Celebrating Influential Women

It’s Women’s History Month – a time to celebrate influential women! Every year since 1987, during the month of March, we celebrate Women’s History Month. It is a time to remember women’s contributions to culture and society over the course of history. 

We live in a time when many things compete for our attention, like the latest news headlines and day-to-day family needs. Can you take a pause in the flurry of your day to honor a special woman in your life? A woman who inspired you to act, think, or feel differently. A woman you respect and admire. Someone who made you feel safe and protected. Someone who pioneered new pathways for the rest of us.

The practice below will guide you.

The Inspiration

I believe that all women are influential in one way or another. Some are literal heroes who have made sacrifices to save lives and stand up for the rights of many. Some are heroic in other ways, like those who have raised their families despite nearly insurmountable odds. Some are from present day life, and others are from the past. We admire and respect these women for their immense courage, perseverance, and determination. 

When I think of an influential woman in my life, my great-aunt Nome comes to mind. A pioneer in her own right, she was one of few women allowed to hold jobs after WWII when most jobs were reserved for men. Later in her career, she focused on developing products that were innovative and revolutionary for the time, like box cake mixes and spray starch. She demonstrated that strong women can succeed in male-dominated industries through hard work and leadership.

Nome also made a mean pie. In my family, saying something was “mean” meant that it was outstanding. Pumpkin was my favorite, but she also baked blueberry, apple, rhubarb and other delectable types. When she offered it for dessert, she would say with a twinkle in her eye: “Take pie when pie is passed.” 

This meant two things. First, the literal meaning is that you should get a piece of pie when it’s passed, because it disappears quickly. Secondly, it implied we should be grateful for and pursue good opportunities when they present themselves. It became somewhat of a family motto.

At family get-togethers in her home, I always admired the beautiful dinner tables she would set with fresh cut flowers, a meal with delicious new recipes that she created, and her ability to bring family and friends close together around a table. 

I could go on about Nome, but suffice it to say that she was influential in my life. I continued many of her examples, like working in a male-dominated industry for many years, setting beautiful dinner tables, and experimenting with different recipes. 

Possibly the most important lesson I learned from Nome was that quiet patience can be as effective as, or more effective than, confrontation. This was a lesson I still try to apply in my relationships, on my teams, and anywhere there is conflict or disagreement. 

When looking at Nome through a lens of character strengths, I can identify many examples of her love, kindness, honesty, appreciation of excellence, gratitude, humility, and probably all 24 strengths. The strengths I admire the most are her bravery, creativity, and leadership as she lived her life. 

Who are the influential women in your life? What better time is there to celebrate them than during Women’s History Month?  The practice and reflection below will help guide you.

The Practice

Reflect
Think about all the women who have influenced you in positive ways, including historical figures and relatives, acquaintances, teachers, club leaders, coaches, or others. They can be alive today or passed on. Choose one to celebrate. Write down her name and the reasons you admire her.  

Remember 
Think of a few character strengths that portray what you admire about her. Why did you choose these strengths? Bring to mind one or two examples of how she demonstrated these. How did she influence your thinking, feelings, or actions? 

Share
Celebrate and honor the woman you chose. If you chose someone from history or someone who passed on, perhaps share your examples with a daughter or granddaughter, a mentee, or a friend. If you chose someone living today, why not share your thoughts with her? Below are a few ideas for how to share:

  1. If possible, pay her a visit or set up a phone call or Zoom meeting
  2. Send a note through snail mail or email
  3. Post something on social media

The idea is to create a memorable experience for both of you.

The Reflection

Sharing inspiring stories of influential women feels ________________________. 

This reflection is probably self-explanatory. Just fill in the blank as you reflect on taking a pause to share about an influential woman in your life. 

Bringing back memories of my great-aunt and sharing them with you puts a smile on my face. She is easy to remember and deserves to be celebrated, as do so many others. I feel certain she can appreciate this, somehow, in the afterlife. 

