Category: Emotional Intelligence

What Hummingbirds Can Teach Humans About Resilience

What is it about the hummingbird that captures our attention? How do these tiny creatures stir up such joyous, youthful emotions and excitement in even the most hardened of people? They’re enigmatic creatures, symbolic of love, joy, happiness, life, energy, and more, but there must be something deeper that holds our attention on them. As I researched them for this article, it became clear they exhibit some of the attributes of resilience we need in order to thrive.

They’re feisty

The calliope hummingbird is the smallest variety in North America measuring 3” in length, beak to tail. The most familiar variety in North America, the ruby-throated hummingbird has an average weight of 3 grams, less than a nickel. It would take more than 150 of them to weigh 1 pound.

Despite their small size, hummingbirds are among the most aggressive, territorial birds known to humans. They fearlessly attack jays and hawks, which are several times their size. And they guard their food source fiercely, flying directly at any creature that threatens their domain. The variety most common to our desert paradise is the black-chinned hummingbird (pictured in this post), which is characterized by its extremely loud buzzing sound as it flies. You know when they’re coming at you!

They’re adaptable

Hummingbirds are found only in North, Central, and South America. Despite their limited distribution, they’re familiar and fascinating to people world-wide. Currently, there are more than 330 species of hummingbirds and nearly 1/5 of them are endangered. Their existence is fragile because declines in their food sources and habitats have arisen from climate change, deforestation, and land development.

The threat is not an insurmountable obstacle; many of the varieties of this bird can reproduce with other varieties. They’re a living science lesson, evolving and changing, practically before our eyes. What’s more, the potential for new varieties as a result of their adaptive nature is staggering.

They’re determined

Some species of hummingbird migrate to the US each spring. But in order to do so, they must first store up half their body weight in fat. Wonder why? It’s because they make the 500+ mile journey across the Gulf of Mexico in a single flight lasting 20 hours or longer. What’s more, they make the migratory flight alone.

Hummingbirds hover, unlike any other bird species. This feat requires extraordinary energy, meaning their wings beat at anywhere from 720 to 5400 beats per minute. Additionally, they can maintain their sense of direction in flight during a rainstorm. They dispel water by shaking their heads at 132 shakes per second and a rotation of up to 202 degrees.

Why the fascination with hummingbirds?

My husband came running excitedly into the house a couple of weeks ago to tell me we have a hummingbird nest right outside our bedroom window. We’ve found ourselves fiercely guarding mama and her clutch of eggs, going so far as to stop the gardeners from trimming the orange tree where she’s nesting.

We’ve been watching eagerly to see when the new hummingbird babies hatch. And as we’ve watched, I’ve become increasingly focused on the symbolism alive in this enigmatic creature. But how can we learn resilience from the hummingbird?

Lessons in resilience

Be feisty. If you’re creating change in your life, pick a goal for yourself that’s worth fighting for. If you’re working to build your resilience, remind yourself how you felt when you did something that made you proud. Hold onto it and let it permeate your thoughts as you take on your next challenge.

Be adaptable. Being adaptable doesn’t mean you give up on your dream or change direction every time the wind blows. It means you actively look for different ways of getting where you want to go. It means you explore options that allow you to reach your goal and enjoy a distraction or two along the way.

Be determined. To be resilient, it helps to be determined. If your big goal is too overwhelming for you to think about, break it into smaller pieces. Give yourself some interim milestones that allow you to stop and celebrate your successes along the way to your larger goal. Being determined sometimes means you have your eye on a big prize with small rewards along the way.

Harness the resilient power of the hummingbird in your life. And let me know how it goes!


Hummingbird facts courtesy of UC Davis, Defenders of Wildlife, and hummingbirds.net.

Bradley K. Ward, ACC is a leadership and transformational coach at The Mission Coach, LLC in Palm Springs, CA. Contact Brad to find out how coaching can help you do what you do, better!

How to Change the World for the Better

Term: Spontaneous Collaborative Unanimity

Definition: a group of strangers suddenly acting from unanimous emotional intelligence to help another person.

Usage: I saw a beautiful act of spontaneous collaborative unanimity today when 3 people rushed to the side of a man having a seizure.

This morning, I read a post about such an act. A pregnant woman sobbing at a gate at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) was traveling alone with her toddler, who was having a complete meltdown. Seven women from various spots around the gate approached, surrounded them, and offered what they had to calm the pair.

