What’s in a decade?

I thought I’d sit down and take stock since, after all, just about every social media feed has been telling me to do so for the past couple of weeks.

I clicked open my Pictures file and scrolled down to 2010. I then opened up my journal and wrote Last Decade at the top of the page and 2010 in the margin. I began viewing the photos and writing down the highlights of each year: trips, graduations, sports events, publications, relatives…

Once I’d finished, I mulled over the list. Wow! I realized that the past decade was rich in learning and insights, mainly around three themes.

#1. The Value of Life

In 2016, my husband Vincent went into the hospital for a day operation. The doctors wanted to do an angioplasty (insert stents into the arteries). When Vincent was wheeled back to his room, he said, “They have to keep me at the hospital. I’m going to have an operation this week”.  Less than three days later, he had multiple by-pass surgery. While he was in the ICU, I realized that life is as close as a heartbeat away. One millisecond it is there; the next it may not.

We both came away with a different point of view on life, and a new drive to make every moment count.

#2. The Value of Family

The same year, in 2016, I had the wonderful privilege of meeting biological relatives on my father’s side in England in 2016 (I was unable to meet my father since he had already passed away when I found him). It was amazing to feel the connection that we had even though I hadn’t been brought up with them. It was palpable. My husband and sons couldn’t deny the metaphysical link that they saw especially between my aunt and cousins.

A year later, in July of 2017, since my biological mother had moved back to Montreal, she accepted to meet me for the first time ever. During the three days we spent together, we went out for coffee, went shopping and talked about so many things. It was precious – doubly- so since I lost her to cancer less than two months later.

That was painful because I had just found her. But I take comfort in the fact that I was able to meet a number of other biological relatives on her side of the family that still live in Montreal.  

Hers wasn’t the only death I experienced this past decade. I lost two brother-in-laws and an uncle, too. Death separates us from family members we love, but life continues and gives us the wonderful opportunity to keep strengthening the bonds with those we still have.

#3. The Value of Breathing

This has undoubtedly been the decade that I learned the importance of breathing. Through learning and practicing mindfulness, meditation and Bodyflow (a combination of TaiChi, Pilates and yoga), I have experienced the amazing the healing and restorative benefits of breathing deeply: heightened awareness, more powerful stress management skills and greater emotional balance.  

Learning to breathe changes everything! The more I learned about it from books, practice and courses I took during my certificate in Developmental Psychology, the clearer I became on who I was and what I wanted. I retired from teaching in the school system and embarked on a career change process (which was ironic since I only just officially earned my teaching permit in 2011, after over 20 years in and out of various teaching capacities.) I just didn’t want to work in an environment whose values didn’t match my own.

I am now trained in mindfulness meditation and coaching so that I can help others develop their own mindfulness lifestyle and experience the benefits.

In conclusion, my backward look leaves me with the insight that it isn’t the trips, nor the professional, personal or academic achievements that give me the greatest buzz. It’s being able to look forward to celebrating 30 years of marriage with my husband Vincent in three weeks, seeing my sons Nick and Olivier develop and thrive in their personal and professional lives, and helping others live mentally healthier and happier over the next ten years.

What about you: what are your greatest take-aways from the past decade? And what are you looking forward to in the new decade? Drop a comment! I’d love to hear from you!

Cheers, and keep learning!  

Claire xx

[Photo Credit: Nacho Juarez/Pexels]

How’s your company’s heart?

No, I’m not talking about the profit margin, sales, or ROI. I’m talking about how your company supports employees when they are under the weather, down and out, or fighting an uphill battle. What’s the plan when a manager realizes that one of the employees in their department is no longer cutting it? It’s when the going gets rough, that the true heart of a company starts beating.

It’s when the going gets rough, that the true heart of a company starts beating.

This post was inspired by two encounters I had lately. During the first one, a friend mentioned a doctor’s appointment to discuss her state. She’s overwhelmed with a number of issues both in and out of work. She’s feeling fragile and close to a breakdown. I wondered if her manager had met her to discuss how she was feeling, what was going on, which tasks could be taken away to lighten the load. There was no mention of that.

Less than four days later, another friend told me about her progressive return to work, one day the first week, two days the second week, etc. Her supervisor met her the first day of the second week and asked point blank what her game plan was. Game plan? What game plan? For now, maybe one day at a time?

Game plan? What game plan? For now, maybe one day at a time?

