Monthly Archives: September 2014

Why won’t you pay attention?

messy room

 

 

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I saw an E-card on Pinterest the other day. It said “I went to the internet to learn about my ADHD, but I couldn’t wait for the pages to load”

The joke is kind of funny, but only because it’s true. ADHD, on the other scores pretty low on the humor scale. There is a lot of information about ADHD, and much of it conflicts with itself. There are many theories about the origins, prevalence and treatment strategies of ADHD.

It is sometimes difficult for people who don’t understand ADHD to take it seriously, or to realize the magnitude with which some people are impacted. It is also equally difficult at times for people with ADHD to fully realize the impact their way of thinking and behavior has on those around them who are not afflicted with ADHD.

I remember when my eldest son was in second grade. He could clearly describe how difficult it was for him to stay focused in class. He said the sound of kids using pencils on their paper around him distracted him. At our request, his teacher agreed to move him away from the other children. Unfortunately, due to his lack of understanding, he moved our son next to the door, right under the pencil sharpener. If the pencil sounds were distracting, imagine how distracting it was to have every second grader in the class sharpen their pencil or go in and out of the door.

Recently I had a session with a husband and wife who are trying to improve their communication with each other. I asked the wife (who does not have ADHD) what she wanted from her husband in a particular situation. She began to explain. And explain and explain. I stopped her about two minutes into her explanation and told her I thought she had lost her husband about 90 seconds before. He affirmed with his eyes glazed over that this, was in fact, the case. I helped her narrow down her wish list to a 30 second bottom line, which he could take in much more easily and is therefore, more likely to remember and follow through.

An explanation I like to use for describing the difference is this:

Think of the brain like a dwelling. The non ADHD brain is like a regular house. It has various rooms. When you are in the bedroom, there might be something going on in the kitchen, but you are not likely to hear it or see it. You can stay focused on what is going on in the bedroom. The walls in between insulate you.

In contrast, the ADHD brain is more like a large studio apartment. It’s all one room. And so from wherever you stand in the room, you can see everything and anything taking place. Therefore, even though you might be near the bed trying to choose what to wear, you can see the dishes in the sink, the cat crossing the kitchen table, the TV in front of the couch and so on. Since you can see everything equally, it means that everything has the same priority. You can be focused on something, but the next thing you encounter gets equal attention from you.

One other piece of information I’d like to share is why I’m using the acronym ADHD instead of ADD. In the old coding book that psychologists and physicians use, there were 2 categories. With the next to last revision, ADD was eliminated and there is now only ADHD, although there is a “predominantly inattentive” subtype available. The primary rationale for this is that we used to think of hyperactivity as little boys who couldn’t sit still in their seats. More current thought is that hyperactivity also describes the kind of racing mind that many people in this category experience, especially at night time when they are trying to shut down for sleep.

This article is only meant to skim the very top surface of somewhat complex condition. ADHD is not diagnosed with a blood test definitively, but is somewhat subjective. Therefore, it is important to have this adequately diagnosed by someone with expertise.

 

 

 

Leap of Faith

 

 

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There is a movie from 1992 called Leap of Faith starring Steve Martin and Debra Winger. Martin plays a con man Jonas Nightengale, who poses as an evangelical preacher that goes from small town to town creating “miracles”. But what he actually does is use a crew, led by Winger to feed him information about the audience into a hidden ear piece so he can “appear” to know things about the people. Of course, everyone is impressed by his great capacity and gives him money. Then he moves on to the next town and repeats this scenario.

Jonas and his crew find themselves in the impoverished town of Rustwater Kansas after their travel bus breaks down. Jonas looks around and declares “A town this deep in the crapper’s got nowhere to turn but GOD!”   Among their many problems, the drought plagued town needs rain to survive. Jonas plans to run a show or two while he waits for repairs before being discovered.

Shortly into the movie however, he is intrigued by a young boy Boyd and the sister who cares for him. Boyd can walk only with crutches since an accident that killed his mother and father and left his legs dysfunctional. The sister warns Jonas to stay away from Boyd, explaining that once before a preacher tried to heal Boyd. When it failed, the preacher blamed the boy for not having enough faith. However, despite her cynicism, Boyd is mesmerized with Jonas and wants to be healed by him.

