Stress: Choose Your Response

Turn Stress into Good Stress by Choosing Your Response

Life is a parade of stress-inducing situations ever looming on the horizon. Which helps explain why, the more you resist stress, resist the inevitable, the more painful it becomes. For instance, say that your stress was an egg. And imagine squeezing and squeezing that egg. It’d finally crack under the pressure, right? What a mess! But if you gently hold the egg, you can easily handle it.

Stress can Make us Stronger, Smarter and Happier

In a Stanford News article by Clifton B. Parker, the author interviewed Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal who talked about her research indicating that “stress can make us stronger, smarter and happier – if we learn how to open our minds to it.”

McGonigal states that “The three most protective beliefs about stress are: 

1) to view your body’s stress response as helpful, not debilitating – for example, to view stress as energy you can use; 

2) to view yourself as able to handle, and even learn and grow from, the stress in your life; and 

3) to view stress as something that everyone deals with, and not something that proves how uniquely screwed up you or your life is.”

... a cascade of health-promoting physical responses

Studies have shown that when we embrace stress, our bodies release a cascade of health-promoting physical responses. A life-saving “biology of courage” that helps you endure and thrive even under the most daunting, stressful conditions.

A mindset reset

In a Q&A with the Rotman School of Business, McGonigal responded to one of the questions with the following: “The profound ‘mindset reset’ that I’m encouraging involves embracing stress because you understand that there is no way to live a stress-free life, and that the presence of stress in our lives is important to being human. We need stress in order to experience the things we want most in life — whether it’s health, happiness, love or growth. I am convinced that when you choose to see the upside of stress, you increase your resilience, add meaning to your life and make more personal connections.”

A story from real life

In 2008, my husband, Stan, of 8 years was diagnosed with Stage IV gastric cancer. “Sorry, the horse is out of the barn” is what we were told over and over. Sorry, too late for surgery, the horse is out of the barn. Sorry, too late for radiation, the horse is out of the barn. “Maybe oncology can help.”  

In no time at all, here we were, our world suddenly turned absolutely upside down. It felt surreal and almost like we were watching ourselves in a movie. Alas, an oncologist who embraced Stan’s situation and wasn’t about to allow the horse to keep running until Stan ran out of breath. Instead, he told us that “Sometimes aggressive cancers respond to aggressive treatment.” Okay then – let’s get started, we responded. Keep in  mind, he continued “you have less than a 5% chance of living 5 years.”

That was a defining moment and one filled with immense stress – the life or death kind…literally. At that moment, we had a choice, we could feel defeated, go the chemo course and hope for the best.

Instead, we chose our stress response. For Stan, it was an attitude of I’m not ready to leave my wife and my family – I still have so much to live for. Stan also looked at the odds and chose to respond by taking on the perspective that somebody is in that 5% that makes it so it’s going to be him.

The stress response I chose was one of combating this evil force. I could see it, it had a shape, it had a colour and it was voracious. Well guess what, I could be voracious back – “no I’m not going to let you win” I thought. 

Our stress responses were a choice and with choice comes power. There is so much more about this journey but today I just want to focus on just one of the techniques for mastering stress – choosing your stress response.

That choice is what kept me going as the caregiver, researcher, on-demand cook, chauffeur, part-time coach, communications head and wife. My choice gave me the courage that I needed to continue although inside I was filled with fear, particularly in the early days.

Later that year...

Months later, as my husband continued to make phenomenal progress and defy the odds, the oncologist shared that when he first saw Stan, he didn’t expect him to live 6  weeks! In fact, he said that the majority of people that don’t choose a positive stress response don’t make it.

There were so many life lessons learned in that time and yes, Stan continues to be super healthy and almost impossible to keep up with as we approach the 12.5 year mark as I write.

Where to start

How can you shift your perspective to choose new ways of responding to stress so that you turn stress into good stress?

This week’s worksheet for my e-zine Brain Food Friday readers guides the reader through a brief exercise of choice.. If you want to receive access to my worksheets, sign up to receive my monthly blog in your inbox by clicking on the round green “click here” button. You’ll start receiving Brain Food Friday in your inbox the first Friday of each month along with a link to a corresponding worksheet.

The Beginner’s Guide to Raising Your Standards

The Beginner's Guide to Raising Your Standards

What are Standards?

Your personal standards refer to the behaviour and actions you are willing to hold yourself to. They are the way in which you have chosen to behave, and the higher your standards, the better your life.

The Benefits of Raising Your Standards

When you have high standards you…

  • feel very good about yourself and others. 
  • become irresistibly attractive to high quality people. 
  • don’t even get near people or situations that cause problems.  

