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In honor of caregivers everywhere, we teamed up with Heidi Werther for a discussion on mindset, mindfulness, and resources for caregivers of all identifications.
In This Episode
00:14 – Welcome and Introducing Heidi Werther
01:19 – Mindful Arrival Exercise
04:06 – Managing Stress in Uncertain Circumstances
06:12 – Managing Caregiving for Ourselves and Others
11:20 – Managing Expectations and Setting Boundaries
14:00 – Using Active Listening to Improve Your Relationships
19:42 – Self-Care and Self-Compassion Are Not Selfish
24:43 – Importance of a Positive Mindset
28:20 – Making the Time Investment for Mindfulness
31:40 – Connect with Heidi and WorkMinded
Heidi Werther is an executive and leadership coach who works with leaders at all levels, including team coaching and conflict resolution. She also works with organizations to help them develop coaching cultures. You can learn more and connect with her at www.heidiwerther.com.
WorkMinded: Hey everyone. Welcome to WorkMinded. And thanks for joining us for this bonus episode with my friend and colleague, Heidi Werther. Heidi is an executive and leadership coach. She works with leaders at all levels from emerging up to the C-suite, and she's also involved in team coaching and conflict resolution. For me personally, she's been a colleague, a fantastic mentor, and especially lately we've really found a lot of common ground on our commitment to helping to provide ways that we can help guide people through this difficult time. This episode specifically was inspired by what we're learning about the impacts across the country for frontline caregivers and really caregivers of all different identifications. We wanted to get together to provide some tools and resources for anyone who identifies as a caregiver right now – and in our minds, this means everyone, especially when it comes to caring for ourselves. So we wanted to take the time to do a collaborative episode and bring some of these resources to you. So, Heidi, I want to say thank you so much for joining us on the show today.
Heidi Werther: Thank you so much for inviting me. I look forward to being here.
WorkMinded: Part of the reason that I'm so excited to be working with you today is because of your commitment to the importance of mindfulness. And I know from some of our talks that you actually begin a lot of your coaching sessions with a quick grounding exercise. I'm wondering if you'd be willing to walk us through a little bit about how that works and how you help your clients become a little more present before they start with you.
Heidi Werther: I would love to, thanks for the opportunity. I think I'm not going to say how it works, I'm going to let you and the listeners experience it firsthand. So if I can, I'm going to just take us through an exercise right now. So for everyone that's listening, if you're not seated already, please do so now. And if it's helpful for you, close your eyes as you settle into your chair. Take a quick notice of what's happening in your body, from your feet to the top of your head. Perhaps plant your feet on the ground and find your feet so you can feel into the earth or whatever your feet are planted into.
Notice any physical sensations, starting at your feet and traveling up through your legs. Sense your seat in the chair and the pressure of your body in that chair, take a deep breath. Notice what's happening for you. Is anything shifting? What's happening for you in your body? Notice if you are receiving any physical signals. Return to your breath and notice what it is doing. Consider what you want your breath to do. Perhaps it's asking you to take a few deep breaths. Whatever is right for you, honor the request. Welcome to this time that you are claiming for yourself. One last deep breath, slowly open your eyes. Welcome to Shannon's podcast.
WorkMinded: Thank you so much. That was such a wonderful chance to get grounded and rooted into the conversation we're going to have today. I know being grounded and feeling rooted into what's going on in the moment is so important to helping people navigate some of these gray areas that we're all facing right now. And in fact, our first topic in the special edition series was all about tolerating ambiguity and learning different ways to be more effective when we're working with gray areas or information that's uncertain or things that haven't really been confirmed. And I'm wondering if you have any tips or any guidance for helping people to manage stress, especially in uncertain circumstances.
Heidi Werther: That's such a great question. Shannon. There are so many reasons we experience stress. And as you stated in this time of uncertainty, it's even more challenging for people to get through the regular day to day. People are concerned. People don't know what's happening. This is an unprecedented time. So when dealing with stress, it's first really important to acknowledge the feeling. A lot of times, people try to push away emotions and feelings and that doesn't really help people move forward. So I encourage my clients to try to notice what's really happening and try to connect with it. It can help to look at the stress or the cause for the stress from different perspectives. What is it telling you? What perspective do you want to hold on to?
