Wellness – A Way of Living

Turning Good Intentions into Action

Is it Sympathy or Empathy – and Why is that Important?

Empathy or Sympathy?

Empathy and Sympathy – why are these two approaches so misunderstood and ultimately misused?


Many people know what “sympathy” means much more than they know what “empathy” means. Some believe the two terms are synonymous.

There are many definitions and some even contradict themselves, however, the following definitions reflect my experience working with clients, training individuals, and interacting with people in my personal and professional life.

Sympathy: sympathy is related to feeling – emotion

Sympathy: When you provide sympathy you are engaging with that person’s pain, allowing your feelings to cloud your judgment which impairs your ability to support the person objectively.

Empathy: empathy is related to understanding – knowledge, experience

Empathy: When you have empathy you understand, or try to understand the other person’s pain but do not allow it to change how you communicate with that person, which allows you to support them objectively.

Sympathy emphasizes sharing distressing feelings whereas empathy does not emphasize any particular type of feeling. The listener using empathy shares and experiences whatever feelings the talker is expressing at the moment, regardless of whether the feelings are distressing like grief, or pleasant like love.

Sympathy may also involve agreeing with some aspects of the other person’s feelings, beliefs, and so on while empathy emphasizes understanding all of them with no interest in either agreeing or disagreeing.

The person using empathy tunes into the entire inner world of the other person while the person using sympathy typically tunes into only those aspects with which he agrees.

The listener using empathy usually responds more broadly to the talker as compared with the listener using sympathy.

Let’s look at the two approaches to see where our focus is in the conversation:

Sympathy Approach:

This approach has the intent of removing a person’s pain by making their problem our own and problem-solving for them. This approach is self-focused. It is the unconscious act of eliminating what is making us feel uncomfortable. This is a main contributor to ‘burnout.’

Empathy Approach:

This approach involves providing support from a place of understanding. This is other-person focused in its approach. It involves either personally understanding what the other person is going through, or asking the other person to help you understand the barriers and challenges they face. With this approach you facilitate the other person’s problem-solving.

The understanding you have of these two approaches and how this impacts your interaction with yourself and others, has a direct impact on your health – mental, emotional, and physical – and whether you are winning the battle or heading towards burnout, or not.

There’s a weight to carrying around past pain. Your fatigue has much to do with unprocessed emotions. The way to lighten the load is to talk, talk, and talk some more.

Not sure if you need a Wellness Coach? Contact me and arrange a free consultation call – and decide for yourself.

Michelle Potvin H.T. Coun.,

Wellness – A Way of Living

(Connect & Contact on Linked in – http://ca.linkedin.com/in/michellepotvin)

Wellness, a state of mind, body and spirit!


2010/11/29 Posted by | Behaviours, Mindfulness, Uncategorized, Wellness | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Women and Work/Life Balance

Work - Life - Balance


Today’s career women are continually tested by the demands of full-time work and the responsibilities and obligations at home.

 According to recent statistics – women, at least in the western world – have an equal representation in the workplace, (48% of labour force 2008).  However, while having a job for many women is a necessary part of contributing to their household – it is also a source of stress as many women feel that they hold ‘two’ jobs – that of wife/mother and that of professional outside of the home.  Of course to be fair there is an increasing trend in men taking on responsibilities in the home, but as the women who have attended my Work/Life Balance workshops point out – they are still ‘shouldering’ more of the responsibility of the household obligations then their partners – at the same time they are working long hours outside of the home.

 Women who express the sentiment – life has too many tasks and not enough hours to complete them – also tend to feel ‘guilty’ when they don’t get the tasks completed or they aren’t completed well. 

 The guilt I’ve discovered comes from a perception that ‘other people’ are scrutinizing these women and that they have somehow not ‘lived up’ to the standard that society or peers or family members have set.  The results of which cause women to try and ‘do it all’ leading them to become a ‘stressed out’ individual who feels like there’s something out of balance – but just can’t seem to find a way to get it all in balance again – without giving up something or disappointing someone else.

 The Guilt Factor has an enormous impact on the lives of working women and it causes many to deny themselves the very things that would put them back in balance or at least contribute to a more balanced way of living. 

Today working and taking care of families have become ‘extreme sports.’  Society puts idealistic expectations on women to be ‘flawless’ caregivers. From my experience – men don’t lose credibility among coworkers when they have children, but women do.  According to Sylvia Hewlett, president of the Center for Work-Life Policy, “if a woman takes time off to care for children or an older parent, employers tend to see these people as less than fully committed. It’s as though their identity is transformed.”

