I was looking for a way to stop obsessing over the future. I’d spent my adult life as an underground musician, and it had been wonderful for the large part. The thing is, it wasn’t good for me anymore.
I felt anxious onstage. I felt really uncomfortable with so many people looking at me. I had changed as a person, and yet I continued putting myself through performing even though I hated it.
Have you ever done that? Have you ever continued to do things that you hate because you identify so strongly with what you are doing? If I wasn’t “a musician,” which I had been all of my adult life, then what would I be? It felt as if I would be nothing at all.
Through dabbling with various new musical projects, I became increasingly aware that whatever was going to be creatively fulfilling (if anything), would inevitably lead my mind to obsess over it, sending me into a dreamworld of scenarios where I was the center of everything. Perhaps this is why I continued singing: I wanted to “be something special.”
In my imagination (which was extremely active), singing always seemed so important, and after each gig I would only remember the fun parts (of which there were many too, don’t get me wrong). Then I’d get onstage the next time and think, “What am I doing here?”
The awareness that I was letting dreams and fantasies dictate my life wasn’t profound, it was just a product of getting a little older and thinking, do I really want to live like this for the rest of my life? I looked into ways that I could enjoy the here and now a bit more; ways of appreciating life as it was actually happening, rather than several years later through filtered, distorted, and romanticized memories.
I’d never meditated or done anything that I would have previously disregarded as “hippy rubbish.” I had read something about mindful breathing somewhere.
I didn’t know anything about mindfulness, but I had an impression that it was something that middle-class people did a lot alongside their yoga. I didn’t relate to that image at all. I didn’t realize that it was simply a tool for paying attention to what is happening.
Then one day I focused on my breath while I was on a walk in the local park with my dog, Euro. Suddenly, everything was alive. The world was just beautiful.
At that moment, focusing only on what I could see and sense, my mind went right back to basics, to where I remember it being when I was a very small child. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck (and all over my body) and I couldn’t stop grinning.
Several blackbirds popped their jerky, judgmental eyes out from under some shrubs, bobbing forward for worms and eyeing me up cautiously as I walked past. I didn’t just see a bird and move on. I saw strange, beaked, winged creatures who fly about this land—singing, to boot! (If birds existed only in myth and folklore, they would make elves and unicorns seem positively dull.)
Walking around the park, I was in a calm ecstasy, grinning at everything around me, occasionally wondering if I looked to others like I was on some serious happy pills (but not much caring what other people thought).
I didn’t see trees and move on. I saw wooden beings, some of them hundreds of years older than me, growing out of the ground and displaying leaves and petals reaching up into the sky. Why we were there together, swapping gases, was a beautiful mystery.
A year or so after this experience, and others like it, I realized that what I was practicing that day was “ecotherapy” or “nature therapy,” although I didn’t know about those terms at the time. I’ve since trained to become an ecotherapist to help other people find this amazing connection to nature, and this is honestly something I would never have seen myself doing five years ago.
Somehow, when I became an adult, I had forgotten what nature meant to me as a child. I think most of us are connected to nature deeply as children, and yet we get easily distracted from it as we get older. I don’t think I am unique in that respect at all.
One day, back when I was seven or eight years of age, I was allowed to set my alarm clock for the early morning hours. I went to the local park with a notebook and pen to see what animals I could find.
I saw my first ever hedgehog, and it felt like meeting a visitor from another dimension. I just couldn’t believe that there was this unique spiky creature in front of me, living completely independently, getting on with its weird little life in shrubs and muck. I still get a feeling of awe when I recall that moment, watching it curl up in the early morning dew.
I grew up as a proper city boy in the suburbs of Liverpool, England. Somehow, when I became a teenager, I did what many of us do and I got so caught up with ‘finding out who I was’ that I neglected what was happening on the earth around me for decades! I had fun for the most part, but I spent so much of my life lost in fantasy and living in honor of some so-called ‘identity’ that I forgot how important nature was to me.
Earth is a wonderland. The diversity of life that we encounter each and every day (and often ignore) is mind-boggling. Creatures that crawl, fly, and speak are everywhere. The vivid colors present in giant plants that grow from tiny seeds is just awesome (in the traditional ‘awe-some’ sense of the word)!
It took me years to comfortably move away from a life in music to be doing the things in life that I am doing now. I think changing our callings in life always comes with a sense of grief to some degree; we attach and identify with the things we do quite naturally.
Nature has taught me to enjoy not being the center of attention, to simply enjoy feeling that I’m a part of this beautiful world, and it’s such a relief! We are tiny and yet we are miraculous at the same time. I don’t need to do things that make me anxious if I have the control to stop doing them.
More About Ecotherapy/Nature Therapy
The term “nature therapy” is used interchangeably with the term “ecotherapy,” but they are referring to the same thing. In a nutshell, ecotherapy refers to therapies and activities that deliberately aim to improve our mental health and well-being through connecting with nature. It is a broad, umbrella term.
Some ecotherapists may be qualified psychotherapists who offer “walk and talk” outdoor counseling sessions, whereas others may focus on helping people to create art or poetry inspired by nature. Some ecotherapists run gardening groups, and there are many more approaches still! Ecotherapy is totally, 100 percent something that you can do for yourself; it’s actually very simple!
For me personally, the most powerful ecotherapy exercises are based on mindfulness (it was this kind of work that changed my life, and so I’m bound to feel like that)! Here are three simple exercises to try that have been amazing for me personally, and I hope that they help you to find a deeper connection to nature.
1. Look toward the new.
Take a walk somewhere you go often and give attention to your regular habits. Notice your walking habits closely: how you often pay attention to the same things in your environment without conscious awareness. Deliberately shift your attention elsewhere every time you notice you notice your attention going to a habitual place. What new things do you notice around you?
2. Use your senses.
Find an outdoor space where you feel comfortable and safe. With your eyes closed, focus on your senses, especially tuning into sounds, smells, and the feeling of the air against your skin. Open your eyes after a few minutes and take in the color and sights all around you. How does it feel? (Please note, if you have any sensory impairments, simply adjust the task to work in the best way for you; this exercise can be effective with whatever senses you use.)
