Stressed Out?

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out.

Many of us can relate to these words from the Twenty One Pilots song Stressed Out. We don’t like stress. We try to avoid it, and when we feel it we try to get rid of it. We blame stress for keeping us from doing things that challenge us. We use it as an excuse when we don’t want to take on another project or activity. Stress has become a buzzword in our conversations:

  • I’m so stressed!
  • The stress is killing me!
  • Don’t stress me out!

Actually, stress is a natural part of who we are. It is simply a physiological change in our bodies when we experience fear, discomfort, or challenge. Stress can be bad for us, but it can also be good.

In her book, The Upside of Stress, Kelly McGonigal talks about the benefits of stress. “The latest science reveals that stress can make you smarter, stronger, and more successful. It helps you learn and grow. It can even inspire courage and compassion.” She adds,

The best way to manage stress isn’t to reduce or avoid it, but rather to rethink and even embrace it.

This seems contradictory to everything we have been taught about stress, and is therefore difficult to believe. However, the research supports her claim.

My own experience tells me that she is right.

I remember being afraid to speak in front of groups, and even more fearful of dealing with conflict situations. However, my career depended upon me doing these things on a regular basis. When I learned to think differently about the stress I experienced before any of these activities, I found that it gave me more energy and focus. The stress didn’t go away. Even after years of doing these things, I still feel stress. But instead of be avoiding it or trying to get rid of it, I try to embrace it.

How do you make this shift? According to McGonigal, its quite simple. You change your mindset about stress. “Adopting a more positive view of stress reduces what we usually think of stress-related problems and helps people thrive under high levels of stress.”

Dictionary.com list these synonyms for stress: significance, meaning, emphasis, consequence; weight, value, worth. When we feel stress, it is a sign that what is causing the stress has meaning for us, or else we would not be stressed about it. Studies also show that people who experience stress have a more meaningful life and a stronger sense of purpose.

If you avoid stress, you will never accomplish anything of significance.

Try shifting your thinking about stress with these five ideas:

  1. When you feel stress about something, ask yourself, “What is the significance of this for me?  or What is the value that it holds?
  2. Take a values assessment. You can find one here, or create your own. Knowing your core values will help you rethink why you experience stress.
  3. Put this message on your laptop or bathroom mirror, “A little stress can be a good thing.”
  4. When you have to do something that makes you stressed, embrace the stress as a positive energy to help you succeed.
  5. Find a coach to help you shift your thinking about the stressors in your life. A good coach will guide you through a process of changing your mindset about your fears, self-doubt, and barriers to success. Contact me for a free consultation to learn more.

We all get stress out. It is how we view that stress that can either help us or harm us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Attitude of Gratitude

I have been keeping a gratitude journal for several years now. A firm believer in its benefits, I recommend it whenever I have the opportunity. Spending time each day thinking about things and people for which I am grateful, and actually writing them down, helps me remember how great my life is.

The practice is particularly helpful during hard times, and we’ve had a number of those lately. On these days, it is sometimes difficult to come up with five things to write down, but doing so shifts my focus from what is going wrong to what is going well. Again, I am reminded that even in hard times, I am fortunate.

I haven’t gotten bored with the practice of keeping a gratitude journal, but I do sometimes wonder if I’m going deep enough. This morning, I was grateful to come across an article by Master Coach Melody Wilding. In this article, Wilding gives twelves prompts to help boost a gratitude practice. They are excellent suggestions for engaging in deeper thinking about gratefulness.

For instance, number 11 asks what mistake or failure might you be grateful for. If you’re like me, you could write quite a few pages on this topic!

My first marriage ended in divorce. Going through the process of separation and divorce was difficult, My husband and I were believers in “until death do us part,” and we are both ministers. It was difficult for us to admit that we had failed at our marriage vows. Practicing gratitude helped me make peace with our decision, and become a happier person.

I have always believed that every experience in life has something to offer us if we are willing to learn from it. Even our worst lapse in judgement, or the most devastating crisis can provide something for which to be thankful.

What are you grateful for today?

*Photo taken at the Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center in Phoenix, AZ

Creating a Trust-Based Culture

One essential aspect to moving an organization forward is the establishment of trust. This may seem obvious, but too often change agents neglect to take the time to establish a foundation of trust before they try to make significant changes. This is true both for leaders within organizations and outside consultants and coaches contracted to assist with reorganization or transformation.

