Empowered Divorce Summit E4 – Personal Leadership – Sheila Ramsey PhD

Today we are joined by Sheila Ramsey, PhD. Dr. Ramsey is a founding partner of “Personal Leadership Seminars” as well as being the co-author of the book, Personal Leadership Making a World of Difference- A Methodology of Two Principals, and Six Practices”. Sheila has traveled all over the world speaking on the topic of personal leadership and she offers an amazing insight into the role that personal leadership can play in divorce. Thank you for joining us today Sheila!

Part 1



SR: Oh thank you, Heather! I’m delighted to be invited.

HD: Awesome! Because personal leadership is a little bit different and people might not necessarily associate it with divorce. You have such a unique perspective to offer on personal leadership and how it pertains to divorce.

Can you share a little bit about your divorce and how it lead on your path to discovery?

SR: Oh, my divorce, you mean I’m going to have to get a little personal here.

HD: Just a little bit, just a little bit.

SR: Sure, I’m happy to. I have been officially divorced once, and I have been the participant in ending a number of relationships, although they weren’t formal marriages. So, I have a little bit of experience I can draw on.

When I was thinking of how to weave personal leadership into your wonderful topic, the thing that I was reflecting on myself, was that I spent a good deal of those years in and out of the relationship world with either no sense or very little access to sense of inner guidance. So it was kind of like emotional roulette for me. Lots of ups and downs, a lot of getting to a point and saying, “Well how did I get here?” a lot of emotional pain for me and others.

And then I remember one day, I don’t remember if it was 84’ or 85’.  When I just woke up and I said to myself, “Is this really all there is? It can’t be.” And that started a completely different adventure for me. Because of a question like that, that is so heartfelt and so strong.  As it was on my part, a very powerful opening to the equaling of the universe. Especially when you don’t try to find an answer with your mind, and you just let the answer show up in your daily lived experience.

After that question, life started to change quite a bit. And jumping ahead from there, about ten years later, in 1993 I meet a meditation teacher that I stayed with for twelve years. Then in 95’ I was working with two colleges who were also studying with that meditation teacher.  And we collectively asked ourselves another important question.  Which is, “What is what we are learning in meditation, and how to be in our lives, now related to this work that we are all doing together. Which is how do people from different cultures live and work together. So, What is the relationship there?” Then ten years later, in 2008 we published this book.

So it started with, “My gosh emotional roulette” and now it’s personal leadership. I understand the words are pretty generic, so we need to explain them just a little bit. It’s now been awhile since we created this kind of process and it’s been shared with people on every continent on our beautiful planet. Delivered in at least Spanish, English, French, and Japanese. And in all kinds of fields, Global Business to Health Care to Team Building to community development.

HD: So let me just ask you this then,

Can you explain a little bit about what is personal leadership?

SR: “Sure, it’s really simple and it’s very simple to learn. And as people say, it’s complex enough for people to sustain a lifelong journey. So, basically, if you just look at the title for a moment, it has two really important parts to it. One is a way of thinking or it’s a world view about leadership. And It’s also about a practice.

It’s a worldview about yourself and showing up for yourself so you can really show up for others. It’s also about leadership. And then it’s very practical, “Two principals and Six practices.” In order to do this, and to help us know and access that we do have inner resources.

We have guides that we absolutely can depend on for every part of our lives. And help us return and stay connected to our own creativity and our own inspirations. Especially when we are faced with the unknown, the unfamiliar when we’re in transition. And if that’s not divorce, I don’t know what is.

HD: It is and I think that part of what becomes so scary for people when they’re either thinking about, “Should I get divorced?” Or when they find themselves, and it almost feels like they wake up one day, “Oh my gosh I’m divorced. I’m just making it from one day to the next.” That gets really overwhelming, and I think it’s that fear of the unknown, that can hold people back.

They either stay in a relationship that is unhealthy or it can keep them living in that unhealthy roller coaster that is a roulette like you were talking about. Where you just go from one relationship that is really unfulfilling to the next relationship that is really unfulfilling. Because personal leadership is realizing you have that power inside of you.

SR: You do, you do. And a question that is a formative question throughout the whole practice is, “How am I showing up right now?” And a little bit more colloquially, “What state am I in?” And by state we mean, what’s the emotion, the mood, the attitude. How energized are you feeling? How alive are you feeling? Or it can be the opposite of all that.

HD: And it’s just sort of that. When you are dealing with your children or going to work in your daily life. Divorced or not, when you’re putting out negative thoughts and feelings, and energy, that’s exactly what you’re going to get back.

