Hi team! It’s your friend, Mary, with The I in Team Series where you can find, be, and build your positive influence. This week, I want to focus our attention on what it means to take the high road. Taking the high road is subjective to each of us; at The I in Team Series, we believe the high road is when you take the path that helps the most people and hurts the least amount of people. Sometimes taking the high road means leaving someone or something behind so you can continue to grow in your positive influence. It can mean swallowing your need to speak when the timing isn’t right or being patient while you give someone an extra five minutes of your time. Taking the high road is always taking the right road, but you must understand what that path means and how to find it.
Finding the High Road
The high road is always the right road, but sometimes finding it can be difficult. First, you must weigh the paths you have in front of you. Ask if these choices, and subsequent decisions, influence anyone other than you (most decisions do), and then ask which choice will produce the most positive influence. When taking the high road, remember to put yourself first if the decision will influence you the most. We believe that in order to give people your most positive influence, you must live life for yourself and put yourself first. Some may find this selfish; some will say this is taking the low road. Taking care of yourself so you can have a positive influence is anything but selfish. So, when considering the high road, you will need to take yourself into account first, and then evaluate which decision will positively influence the most people.
Making decisions can be difficult when you don’t know what the outcome will be, but you have to trust yourself to weigh the pros and cons and analyze the information you have. Be diligent and seek out more information and trust your instincts. Ask people you can trust for their opinion if you need an external source to weigh in. You may find that one day, you are walking on what you believe is the high road, but you may find yourself standing alone.
Walking the High Road
Walking the high road can be a lonely road, as most people find it difficult to take the high road. You may become unpopular and shunned by peers for the decisions you make in life, but if you know that it is your high road then you must stay true to yourself. Let’s digress to a story about a man named Nicolaus Copernicus, who was a mathematician and astronomer in the 1500s, and the first to suggest that the Earth and all the planets revolved around the sun, rather than the Earth being the center of our solar system. He made several great strides in astronomy, including correctly hypothesizing why planets go into retrograde.
However, this was at a time when everyone believed that the Earth was the center of the universe and that everything moved around a stagnant Earth. Copernicus was utterly rejected by society, thrown in prison, denounced by his faith, and all but killed for his ideas (which, most, were later proven to be true). At no point did Copernicus waiver from his findings, and he spent his life trying to help others see the truth about our world. He died being mocked and shunned by society and faith. We now know that the Earth does in fact revolve around the Sun. This is one of my favorite stories of human strength and will. It would have been easy to retract his statements to be accepted by society and his church, but he refused. He knew what was right and he died trying to teach others. There are high roads that you will walk alone, but you must keep empathy in your heart for those on the low road.
Observing the Low Road
Choose curiosity over judgement. Do not judge those who cannot see the high road, be curious as to why they can’t or why they refuse to walk it with you. Having empathy for those who are walking the low road is another form of taking the high road. Like Copernicus, the best you can do is speak what you believe to be true from your perspective. Educate others and encourage them to be curious. Do not view others as being judgmental when they ask questions in a tone that questions your position; appreciate that they are looking for knowledge and view them as curious, even if they can’t control their tone. Being on the high road means holding empathy for those who are not with you, whether they choose not to be or don’t know how. Just because others haven’t joined you on the high road yet, doesn’t mean they won’t. Taking the high road is the mark of a leader.
Taking the high road is always taking the right road. Whether it is to benefit yourself or to help others, your high road is always right. When faced with an opportunity to take the high road or the low road, envision your hands with one up and one down; the one up is the high road, the road that will bring the most positive influence to you or others, and the hand that is down is the low road, the road you take when you are not your best self (most likely to induce feelings of guilt later on). Taking the high road may seem scary, difficult, or impossible at times, but if Copernicus could do it in the 1500s, you can do it today.