Your Self-esteem and Self-worth increase

  • Living your life according to a set of standards you admire and respect is one of the fastest ways to improve your self-worth and self-esteem – and it’s the most sustainable.  

High standards help you get your needs met.

  • Standards are based on values, so when your standards are high you also have values that inspire you.
  • When you are inspired by your values and acting consistently with them via your standards, your needs will be fulfilled almost automatically. 

Stuff you don’t want stops coming into your life.

  • As you attract more of what you do want, the stuff you don’t want falls by the wayside.  

You tolerate less..instinctively. 

What are some examples of standards?

Key Points about Standards

  • Being unconditionally constructive with everything you say or do with another. 
  • Being fully responsible for everything (good or bad) that happens around you. 
  • When given the choice of being right or being kind, be kind.  
  • Maintaining a reserve that gives you peace. 
  • Telling the truth, even if there is a consequence. 
  • Putting people ahead of results. 
  • Paying your bills on time.
  1.   Personal standards are a choice.  
  2.   There are different levels of standards.  
  3.   Standards are what YOU set for yourself.  
  4.   Standards are not affirmations.  
Key Points_300x200px

The First Step in Raising Your Standards

There are 5 steps to raising your standards and the first is called Clean Sweep. The Clean Sweep Program consists of 100 items which, when completed, give you the vitality and strength you want. You have more natural energy when you are clear with your environment, health and emotional balance, money and relationships.  

Where to start

Start the Clean Sweep program and try to get 5-15 points. This will give you a burst of energy and a reference base for successfully raising your standards. You can then decide what area you would like to work on next and challenge yourself with a new points score for 30, 60 or 90 days from now. Don’t feel pressured to rush it. It’s more important to gradually work on increasing your points total. Please note that there may be some areas that you will never check off…and that’s ok as long as they are not causing you to be distracted or feel incomplete.

This week’s worksheet for my e-zine Brain Food Friday readers walks you through Step One of the 5 Steps. If you want to receive access to my weekly worksheets, sign up to receive my weekly blog in your inbox by clicking on the round green “click here” button. You’ll start receiving Brain Food Friday in your inbox each Friday along with a link to that week’s worksheet starting next week.

Do You Know Where Your Boundaries Are?

Do You Know Where Your Boundaries Are?

Boundaries are the limits or invisible lines you place around yourself for protection. They are the limits of what you can and will do, as well as the limits of what you will and will not accept from others. They are the filters to stop people from infringing upon you with behaviour you feel is unacceptable.

In a sense, boundaries are used to set you apart from others and give you a unique identity. They help define who you are and who you are not. Often your values will play a role in defining your boundaries.

Some examples of boundaries

Emotional: not allowing someone to intimidate you with their anger or fear, not allowing anyone to hurt you intentionally.

Mental: not allowing someone to lie to you, not allowing someone to be passive/aggressive to you, not allowing people to use belittling and demeaning language to you or about you.

Spiritual/religious: not allowing someone to talk disparagingly about your beliefs, not allowing others to force their religious beliefs upon you

Creative: not allowing other people into your physical creative space such as a studio when you are focusing on your art.

Financial: not loaning money to friends and relatives, not borrowing money from friends and relatives, setting limits on the amount you charge on your credit cards.

Relationships: not gossiping,  not allowing others to gossip in your presence, not tolerating toxic relationships.

Boundaries help define who you are – and who you are not

Most of us have boundaries, and everyone’s boundaries will be different. This is part of what sets you apart from other people. By setting limits, you indicate to yourself and others what you stand for and who you are.

Big boundaries are good for your health

Think of it as a reserve of boundaries. When you have more space, you have more room to develop. When you have a larger boundary than you actually need, you have more room for choices.  Boundaries are essential to becoming a healthy adult.

Having boundaries allows you to use your energy the way you want to.

Boundaries become eventually become automatic

At some point your boundaries become automatic, requiring little to no attention on your part. They are a part of setting up your environment to serve you.

Even negative boundaries can become automatic, so the key is to be deliberate about establishing the boundaries you want and need.

Where to start

There are 5 steps to extending your boundaries and the first is to become aware of your boundaries.

This week’s worksheet for my e-zine Brain Food Friday readers walks you through Step One of the 5 Steps. If you want to receive access to my weekly worksheets, sign up to receive my weekly blog in your inbox by clicking on the round green “click here” button. You’ll start receiving Brain Food Friday in your inbox each Friday along with a link to that week’s worksheet.

Resilience is…

Resilience is …

You don’t need to be reminded that we’re now into our 14th month of a world-wide pandemic. We’re all experiencing it differently but the one thing that we all likely have in common is that we are tired of being on this Covid wheel of life without any real opportunity for renewal. I’m not a marathon runner by any means; but it seems to me that it’s like being on a marathon with a moving finish line. That in itself is an exhausting thought.

