December 16, 2009

Forgiving brings peace and lessens health risks

Grudges and negative feelings affect your mind and your body. When you don’t forgive, you’re under stress which drives up blood pressure and wears down the heart says a psychology professor at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. He and a Harvard University colleague conducted two studies that were published recently.

Midwesterners take special note
We tend to be more easily offended than people from other parts of the United States. We are called thin-skinned because we tend to care probably too much about what others think of us and can be slow to respond when we’ve been treated with a lack of respect or civility.

The holiday season, the time to make resolutions is a good time to work on being more assertive and more forgiving.

For more on the studies, read the Des Moines Register Dec. 14 article: Grudges are hard on your heart, student contends. Subhead: The negativity will drive up blood pressure, a Luther professor says.

November 24, 2009

How grateful are you?

Will you struggle with being grateful this Thanksgiving? In a year of high unemployment, an uncertain economy, ongoing war and other problems, can you find things and people to be thankful for?

Consider these ideas to increase gratefulness
Think of a person important in your past. This is a person who made a difference in your life but you have not told how much you appreciated the help or guidance. Write a page about that and call, or better yet, visit that person and express your gratitude.

Keep a gratitude journal for a week. Each evening, write down three things you’re grateful for that day. Maybe it’s potable water, a bed to sleep in and shelter. Many in the world don’t have those basic necessities.

Take the gratitude survey to measure your appreciation about the past. It’s on the Authentic Happiness site from the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center. You’ll need to register and then you can use the resources, take the tests.

Gratitude is about being content
Gratitude can be cultivated. You can decrease your desire for consumer goods, be less envious of other’s positions or wealth if you look beyond your immediate surroundings.

Instead of being competitive and concerned about being self-reliant, think about how many have helped you and continue to help. Do you believe you have enough and should share? What can you give to others… physical things or emotional support?

Happy Thanksgiving. May you have a grateful heart. It improves your well-being.

A longer article from the Utah State University Extension, Cultivating Gratitude

I thank Ellen, Lee and Kristin who presented these ideas Sunday.

September 24, 2009

Know where you are headed…particularly in a recession

Yesterday I left work to go to yoga class…and turned the wrong way onto Stange Road. A habit, I make a left turn to go home. I needed to make a right turn to go downtown. I knew where I was headed but momentarily forgot.

That happens at workplaces
Companies and organizations forget where they are headed or worse, don’t know. Lethargy can permeate the organization that lacks goals and clear vision. Insert a strategic inflection point such as a recession and watch the stress build. It erupts in disagreements, unkind words and rumors…a great uncertainty.

In ‘Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points that Challenge Every Company,’ Andrew Grove of Intel Corporation writes, “A strategic inflection point is when something is changing in a big way, when something is different, yet when you’re so busy trying to survive that the significance of the change only becomes clear in retrospect. The ability to recognize the winds have shifted and to take appropriate action is crucial.”

If you work for an organization that doesn’t know where it’s headed, you need to think about where you are headed.
• Ask your boss how you can best help the organization.
• Figure out how to get along with coworkers and help them.
• Step out of the current fog to look at what you accomplished before this strategic inflection point, what others have done in similar situations so you can try to produce more or better work, be more innovative. Learn from history but don’t be attached to it emotionally.

Grove says your career is literally your business. You own it as a sole proprietor. You have one employee—yourself. You need to accept ownership of your career, your skills, your knowledge and the timing of your moves.

Take a right turn
Grove: Timing means acting when not everything is known. When you’re caught in the turbulence of a strategic inflection point, the sad fact is that instinct and judgment are all you’ve got to guide you.

I think now is the time to build up your company of one, particularly if you work in a paralyzed organization or company. Learn new skills. Seek out information and ideas of what others are doing. And then you can more clearly think about whether you want to stay in your current job after the recession or be poised to seek something new. It will keep you energized and out of the office strife of incivilities.

Andrew S. Grove is currently Senior Advisor at Intel Corporation.
His book ‘Only the Paranoid Survive’ is one of eight in the strategy section of the book ‘The 100 Best Business Books of All Time.’

June 04, 2009

Is your funny bone broken?

Humor may be one of best antidotes to stressful situations, says David Sobel, M.D., in an article ‘Good Humor, Good Health’. He says laughter needs to be a regular part of your life to get its full benefit. Laughter breaks the ice, builds trust and draws us together into a common state of well-being.

The doctor offers ways to use humor to stay healthy.