Hi team, it’s your friend Mary! During one of my meditation sessions to help alleviate anxiety, my guide discussed the importance of staying in the now and focusing on the present moment. She said that if we focus on the now, we will always be ready for the future, stating that most anxiety comes to us as we anticipate the future or review the past. This has helped me immensely and my hope is to explain how we can slow down and get into our now. As Brian wrote in Find the “I” in Team, “Live in the present; the most important moment in your life is the present moment. It is in the present that all things are learned, lost, and forgotten.”
The past only serves to teach us. Reflecting on the past is encouraged but becoming trapped in an illusion of reflections doesn’t help you learn or grow. The past can trick our minds into believing we are reliving the experience again, coupled with the same emotions we felt as the memory occurred, but it’s only a reflection of what once was. Don’t let your mind fool you into thinking this is real again or that you have to observe the memory in the same state as it occurred. You can observe memories from afar, detached from their emotions, in order to learn and grow.
The best way to avoid this trap is to get ahead of it. When you start to feel your emotions rise as a memory comes to you, immediately question those emotions. Questioning the emotions tied to the past serves you by helping you learn from the experience in a more pragmatic way. Only you have the power to retrain your brain, but you can only do so if you do the work and that means getting ahead of your reactionary thoughts. Question what your mind tells you is reality because your mind is the only reality you live in. Your mind is the only trap you have, and it’s excellent at trapping you in negative or untrue thought patterns. What you tell yourself is what you will see. This is your reality and you’re in control.
We cannot control the future; we can only influence it. Dreaming of the future, planning, and being strategic are not the same as fretting about what is to come. If you are being deliberate in your thoughts, whether they be past or present, time is not wasted. However, concerning ourselves with how others will react to us, what others will think, or what may or may not happen to us or those around us in the future is time wasted when it causes unnecessary anxiety. We fret about the future because we fear we may not be ready to handle it. I promise you, that if you stay in the now, you will always be ready for the future. The future is now.
Yes, the future is now. And now. And now. And so on. Time is a social construct we use to stay organized and to make sense of this rock that we are on. There is no future. The only future is in your mind. There is no past. The only past is in your mind. There is only now. The future and past do not exist now, but the future and past can only exist now if you allow it to in your mind. You only have the now, the present moment, to hold onto and view as reality. We easily become trapped in our minds with thoughts outside the present moment, but that isn’t real. It’s only real to us because we live inside our own created realities.
One of the best ways to focus on the now is to get out of your mind and into your body. Move your awareness to your heartbeat (that never stops, without you asking), your breath (that continues without consciously thinking “take a breath”), your blinking eyes, feel your extremities and wiggle your fingers and toes, or feel the roof of your mouth and taste what’s going on in there. Take long, slow, and deliberate deep breaths as you focus on moving your awareness from your mind down into your body. This feeling, this stillness, is your present moment. This is your now. Your only opportunity in life is to seize your now, whatever your now may bring.
Slowing down is something that we discuss redundantly at The I in Team Series, but it’s the most useful tool for any situation. We know that, in the heat of the moment, slowing down may seem impossible. To be honest, retraining your brain to stay focused on the now is difficult, but not impossible. You have to slow down, be deliberate with your thoughts and actions, and put effort towards slowing yourself down and being present.
Learn More: The Benefits of Slowing Down
I’ll be honest, staying in the present moment really isn’t easy. I’ve been working on this for five years and I can say with certainty that I’ve made progress, but I’m not yet where I want to be as I still deal with crippling anxiety and depression. It doesn’t help that we are coming out of a devastating pandemic that increased anxiety and depression fourfold in our country (USA). I will promise that staying in the present is worth it. Every time you interrupt your engrained thinking patterns, every time you pull yourself out of your mind, every time you TRY you are making progress. You can absolutely change your life and your way of thinking, but you need to give yourself permission. Encourage yourself and others to live in the present moment.
Hi team, Mary here! After almost a year of living in the pandemic, many of us are still finding ourselves burnt out, exhausted, and maybe even unmotivated. I’ve been asking myself how I can be feeling more burnt and stressed out than when the pandemic began, when I read an article discussing the communication debt. Communication debt isn’t a new concept, but it’s become much more severe as we have all entered working spaces that are far more digital than they once were.