Leadership in challenging times

According to authors Bruce J. AvolioT, William L. Gardner in a paper entitled Authentic leadership development: Getting to the root of positive forms of leadership:

“Leadership has always been more difficult in challenging times, but the unique stressors facing organizations throughout the world today call for a renewed focus on what constitutes genuine leadership. Public, private, and even volunteer organizations are addressing challenges that run the gamut from ethical meltdowns to terrorism and SARS. What constitutes the normal range of functioning in these conditions is constantly shifting upwards as new challenges, technologies, market demands, and competition emerge. We suggest that such challenges have precipitated a renewed focus on restoring confidence, hope, and optimism; being able to rapidly bounce back from catastrophic events and display resiliency; helping people in their search for meaning and connection by fostering a new self-awareness; and genuinely relating to all stakeholders (associates, customers, suppliers, owners, and communities).”

Calm and Confident

This idea of bouncing back or as the authors state “rapidly bounce back” is part of the formula of resilience but the other important component is personal growth. According to the American Psychological Association, “As much as resilience involves “bouncing back” from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth.”

Back in another life, I used to ask myself “how much broader do my shoulders really need to be?” every time I encountered a tough time. What I didn’t realize is that I was making the connection between resilience and personal growth.

Very often, the difference between success and failure is resilience. The more resilient we are, the easier it is to navigate challenges confidently and emerge successfully on the other side.

More and more, resilience is a quality we will ALL need to cultivate. The world is changing quickly, and we are faced with more challenges than ever. If we can stay calm, confident, and flexible during tough times, we are more likely to thrive.

Reflection Questions:

What are some difficulties you are facing in your life right now?

How are you responding to these challenges?

How might you alter your response to be more calm, confident and resilient?



Work at Home or Live at Work

I’ll be brief in my remarks today but wanted to draw your attention to the great work that the Diversity Institute at the Ted Rogers School of Business at Ryerson University (and their partners) is doing. Their latest report is entitled “Work at Home or Live at Work: The complexities of new working arrangements.”

This report focuses on the experience of working from home and workers who have had to continue going in to their place of employment. The report also focuses on the future or work now that alternative options have opened up. I encourage you to read through the report and would be interested to hear from you about your take away from the report. 

Before you go off to read the report, don’t forget that we are still offering our highly-validated “Working from Home” personalized assessment.

You will be redirected to the appropriate page on the Diversity Institute’s website.

The Working from Home Personalized Assessmenting

Get customized tips for Working from Home based on your unique behavioural style. 

This micro report is brief at 7 pages but very relevant to today’s working environment. 

The report will provide insight into:

  • Your primary communication style
  • Your remote working tips
  • How to best communicate with people whose primary communication styles fall into one of 8 categories.
It only takes 10 minutes to complete the questionnaire and your personalized report will arrive in your inbox instantly (so make sure you enter your correct email address when you sign on).

One more thing! Please share this link with your colleagues and friends. There is no obligation – this is our COVID gift to all.

10 Life Lessons from a Stoic Master

10 Life Lessons from a Stoic Master

Why is it that we tend to put our own personal development on the back burner? The first thing that often comes up is “no time.” Is that true? Do you really acknowledge that it is true? Or, is it a default response? What would it take for you to change that and make yourself a priority?

Wisdom from Seneca

Seneca was a “Roman philosopher, statesman, orator, and tragedian. He was Rome’s leading intellectual figure in the mid-1st century CE and was virtual ruler with his friends of the Roman world between 54 and 62, during the first phase of the emperor Nero’s reign.” according to Britannica.com. Seneca was a stoic philosopher.

According to Wikipedia, “Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions; the philosophy holds that becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allows one to understand the universal reason (logos)”

Most of the time we are not living life but simply existing - allowing life to happen..

Watch this video ... for you!

I would encourage and challenge you to watch this 16-minute video entitled “10 Life Lessons from the Stoic Master Seneca.”

As much as I hate giving away the 10 lessons, here they are; but, you have to promise to watch the video!

The 10 Lessons

  • 1. Exercise Your Mind Daily
  • 2. Heal Yourself
  • 3. When Hungry Eat, When Tired Sleep
  • 4. Seek Your Own Applause
  • 5. Learn the Art of Contentment
  • 6. Live for Others
  • 7. Boldly Face the Struggles of Life
  • 8. Find an Anchor, Be an Anchor
  • 9. Don’t Just Live Long, Live Wide
  • 10. Create Your Own Philosophy

Once you’ve watched the video, I encourage you to reflect and choose one of the 10 lessons to focus on for your personal development. What will it take?