SR: Yes and everyone can feel it. Let’s don’t kid ourselves, we absolutely are connected with each other and just like a yawn, if you yawn everyone else in the room wants to yawn too. Or when you say, “Oh don’t catch my cold germs” that’s what happens with our emotions too, everyone else can feel them. Especially our children, if we’re going through a time of stress around divorce, what is the environment that we want to create for our family?

It starts with, “What state are we in?” if I could use that word. And the other thing that is in personal leadership, is we say that it is leading ourselves. Most of the time when people speak about leadership, they think of leading other people. But it has to start with how are we intentionally walking through the world? How are we holding ourselves and what are we experiencing?

Another really fundamental issue and I’m really sensing that it connects with my divorce and my relationships, is that fundamental choice of, “Do I want to live and behave from my default programming? My habits” or am I willing to say, “Wait a minute, something else might be called for here, what is it?” You know, that’s a fundamental choice.

HD: Yeah it is. We get stuck living in the environment that we’ve created. In a negative way, because it is familiar. We know it and we like to hold onto those things that provide that security for us. But we also have to understand that as we move forward in our lives, that there is more out there for us. It doesn’t have to be that way.

You can intentionally create an amazing life, or a really crappy one. It’s really your choice.

It’s the way that you show up and the energy that you put into it. So much of who we are as a species is communicated non verbally. People think most of our communication is done verbally, but it’s really not. Our brain processes so much information at one time, that we’re not even aware of, here’s an example.

If you can tap into me saying to my kids, “Oh don’t worry Mommy’s fine, everything’s okay.” What I’m doing is I’m creating a disconnect for them. Because they realize through all those non verbal cues that everything is not okay, and they realize that not everything is going perfectly.

So it’s about not focusing on trying to put on this happy smile on everything and really focusing on, “Yeah things are pretty crappy right now but they could get better.”

SR:  And things are crappy but Mommy’s okay.

HD: But Mommy’s okay. And really owning it.

SR: Yeah because Mom can handle it when things are really crappy.

Part 2

HD: Right! Exactly, that Mommy can take control of that, and that actually kind of leads into the next question that I wanted to ask you. Because people initially, even when we first started talking they were thinking, “Sure personal leadership can be used for divorce but how specifically can it be used for divorce? And how can mothers use it?” We have brushed on this but,

Why is it so important for mothers who find themselves in a middle of a divorce, to really incorporate the principles of personal leadership into their daily lives?

SR: This is a really good segue into the practical part of this. So let me talk about the principals and the practices. The two principals are, Mindedness which means you pay attention. And Creativity which is the, “I don’t care what the last moment was and I don’t care what yesterday was.”  I mean of course I care, but today is a different day. And even, this afternoon is different then it was this morning.

If we really are honest with ourselves because we’re always processing and we’re always learning. So to be able to be mindful of what’s around you and to ask what’s called for now, rather than falling into some of that habitual stuff that is so strong about how we’re supposed to behave in divorce.

There we go with two principals, and then what are we paying attention to in the personal leadership practice? Well, we’ve got six things that we are asking people to pay attention to, and they’re… this is why it’s so simple, and let me just read these very slowly so your listeners can get these. And you realize that what you’re really paying attention to is exactly what’s going on with you right now in this moment.

So the first practice is, Attending to Judgment. When you’re triggered or delightfully happy in any moment, you stop for a moment, especially if you’re triggered in a divorce situation. Or if you find yourself projecting into the future around a lot of fear of the unknown.  You simply stop and say,

  • What are my judgments? Just stop and let me notice what they are.
  • What am I assuming?
  • What are the positive and negative judgments about what’s going on?

HD: Good, Bad, or Ugly.

SR: Absolutely, the whole thing. And then the next piece, practice if you will is, Attending to your emotions.

  • What are the positive and negative emotions I’m having? 
  • Why do I care so much? 
  • What’s underneath the emotions?

And the, of course, you can imagine what the next one is, Attending to your physical sensations.

  • What’s my body doing?
  • What’s my stomach doing, what’s happening in my head?
  • Am I shaking, am I sweating?

Like, my heart’s pounding just whatever is going on, and all of these are talking to us. And we need to be able to sit down and have a cup of tea with the judgments and all the physical sensations. And one of the basic principles is, Don’t resist anything that’s happening in yourself.

Welcome it all. Now that does not mean you go off and talk to somebody and create a story about it. It actually means keep your mouth shut and learn what these things are trying to talk to you about. And what a couple of the important things, when you want to sit down and have a cup of tea, with these, is our next practice.