Communication debt is, essentially, the negative emotions you feel when you are unable to respond to communications, whether they be emails, texts, direct messages, or even group chats. “Communication” refers to the various types of communication you receive throughout your day, and “debt” refers to the growing mound of responses you have to get to at some point. This can usually create feelings of anxiety or avoidance and can cause issues in productivity. Dealing with your personal communication debt will take some time, practice, and willpower. Below are our top tips for dealing with your communication debt.
Put the “No” in Notification
By this, I mean, turn off your notifications (I just couldn’t resist the catchy sub-header). You don’t always have to keep your notifications on. For me, it really disrupts my deep thought work if I see a message bubble pop up on my screen from Microsoft Teams or I hear an email come into my inbox. We discuss the issues of multitasking a lot on The I in Team Series, but even if you’re not intending to multitask you can experience the same issues of multitasking because of the communication debt. If you become distracted by a group thread, either on your phone personally or one you are included in at the office, that line of communication is forcing you to multitask as you either think of a way to respond or worry about having to respond to that later (adding a task to your to do list).
The best way to combat this issue is to silence your notifications! Utilize the technology you have to work with you and not against you. If you have children or those who depend on you for emergencies, set a special ringtone for them to go off only if they call you (and set this expectation that calls during business hours are for emergencies only). Use Do Not Disturb on your phone and anywhere else you can (I love DND on Teams). You don’t have to be available for everyone 24/7 and you shouldn’t be! This is where communicating healthy boundaries comes in.
Set Healthy Boundaries
Setting boundaries so that you can deal with communication debt more easily is better for everyone. When you set boundaries, you protect yourself and ensure you are getting what you need to be your best self. One example of a set boundary that is universal is the closed door. When someone’s door is closed, you know they are in Do Not Disturb mode. However, we don’t have the luxury of closing our door when we are all working from home and connected solely via technology. One way you can offset this is by either blocking time for yourself to answer emails and only answer emails during that time, or by blocking time for yourself to do deep mind work and then alerting everyone to those times. Be sure that if you block time for yourself to do deep mind work that you also set reminders for when that time block will end (or, ask someone to get you at a certain time).
Again, set the expectations you have with those around you. Healthy individuals will respect these boundaries and work with you to ensure all needs are taken care of on everyone’s terms. Sometimes you might have to sacrifice a little bit for the sake of your own comfort, but that’s okay! As long as those around you are doing their best to respect and acknowledge your boundaries, you are in good company. Plus, pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is always encouraged to promote personal growth!
You might already have a system for tackling your communication debt, like zeroing out your inbox or unsubscribing from junk emails, but you’re always going to have more communications to respond to. Therefore, you need tactics to lessen the severity of the negative influence of the communication debt. First, you need to know yourself. Who are you and what do you need? Second, you need to love and respect yourself enough to set boundaries, including saying no to notifications. Finally, practice self-love. The world around us is becoming increasingly more demanding as we all work harder and longer days to keep up with that demand. If you practice self-love, know your worth, and strive to have a positive influence, you can tackle the negative effects of communication debt.
Hi team, Mary here! Welcome to 2021. It shouldn’t come as a shock, considering 2020 was one environmentally influencing year, but your environment plays a huge role in what influences you every day. It affects your mental health, including your outlook on life and stress, depression, and anxiety levels. Understanding what in our environment influences us and how is the first step we can take towards combatting negative environmental influence.
Types of Environmental Influence
There are a few types of environmental influence that could be affecting you, including physical and social factors. Physical factors are things having to do with your body and your physical environment around you. Social factors include your family, friends, coworkers, and wider community.
Check out some examples of physical environmental influence below.