If you feel inspired by this activity, continue it as a daily or weekly practice during Women’s History Month to honor all the influential women in your life!

With immense gratitude for influential women,
Jane

A Series of Practices to Cultivate Strength and Resilience – Emerging with Strengths

Happy Groundhog Day!

I’ve been hearing people commenting recently that each day is beginning to feel like Groundhog Day. The days blur into each other. Saturdays feels like Wednesdays. Routines and conversations don’t seem to change much. This state can leave us feeling stuck, lacking in motivation, and maybe even a bit numb. I certainly feel this way sometimes.

Interestingly, I discovered the delightful, classic 1993 movie, “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. Have you seen it? 

I found it not only entertaining but possibly showcasing where the expression “every day is Groundhog Day” originated. Most importantly, I noticed how the main character uses his character strengths to shift away from challenges and toward new possibilities. 

Although the classification of virtues and character strengths was yet to be published in 1993, we can learn some important lessons from this romantic comedy about the things we can change and how to change them when every day feels like Groundhog Day.

The practice below will show you how.

The Inspiration

Groundhog Day is an annual tradition in Canada and the US that dates back to the late 1800s. Every February 2, a groundhog named Phil, who lives in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania predicts whether there will be an early spring or whether winter will continue six weeks longer. Apparently, Phil’s predictions aren’t relied on too heavily by experts, as he has been right only about 40 percent of the time in recent history.

The movie by the same name, Groundhog Day, was released in 1993. Spoiler alert: The summary below provides a synopsis of the movie. If you plan to watch it and don’t want to know what happens, skip to the practice below.

In a nutshell, Bill Murray’s character – Phil – is a sarcastic weatherman who ultimately wants what many of us want: a meaningful relationship with someone special. His ego constantly gets in the way, although he’s not aware of this. Every day, he wakes up to face the same day – the same music playing on his clock radio, the same conversations with the same people, the same routine. 

He begins to notice this, although he is the only one with this awareness. Over time, he also realizes he can do whatever he wants. He stuffs his face with donuts. He drives his car on the railroad tracks. He can get away with this since any consequences are erased the next day. Realizing how stuck he is, he begins to understand that the path he’s on isn’t taking him where he wants to go. Day by day, he learns that he can achieve different results by changing his actions.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but by living into his strengths and creating good in the world around him, Phil ultimately gets what he wants and is set free from every day being Groundhog Day.

Specifically, how does he do it? His formula seemed to be:

Mindfulness + Gratitude + Love of Learning + Curiosity + Kindness 

What do you suppose is your formula? Try the practice below to find out.

The Practice

  1. Think of a situation in which you feel stuck or lack the motivation to change. Start with something basic and try to be specific. For example, “I cook dinner, and then we eat the same leftovers every day for lunch until they’re gone. It’s getting old and dull.” 
  2. Choose a character strength that can help enliven you to take a different route. If you’re unsure, start with one of the strengths that helped Bill Murray’s character: gratitude to appreciate the blessing of a nutritious meal, love of learning to master a new recipe using the leftover ingredients, kindness to make the favorite meal of a loved one, curiosity to explore how you might eliminate leftovers. 
  3. Appreciate yourself for having the wisdom to take a step. Thank yourself for taking action against a pattern that’s preventing you from getting more of what you want from life. 

The Reflection

When I feel enlivened by my character strengths, I can _______________. 

Can you become unstuck? Accomplish something new? Simply feel content or happy?

May Groundhog Day always feel like a celebration of strength,
Jane

A Series of Practices to Cultivate Strength and Resilience – Spread Honesty

When you are honest, you speak the truth.

These words from Ryan Niemiec and Robert McGrath’s latest collaboration, The Power of Character Strengths, ring in my head following last week’s attack on Capitol Hill in Washington DC.

Honesty is a globally valued trait, and yet it seems woefully missing in many places. Omissions, half-truths, exaggerations, and outright lies poison our society. At one time or another, most of us have fallen into these patterns with consequences ranging from mild to serious.  