Jonas continues to prey upon the vulnerabilities of the towns people. Each time they suspect God has spoken to him on their behalf, they add money to his coffers. Boyd makes his way to the stage and seeks to be healed. Jonas tries to ignore his presence because he doesn’t want his cover blown. But Boyd actually begins to walk without his crutches and the crowd goes wild. They throw money at Jonas and shout one more miracle. They now want him to make it rain to benefit the town.

Jonas is angry, believing that Boyd was a bigger conman than even he presuming the boy faked his impediment. The next night the town gathers in a field to camp out waiting for the miracle of rain. Knowing he will be discovered as a fraud, Jonas slips off and hitches a ride on his own leaving his crew behind. Ironically, he isn’t very far out of town when the truck driver notices it has begun to rain. Jonas laughingly calls out “Thank You Jesus.

Okay, I ruined the movie for you I’m sorry. But I wanted to give you an illustration of something I think best illustrates a principle one of the classic theorists in psychology, Alfred Adler. He calls it the As IF principle.

Adler suggested that when we are trying to make a change, we need to behave as if the change has already taken place. For example, if you want to get promoted, wear the clothing of someone at the next level. If you want to improve your marriage, act as if it is already improved and treat the other person from that mindset. If you want to be more financially sound, live as if there is money around you and operate from confidence rather than fear or deprivation.

Please don’t confuse this as simple and easy. Actually, it is somewhat simple, but it isn’t necessarily easy. It requires clear goal setting, commitment to the goal, letting go of obstacles you may be holding on to (crutches), and the willingness to experience the discomfort of being in transition or even limbo between the self you have been, and the self you wish to be.

Even more than changes in behavior on the outside, acting as if, requires significant changes on the inside. It means to practice seeing yourself as successful. And, while many people have this desire, as the move suggests, it often requires a leap of faith.

While Martin is a clearly stated con man, Adler is not. However, in this exchange between Jonas and Boyd, Martin actually demonstrates in a crude way how Adler’s theory works:

 

Boyd: My sister says you’re a fake

Jonas, “Well maybe I am and maybe I’m not

If I get the job done, what’s the difference?

When we act as if, we begin projecting outward the image of us as having the capacity to live in the role where are seeking. Others, seeing us in that role begin to respond to us that way, which reinforces that confidence within us that we can handle the change. From that confidence, we continue to develop and strengthen the skills needed to make the change permanent and natural for us. Essentially what Jonas told Boyd is that whether or not it starts out as pure and legitimate, belief can make something become true.

 

Are there any areas that you could benefit from acting “as if”? How might you change if you took a leap of faith? I’d love to hear your comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to be a Birdbrain

 

 

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The recent storms created a lot of fallen trees in my subdivision which is mostly wooded. In fact, one of my neighbors had a rather large tree fall across their driveway. It was a pain to remove, but it’s also one of the expectable hazards of living where we do. Trees get old; storms knock them down.

I’m not so much of a nature watcher, but I suspect when a big storm hits birds don’t hang out in the trees. I have to guess that if they do, they fly somewhere pretty quickly if they feel a tree starting to sway and tumble.

But on a regular day, I imagine birds hang out in the trees for the most part, unless trees are not prevalent. And it reminds me of a quote I like very much:

A Bird Sitting On A Tree Is Not Afraid Of The Branch Breaking Because His Trust Is Not On The Branch But On Its Wings .

I guess to be a bird means to have faith when it walks out on a branch that, it will either be fine or it will do something else. In contrast, as people, we tend to think in advance about the branch, look at it, research branches, finding out the statistics on how many branches will break per year and under what conditions, and then try and make a calculated guess of whether or not we should step out onto the branch. After that, we invest more time still discussing our findings about branch safety with others to try and validate our plan. Very often this results in either not going out on the branch at all, because we haven’t finished the analysis, or forgetting what we went there for by the time we arrive. Possibly, what we went out there for has already passed.