According to a 54-page document published by the Canada Conference Board in 2016, entitled Healthy Brains at Work. Employer-Sponsored Mental Health Benefits and Programs, out of the 239 employers surveyed, only 39% (much less than half) had a mental health strategy in place. Yet the costs are exorbitant; the Ontario Chamber of Commerce states on their website that businesses dish out approximately $1500/employee per year to cover the cost of mental health issues.

Businesses dish out approximately $1500/employee per year to cover the cost of mental health issues. – Ontario Chamber of Commerce

Of course, the goal of a business isn’t to play psychologist, therapist or social worker, however, human capital is touted as being the most important capital the company has to work with. Without humans, no company can turn a profit.

In the equation for productivity and growth, where is the emotional variable? The human factor plays a huge role. It doesn’t take an MBA to know that employee retention is a function of engagement, and that engagement is in proportion to the meaning, belonging and support an employee draws from their work. Without empathy in action: care, counsel and compassion, the human factor can become a deterrent to the company’s success.

Without empathy in action: care, counsel and compassion, the human factor can become a deterrent to the company’s success.

It seems surprising that in this age of Bell Talks and so many other mental health campaigns, companies appear to still be in the dark as to how to handle this kind of challenge. A mental health strategy meets two goals: prevention and remediation.

Here are just five simple suggestions to maintain the company’s heart:

  • Hold workshops and training sessions on mindfulness, meditation/exercise and mental health;
  • Publish tips and ideas for well-being regularly on the company intranet or in the corporate newsletter;
  • Maintain communication with employees who are on sick leave to maintain the relationship and facilitate reintegration;
  • Actively work to dispel the stigma relating to mental health issues, like depression, anxiety and burnout;
  • Allocate corporate budget to provide HR with adequate resources to handle mental health issues in the company.  

What does your company do to keep its heart in great shape? Share it in the comments below.

Take care, and keep learning!

Claire :o)

PS For more resources, see the links below:

  1. https://www.conferenceboard.ca/temp/b87f9168-c10a-4b59-82e2-c14e513ae93b/7707_Healthy_Brains_Benefits-and-Programs_BR_EN.pdf
  2. https://occ.ca/mentalhealth/

[Photo Credit: Dragon Images/Shutterstock]

Do you always need to have the last word?

Here’s one fancy way to do just that: use an epiphonema!

What in the world is that?

So glad you asked!  According to Dictionary.com, an epiphonema is, and I quote, “a sentence that is an exclamation, a general or striking comment, or a succinct summary of what has previously been said“.  In other word, it’s a fancy way to have the last word!

For an example, listen in to the following conversation:

Dan: I got my bike out yesterday, and it’s already at the bike shop.

Lise: What? How come?

Dan: Well, I cleaned it all up, tuned the brakes and the gears, checked and pumped up the tires. I figured I’d go for a ride before supper, but then my phone rang. So I left my bike there and went into the house. Came back out and what do you know? My son hit my bike with his car!

Lise: Oh no! Not for real!

Dan: Yup, the best laid plans of mice and men!  

Did you notice the epiphonema?

Exactly! The last comment: the best laid plans of mice of men – refers to English poet Robert Burn’s poem To A Mouse, where he writes:  

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/gang aft a-gley.

(Modern translation: The best prepared plans of a human often go wrong.)

Shall we try another example?

Anna: Hey, Laurence! I finally submitted my application for the Master’s program.

Laurence: At long last! Alia iecta est!

In this example, Laurence ends the conversation saying alia iecta est (meaning, the die is cast, or we’ll just have to see what happens), apparently said by Seutonius to Julius Caesar as they crossed the Rubicon River to begin battle against Pompey.

There you have it! Can you think of any epiphonemas you used lately, or heard someone else use?

Have a great day, and keep learning! (Wait! Was that an epiphonema?!)

  • Claire :o)    

[Sources: https://rhetconcepts.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/epiphonema-overview/; https://www.dictionary.com/browse/the-best-laid-plans-of-mice-and-men-often-go-awry; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alea_iacta_est]

From Arrested Development to Attested Development: 3 Simple Ways to Get Back on Track

“You come to the gym more than the average member”, the gym employee commented.

“Wow! Really? Thanks for the encouragement!”, I responded, feeling dissatisfied with myself all the same.   