In a recent article at Inc.com, Marissa Levin, Founder and CEO of Successful Culture, discusses research that shows the significance of trust in the success of an organization. The article is directed to the business world, but also applies to faith communities and nonprofits. She suggests eight ways to build trust in an organization. Here I paraphrase Levin and add my thoughts on how faith communities can benefit from her recommendations. 

Recognize Excellence. Public and immediate recognition of a job well-done increases productivity and encourages others. Congregations and nonprofits depend heavily on volunteers. Often a small group of people do a majority of the work. How does your leadership publicly celebrate volunteer and staff contributions? Is it possible to have a time during worship to recognize what people have accomplished throughout the week? Note that a generalize “thank you” to everyone, or celebrating the mediocre may do more harm than good. It sets a tone that is not beneficial to the mission of the organization. 

Induce “Challenge Stress.” If people are not challenged, they will not step up. Attainable challenges are good for all organizations, including faith communities and nonprofits. I have worked with too many congregations that try to cater to the whims of the membership while expecting little to nothing from them. When I coach churches, I encourage them to challenge themselves with SMART goals that will move them into the future God has for them. Healthy congregations have healthy leaders that can create “challenge stress” – enough to stress to combat complacency, but not enough to overwhelm or discourage their flock. 

Empower employees [and volunteers] to choose their work patterns and habits. As Levin points out, staff would give up a raise for more autonomy and control of their work environment. Of course, we have certain boundaries and guidelines for what people do in the name of the church or organization, but we can be permission-giving within those limitations. Leaders who micromanage the mission dishearten and constrain their staff and volunteers. 

Give [people] a voice in their job design. Many congregations and nonprofits “assign” staff and volunteers to projects or committees that need warm bodies. Instead, encourage people to follow their passions to work on the areas of mission of which they are most excited to be a part. Spiritual gifts assessments are good tools for helping members discern their passions and areas of strength. 

Communicate often. Let me repeat this one. Communicate often. Every group that I have worked with has listed communication as a weakness in the organization. If Levin suggests that large corporations need daily communication with direct reports, what does this say to faith communities and nonprofits? If you want to engage people in your mission, keep it before them daily and be specific about expectations and opportunities. If you have a staff, practice direct and daily reporting, and encourage volunteers to report back regularly. Not only will this improve organizational functioning, sharing stories of mission activity will also encourage more people to get involved and financially support the organization.

Intentionally build relationships. This one should be a no-brainer for faith communities, which are in the business of relationship-building. All the major religions espouse having healthy, loving relationships with the divine and other people. For example, Christians are called to be friend to the friendless. Muslims are required to give alms to the poor. Judaism teaches that all humanity are one. Many congregations create small group ministries to encourage fellowship and mutual ministry. However, there are situations where the pastor feels isolated. The relationship between a pastor and member is unique, very different from member-to-member friendships. Pastors would do well to find friendships outside of their church, perhaps with other pastors or nonprofit leaders. Intentionality is the key.

Facilitate whole-person growth. I have known pastors and nonprofit leaders who never take their continuing education time. This is a big mistake. Continuing education and sabbaticals are opportunities to grow intellectually and spiritually. When you give so much of yourself to serving others, it is easy to get burned out or complacent. Faith and nonprofit leaders are no different than anyone else. We need rest, renewal and intellectual stimulation. In my workbook for Presbyterian ruling elders, I advocate that volunteer leaders also take sabbaticals from leadership and intentionally attend to their spiritual growth. Whole-person growth is not just for leadership. Faith communities can contribute to a well-rounded, intentional personal development of all members. Jesus said, “I have come so that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10 paraphrased)

How do our organizations provide whole-person growth to our members and staffs? 

Show vulnerability. As Levin indicates, the research shows that leader vulnerability increases trust and cooperation. Some faith leaders are afraid to be vulnerable with their members. They believe that they need to be an example of true faith and strength. Healthy leaders are able to show appropriate vulnerability and ask for help when they need it. Followers need to know that their leaders are human, that they are not only trustworthy, but trusting as well. This is also true for subordinate staff members. Team leaders who ask their team members for help and acknowledge that team members have knowledge and skills that they do not, establish a higher level of trust, respect and cooperation.

As Levin states, the bottom line is that trust-based culture is able to attract and retain high-quality workers and achieve greater results. A trust-based culture begins with leadership. Two questions for faith and nonprofit leaders to consider:

  1. How would you rate the level of trust in your organization?
  2. What steps do you want to take to strengthen the culture of trust?