On the other hand, there are also some humans that will tromp on out to the branch before they learn to fly which doesn’t usually end well either. One could argue that real faith means not even worrying about the flying part- trust that God or the universe or whatever you subscribe to will simply take care of the falling bird.   And so when they inevitably fall, they use the bump on their head as justification that God doesn’t really care about them, or even that, there is no God.

Do we really want to live in a world where something other than us takes care of every single for us? While it sounds tempting in those moments that we feel overwhelmed, the truth is that we derive a vast amount of our satisfaction and esteem from mastering things. We learn from the struggles and to have them taken away from us leaves us without much purpose in living. Faith is to fill in the parts we don’t need to struggle with. Faith is the connective tissue between the parts we do, and the parts we don’t.

The parts we do are simply “our part”. It means to develop the strength, skills, resiliency and in some cases, patience and understanding. And probably a few other qualities that I’m forgetting at the moment. So in short, it’s not about developing how to anticipate everything and account in advance for every unknown. It’s about developing a plan A to try and get down the right path, and a plan B for when A doesn’t work out. Plan B isn’t just a more developed A. Plan B is a strategy about how to be okay when Plan A doesn’t get you where you wanted and accepting that you have to live with the way things are now, at least for now.  Another way of looking at his is that Plan A is your willpower and Plan B is your willingness.

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Truth or Story

 

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There is a well circulated story that takes place on a subway. It involves a man sitting, seemingly oblivious to onlookers who watch his young child act repeatedly obnoxious to other passengers. Finally, one annoyed passenger says to the father “Mister, your child is out of control, can you attend to him”. The man looks up as if awakened from a stupor and says “Oh I’m sorry, we just came from the hospital where we lost my wife; the boy’s mother. I guess he is probably reacting to that the only way he knows how.”

 

No one is to blame in the story. The passengers have a right to be bothered by the child’s behavior. Yet, once they put his behavior in the context of a larger story, they are most likely willing to develop a stance of compassion rather than judgment. Supposedly, Fred Rogers, the beloved children’s television host, carried a quote from a social worker in his wallet. It said “Frankly there isn’t anyone you can’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.”

 

We all have our stories. But that means that so does everyone else. People can’t know that we are cranky because we are experiencing loss of someone important to us, crisis in our financial lives, are have recently learned of a downturn in our health. They can only see the outward symptoms, a shortness in our tone, a snarl in our voice or our seeming indifference when they speak to us. And its similarly difficult for us at times to find consideration for another’s valid story underneath their poor behavior towards us.

But perhaps the most effective tool is not actually trying to develop a better moral stance, but rather to take a selfish approach. Perhaps instead of trying harder to be a better person who will listen to others, it may be more useful to listen to yourself and work from there outward. Work on why you feel resistant. Work on why you feel the need to be penetrated by another’s foul mood. Work on the shortfall of staying true to yourself and your own thoughts when someone else is ranting around you.

Is it possible to stay in a good mood when someone else is not? Is it necessary to put people behaving in a certain way in a neatly packaged category in your mind so you can dismiss them as not worthy of your time? Is it easier to say “that person is uneducated or a b#@% or associated with the political party you despise”, so you can eliminate them from your attention? Focus on what affect you perceive them to be having on you and see if you can learn something about an area that may be causing you fears you are not aware of. Fears that may be directing some of your own behavior.

 

 

 

 

 

Salt, Ebola and American Idol

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Ebola, Salt and American Idol

 

I remember when American Idol first premiered. It came down to Kelly Clarkson and Justin somebody. I’ve since forgotten his name because he didn’t win. I didn’t actually watch the show, but I had a couple of clients who were very invested in the outcome so I heard about it through them. Kelly Clarkson went on to continue making a name for herself. But since then, it seems like there have been about 112 American Idol winners, and a nearly equal amount from shows like The Voice, America’s Got Talent, Britain’s Got Talent, Rising Star and many more that I am not even aware of. And that is only the music category.

This post isn’t long enough to list the rest of areas where contestants duke it out to be the star. The implication is that, If we aren’t the star we just aren’t. We are nobody, insignificant. So if we don’t have musical talent, or can’t juggle live grenades while walking over a tightrope crossing a sea of alligators, then we try to work the best, be the best parent, daughter, husband, runner, and this list too, goes on and on.

