Good Reads for a Better You

by Bonnie Hovel 26. March 2017 22:09

Coaching people toward achieving their goals is part of my job — and a passion of mine. So in this season of fresh starts and New Year’s resolutions, it seems fitting to put that passion to work for you.

With that in mind, here are a few of my favorite resources to help you increase your work and life satisfaction the year ahead.

Refreshing Your Career

If your career needs a jump start in the coming year, check out this Forbes interview with Jenny Blake, entrepreneur, author and former career development program manager at Google, called How to Pivot Your Way to Your Dream Career.

In this interview, Blake encourages focusing more on your strengths than weaknesses, especially when moving toward a career change. She shares practical advice for making a move, while examples from her own career powerfully demonstrate the concepts she advocates.

If you experience uncertainty and are risk-averse when contemplating career changes, Blake’s concept of pivoting can give you a framework for less stressful, more incremental changes leading to greater satisfaction at work. For more on this topic, I’d also recommend checking out her book Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One.

Managing Your Emotions

Just published in 2016 is Susan David’s book Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life. Here, David uses a science-based approach that helps you navigate your thoughts, feelings and self-talk for ultimate success both at work and in your personal life.

I like her emphasis on developing the critical skill of being in charge of your actions and not getting “hooked” by negative emotions. If you step back, David points out, you’re more able to see your own role in a situation and take the opportunity presented to deal with what’s happening.

While the author isn’t suggesting we shut down negative emotions (far from it, really), she makes the point that when you get hooked by negative emotions, default behaviors take over. Behaviors such as bottling, where you ignore what’s happening, or brooding, when you dwell on a situation to the point you become paralyzed by indecision and unable to act.

Happily, David offers advice here to help you get unhooked, so you can see your emotions for what they are and remember you have choices when it comes to how you act.

Pursuing Happiness

If you’re looking to find more happiness in the new year, I’d recommend Jonathan Fields’ How to Live a Good Life: Soulful Stories, Surprising Science, and Practical Wisdom. This book, a mix of science, spirituality and life-learned lessons, provides a refreshing perspective on finding satisfaction.

Recent research, Fields notes in his book, shows that a large percentage of happiness is genetically based. With this in mind, the author talks about how focusing specifically on trying to make yourself happy or force a more positive outlook is often ineffective. But what do you do instead?

Fields recommends thinking of your life as having three buckets: vitality, connection and contribution. He goes on to share a variety of practical ways you can cultivate happiness as a side effect of what you do to fill each of these buckets — activities as simple as giving and getting moving.

Letting Go of Perfectionism

In The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Brene Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, outlines 10 guideposts on how to engage with the world from a place of worthiness, releasing the stress of overdoing and overworking.

Throughout the book, Brown focuses on self-compassion as an important component of living an emotionally healthy life. She poses questions like, “How do we cultivate the courage, compassion and connection that we need to recognize that we are enough — that we are worthy of love, belonging and joy?” — and shares her insights into the answers.

My favorite guidepost she offers is “letting go of perfectionism” and cultivating self-compassion, which means offering ourselves the same kindness we would give to others rather than being self-critical and judgmental. Instead of focusing on perfection, she advocates “wholehearted living” as a healthier goal.

So there you have it. A list to help you start your new year off right. I hope you find something here that strikes your fancy or comes along at just the right time for your next step in life or at work.

My parting advice for you this year would be this: Aim to strike a balance between acceptance of who you already are and your desire to reach your greatest potential. As the well-known late Carl R. Rogers said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”


First posted January 4, 2017 at


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Five Ways to Use Your Emotional Intelligence at Work

by Bonnie Hovel 30. September 2016 08:02

No matter what you do or where you work, your job probably involves some stressors.

Maybe you have too much to do and not enough time. Maybe you’re faced with information overload or, on the flip side, a whole lot of ambiguity.

Stressors like these can test even the most emotionally resilient among us. To help you rise to the challenge, here are five emotionally intelligent practices you could use to make the most of your innate strengths and thrive in a demanding environment.

Be a team player: Use your strengths while leaving space for others to contribute.

Striking a balance between competing and cooperating is truly beneficial on the job. But in stressful situations, many of us elevate our personal defenses and look out for number one. This reaction can set up a vicious cycle where people are afraid to express their feelings, leading to lowered trust. Eventually, teamwork is undermined and tension increases.

One way to break this cycle is to take the first step and focus on the other person. Ask what that person thinks, feels and wants in the situation. Use listening skills and ask questions to make sure you understand what they’re saying.

Once you know the other person’s perspective, express your own thoughts, feelings and wants (leaving your ideas out is not helpful in the long run). Aim for a balance between your views and those of your coworkers — that way everyone can contribute to solutions and accomplishments.