Another tool to use when you're feeling stress is to practice breathing techniques, similar to what we just did to get grounded for this conversation. Take some time to breathe, to get through the intense feeling if you're feeling stress. It won't make the situation go away, but it can bring you to a calmer space, similar to what you just said Shannon, where you can be more productive in managing whatever situation helped to bring on the stress. There are many breathing techniques. One that I was taught to follow for breathing through stress is to first empty your lungs of air, and then to breathe in quietly through the nose for four seconds, hold your breath for count of seven seconds, and then exhale forcefully through the mouth, pursing the lips and making a whoosh sound for eight seconds. Or what I've done is literally exhale eight times during that eight seconds. And then repeat the cycle up to four times and hopefully it will bring a level of calm. And as I said, it won't make the stress necessarily go away, but it will bring you to a better place where you can be more productive.
WorkMinded: Thank you for sharing that exercise. And I love the way that you put it. It won't make the reality necessarily change or adjust in any way, but it helps us become better equipped to actually deal with what's going on. And maybe even, in taking a little bit of space between our thoughts, to be able to see new possibilities that we might not have noticed before. And I think that's been really important, especially for a lot of our listeners right now who are really asking for resources about how to navigate either responsibilities on the job that are changing, things at home and different circumstances with families that might be changing, people who might be focusing on a job search while things are a little bit uncertain. And while things are continuing to evolve so rapidly, I'm wondering if you have any ideas for ways that people can help to navigate all of these different responsibilities of being a caregiver, not just to ourselves, but to everyone else too. If you have ideas for what people can do to navigate while things are so uncertain.
Heidi Werther: Great question. There's a lot of new, and I'm putting air quotes up, to navigate, so many unknowns. People aren't used to working from home necessarily, or people aren't used to having their children at home, or they're stretched between trying to take care of their elderly parent, where they can't actually go physically be with their elderly parent. There's just a lot going on. So let's look at navigating working from home. What I typically get curious about with my clients around things like this is what do you visualize success to look like? Or what would you do if you could? These questions help them to truly explore what's possible and provides them with the ownership around this. So no one necessarily has the right formula for them. They get to create it, but by giving them that opportunity to kind of sit back and think about how they want it to be, then they can create what they're looking for.
On occasion some clients need to think about when something was unfamiliar, like the uncertain time we're living in right now, what structures were helpful for them. For example, I have a client who's challenged when working from home, she found herself getting distracted and didn't feel as if she was managing her work as well as she should be. We reviewed times when she had similar challenges in the past. And one that she identified was when she joined a company that had an open seating plan, a situation she had never worked in before. She was always used to having her own office and not having to work with noise around her. So this open seating plan was new to her and she found that she needed to find a new way to structure her day so that she wouldn't be distracted by her coworkers. And she was then able to take the type of structure she put in place for that use that in her work from home arrangement. And she found that she was able to be more focused putting that into play.
That said, I've also spoken with individuals who are challenged working from home because not only are they trying to adapt to a new normal of working from home, but they have their children at home with them. So they're balancing homeschooling their children and trying to get their work done effectively. What I've heard is that they've managed to work with their managers to have more flex working hours so that they can put more focus on their children during what I call normal business hours. And they do their work for their organizations either early in the morning or late in the evening, or both probably is more realistic, while they pay more attention to their children during the day. So setting a structure may be the answer for some others may find different resources or even may choose to laugh at the distraction because we are operating in a very unusual time and distraction may be necessary for some people to get through these uncertain times.
Regarding a job search, people need to be realistic in their expectations. I have clients who feel they are more connected with their networks today than prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, and they feel that people are more active on LinkedIn now than they were in the past. And people are looking to network more through mediums such as Zoom. I've also spoken with people who feel they now have more time to take online classes, to enhance existing skills or develop new skills, and clearly this is more realistic for someone who is unemployed or living alone without children distracting them or whatnot, and because they have more free time. But what I'm really getting at is some people are finding actually more opportunity to be more successful in their job search right now because of these changes that they're seeing and experiencing. But I think what's really most important is being realistic with your expectations. Understanding, for example, that the HR professional you may be trying to reach is busier than usual, so their response time may not be as quick as what you might normally imagine. And with that said, it's important for the candidate to send reminders – being persistent but not pushy, staying visible and relevant seems to be really impactful for individuals that I've spoken with.