Recently I was having a discussion with someone. She wanted to have a more personal relationship with God, but felt that she couldn’t because she wasn’t “Christian enough”. Translated, she couldn’t allow herself to communicate with God because she wasn’t willing to end up becoming an Ebola infected missionary in some forsaken land. And if she wasn’t going to be a star then she shouldn’t join the contest.

There is a little visual I like to create for people and have done so in my office several times. In lieu of that opportunity, please try to follow along and create this scene in your head.

Take a packet of salt or a pour of a shaker, and make a pile on the table in whatever pattern it falls. Now look at the pile from the front and then from the top, each side and the back. Now look at the front again. In my experience of this exercise, I’ve learned a couple of things I’d like to illuminate for you now.

Every grain of salt is pretty much identical. So are we as people.

Some grains are more visible because they are on the outside perimeters. But every single one of the middle grains serves to push every one of the front grains into their visible spot. In other words, every one of them serves a purpose to create the entire picture. The front’s are only front because there is something behind them. The middles are only middles because something is in front and in back.

 

So what does salt have to do with Ebola?

Simply stated, you are as much the winner in the contest of life as anyone else is. Where you find yourself placed is only visible if the person looking happens to be standing at the right angle. But even when one person can’t see you, those around you do. You are never insignificant, even when you feel like you have the choice to pretend you are. And while some grains may be slightly smaller, larger, lighter or darker, those differences are too tiny to rule out the value of your contribution.

Take a good look at yourself. Is everyone else really smarter, prettier, taller, richer and whatever “er” you are judging? Or are they better at self- promotion or creating the illusion that they got to the front of the pile without the help of so many other people standing behind them? If you are going to consider all of your flaws, please take use an equal measuring stick for others as well. And at the same time, when you see their greatness, make sure that the lens used to capture your own strengths is not scratched as well.

 

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Time to learn

 

 

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A young but earnest Zen student approached his teacher, and asked the Zen Master: “If I work very hard and diligent how long will it take for me to find Zen.” The Master thought about this, then replied, “Ten years.” The student then said, “But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast — How long then ?” Replied the Master, “Well, twenty years.” “But, if I really, really work at it. How long then ?” asked the student. “Thirty years,” replied the Master. “But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed student. “At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that ?” Replied the Master,” When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.” — Author Unknown

 

I often think of this story when people tell me that they are working really hard at something and it doesn’t seem to be happening quickly enough for them.

A young woman wants to find a mate and none seems available.

Another is eating well and exercising but is unable to lose weight.

A man is trying for a promotion that is taking too long while others in the organization seem to be moving ahead.

I recall how badly I wanted to have a second child and found it hard to get pregnant, yet every female under 17 seemed to be turning up with child whether she wanted to be or not.

It seems so unfair when we are working so hard for something that seems logical and possible and yet, it still doesn’t happen.

Or at least it doesn’t happen in the time frame that we have deemed reasonable. The dilemma in most cases is that, it is not our unilateral decision to deem what the right time or right amount of work parameters are actually supposed to be. There is a universe around us that has to also consider the needs, wants and expectations of a gazillion other people as well. What if that perfect mate is saying he is looking for someone exactly like us, but not for another 6 months because he has some other things to finish working on first? What if the conditions for us to have the promotion and succeed are not yet all in place?

The thought process of the western mind is cultivated in an environment in which 1+1=2. There is a specific sequence to follow and you get the prize. But eastern cultures cultivate a different mind-set. For them it is 1+1=3. I’m not talking about common core here. But the Easterners acknowledge that when you put two things together something additional happens by virtue of that union. The sum is greater than the whole of its parts. When you put a match and paper together, you don’t get paper and a match- you get fire.

I think there is great value to both eastern and western thinking and that wise people use some of both.   In the examples I mentioned, western thinking teaches us the value of hard work. But eastern thinking helps us to accept that there is more to consider than only our own definition of the way things should work. And that sometimes we need to let go of working so hard and allow time to follow its own course. Some things can’t be accomplished faster, just because it’s what we want.

