Category Archives: Change

ACT: A Mental Health Strategy for Overcoming Obstacles

project-mom-dev-kneeSometimes you are just rolling along and – WHAM! – you are broadsided by an unexpected obstacle. It might be a physical obstacle, such a being stuck in traffic. Or it might be another kind of obstacle, one that is more ‘internal’, an emotion or a way of thinking that is having a negative impact on you.

No matter the obstacle, there is a simple and practical strategy that can help you move through the obstacle and either get back on track, or find a new track all together!

Let’s look at the first example. You are heading to an important appointment and suddenly you find yourself stuck in a congested roadway. Traffic is not moving. You begin to notice your anxiety (and maybe your anger) increasing as you realize that you may be late for your appointment. If you stay in that state, your body will tense, you might grip the wheel tighter, you might furrow your brow, you eyes might widen, your heart might increase. All of these physical symptoms are congruent with a threat state. In neuroscience, this state is described as an AWAY state; your body is preparing to protect you from the threat before you. Interestingly, when you are in a threat state, you expereince tunnel vision; you quite literally are limited in your ability to perceive and to think.

Instead of staying in the threat state, you could try this simple strategy, called ACT:

A – Accept your current reality

C – Choose a vision of what you want in this situation

T – Take action to move TOWARD your vision

So…instead of gripping the wheel, furrowing your brow, and maybe releasing some unpleasant expletives, you say the following (to yourself, or out loud):

A – I accept that I am stuck in traffic and I might be late for my appointment

C – I want to look for an opportunity to get to my appointment as soon as possible and I want to feel good when I arrive

T – I will:

  • take a deep breath
  • call ahead and indicate that I am stuck in traffic and might be late for the appointment
  • look around to see if I can make eye contact with someone to let me cut in front of them
  • smile at the person with whom I make eye contact
  • prepare for what I will say when I arrive at the appointment, and visualize myself there
  • remind myself that it is most important to arrive safe and feeling good

You might do all or some of these things, or you might choose to do other things such as listen to calming music or recite a mantra that has meaning for you. The idea is, while you are taking action to move TOWARD your vision, you are NOT wasting energy and valuable neural resources focusing on moving AWAY from your obstacle. A positive, toward state provides you will a broadened perspective; you are able to access more internal and external resources to help you in that moment.

Chances are, you will get to your appointment sooner. Or, at the very least, you’ll arrive much more positive and calm when you do arrive.

Let’s look at another example. My beautiful mother has dementia. It sucks. When she first started experiencing symptoms, it was overwhelming. I found myself becoming anxious and sad just at the thought of going to see her. I felt helpless, angry, and vulnerable. Then, I felt guilty; here I was thinking of myself when my poor mother was mentally deteriorating.

Then, I decided to ACT. Here is how that went for me:

A – I accept that mom has dementia and it sucks – for her and for those of us who love her

C – I want to see her as often as I can, and to feel good when I go and when I leave

T – I will:

  • go to visit only after I have had a good night’s sleep
  • meditate before I go
  • bring people with me; mom always liked lots of noise
  • make physical contact with mom (hold her hand, rub her back)
  • smile when I arrive and when I leave
  • remind myself that any unpleasantries are not my mom, they are the disease that grips her brain

I decided to ACT in this situation well over 5 years ago, and I never, ever, not once, hesitate to go and see my mom. I truly and completely look forward to it. I feel good when I arrive and when I leave. Because I am moving TOWARD my vision, I am not stuck in the negativity that arrives when I focus on moving AWAY from the reality of her disease.

So, give it a try the next time you feel stuck! Make sure you address and acknowledge all three elements of ACT. The ‘I accept’ element is very important. Do not leave it out. It simply means that you acknowledge that ‘it is what it is’. It does not mean you like it or that you are happy that it happened; it just means that you accept that it is.

Deri Latimer is an expert in positive possibilities for people! A TEDx Speaker and Author, Deri’s message reinforces that positive habits are the pathway to a happier and healthier life – at work, at home and at any age!