WorkMinded: That's really helpful. And actually the mindfulness session that we did in our episode about tolerating ambiguity was all about releasing expectations and trying to let go of the expectations especially for what we were hoping other people might do or how other people might behave. I know this is one that I am really continuing to practice literally every day, especially in our situation now where people are just being pulled in so many different directions to try to stay afloat and to try to find some kind of sense of normal. Do you have any specific advice for helping us to expectations of ourselves and also others while things are so up in the air?
Heidi Werther: That's such a great question and I feel like this is a challenge, whether it's during unprecedented times or during the normal, if you will. And again, I'm using air quotes, I do that a lot. One of the biggest challenges my clients have shared is lack of communication around expectations. I’ve seen this to be true for my clients in leadership roles, both realizing they need to be better at communicating expectations to their teams, and also that they've acknowledged that their companies don't always properly communicate expectations to them. I've seen this in relationships. So it's all over. What holds people back on this is my question. Often it's the need to build a habit of improving communication and not assuming that one should know what is expected. So often people just communicate with assumptions and without clarity. So it's often that lack of clarity and needing to incorporate the practice of taking the time to get clear on what is truly expected in order to make sure that everybody's on the same page.
You know, Shannon, you mentioned that in our current situation, people are being pulled in so many different directions. And this brings up for me, a practice I use with my clients around the importance of making decisions and around what you will say yes to. Many people have a really hard time saying no, but the importance of number one, prioritizing so one can set realistic expectations of themselves, and then communicating it to those who it will impact, and then the importance of number two, being aligned with your values. If someone takes a look at what really resonates versus what doesn't, they usually find that there is a value that's not being honored. It's easier and healthier to say no to something that doesn't align with your values. So I walk my clients through an exercise of listing what resonates, what doesn't, and then I hold them accountable to committing to saying no to what no longer works.
WorkMinded: That makes a lot of sense to me and actually is something I can think of a few different ways I'd be able to apply in my own life and in my own work right now. And it's actually a great transition into our next topic where we start to explore a little bit more about our episode that covered the idea of active empathetic listening. And I know a lot of us are familiar with the idea of active listening, and the idea here is that combining it with a genuine empathy for what someone is experiencing really makes it a powerful way to help care for others. And it's also been shown that listening in that way actually provides benefits to ourselves also when we're the ones doing the listening. And I'm wondering if active listening is something that you use or encourage and specific ways in your practice.
Heidi Werther: Oh my goodness, yes. Active listening is critical for everybody, for leaders, for parents, for all relationships. If you want to have a meaningful and a healthy relationship, whether that's a romantic relationship, a supervisor direct report relationship, whatever. I literally just attended a webinar this morning sponsored by the Institute of Coaching on the art of lingering in dialogue. The final talking point of the webinar was the importance of listening and that listening is not a passive act. Listening, and listening with empathy, are key to building strong relationships and trust. Strong relationships don't exist without trust. I consider active listening one of the skills required to be an effective coach and leader. I recently posted an article on LinkedIn focused on active listening and the importance of organizations set an expectation of their leaders to develop this skill if they truly want to create a coaching culture. Too often, what I have seen in organizations is that managers or leaders do a lot of talking. Companies that want engaged employees need to be willing to listen. I mean, really listen, and be curious about what their direct reports or their employees have as perspectives, thoughts, ideas, and concerns. This requires the listener to be fully present, to listen to more than just the words being said, listen deeper. And to try to understand from the speaker's point of view, which gets to your point of empathy. They need to be able to reflect and/or reframe what they've heard, and ask clarifying questions, and summarize what's been heard. All of this helps to ensure that what is being said is being heard as it was intended. And it removes any of the misunderstandings that so often occur. This process allows more effectiveness, more productivity. And when a listener can listen with empathy, the speaker will truly feel understood, not just heard, but fully understood.