3. Notice nature reclaiming space.
Take a city/town walk where there is lots of concrete and look for the weeds and wildflowers popping up through the pavement and walls. How often can you spot nature appearing through the cracks? How does it feel to notice it?
Nature is not separate from us. We are a part of nature too, and I hope that these simple exercises help you to feel that connection. If all else fails, simply spend a little time outdoors, or even open a window if there are restrictions on you going outside. Just remember to pay attention to what’s going on out there!
Mihran Kalaydjian Introducing Breeze (zepur gi tarnam) Զեփյուռի նման I seldom think about my limitations, and they never make me sad. Perhaps there is just a touch of yearning at times; but it is vague, like a breeze among flowers. When the oak is felled the whole forest echoes with it fall, but a hundred acorns are sown in silence by an unnoticed breeze.
I’ll be the gentlest breeze that Descends from the mountains to rest at your door. Like a knight seared by your love I’ll surrender my sword at your garden’s gate.
And I’ll watch for you, night and day. Only hurry back to your garden So I can see your face, put my heart to rest. Drunk with your love, I would die at your door.
Disguised as Spring I’ll enter your garden to cling to your rose like the singing nightingale. I’ll kneel by your door as a sacrifice for your life. I’m your Shahen; I’ll sing you a thousand songs.
Again I’ll watch for you, night and day Only hurry back to the garden So I can see your face, get drunk with your love. Put my heart to rest so I can die at your door.
When it comes to relationships, people can call you “crazy” and “needy” all they want. I can only guess some people don’t know how crazy it feels when every cell in your body feels like the only way to breathe is to stop this person you desire from abandoning you right now.
You may not realize it as the emotions hijack your mind and body, but unconsciously, you only have one job in that moment—to stop history from repeating itself by keeping this person close. And so, you do and say everything you can to try and control the situation: the incessant texting, questioning, crying, overthinking, over-pleasing, phone checking, and the list goes on.
Of course, in most cases, this person cannot leave you because they were never with you in the first place, either physically or emotionally. Either way, as soon as you get even the slightest hint of rejection and abandonment, you experience what I call “The Emotional Takeover.”
Now, not for one second am I defending the unhealthy behaviors that you have in place in that instant, but I do understand them.
Because it used to be me. I used to feel so insecure when I felt there was even the slightest threat to my relationship, and I would become preoccupied with ‘fixing’ the situation in any way I could. It was draining, upsetting, and hugely unsettling.
I know you are not crazy because who you are in those times is not you. You must know that, while it is you that has not yet learned how to break free from that toxic pattern, how to walk away from people who are no good for you, or the art of self-soothing, it is not you.
Sadly, you might not realize that, because it is likely you don’t know who the real you is. You’ve lost yourself to the fear of abandonment.
If you relate to this, it is highly possible that, like me, you fall into the attachment style that is “anxious attachment.”
We tend to experience anxious attachment when we had inconsistent love as a child. It is likely your relationship with your caregivers was unpredictable. As an adult, you struggle with feeling secure in relationships and may find that you experience a ‘need’ to be wanted and intense emotions of anxiety and jealousy when you sense this is being taken away from you.
In a bid to keep people from leaving you, even the wrong ones, your internal blueprint is designed to put others first, to take on their feelings as your own, to prioritize what they want and need, to ‘fix’ them, to mother them, and to do what needs to be done in order to never be abandoned.
I can honestly tell you the science of adult attachment styles has transformed my life. Not only does everything now make more sense to me, but I now understand that my perception of love was totally warped.
For the anxiously attached, it’s hard to know what love is. Chances are, you haven’t had much experience of stability in love, especially from those you desired it most.
It’s probably fair to say you’ve felt intense feelings you believed to be true love. You may have even felt this with one person and become fixated on them, or you may have felt this many times in your life, with different people. Yet there is always a question mark over it because deep down, you know that the love hurts and/or is not reciprocated.
That is often what makes this attachment style so hard: the excruciating moments when you know you are being treated poorly, the times you consider you are in the wrong relationship, and the lack the belief you could ever leave.
What makes it even tougher is how skilled you are at pushing that truth back down and fully convincing yourself that this person does love you back, and if you just work harder, it will eventually turn it to the right relationship.
Often, the anxiously attached are attracted to the avoidants (hot and cold, suddenly not interested, giving you crumbs), and this makes for an incredibly difficult time. It’s not a match made in heaven because you have very different intimacy needs, and much to your dismay, you cannot change the way they feel about you or love.
Trust me, I know how much that hurts to hear, but it’s best you hear it before you meet the next one, or the same one comes back around (again).
I have come across many others with the same attachment style as me, all with a very distorted view of what love is, and I can’t help but notice just how much we love love.
We love it so much, we think that without it, we are not worthy. Without it, we cannot be happy.
That is why you settle for people who don’t meet your needs or chase the person that doesn’t see you or never allow yourself time to just be on your own.
As impossible as it sometimes feels, I can tell you with absolute certainty that you can break free of this pattern.
I’m not saying I’m perfect, and that I don’t feel the feels or drop the ball from time to time, but I now know how to manage the intense emotions, how to recognize the unavailable guy before I’m in too deep, and how to live life as securely as possible (note: secure attachment is considered the healthy style).
You are no different than me; you too can tap into the mind-set of the secure attachment style so you can be happy on your own, invite in sustainable love, or where possible, save your relationship.
Below, you will find the top seven tips that have helped me to become happy in myself and more secure in my relationships:
1. Try to resist overthinking.
If you’re insecure in love, one pattern we have in common is overthinking. Thinking about the potential of the person you ‘love’, overthinking why it ended, overthinking why they haven’t texted, overthinking why they canceled on you, overthinking their latest Instagram post, overthinking how you can get them back, overthinking what they really feel… overthinking.
Your brain feels threatened, and you are trying to think of every single reason this could be happening and of every single solution to solve it. But it’s an impossible job because there is nothing to figure out right now. Remind yourself that the stories you are making up are adding to your stress, and as much as you can, be in reality rather than wasting your precious time searching for closure or answers that do not exist.