It’s easy to point fingers at leaders and others who don’t seem concerned about facts, scientific data, or the opinions of experts. However, every one of us plays a role in living into truth. 

At a time like this, we owe it to ourselves, our families, teams, communities, and country to value and demonstrate honesty. One thing we can all do is pause to check in on our own levels of truth, honesty, and integrity. The practice below will help you do this and spread honesty in different settings.

The Inspiration

Honest people do what they commit to do. For instance, I am committed to creating relevant content as life unfolds. This time of year, I’d normally write about starting the year strong, replacing an uninspiring resolution with an energizing daily practice, and sharing other topics that move you toward the things you want more of in life.

I wasn’t planning to write about honesty this week, but I couldn’t simply go about “business as usual” after the recent events. This change in my writing schedule caused a delay in connecting with you, yet this topic of truth feels urgent and relevant right now. My marketing professional and I both committed to pursuing this more authentic pathway, so here we are. Pursuing what seems right isn’t always easy, even in a basic example like this.

You’re probably already aware that honesty helps build trust and strong relationships, but perhaps you didn’t think about how it helps you correct errors in judgment, navigate decisions between what’s easy and what’s right, honor your commitments, and own your thoughts, beliefs, and actions. Perhaps most importantly:

“…freedom is the bonus you receive for telling the truth.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

To connect the dots: honesty cultivates truth, which leads to freedom. Doesn’t that sound about right?

In the scientific Character Strengths and Virtues framework, honesty is one of 4 character strengths within the courage virtue. Indeed, the simple act of being honest and speaking the truth is often one of the most difficult and courageous things you can do. Like when speaking out against injustice or standing up to a leader or unpopular opinion. 

One challenging thing about honesty is it seems there are degrees of it and no clear guidelines around when it’s acceptable to shade the truth. For instance, do you need to be so direct when doing so would deeply hurt someone’s feelings without providing any benefit? Perhaps not, depending on the situation.  

This week’s practice focuses on checking in with yourself and your own levels of honesty, integrity, and authenticity. Experiment with the prompts below to identify where you’re satisfied and where you’re not. Then, take a step that enables you to spread honesty.

The Practice

  1. On a scale of 1-5, where 1 = virtually never and 5 = virtually always, how often do you:
    • Speak the truth to power?
    • Model honesty to others?
    • Refrain from fibbing, even when it suits your purposes to shade the truth?
  2. Focus on the question with the highest score. How or with whom can you speak truth to power, model honesty, or refrain from fibbing even more often? Keep the spread of honesty going.
  3. Focus on the question with the lowest score and answer the following:
    • When, with whom, and in which situations do you struggle to express more honesty? Consider that your answer might vary in different situations involving your boss, subordinate, or team; a parent or family member; a sibling or friend.

    • Name one thing you can do to boost authenticity, honesty, or integrity in the situation you described above, and go out and try it. Perhaps you would speak more freely to your boss about the status of a project, demonstrate to your child a difficult but honest choice, or simply catch yourself being on the “wrong side” of the truth. 

The Reflection

Valuing and demonstrating honesty more often might _____________________.

What might it change or improve? Perhaps a project, a partnership, or even the relationship you have with yourself.

With respect for truth,
Jane

A Series of Practices to Cultivate Strength and Resilience – Experiment with Strengths

With everything going on in the US and around the world, one thing has become crystal clear to me: our character strengths are more essential than ever before. 

Can you imagine what daily life might be like if each of us, including world leaders and politicians, consistently elevated his or her signature strengths? Especially in the most contentious of times? Based on decades of research, I can realistically imagine creative problem solving, collaboration, more physical and mental health, meaning, and joy – the things many of us need more of right now. 

