From Lexington (Ave) to Lexington (KY): navigating change with emotional intelligence

 

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Throughout my career, I’ve insisted that life is too short to do work that is not personally fulfilling. It was that abiding belief that drove me to leave the practice of law first to run two fashion companies and then to pursue a career as an executive coach and yoga and meditation teacher.

So when my husband was offered an exciting job opportunity in an industry he has been passionate about for over 20 years, I was completely on board. There was just one small detail: the position involved relocating from New York City, our home of over 27 years, to Lexington Kentucky. Clearly, this was a big change. So it was time for me to reach into my tool box and practice the techniques I have taught and advocated for over a decade.

Whether you’re moving to a new city as I was, starting in a new position, dealing with a reorganization at work or coping with job loss, you can successfully navigate the phases of transition by utilizing your emotional intelligence.

 

  1. Cultivate self-awareness because the more you know about yourself, the easier it is to adapt to change.

Dr. Daniel Goleman, author of the seminal book “Emotional Intelligence” describes self -awareness as “knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources and intuitions.” It is the sine qua non of emotional intelligence and a powerful tool for developing resilience in the face of change and uncertainty.

Change, whether perceived as good or bad, evokes a wide range of emotions, including loss, fear and anxiety. If repressed, these feelings can lead to counter productive behavior – snapping at your partner or a co-worker for example, or, worse yet, yelling at your dog for no good reason. Things that normally wouldn’t trigger a reaction suddenly light your fuse and you explode. To prevent being hijacked by unexamined emotions, try the following:

  • Turn your attention inward. It may be by meditating, walking in nature, listening to music or by taking three conscious, full breaths. The key is to spend quiet time to assess what’s going on inside you so you can begin to consciously choose the actions you need to take to cope with change in a healthy manner.
  • Don’t be afraid to sit with uncomfortable emotions. As Carl Jung noted, what you resist persists – repressed feelings endure. By contrast, if you can experience an emotion without pushing it away, it will eventually shift and you will no longer be held hostage to it.
  • Give it a name. At the recent Harvard Medical School Institute of Coaching Conference, Marc Brackett, the director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence reminded us that a powerful tool for managing your emotions involves labeling them with words because “if you can name it, you can tame it.” The technique is known as “affect labeling” and according to research done by Matthew Lieberman at UCLA, it is effective because by engaging the neo-cortex, or rational part of the brain, you put the brakes on the more primitive emotional brain, making you less likely to be ruled by your emotions.
  • Tune into your body. Emotions are both psychological and physiological phenomena. For example, anxiety may manifest itself as a feeling of butterflies in your stomach or anger as tightness in your jaw or chest. Bringing awareness to the sensations in your body is a very effective way to understand what you are feeling and if you can identify the emotion at the physical level, you are better equipped to manage it in the moment.

Armed with the knowledge of the causes and consequences of your emotions, you can take control of your thoughts and behavior and respond rather than react to life’s challenges.

 

  1. Learn how to reframe.

We can’t control the circumstances that life presents to us, but we can control the prism through which we view them. As Wayne Dyer pointed out, when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

There’s a big difference between seeing change as an opportunity to learn something new, and thereby to build new neural pathways in your brain, or as a threat to your security and identity. As you might imagine, the former is energizing and empowering, the latter, debilitating and demotivating.

When you find yourself slipping into negative self-talk about your current situation, challenge yourself to re-appraise it. In my case, rather than seeing the move to Kentucky as “giving up” New York City, I viewed it is as an expansion of my opportunities. I described the move to myself and others as an adventure – the chance to meet new people and experience life in another part of the country, all while maintaining my connections to New York. This framework allowed me to embrace my new environment and appreciate all that it had to offer.

 

  1. Manage your stress – give yourself a break.

Transitions are often stressful and involve juggling many demands at once. Maintaining an optimal state of being during these times requires conscious effort.

Once again, self-awareness is key. Knowing what relieves tension or gives you pleasure and then making it a ritual – i.e. doing it regularly – is essential. So many executives going through challenging transitions wear their lack of time for self-care as a badge of honor, when it really is a lack of understanding of how to optimize the human body and brain.

In their Harvard Business Review article, “The Making of a Corporate Athlete”, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz explain that chronic stress without recovery depletes energy and leads to burnout and breakdown. They use the term “oscillation” to describe the disciplined and regular process of moving between periods of stress and periods of recovery and identify it as one of the key elements of peak performance.

So when you are dealing with change, it is not the time to forego your workout or stop engaging in your favorite hobby or pass time. Rather, to increase your resilience, make time for play and relaxation.

 

  1. Bloom where you’re planted.

This advice was shared with me years ago by Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren and it became my mantra as I adjusted to an environment where nothing was familiar.

For me, “blooming” meant remaining open to opportunity by focusing on the present. As long as I was caught up in what life was like before (the past) or worried about how it might look going forward (the future), I was misappropriating mental energy that could be used to identify and take advantage of the possibilities that were right in front of me.

By taking things one day at a time, I was able to stay energized and be resourceful so I could create the conditions for my happiness: scheduling regular trips to New York to service my clients and spend time with friends and family; finding a yoga community where I could teach like minded individuals; joining a church where I could serve as a cantor regularly; and finding a beautiful home with a lovely garden that reminds me ever day to bloom.

Making the most of your circumstances is the essence of empowerment and equanimity. I’m reminded of a good friend who, when asked if he missed his lovely home and life style in London after moving to New York City for work, wisely observed “that was then, this is now.”

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