Here is a very recent audio interview I did for Tina Gilbertson. Tina is a psychotherapist in Denver, Colorado specializing in therapy for parents with estranged adult children, and training for organizations.
The interview covered the basics of Sensory Processing Sensitivity, but also many crucial aspects concerning life as an HSP. Enjoy!
Do you provide feedback to others based on what they’re doing right or what they’re doing wrong? Research shows that we learn along the lines we are already strong in. This article does a great job of discussing how we can provide better feedback that actually encourages others to grow in their strengths rather than focusing on remediating weak areas.
Sensitive people process positive and negative stimulation more deeply than in those without the trait. Feedback for HSPs should always be strengths-oriented and focus on what we do well, while seeking to provide us with growth opportunities where we may branch out on those strengths. Deficiency-oriented feedback, for HSPs, would set off a cascade of overthinking, overfeeling, and, ultimately, prove more detrimental than beneficial.
Highly sensitive people are already likely the most conscientious workers in the workplace and we know from research that conscientiousness is the only trait proven to relate positively to workplace success. If you want to provide useful feedback to an HSP, the best way would be to focus on points of excellence as they occur.
Do highly sensitive people benefit from Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction practices? Yes, we do! In a Dutch study from 2010, 47 HSPs were recruited to participate in an 8 week MBSR program to determine if there would be an effect apart from those without the trait and to investigate whether any longer lasting effects continued at least 4 weeks after the initial test period. The results? Highly sensitive people did benefit more from MBSR techniques than did those without the trait and it seemed to endure after the 8 week period. This seems to follow our propensity for benefiting more from any source of positive stimulation than others due to our deeper processing of all experiences.
It is well-known that HSPs may fare much worse than others in negatively stimulating environments, or better in positively stimulating ones. We know that HSPs who experienced abusive, neglectful, or traumatic childhoods experience more anxiety, depression, and emotional disorders of all types throughout life, unless they are able to sincerely address healing. We also know that HSPs from supportive, nurturing, and loving environments do much better on all measures than the previously mentioned group. When one comes from a loving, supportive background there is confidence in taking risks, in exploring the world, and in developing one’s talents and abilities because there is less anxiety about failure or self-doubt.
Similarly with MBSR techniques, when HSPs actually are able to focus on self-care the results can be quite positive and especially rewarding for the sensitive person. Who doesn’t like to feel good about taking of themselves?
The study points out that it isn’t clear which aspect of the program the participants underwent that contributed to the effects but it is likely that it was simply the overall positive nature of the program that had the largest effect. What can we learn from this?
Highly sensitive people need to practice self-care as an essential part of our daily lives. Self-care needs to be viewed as being similar to a spiritual practice with time set aside for this vital recharging and balancing time. True, in our hectic, rushed, and overscheduled world there is little time for sleep, let alone meaningful self-care but the results of such practices are of clear benefit to HSPs.
Mindfulness has become a buzz word that is becoming viewed as a passing fad but if practicing mindfulness based stress reduction techniques reduces your stress, anxiety, depression, and allows you to function better let them call it a fad or whatever they like. We will just go on practicing what we know works long after the naysayers have moved on to the next topic they wish to deride.
There is even a free online 8-week course in MBSR that you can begin practicing right now, at your own pace. If you’d like to learn more check out their website (totally free):
The time has finally come for a highly sensitive men’s workshop to be held at 1440Multiversity in the spring of 2020! Teachers will be Dr. Ted Zeff, Dr. Tracy Cooper, John Hughes, and Scott Clausen. You know Ted Zeff from his decades of work with highly sensitive men and HS children. Dr. Zeff’s work has a global reach and he has given lectures and presentations throughout the world. John Hughes appeared in Sensitive-The Untold Story describing his experiences as an entrepreneur and highly successful businessman. Scott Clausen is a senior executive with Amazon and has keen insights into corporate life and the HS man. Myself? Well, you know me from my books: Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career and Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person, as well as from my appearance in Sensitive-The Untold Story.
You have also seen my many blog posts over the years as I have sought to address a range of topic of interest to the sensitive person and the sensitive sensation seeker. Some of you may have also been consulting clients of mine from my work with HSPs and careers, where I worked with people from around the world to increase their awareness of the trait, develop self-care practices, learn to navigate the world of business, work, and the entrepreneurial realm.
Now, I turn my attention to a topic near and dear to me: the highly sensitive male. We have been considering how and where to do a HS men’s workshop for several years and we feel that 1440 Multiversity is the right place for us to hold our workshop weekends (plus they are very enthused to have us)! We are planning for a spring 2020 weekend workshop for our first meeting of sensitive male souls with more to follow in future years (possibly in other locations as well).