- Your Home, Office, and Car: These are among the top places you spend your time. How these areas look (meaning, how clean and organized they are) influence your mental health daily. Living in a clean and organized home can increase your positive outlook on life because your immediate surroundings are also positive. Note: When we say “organized” we don’t mean you have to Marie Kondo your home! You might have a ton of stuff and keep it organized in a way that suits your needs. Your process of organization doesn’t have to match others’ processes.
- Pollution: In case you don’t know already, air pollution affects your health! Psychology Today reports in this article titled The Impact of Air Pollution on Mental Health that air pollution can increase suicide risk and depression.
- Sleep Deprivation: When you’re sleep deprived, your mental health declines. A good night’s sleep can boost your immune system, act as a light painkiller, prevent weight gain, increase heart health, increase your positive mood, reduce stress, increase productivity, and improve memory. Read more in this article titled 10 Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep by VeryWell Health.
- Weather: Bad and extreme weather can influence your mental health! Dealing with snowstorms, constant rain, lack of sunshine, and freezing temperatures is never fun for anyone. Seasonal affective disorder, anyone?
- Smoking: You already know the risks associated with smoking.
- Eating Habits: If your doctor hasn’t told you already, what you put into your body has a direct effect on your mood and health. Check out this article Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food by Harvard Medical School.
These are just a few examples of physical factors that can influence your mental health. Try to remain mindful of these influences, even if they are negative. What other physical factors do you encounter daily?
Check out some examples of social environmental influence below:
- Stigmas: People experience racism, sexism, ageism, and other forms of prejudice that can have a serious impact on their mental health.
- Relationships: Friends, family, lovers, co-workers, and strangers are all part of your relationships. The people you choose to surround yourself with has a major influence on your mental health. Don’t surround yourself with people who will mentally, emotionally, or physically abuse you. Choose relationships that lift you up and make you feel more positive about life.
- Community: The community in which you live has a tremendous influence on you. Impoverished communities versus wealthy communities have different influences on human beings. No matter where you come from or where you are now, you absolutely have the capability to be a positive influence and have a positive outlook on life.
Social factors influence your mental health so pervasively because humans are social creatures! What other social factors influence you daily?
Realizing that our environments can influence us may help us overcome the negative side effects that can come from negative environments. Your environment doesn’t have to look like someone else’s to be positive or make you feel content. Part of your environment is your outlook, and if you can try to remain mindful of what influences you, you can try to remain mindful of how you see the world. Just remember, it’s okay to have bad days! It’s okay to feel negative and emotional. It’s how you pick yourself back up that defines you. Don’t let your environment drag you down! Instead, lift everyone and your surroundings UP with your positive influence.
Hi team, Mary here! With 2021 right around the corner, now is the time people start considering their New Year’s resolutions. Personally, I prefer to call them New Year’s goals because I think goals are easier for people to deal with, they are less likely to be given up on because they are adaptable, and they can feel more rewarding when reached. Additionally, I think New Year’s resolutions have a negative connotation to them; roughly 80% of people give up on their resolutions by February, so it seems societal norm is to create resolutions but not stick to them. If we start planning goals, perhaps we won’t give up on them. With the new year right around the corner, let’s start creating our S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) goals now.
Choosing Your Goal
Some of the most common New Year’s goals are:
- Go to the gym regularly
- Lose weight/diet
- Work on mental health
- Get a new job
- Buckle down on finances
- Manage stress
- Improve a relationship
- Quit smoking/drinking
So, does that mean you have to set a common goal? Heck no! Choosing your goal is personal and should relate to how you want to grow. It can absolutely be a common goal, because making our minds and bodies healthier is a great way to grow, but it can also be an obscure goal that means something to just you. You may want to learn a new style of cooking, read a book series, go back to school, climb a mountain, run a 10k, practice or learn a new art, or anything you want it to be. Your goals should reflect who you want to be and how you want to grow.