“I guess the problem”, I thought, as I drove home,” is that I’m not seeing any progress”. In fact, after a very cold winter which made venturing out in the dark after dinner even less motivating, and a busy schedule that just kind of crowded out the time to go the gym, I feel like I’ve arrived at summer in a stodgier and heavier state than in previous years.

In fact, I like I’ve hit a state of arrested development. I’ve plateaued. So, what to do about it?

A video I saw recently came to mind. Angela Duckworth, a world expert in the area of grit, was giving a conference on deliberate practice.

She explained the following theory:

Talent X Effort = Skill 

                                             Skill X Effort = Achievement

What does that mean? If you have talent and make no effort, you won’t develop skill. For example, if you have a talent for music, but don’t practice, you won’t develop any skill. Also, even if you do have skill, you won’t achieve new heights unless you keep making an effort to develop that skill. You just won’t get to that state of attested development!

Okay, so to go back to my initial question: what do you do when you hit that plane of no progress?

The answer, according to Angela Duckworth, is simple: deliberate practice*. It’s the only way to break the curse of the flatline; you’ve just got to get up and get going! If you don’t practice speaking, you won’t make any progress. If I don’t go to the gym, I’ll become more and more passive.  

Here’s Angela’s advice:

#1.  Set your goals.

What are your goals? Be specific. Do you want to learn 5 new words this week? Do I want to go to the gym 4 times this week instead of 3? Whatever, the case, make sure your goals are challenging, too. If you consistently practice and make an effort, you will still hit that flatline. You need to intentionally increase that goal just a bit, so that it is just that bit further or more. Do you see what’s happening? You’re making progress.  

#2. Find your focus.  

When you are 100% focused, you’re engaged. You’re not doing anything else but working on developing a specific skill. Set aside 15 minutes of time alone to read an article in English or watch a short video. In my case of exercise, scheduling in time for specific workouts ensure that I am setting aside time when I am completely immersed in my physical activity. I can’t be doing anything- else! Picture being on a stationary bicycle and checking your social media on your phone, to get the idea! Whatever you’re working on, concentrate on that body, soul and spirit!  

#3. Get your feedback.

Ah, feedback. Correction. Yes, like you, I see a frowning parent, a nagging teacher, a never-satisfied coach. Maybe that was then, but this is now. Choose a friend or colleague (or in my case, a coach at the gym) to nudge you along and let you know how you can be just that little bit better. Would the Saint- Louis Blues have won the Stanley Cup this weekend without the guidance of Craig Bérubé? Would the Raptors have grabbed the NBA championship title without Nick Nurse advising them all season long?  

This week’s going to be a great week. I’ve got some objectives (specific and challenging), I’ve blocked off time (three of them to be exact!) and I’m going to enlist the aid of a personal trainer (at least for a consultation to begin with!)

How about you? What are your secrets to keeping off the arrested development plateau? – Claire :o)

*https://www.coursera.org/lecture/positive-psychology-project/3-3-deliberate-practice-fhwtq

When Initiative Is MIA: What to do about it?

I had a wonderful opportunity to take initiative on the weekend. And I didn’t.

No, no, of course I won’t obsess about it (not!) It’s just that this weekend, I was preparing an activity for a class this week about initiative because a student and I had a discussion that ended with the question: how can a manager encourage employee initiative?

I googled initiative and came across articles discussing engagement. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace, only 15% of today’s workforce consists of actively engaged employees* . Which begs the question: why? Lack of interest, indifference, stress at or outside of work?

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace, only 15% of today’s workforce consists of actively engaged employees

An attractive infographic on snacknation.com presents the 9 pillars of employee engagement: 1. Values & Purpose; 2. Workplace Environment; 3. Recognition and Incentives; 4. Communication; 5. Well-defined Roles; 6. Buy-in from Managers; 7. Health & Wellness; 8. Relationship with Colleagues; 9. Personal Growth & Development.

In three words, lack of initiative stems from lack of knowledge, purpose and support: head, heart and hands. An actively engaged employee is at work head, heart and hands. She’s all there. Present!

An actively engaged employee is at work head, heart and hands.

And that takes me back to the start of this post: why didn’t I take initiative? An assumption. That assumption was, once examined, erroneous, not true, false. In short, I lacked knowledge – ‘key intelligence’, so to speak. The heart and the hands couldn’t follow; they were missing out on the intelligence!

How often do we miss out on amazing opportunities for lack of the facts? Further, do we always have to know, be told, be asked — to take initiative?