What we would really like to do is invite you into this experience with us and tell us what you are most interested in hearing about. We know you want your time to be well-spent and it is important to us that we provide you with a stellar experience at 1440.
Throughout 2019, we will be soliciting ideas from you and building them into our workshop framework. It’s almost inevitable that we will have so many topics to cover that we will need to expand beyond a workshop format to developing resources that you can look to for accurate information, informed insights, and practical, no non-sense advice. More to follow in that regard…
Our goal (and mission) is to empower sensitive male souls through education, collaboration, and community.
Do you procrastinate? Is your mind filled with fascinating and more interesting things to do than the work that is in front of you? Many highly sensitive people have quite active and deep minds that can become lost in reflection, absorption, or shut down by overstimulation. Drifting off into reflection may be interesting but it does not get the job done. Similarly with the enjoyment of taking in preferable stimulation; the internet has made it too easy to browse from thing to thing rather mindlessly and take time away from goals we need to achieve for ourselves.
The following article offers a few tips on how to beat procrastination that HSPs can benefit from. We have a profound ability to focus quite intently on a task when we actually engage with it but, like anyone else, we may also fall prey to distractions (there are so many today with technology) and our own inherent nature to think short-term instead of long-term gain.
It’s entirely true that it is difficult to tackle large projects that may take months to complete (let alone years-long projects). For example, most of you know I have written two books with the intention of writing a third and fourth. What you do not know is how difficult it can be to focus to the degree one needs to in order to write anything sensible (far tougher than it looks). In times past, setting up a structure has worked well and I’ve been able to power through the writing and editing. After the first two books were published, however, perhaps the immediacy felt different; as if there were not such a rush. It can be great to not feel as if we are rushed but it can also breed complacency and, you got it, procrastination as so many other (seemingly more interesting) things compete for my attention. The answer?
The tips in the article mention ways to change our perception of the short-term cost so we instead focus on the benefit in accomplishing the task. I have tried breaking up much larger tasks into much smaller pieces, and that does help, but the best result likely comes from combining several of these tips together to change our perception of how much we need to invest now to enjoy a much larger reward later. Depending on whether the nature of the task is speculative (we are doing it in anticipation of a potential reward versus a definite reward) we may find it harder to make that short-term investment. The point to keep in mind if you are actively creating work based on potential future rewards is creativity should breed many good ideas that are speculative to some degree, but sometimes having already explored a topic may come in handy down the road when what we have learned as a result of said work becomes immediately relevant. So speculative knowledge that prefigures future needs may be the name of the game for some who think ahead, or in divergent ways.
I have to add in one more tip to beat procrastination: enlist the synergy that often exists when we are inspired by others! We cannot discount the value in working on a project with other people because we may be often literally propelled by the energy and belief of others. Even the deep introvert who prefers to scribble alone in a writing nook needs someone to eventually read what she has written or created. Similarly, sometimes it may help to break procrastination by leaving our familiar surroundings and finding inspiration in the outside world. Perhaps a library has a great space that’s quiet yet offers great views and a relaxed, academic atmosphere or a coffee shop is just right for you to set up your laptop and type out a page or two as you note others seem to be doing the same. Or you might frequent a co-working space where other home-based workers come to leave their homes. Often, our home environments fail to provide us with a distinct feeling that real work can be done there.
Building on the idea of ritual for separating one activity or block of time from another, it may be very helpful to leave the house on certain days or for a certain number of hours per day and spend that time in a co-working space. We have such a space near where I live in Springfield, Missouri where a small fee allows one to spend the day among other independent workers in a pleasant office setup. The feeling of communion, of shared purpose can be undeniably valuable to lifting the spirits and providing inspiration. There is also the potential for collaboration if you strike up a conversation in the adjacent coffee shop or simply by chit-chatting with your neighbor (providing the neighbor is not head-down focused).
However you choose to apply these tips, beating procrastination will help you accomplish your goals while perhaps retraining your brain to find the willingness to invest in short-term efforts for long-term benefits.
Too often we highly sensitive people spend more time inside our own minds than in our bodies. What do I mean by this? Dwelling inside our own minds in reflection, contemplation, or as a protective mechanism (shielding us from overstimulation or negative stimulation) are in the realm of the intangible. We have nothing to show for our mental gymnastics if we do not convert that into a physical reality. Making things with our hands is the key and we have moved far away from what is such a natural human capacity in our modern, technological world.
One of the prime factors mentioned by so many HSPs that I have spoken with over the years has been a need for meaningfulness; to know that their efforts had a real impact in the lives of others. I was just conferring with a consulting client yesterday when the observation was made as to the essentially meaningless nature of her work in retail. Yes, having things available for people to buy (especially necessary things) is useful and productive overall but is not especially meaningful in the sense of deriving meaningfulness from having made something out of nothing. This same client actually has a side gig where she creates short films using a painstaking process of claymation, which entails hand-sculpting the figures and sets only to take one single photo before moving each figure a tiny fraction and taking another photo (think frames on a film reel). Claymation takes a huge amount of time, effort, and focus to produce even a few minutes of film. The result, though is a “real” manifestation of her work (and the resultant satisfaction that goes with it).