My 2020 goals were to figure out grad school, read for an hour every week, write and release one song, and finish my crochet blanket. I’m happy to say, I did figure out grad school! With the help of some trusted friends and loved ones, I enrolled for my master’s in organizational leadership. However, once I realized how hard learning to write music was, I adjusted my goal to continue learning about music. When my hand started cramping up from crocheting, I adjusted my goal to work on my crochet blanket (it’s massive, like king-sized, so finishing it is going to take a long time). I didn’t read fiction for one hour every week, but I didn’t give up on the goal; I still read every week for at least one hour and read my fiction book when I can fit it into my schedule. Don’t be afraid to adjust, but don’t give up.
Once you have decided on your goal, it’s time to make your goal specific! Ask yourself these questions and write down your answers:
- Who is involved in this goal?
- What do I want to accomplish with this goal?
- Where will this goal be achieved?
- When do I want to achieve this goal?
- Why do I want to achieve this goal?
It’s vital that your goal is specific, otherwise you might lose sight of what you are working towards. It also needs to be specific enough to follow the rest of the S.M.A.R.T. process.
If you can’t measure it, you can’t control it. Making sure you have metrics to measure your goal will help you reach your goal. It will also propel you forward towards the end. If you don’t have a way to measure your progress, you may become discouraged half-way through and give up. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, what would your metrics be? For one, you can weigh yourself and tangibly see your weight loss, but you can also measure your calorie intake and how many calories you burn during exercise.
Ask yourself these questions and write down your answers:
- How many/much X will I need?
- How will I know I have reached my goal?
- What will I use to be an indicator of progress?
Your goal should stretch your abilities without stretching you so thin it makes the goal unattainable. For example, I could set the goal of becoming an astronaut. Becoming an astronaut is certainly attainable. In the S.M.A.R.T. process, attainable and realistic go hand-in-hand so be sure to keep a close eye on these sections. Yes, becoming an astronaut is technically attainable because other people have done it, so I could do it too. But is it realistic?
Ask yourself these questions and write down your answers:
- Do I have the funds/resources/capabilities to reach this goal?
- If not, what am I missing or how can I get it?
- Are there any roadblocks that could prevent my goal from being attainable?
Setting a realistic goal means setting a goal that can be achieved given the resources and time you have. So, continuing our example above, I could, technically, become an astronaut. However, am I in a position to become an astronaut? Am I astronaut material? Am I willing to go back to school, start my career from scratch, and spend more than a decade trying to reach my goal? Probably not. It’s not a realistic goal because I’m not willing to dedicate the time to achieve the goal, I probably wouldn’t be that good at advanced science and math, and even then I may not even get up into space so I would have to be content simply working for NASA or another space related company.
Ask yourself these questions and write down your answers:
- Is my goal realistic?
- Is this goal worth my time?
- Is this goal worth my money?
- Is this the right time to try to reach this goal?
- Does this goal match other efforts/needs?
All goals need a definitive start and end date. If there is no timeline, there will be no sense of urgency; hence, less motivation to reach the goal. When I set my 2020 goals, they all had a deadline of the end of the year. Looking back, I didn’t create all my goals around S.M.A.R.T. or I would have known that releasing a song would be nearly impossible. However, my hand cramping up during crocheting is not something I could have foreseen, so I adjusted my goal’s timeline. Your timeline should be in line with what you need from that goal.
Ask yourself these questions and write down your answers:
- Does my goal have a deadline?
- When do I want to achieve my goal?
- What else is going on in my life that could prevent me from hitting this goal in this time frame?
Now’s the time to start planning for your 2021 goals and I want you all to feel like achievers in reaching your goals. Don’t follow society and set goals for yourself just to never see them fulfilled. Doing so will just make setting goals harder and more discouraging because you train yourself to not meet your goals. You literally program yourself to think it’s okay to set goals and not meet them. I promise, once you set a goal and meet that goal, you’ll be changed. Looking back at your past self and knowing you made it is a reward worth having. Trust me, I’m so happy to be in school and at the beginning of 2020, I was sure that was a goal I would give up on.