Laugh at yourself
“If you expect to do everything right all of the time, then you can't afford to have a sense of humor. But if you can allow yourself the inevitable mistakes and stupidities that we all make, then you can laugh at yourself. Being able to laugh at yourself helps you to accept that your shortcomings don't really matter that much. The people who are able to laugh at themselves have a much stronger sense of self-worth and higher self-esteem than those who can't.”

Hang out with happy people
Sobel says, “Make sure there are people in your life whom you find it fun to be around - ones who lighten the atmosphere and make you feel good about yourself. Often people who aren't especially witty as a rule can be razor-sharp when they get together with someone who inspires them, amuses them, or just loosens them up.”

Expose yourself to humor
One way is to post what amuses you. Currently on my work cubicle walls….
--a Maxine cartoon that says “Some days the best thing about my job is that my chair spins.”

--something I found and typed up in large letters to enjoy:
“Some people try to turn back their odometers. Not me, I want people to know why I look this way. I’ve traveled a long way and some of the roads weren’t paved.”

--and of course a Dilbert cartoon, mine is about project management since I do some of that.
In part, “Phase one will be unwarranted optimism supported by delusions of competence…Resources will be allocated based on misinformation and favoritism.”

How can you look at these and not smile during the work day?

What do you have posted or what will you post today to delight your funny bone?

Laughter contributes to good health as well as civility. Read the full article at

April 24, 2009

Celebrating people in action

That’s the theme of National Volunteer Month. A web site launched last summer has detailed information on how and where Americans volunteer.

I should have included volunteering in my list of things to do to get away from screen times this week.

When people are worried about jobs, debt and lots of other things, volunteering is a good stress reliever.

“Evidence suggests that volunteering has a positive effect on social psychological factors, such as one’s sense of purpose. In turn, positive social psychological factors are correlated with lower risks of poor physical health. Volunteering may enhance a person’s social networks to buffer stress and reduce risk of disease.”*

Iowa ranks 6th in the nation for volunteer work
The average Iowan volunteers 38.3 hours per year.
Lots of interesting information and research findings on the web site,

Plan to volunteer …..very soon.
And should it be with a group of coworkers…..all the better.

*Corporation for National and Community Service, Office of Research and Policy Development. The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research, Washington, DC 2007.

April 20, 2009

Time to uplug--it’s 2009 Turnoff Week

The goal: don’t use screened media for recreation. So that’s the television, computer games, social media sites, handheld devices….you get the picture.

What should you do with all this time you will have?
Sit on the porch
Play a board game
Read a book
Visit with the neighbors
Work in your yard or garden
Clean house
Ride a bike
Go to a lecture, concert, baseball game
Work on a jigsaw puzzle
Exercise—swim, do yoga, take a walk
Listen to music, make music
Visit a library, an art exhibit, a park

What does this have to do with civility in the workplace?
P.M. Forni, founder of the Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, cites 11 reasons as the cause of rudeness in his 2008 book ‘The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude’.
“…stress is a major cause or catalyst of hostility, incivility and bullying.”

Here’s a great lead-in to an article in an online newsletter out of the United Kingdom:
“Just when they thought things couldn't get any worse, many organizations are seeing employee morale plummet as long hours, anxiety, uncertainty and stress sends productivity and engagement levels through the floor.”

Another reason Forni cites as a cause of rudeness is not needing others. “..we feel that we do not need others that much as long as an alluring and comforting screen keeps burning bright at the very heart of our lives.”

Physical and mental activity in your away from work hours, talking to people—those kinds of things will help you return to work with a more civil attitude.

Make a concerted effort this week to turn off the screens
I’ll try too. Just think of the things we might do. Let me know how that goes and what you did with your time.

From Nielson 2006
The average U.S. household has 2.55 people.
The average U.S. household has 2.73 televisions. (Maybe that will drop with HD TV?)

Center for Screen-Time Awareness,

April 02, 2009


A masquerade makes you think it’s something it’s not. It’s a disguise or something concealed.

David Kundtz in his book “Stopping: How to Be Still When You Have to Keep Going” explains a masquerade is like a pile of rocks that gets bigger and bigger. When does that pile of rocks become a mountain?

He says the pace, demands and choices today are a masquerade making us believe we should be able to juggle more each day but really these demands have become something else. We just don’t realize it.

Never-ending tasks create stress which can lead to incivility
Are you on holiday if you call in or answer email? Are you communicating if you don’t listen to the responses? Does participating in social networking sites make you social? More masquerades.

Kundtz advocates stopping. “Stopping is doing nothing as much as possible, for a definite period of time (one second to one month) for the purpose of becoming more fully awake and remembering who you are.”

He says ‘doing nothing’ should not be confused with a total lack of activity. Stopping lets you get in touch with the essential meanings of your life and remember what is truly important so you can keep your priorities in order. It helps you know what you want to achieve and how you want to behave.

