Monday, May 1, 2017

Compassion: Are You Born With It or Can You Cultivate It?

Blog from Tracy Butz of Think Impact Solutions

I have always viewed myself as a rather compassionate person. I try to be kind to others, express empathy, demonstrate genuine concern, and help others in need. In fact, I began my career in speaking to share my message with others in hopes of offering inspiration, support and real connection. However, have you ever paused and reflected on acts that were anything but compassionate? 

As human beings, we each have some standard needs—like food, shelter, and love to survive. We all crave attention, recognition, affection and happiness—to some degree, at least. But what about compassion? Do we need it and are we all equipped to give it?

Recently, I’ve began thinking more about compassion. I wondered if it was a trait that’s innate or one that can be developed. According to research, compassion is something that can be strengthened through targeted exercises and practice, and isn’t something you’re born with. If you’re interested in cultivating compassion, here are nine strategies worth trying:

1. Encourage cooperation, not competition. Imagine three things you want most in life. Find a partner and get in an arm wrestling position. Every time you are able to successfully pin the other's arm onto the surface, you win one of those three things you want most. GO! So were you successful? Did you get all three things you want? Most people engage in this exercise and come out with one winner and one loser. But is that necessary? What if you both decided to NOT resist the other, and simply allow your wrist to be pinned, back and forth, back and forth, and back and forth again. After three times, you both will have won your wants. Instead of competing with others and trying to find a way to win and have the other person lose, consider if cooperation might be a better choice. It certainly would have been with this exercise.

2. Look for commonalities. Seeing yourself as similar to others increases feelings of compassion. Instead of recognizing the differences between yourself and others, try to identify what you have in common—traits, experiences, passions, emotions, etc. Ask yourself, “Is she trying to escape some emotional pain, just like I’ve done before?”

3. Don’t play the blame game. When we blame others for their misfortune, we feel less empathy and concern toward them. If you don’t know, don’t judge.

4. Model behaviors you want repeated. Research suggests compassion is contagious, so if you want to help compassion spread in others, lead by example.

5. Calm your inner worrier. When we let our mind run wild with fear in response to someone else’s pain (e.g., What if that happens to me?), we inhibit the biological systems that enable compassion. The practice of mindfulness can help us feel safer in these situations, facilitating compassion.

6. Notice and savor how good it feels to be compassionate. Studies have shown that practicing compassion and engaging in compassionate actions bolsters brain activity in areas that signal reward.

7. Put a human face on suffering. When reading the news, look for profiles of specific individuals and try to imagine what their lives have been like.

8. Don’t become a victim. When we completely take on other people’s suffering as our own, we risk feeling personally distressed, threatened, and overwhelmed; instead, try to be receptive to other people’s feelings without adopting those feelings as your own.

9. Know you CAN. When we realize we’re capable of making a difference, we’re less likely to curb our compassion.

When we live our lives with greater compassion, amazing transformations happen. Villains disappear. Perspectives change. Needs are realized. Happiness grows. Kindness multiplies. What will you do today to make a positive difference in another person’s life through expressing compassion?  The beauty is, the more compassion you give, the happier you get. Now that’s one gift worthy of re-gifting.

Eat Dessert First

Blog by Tracy Butz, Think Impact Solutions

When you dine at a nice restaurant, what part of the meal do you look forward to the most? Is it the appetizer, salad or soup, main entrée, or dessert? The main entrée might be what entices you to go to that establishment, but I frequently scan the dessert menu and see what the options are before ordering the main course. Why? Well, the answer is simple. I love dessert.

Whether you crave sweet, savory, or decadent delights, indulging in tasty treats during the confectionery course is blissful! Imagine reading this…The Ultimate Chocolate Cake is made with velvety chocolate mousse between layers of chocolate decadence and moist chocolate butter cake on a chocolate cookie crust, finished with chocolate butter icing. Well, that just sounds awful, right? NOT! So why is it that we feel guilty or wrong for planning our meal with an ending that is magnificent?

I believe it is because of unwritten rules; rules that don’t exist; yet, shape our opinions and drive our decisions.

Consider what you ate for breakfast over the last week or two. Did it include cereal, an energy bar, bagels with flavored cream cheese, waffles or pancakes, a pop tart, or oatmeal? My guess, is that for many of us, we chose one of the go-to breakfast biggies, and oatmeal isn’t one of them. So let’s see…what is the difference between a bowl of sugar-infused cereal or an ice cream drumstick? The honest answer is…not much. Yet, we have been brain-washed to believe that eating something like cereal in the morning is good, healthy and the right thing to do. Well, in the last several years, I have thrown that advice simply “out the window.” I’ll enjoy a hard-boiled egg or two with a little salt and pepper (tossing out some of the yolk to decrease the fat and still eat a protein-enriched palette-appealing item), and add in a little delight. My jolt of happiness comes from luscious chocolate that gives way to sweet, refreshing mint, which is full-bodied and sweetly smooth, making other snacks green with envy. What is it? It is the NESTLÉ® SIMPLY DIPPED MINT CONE.

I know what you are thinking. Ice cream for breakfast? That’s unheard of! And I say, really? How is my little delight so different from other common breakfast go-to items? It’s not. I just choose to start my day with some protein and a little fun.

I’ve come to realize that we don’t need to follow rules that don’t exist. Kids get it, yet adults don’t. When a child is given a donut, they often lick the frosting off the top of the donut first. Why? Because that is the tastiest part! What’s wrong with that? Nothing.

Instead of following life’s unwritten rules, stay curious and ask questions. Consider one thing I could do to make “this” a little bit better? Now that’s instant innovation! The ability to see things with new eyes is priceless.

Let’s consider dandalions.

Many of us hire landscaping experts to prevent or rid our lawns of these pesty weeds. But are dandalions weeds or wishes?

Ask any kid their perspective and theirs may be different than yours.

My point is simple. Life is about perspective. As Ellen Glasglow says, “The only difference between a rut and a grave are dimensions.”

Days can be long and years often short. Enjoy the gift of life each and every day. And the next time your sweet tooth comes a-knockin', take a moment to enjoy a small indulgence, one worthy of bringing a smile to your face. After all, if we ignore that craving, we feel strong. But if we delight in that delicacy, there is always a 100 percent chance it will be awesome. Now those are my kind of odds.