The practice below focuses on one slice of this big, complex pie. It highlights a recent article by strengths experts Tayyab Rashid and Robert E. McGrath. It describes at length how character strengths can enhance our ability to feel good and function well, specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This article is an important resource for you as a leader, parent, or strengths enthusiast because it offers 101 actionable practices you can easily integrate into your daily routines and share with your team or family. The post below provides the context you need to focus on strengths and build well-being each day. All you have to do is carve out a few minutes daily to experiment and share.

The Inspiration

Public health measures such as face coverings and physical distancing aren’t the only measures that can help us navigate this prolonged pandemic. Focusing on character strengths can help soften intense emotions, like the fear and anger that often accompany this unnatural state of physical distance. It helps us reframe challenges using a positive lens of strengths. This not only allows us to shift away from what isn’t working, but it provides the tools that allow us to build what works – systems and practices that help us through the crises we face.

Integrating your character strengths in small doses, in things you’re already doing, can help you right now through hardships brought about by political, economic, and daily life challenges. Whether you’re a parent confronted with your kids’ remote learning challenges, a business leader struggling to keep your doors open, or an unemployed or underemployed individual seeking income, applying your character strengths even in small doses daily can help you cope with stress, reframe challenges, boost your mental and physical health, connect meaningfully with others, and build hopeful and positive futures. 

I love to experiment with character strengths and encourage my clients to do the same. Here are 101 actions you can immediately experiment with, beginning on page 127 of the article. They’re categorized based on the results you desire; whether you’re seeking to manage stress, stay healthy, or grow personally (see below for examples).

Manage Stress
Try #97. Spending so much time at home will inevitably present a simple problem you suddenly find difficult to solve. Check in with your feelings. If you’re feeling anxious, take a break if the problem isn’t urgent. Do something to generate positive emotions – take a movement break, call a friend, put a few pieces in the puzzle. Then return to the problem with a fresh perspective and greater likelihood of solving the problem (social intelligence and judgment).

Stay Healthy 
Try #43. Fight cabin fever by getting into action. Run, hike, climb, do a few yoga poses. (zestcreativity, self-regulation). Or #44 – one of my favorites.  Stop eating before you are full, especially with the holidays approaching. (self-regulationprudence)

Grow Personally 
#17 Practice compassion. At least once daily, set your intention to refrain from doing harm to others in your thoughts, words, and actions.
(kindnessself-regulation).

If you haven’t identified your unique blend of character strengths, or if you wish to update your results, take the free character strengths survey to discover where your strengths currently reside. Make sure to keep your results handy when you attempt this practice!

Experiment on your own or with your family, team, or a group of friends. The steps below will guide you. 

The Practice

  1. Each day for the next week, decide whether you wish to: manage your stress, boost your health, grow or build skills, boost a connection, or support a social cause. Why did you choose this goal? 
  2. Next, choose one of the practices and put it into action. Feel free to choose different practices each day or stay with one. However you feel moved.

The Reflection

Complete this reflection to gain some perspective.

I chose this activity because ________. As I completed it, I noticed that ________.

Did you realize or learn something? Feel a sense of pride or accomplishment? Take a brave step toward something meaningful? 

May you feel confident returning to your strengths again and again, no matter what is happening around or within you. 

Jane

A Series of Practices to Cultivate Strength and Resilience – Strengths Reflection

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection.
From the reflection will come even more effective action.”

This quote is attributed to Peter Drucker, esteemed management guru and champion for building personal and organizational strengths, even up to his passing in 2005. My interpretation of this quote is that sometimes we have to slow down to speed up. 

If we wish to make a difference in our work and life, we need to lead with strengths; and that starts with awareness. Reflection helps us slow down and generate awareness around which strengths are needed in any given moment.   

Try the practice below to help you reflect and lead with your strengths. 

The Inspiration

Today’s pace of change can be dizzying. Basic routines like caring for our health, educating the kids, working, socializing, and others are constantly evolving. 

