Friday, October 8, 2010

The Relationship Compact: Define and Redefine

As people, we evolve over time. And so must our relationships if we want them to keep pace with our own growth, change, needs, and priorities. We have a variety of people in our lives –- family, friends, community members, work colleagues, clients, acquaintances, people who provide us services, and the list goes on. Each relationship has a different compact, whether explicit or implied, and it is important to understand the agreement and refresh the terms as needed.

This is much clearer in working relationships, as more often than not there are defined expectations for the roles we are supposed to play. As service providers, we often set forth the terms in a contract so both we and the client are clear about what will and will not be provided. As managers and employees, our annual performance appraisals are based on how we measure up to the competencies defined for the role and organization, to the job description that outlines the requirements of the position, and to what our boss (hopefully, collaboratively) defines as objectives for performance and goals.

However, in personal relationships we are often operating in the dark or from habit. Expectations from family relationships are typically outdated –- based on unspoken “rules” created when we were very young. In friendships and romantic relationships, we often fall back on old patterns of behavior from past experiences, and sometimes keep people in our lives well beyond the relationships’ expiration dates. When we meet new people, we see them through filters and place them in certain categories and classifications that direct us toward how we will choose to interact and bond (or not) with them.

So, what do we do about this? How can we refresh our present relationships? For new connections, how can we set clear, healthy boundaries for ourselves and others at the outset that will serve as strong foundations for the future?

Current Relationships
  1. Take an inventory of your current relationships. Start with the key people you have the most vested interest in: specific family, friends, colleagues, etc.
  2. For each person, ask yourself which ones are and are not working well, and why? Which ones have run their course? Be honest.
  3. For each person, reach out to create a conversation with the intention of having a frank discussion to refresh the relationship and define/redefine the compact. The post “360 Feedback from People in Your Life” can support you in how you go about setting these up, and what questions to ask.
  4. Commit to having regular check-ins on your relationships. We do this at work; why not do it with the people in our lives.
New Relationships
  1. When you meet someone, be open to seeing them for who they really are, not just what we want them to be. Be transparent and authentic in how you interact with them, so they can get to know you without the mask of “looking good” or “being likeable.”
  2. Get crystal clear about what you want in your relationships at this juncture. Not what you used to want, or what you think you should want/have. Be present tense. This might change in one month or six, but it’s important to be conscious of your current wants/needs.
  3. Understand your values, and identify whether this new person meshes up with them or not.
  4. Set boundaries for yourself. Where appropriate, be explicit about setting boundaries with them. For both self and others, these parameters might include: time, what you’re willing and not willing to do/give, what you want/need, and how emotionally/mentally available you are.
  5. Commit to yourself to have regular check-ins so that you can keep the relationship current.
This might seem really methodical and perhaps even contrived, but it really does work. While each discussion will look different and may not go to the lengths I mention above, at very least you will have put some thought into your relationships. Where you take steps to have discussions, you will open up dialogue and space for the relationship to breathe. You will also set some boundaries and commitments to one another that allow for greater transparency and authenticity in your interactions. Finally, you will model a really fantastic process and set of behaviors that others may feel compelled to bring into their own lives.

We are not built to operate in isolation –- we are social animals. It is important to make investment in the people that mean a great deal to us on both the personal and professional levels. Take the time to get clear, be courageous, and get in conversation about your relationships. It will have a ten-fold return.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Self-Care: Pause and Refuel

When you don’t focus on making self-ishness a priority, you run the risk of burning yourself out. You experience greater anxiety and stress, are less productive and effective, and are more prone to health issues. By taking some time every day that feeds your body, mind, heart, or spirit, you are not only giving yourself the sustenance to keep going, but are respecting and honoring YOU as someone who deserves attention and nurturing.

It all starts with making your well-being the first priority – before anyone else. If you don’t fill your goblet first, you won’t have much left over to give to others. Healthy doses of stress (eustress) are a normal part of life, and help us to push ahead with impact and velocity. However, when we experience high intensity and long durations of stress (distress), our physiology moves into a “fight or flight” mode. Over prolonged periods, our physical and mental health deteriorates, and our heart and spirit scream for relief.

To drive this point home, take a moment to consider yourself in the following situations and pay close attention to how you feel. Take note of your breathing, your posture and facial expressions, and the thoughts and feelings that go along with it.
  • Driving your car in rush hour
  • Getting a last minute work assignment
  • Misplacing something in the house
  • Having something break while you're using it
  • Dealing with incompetence at work
  • Planning your budget
  • Being blamed for something
  • Waiting in a long line at the grocery store
Did you notice yourself tensing, getting irritated, or even saying, “That drives me crazy when that happens!”? When we are not practicing self-care, we are more prone to over-reacting versus taking a step back, breathing, and practicing patience. If you actively find time to reduce “distress,” you will feel less inclined to jump to hyper-emotional reactions. You will find yourself more able to choose responses that best serve you and the people around you.

You don’t need a lot of time to practice self-care. It can range from taking some deep breaths in the midst of stressful situations, to stepping away from your desk for a 10 minute break to re-center yourself, to carving out an hour or two to do something creative, relaxing, or even invigorating like a long run.

Here are some examples of self-care. They are broken down into categories, but any of these suggestions would affect all areas of body, mind, heart, and spirit.
  • Take a walk
  • Get some exercise or take a yoga class
  • Soak in the bathtub
  • Sit in the sun for 15 minutes
  • Take a nap or go to bed early
  • Get out into nature
  • Make one improvement in your diet
  • Get a massage
  • Drink lots of water throughout the day
  • Say an affirmation
  • Read (or listen to) a book for pleasure
  • Write a letter or email to a friend
  • Make a list of your short- and long-term goals
  • Sign up for a class
  • Do some journaling
  • Write a short story or poem
  • Plan your day in the morning, and review at bedtime
  • Hire a coach to help you make self-improvements
  • Listen to music you love
  • Do something creative - take pictures, paint/draw, be musical
  • Play with your child or pet – or play by yourself (operative word: play)
  • Have a heart-to-heart conversation with a close friend
  • Hug someone or ask for a hug
  • Acknowledge yourself for accomplishments you’re proud of
  • Feel your fear and take an action anyway (the definition of “courage”)
  • Write a letter to someone who has hurt you, and don’t send it
  • Visualize yourself in a peaceful place
  • Do something of service for another
  • Connect with Nature
  • Meditate
  • Pray or go to spiritual services
  • Practice daily quiet time (in whatever form)
  • Practice daily gratitude (name 5 things you’re grateful for when you wake or retire)
  • Learn about a religion or spiritual practice different from your own
  • Give a gift to someone anonymously
Practicing self-care is well worth the time, energy, and effort. You'll be more present, happier, healthier, and ultimately more effective in all that you do.