Women not only face resistance from employers, loved ones, and society but also face resistance from themselves – their perceptions of their roles in life and the guilt they feel for not conforming to someone else’s standard has a powerful effect on their concept of balance.

How then are we ever going to get to a place where we can achieve balance more often between our personal, professional, and emotional needs?

 Well by starting to examine and adjust ‘How You Think’ about your role in your personal and professional lives – then making changes slowly that bring your personal and professional life more in line with what you see as your ideal life.

 Of course this is easier said than done – but it can be achieved if you put your needs right up there with everyone else’s.  And of course this also takes time – personally I started making these types of changes about 8 years ago and today I can say that I can achieve balance in my life more often – especially when I check my ‘thinking’ and make adjustments according to my concept of balance.

So here are some things we can start doing now to change the way we think about our life and the balance that seems to elude us:

 Learn more about yourself and learn to accept that making mistakes is an integral part of any learning process. Learn from the mistakes and use that to define what you do and do not want in your life.

Start giving some things up.  You’ll actually feel a bit of what I liken to ‘withdrawal symptoms’ but persevere.  De-cluttering your life physically and mentally is a very ‘liberating’ experience.

Lose the guilt. It’s not like you’re going to a resort every day. You’re at work. As a career woman, you’re serving as a breadwinner for your family, and that’s an essential role.

Divide the workload fairly. Unless you are a single mom, take the time to negotiate responsibilities with your partner and older children. Avoid conflict with the people in your household by sitting down when you’re not angry and negotiating a fair work distribution.

Be in the moment whether at work or at home. When you are at work then be your professional self and when you are at home be your personal self.  Not easy!  So do something to signal to yourself that you are home from work.  I change my clothes.  Also, don’t if you can help it, bring home work and if you do, then make sure you do it when you get home and then go ‘change your clothes’ and become that personal self.

Communicate with your boss and your coworkers. Set the boundaries and the expectations and reset them as often as you need to.  Clearly outline with your boss the expectations they have for your job, and then make sure that you can follow through. Don’t take it all on and then ‘crash and burn’ because you really couldn’t do it all.  Also, let coworkers and your boss know that when you are at home or on vacation that you are not available for work related tasks. Turn off your email and your cell phone/blackberry and stick to this!  One slip up and they will start calling you outside work hours and expect you to answer.

Negotiate readjusting your schedule. Can you telecommute a few days per week? Is a flex schedule or part time work possible? Discuss this with your employer and see if this is something they can do for you.

Adjust your priorities – put housework lower down the list. Make time for the people in your life – partner, children – sometimes you can forego that ‘spotless kitchen floor’ for an afternoon at the park with the kids, or a lunch date with your partner.

Feel good about the child care you choose. This can be a difficult task. However, you’ll feel much better at work if you know your children are safe.

Schedule partner time. Have a “date night” with take out food and a DVD or simply go out and have dinner and take in a movie.  Doesn’t matter what it is, what matters is that you take the time to do it regularly.

Schedule in me-time. Hard-working women need to recharge their batteries, so don’t feel the least bit guilty about taking time for yourself. Get out of the house once in awhile. Indulge in a spa day, lunch with your girlfriends, a hot fudge sundae, or whatever makes you feel good.

Remember, don’t feel guilty, take care of yourself, and try to make these changes slowly and steadily.  Being consistent in your approach, changing your thinking patterns, and gaining support from those that you care about will help you to regain your balance and still be a working woman with a family.

Not sure you can benefit from engaging a Wellness Coach?

Contact me for a Free Consultation Call and Decide For Yourself!

Michelle Potvin H.T. Coun.,

Wellness – A Way of Living

(Connect & Contact on Linked in – http://ca.linkedin.com/in/michellepotvin)

Wellness, a state of mind, body and spirit!

2010/11/22 Posted by | Behaviours, Lifestyle, Mindfulness, Stress | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Nature of Your Mind

The Nature of Our Mind

In Zen it is thought that there are two levels of mind: the everyday mind and the Big Sky mind. The everyday mind, is our normal waking consciousness. It is the constant self-dialogue going on affirming the nature of your life.   It constantly tells your story; the memories, thoughts, plans, desires, and resentments that make up your life.  Behind this everyday mind is the Big Sky mind – serene, tranquil, and simply observing.  The everyday mind, in its attempts to analyze, think, process and figure things out, is like clouds obscuring your view of the sky.  By quieting the thoughts, we dispel the clouds and the expansiveness of the open sky appears.

