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Self-Improvement

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The past matters, because of the impact it’s had on us and the light it can shine on the present and the future –Sophie Hannah

How to Hold a Grudge offers a new perspective on grudges and how they can be a healthy part of our lives. Rather than focus on what we usually think about grudges, Ms. Hannah makes the argument that acknowledging, processing, and documenting the bad things that have happened to us can help us move on more easily. Despite the provocative title, this is a positive book about accepting that people will always upset us and finding a way to manage those emotions rather than suppressing them.

Let’s be honest with each other, I bought this book 100% because of the title. And in the interest of full disclosure, I freely confess that I am a talented holder of grudges. In fact, I have actually used the phrase “forgive and forget is for chumps” in a conversation with other human beings. I have always resisted the advice to let things go because I felt that it somehow let people off the hook. Or that it taught them that they can mistreat me. So, I thought this book might speak to my inherent grudge-holding tendencies while offering some useful suggestions about a more enlightened path. And it did!

Time for the top three lessons from How to Hold a Grudge:

Suppressing your negative emotions won’t make them disappear.

Life is difficult and complicated and amazing and wonderful. And because it is all of those things, we experience an army of different emotions every day. Most of these emotions are positive, we hope, but some of them aren’t and there’s no getting around it. Just as you wouldn’t minimize your feelings of happiness when you see an old friend, you shouldn’t minimize your feelings about getting poked in the metaphorical eye by your coworker. Life is about feeling all of the emotions. Pretending that you don’t have negative experiences isn’t an authentic way to live, and it won’t make you happy. Of course, all of this isn’t to say that each time someone wrongs us we need to make a scene and rend our garments. There’s a happy medium where we acknowledge what’s happened, feel what we feel, and are able to move on contentedly.

Once we begin to care about how we are treated, we will begin to extend that care to others.

When reading this book, I had a lightbulb moment: there are probably certainly people out there holding grudges against me! For things that I did to them that I didn’t realize had hurt them. For things I knew I shouldn’t do but did anyway. For misunderstandings and miscommunications and so on. Here is the important part: I don’t want them to hold a grudge against me. And if I don’t want that for myself, then I really need to consider that others probably don’t want that either. (Eureka! I’ve found yet another application of my mother’s advice: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.) A second aspect of this newfound self-awareness is that when you really start thinking about the grudge-worthy behavior you see in others, you’ll reflect on your own actions and limit that behavior in yourself.

Directly address your negative experiences by identifying the “Right Thing to Do”

When we have been wronged, many of us dwell on the “what happened” instead of the “what can I do about it.” Maybe you wish you had stood up for yourself and didn’t. Or maybe you regret not filing a formal complaint when you should have. But here’s the thing, sometimes those options are still available. Sure, you were so shocked by what your coworker did that you didn’t stick up for yourself right away. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t walk over to his office and do it now. Ask yourself what you can do in this moment to soothe your sense of justice. When I think about my most treasured grudges, I recognize now that there are still actions that I can take to put things right in my mind. And if the right thing to do is to not trust that person again, well then that’s the right thing to do.

Path Toward Enlightenment

Like many of us, I have a lot of room for self-improvement on the topic of grudge-holding. I recently had an experience that is as worthy of a grudge as any I have ever had. I’ve given it the clever title The Mystery of the Missing Job Posting. In short, a job that I would have liked to apply for and felt qualified to do was filled without the job being posted. I felt, and still feel, a very strong sense of injustice. But it happened and people did what they did and so here we are. My next steps for myself are to follow the process:

  1. Write down the detailed facts of what happened and the backstory.
  2. Read the story the next morning and add any funny bits you can think of.
  3. Re-write the story, adding the things that you would do differently and what the results would be.
  4. Compare the two stories and decide if you’re upset about what happened or upset at yourself for not doing something differently.
  5. Identify the current “right thing to do” and do it.
  6. List all of the lessons that you have learned and the benefits that you have accrued through the experience.

I’m still on Step 1, and my feelings are still pretty fresh. But I can imagine a future when this grudge becomes just another funny story that I tell people at happy hour.