Are you simply moving through your days or experiencing them?
Time spent doing nothing can awaken what is most meaningful and valuable to you. It allows you to slow down so you don’t miss the important things. Stopping is moments of remembering, awareness and contemplation. It can be a time of critical reflection.

Sometime in the next several days (if not today), I encourage you to try stopping.

March 31, 2009

April Fool's in the workplace—at a stressful time

Humor may be one of our best antidotes to stressful situations, writes David S. Sobel M.D. in Good Humor, Good Health. Some of his advice includes try humor instead of anger and use humor to handle anxiety.

So here we are at a day before April Fool’s Day, a time of good hearted pranks, hoaxes and giggles according to People are apprehensive about their jobs and the economy.

Laughter is a remedy, something that can bring back some civility in the workplace. Will others believe April Fool's jokes are valid news? Don’t those who originated the pranks don't have any 'real' work to do?

I think humor is an important part of our real work if it helps us join with others to relieve stress and tension with a hearty, sidesplitting belly laugh. Here are two videos to start you down the road to laughter.

Happy April Fool’s Day a day early.

Sleep Better, Save More (2:29)

Try this file in realPlayer: Portapotty.wmv

Thanks to Dennis Hinkamp and my sister for sending laughter my way.

March 19, 2009

Relieve stress by getting back to nature

We walked out with our luggage because the road was too muddy for the chiva to drive it.

Recession anxiety—we probably all have it. Sometimes we deal with it by indulging in comfort food or inexpensive fast food. Sometimes we escape to the movies or read a book. We eliminate vacations. What we may not do is look at our actions to assess them. What’s good for our physical and mental health and what is not?

I started reading ‘Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder’ by Richard Louv on my Panama trip. He talks about the growing obsession with order in housing developments with rules (no tree houses allowed), about overly-structured lives and unwillingness to leave air-conditioned buildings. He says direct exposure to nature is essential for physical and emotional health.

Nature awakens our senses and helps take away the feelings of containment and isolation
The book advocates wandering in natural landscapes for therapy and restoration and cites research that shows how strongly and positively people react to open, grassy landscapes, scattered stands of trees, meadows, water, winding trails and elevated views.

Jerry Hirschberg, founding director of Nissan Design International, the Japanese auto company’s design center in America, said the Japanese recognized Americans’ creativity comes from our freedom and physical space and mental space.

I spent three Panamanian days with my two daughters and son-in-law living with no electricity, an outhouse, an outdoor shower. Walking was our only mode of travel. The days were filled with hikes, conversations, and observations. We all helped prepare meals cooked on a propane-powered stove. We got 10-12 hours of sleep each night. This area is rain forest so rain moved through several times each day and night pinging off the tin roof.

We then spent three days in Panama City, population three million. We did wonderful things—museums, walking tours, eating at a fish market and a day on an island beach. My Minnesota daughter, a forester living on the river bordering Canada, and I both thought the rain forest time was the highlight of the trip. It was a therapeutic escape because we had no deadlines or demands; we had nature and one another.

Nature awakens our senses and gives us perspective about our lives and our organizations. Find nature in evening walks, in weekend jaunts to a park, in work outside. Preparing meals from scratch, particularly if you can use local produce, is another sweet connection to nature. Nature refreshes and gives perspective to return to work.

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” – Rachel Carson

March 03, 2009

Observing rest notes in life

We rush. We obsess. We seek perfection. We wear down. We need to be in contact via technology. The busyness of life encompasses us and often makes us less observant, less tolerant and less respectful.

Be still and silent.
Lose yourself even for a few moments to observe a sunrise, a sunset, a snow, the rain. Listen. Breathe deeply. I’m part way through reading ‘Stopping: How to Be Still When You Have to Keep Going’ by David Kundtz and he is making me think about this.

Several occurrences told me this was the post I should write this week. The days have more light. Each day is a celebration that spring is getting closer for those of us in the snowy parts of the Northern hemisphere.

On Sunday I advised a friend to take the day off. I participated in a discussion group about spirituality that evolved into talking about stopping and appreciating the generosities we have. I’d been trying to write a different post…in fact, been trying for more than a week. And then it occurred to me it wasn’t time for that post.

So take a deep breathe with me. Practice stopping and expressing gratitude each day. Respect and give thanks for the earth, for the people we love and those who try our patience. Think about your values. It can contribute to civility in the workplace. I’ll write more about the book some day. Just let me tell you Kundtz writes about three kinds of stopping: stillpoints, stopovers and grinding halts.