Another example is wheel-thrown pottery, which I am intimately familiar with as I taught myself to “throw” at a local community college studio and, later, bought my own studio setup. Throwing pottery on a wheel is the ultimate example of mind and body working together in perfect sync to produce not only an object that is useful (a bowl or a cup) but also beautiful. In one of my former lives (and I have not thrown in many years) I was quite good at throwing pots that came from somewhere deep inside my own mind as well as embodied practical uses (a mug shape for instance). Clay is the most wonderfully malleable material one could work with to create real objects of utility and art. Moreover, working to develop an adequate cross-over from the abstract part of the brain that just thinks about how to do a movement to including the parts that actually control movement yields tremendous benefits in self-confidence and self-esteem. Like many other processes and techniques, the more you practice the better you get (or as my kids well know, the “p” word).
If it’s been awhile since you’ve made anything with your two hands I highly encourage you to consider digging in and making something! Talent only counts a small fraction; it’s hard work and practice that brings technique and refinement. Let yourself play, explore, and take a few risks. In our modern world of endless electronic jibber-jabber we have forgotten what it means to be human, to be creative, and to use the wonderfully complex and capable devices at the end of our arms (our hands) in conjunction with our minds.
Over the five decades of my life I have learned to do many things with my hands (and mind). I’ve dug in the soil to grow plants, learned every phase of building a home as I constructed my own log home, and delved deep into the fine arts as a painter, a potter, and a sketcher. There is no end to what you can build with your hands or what you can create. Some things you can build are entirely useful and necessary (a home or a garden) while others are beautiful and feed our souls (paintings, pottery, decorating a home or yard).
When it comes to things I appreciate the most it always distills down to the handmade. I do appreciate machine-made objects for their symmetry and precision but the handmade quality of a thing where one can see the effort and time put into its creation is beyond compare. I invite you to begin noticing the beauty in the handmade because everything that is produced by hand requires creative and critical thinking working in symbiosis to make a reality out of the abstract. Developing a working relationship and appreciation of the necessity of creative and critical thinking combined with a physical embodiment of what we are capable of making, or doing, with our hands puts us more in touch with who we are and what we are built for as humans.
Difficult co-worker? That never happens, right? We highly sensitive people are often deeply affected by a negative co-worker or a negative (at least what we perceive as negative) experience. We have all made the mistake of protecting ourselves by walling the other person off entirely. At work, that can be disastrous as we need our co-workers to accomplish goals, outcomes, and initiatives. The following article has some good tips on using empathy to relate to the “difficult” co-worker by engagement and an open assessing of each other’s strengths.
No, you do not have to be friends with every person you work with but you do need most of them and a few are critical to your long-term success and happiness. Learn to collaborate with those you do not like; sometimes we simply do not have a full context to situate the other person’s behaviors. Learn that context and how they operate and you will find points for collaboration and perhaps even an appreciation for ways they complement your own quiet strength.
Have you ever worked through a situation with a difficult co-worker? If so, how did you break through your initial impressions? Has it worked out long-term?
A few months ago, a former client — let’s call her Kacie— called me to check in. I had supported her through her transition when she had joined a prestigious global financial services firm several months prior. Given how deliberately and thoughtfully she’d gone through the process, I expected that our conversation would be about her early wins.
Instead, Kacie confessed that she had a simple but serious problem: she wasn’t getting along well with a peer-level executive — let’s call her Marta. The two had gotten off on the wrong foot, and as time passed things weren’t getting any better. Kacie told me that it was becoming painfully clear that her inability to get along with Marta was going to impede her success, and possibly derail her career at the company.
As Kacie and I explored the situation, she told me that Marta was seen as a highly talented, accomplished, and well-liked executive — she wasn’t toxic or difficult. But Kacie admitted that she didn’t really like Marta. They had different styles, and Marta rubbed her the wrong way.
Over a series of conversations, Kacie and I worked through the situation. She revisited the stakeholder map she had created in her first few weeks in the role, which clearly showed that Marta’s collaboration and partnership were essential for getting the business results Kacie wanted. In assessing the relationship more honestly, Kacie came to realize that she had been failing to reach out to Marta. She had not made her new colleague feel like her input and perspectives were valuable, had been leaving her and her team off communications, and had more or less been trying to avoid her.
Kacie developed a handful of useful strategies for working better with Marta. While none were particularly easy or comfortable, these are ideas and insights that almost anyone can use when they have to work with someone they just don’t like.