Our fourth practice is, Cultivating Stillness. And it doesn’t mean you can’t take a walk but it means you’ve got to get out of your mind projecting into the future, going back into the past, blaming other people, creating all kinds of scenarios to try and still the mind.

And many practices suggest you do that through deep breathing, or paying attention to your breath. Deep breathing is a great way to do it, and if you need to move and walk, so your body is moving but your mind is still after you have been looking at your judgments and emotions and your physical sensations.

And the fifth practice is what we call, Engaging Ambiguity and this is what we were talking about just a moment ago. It’s not, tolerating ambiguity. It’s not, let me get through this ambiguous stage as fast as I possibly can so I can know what’s going to happen in my life. But it’s engaging, actively engaging ambiguity.

So, a couple of questions that we suggest are, “What do I not know right now?” Which is a little bit of a paradox, but to really ask yourself that, “What do I really not know right now?” and it can stop the projection when we make up stories. And then next question that comes in that can push it even further is, “What more can I not know?” Oh my goodness, what does that do to the mind. But it really opens things up for us.

HD: Right, and I think we jump to assumptions, especially in divorce, “he did this because…,” or “she did this because…,” and we’re assuming what their feelings, thoughts and emotions are instead of just saying, “I really don’t know what is happening with them. All I know is what’s happening for me.”

SR: Right, absolutely. And before we move onto the last practice which is quite powerful, I want to just call attention to folks about how we label these practices. We said, “Attending to judgment, Attending to Emotion, Attending to Physical Sensations” We did not say be in it.

When you’re attending, you’re asking yourself and you’re looking at what you’re really doing. You’re looking at the judgments you’re making and actually, that’s a step back not a step up. It’s like you go to the balcony and you look down on your judgments and say, “Ahh, look at what’s happening.” Or the emotions or the physical sensations, and there’s something very interesting that happens when you do that. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

HD: I do, I do.

SR: There’s this interesting kind of, I could use the word distance, but it’s really more of spaciousness. A little bit like, it hasn’t consumed me, I’ve got a little breath in here. I’ve got a little spaciousness here. And then you can begin to see things in a different way, you see that you have a little bit more choice about what is going on.

So the last practice is, Aligning with Vision and of course to align with something, you have to have that. So in order to align with vision, you have to have a vision. And what that means is, a suggestion to people that they actually create a vision for how they would like to go through the divorce experience.

And this is not a vision of what they want to do and the outcomes that your listeners want. It’s a vision about what qualities of being do I want to carry around of myself as I go through this divorce experience.

HD: Absolutely, and what I kind of equate that to when I am talking to my clients and I’m talking to people about divorce is, you can’t have a specific attachment to the outcome because you don’t have control over all of the variables. So if you try to get attached to what you want to happen, unfortunately, a lot of that is out of your control.

But what you can get attached to is keeping your children’s best interest at heart. It’s not a specific outcome but it is one that you want them to live a happy healthy life. And it’s about focusing on, “I am a good person, and I want to know that I do the right thing. So I’m going to focus on being a good person and doing the right thing, and focusing on what that looks like and feels like.”

As opposed to, “I want the kids full time, and I want X amount of time, and I want my full share of dollars and my share of the assets.” Instead of focusing on all of those things, I say your real goals are to create a happy, healthy balance for yourself, and for your children, which is the best thing for them. Then your best thing is to focus on them and not on the practical things that you have no control over anyway.

SR: So if you have, let’s say for example, a vision for yourself when you’re going through a divorce that, “I’m balanced. That I experience balance.”  Well, then when you’re not balanced you go, “Hold it, I’m not making any decisions right now. I’m not going to go talk with whoever right now. I’m going to sit down with myself and I could use these six practices to figure out what’s causing the imbalance.” And you will know when you come back to balance when you come back to your inspiration if you will, and you go, “Okay, now I see how to proceed forward.”

Part 3

HD: And the more you do it, and the more you practice it, the easier it becomes to see when you’re out of balance. The easier it becomes to correct those imbalances. So I think you’re absolutely right on point with changing your mindset about divorce and about your relationship with your children and about your relationship with your former spouse.

And that is, again we’re really hitting these here, a great segue into the next question because it has to do with those arguments and those disagreements that get carried over from the marriage into the co-parenting and into divorce.

Do you have some tips or some ways that people could use from personal leadership and the skills you talk about in your book to overcome those arguments that have been carried over so that they don’t keep feeding into them?