Performance Appraisals: More Harm than Help

Man&WomanMeeting1I started my career in HR. I was educated in, and then spent years staunchly supporting, a core foundation of effective HRM practice; Performance Management.

Every year or so, we HR Practitioners rolled out the Performance Plan to the leadership team, and then relentlessly chased them down to get their performance appraisals done on time. Then, after hearing months of griping from leaders and employees alike, we’d re-develop, re-design and then re-launch the ‘new and improved’ form, the more stream-lined process and we were sure we’d be met with enthusiastic cheers from all involved.

Inevitably, the process of chasing leaders and dodging complaints continued. No form, no annual process, no amount of encouraging, berating or rewarding leaders worked; performance time was the bane of our existence. We detested it as much as everyone else did (and does)!

Then, along came the Neuroleadership Institute, and everything started to shift. Their research support what many of us know is indeed the right thing to do: Kill Your Performance Ratings. Not only are most organization’s performance management systems cumbersome and incredibly time-consuming, they are often counter-productive. And, that’s not even the worst of it. They do more harm than good.  “In the context of neuroscience research, most PM practices turn out to damage the performance they are intended to improve. That’s because they are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of human responses, as revealed in recurring patterns of mental activity.”

Performance discussions, as they are traditionally formulated and administered, automatically put people in a threat state (also known as ‘fight or flight‘ response). Think about it, if someone says they’ll be evaluating you, aren’t you automatically feeling a little on the defensive? In fact, that notion alone – being evaluated or appraised – will likely be enough to distract you away from the performance itself and toward the instinct to protect yourself. When you are in a threat state, your goal is survival…not learning, not growing, not appreciating…just surviving.  An entire organization focused on surviving is not one that breeds the collaborative cultures required for today’s workplaces. Instead a ‘kill or be killed’ mentality permeates the organization. People move away from each other, rather than toward teaming and co-creation.

All sorts of media, including CNN, are picking up on the idea of dismantling performance management as we know it.  Not only is it completely demotivating for  people, it is also a “colossal time-suck’ for managers. “So an increasing number of companies — including Accenture, GE, Microsoft, CIGNA, The Gap and Deloitte — have decided to overthrow the annual review in favor of monthly, bi-weekly or even “on demand” conversations between managers and employees.”

Human beings benefit far more from real-time, ongoing dialogue between managers and staff. Goals stay front of mind, appreciation is provided often, and possible ‘issues’ are addressed and re-directed promptly. Everybody wins.

Since people do better when dialogue is open, continuous and positive, why would we not have the key communication system about performance be that way as well?

Deri Latimer is an expert in positive possibilities for people! A TEDx Speaker and Author, Deri’s message reinforces that positive habits are the pathway to a happier and healthier life – at work, at home and at any age!

The Gift of a Rainy Day

A Rainy Day Hangout

A Rainy Day Hangout

It can be a drag. You’ve been working hard all week and have been looking forward to a weekend of fun outdoors. After a week of commuting in blistering heat, you wake up on Saturday morning to cloud cover and a drizzly forecast. Groan.

It’s perfectly okay to be a bit bummed out. I mean, you had big plans for the day; sunbathing, gardening, going for a long walk in the park, a get-together with friends on a steamy deck enjoying great conversation over a cold drink or two.

Once you’ve given yourself permission to sulk a little, decide what opportunity this quick change in plans has provided to you. I think that sometimes the universe provides for us the very thing we need that we might not give to ourselves.

Here are a few ‘rainy day’ ideas:

  • Skip the shower and don your favourite ‘comfy’ clothes (no shaving, no make up, choose to go au natural!)
  • Enjoy your coffee and morning paper for an extra long time; read the sections you tend to skip when you are short on time.
  • Clean out those drawers that you have been thinking about for the last two (or ten) years. You may discover things long forgotten and thought long lost.
  • Pull out that craft/hobby/special project that you never get time to do on a ‘normal’ busy day off. Remember why you enjoy that activity.
  • Go through your photo albums and just enjoy the memory-filled ride. Pause and take yourself back to the time when the photo was taken. What emotions are attached to it? For what and whom are you grateful during that time in your life?
  • Snuggle under the afghan and watch movies – all day!
  • Sort the 1000+ photos still on your phone and send them off for processing or organize them into an on-line album. You’ll be so glad you did.
  • Play a board game (you still have some around, I bet!)
  • Write a gratitude letter to someone special in your life. Take your time.
  • Read a good book.
  • Phone your Mom (or Dad, or Aunt, or Sibling, or Good Buddy) – just to chat.
  • Meditate; you’ve always wanted to try it, right?
  • Play charades with the whole family; the kids, although hesitant at first (depending on their age) might just like it!
  • Take a nap – on the couch – or wherever you darn well feel like it!
  • Cook dinner together. Make everyone responsible for one part of the dinner. Make it a ‘no rules’ experience (i.e. start with dessert…in fact, it can be all dessert!!)
  • Cuddle with your partner; who knows what that might lead to… it’s all good for you at any stage of life!
  • Go outside! There is something vero relaxing about walking in the rain. If the temperature is warm, skip the umbrella!

I’d love to hear your rainy day ideas. What gift has a change in plans provided for you?

Deri Latimer is an expert in positive possibilities for people! A TEDx Speaker and Author, Deri’s message reinforces that positive habits are the pathway to a happier and healthier life – at work, at home and at any age!

You Matter: Three Ways to Make it a Better World

You Matter!

Remind yourself every day – You Matter!

We are all part of an ecosystem – several, actually. Our families, communities, schools and workplaces are all environments of which we are a part. We affect, and are affected by, everything else that is a part of each ecosystem.

I love the definition of ecosystem from Wikipedia; especially the description of how all living organisms are “linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows”.

I constantly remind myself to be mindful of the “nutrition” and “energy” I am adding to the lives of the people I meet and interact with every day. Am I adding something positive? Do I contribute something that helps and supports people? Social contagion is real. We catch each other’s emotions just like we catch colds and flu viruses from each other.

A recent article got me thinking about this again. Erica Pearson of the New York Daily News describes a University of Pennsylvania study that found negative tweets by younger people are associated with higher rates of stress and heart disease in the larger community. Tweets about hating and being bored and unmotivated were linked with higher heart disease in the community. Tweets about friendship and about what’s good in the world were linked with lower rates of the disease. The study found that it was not the “tweeters” who experienced the increase in heart disease, but that those young people were representative of the larger community in which they reside. In other words, communities that are less well (more disease) are those that seem to be associated with more negative and unmotivated young people (at least according to their tweet content). “When people in your community are angry you are likely to feel that simply through psychological contagion,” said lead researcher Johannes Eichstaedt, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student.

So, what are people ‘catching’ from you? If you are hanging on to anger and negativity, it is not just affecting you, but it is affecting everyone around you. The entire ecosystem is changed by you and the nutrition and energy (or lack thereof) that you contribute.

Maybe a better question is, what do you want people to catch from you? Start by thinking about the kind of world you want. I cannot say I have ever met a person who said they want to live in a world that is negative, angry, sad and unmotivated. My guess is all of us – or most of us – would say we want to be part of world that is positive, peaceful, happy and energized.

Here are three ways you can contribute healthy nutrition and energy to the ecosystems of which you are a part every day:

1) Ask yourself, and answer, ‘What’s good today?’ Then ask one other person.

2) Compliment/appreciate one person in your life. Wait long enough to see them smile and light up when you do. Remind yourself of that memory as you drift off to sleep.

3) Spend 1 minute in total silence. Close your eyes, focus on your breath, and turn down the volume on your internal dialogue. Just be.

Do you make a difference? You bet, you do. What you think about, feel and do will either add to or detract from the health of your ecosystem. What will you choose?

Deri Latimer is an expert in positive possibilities for people! A TEDx Speaker and Author, Deri’s message reinforces that positive habits are the pathway to a happier and healthier life – at work, at home and at any age!






Three Ways to Reset your Brain for Resilience

Never too little, never too late!

Never too little, never too late!

There is a lot of information available on healthy ageing; and much of that writing includes strategies for a healthy brain, like this article by Michele Rosenthal titled 7 Ways to Exercise Your Brain – and Why You Really Need To!