No one hesitated. No one spoke. No one coordinated. One woman had a toy, one a bottle of water for mom, and one an orange she peeled and offered the wailing toddler. The mom and child calmed down, collected themselves, and boarded the plane as the women dispersed.

The simple beauty of this moment moved me to tears. Questions raced through my mind, then quieted themselves. What matters in this story is the women observing the situation each was compelled to act, quickly found a way to be present, and went on their way. They didn’t need to be thanked, but I feel a need to thank them for exhibiting simple, beautiful intelligence and empathy.

It’s easy to avoid people in crisis, with good reason – we don’t know who they are, what their mental state is, or how they’ll react if we offer help.

Consider if it were you. You find yourself in crisis at the end of a terrible day. You’re in a public place, you’re alone, and are unable to do even the simplest task, like picking up your phone and dialing 9-1-1. If you experienced a visceral reaction by putting yourself in this spot, pay attention to that response.

We experience the world with our body, mind, and spirit.

You may prefer to say we experience it as our physical, mental, and emotional selves; in response to thoughts, beliefs, and actions; or because we are sensing, thinking, and feeling creatures. Regardless, each of these is a center of human intelligence to explore.

The women at LAX who acted in spontaneous collaborative unanimity used all three of their centers of intelligence, all of which were orchestrated by their brains. Their limbic system understood the situation and triggered a rescue response. Their cerebral cortex engaged and orchestrated a host of reactions, causing them to put their bodies on the level of the people in crisis and offer their physical presence and a reward. The mom’s and toddler’s mirror neurons picked up on the actions of the women and responded by moving from distress to calm.

We learn to suppress our limbic system responses, primarily because they’re emotional. But as we age, we often experience emotions more deeply than we did when we were younger. We’re often more free to express emotions rather than hiding or ignoring them as we did when we were younger.

Next time you see someone in need, give yourself the gift of dwelling on the choices that come into your mind so you are conscious of the range of ways to respond. We can allow ourselves to be empathetic or we can allow ourselves to be annoyed. When you practice the simple act of seeing your choices, you live mindfully and can respond thoughtfully.

In mindful responses, we have the power to change the world for the better. I’ll do it, will you?

Bradley K. Ward, ACC is a leadership and transformational coach at The Mission Coach, LLC in Palm Springs, CA. Contact Brad to find out how coaching can help you do what you do, better!

Redefining Gratitude

There’s no shortage of social media posts about gratitude – it’s that time of year. Gratitude comes easy in November, but what about February or August – how do you sustain it all year long?

What is gratitude?

I’m a word nerd, so I did some internet research on the meaning of gratitude. The GNU Collaborative International Dictionary of English (GCIDE) entry for gratitude includes a handful of definitions. The second entry, “warm and friendly feeling toward a benefactor” is what I think of this time of year. It conveys a sense of awe for the force or deity that works on our behalf.

That definition of gratitude is what I learned as a kid. It was reinforced by my parents who told me it was important to be grateful in all things. That was a heavy burden for a young child. Maybe it would have felt less burdensome if I’d learned to categorize it in my mind as the third definition from GCIDE: “kindness awakened by a favor received.” (Reference)

It’s much like the distinction I make between happiness and contentment. Happiness is something I initiate, but contentment comes from simply being present to the people and experiences that make my life full. Thinking about it in similar terms, gratitude is something I initiate, but kindness awakens in response to something I’ve received.

Gratitude can help heal

The world isn’t always conducive to gratitude. Sometimes, I encounter people who behave badly and I, sometimes, behave badly in response. Then I find myself feeling far less than grateful. I used to let those bad experiences define my day, but I’ve learned to manage them differently.

If I find myself in a funk, I take a break and go in search of something I can do for someone else. Whether it’s buying lunch for a friend, picking up litter in the neighborhood, or writing a recommendation for a former co-worker on LinkedIn, making a contribution redirects negative energy toward something beneficial.

These are my tips for living in gratitude – redefine it when it becomes burdensome and reconnect to it after a bad experience. But there’s one more thing you can do to allow more space in your life for being grateful, and that’s to practice forgiveness.

Nothing gets in the way of gratitude like resentment. When you start to notice it creeping into your head, pay attention. You may need to forgive yourself or someone else in order to experience full-on gratitude. It might even make your Thanksgiving Day meal more pleasant.