SR: Right, well I think it’s pretty obvious by now that one of the things that can be useful is if you can go to the source. If these arguments are repeatable, what’s the real source of them, what’s the seed of those arguments? And you can’t know that for another person, but you sure can find out for yourself.

Because you can start with, “What are my judgments about this? What are my emotions? What are my physical sensations? What is this really telling me? What’s the real core of this?” And when you come to the core of it, you know you’ve got clarity, and you’ve got easier in your body. And you have a more deep, a deeper sense of knowing your body and your truth, you know.

I remember one of my driving questions when I was younger was, “How do I know when I know? How do I know what’s really true for me?” Because I didn’t. And so, I know we have all had this time. I’m sure everybody on the call has had a time when you just knew something so profoundly in yourself and in your bones, there’s no emotion connected to it. It’s just like this neutral-is-ness, and you know it to be true.

HD: I love that “Neutral-is-ness”

SR: And then you can speak from that. You can just speak from that place. And that’s what these situations are specifically giving us an opportunity I think to do. But you’re not going to go to that depth with that clarity, unless you sit down with yourself and do some real self-inquiry with perhaps some of these questions or with processes that other people have.

HD: Right, and I think a point that you hit on, that is really important is that when you are engaging in these heated arguments, you are right in the thick of the emotion and emotion is what’s driving this argument. Whereas when you take the step back like you’re saying and you attend to it and ask yourself,

  • Why am I upset?
  • Why am I mad that he did this?
  • Why does this keep happening?
  • Why do we keep having these arguments about x,y, and z?

When you take that step back and you really evaluate it, you are removing yourself from the emotion.  The fastest way to start a war is to talk about your emotions. To say, “You’re making me do this!” or “You alway do that, and it makes me so angry!” Then people become defensive and they’re emotions kick in, and then you reach this gridlock. So I think it’s beautiful that you say, “No, just take a step back.”

SR: And maybe you have to end the conversation. And give yourself some space, I mean that’s what I do.

HD: Absolutely, and then the trap that I think people fall into with divorce is one of, “It has to be solved right now.” And with co-parenting, once it’s “all over but the shouting.” Once you are divorced and you no longer deal with each other on a daily basis (except with for your children) then you feel that,“I have to settle things right now. Because this is what I want and this is what has to happen.”

But really unless it has to do with a life or death emergency, it doesn’t have to be dealt with right then and there. And I think that more can be accomplished quickly, and with less hurt feelings and bruised egos if you do take that step back.

SR: Yeah it’s much better to step back and take that time to true clarity inside yourself and to speak from that place.

HD: Right, so when you’re talking you’re not using those hurt words that will lead to that war.

SR: So you’re not so reactive at all. You are taking responsibility for your own heart and your own emotions and it’s much more sustainable when you speak from that deep truth.

HD: Absolutely and I think that given all this, and the other information that we’ve given, that the next thing that I would like to ask you is,

Where do they (listeners) start (incorporating personal leadership)?

Because I’m sure they’re listening and they’re saying, “Okay this is great, but we’re in the middle of this right now. Right in the thick and in the trenches. How do I start?”

SR: I would say, as soon as someone finishes listening, you sit down with yourself, and you get a pen and you get a piece of paper. Because I like to write things, or maybe you go take a walk and you simply say, “Okay, whatever is going on right now, I’m here for it, what is it?” and if you divided it into judgments, emotions, and physical sensation and it might be a little bit easier. But the place to start is right here, right now.

HD: It is important to say, if the people have signed up for this summit, and they’re listening to this, they obviously want change. They obviously want things to get better for them in their situation for themselves and for their children. And I think that’s an amazing step to just say, “You know what, let’s just take a step back and just sit down and write down what is it I want. What is happening right here and right now?”

SR: Inside me.

HD: Right, inside me. And it’s not, and I think a big distinction here is, it’s not necessarily writing down what’s happening right here right now with everything in your situation. Example, “My ex is taking me back to court! That’s what’s happening right here right now!” No, what’s happening right here, right now is that you’re responding to it.

SR: Right, and you may think of a situation that is happening in the external world. But it’s, “What are my emotions about this right now? What are my judgements about this? What’s my body telling me right now?”

And then when you take all of that together and you’re kind of quiet with it. Or you take a walk with it, “What’s the truth that’s starting to bubble up here?” And I think bottom line, it is about being more emotionally skillful. It is about taking action. It’s not just looking at myself because I have nothing else to do. Because we really do need to move in the world and these things need to have a resolution at some point.