WorkMinded: That's great, and it ties back to what I had just said in the last question about how one of the most interesting takeaways for me in our research on active empathetic listening is this idea that using this particular style of listening can help us to cope better with challenges and even to actually improve the relationships in our lives. And so I'm wondering if you can think of specific situations either at work or at home where bringing in active listening could be a good tool for navigating particularly challenging circumstances or relationships.
Heidi Werther: Completely. So similar to what I just said, when one truly listens, they gain the trust of the speaker and trust is critical for all relationships. Without it barriers are put up, and the relationship between the two individuals starts to disintegrate or distance. And adding curiosity to the equation, the listener, or the curious one, helps to empower the speaker to manage their own issue, rather than the listener driving the solution if there's a problem to be solved.
WorkMinded: I'm actually really glad to hear you say that because our mindfulness session and the active empathetic listening episode was actually all about bringing this attitude of curiosity to any situations where active listening could be important for you. And curiosity, meaning getting really curious about where the person is coming from, what kinds of factors are influencing them right now, and really just being there. It’s not necessarily with the goal of solving a problem for them, but it's just being there to really make space for someone to be heard, to have their feelings and where they're coming from be validated. And I'm wondering if you have any advice or specific tips for how each of us can make space for people just in our everyday lives to help them feel heard and acknowledged when it's so much harder to do so right now.
Heidi Werther: I hear what you're saying that it's harder now, but I think it's just hard for people in general. Active listening does truly help the speaker feel heard. And I love your point about acknowledging and validating. It's so important as part of trying to show somebody that you're hearing them. When one reflects back or reframes what they've heard, the speaker will realize someone is not just sitting in front of them nodding their head. More importantly, if you want to show that you're curious, ask a lot of questions, approach a situation with a beginner's mind, so that you really go in, and again I'm using air quotes, knowing nothing and simply seek to learn. And you'll learn more and display true curiosity with more open-ended questions. And I think that really will help the relationship and for the speaker to not only feel heard, but feel like you care, to use your point, you care about them, you care about what they want to communicate to you.
WorkMinded: That's great, and actually one of the most important topics that we covered in this series is the idea of self-compassion. I think it's really easy for us to feel like we should reserve all of our compassion for others. So you mentioned approaching active listening from a compassionate place and really trying to understand what people are going through and wanting to learn more about their experience. I think the challenge facing each of us in terms of self-compassion is feeling like we're worthy to have compassion be directed toward ourselves. And I think that's something that's very common in trying times and also just as we go about our daily lives. And what's interesting from our research is actually the idea that showing compassion first to yourself makes you actually better at showing compassion to others, and it makes you a more effective caregiver, it makes you more effective at dealing with burnout, not only for other people but for yourself too. And they're just so inextricably linked from everything that we've seen. I'm wondering if this is something that you've seen play out in your own work.
Heidi Werther: Absolutely, and I think you raised a really important point. So many of us think that jumping in and taking care of, or doing things for, others is better and it can be the other way around. So if you think about what we're taught when we're on an airplane, in order to help somebody else, you have to be in a good place to do so. So we're taught in an emergency to put on our oxygen mask first, prior to putting on an oxygen mask for the person next to us. So say, if you're traveling with a child, you would put your own mask on first. The same is true whenever you are needed. So if you're an executive or a leader, burning a candle at all ends, eventually you're going to lose steam or to use your phrase, burn out. Your employees need you to be present, and if you're not taking care of yourself, it's going to be harder and harder to do so, to be fully present for them.
I spoke with a client this week who mentioned her team gets frustrated with change. When she is able to be fully articulate with the why the change is happening, she has much better success with her team. If she were too tired to fully take the time to understand the why herself, she would have less success being able to share with her team, and it would ultimately lead to more challenge and frustration. So she realizes how important it is for her to take care of herself so that she can ultimately be most helpful to her team. And I think that is true of parenting, it's everything, and I know you've alluded to selfishness around this, people really need to embrace a different perspective around that. I know I struggled with it as a young parent, I thought I had to just be fully on for my kids, and I stopped exercising. When I shifted and did more for me, I was a much better parent for them.