So, please join me in redefining gratitude this November. Let kindness be awakened in you by virtue of a favor you received. And let kindness sustain you in gratitude all year long!

Bradley K. Ward, ACC is a leadership and transformational coach at The Mission Coach, LLC in Palm Springs, CA. Contact Brad to find out how coaching can help you do what you do, better!

Social Media: In Pursuit of the Greater Good

You’ve noticed how easily you become distressed by the volatility in social media posts. What starts as sincere conviction about a topic quickly digresses into personal insults or worse. Your humanity is both cause and cure for the way your conversations do harm or good. And you have emotional intelligence tools to manage yourself so you don’t get dragged into the fray of destructive arguments.

Give yourself some social media rules

You can keep engaged in social media and feel good about doing so. It takes time to find the right combination, but here are some suggestions to help you find the combination for you.

    • Enter consciously

      Before you log onto a social media site, remind yourself that you are entering a danger zone, of sorts. As you enter, you carry your closely-held beliefs and opinions and are among people with like and differing closely-held beliefs and opinions. Assume good intent on the part of others, as you do for yourself.

    • Read to learn

      Much like listening in a conversation, use your listening skills as you read what’s on the screen. You don’t have to do anything except take in information. Let your brain process what you read without writing anything initially. If and/or when you feel convicted to engage, do what’s next.

    • Respond, don’t react

      Social media posts cannot convey tone or sincerity the same way conversation does. That said, you’ve already let your brain process what you read, so now you can take time to distill the information into a response. If you have a differing opinion, build empathy with the person posting by saying something supportive. Then, offer your view with clear, concise wording.

    • Don’t talk to strangers

      You’ve probably failed at this one, like almost everyone has. What you can do to keep yourself away from this trap is simply not respond. You can reinforce your opinion by liking, thanking, or applauding the contributions of others who share that point of view. When you engage with people you don’t actually know, first ask if you can share your differing perspective. If they respond, do your best to express empathy and then share your ideas. Avoid baiting, confrontational language, and personal attacks. Remind yourself that this is an optional and difficult way of engaging.

    • Do something good

      When you’ve reached your social media limit, walk away from the screen and engage with others. Maybe it’s a visit with a friend who is ill or a hand-written note to someone to acknowledge a good deed. Or maybe it’s a phone call with someone in your family or making plans for dinner with your spouse. Perhaps you sit down on the floor to play with your dogs. The point is to return to a state of gratitude and service by engaging with the people or creatures in your life.

MissionCoachBeaconOne closing thought: give yourself a beacon. There is power in a physical object that reminds you to return to your higher self. This small compass on my desk compels me return to my course of being a better human. I hope it inspires you!

Living in the world of technology means you are constantly bombarded with information. It gives you a way to learn about others, but requires some responsibility to apply what you learn to serve the greater good.

Bradley K. Ward, ACC is a leadership and transformational coach at The Mission Coach, LLC in Palm Springs, CA. Contact Brad to find out how coaching can help you do what you do, better!

Gone Fishin’: Wisdom from my Grandfather

My grandparents showing off my grandfather’s fishing haul.

Summer reminds me of my grandfather because it was his favorite time to go fishing. He liked to wake up early so we could be on the lake by sunrise and home before the relentless Texas heat bore down on us. Our fishing trips included lots of conversation, which is probably better described as me talking and my grandfather listening. More importantly, they gave him a chance to impart his wisdom to me.

My grandfather was always interested to hear what I had to say, no matter what it was. I remember feeling like he truly listened to me because he could remember details about the conversations long after they were over. And I can see now he was also giving me tools to strengthen my emotional intelligence.

I don’t know that I understood some of it as a kid, but as I got older, the richness and depth of his wisdom became more apparent to me.

Nothing is one-sided

The first nugget of wisdom I remember came when I was in junior high school. I was telling a story about something that had happened that I felt was terribly unfair. His words were simple, but they spoke volumes about his understanding of me and the world around him. “Even a thin coin has two sides,” he told me.

Later I asked him what he meant by it. He told me that every situation can be viewed through at least two perspectives – mine and the perspective of the other person or people. It hadn’t dawned on my young mind that there could be another side to the story. He was a genius!