One practice that can help us take a breath, reset, and lead with strengths is reflection. We know from research that reflection is essential to effective leadership for both “Big L” leadership, conveyed through a title or position in an organization, and “little l” leadership, the character strength of leadership

In “Big L” leadership, reflection can generate self-awareness around important matters like how a leader is helping or hindering the progress of her team. Or when he felt highly effective, or ineffective, and the contributing factors to each. This type of reflection can help reveal not only what to avoid, but what to embrace to achieve important goals. 

However, not everyone has a title or professional position. Everyday “little l” leadership is just as important because it leads to connected communities by building what’s strong in families, neighborhoods, and social groups. 

In the realm of character strengths, a healthy majority of us don’t have a meaningful awareness of our strengths, according to this strengths book excerpt from Alex Linley’s book Average to A+: Realising Strengths In Yourself and Others. A meaningful awareness means being able to deliberately apply one’s strengths to benefit ourselves and others. To feel engaged and vital. To function at a high level, tackle hard challenges, and move forward from adversity. 

In his recent blog post, Robert Quinn, co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizations, mentioned a great practice from his favorite author. I found it clever and useful, so I decided to share it below. Note that I modified it by applying a lens of character strengths.

In this series, I typically offer a practice followed by a reflection question. However, in the activity below, the reflection is the practice.

The Reflective Practice

  1. Open your calendar and find 5-10 short, empty time slots over the next two weeks.
  2. Block those times out for reflection. 
  3. During each reflection time, reflect on one of the prompts below, or create your own. Then go about your day feeling refreshed and prepared to lead with strengths. 

Reflection 1 – The Mindful Pause

Take a Mindful Pause. After the pause, ask yourself: Which of my strengths do I need to lead with right now? Why? Perhaps you need to elevate humility to admit you don’t have all the answers. Or teamwork to generate cooperation and collaboration. Then put that strength into action.

Reflection 2 – Be Intentional with Your Strengths

Reflect on the following: Which strength have I been actively living into today? In what ways has this benefited my well-being, work, or relationships? Perhaps you actively engaged fairness and that helped you outline an agreement all parties are thrilled about. Or humor, and that raised your team’s spirits so they could move through a challenge. Think of a situation later today that can benefit from this strength, then deliberately put it into action. 

Reflection 3 – Balance Your Strengths Use

Reflect on the following: Which of my top signature strengths have I overused or underused today? If you’re not sure of your signature strengths, take the free assessment. Choose 1 signature strength and reflect: How did this misuse affect my work, a relationship, or my well-being? Perhaps appreciation of beauty and excellence slipped into overdrive, raising your expectations of yourself to impossibly high levels. Or underuse of zest is keeping you feeling lethargic or sedentary. Make sure you choose another strength to help balance this under or overuse, then put it into action!

For helpful tips on using each character strength in a new way, click here.

New situations arise every day, so feel free to re-use these prompts when necessary. As you become more comfortable in this practice, create your own reflection prompts, or contact me for more options. 

May you lead with your strengths to fuel growth and creation,
Jane

A Series of Practices to Cultivate Strength and Resilience – Gifting Gratitude

As humans, we have a fundamental need to feel like we belong. We rely on others, and they rely on us. We all need positive, human connections to feel seen and understood.

However, the world is struggling to navigate the harmful effects stemming from a lack of civility, disengagement from work, and more. We’ve landed in a space where we may not even be able to hug loved ones safely if they’re outside our ‘bubble.’ Not only are these experiences unpleasant, but they drain us of energy and can lead to burnout.

The quality of our connections matters. In communities of families, friends, and neighbors, people who enjoy positive relationships live longer, happier lives. In organizations, rewarding connections among employees, customers, vendors, and staff foster well-being, performance, and psychological safety. 

If you’re feeling lonely, disengaged, or weary try the practice below to energize your connections.

The Inspiration

You don’t need to be in a long-term relationship to enjoy positive connections each day. Jane E. Dutton, co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizations and professor at the University of Michigan researches the conditions that create flourishing individuals and teams in organizations. Some of her most fascinating research focuses on what she calls ‘high quality connections.’ She describes them as short, everyday interactions that light us up, fill us with positive regard and energy, and have a sense of mutuality. 