2. Beware of chemistry.
You know when you’re with someone and you have that rush of love and excitement even though you hardly know them or they are treating you poorly? That feeling is not love.
That feeling is what you perceive to be love, but it is not love. It’s the rush of an activated attachment system, the feeling of familiarity. Feel like you’ve met this person before? You have, in many of your other relationships from childhood through to now.
It’s your job to re-wire your pathways to see that this feeling is not love. That ‘chemistry’ you feel must instead become your warning sign that this may be the kind of person you need to consider backing away from.
3. Give up on the love you desire most.
This is usually the love of a parent. No matter how many of these people you attract, they will never be the love you desire the most. I know that’s sad, but I can’t sugar-coat it for you (us). I’m not saying miracles don’t happen, but I just think you have so much potential in this life, and seeking that love and approval is holding you back.
We all know how parents and caregivers ‘should’ love, but it is simply true that not everyone is able to or knows how to. Rather than try and fix the past or change your past experience with love, your time is better spent figuring out a more realistic and secure view on love. You cannot change your past, but you can influence your future.
4. Pick yourself.
If you ever felt in any way that one or both of your parents did not pick you, you may find you have a mission to get picked now.
Ever feel like you are second best to the person you desire? You are attracted to that. On a subconscious level, you have found a person where you can continue your fight to be picked.
Deep down, way beyond any conscious level, you believe that if you can get this person to pick you then it undoes the very abandonment that got you here in the first place.
As a child, I wanted to be picked over drugs. As an adult, I found people who were ‘too busy’ with work, sports, and/or drinking. I spent my time trying to make them pick me because I thought I needed that to prove my worth.
Learning to pick myself and quit seeking that external validation meant I am able to live my life confidently and not settle with anyone that has a highly different values system to me.
5. Master the art of emotional intelligence.
Here’s the thing, those with anxious attachments styles do possess a very unique skill in noticing when there is a slight shift or indication that there is a threat to the relationship. As soon as that is noticed, you get triggered, the old familiar feelings take over your whole being, and your only mission is to do what you can to save this relationship.
You must come to understand that the emotion you feel is simply a stored memory from your past. This is your bodily response to abandonment.
Take time to notice where you feel it in your body, and what happens to you physically, and name the emotions that you feel in those times. These symptoms should become your greatest warning sign that your anxious attachment system is activated, and it’s time to soothe yourself, the same way you would a child who is feeling overwhelmed because their mother has popped to the kitchen for five minutes.
Life isn’t enjoyable for anyone that goes through it without their own needs being met. So, get to work and write out what needs you have in your relationships.
Not only will this exercise highlight to your subconscious mind that you actually have needs, it will make it more likely that you admit it to yourself when they aren’t being met—so when you do find yourself back in the unhealthy pattern, it will be harder to lie to yourself about what this person brings to the table and how real this relationship really is.
It will become less likely that you will stay in the situation when you are working on this kind of conscious level and understanding.
7. Create something bigger for yourself.
I call this “Following Your Fire.” Whether you know it or not, you have a purpose, you have desires, and you have unique gifts to bring to this world.
When it comes to experiencing a real level of contentment and being able to walk away from crumbs, finding what lights me up as an individual has been the greatest move I have ever made.
I created a life that I care about. I nurtured the right relationships, I found the activities that I truly enjoy on a soul level, and I followed my deepest dreams that I had otherwise buried. While a healthy love is something I desire, I know for sure that my life is way more than that. That makes it so much easier to walk away from what does not serve me.
When you begin to practice the tips above, you likely won’t see progress straight away, but every now and then you will have monumental moments where you’ll see your growth and give yourself a high five.
When you get to know your attachment style and build a life that you adore, your confidence and self-worth will grow, and you’ll find yourself at a point where you won’t sacrifice your happiness for a person that doesn’t see your value.
You’ll decide that being single is nowhere near as bad as the anxiety that comes from the unhealthy relationships you’re used to. The fear of spending your life with someone who cannot meet your needs will become scarier than being single.
We may always be anxiously attached, but we can learn to live a secure life. So what are you waiting for?
Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “Happiness is not a goal; it is a byproduct.” As humans, we often believe that when we buy a house, or fall in love, or receive that well-deserved promotion at work, we will be truly happy. But why do we infer that happiness is only attainable through milestone events or achievements?
The reality of this tendency is that it may not be happiness that we are seeking and experiencing on a daily basis but instead satisfaction. Perhaps we live our day-to-day lives pursuing the things that make us happy, which then contributes to our overall sense of satisfaction.
If you look up happiness and satisfaction in a dictionary, the two definitions are quite similar. Both use words such as “joy” and “contentment,” describing a pleasant and delighted emotion. But why is it then that people often say, “Do what makes you happy” but never think to advise “Pursue what satisfies you”? It may have a different ring to it, but it is a good indicator of a different sense of contentment.
We reached out to cognitive behavioral therapist and clinical psychologist Jennifer Guttman, Psy.D., to better distinguish happiness and satisfaction.
The difference between happiness and satisfaction.
Research shows that the most frequent uses of the word happiness revolve around describing someone’s personality, as in being characterized as a happy person. It is also used in association with materialism and experientialism, conveying that when you purchase or experience something, you may experience happiness. Although definitions are vague and vary, happiness ultimately seeks to portray a moment of temporary bliss.
“Happiness is fleeting,” Guttman explains. “Happiness is a feeling someone gets when they experience something out of the ordinary that brings them joy. With that feeling, a neurotransmitter, dopamine, is released, which gives us an elevated mood state. However, this elevated mood state is not sustainable because it’s reliant on the release of this neurotransmitter.”
Satisfaction, on the other hand, is an enduring feeling experienced for a longer period of time, as a result of the collection of life events and feelings you’ve experienced. Guttman describes satisfaction as a more balanced, sustainable state because it’s not neurotransmitter-dependent the way happiness is.
