Think for a minute of all the voices of authority that exist in your life. Your list most likely includes people you trust and admire, books by authors and experts, perhaps religious figures you know. We tend to put our trust (sometimes exclusively) in external authorities.
Higher Demands, Less Energy The American culture is becoming increasingly a place of higher demands. Employers are trying to squeeze more and more from their employees. Expectations for productivity are higher than ever. Competition is fiercer than ever. And compensation isn't keeping up with the demands.
The average American worker is not only given less annual vacation time than counterparts around the world, he or she actually takes less of this time than the others. Americans are working harder and longer than ever before.
A consistent theme I hear from the leaders and senior managers I coach is the insane amount of work they are engaging in on a daily basis - almost to the point of complete breakdown. And they all feel somewhat trapped in this never-ending cycle. It is definitely not a sustainable strategy.
Energy Is Renewable
One of the things I've learned is that life is all about energy management. Truth is, time is a finite resource. But energy is renewable. We all have the opportunity to make choices that can actually increase our energy. It all depends on how we manage this amazing resource.
I read a profound article in the Harvard Business Review written by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy, "Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time" (Oct. 2007). In the article, they suggest that "energy comes from four main wellsprings in human beings: the body, emotions, mind, and spirit. In each, energy can be systematically expanded and regularly renewed by establishing specific rituals— behaviors that are intentionally practiced and precisely scheduled, with the goal of making them unconscious and automatic as quickly as possible."
I love this perspective because it provides hope that we all have it within our power to do something about our energy which is so often lagging and drooping from the incessant demands we face regularly: we can learn to recognize the energy-depleting behaviors / activities we engage in; and we can learn what instead energizes us and so develop ways to more intentionally step into those.
It's all about energy management.
How Strengths Renew Energy
This is why I coach and consult people and organizations around strengths. Strengths are in fact wired into us - they are our natural preferences - innate talents that come from the natural flow of electricity (energy) via certain neural pathways (each one leading to certain specific behaviors). Because of the chemicals released in these pathways, the pathways become ingrained in us. If they're our natural preference pathways, they're pleasant for us to stimulate so we tend to stimulate them more than others. And the more we use them, the more we strengthen them. It's a powerful feedback loop.
So when we pay attention to what our natural strengths are, and when we choose to use them more intentionally, we are putting ourselves in an energy flow that is not only more efficient and fulfilling but also more sustainable, renewable. Using our innate resources (like strengths) actually increases energy because it's aligning with our unique individual biology - it's stewarding our brains effectively by leveraging those neural pathways with their accompanying electricity and chemicals.
When we are not using our natural preferences, according to neuroscientists our brains are actually expending 100x the energy than when we're leading with our natural preferences (our innate wiring and talents). One hundred times! So instead of making deposits, we're making massive withdrawals from our energy bank unnecessarily. Our brains are wearing out. And consequently, our whole feeling of energy lags and droops. We're not being "fully alive."
It's all about energy management.
Take the StrengthsFinder Assessment
If you haven't taken the strengthsfinder assessment yet to discover your top natural strength preferences, you need to! There are two ways to take the test: buy the book StrengthsFinder 2.0 from Amazon for $14.00, or go directly online to the Gallup site, pay $9.99, and take the test. What a small price to pay to radically increase your ability to renew your energy!
My work as a coach and consultant is to unpack these results for people and organizations. I give them opportunity to think through and strategize how they can be more intentional about using their strengths in every aspect of their lives - work, relationships, spirituality. When people take this work seriously and really engage via their strengths, the results are always amazing - people have more energy, more fulfillment, more effective productivity, less stress, more of a feeling of flow, more of being, as Schwartz and McCarthy describe, "effortlessly absorbed." Who wouldn't want all that??
It's all about energy management.
It's time for people to stop trying to simply work harder and start working smarter. Leverage your natural preferences, your strengths. Let your brain work effectively and efficiently the way it was designed to. Learn what makes you unique from everyone else. And then embrace it, step into it, stand in your truth, and let yourself be the powerful person you are. Develop a truly sustainable life.
You want more energy? Try managing and stewarding the energy you have. I guarantee: you'll find your energy is in deed a renewable resource.
If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for keynote speakers or workshop teachers for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it. And interested in strengths coaching? Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We all read about it in the news last Monday. Many of us saw the video. Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax, 31, a Guatemalan immigrant who went to New York City in order to help his family back home, made his living as a day laborer, and when the economy crumbled, so did his job prospects. He wound up homeless, first living in shelters and then finally on the streets. A grainy surveillance video trained on a street in Jamaica, Queens, on April 18 captured the final moments of Mr. Tale-Yax’s life: A couple argues, Mr. Tale-Yax comes to the woman’s aid, the man stabs him in the stomach and runs away.
The video has made headlines across the globe, not just for its brutality, but for the indifference it seems to convey. It shows Mr. Tale-Yax lying face down for more than an hour on a sidewalk on 144th Street, near 88th Road, his life slipping away on the pavement as dozens of people walk past him. Over an hour later, the paramedics arrive to find him lying in a pool of his blood. They pronounce him dead at the scene.