You may be surprised at your ability to influence a more harmonious atmosphere by setting an example and changing the dynamics of one-on-one and team relationships.

Understand conflict dynamics: Know your triggers, and let tension surface — then manage it wisely.

People often fear and avoid conflict. But avoiding conflict can keep you from solving your most pressing concerns. A good rule of thumb is to focus on the problem, not the personality.

When disagreements come up, the key to improving your experience lies in your willingness and ability to express yourself in a clear, supportive and honest way — and to encourage others to do the same.

Another vital skill as a professional is to graciously receive information from others about how your actions impact them. A healthy exchange about what gaps exist between the way things are and the way they ought to be does not have to be personally threatening when both parties learn to handle it with caring concern.

Engage in self-reflection: Use positive self-talk and reframe negative situations.

Managing your own moods is one of the most important abilities to develop for your professional life. And the first step to better understanding yourself and your moods is realizing you see the world through your own unique lens. So, in turn, your experiences reflect your expectations and judgments.

Take small steps to engage in self-reflection. Try writing in a journal to notice patterns, talk to a friend or seek coaching or counseling. All of these options can help you examine the internal sources of your difficulties. In the process, you may become less critical of yourself and others.

Practicing positive self-talk and learning how to step back and consider alternative ways of viewing situations are important skills in maintaining resilience and managing your moods. Listen to the tapes you play in your head each day. If you’re giving yourself negative messages, make an effort to reframe them and cast them in a more positive light.

For example, if your internal messages are, I’m tired, I’m anxious or I’m not good at this, change them to, I’m energized by this challenge, I’ve done something like this before and can do it again or I can get help and improve. The good news is you can rewire your brain through positive messages.

Strengthen relationships: Use empathy to cultivate rapport.

Many of us tend to think of communication as information giving. But one-way communication doesn’t get you very far in nurturing relationships. Empathy, on the other hand, benefits both parties and can go a long way in building connections.

Trying to see things from another person’s point of view takes you beyond making assumptions and gives you a better understanding of that person’s perspective, leading to a stronger bond.

To develop empathy, start by being curious and approaching others with a genuine desire to learn more. Ask questions that can’t be answered with a yes or no. Pay attention to the answers you get and listen for deeper meaning. Then check your own perceptions of their statements and concerns by asking whether you’ve got it right.

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and express your own thoughts, too. Opening yourself up will set the stage for encouraging others to do the same, which can help take your relationships to a deeper level and increase your capacity for empathy.

Practice self-care: Balance work and recreation, and stay present in everyday life.

Are you able to set aside your work issues enough to enjoy your personal life? Ask yourself whether your time away from work is satisfying. If the answer is no or if you find yourself constantly checking email or dwelling on work, it may be time to examine your work-life balance.

Start by creating a vision for your life and relationships apart from work. Are you making time for the people and activities you care about? Is your health suffering from too many hours of work or constant worrying about issues at the office? Do you feel satisfied with the amount and quality of time you spend with your friends and family? Identify the things that are most important to you and determine how you will make room in your life for them.

Last but not least, be present in the moment. Doing this is another way to take care of yourself at work and in other areas of your life. The simple practice of pausing to take a few deep breaths when you feel anxious can be a helpful technique for becoming calmer, more centered and more aware of your surroundings. Try this just before entering an important meeting to increase your confidence.


First published August 2, 2016 at

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Five Ways to Go From Survive to Thrive at Work

by Bonnie Hovel 15. April 2016 08:00

If you work for a large organization, chances are you’ve had days when you felt insignificant. In my experience as a leadership coach, I’ve helped many employees who had lost sight of how they fit into the larger whole and had slipped into survival mode. But by taking a few steps to empower themselves and reshape their careers, they went from merely surviving to thriving.

And you can too. Here’s how.

Take the Lead in Shaping Your Career

No one cares as much as you do about your career and life satisfaction.

Although many large organizations have helpful support structures, like training courses for learning new skills and human resources specialists offering career advice, it’s often up to employees to understand and tap into these resources. So take time to explore opportunities and set up a plan for your own development.

Also consider getting some outside help. Potential resources include life coaches, career centers at colleges and universities and freelance career coaches. These professionals can help you discover your strengths and plan for a more satisfactory future, which is especially useful if you’re unsure whether your current job is the best fit.

Whatever you do, develop a vision and goals for your career path. A vision for the future you desire will be a strong driving force for your development and growth, and goals will help you stay on track.

Find Mentors

With the help of your supervisor or human resources department, identify one or more leaders you admire in your organization and explore the possibility of learning from them.

Start by requesting a meeting and, if you get it, see how it goes. One conversation may be enough to give you insights into the organization and advice on how to make progress with your career goals. And sometimes that will be just what you were looking for.