Or as Daniel Kahneman, Ph.D., Nobel Prize winner and psychologist, explained in his TED Talk, we experience happiness in our lives as well as happiness with our lives. This latter principle is akin to the concept of satisfaction, which we experience more frequently and thus influences our attitudes and behaviors. Satisfaction is a better indicator of how content we feel toward our lives overall and may contribute to more mindful decisions that bring our lives meaning.
For example, you come home from a long day at work and are greeted by a package at your front door of a new pair of shoes that you had ordered a few days prior. At the moment of opening that package, you might experience excitement and happiness. The moment then passes, and you are onto your next activity. However, each day you wear those shoes, you are reminded of your purchase and are satisfied. Therefore, feeling satisfied has a longer-lasting impact on people’s moods, whereas experiencing happiness is an instantaneous, temporary sensation.
Which is more important?
Guttman describes satisfaction as a more long-term and tangible solution than happiness. “When people think ‘happy’ as joy or effervescence is attainable, it creates cognitive dissonance when that feeling is not sustainable,” she explains.
That said, happiness and satisfaction are intertwined, as “most people experience satisfaction on an ongoing basis, interspersed with moments of happiness,” Guttman explains. “They are both attainable, but satisfaction is more sustainable.”
“People become more satisfied by becoming more self-confident, self-reliant, by developing a strong sense of self, by developing a sense of their effectiveness in the world, and by believing in their inherent lovability,” Guttman says.
To strengthen your sense of self, she recommends finishing tasks (not just starting them), making decisions for yourself, facing fears, and avoiding people-pleasing behaviors. Facing your fears, for example, may not make you happy—but it sure is satisfying.
2. Write down at least one good thing that you experience each day.
As the saying goes: Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day. Especially in today’s current climate, you may feel that your daily routine has become redundant and complacent. However, it is all about where you channel your energy and focus. Whether you meet an old friend for lunch or go for a relaxing bike ride, write it down. Those moments will turn into memories and will leave you feelingmore grateful and optimistic in the long run, as you are able to go back and read them. The benefits of gratitude are all about creating a sense of lifelong satisfaction, as opposed to simply seeking moments of exuberant happiness.
3. Put yourself out there.
Some research suggests extroversion is associated with more life satisfaction and overall well-being. Despite this pandemic, it is easier than ever to reach out to someone and make a new friend. From becoming a pen pal with a patient in a nursing home to just messaging an old friend you’ve lost touch with, you may rekindle or create new friendships that could enhance your interpersonal skills and revitalize your daily routine.
The bottom line.
Making happiness your destination may cause you to miss out on this exciting journey of life, a journey that has many twists and turns, with new opportunities appearing each day. Recognizing what makes you feel satisfied, on the other hand, can contribute to a more positive attitude and outlook on life while feeling more fulfilled. By living through this lens, we can experience not just moments of happiness but a lifestyle that is enduringly satisfying.
You can tell a lot about a person by the way they communicate. If you pay close attention, you might notice things like a coworker struggling with confidence or a potential boss with impressive levels of emotional intelligence. Those insights allow you to make better decisions — say, lifting your coworker up in meetings so you can produce more impactful team work together or sizing up whether you want to accept an offer based on your impression of your future boss.
“Through a person’s communication style, you can tell their level of emotional intelligence. You can tell how authentic and sincere someone is by their willingness to speak from a vulnerable place,” says Rina Rovinelli, speaking coach and co-founder of global speaking competition Speaker Slam.
But what about what your own communication habits reveal about you? Knowing how others might potentially perceive you and gaining more self-awareness can only help you navigate professional waters more smoothly and improve the way you carry yourself at work. We’ve asked Rovinelli, who’s coached and judged hundreds of professional speakers, to share her insights on what different communication habits say about a person. Whether you’re an awesome listener or tend to learn information by heart before meeting a prospective client, take notes and elevate your speaking skills.
If you are a good listener
“If they are a good listener, I see them as being introspective and considerate. I see their emotional intelligence in their willingness to hear me without thinking about what they’ll say next. I see their desire to understand me fully. In a business sense, I want to work with people who understand me and who are willing to meet me where I’m at,” says Rovinelli.
So if you are an introvert who prefers to pay attention rather than talk for the sake of talking, you’re doing something right. Tap into your natural sense of empathy by using your understanding of other people to be more effective, whether you’re delegating work to reach team goals or personalizing a business proposal.
If you communicate vulnerably
Think vulnerability at work is a recipe for disaster yet you just can’t stop sharing your true feelings? You might want to rethink your stance — times are changing and showing your human side without worrying about appearing perfect can actually help you connect with others and build trust, according to Rovinelli.
“If they communicate vulnerably, I see their authenticity and realness. I trust this person more. I resonate and connect with their honesty. I see them as a person beyond an employee and it allows me to trust them,” she says.
If you are well-spoken and articulate
If you are a seasoned public speaker who loves to command attention in a room full of people, you project confidence and make those who work with you feel secure in your abilities. “If they are well-spoken, and articulate I feel a level of confidence in their abilities. I feel secure with people who I view as intelligent and well-versed. I assume that someone who is so profound and well-spoken must represent a business that has integrity,” says Rovinelli.
If you are rehearsed and repetitive
Do you tend to get so prepared before important professional interactions that you rehearse at home over and over again? Are you overly concerned about staying on message around your company’s mission and values? You might have good intentions, but it could be hurting your chances at building rapport. “If they are rehearsed and repetitive, I lose trust. I feel that they are sharing the company propaganda and I tune out. So often in business, professionals are taught the company lingo and it ends up feeling contrived and insincere.”
In this case, less is more. Try prepping by understanding the information you want to convey rather than learning what you want to say by heart. And trust your ability to internalize the information well enough to speak about it in a more organic, spontaneous way when needed.
If you struggle and use a lot of filler words
If you struggle to speak and tend to use filler words such as“like” or “um” every two seconds, you might be unknowingly hurting your credibility as well — especially in a customer-facing role, according to Rovinelli. “If they struggle to speak and use a lot of filler words I lose confidence and feel a lack of security. If a company’s best salesperson or representative can’t speak powerfully, it says a lot to me about the lack of credibility of the organization,” she says.