I would be curious to interview the 2 dozen or more people who walked past Hugo as he lay there on the street Monday evening. What did they notice? Anything unusual or just another New York City scene? If they did notice, what did they feel or think as they saw him? Did they immediately assume he was simply another drunk passed out on the street corner? Or they did see him as one of "those" illegal immigrants who shouldn't be here and doesn't deserve the City's help? Did they simply not know he was in any trouble? Did they perhaps naturally or even unconsciously ascribe the whole scene to a normal urban landscape - it's just the way it is here in the City? Did they notice something wrong but assume someone else would call it in to 911? Were they busily on their way to an appointment so they couldn't take the time to stop? Were they afraid to get involved (after all, here in the City even good samaritans get hurt - this story is a good example of that danger)?
Why would over 24 people walk by a hurt and dying man without even stopping? Makes you wonder, doesn't it. What might you have done?
His brother Roland refused to watch the video when he was first told a tape existed, but found he could not avoid it on the local news. He was in shock, he said, that nobody helped his brother.
"Any animal that is hurt on the street, the city or anybody walking by goes to rescue it. But in this case, he saved this woman's life, and where was the conscience of the people around him?" Rolando Tale-Yax said. "They have to realize that it could be a member of their family who is the next victim. … I just hope it doesn't happen again."
Perhaps this sad and tragic story provides some insight as to significant steps you and I can take to act more compassionately as a general life style.
One, change indifference. Contrary to popular opinion that indifference is simply at the core of who we are as humans - it's evidence of our fallen nature - original sin - so we'll sometimes say, "Oh well, it's just the way we are - we're wired for indifference" - recent research shows otherwise.
In reality, there is actually a biological basis for compassion. There is a specific part of our brain that is wired for a compassion response. Experiments with both mothers with their babies and people presented with images of victims of suffering showed similar neurological reactions. The region of the brain associated with positive emotions literally lit up. "This consistency strongly suggests that compassion isn't simply a fickle or irrational emotion, but rather an innate human response embedded into the folds of our brains," writes Dacher Keltner, PhD , a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.
The good news is that an attitude of indifference can therefore be radically changed. It's not in fact who we are as humans. We don't have to shrug our shoulders in a spirit of resignation. We can do something about it.
Two, practice compassion. Recent neuroscience studies suggest that positive emotions are less heritable—that is, less determined by our DNA—than the negative emotions. Other studies indicate that the brain structures involved in positive emotions like compassion are more "plastic"—subject to changes brought about by environmental input. So, as Dr. Keltner observes, "we might think about compassion as a biologically based skill or virtue, but not one that we either have or don't have. Instead, it's a trait that we can develop in an appropriate context."
This is why all of the major religious traditions in the world see compassion as a spiritual practice. And each tradition has developed ways to practice this trait. And here again, the latest neurobiological research shows that our bodies have a built in system to facilitate this practice.
For example, helping others triggers activity in the portions of the brain that turn on when people receive rewards or experience pleasure. Every compassionate act causes a pleasurable physiological response. In addition, behaviors associated with compassionate love—warm smiles, friendly hand gestures, affirmative forward leans—actually produce more oxytocin in the body which is the hormone that promotes feelings of warmth and connection to others. This suggests compassion may be self-perpetuating: being compassionate causes a chemical reaction in the body that motivates us to be even more compassionate. So the more we practice acts of kindness and compassion to others, the more we are rewarded for it and the easier the skill becomes. Transformational spirituality is a practice, a discipline, a developing of ourselves into who we were designed to become.
Three, develop mindfulness. As Mr. Tale-Yax's tragic story indicates, people are often so caught up in their own lives (for whatever reasons) that they don't notice or pay attention. I've seen this in myself at times: I'm walking along the city streets often caught up in my own internal world of thoughts, planning, projections, inner conversations, trying to get some place in a hurry, that I really am missing most of what's around me. If someone would suddenly stop me and quiz me about what I had seen in the last 10 minutes, I would stutter and stammer somewhat incoherently (except about the details of my inner conversations).
One of the key spiritual practices that so many traditions suggest is mindfulness - the ability to step into the present moment - to be truly aware and conscious right now. This, too, is a skill that needs to be cultivated. Try walking somewhere and paying attention to what's around you - what do you hear, see, smell, feel? Try more meditation at home - spend time sitting and becoming more aware of your self, your heart, your body. Widen that attention to what's around you. Really notice.
Four, use empathy. Hugo's brother Roland made the painful observation that if people would simply recognize that the suffering person could be a member of their own family, they would probably respond differently - be more proactive with their compassion. He's describing the use of empathy. The power of empathy is the choice to put ourselves in other people's shoes, to enter their space for a moment, in order to try to understand what they're going through. It's often begins by asking ourselves the simple question, How would I feel - what would I want - if I were in that situation right now? But then it always goes beyond to the next question, What is that person feeling or really wanting or needing? Though our personal responses might differ from that suffering person's, research indicates that the choice to enter into empathy actually helps to motivate altruistic behavior.
Four tangible and siumple ways to overcoming indifference and stepping into compassion. I'm not completely sure how I would have responded last Monday evening had I been walking along the sidewalk where Huge Alfredo Tale-Yux lay dying. I would hope I would've at least stopped to see if he was alright. I really hope I would've also gone beyond that simple step and gotten whatever help I could for him to save his life. Imagine living in a world where people practiced compassion so often that they became really adept at it - a world where indifference was an anomaly rather than the rule. It's time to unleash the powerful biology of our lives and let our true wiring go wild. For the Hugo Alfredo's of the world.