what they think is important, but you will gain their trust that you care enough to ask.” She let out a huge sigh and replied, “That feels just right.”

We all know the saying “The truth will set you free.” So why is it that telling the truth can feel so risky? Why can’t we just say, “Sorry, I can’t come to the meeting. I’m overcommitted.” Instead we invent a headache or resentfully go. Instead of saying, “I can’t listen to you right now,” we snap at our kids and spouse. Rather than an “I don’t know yet” to a business problem, we jump to decisions or blow a lot of smoke.

Telling the truth can risky. We risk disapproval, even anger. But when we stand on the ground of our truth, whatever that is, we create alignment with ourselves.  We gain the power of integrity. And that is a mighty force that others can feel and respect even when they don’t like the message.

A Shower of Blessings

 I got one of those chain letters today. You know the ones I mean—you’re supposed to send it on to x number of people in the next 5 minutes and something good will happen to you in x amount of time. Usually I ignore them because I don’t want to obligate friends or create any more of a sense of pressure than we all already feel. But today’s was a metta meditation, which is traditionally a Buddhist offering of kind wishes to ourselves and others that generates loving kindness. My main spiritual practice is metta, so I couldn’t just hit the delete button.

I don’t know who wrote it, but here it is, with no obligation to send along to anyone else: “May today there be peace within. May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others. May you use the gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content with yourself just the way you are. Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us."   

I can’t promise you that good things will happen if you say it or send it, except that you’ll grow your compassion for yourself and others—and that’s a wonderful thing all by itself.

However, in his teachings, the Buddha did say that those who practice the Metta Sutta on a regular basis will gain eleven blessings:

1) You will sleep easily.

2) You will wake easily.

3) You will have pleasant dreams.

4) People will love you.

5) Devas [celestial beings] and animals will love you.

6) Devas will protect you.

7) External dangers [poisons, weapons, and fire] will not harm you.

8) Your face will be radiant.

9) Your mind will be serene.

10) You will die unconfused.

11) You will be reborn in happy realms.

Sounds incredible, doesn’t it?  If you’d like scientific verification, Professor Barbara Friedrickson has studied metta and found that practicing daily increases happiness in an increasingly upward spiral.

If you’d like to learn how to do metta practice, you can find instructions at: http://info.med.yale.edu/psych/3s/metta.html. And Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg has written a wonderful book on the topic called Lovingkindness.

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / Yersinia

Getting Help That Truly Helps

I recently went on a 12-day business trip to Europe with two colleagues. One said to me as we got on the plane, “I’m watching my weight. Will you help me eat right by reminding me to eat salads and chicken?” One night we’d been working late and were sitting around waiting for others to go out to dinner. My dieting friend arrived with several bags of chips for the group. As he tore into one, I privately reminded him of his request. “I completely forgot,” he replied. “Thanks for reminding me.”

Asking others to support your new behavior can be tricky. The last thing you need is to have someone nag at you. “You promised me you’d never smoke again!” I used to cry hysterically at my now-ex every time I caught him with a cigarette. It was highly ineffective. He started doing it behind my back; I was always suspicious. That is one of the potential pitfalls of enlisting help—you could start to sneak around. Or get resentful and the change backfires.

Here are a few tips to avoid destructive dynamics when asking others to help you:

· You must be the one who makes the request for support;

· Pick someone without a vested interest—I was not the wife of the dieter who asked for a reminder. He may have bristled more at her than me;

· You must be explicit about what kind of help you’d like. It’s probably not a lecture. Something simple like: Did you write your ten pages today? Or it could be a code between the two of you, like the words yellow submarine to help you from mindlessly eating the donut in front of you;

· The other person must deliver the reminder and then back off—follow through is up to you.

· If people reminders cause too much tension, rely on more impersonal technologies—notes, scheduling it in your day planner, screen savers, emails you set up to be sent automatically to yourself.