Don’t fret just yet, the habit of speaking confidently can be cultivated. It’s all about practice.
Dismissive listening is the opposite of empathetic listening. It says “I want to fix you” or “I want to fix your problem” instead of “I hear you, what do you need?” While empathetic listeners are able to determine what a conversation partner wants or needs, dismissive listeners tend to be less charismatic in conversation and can be seriously holding back their relationships by leaning on inefficient (and generally less empathetic!) listening skills. As a result, they tend to be less effective leaders, mentors, parents and friends.
The good news: Dismissive listening isn’t a personality, it’s a practice. It can be corrected. The first step is diagnosing the situation. If you use any of these phrases, you may be engaging in dismissive listening. Keep reading to determine how you’re leading conversations down the wrong road — and what to say instead.
It’s worth noting that these critiques don’t apply to conversations that open with someone asking for advice or feedback. Instead, they apply to more subtle, open-ended conversations where empathetic listening is required.
1. “Aww! Don’t be upset!”
If someone comes to you when they’re upset about something — from missing out on promotion to experiencing a difficult life event — countering by telling them not to experience their feelings is reductive and dismissive. While you’re a kind person and want to see them happy again as soon as possible, asking them to simply not be upset may make them feel guilty for bringing it up or feel like their emotional experience isn’t valid.
What to say instead: I’m listening. That sounds hard.
This phrase reconfirms that you were a safe person to have this conversation with and validates their feelings. It also allows them the space to lead how the conversation progresses.
2. “What if you try this?”
Most of the time, people are approaching you with a conversation — especially a conversation about a problem at work or at home — to vent and have their experience validated. You’re a nice person and you want to help, but leading with unsolicited advice focuses the conversation on fixing the problem from your perspective instead of on how the problem is affecting your conversation partner. That’s dismissive of their experience and can lead them to feel frustrated and not heard.
What to say instead: I want to help. How can I show up for you moving forward?
Saying this allows you to take action and offer help without inserting your own solutions or opinions into space where someone hasn’t asked for them. If they want help, they’ll tell you how you can engage. Or, they’ll tell you they just needed you to listen.
3. “Oh! You should read/listen to this…”
Similar to the above, this well-intentioned phrase offers unsolicited advice — and shallow advice, at that. If someone is approaching you with a difficult experience — from a layoff to getting into a serious fight with a friend — they likely know where they can go to get advice. We all have Google on hand. Unless they ask, don’t offer those options up. It’s a bit deflective and insinuates their experience can be reduced to a problem that can be solved via educational podcast or inspirational memoir.
What to say instead: I want to help. How can I show up for you moving forward?
Instead, focus on their experiences and how they see you fitting into the larger conversation, if at all. Chances are, they just wanted to vent or wanted you to offer a real piece of wisdom. They’ll let you know!
4. “I totally get it. One time…”
While sometimes you really will get what your conversation partner is experiencing, most of the time, you won’t. We all live individual lives, complicated by our personal experiences, identity dimensions and personalities. While this phrase feels empathetic when you’re saying it, it may feel reductive or just plain wrong to the person on the other side. It also centers your experience over theirs. It’s best to proceed with this route only if you’re asked for similar situations or what you learned from them.
What to say instead: It sounds like you’re saying… Is that accurate?
Instead of assuming you understand what they’re experiencing, repeat back to them your impression of the situation. It centers them, reinforces that you’re listening and helps them progress the conversation in the direction they’d like it to go.
5. “You’ll be fine!”
If someone comes to you with a problem or difficult situation, telling them that it will all work out isn’t just invalidating, it’s not very helpful, either. You’re a nice person and you want to be encouraging and optimistic, but these words reduce the complicated experience someone might have and also deflects the conversation instead of allowing them space to talk through those emotions. This kills your credibility as a listener.
For example, telling a direct report that’s anxious for a presentation that they’ll be “totally fine!” is likely to kill their confidence coming to you for encouragement in the future. Similarly, telling a friend who just got laid off that they’ll be “totally fine because they’re so talented!” makes them unlikely to come to you with complicated, hard situations in the future.
What to say instead: It sounds like you’re saying… Is that accurate? How do you think it will impact you moving forward? How can I show up for you?
To avoid being reductive, reconfirm with someone how you think they’re feeling and how the experience is impacting them. Then, ask how you can help. This centers their experience without reducing it, shows interest in how they foresee the experience continuing to impact them and allows you to expertly diagnose what they’re expecting from the conversation.
In response to the upheaval of the pandemic, researchers and the leaders of over 100 schools focused on three fundamental areas of education, whether it’s in person or virtual.
The pandemic precipitated a historic education disruption. In response, my colleagues at Baylor University and I gathered educators from around the world in virtual learning communities to determine how best to respond. Leaders from 112 schools met in virtual communities in May, June, and July to identify what is most important in education, regardless of delivery method.
In general, we decided that the three most fundamental emphases should be on well-being, engagement, and feedback. We imagined a pyramid in which well-being is the largest section, at the pyramid’s base; engagement is the middle layer; and feedback is at the pyramid’s peak.
Well-being is the base of the pyramid because Maslow’s hierarchy takes priority over Bloom’s taxonomy. Maslow’s hierarchy categorizes basic human needs, and Bloom’s taxonomy identifies different levels of learning. If students’ and teachers’ physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being are not intact, then nothing else really matters.
Before they began addressing academics, the most successful schools ensured that they cared for teachers and students’ well-being. To that end, administrators set up multiple connection points each week to check in with teachers at their convenience. They asked teachers two simple questions: “How are you doing?” and “What do you need?”
Teachers and administrators also made weekly well-being phone calls to every student’s home. Some homes received three calls a week, particularly if there were concerns about family well-being. Several schools used mentor groups of students and faculty to generate ideas for service learning projects for their families and communities. These projects helped students think beyond themselves and reduced isolation. At one school, for instance, a team of five students created a tech support hotline for students or families struggling with technology issues that arose through distance learning.
The second level in the pyramid is engagement. Students don’t learn if they’re not engaged. Whether learning occurs virtually or in person, we came up with what we called the 4 Cs of Engagement: content, competition, collaboration, and creation.