You can have high quality connections within close relationships and everyday acquaintances alike. Her work shows that even momentary experiences of feeling seen and known can not only soften the hard edges of life’s daily struggles but lead us to live better lives. 

Your character strengths can serve as key pathways to high quality connections. Of course, the humanity strengths of love,  kindness, and social intelligence are obvious pathways because they’re inherently about building and sustaining positive relationships. Beyond that, however, each strength can contribute to growing your connections.

It’s probably already clear how strengths like fairness or honesty could lead to high quality connections. But what about an internally focused strength like self-regulation? Even the strengths you might not intuitively think of can help.

Self-regulation is about being disciplined and able to regulate your attention, emotions, habits, even your appetite. Self-regulation helps us take charge of our emotions. The next time you feel frustrated by your nosy co-worker or fussy child, use your self-regulation to take a step back and cool off rather than react angrily in the moment. Count to ten slowly before you respond. Notice how this helps you respond with objectivity rather than anger, which expands your ability to understand and connect authentically. 

If self-regulation is an obvious choice, pick another one. How about love of learning? You can use your love of learning to dig into a special relationship and understand more about what you have or don’t have, in common. Or connect with someone with whom you have a mutual interest like cooking, hiking, or traveling, and pursue the activity together. 

Every character strength can help you connect with others. To deepen this conversation, consider joining me live on October 6 at a virtual presentation sponsored by Capital District Women’s Employment and Resource Center called “Growing Highly Rewarding Connections with Character Strengths.

The activity I chose for this week’s practice is about expressing the character strength gratitude to someone in your life. The essence of gratitude is appreciating and valuing the blessings in your life. In this practice, you will focus on a person. 

In an online article on the Greater Good Science Center website, authors Eric Pederson and Debra Lieberman say that gratitude can make romantic relationships closer, help us feel invested in friendships, and foster helpfulness at work.

The Practice

Is there someone you’ve taken for granted lately? It’s easy to do in these times. Is there someone with whom you haven’t connected in a while? This practice will help you deepen your connection with a relative, friend, teacher, or colleague. The practice below is adapted from this practice.

  1. Call to mind someone who did something for you for which you are extremely grateful but to whom you never expressed your deep gratitude. Pick someone who could meet you virtually or face-to-face in the next week. Perhaps select a person you haven’t thought about for a while. For this practice, don’t choose someone with whom you have a chronically difficult relationship. 

  2. Write a letter to this person, guided by the following steps:
    • Write as though you’re addressing this person directly (“Dear ______”).
    • Don’t worry about perfect grammar or spelling.
    • Describe in specific terms what this person did, why you are grateful to this person, and how this person’s behavior affected your life. Try to be as concrete as possible.
    • Describe what you are doing in your life now and how you often remember his or her efforts.
    • Try to keep your letter to roughly one page (about 300 words).

  3. If possible, deliver your letter in person or virtually, following these steps:
    • Plan a visit with the recipient. Let that person know you’d like to see him or her and have something special to share, but don’t reveal the exact purpose of the meeting.
    • When you meet, let the person know that you are grateful to them and would like to read a letter expressing your gratitude; ask that he or she refrain from interrupting until you’re done.
    • Take your time while reading the letter. While you read, pay attention to his or her reaction as well as your own.
    • After you have read the letter, be receptive to his or her reaction, and discuss your feelings together.
    • Remember to give, email, or mail the letter to the person afterward.

The Reflection

“My experience of sharing gratitude with the person I chose was _______________.”

What was it like? What insights about yourself or this other person did you gain? How has your connection grown or shifted? What will you remember from this experience? What do you think he or she will remember?

Feel free to journal about this reflection in an unstructured way, without regard to grammar or punctuation. Just let your reflection flow. Or share your reflection with a trusted friend or professional. 

May you “SEA” a new perspective as you practice strengths-spotting today!
Jane