In  meditation, one learns to rest in Big Sky mind.  The focus of meditation is to first quiet the ordinary mind.  Engaging in a practice of following and counting your breaths, letting go of thoughts as they arise, and eventually resting in Big Sky mind.

Meditation as a practice to quiet your ordinary mind is difficult and requires an effort.  The practice of focusing exclusively on your breathing and learning to let go of your thoughts as they arise is a challenge because our minds are so attuned to processing and analyzing our everyday world that to simply stop them when we need to, requires discipline.  One way to develop that discipline is to have a focal point such as our breathing, and as thoughts arise, we simply let go of them by refocusing on our breathing.  It is not that you can ever stop the mind from thinking, that is what it does, but with practice you can learn to not follow your thoughts; simply notice them and return to your breathing. 

 In meditation you become aware of the impossibility of stopping thoughts, so the goal is to not follow the thoughts when they arise.  One way to stop yourself from following your thoughts is to note what’s happening by saying “thinking” in your mind; note it and go back to focusing on your breathing.

You will come to know the nature of your mind by this practice.

You will see how just trying to sit quietly for ten minutes without interruptions from your mind is quite impossible.  At first this is a bit aggravating, and it seems you are constantly saying “thinking” and ” how can this be peaceful?”  But with practice you learn to pay less and less attention to these thoughts.  After a period of time you begin to see how weak these thoughts are, and you pull your attention to a deeper place wherein you are neither disturbed nor distracted by these demanding thoughts.

Be gentle with yourself and try not to judge your experience.  Just be with your experience.

Taking time to meditate that 5 or 10 minutes is an excellent practice to get into; however the practice of focusing on your breathing and letting go of thoughts is beneficial at other times of the day when you are not meditating.  When you are obsessing on a thought, or wrestling with some issue throughout the day, your practice in meditation of not following the thoughts really pays off.  This is a skill that we can call upon throughout our day.

As an example, many of us have certain activities that we engage in that always seem to trigger our issues.  It’s common that tiring activities, such as tedious household chores, trigger scenarios of the events of our life.  This is when we are particularly disposed to repressed anger and resentment issues that seem to demand our attention, with the resultant negative energy serving only to throw us off-balance.  This is when the practice of letting go of issues as they arise, developed in your meditation practice, is of real value in your everyday life. 

How long you do your meditation is not as important as simply doing it.  If you only have a few minutes, five or ten, do it anyway.  Eventually you might build up to twenty minutes, but don’t force yourself at the start.  This should not be seen as one more chore/task but a way to relieve your “thinking” mind and bring you back to balance.

There are numerous meditation styles, such as sitting, walking, or standing.  Which one you choose is dependent on your own comfort.  Once the basic technique, (focusing on your breathing; letting go of your thoughts) is learned, it can be applied in endless variations. 

 Walking meditation is a popular form and is particularly helpful for those who have difficulty sitting.  With Walking meditation, we are not walking to get somewhere; we want to learn to be with the walking experience.  It is good to slow down your pace and synchronize your breathing with your steps.  Find your natural rhythm.  When thoughts arise, dismiss them and return to matching your breathing with your steps.  Become conscious of your connection to the earth.  Feel her beneath your feet.  You can slow down your pace and note the separate sensations of walking itself.  Be present with all aspects of your experience.

Gardening Meditation is one activity that is very favourable for practicing mindfulness.  Stand back from the garden and observe it and listen to it.  Be willing to be the garden’s servant, tending to its needs.  What activity are you drawn to while simply observing the garden with openness?  Weeding, planting, pruning, watering?  What calls out to you?

As you approach the activity you are drawn to, stay in your mindfulness practice.  Tend to your breathing, dismiss thoughts and surrender to the needs of the situation in front of you.  Try not to willfully do the activity in front of you.  Instead, form a relationship with the activity.  Let the plants and the garden inform you what needs to be done.  Gardening in this way can be a wonderful affirmation of the interconnectedness of all life.

From meditation learn to become mindful with all your activities.

Michelle Potvin H.T. Coun.,

Wellness – A Way of Living

(Connect & Contact on Linked in – http://ca.linkedin.com/in/michellepotvin)

Wellness, a state of mind, body and spirit!