Content: Through the spring, teachers discovered innovative ways to deliver content. Schools already using robust learning management systems like Schoology and Canvas made the transition to online content delivery relatively smoothly. For teachers of pre-K through second grade, Seesaw proved an invaluable tool because of its ease of use and the ability it provides to give and receive feedback. Tools like Edpuzzle and Pear Deck allow teachers to incorporate questions and interaction into videos and Google Slide presentations.
Competition: Friendly competition, particularly for reviewing surface-level knowledge, has always been an excellent way to engage students. Quizlet has long been an excellent review tool for almost any subject area because of its large number of quizzes that have already been created by teachers and students. Also, its format enables students to receive immediate feedback on what they do and don’t know. Kahoot! has been a favorite for a number of years now and allows students to interact with each other in a game format, whether in person or over distance. Gimkit, developed by a high school student who liked Kahoot! but thought he could improve on it, is a great tool for review: It’s fast-paced but allows students to repeatedly review questions and also records how many questions each student answers correctly.
Collaboration: With the move to distance learning, teachers shifted the tools they were using to facilitate virtual student collaboration. Three tools I was not aware of at the beginning of the school year that have proved to be invaluable are Parlay, Mentimeter, and Mural. Parlay allows teachers to track discussions virtually as students discuss meaningful texts. Mentimeter allows students and teachers to collect real-time data on students’ questions in the form of word clouds, rankings, and multiple-choice quizzes. Mural is a digital workspace for virtual collaboration that allows teachers and students to post, group, and reorganize ideas in real time.
Creation: Student content creation allows for autonomy and significantly boosts engagement. Tools like , Piktochart, and Padlet allow students to create digital images and content. Screencastify, GoFormative, and Loom allow students to annotate and explain complex problems. Flipgrid enables students to submit pictures and videos for feedback from teachers and students. Apple Clips and iMovie give students the opportunity to tell their own stories.
We get better through forms of deliberate practice that also provide opportunities to receive feedback. All of the tools we used for engagement offer opportunities for both deep and immediate feedback.
Whatever tool they use, great teachers know that they need to establish the criteria for success with students. Effective success criteria include answers to the following questions: (1) What does a good example look like?, and (2) What’s in it for the student? Students need examples and a reason to improve. With clear success criteria, students can self- and peer-review work. Instead of thinking in terms of the content they will cover next year, great teachers think about the skills and knowledge that students will be able to demonstrate and how they can provide feedback to help them get there.
With the uncertainty ahead for 2020–21, clarity in these three areas is more important than ever. The good news is that well-being, engagement, and feedback are not new—they have always been the key to a good education. We just need to leverage resources to implement them well in 2020–21.
Corresponding with students via snail mail is a good way for teachers to foster trust anytime—but especially when everyone is physically distanced.
My first year in the classroom, I saw one of my more disengaged students pass a note to a friend. I thought about confiscating it, as my teachers had done. Instead, I wrote her my own note the next day. She wrote back, and we continued writing through the year, her engagement in class strengthening alongside our relationship. Letter writing became my most essential tool for earning my students’ trust.
When we as teachers write letters to students and they write back to us, we balance power dynamics, learn from each other, practice holding space for complex feelings, and engage our natural curiosities as readers and writers. Here are several suggestions for writing meaningful letters to students.
INTRODUCING THE LETTERS
To promote authentic communication that equalizes the power dynamic, remove obligations and expectations that students participate. Keep the letters optional and clarify that writing conventions and content will not be evaluated.
Inform families, perhaps in a separate letter, that you are initiating a dialogue with students through optional letter writing. Remind parents and students that you will respect their privacy—but that you are still a mandated reporter.
Keep the lines of communication open and flexible by avoiding constraints like deadlines and page limits. Make it known that students are welcome to start new topics and don’t need to continue a topic initiated by the teacher.
Write the first letter to your students (you might start with a few students per week) to serve as a helpful example for students who may struggle with this possibly unfamiliar form. Set students at ease by using a casual tone, sharing personal anecdotes, and even including jokes or funny sketches. Model letter writing conventions like dating and signing the letter.
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WRITING YOUR LETTERS
I used to pepper my letters with questions and suggested topics to prompt students to respond. But this approach maintains the traditional power structures of classroom communication, where the teacher is facilitating conversation. Over time, I learned to create a safe space that promotes genuine dialogue.
Participate in the conversation instead of directing it: If I know a student plays the violin, I won’t directly ask him about it. Instead, I write about my related experiences. For example, with this extra time on my hands, I have thought about finally learning how to play my guitar. I’m thinking of trying YouTube videos, but I’m worried that I won’t have the discipline to practice without a teacher. By sharing these thoughts, I open up lines of communication. My student is free to pick up this thread and respond in a variety of ways, instead of only answering my specific questions about the violin. Maybe he won’t mention his violin at all and instead choose to talk about YouTube, describe what he’s doing with his extra time, or assuage my worries about learning a string instrument.
Ask questions that stem from curiosity about topics that students initiate: Questions that are prompted by what students are choosing to share with us invite us to demonstrate genuine curiosity, offer our unique perspective, and introduce new words and ideas that probe students’ thinking. When we gain insight into our students’ unique funds of knowledge, we see their academic assets. We can use these insights to plan instruction that leverages what students already know.
Make your thinking visible: When young people get a glimpse into the thinking life of someone else, especially someone who thinks in an interesting or productive way, it’s the best kind of education. When a student recommends an app I should download, I’m honest about how I’m trying to cut back on my phone use since I’m getting addicted to the games I already play. I add that I’m trying to dock my phone after 6 p.m. and will let her know how it goes. By observing others’ thinking, our students may learn new coping skills and language to navigate their own experiences.
Encourage all forms of expression, regardless of perceived errors or informality: Zaretta Hammond has said that our students’ errors are information. As students informally write to you to connect and share their lives, avoid directives about how they should write. Simply note their errors and write your response with correct models. Use this information as you plan your instruction, but don’t instruct in your letter.