Mistakes are the Key to Excellence

 If what we are really looking for in perfectionism is excellence then we

should relish the chance to make mistakes.  In their book Art and Fear,
David Bayles and Ted Orland tell the story of a pottery teacher’s
experiment.  He divided a beginner’s class in half and told them that the
folks on one side would be graded on quantity—the more pots they produced the higher their grade.  The other side would be graded by quality—to receive an "A" you had to create a perfect pot.  Can you guess which group made better pots? The "quantity" group, because by trial and error they improved, while the "quality" group got hung up on reaching perfection and never learned. Think about that the next time you get upset with yourself for making an error!



 

Mistakes are the Key to Excellence

 If what we are really looking for in perfectionism is excellence then we

should relish the chance to make mistakes.  In their book Art and Fear,
David Bayles and Ted Orland tell the story of a pottery teacher’s
experiment.  He divided a beginner’s class in half and told them that the
folks on one side would be graded on quantity—the more pots they produced the higher their grade.  The other side would be graded by quality—to receive an "A" you had to create a perfect pot.  Can you guess which group made better pots? The "quantity" group, because by trial and error they improved, while the "quality" group got hung up on reaching perfection and never learned. Think about that the next time you get upset with yourself for making an error!



 

Mistakes are the Key to Excellence

 If what we are really looking for in perfectionism is excellence then we

should relish the chance to make mistakes.  In their book Art and Fear,
David Bayles and Ted Orland tell the story of a pottery teacher’s
experiment.  He divided a beginner’s class in half and told them that the
folks on one side would be graded on quantity—the more pots they produced the higher their grade.  The other side would be graded by quality—to receive an "A" you had to create a perfect pot.  Can you guess which group made better pots? The "quantity" group, because by trial and error they improved, while the "quality" group got hung up on reaching perfection and never learned. Think about that the next time you get upset with yourself for making an error!



 

Mistakes Are Just Growth Opportunities

Perfectionism is particularly harmful because brain research shows that at birth, the brain is "wired" to track success and discard failure. But perfectionism focuses exclusively on failure–you didn’t do it right, you idiot–so we never learn and continue to create exactly what we don’t want to.

W. Timothy Gallwey, author of The Inner Game of Work and other books, notes that we can change any habit if we "take off our judgmental glasses" and simply increase our awareness of what we are doing. Awareness without self-judgment, he claims, creates change all by itself because the brain is a self-correcting mechanism. The more we just notice to ourselves, for instance, “Oh there I go again, being so worried about doing it right that I’m not doing anything at all,” as if we were a newspaper reporter objectively stating just the facts, the more the behavior will disappear. The trick is to do it without beating ourselves up.

Think of it this way. When a baby taking her first steps falls, she doesn’t say to herself, “Stupid baby, you just fell over.” Rather, she just picks herself up, incorporates the learning, and tries again. That’s why she learns so quickly. We can begin to get ourselves off the perfectionist meat hook by understanding that when we treat ourselves to the same encouraging manner we use with a child learning algebra or a new sport, we actually increase our capacity to do things well.

That’s how my friend Allison broke free. One day, she heard her five-year-old daughter cry out “I can’t do anything right!” after failing to separate an egg properly. Says Allison, “I heard myself, and I knew history would repeat itself unless something changed. I took her in my arms, dried her tears, and urged her to try, try again.” After that incident, she began telling her daughter, “Oh well, mistakes happen.” Soon she was saying it to herself as well.

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / Kayla C

getting ready for the new year

The new year will be upon us in 30 days. Some will reflect on the past. Sometimes such reflection helps us understand our present circumstances and may clarify next steps.

Still, those who understand human behavior warn against being endlessly mired in questions of why we are the way we are. It’s easy to get stuck and be unable to move forward. Engaging your own creativity is a positive action that keeps you forward-focused.