I’m taking off this week for Panama to visit my daughter and son-in-law who are Peace Corps volunteers there. It’s a stopover. There’ll be no post on this blog next week and just maybe the one I’ve struggled with will come easier when I return. I’ll be observing some rest notes in life. I encourage you to do the same, to plan rests whether for five minutes or eight days as I’m doing.

February 12, 2009

Change: a salute to Darwin and Lincoln

Today is Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday. It is also Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
--Charles Darwin, English naturalist and author of the theory of evolution by natural selection (1809 – 1882)

“The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”
Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States (1809 – 1865)

Change: attitude and behavior
A post from last January

December 31, 2008

May you have courage in the new year

Dorothy meets the Cowardly Lion, from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz first edition, 1900.

to act out what you say you believe,
to stand up for what is right,
to face difficulties with determination,
to be accountable and to hold others accountable,
to share information and resources,
to discuss conflicts and resolve them,
and to never stop learning.

“Courage, also known as bravery, will, intrepidity, and fortitude, is the ability to confront fear, pain, risk/danger, uncertainty, or intimidation. “Physical courage" is courage in the face of physical pain, hardship, or threat of death, while "moral courage" is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, or discouragement.”
---"Courage." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

“With courage you will dare to take risks, have the strength to be compassionate, and the wisdom to be humble. Courage is the foundation of integrity.”
-- Keshavan Nair, author and speaker

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
-- Winston Churchill, British politician (1874-1965)

The Courage Institute (based in Western Galilee, Israel and Elkins Park, Pennsylvania) lists 25 statements that describe a team's candor, purpose, will, rigor and risk that helps assess ‘courage’. Assess your team; gauge your personal courage,

On the same Web site, read
Leading in Times of Uncertainty and Turbulence - When the Wolf Is Knocking and the Fear Won't Go Away
In which the authors elaborate on the five courage factors:
Candor: The courage to speak and hear the truth.
Purpose: The courage to pursue lofty and audacious goals.
Will: The courage to inspire hope, spirit and promise.
Rigor: The courage to invent better protocols and make them “stick.”
Risk: The courage to empower, trust and invest in relationships.

It takes courage to be true to yourself. Be brave.

October 08, 2008

The reliable way to buy happiness

Arthur Brooks in his 2008 book ‘Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America--and How We Can Get More of It’ says the only way to “buy” happiness is to give your money away to charity.

He says people who give money to charity are 43 percent more likely than nongivers to say they are very happy. And volunteers are 42 percent more likely to be very happy than nonvolunteers.

Why does charity correlate to happiness?
Psychologists refer to the “helper’s high” and believe it is due to endorphins. Charity lowers stress hormones that cause unhappiness. Charity brings a sense of control in a chaotic world. We can be proactive solving problems and thus feel empowered. Helping another can relieve our own unhappiness if we focus on someone else’s problems instead of our own.

The more people give and volunteer, the happier they are
It’s the time of year that United Way campaigns are underway in our work places. And Iowa Shares also in my workplace. You have infinite choices of where to give your money and your time. This coming year will probably be difficult for many in our county, so do yourself a favor, help others by giving away some time and money.

Brooks says there’s “evidence that giving is habitual, and –like good manners, good taste and other fine things in life—the earlier people are exposed to the joys of charity, the more likely they are to practice giving throughout their lives and enjoy its amazing benefits.”

May 22, 2008

No regrets

Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.
--Sydney Harris, American journalist and author (1917-1986)

It’s a three-day weekend for most of us.
1. Leave work at work.
2. Slow down. Rethink spending the weekend devoted to the upkeep of lawn and garden, the house task list, the frantic rush to get somewhere (anywhere).
3. Pause long enough to remember the meaning of Memorial Day---paying tribute and relationships.

Memorial Day began as a time to honor fallen veterans. Today we remember any loved ones who have died.

I love walking cemeteries because it reminds me of my childhood Memorial Days when mom cut peonies and irises, put them in saved Miracle Whip jars that had been properly washed and the labels removed. Then she’d dig holes with an old butcher knife near numerous graves and leave the jars of flowers. Along the way she’d explain how the person was related and reminisce about that person.

I love walking cemeteries because I’ve done it in so many states in my genealogy hunts. It’s entertaining to imagine what life was like for those people and sometimes it’s really sad to look at graves of children buried near the parents.

Do some civil things so you can work toward ‘no regrets’

Call a relative or friend. Walk around the cemetery with a watering can and give those wilting flowers a drink on a grave of some unknown person. Write a letter. Read for pleasure. Enjoy nature. Spend time with people. Spend time alone. Connect in your mind with those who have gone, either from earth or from your life. Enjoy your three-day weekend.