WorkMinded: Yes, and related to all of this research and all of these dynamics about self-compassion is also just the idea of self-care. And again, it's so natural to fall into the mindset of taking care of myself first really feels selfish, but actually taking care of yourself first equips you to take care of others much better and much more effectively. I'm wondering if you have any specific suggestions for self-care practices or things that we can be doing in the day-to-day that might apply to caregivers of all kinds to help them to prioritize self-care and really understand how it gets paid forward in our work.
Heidi Werther: Absolutely, and you know, as I just said, it's definitely a challenge for so many people. Self-care comes in all forms and fashions. I mentioned that I needed to start exercising to be a better parent, eating healthy, getting enough rest. Those are all different ways to manage self-care, and so many people forego those healthy activities, those healthy habits if you will. Similar to what we discussed earlier around setting expectations, the importance of setting boundaries and giving one's self permission to say no is also really important. So what keeps people from being able to say no? There are so many different possibilities. Sometimes it's fear, fear of how they will be perceived or fear of retaliation for example in an organization. So much depends on the culture. Some people are people pleasers, so they feel like they can never say no. And this often leads to failure in the long run, either through burnout or missing deadlines or just being plain unhappy, but eventually they feel like they can no longer do their work. It's healthy and critical to set boundaries, and it's actually a great way to gain respect. When one looks at self-care through these types of expect of perspectives, the selfish perspective can be replaced. Kind of like what I said earlier, and I started to see how I was as a parent. I wasn't being selfish by taking care of me, because I was able to be a better parent for my kids.
WorkMinded: Our self-compassion mindfulness session tried to flip the script a little bit on how we usually process negative emotions. It's definitely our natural tendency to try to turn away from negativity, and turn toward something positive instead. But in this practice, we actually did a session on turning toward the negativity so that we could convert that into something positive that we could share out with ourselves and with others. It's really all about this intention of sending out good vibes and positive energy, especially to those people that you're caring for, who are really picking up on what's around them in the environment. I'm wondering if you have any thoughts about the effect of us having either a negative or a positive attitude in our day and how that can play out with others and especially others that we're taking care of right now.
Heidi Werther: Great question, it's funny, I've been on a couple of Zoom calls with friends and colleagues, and when we spend too much time talking about the negative situation in our country, in our world, it brings us down. I often tend to be one of those people that you just described as trying to focus on the positive. It's just my natural way, it's not something I do to manipulate a situation, it's just where I go. I'm sure many people on this podcast have heard the saying that we manifest what we believe. So if we focus on the negative, we likely will manifest more negative or spread that negative energy. Think about a complainer on a team. Oftentimes they recruit others to start to see the negatives that they are focused on. When we have more of a cheerleading type, as long as it's authentic cheerleading, there's more of a chance that that positive energy will spread.
That said, there are really scary statistics that say you need a lot of positives to outweigh one negative. So I used to be a divorce mediator and John Gottman, an expert on relationships, studied negativity in couples and found that for every negative encounter, you need at least five positive ones to counterbalance the effects of the negative one. I've heard even higher ratios than the five to one. So consider giving feedback. It's important to give constructive, which some people see as negative, feedback, but with it you need to provide even more positive feedback to counterbalance the negative feedback.
As far as negative versus positive emotions, we have to be true to ourselves regarding how we feel. So I mentioned this earlier in the podcast. And when working with clients, we often spend time exploring perspectives. For example, if someone feels that their manager is always focusing on their faults, we often consider what else might that manager be trying to communicate? I have clients who might go into their negative voice in their head, and that may be getting in the way of what's really being communicated by their manager. Again, going back to the active listening skills, it could help to use those skills to clarify, but it also can be helpful to just really have the individual consider what else might the manager really be trying to tell them? More often than not, when my client can approach the issue with an open mind and explore the various perspectives or possibilities, they're able to see some positive messages and/or learning opportunities. This helps them to move from the negative emotional response to seeing something positive from the situation.