Hold space for students’ feelings: To maintain an equitable co-writing relationship, refrain from comments that evoke the authority you still have as the teacher. Instead of suggesting solutions to problems that students share, respond with acknowledgment and empathy. Instead of reassuring students with praise, show how you connect with their experience or what you’re learning from them.
When our students have uneven access to distance-learning technology, writing letters allows us to advance equity within our sphere of influence. We can give them a safe space in which to reflect, complain, disagree, express fear, ask hard questions, and hear our stories. We can practice being there for students as a trusted adult, a relationship that can nurture rigorous learning.
There’s no prize for coming last. But that doesn’t mean it holds no value at all.
We’re so obsessed with not measuring up to expectations that we can deny ourselves the permission to take chances. So many of us are risk averse. Paralyzed by the fear of failure. It robs us of our creativity and moments of spontaneity that are often the source of our greatest triumphs.
And although some may view failure as the end of the road, it’s far from being an absolute.
You’re meant to fail!
The key difference between those who allow their experiences to define them and those who view it as a challenge is attitude. You have a choice. What direction are your missteps going to take you? The only way is forward. “You fail your way to success.”
Letting Go of Everything You Ever Dreamed About…
When I was young, I was never the best at anything. I worked hard, and I always managed to reach the next milestone that was placed in front of me. But that’s about it.
However, I did have a talent for music that surfaced in my early teens. Again, I was never the best or most technical player. But I was creative, and I pursued it relentlessly. Like many others before and after me, I thought I was going to set the world on fire with a guitar in hand, wearing my heart of my sleeve.
It didn’t work out. Not even close…
My idea of success was all about me. It was an ego-centric vision. And through a combination of unfortunate injuries and just plain running out of career options in my mid-twenties, I admitted defeat. At the time, it crushed me… I’d invested more than ten years into learning multiple instruments, and to lean on the old cliché—it was my entire world.
But I had to make a change.
It was the first time in my life I’d ever had to step away from something and say, “Okay, this isn’t working. What else is there for me?”
Looking back now, in many ways, it was a very grounding experience. I was perhaps guilty of being a little too cocksure and overly ambitious. I can see how it was necessary, that it was a failure which came as an intervention of sorts, allowing me to steer my life in a new direction – one that would ultimately hold far more meaning…
At twenty-six, I decided to reskill myself. So I went back into full-time education to study creative writing. I’m a self-confessed right-brainer. And if one creative avenue was now closed to me, I was at least going to make sure I could still lead an interesting life.
“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” ~Denis Waitley
Now, instead of the egocentricity of being a musician, I wanted to be a fantasy novelist!
Different setting, same mindset.
But all that changed during my third and final year of university. As part of a work-based module, I had to create and deliver a writing-based project that would benefit the local community. At the time, homelessness was becoming an increasing issue, so I chose to offer poetry writing workshops at a local YMCA shelter.
And that’s where the switch flipped for me. It was a paradigm-shifting experience.
Up until that point, I had a fixed idea of what my success would—and should—look like. It was about me and myattainment. It had never really included what I could for others. But over the course of six weeks working with a disadvantaged social group that changed very quickly.
Poetry is a hard sell, even to a many writers. But here I was trying to get people engaged who were the furthest thing from an ideal audience. Many of those who attended suffered from mental health issues. They weren’t always thatinterested and sometimes didn’t show up at all
But they did respect me and gave the exercises their best effort. They didn’t always ‘get it.’ But they were willing, and I was grateful. Around half the attendees were illiterate/dyslexic, and as far as they were concerned, I was exposing their flaws. Except I wasn’t. I was trying to empower them. And slowly, this came off as the weeks progressed.
There were more than a few ‘aha moments’ in those workshops. But my biggest success was taking a young guy in his mid-twenties, who we’ll call Mike, from a place of zero confidence to complete elation at creating his own original piece, despite suffering from severe dyslexia.
I don’t have the superlatives to describe the moment other than to phrase it like this…
When Mike read his poem out loud, you could see him grasping something that wasn’t there before. You could see a change in his demeanor. He’d let go of his self-imposed limits. He ‘got it,’ and I got it, too. I could see the value of giving belief back to those who’d long-since written themselves out of the game.
It was a transformative experience for me and a real watershed moment.
I got a huge kick from having such an impact on someone’s well-being. I was completely enthused by a passion to help facilitate positive change.
“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” ~John Bunyan
By that point, I was close to graduation, and let’s just say you don’t look for openings as a novelist in the classified columns. But here was something that I could do now. I could make a difference in people’s lives, whether through writing or some other means. I resolved that I would become a support worker and be of service in whatever way I could.
My vision of success was no longer about me. It was no longer about financial gain, status, or any other material trappings. The ‘thing’ I now sought was more intangible but was so much more valuable from a spiritual perspective.
From this vantage point, not making it as a musician didn’t feel like such wasted potential, anymore. That chapter of my life now appeared more akin to a stepping stone. I’d simply been redirected by synchronicity. It was confirmation and affirmation that as one door closes, another one is always opening.
Discovering What Could Not Have Been Found Otherwise
After I graduated, I volunteered at a breakfast club for the homeless on weekends. I then used that experience to gain a full-time position supporting young adults with autism, profound learning disabilities, and challenging behaviors at the beginning of 2016.
It was an incredibly enriching experience. And here, the theme of failure presented itself once more. I was employed to support people who lacked the capacity to effectively manage their own lives. But more importantly, I was there to promote their independence.
The mandate I had was to try, try, and try again with those in my care. It was my job to improve their quality of life and assist these people in the basic tasks we take for granted, such as brushing our teeth, getting dressed, and other ‘mundane’ activities.
There was no such concept as failure in that environment. It was completely redundant. How can you call someone a failure who’s willing to apply themselves day after day? You daren’t. Although that’s not to say there weren’t challenges.
In fact, it took months of hard work and positive reinforcement to make the breakthroughs we did. But once a skill was mastered, it stuck—and it’s moments like that drove you on to achieve more.
“Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do. Don’t wish it were easier; wish you were better.” ~Jim Rohn
It was during this time that I again started to consider the merits of so-called “failure.”