In the new year, we can’t repeat what we’ve always done and expect different outcomes. We need to strike a new path, look at old problems through a new lens. M.J. Ryan advises in her book, "This Year I Will … " that we switch from "why" thinking to "what could be possible" thinking. Indeed, we’re the change we want to see.

For most of us, life is hard in today’s nasty financial and economic situation. Yet, food is not lacking, materials remain abundant, technology continues to thrive and bring change — you can choose to ride, or not, in a vehicle that practically drives itself! There are people who live well; there are many who can’t make ends meet.

On the world stage, national governments continue to compete for power, influence and prestige. The perennial clash between democracy activists and autocratic regimes that trample rights and freedom in the name of political stability and economic development raises many moral questions.

Constant Struggle

Life is a constant struggle within ourselves and with pressures and temptations in the wider world.

Inwardly, the "I, me, mine" rule lives — a source of greedy consumption that Lord Buddha saw as a source of "suffering." Outwardly, the same "I, me, mine" gives rise to a need to control, intensifying the just-unjust conflict.

Yet, humans everywhere basically want similar things: To be in good health; to enjoy a level of contentment in life; to be able to meet the basic necessities of life.

A democracy seeks to ensure that people live well. An autocracy seeks to remain in power by beating its people to obey and submit.

Focus On Intelligence

Those who are schooled in the social sciences tell us it’s not how much we know, but how we think, that determines our future. Some, however, mistake their opinions for analytical thought and knowledge. Opinions are based in our emotions. Analytical thinking evolves from knowledge, from one’s capacity to observe, wonder, imagine, inquire, interpret, evaluate, compare, relate, analyze, calculate and innovate. Our brains can be trained and taught to think better.

 

 

According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 85 percent of Americans say they are happy. Yet, those millions who are happy want to be happier still. People want more.

But look around. People live longer, eat better, have more things, but still many are stressed and depressed. The traffic is heavy, grocery lines are long, services are slow, people are rude, etc.

Lord Buddha saw man’s insatiable consumption as a source of unhappiness and suffering that ends only through elimination of the need for more.

Positive Thinking

A person with a "can do" attitude sees difficulties as opportunities; his or her questioning mind produces a panorama of alternatives to choose from. A person with a "can’t do" attitude moves nowhere.

Whether in family life, at work, in the community, or in the world, positive thinking, backed by the power of one’s imagination, energizes a person to engage in sustained assaults on problems and predicaments. Problems can be solved; predicaments addressed. It’s about keeping things in perspective. Through sorrow we appreciate joy; through war we understand peace; through the negatives, we innovate and create new ways.

As we approach the new year, Khmer democrats should apply their capacity to imagine, relate and innovate to fight the dictatorship under which they live.

In earlier columns, I have connected several useful concepts. In traditional teaching, Khmer elders have urged us to waste nothing: curved wood can make a wheel, straight wood can make a spoke, and crooked wood can make firewood.

Psychologist-consultant Dr. Linda V. Berens identified four temperaments in humans: the theorist values competence, uses strategic analysis; the catalyst idealizes a vision, advocates, and brings people together toward self-actualization; the improviser seizes the moment and varies actions to get things done with what’s available; and the stabilizer maintains order and stability through structures, and prevents institutional fragmentation.

 

 

An education leader of one of America’s most successful public school systems, Jerry D. Weast, described as a leader’s "toughest job, … to move from strategy to execution." That requires the help of the "people who do the work" every day in their unsung roles in the office, the streets or field. They are the "heroes" moving the institution forward, he said.

A results-oriented human resources executive, Katharine Giacalone, says it’s important to know who is on your team in order to maximize its effectiveness — the peacemaker who wants every member to be included; the organizer, who wants everyone to line up and count off; the revolutionary who hates routine and prefers to adapt to the moment; or the smart and opinionated steamroller who handles opposite views and floats ideas at 30,000 feet.

Who is on your team and how can each member be most effective?