WorkMinded: So I know we're reaching the end of our time, but I wanted to, as we wrap up, try to slip in maybe one last conversation about the importance of mindfulness. I'm really inspired by what you were saying above. It's so important to really pay attention to whether we're putting out something negative or positive, the way that we're considering the facts in our own minds, and whether we're able to find that time either to pause to do a little bit of self-care so that we can be more effective for others, or even just to pause to try to understand what other opportunities there might be in a certain situation. Most people start to really notice major changes for the better in their lives with as little as 15 minute, a day of some kind of mindfulness practice. They start to feel calmer, they become more aware of what they can control, and most importantly they learn how to respond more consciously to situations instead of reacting, emotionally or reacting off the cuff. And a teacher of mine actually pointed out to me recently that if you do the math, 15 minutes totals just about 1% of your day. So if you think of your day like a dollar, devoting just one penny to mindfulness can really have a truly profound impact on your day to day. So I'm wondering if you have any last thoughts on why investing that penny of your day for mindfulness is worth it.
Heidi Werther: During COVID-19 I've been engaged recently engaged in a class focused on coaching around adult development, and we start each class with a short centering exercise, similar to what I walked us through earlier on this podcast, I find it to be so incredibly helpful to calm my being and a great way to refocus me so that I can let go of perhaps overwhelming thoughts. I think it's a great investment and mindfulness can be what you make of it. It's truly a personal choice and different for everyone, but similar to what we discussed around self-care, taking the time to focus on oneself is not selfish, it's healthy. For me, going for a walk and exercising are ways for me to practice mindfulness. I may not be one who meditates regularly, but I do get out and exercise and walk. I'm able to focus on my breathing in those moments, which is a type of mindfulness practice. I live near the water and sometimes just going down to the water's edge and being still and paying attention to my breath can be an incredibly reinvigorating practice for me.
Practicing gratitude is another way that I personally practice what I consider a mindfulness practice. It really helps me to shift my focus, allowing me to focus on all of the positives that I have and share that with others, for whom I'm grateful, so I can help spread that as well. And again, similar to what we said before, Shannon, it's important to find a way to practice mindfulness that resonates and works for you. I'm not one who has fully developed a mindfulness practice, but when I consider the different ways I connect with mindfulness, I guess I have. So very worth the investment, I think especially in these really uncertain times, taking time to just focus and be there for you and help shift your perspective from the daily monotony of terrible news and noise – really, really worth the investment.
WorkMinded: Heidi, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today. It was so awesome to hear a little bit about how some of what we explored in this series of the podcast can apply to real life. It was so great to hear your perspectives on how we can actually bring to life things like what mindfulness might look for us individually, or what self-care might look for us individually. It might look a little bit different for everyone, but I think it's clear and becoming even more clear that it's so important to be able to devote even just a few minutes a day, to thinking through these things that will help us be more effective for ourselves and most importantly for others. And I think that's a lot of the reason why you and I wanted to collaborate on this episode today, so I really appreciate that perspective.
I want to make sure that people have a chance to contact you if they have any questions about what we covered or if they want to learn more about what you do. So is there a way that people can reach out to you after the episode?
Heidi Werther: Absolutely. My revised website is under construction, but should be live mid to late May, so we're talking about a week or so, which fingers crossed is going to happen. And that website address is heidiwerther.com, or anyone can feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And I'd love to hear from anyone. So thank you for having me here and thank you for offering my contact information to your listeners.
WorkMinded: Great. Thank you so much for taking the time and for joining us on the show today.
Heidi Werther: It was a pleasure.
WorkMinded: And thanks to all of you for joining us for this episode. If you've noticed any kind of common thread throughout this series, it's really all about how taking care of yourself better can help us each to take care of others better. And as we all identify as universal caregivers right now, we hope this podcast will give you some resources to help give the best care you can to yourself, which ultimately extends to others.
You can find show notes for the season, along with other resources, on our website at www.workminded.net. And we'd love to connect with you on social media, you can find us on LinkedIn, on our company page WorkMinded, and also on Twitter with the handle @MindedWork.
A big thanks to everyone who listened this season and especially to everyone who gave us feedback and input on how to develop what resources we could share out for the COVID-19 situation. For anyone who participated in our market research, for our listeners, our social media followers, and everyone who's been a teacher and a caregiver during the last few months, your efforts are greatly appreciated by us and by others. Thank you all. And we look forward to coming back to you again soon.