If your initial meeting goes well and you want to learn more, explore options such as regularly scheduled meetings or a shadowing situation where you accompany the leader in meetings and other activities. You might consider establishing an ongoing mentorship.

Approach finding and learning from a mentor with curiosity. Be open to the wisdom of the person you choose, and be sure to express gratitude for the time and attention you receive.

Volunteer for Special Projects

You probably have plenty of work to do, but stepping outside of your day-to-day duties to contribute to your organization can help you expand your horizons and could spark ideas that will enhance your career goals.

Look for ways you can help out. Are there staff meetings where problem-solving is done or new ideas discussed? Does your supervisor need assistance with a project or specific tasks? Raise your hand when you see an opportunity to get involved in projects that could help the department.

If opportunities aren’t obvious, suggest a special project. Can you help improve processes, customer service or internal communications, for example? Those who are closest to the work are often the ones in a position to identify needed changes.

If you reject the all-too-common attitude of “it’s not in my job description,” you’ll gain the advantage of involvement at a higher level as well as be seen as someone who cares about changing things for the better.

Try Cross-Functional Peer Networking

Large organizations have their advantages, and one of them is a variety of departments with different specializations. Attend organization-wide functions or training courses where you can get to know people in other departments, and take the opportunity to investigate how you might support each other.

When you’re discussing work issues with people in other departments, do some informal networking — reach out to see if there would be mutual benefit to talking over a cup of coffee. You may be surprised to find out about common issues or problems you’re facing. You may also learn about positions that appeal to you more than your current job.

Keep your eyes open and watch for cross-functional team opportunities. Consider peers in other departments to be your internal customers, and be open to a mutually beneficial relationship for problem solving and learning about functions outside your normal departmental boundaries.

Take Advantage of Continuing Education

Investigate educational opportunities, such as continuing education at your local college or university. For example, UW Professional & Continuing Education has a wide variety of courses and certificate programs with potential to enhance your career or prepare you for something more compatible with your goals.

Also consider giving and receiving training within your organization. Learning keeps people engaged in life. Volunteering to give training about a topic of interest to your co-workers can be a rewarding experience and can help you develop an even greater expertise.

If you want to thrive in your organization, go beyond mere survival. Contributing above and beyond the boundaries of your job description will help you add value both to the organization and your overall career journey — and you’ll likely find yourself feeling more significant and more engaged in your life and your work.


First published March 25, 2016 at

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What Does Mindfulness Have to Do with A Runaway Car?

by Bonnie Hovel 2. July 2010 21:05

I had lunch by Lake Union in Seattle yesterday with a friend and after driving back across Lake Washington to Bellevue, I had, to put it mildly, a frightening experience!  I stopped to get the mail before driving up the steep, winding hill to our house.  I stepped on the emergency brake, got out of the car, picked up the mail and turned around just in time to see my car charging off across the busy street near our house by itself!  I evidently had not put the car in parking gear and the emergency brake wasn’t pushed down far enough, so it followed the path of least resistance.  Miraculously, I wasn’t hurt, nor was anyone else and even my car survived the ordeal.

Things happened very rapidly and yet this incident took on the unearthly sense of a slow-motion movie over which I had no control, but none of these impressions stopped me from trying. There was lots of traffic!  My husband, who heard the commotion of my yelling at drivers to stop, bellowed down from our deck, “Stay there!”  As usual, and much to his dismay, I disobeyed, running to the street to flag down the cars in hopes of getting them to stop while my vehicle proceeded to cross the road as if it had a mind of its own, rolled into the bushes and finally halted just before the rear wheels followed the front wheels over an embankment. 

People can be so incredibly nice when there’s a crisis. Our neighborhood gardener and his assistant came running to help while my husband sprinted down the hill to the rescue and the man who had been the first driver in the line of cars witnessing this entertaining but upsetting event, who led the pack in screeching to a halt before continuing on down the street, made a U-turn and came back to see if he could help.  I’ve seldom been the recipient of empathy such as I felt from him.  He speechlessly listened to me ramble on in my shocked state and watched me in wonderment with an expression of kindness that said more than words could offer. And this empathy was given even though I had endangered lives and cars other than my own in this process. I have a clear memory of his facial expression and his thoughtfulness in the midst of the chaos felt good.

About this time, I looked at the car with its engine still running and was afraid to get inside it to shut it off because I thought it might rock over the embankment and slide the 150 feet or so down into the nearby lake, adding more chance of danger to the occurrence. My husband, however, has that inborn ability, seemingly limited to men, which allowed him to immediately determine that my car was secure on its perch.  He climbed inside and promptly backed it out of the bushes. There isn’t a scratch or nick to be found.  Upon later examination, I found a few sprigs of evergreen brush clinging to the front bumper but no damage. What a relief!  Even though my car is three years old, it still feels new and I was concerned about damaging it.  The adrenalin rush from this experience lasted several hours, but I finally recovered. It was a weird and unsettling experience. 