 

 

There’s no expiration date on gratitude. I was recently on Christian Science Monito

 

 

Thanksgiving 2010: In these hard times, are Americans thankful?

Thanksgiving 2010 finds Americans politically divided and struggling financially. But poll data suggest that Americans are fiercely resilient, a quality that is strengthened by feeling gratitude.

Trying to make ends meet daily herself, Carol Anderson leaves the Thurston County Food Bank in Olympia, Wash., Monday, after picking up a Thanksgiving basket to help make a holiday dinner for her son, who’s currently homeless.

Atlanta

A wavering economy, a polarized electorate, a future in fog. On the eve of Thanksgiving 2010, what’s there to be thankful for in America? As in the 1970s, the so-called “misery index” has risen in recent years as the deficit ballooned, incomes flattened, and a mortgage crisis put the dream of homeownership in jeopardy for millions. Yet nearly three years into a national economic crisis, there’s evidence in polling data that gratitude – the positive emotion that flows from the realization you’ve benefited from another’s deeds – is being embraced by Americans as a way to readjust their expectations and reevaluate their lives.

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Chart: Americans remain resilient despite hard times



  • What indications are there that Americans are thankful?

The latest Gallup “life evaluation” poll, which measures how Americans view their lives in the present and in the near future, showed the highest scores in three years in May and a slow but steady climb since November 2008 – a sign, Gallup says, of “ferocious resilience.”

And an important factor bolstering resilience, say researchers Robert Emmons at the University of California, Davis, and Michael McCullough at the University of Miami, is experiencing and showing gratitude. The social scientists say gratitude can also thwart deeper feelings of resentment that stem from personal economic woes or anger at, for example, the political status quo in Washington.

Tough times “show how strong you are, how resilient you are, how much you have grown and learned and developed; and you start to value other things in your life,” says M.J. Ryan, an author who writes about self-empowerment.

In that light, she says, the improving “life evaluation” readings indicate, at least in part, that “Americans are focusing on what they’re grateful for.”

What indicators show Americans are too preoccupied to be grateful?

Charitable giving, one barometer of the collective sense of well-being in the country, is way down in the US, with some 36 percent of Americans saying they’ll give less to charity this year.



However, that is in part due to personal income insecurity, studies show, and is contradicted by the fact that some 88 percent of those who plan to give fewer gifts still plan to donate more of their time and skills.

Many people living in an acquisitive society such as the US exhibit narcissistic traits and an unjustified sense of entitlement, writes Joe Ferullo in the National Catholic Reporter, adding that for those people “economic hard times feel like unjust punishment from an uncaring parent.”

Moreover, a recent ABC News/Yahoo! poll showed 85 percent of Americans saying they’re angry about the state of the economy.

According to a 2003 paper in the journal Social Behavior and Personality, anger, narcissism, and a sense of entitlement all run directly counter to experiencing and expressing gratitude.

What can we glean from the recent midterm elections?

 

 

The Curse of Perfectionism

 Perfectionism carries a high price in the ways we treat those closest to us and ourselves. As Kathy Cordova, author of Let Go, Let Miracles Happen, notes: “Perfectionism makes the strong tyrants and the weak passive.  It either drives you to bully yourself and others with your demands, or to retreat to your comfort zone, afraid of taking the risk of failure." I used to judge every word and gesture my husband made in public and call him on the carpet as soon as we were alone. Needless to say, he felt attacked and therefore retreated, which did little for feelings of togetherness.

     

But the highest cost, I believe, is that perfection keeps us from growing in wisdom. We become rigid, inflexible, and judgmental.  Any mistake is unacceptable, so we either punish ourselves or pretend it never happened.  Either way, we don’t learn from our errors and are therefore condemned to repeat them.
     

In a way, we perfectionists have got it backward. We can’t be satisfied with anything less than a "10," but when we do fall short our harsh response deprives us of knowledge that would actually help us improve. But we can turn that around with a new attitude. I’ll show you how next time.

 

 

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