I wondered, “Is the most effective way to learn really to get things right first time?” Obviously, within a care setting, you want to make progress as quickly as possible. But what about when you’re trying to gain mastery over a more complex skill?
Let me phrase it another way…
Who would you rather have as your teacher, the prodigious talent who’s been a natural since birth and was born to do [insert skill], or would rather have the other person?
The one who’s had to fight tooth and nail for every inch of their ability? The one who’s made every mistake possible and can pass on nuanced insights about what not to do?
I know who my choice would be.
“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” ~Napoleon Hill
Failure, for all its negative connotations, has a definite and unquantifiable value. It’s a catalyst for growth. The more mistakes you make, the more complete your understanding becomes of a given craft. But not only that, it encourages you to self-reflect and self-analyze.
It creates a sense of accountability, forcing you to ask deep and challenging questions of yourself.
When you’re stuck at a hurdle, it can be deflating. But the ability to problem-solve and think your way out of dead-ends is a true life skill you can’t put a price on.
Think about how many times you’ve experienced the same frustrating setback time and again. But then one day, you crack the code. How did it feel when you eventually made that breakthrough? It was undoubtedly a feeling like no other, right?
And that’s because you know what you’ve achieved has been earned.
It has an integrative effect, and it holds far more in the way of value than simply being given the right way to do something. From adversity comes the ability to learn and create experiences that can then be called on as wisdom in later life.
The path of the most successful people in recent history speaks loud and clear about what failure truly means…
Stephen King had his manuscript for Carrie rejected by thirty different publishers before it was accepted, Walt Disney was fired by the Kansas Post for a “lack of imagination,” and Thomas Edison famously took 10,000 attempts to create the first lightbulb.
All of their successes were rooted in what must have appeared to be unending failure to the casual onlooker. But in their minds, they were always “failing forward.” They’d simply explored an avenue that didn’t yield a positive outcome. They reset and got back to work.
Your failures represent the greatest opportunity for learning and growth that you have at your disposal. Don’t take them to heart. Take them to the bank. Remember them. Analyze them. Etch them into your mind and vow never to make the same mistake again.
It’s a foolish person who laughs at those who’re willing apply themselves to a task in which they’re clearly out of depth. We should celebrate this kind of effort, not mock people for trying. We all have to start somewhere. Progress was never made without facing at least some form of hardship or setback.
That’s what I’ve come to learn through my own life, working with the homeless and those with profound learning disabilities. It doesn’t matter how many times you fall down; it’s about how you pick yourself back up.
It’s about how you respond.
Failure is an option.
There is no shame in it. For me, it represents a learning curve rather than an absolute. Failure is a label that we give ourselves based on our expectations. Again, these too, can also be changed. Your success is relative to where you’re standing right now.
You have a choice as to whether you drag the past around like a ball and chain, or whether you take ownership and start working with yourself instead of reinforcing your limitations.
Your failures aren’t the thing that’s holding you back… It’s you.
Are you one off those people who constantly need approval from everyone they know? Don’t you know that this is a damaging habit that will only add more stress to your decision making process and make it harder for you to do whatever it is that you want to do in life? Why do you think that other people should get a say in what you do or don’t do in life? By seeking approval from others you basically give them the power over your life and that’s completely and utterly wrong. It will not do you any good, on the contrary, it can only bring you misery and discontent so you need to stop doing it.
No one should have the power to decide what’s good for you and what’s not, other than yourself and here are a few other reasons that will convince you to never ask for approval from anyone but yourself.
5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Ask for Approval from Anyone
You make your own happiness
It’s true that the people we love and care about make our life happier, but they aren’t the ones that make or break your happiness, you’re the only one responsible for that. Your happiness shouldn’t depend on what others think about you or what others say about you, you shouldn’t care about that. If you let your actions be guided by other people’s approval, you’ll never be truly happy. Remember that at the end of the day you are the one who needs to live with his decisions and you are the one who needs to be comfortable with them. No one else can know what you want in life better than yourself, so don’t worry about other people and make your own happiness. Remain true to yourself and to what makes you happy and make sure you follow that path.
You control your own life
You don’t just make your own happiness; you control your own life as well. Stop rushing to other people, asking for permission to do something, remember that you are your own master and you should decide what’s best for you. Listen to your heart and you’ll get all the guidance you need, from within. You are stronger than you think and wiser than you believe, you just need to let yourself follow your passion. People don’t know what they truly want to do with their own life, how can they know your life path? Trust yourself and let your soul guide you on this journey we call life.
You’re wasting precious time
Do you always run to your friends or family members whenever you need to make a decision about something? Can you imagine how much time you spend trying to convince everyone that you’re right or getting them to see things your way? And why? Just so that you’re sure in your actions, in your decisions? Asking other people’s approval only makes it tougher for you to reach a decision and it’s truly time-consuming. You’re wasting precious time; time that you could spend doing something you enjoy.
Don’t rely on others to support you, be your own biggest support. It’s OK to share your plans with your loved ones, but just that, inform them of your decision and don’t ask for their approval of support.
You can truly be free only if you rely solely on yourself
Can you imagine making a huge decision that will change your life all by yourself? Not to consult with anyone, not to ask for anyone’s advice, just follow your heart and gut? Yes, it’s possible to do it and you have everything you need to make this decision you just need to follow your gut instinct.
We can all be truly free only if we rely on ourselves and only if we know that we can make big changes in life without seeking anyone’s approval. It may seem scary at first but try it out, it’s so liberating. Rise to your potential and seize the day – that’s when you’ll experience true freedom.
Don’t even try to please everyone, it’s impossible
It’s completely normal to have people who don’t agree with what you say or what you do, that doesn’t mean that you’re doing something wrong. You just have different views and opinions in life and that’s all that is. If you try to please everyone and get everyone to like, you’ll end up feeling miserable because you’ll fail spectacularly. It’s absolutely impossible to get everyone to agree with you and you need to accept this and not let it affect your life. Moreover, the sooner you stop trying to please everyone, the sooner you’ll be happy.