I now have a “system” I’m imposing on myself, with a little help from the men in my life--my husband, father and son. When I stop to get the mail I will put the car in park, set the emergency brake and turn off the ignition!  I've decided if I could become a comedienne, one of my jokes would be "You know you're getting older're more afraid of telling your children what you've done than you are of telling your parents."  I called my 90-year-old father before I told my 42-year-old son to report this experience.  I guess I’m afraid my son will think I’m "losing it”.

The most revealing insight of all relates to “mindfulness”, which I've been studying recently.  I participated in a workshop on the topic and learned that it involves being attentive to your moment-to-moment sensory experience in a gentle, non-judgmental way.  It is supposed to lead to a deep sense of inner peace and calmness.  I must say in this runaway car experience, I was anything but calm.  Looking back at my reactions I can see I was in a hyperactive state such as I’ve experienced rarely in my life.  But I certainly felt alive and “in the moment”.  I believe my emotional brain was more in control than my executive brain and am asking myself if this is a good thing.  I think my emotions actually helped me react instinctively and quickly to alert drivers to stop before crashing into my car.  They certainly helped me appreciate the kindness of strangers and the incredible resourcefulness of my husband. 

The biggest lesson I believe I’m learning from this experience, other than how to prevent it from happening again, is that I need practice obtaining clarity about which things I can control and better engaging my rational mind in a way that might keep me from being overwhelmed in a moment of crisis. I could have been better at realizing the impermanence of the situation – a goal of mindfulness that helps one make it through unpleasant experiences without so much suffering.  Awareness of impermanence also emphasizes appreciation of the natural ebb and flow of events.  A difficult event may seem to last forever but the rational mind knows it won’t.  Increasing this awareness could give me freedom to react in a less stressed way by allowing myself to experience the feelings without so much internal resistance. 

My teacher, Shelly Young. M.A., LPC, CAC III, described mindfulness as “extraordinary attentiveness and radically accepting the internal experience NOW”.  I had the first half mastered – the acceptance is something I need to improve.  She also taught us that external passivity is not the goal; to the contrary, the less resistance or stress we experience internally, the more energy we release to be efficient in the way we function.  This is an important point about mindfulness, since many of us picture instead a yogi or monk, meditating with legs folded and eyes closed against the realities of everyday living.  The picture painted by my studies is instead related to having tools to apply to situations as they happen, practical tools, easily attainable by all.

One thing I know for sure is that I don’t want to purposely engineer events of this type to improve my reactions.  They are fortunately infrequent happenings in my life and I want that to remain the case.  However, having this experience has inspired me to have a more regular practice of mindfulness!

For more information about Mindfulness, here's a link to Shelly Young's website:


Authentic Happiness:Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D.

by Bonnie Hovel 20. May 2010 17:46


Identifying our strengths and how to better incorporate them into our lives may be the answer to finding more lasting happiness.  That is the thesis of Dr. Martin Seligman, the author of Authentic Happiness A former president of the American Psychological Association and a best-selling author, Seligman has written a thought-provoking scientific study of the subjective concept of happiness.  He successfully argues for the importance of “positive psychology,” a field he pioneered, which focuses on the qualities of happiness rather than on pathology and mental illness.  In the first part of the book, he defines “happiness”, not an easy task in itself.  To achieve long-term, substantial happiness, he believes we must pursue activities in line with our own personal strengths.

 Throughout the book are questionnaires the reader can complete to assess personal traits, such as "Optimism About the Future" and "Your Signature Strengths".  These are also available without charge if you register on the author’s website Authentic Happiness website.  This is a user-friendly method of receiving immediate feedback which I found helpful in applying the book’s concepts to my own life.  I recommend the VIA Signature Strengths assessment, whether or not you read the book. 


I found one of the most interesting aspects of the book to be Part II: Strength and Virtue.  Through study and research, Seligman selected six major categories of strengths and virtues that are valued in nearly every culture and that are pliable:

1.  Wisdom and knowledge

2.  Courage

3.  Love and humanity

4.  Justice

5.  Temperance

6.  Spirituality and transcendence


Under each of these categories are more specific strengths, totaling 24.  If you take the assessment, you will receive a description of your own top three to five.  I was surprised to learn that one of mine is "Appreciation of Beauty".  It had not occurred to me that this trait does not belong to everyone.  To me, it confirms the theory that we sometimes downplay the importance of that which comes naturally to us.


I highly recommend Authentic Happiness to anyone interested in personal development and fulfillment. 





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