Hi team, Mary here! With 2021 right around the corner, I’m sure some of you are looking ahead to better and brighter days. One of the things I love most about a new year is how excited people get about their new year’s goals! (Notice how I said “goals” and not “resolutions.”) Unfortunately, approximately 80% of people give up on their new year’s goals by February! Hence, why I refuse to call them resolutions.
Creating new year’s resolutions is usually about building healthier habits. One of the most popular is going to the gym regularly. Habits take discipline and dedication to take root in your life, so they become automated. It’s estimated that actions take 21-60 days of repetition to firmly become habits. Usually, these habit-forming resolutions are abandoned, for one reason or another, and forgotten about until the next new year comes along.
I believe creating healthy habits starts with dedication to yourself. You start forming new habits because you know they will be good for you but can become discouraged if you miss a day or multiple days, giving up on the habit creation altogether. When dedicating yourself to making new and healthy habits, you need to employ some empathy for yourself too. Don’t feel discouraged for not being perfect. Instead, feel uplifted and remember why you set out to start creating a new habit in the first place. One of the best ways to start creating new habits is to evaluate the ones you currently have.
Evaluate Current Habits
When you decide it’s time to add new habits into your routine, the first thing you need to do is evaluate your current habits. Some habits are completely automated and perhaps even subconscious (like, biting your nails) while others are intentional (like going to the gym). Subconscious habits are usually harder to spot as they are typically performed while in the subconscious-mode state. Nonetheless, write down and evaluate all your current habits that come to mind. You can add to this list over time as you discover some of the smaller subconscious habits you have. After you have your list, you will want to determine which of those habits are negative influences on you. Do away with negative habits to make room for positive, healthy ones.
Build Healthy Habits
Building healthy habits starts with dedication to yourself and pursuing a better life. It might be helpful for you, when you decide to create a new habit, to write yourself a note to encourage your future self to stick with it! We often forget why we set out to create new habits but reading a letter from your past self could help keep you on the right path. Even if you make a mistake, pick yourself back up and keep trying. The only person you let down by not sticking to better habit development is yourself. Wayne Dyer once said, “You leave old habits behind by starting out with the thought, ‘I release the need for this in my life.’”
Sometimes building new, healthy habits is hard if you don’t know where to start! One of the programs we are part of, ProHabits, makes healthy habit development a breeze. ProHabits sends you a daily MicroAction, either in a text or email, and you focus on performing that small action that day. Each MicroAction takes only 5-10 minutes per day and it corresponds to the habit track you choose. Some examples of tracks they have include leadership, mindfulness, and empowerment. They have a basic program with their stock tracks, but we partnered with them through IA Business Advisors to bring our clients specialized tracks based on The I in Team Series. If you want some help learning where to start with healthy habit development, ProHabits is the place for you. Just ask us how you can sign up!
Make a Routine
Once you know what healthy habits to put in place, you will want to schedule them into your daily routine. If you can fit in these new habits with ones you already have or during a time when you are already doing stuff for yourself (like, getting ready in the morning), you will have an easier time remembering to perform the habit each morning. For example, when I wanted to make the habit of taking my new vitamins every morning, I put my vitamin container next to my contact lens case. Therefore, when I put my contacts in, I would see the vitamins and remember to take them. Consider writing a sticky note to yourself and sticking it somewhere, like your bathroom mirror! Or, if you’re addicted to your phone like many of us are, finding a habit tracking/creating app or using your calendar or reminder app to help you might be your best route!
Habit development isn’t an easy task. It takes time, discipline, and desire to change. With the new year right around the corner, now is the perfect time to start considering your current habits and some goals you have for your future. Keep in mind that you’re only human, and all humans make mistakes. Making a mistake is not a license to throw your entire habit development plan out the window. Instead, show yourself some kindness and keep moving forward towards your goals. Adjust these goals as needed to keep them relevant in your life. If you need help with healthy habit development, contact us about ProHabits!