Reflect on the cause of tension and how you are responding to it. The first step is both acceptance and reflection. Remind yourself: You won’t get along with everyone but there is potential value in every interaction with others. You can and should learn from almost everyone you meet, and the responsibility for making that happen lies with you even if the relationship is not an easy one. Take an honest look at what is causing the tension and what role you play in creating it. It may be that your reaction to the situation is at the core of the problem (and you can’t control anything other than your reaction). Kacie had to recognize that Marta’s “unlikability” may really have been about Kacie herself.
Work harder to understand the other person’s perspective. Few people get out of bed in the morning with the goal of making your life miserable. Make time to think deliberately about the other person’s point of view, especially if that person is essential to your success. Ask yourself: Why is this person acting this way? What might be motivating them? How do they see me? What might they want and need from me? Kacie began to think differently about Marta as she came to appreciate that her colleague had goals and motivations as valid as her own and that their goals were not inherently in conflict.
Become a problem solver rather than a critic or competitor. To work better together, it’s important to shift from a competitive stance to a collaborative one. One tactic is to “give” the other person the problem. Rather than trying to work through or around the other person, engage them directly. Kacie invited Marta out to lunch and was open with her: “I don’t feel like we are working together as effectively as we could. What do you think? Do you have any ideas for how we can work better together?” If you ask people to show you their cards, and demonstrate vulnerability in the process, they will often reveal a few of their own.
Ask more questions. In tense situations, many of us try to “tell” our way through it. We might become overly assertive, which usually makes the situation worse. Instead, try asking questions — ideally open-ended ones intended to create conversation. Put aside your own agenda, ask good questions, and have the patience to truly listen to the other person’s answers.
Enhance your awareness of your interpersonal style. It’s easy to chalk up conflicts to poor “chemistry” with another person but everyone has different styles and often being aware of those differences can help. Over lunch, Marta and Kacie discovered that they had both completed the Myers-Briggs earlier in their careers, so they shared their profiles. Kacie is both a clear introvert and a very strong sensing type: she prefers to have time to work through issues alone and quietly, and to draw conclusions from a broad base of data. Marta, on the other hand, is an extrovert and a strong intuitive type, comfortable reacting immediately, focusing on the big picture, and solving problems by talking them through with others. Given these differences in style and preference, Kacie and Marta were bound to find interacting with each other uncomfortable. But once they identified their differences, they realized that their styles could be quite complementary if they adapted and accommodated their approaches.
Ask for help. Asking for help can reboot a difficult relationship because it shows that you value the other person’s intelligence and experience. Over their lunch, Kacie grew confident enough to say to Marta, “You’ve been around here longer than I have. I feel like I’m starting to figure things out, but I’d love your help.” Then she asked questions like: “What should I be doing more or less of? Am I missing anything or failing to connect with anyone I really should? What do you wish someone had told you when you first started working here?”
Kacie and Marta’s relationship significantly improved. During my last call with Kacie, she told me that she and Marta communicate frequently in-person and via text and Slack, and they regularly take part in each other’s team meetings. Each quarter they bring their whole teams together to assess progress and seek opportunities to learn and improve their processes. While Marta and Kacie aren’t necessarily friends and don’t spend a lot of time together outside the office, they’re much better colleagues, and they like each other more than they initially suspected.
Kacie’s success in turning around her relationship with Marta was in part because she acted while “the cement was still wet.” Her negative dynamic with Marta hadn’t yet hardened so Kacie was able to increase her self-awareness, adapt her style, and reach out. It is possible to collaborate effectively with people you don’t like, but you have to take the lead.
Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career has been out since 2015 and I have been considering how to revise it for a new edition in 2019. Thrive was conceived as a broad overview of the many issues we highly sensitive people encounter in the workplace along with telling the stories of HSPs that I interviewed for the study.
I thought it might be useful to you if I presented a different angle on career. For example, it seems that the contact worker/gig economy is becoming a new normal with most people in the workforce having to become entrepreneurial, whether they wish to or not. Though I discussed self-employment and entrepreneurship in Thrive, I could dig much deeper into that aspect of career for a new version of the book. I could also present other views of career, such as more on trade work, acknowledging what is becoming a keen shortage of workers in the trades (many of which would probably work well for many HSPs).
Check out the latest research on Sensory Processing Sensitivity written in an easy to understand way by Dr. Elaine Aron (originator of the trait). What do you think of the Orchid, Tulip, Dandelion analogy? How about the new percentage of highly sensitive people at 30%? It’s a scale, of course, with people at varying levels of highly sensitive but each new bit of research adds to what we already know and does so in a careful, scientific way using rational thought processes. It is important in these crazy times that we be able to trust what is presented as factual information. This is factual information…