HD: They do. I know that for me, and I think you can attest to this, going through the life transformations that I think are genuinely, not just unique to women because there are men that do embrace those sorts of life changes but I think it’s really predominate for women. Women are in a constant state of growth. And I think that we are constantly asking ourselves the hard questions. Sometimes we’re hiding from them. Sometimes we resist that growth a little bit.

But what I found to be true is that as I go through each stage of my life and I grow and I change and I progress. I do stop and I ask myself these question. And I do stop and take account of what’s happening and I think that’s true for most women.

We do want to grow and we do want to change. And I’m thankfully not the same person I was when I was sixteen. Although sometimes I miss her because she had a lot more fun than I have right now, some days. But I think that these are all really important topics for women to understand. Your growth is continual and it’s never too late to stop and change the direction that you’re going in if you don’t like what you see.

SR: And just to return again to something that’s practical, after the interview is over, take a little time to create a vision.

  • Do I really want to go through this?
  • What are the qualities I really want to hold that will really support me and make me feel alive and be alive and vital?

Your vision acts like lighthouse because a lighthouse is a beacon standing on the rocks and it says, “Danger here don’t crash!”

HD: Right, and I think that your work, although a lot of the topics you brush on in your work is about cultural differences, I think that, it does tie into divorce because we are a little community in our families and inside our families. There are differences, just like there are in any other community and any other culture.

And incorporating these practices into your relationship with your former spouse, and into your relationship with your children, and your relationship with yourself, then when you do move forward, the next person you attract into your life is going to get the best version of you that there is.

SR: They will, and you will also have a barometer, or a thermometer, that says, “Oh, this works for me, and this does not. This is healthy for me and this isn’t.”

HD: And you’ll be much more in tune to those “Red flags” coming up and say, “Nope this doesn’t fit with my vision. And that’s okay that they don’t fit with my vision, but I want to stay true to what my vision is.” And they’ll have more tools for dealing with that.

I just want to thank you again for speaking with us today, it has been wonderful.

SR: Awe, thank you. Heather, I love to talk about it and to do it too, I have to say.

HD: You know I do too! I really think that when I take the time to really practice being here and being in now, and not being so attached to things to come, that my life will happen so much more smoothly.

And I know, just a personal detail, I got a tattoo of the “Ohm” symbol, and everyone went, “You’re a Christian, why would you do that?” and I said, “Because it’s a reminder to me, to stay centered and focused on myself and my thoughts and my feelings, and my prayers” because the times in my life that have gone completely out of control, are the times that I lost sight of that.

SR: Yes, and that is so well said.

HD: Yeah, that is one of the reasons I wanted to ask you to speak with us today because I think that your work is tremendous in providing insight into how powerful that can be, regardless of what your spiritual beliefs are.

SR: You could say it has nothing and it has everything to do with it.

HD: Thank you so much for being here with us today, and if anyone listening today would like more information about Dr. Ramsey and her work, visit the “Personal Leadership Seminars” website at, www.PLSeminars.com and thank you have had a wonderful day!

SR: Thank you so much, Heather!

Or, if you would like to work with Heather you can claim your complimentary coaching session today!

NOTE: Transcripts may have been edited for clarity. This blog post is a transcript/readable version of the interview. It is not an admissible testimony nor is it intended to provide legal or psychological advice.  

Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, content, and opinions expressed in this interview by the expert belong solely to the expert, and not necessarily to the host (Heather Debreceni), HeatherDebreceni.com, EmpoweredDivorceSummit.com or Two Wolves Productions, as a group, organization or individually.

About The Author

Heather Debreceni

In 2004, after getting a job in Law Enforcement, Heather left her husband and started the divorce process. Like many mothers in her situation, she naively thought that getting divorced would be the end of the chaos that her failing marriage had created in her and her children’s lives. She now uses her divorce experience to create strategic divorce coaching programs which help mothers turn the chaos of divorce into confident, calm and respect filled lives. Heather is the Founder and Host of the Empowered Divorce Summit which empowers individuals as they navigate through the divorce process. Now a podcast, it provides listeners with access to insightful interviews with experts on divorce, relationships and parenting. She is also an Ordained Non-Denomination Christian Reverend as well as a student of the Buddhist & First Nationals faith and spirituality. Heather supports her clients as they walk through the spiritual rebirth that occurs for many women after divorce. Heather also tours around the country with her family giving talks about Divorce, Ethics, Parenting, Personal Responsibility, Spirituality and Women's Empowerment as well as teaching about Leadership, Business and Entrepreneurship.

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