2010/11/10 Posted by | Behaviours, Change, Lifestyle, Mindfulness, Stress, Wellness | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Take Refuge in Your Heart



Engage your Heart - Engage your Life

The path of the heart liberates one from fear and all those who would exploit us with fear.


 Love is the strongest force in the world.  This is not just a nice Sunday School saying, it is a powerful truth.  When you anchor yourself in your heart, you become impervious to fear.  It has no place to grab hold in you.

When you experience loss of direction or meaning in your life, learn to take refuge in your heart.  You learn that love is the strongest power in the world – there is no darkness that can put out the light of love.  When you are uncertain, center yourself in your heart and trust that anything born out of love will be in your best interest.  Focusing your attention on your Heart dispels worry and uncertainty.  Not that issues are solved, instead, you rise above needing everything to be solved.  Finding your center in uncertain times is no small trick, but uncertain times punctuate a truth that is always present: uncertainty, impermanence, and change are the norms that we all live by, with a few stable moments, like eddies in a river that keeps on flowing endlessly.

To awaken your Heart, count your blessings, focus on someone or something that you love (person, plant, animal, or mineral), be generous, and give something to someone.  Engage life!

For more on Heart and Health see this guest post “Health is a Matter of the Heart” by Lydia Proschinger on the Solcosta Wellness Blog.

Not sure if you need a Wellness Coach?  Schedule a Wellness Evaluation Call and decide for yourself. 

Michelle Potvin H.T. Coun.,

Wellness – A Way of Living

(Connect & Contact on Linked in – http://ca.linkedin.com/in/michellepotvin)

Wellness, a state of mind, body and spirit!

2010/11/03 Posted by | Behaviours, Change, Lifestyle, Stress, Wellness | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When in the Pull of a Habit, it’s as if our Self-Awareness goes Temporarily Numb

Quitting Habits When They No Longer Serve You 

Quitting Habits

Habits are largely unconscious behaviour patterns.  Bringing conscious awareness to that which once was unconscious changes the experience altogether. 

To demonstrate this let’s choose the habit of smoking.  People trying to quit smoking know all the arguments and reasons; it is not that they haven’t heard them before.  Now let’s try a different approach to quitting this habit.

Instead of trying to quit, let’s try to begin to smoke with conscious awareness.  To do this we can make a ritual out of smoking – treat it as a special practice. 

What can you do with smoking to make it a ritualistic encounter?  Look to Native Americans – they brought ritualistic consciousness to their tobacco ceremonies.  They brought full awareness to the act.  Smoking was not a casual unconsious act but something that was based in ceremony and ritual.

Whatever you do, do it with awareness.  If your habit is smoking, instead of ‘sneaking’ a smoke, smoke in full awareness.  Smoke and feel the sensations totally, and experience this in complete awareness  Stay completely aware of the whole experience, the good and the bad.   Feel the rush of energy that comes from the nicotine and the smell of the tobacco on your skin.  What is the taste of the smoke in your mouth?  What is the sensation in your chest and lungs? 

As you bring full awareness to your smoking, you stay with it while it serves you, but there will come a time when it no longer serves you.  There will come a time when the benefits are outweighed by the detriments, and then the behaviour drops of its own accord.  You are not trying to quit; it simply drops because it is no longer serving you.

With overeating it is the same thing.  When you try to push the behaviour down, it becomes stronger. You find yourself gulping food as if you could sneak it past the one who is watching.  Eat in full awareness.  Bring your full awareness to every bite, feel the sensations of taste.  Slow down the experience of eating and experience the full taste of each bite.  What happens? Satiation comes easier.  Instead of sneaking this  past your awareness, bring your awareness to it and you will find that satisfaction comes sooner, fullness is felt, and the need for overeating subsides.

Take part in the experience you are drawn to, but do it with absolute awareness.  If it is something you have outgrown, you’ll have the experience, become aware of its lack of value, and that is that.

Not sure if you need a Wellness Coach?  Schedule a Wellness Evaluation Call and decide for yourself. 

Michelle Potvin H.T. Coun.,  

Wellness – A Way of Living

(Connect & Contact on Linked in – http://ca.linkedin.com/in/michellepotvin)

Wellness, a state of mind, body and spirit!

2010/11/02 Posted by | Behaviours, Change, Lifestyle, Stress, Wellness | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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