Coming to the end of 2016, NOW is the time to work on connection. All too often we crash exhausted into Christmas holidays. Combined with unrealistic expectations we are irritable and prone to excess. Conflict erupts, anger and sadness leave us isolated and disconnected. An opportunity for rejuvenating connection and joy can be lost.
We know that it takes time to adjust the body, emotions and brain. At this time of year many of us are at a low ebb. We are hanging on to the end. The holiday season is an event that requires training. We have concrete evidence for what we can do to get fit and celebrate meaningful connections. There is just enough time between now and 24 December to get fit.
Here is HOW
Make a PLAN
You have 30 days before the bell rings. Starting today, allocate a few minutes a day for deliberate practice. My suggestion is 15 minutes each day that you dedicate to building your connection muscles. These may be short bursts adding up to 15 minutes. Get them in your diary.
Define your PRACTICE
The smarter and more effective your practice the quicker your physiology, emotions and brain circuits will show sustained change. Each of us must find the right practice but we have good science to support five key practices to shape up and work on every day.
1. Be PRESENT
If you are caught up in the mental storm of pressure, worry and regret, you will only find suffering. The first practice is to exhale slowly, drop your mind into your body and fully sense, feel and observe the moment. Each time you do this your blood pressure and heart rate will drop, you will activate vagal tone (relaxation and connection), and allow your mind to be fully attentive. You have activated the right physiology for connection (1).
Practice Tip: take a minute to do this before every meeting over the next 30 days. When you are actually in a dialogue use the same practice.
2. Be OPEN
Connection starts with your body. Research shows that an open body posture changes your hormone status within minutes. Your second practice is to remind yourself to sit upright, roll your shoulders back, and open your arms (palms visible). Your goal is to signal warmth (oxytocin) and strength (testosterone). During periods of connection, stay facing the person and maintain your presence (2).
Practice Tip: build a couple of oxytocin-pumping moments into each day. Give your pet a serious cuddle, hug your kids in the morning, get or give a massage, and when you can make time for touch in your partnership.
3. FEEL emotions
Emotional empathy is the ability to feel the emotions of another in your own body. This is done by your mirror neurons (anterior insula). They are trainable. Once you are in the presence of another, work on really feeling how they are feeling. Watch body posture, note each change in facial expression and listen carefully to the tone of voice. See if you can map some of the same signals into your body. Notice carefully what you are feeling. This can be pretty intense (3). Work slowly. Breathe out some more.
Practice Tip: take care of yourself. To empathise emotionally takes calm, inner strength. You want to notice, engage but not be overwhelmed.
4. SEE others
Cognitive empathy is being able to know how another is thinking. We can also call it perspective-taking. Prof Tania Singer has been able to show that this happens in a different part of the brain (temporoparietal junction). Other have named spindle cells (von Economo Neurons). In short it is worth trying to think the thoughts of others (4).
Practice Tip: take a moment to check with another if you have read their perspective or point of view accurately. Given them a moment to acknowledge your accuracy or help you correct your reading.
5. Do GOOD
At the end of the day it will come down to action. This may be making a call to someone, saying thank you, sending a birthday note, or simply picking up some trash. Research clearly shows that taking positive action – even if a little random – helps us and creates a virtuous cycle of generosity and trust. Don’t wait for Christmas ‘prize-giving’.
Practice Tip: keep it authentic you will find yourself feeling so much better. It is a good addiction to develop. Be good by doing good! This is the purpose of the Christmas Season. Connect……
- Porges, Stephen, The Polyvagal Theory, 2012
- Cuddy, Amy, Presence, 2015
- Ricard, Matthieu, Altruism, 2016
- De Waal, Frans, On Empathy, 2009 and Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are?, 2016.