Not everyone is a natural grudge-holder. Some people are blessed with the ability to easily move on from negative experiences. But for those of you who aren’t, this book might help you reframe your grudges and scoot you along the path to contentment. All that being said, I still love this quote:

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. People know themselves much better than you do. That’s why it’s important to stop expecting them to be something other than who they are. –Maya Angelou

Read some of my other book reviews here.

 

 

For charisma, your body language matters far more than your words do.

–Olivia Fox Cabane

The Charisma Myth explains the science behind charisma and how we can become more charismatic leaders by increasing our presence, warmth, and power. Ms. Cabane provides practical suggestions and exercises that can be implemented immediately to help you enhance not only your career but also your personal relationships.

This book caught my attention because I have been in the path of very charismatic people over the years, and I just assumed that it was a natural talent. That people got their charm and energy by the luck of the draw. It truly never occurred to me that charisma might be a learned skill. And so, if charisma is just a personality trait, then I clearly can’t do anything to improve myself. But I really don’t like feeling like there’s nothing that I can do to improve myself. So when this book claimed that charismatic behaviors can be learned and perfected by anyone, I was interested.

These are the top three lessons that I am taking away from reading The Charisma Myth:

Charisma requires presence.

Presence means maintaining an active and engaged awareness of what is happening in any situation. To cultivate charisma in ourselves, we must be present when interacting with other people. This means not letting your mind wander, answering e-mail when on the phone, or thinking about what to say next when someone is talking. So many of us need to improve in this area and abandon our delusions about effective multi-tasking. Presence is very difficult to achieve and maintain, especially with the distractions bombarding us every day. I once had a boss who expected immediate responses to his text messages. He would literally send someone off to find you if you didn’t answer quickly enough! Hard to be present with competing demands like that on our attention.

The Charisma Myth offers this simple suggestion when you notice your mind starting to wander. Focus on your breathing and wiggle your toes to bring yourself back into the moment and re-engage with the person you’re interacting with. Sounds easy. I tried it, and it actually was. Of course, the trick is to catch yourself before your mind leaves a conversation that your body is still in the middle of.

People with poise exhibit stillness that avoids unnecessary gestures, fidgeting, and verbal reassurances.

A lot of us have unconscious tics that we use when interacting with other people. I notice them very easily in others and am oblivious to them in myself (no surprise since their unconscious). The most common that I notice are people nodding or repeating “uh-huh” or “ok” over and over again. We typically develop these automatic behaviors for one of two reasons. To express empathy—I’m paying attention! Or to express insecurity—I’m trying to make you happy! By choosing instead to be deliberate with our actions and reassurances, we can increase our level of presence and charisma.

Physical discomfort reduces our ability to be charismatic.

If we are physically uncomfortable, it will distract us, reduce our presence, and may even give others the false impression that our distress is related to them. Imagine that you are at lunch with an important client and he is fidgeting around in his chair, guzzling water, and looking around. You might, quite understandably, assume that he is disappointed with how the meeting is going or your company’s performance. Or that he is looking to grab the check and split. But then imagine if he told you, “Will you excuse me for one moment, it’s quite hot and I’d like to ask the host to open the window?” Well, then you wouldn’t be worried at all. The same can be true if we are meeting with people and are wearing uncomfortable clothes, in a cold room, or have the sun in our eyes.

The lesson here is simply to think about your physical comfort in advance. If there is an unavoidable issue, make it clear to others that your discomfort is not a reflection of what they are saying.

Next Steps Toward a Charismatic Life

The first way that I’m implementing what I have learned is to improve my verbal and non-verbal reassurance techniques. I want people to feel that I’m listening, paying close attention, and finding what they are telling me to be valuable. So I nod like a bobble-head and encourage every sentence that they say. And worse, sometimes when I notice that my mind is wandering, I do it even more in the hopes that people won’t notice my lack of presence. It started to annoy even me! Now I focus on my body language and demonstrate my connection with the other person through real presence and warmth. I keep my head still and my mouth shut while they are talking. When I do offer encouragement, it’s deliberate, not a nervous tic.

If you are looking to improve your presence, warmth, and power in order to better connect with people and become a more charismatic leader, I recommend this book.

Read some of my other book reviews here.

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