Worry is its own reward

A few years later, I had made it through my junior year of high school and was applying to colleges. I was anxiously waiting to hear where I would spend the next four years. While I was fretting over the wait, I talked with him about some of the other things I was planning once I was enrolled in college. I was worried about making friends, fitting in – the usual pre-college jitters. “Don’t borrow trouble from tomorrow,” he suggested.

He knew I tended to get ahead of myself and was able to use a simple idea to get me to stop the worry. He didn’t have to explain this one to me. Its simplicity and clarity spoke volumes to me. I share his words with clients when I see the wheels of worry start to spin out of control during a coaching session. I suspect he’d like that I use his words regularly.

Be yourself

My favorite piece of his wisdom, however, caught me completely by surprise. A few years after college, I was at my grandparents’ house visiting with them. As I stood up to leave, my grandmother asked me when I was going to bring home a nice girl and get married. I made an excuse as I said good-bye. My grandfather walked with me to the car, put his hand on my shoulder, and stared directly into my eyes. “Don’t you worry about your grandmother,” he said. “You just love who you love.”

I hugged him and got in my car to go home. I had to pull over because I was crying – not because I was sad, but because I was relieved. Even though I was still coming to grips with being gay, my grandfather already knew and had made peace with it. And he had let me know I should make peace with it as well.

He died a few short years after that. Despite the passage of time, I still hear his voice in my mind when I repeat his words of wisdom, clarity, acceptance, and love.

Bradley K. Ward, ACC is a leadership and transformational coach at The Mission Coach, LLC in Palm Springs, CA. Contact Brad to find out how coaching can help you do what you do, better!

Beyond the Brain: Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

At the age of 35, I was hired as the Executive Director of a nonprofit organization. It was the realization of one of my highest professional goals, and it quickly taught me that I needed to strengthen my emotional intelligence to be an effective leader.

I began a journey that started with becoming aware of how I showed up with people. I’m an extrovert and thrive on engaging with the world around me. I’m also energetic and exude a “youthful energy” when I enter a room. As the newly appointed leader, I discovered those traits sometimes meant I came across as intense, sharp, and overbearing. I had never been in a position to look at myself as others see me, and it was enlightening.

Discovering emotional intelligence

I stumbled onto a Daniel Goleman article about emotional intelligence. He suggested this innate intelligence was categorized into four domains: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social skill. I was immediately hooked and started learning about me.

In coaching leaders, I often start with emotional intelligence. I share what I learned as I integrated the concepts into life in a leadership role. It helps my clients see for themselves that this kind of growth is within reach, and it demystifies the process of self-mastery and social mastery.

Working with self

I decided I had to understand myself better. I started by finding tools to help me dissect the person I’d known all my life. My favorite was the Values in Action Survey of Character Strengths. It helped me frame traits in affirming statements and helped me see as strengths some things I had viewed as flaws. I had a new appreciation for self-awareness.

Then I reviewed the elements of self-management to determine where I should focus my efforts to improve. I saw exactly what I needed to tackle: adaptability. My Meyers-Briggs Type is ENTJ, so I’m a big fan of order and routine. I also have a keen focus on the goal, whatever task I’m doing. That sounds great until something comes along that disrupts or re-routes me. I’ve improved in this area, and find that the more I’m open to changes, the happier I am with the experience as a whole.

Working with others

The third domain, social awareness, is where I am most comfortable. When I’m in a position to meet the needs of the people around me, I’m happiest. I noticed that observing what happened around me – how people interacted, who helped influence decision making, and what responses people had to my appreciation of their work – allowed me to navigate my workplace relationships more easily. I had an innate talent for active involvement, but observation, followed by integrating what I saw gave me an edge.

The last and, I think, most important domain for leaders is social skill. It’s the realm of nuanced communication that influences and inspires without demanding. It’s the capacity to listen for resolution during conflict and swiftly resolving the problem without escalating it. And it’s nurturing relationships that allow people to flourish while cultivating new ones for the future. Those who have these skills innately are natural leaders. The rest of us have to work at it!

The intelligence of leadership goes far beyond the realms of emotional intelligence. But in my practice, this is the place where my clients see the greatest returns on our work together.

Bradley K. Ward, ACC is a leadership and transformational coach at The Mission Coach, LLC in Palm Springs, CA. Contact Brad to find out how coaching can help you do what you do, better!

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