My personal definition of responsibility is response-ability. If you can respond, then act. I even break down the base word response into an acronym:

Resources

Energy

Skills

Power                                  – ability = responsibility

Opportunity

Network

Savviness

Experience

You have the resources (if not all, some), energy (even if minimal), skills (once again, maybe not all, but some), power (if you have the opportunity, then you have the chance to intervene), network (people are all around you: talk!), savviness (enough knowledge to see there is a need, and if you can’t, you can ask someone to help), and experience (again, if not all, some).

The bottom line: If you see the need, then you have the response-ability to intervene. That, to me, is what initiative is all about. Whatever, you do, don’t listen to those sneaky assumptions; get the facts and act.

So, I missed my opportunity on the weekend, but at least I gained a powerful object lesson to use in my class this week on manager intervention to encourage employee initiative.

The bottom line: If you see the need, then you have the response-ability to intervene. That, to me, is what initiative is all about.

Gotta go, now. There’s laundry to take care of and classes to plan. Initiative, right?!

What are your tricks to taking initiative? I’d love to know! Drop me a line in the Comments.

  • Claire :O)

 

* https://www.forbes.com/sites/brentgleeson/2017/10/15/5-powerful-steps-to-improve-employee-engagement/#6bb67fb4341d

[Photo: Shutterstock/Mila Supinskaya Glashchenko]

In a rut? Maybe it’s time to follow Sarah’s Script!

But I don’t want to follow the script! I hate scripts.”, I commented emphatically to a colleague while discussing a professional experience I had had a few years ago.

“Me neither”, agreed my colleague Sarah, “Whenever I try a new recipe, I can’t just follow the instructions, I have to add my own personal twist to it.”

“And why color in the lines when there is so much beautiful white space around it?”, I asked.

 “Yes, because the lines are what someone else did. The shape is someone else’s creation.”, she added.  

“And we can’t do anything original if we just draw within the lines. Hey, a new expression: when you change things up, it’s a case of Sarah’s script!”,  I laughed.

Indeed, why do things as they have always been done? After all, if you don’t change the script, you can’t expect a different ending.

So, what’s this got to do with your language learning class? Three things: mindset, motivation and mastery.

  1. Mindset. Carol Dweck wrote an amazing book about the mind of the learner (Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. How we can learn to fulfill our potential, Ballantine Books, 2006). She explained that when you are in a learning situation (which in my opinion, is pretty well all the time!), and you keep in mind that you will take risks, stick your neck out, make mistakes, and remember that that is okay, then you’ll make progress in whatever it is you are learning. That is what the growth mindset is all about: making mistakes and continuing to lean in and grow. If, however, you get stuck, and choose to stay stuck, and stop wanting to learn, then you’ve fallen prey to a fixed mindset. Maybe it’s time for Sarah’s Script! Change up the ingredients a bit. As Dweck encourages: “Next time you’re in one of those situations, think about learning and improvement, not judgment – and hook it back up.”

 

  1. Motivation. Daniel Pink eloquently explained how personal purpose drives humans to outperform themselves in his book entitled Drive: The Surprising Truth Abut What Motivates Us, Riverhead Books, 2009). If you’re having a hard time learning how to use real conditional sentence structures, you’ll find a way to learn them because you want to be able to negotiate with that supplier in Colorado quicker, and be able to get home in time to coach your son’s hockey team. Take it from Pink: “The science shows the secret to high performance isn’t our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third drive – our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to make a contribution.”

 

  1. Mastery. I have studied eight languages. And I always emphasize the verb ‘studied’ because I am not fluent in those eight languages. I don’t study them or practice them near enough. And as long as that is the case, then I will continue to say that I have studied eight languages! However, I can say that I have mastered two: English and French (btw, I do get by in Spanish, but I don’t master it). Mastery is the reward of consistent study and practice. And that calls for Sarah’s Script on a regular basis. You have to change things up to keep motivated to study and practice. Robert Greene gave a list of different ways to keep yourself on the path to mastery in his book called Mastery (Penguin Books, 2012). He recommends: “keep expanding your horizons, revert to a feeling of inferiority, trust the process, move toward resistance and pain, apprentice yourself in failure and advance through trial and error”.

 

The next time you’re stalling in that steep learning curve, try Sarah’s Script and change up the ingredients so you can lock in your growth mindset, stay motivated and climb towards mastery.

Lights, camera, action!

– Claire :O)

 

[Photo: Martin Lopez/Pexels]