When I spoke at a Senior’s Wellness Day recently, I was reminded about how important it is for all of us – at any age – to practice strategies that help keep our thinking flexible and ‘buoyant’ during every phase of our lives.

Three strategies that are particularly useful are 1) ReACT, 2) Reframe, and 3) ReAlign.

1) ReACT: Stuff will happen. No matter who you are, where you live, or what you do, your life will be filled with surprises – many happy ones and some that you’d rather avoid. When one of the latter happens in your life, instead of reacting impulsively (and often negatively) try this strategy to ReACT:

A – Accept your current reality. Say, out loud or to yourself, ‘I accept (whatever it is that is negative).’ For example, you might say ‘I accept that my friend is showing signs of dementia.’

C – Choose a vision of what you’d like in this situation. When you decide what you want, your brain automatically moves into a more positive state. In the example above, you might say ‘I choose to be a positive influence on my friend, and to enjoy spending time with her as much as I can.’

T – Take action to move toward your vision. When you are moving toward your vision (what you want), you are not gripped (and limited) by moving away from what you don’t want (the negative situation). In this example, you might do the following: ‘I will become informed about dementia so I can be a helpful resource for my friend.’ ‘I will visit my friend when I am well rested and am feeling good.’ ‘I will take my friend out for a walk or to enjoy a coffee at our favourite spot at least once a week.’

2) Reframe. Thoughts are just thoughts. They are not facts. When you experience a negative emotion, the internal dialogue you are having is generally negative and self-limiting. A reframe is a way of changing that narrative (thoughts) so that you can make the best choice possible in that situation.

Let’s say a store clerk does not respond when you say ‘Thank you’ after making your purchase. Your might feel angry, and your internal dialogue might be something like ‘These young people today have no manners! They don’t care about giving great service, particularly when it is to an older person! They have no respect!’

You could choose to reframe these thoughts. Your reframe might be, ‘She must not have heard me say “thank you”.’; or ‘He is likely distracted with something important right now.’; or ‘She might not have been trained how to interact with customers.’ Any of these reframes will result in a slight shift in YOUR emotional experience. You might still like to have a ‘You’re Welcome’ when you say ‘Thank You’ but you will not be focused, negatively, on a story about the clerk that serves neither you nor anyone who might run into you the rest of that day!

You might even decide to provide some feedback to the clerk – to let him know that a ‘You’re Welcome’ would be most welcome to you! If you do decide to do that – and you choose a softer reframe – you’ll be in a much more resourceful state when you provide that feedback. After all, remind yourself that the story you are telling yourself is just a story…so why not choose a story that helps you to be more positive and more effective in your interactions.

And, let’s face it, you truly have no idea what might be going on for that clerk at that time and on that day. Your softened reframe, and helpful approach, might be just what that clerk needs in what might be an otherwise lousy day.

3) ReAlign. When you experience a challenging situation, choose a body exercise to help you realign your energy.

One of my favourites is called ‘Skiing’. It is a wonderful body exercise to use when you find yourself feeling agitated and angry.

Stand feet apart, knees bent.  As if you are skiing, bring your hands up and then down, allowing a ‘swoosh’ sound to come out of your mouth as you breathe out.  Repeat 5-8 times or until you have released some of the angry energy.  Notice your capacity to care, once the energy is released.

I also like ‘Hands over Eyes’, a great exercise to use when you are feeling overwhelmed with ruminating thoughts.

Rub your hands together rapidly until they are warm. Place a hand over each eye. Notice how the soothing heat from your hands calms the state of your mind.

My last book is filled with thinking strategies and body exercises. I am most happy to provide you with a free copy of WakeUpToYourHabits_ebook here. It includes 52 body exercises that can help you to shift out of negative emotion and into positive emotion. Try out the exercises and choose the ones that work for you.

I’d love to hear what works for you. Leave a comment here or email me at

Deri Latimer is an expert in positive possibilities for people! A TEDx Speaker and Author, Deri’s message reinforces that positive habits are the pathway to a happier and healthier life – at work, at home and at any age!