 

The Safe Appeal of Disorder

 

 

 

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Let me state clearly at the start that this blog has zero to do with a political opinion. It is merely a political event that introduced me to a thought.

In the recent news stories about the conflict in Gaza, I heard a quote that really grabbed me. It comes from former prime minister of Israel Golda Meier.

Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us. I thought it was such a powerful quote. And it got me thinking about other areas in life that it might be useful. Of course my mind naturally wondered to my work and the conflicts I see for people I work with. So I changed it to this:

Until you love yourself more than you fear imperfection, disorder will remain.

You can quote me on that.

A person with an eating disorder will abuse themselves to any length in order to achieve a body that they believe will gain them acceptance or legitimacy. The result is reliance on a chaotic system of eating and exercise that not only precludes any other area of their life, but often results in malnutrition, injury, and even self-abuse.

A person who lacks confidence in their ability at work will ignore their personal boundaries and work themselves to oblivion at the expense of their personal life or personal self in fear of having that inadequacy exposed.

A person who ignores themselves to help others in order to win status is forced to function at the mercy of everyone else’s beck and call. It is easy to get caught up in chaos and frenzy only to realize that one has little to show for all of their efforts. They may find themselves in middle life feeling empty of anything to measure their life by, especially if the people they have served have outgrown the need for them.

A person may remain in an unhappy or even harmful relationship with another because they do not feel deserving of happiness or peace. As a result such a person may deny their needs on any level in order to tolerate remaining in the relationship because they fear they are unjustified in the eyes of others to ask for more.

So what does it mean to love oneself? And how does that eliminate disorder?

Loving oneself means to make decisions based on self care as a priority over decisions that lead to approval or acceptance from others if the actions required for either are in mutual conflict. So, if I have to decide to eat because I’m hungry, or not eat because I feel too fat and unacceptable to others, self love means to eat- but eat well and appropriately for the highest level of self care- drowning one’s self in a container of ice cream is not self care.

It means if I have to choose between going to bed when I’m exhausted or reading email from my boss because I’m trying to get promoted, it means go to bed. Sleep well and then be prepared to work to the best of my ability tomorrow.

I’m confident that I’m not sharing any new earth shattering news with anyone here. We all know these things. But we get afraid. And then we get busy. Out of our fear we fill our lives with a million things that we think, or at least hope will make us happy and fit in. And then those things fill our time and our psyche to such extremes that we are too saturated to even think about what is good for us, much less find the time to implement those strategies. But as Meier so eloquently brought to light- we always have a choice. And until we value one thing more than another, change will not occur.

 

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Games people play

 

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Games people play

I heard someone talking about their life recently making it sound like a constant series of fires needing to be extinguished. Since I often think in pictures or imagery in my head, I started picturing the game of “Wac-a Mole”. If you aren’t familiar with this game, you get a mallet to hit moles that pop up quickly in a random pattern on a little motorized wheel of sorts. The goal is to hit one and push it down before it retreats on its own. Sometimes more than one mole pops up at a time.

It got me thinking about other familiar games to describe one’s life. I’m going to just list them out here and you can decide if any of them describe you or anyone you know.

Monopoly—This is a person who spends their time and energy trying to collect the best real estate. I don’t mean literally houses, but things they think have worth. Their primary pursuit is the acquisition of status and this is often prioritized over relationships. In fact, in the actual game of Monopoly, the goal is to use one’s assets to weaken the rest of the people in the game. While monopoly players in this metaphor might not have the intention of hurting others deliberately, that is often an outcome when acquisition is their driving force.

Twister: In the musical “Oklahoma”, Connie sings “I’m just a girl who can’t say no”. Twister people have undefinable boundaries. They are there for everyone all the time. Pick up the dry cleaners, watch the neighbors kids, volunteer for the PTO, work overtime. You name it, they are there. There is a saying ,” If you want something done, ask a busy person- they know how to get things done.” Yes they do, but at what cost? Twister is a game where you place a part of yourself on the mat that the spinner selects for you. It doesn’t take a lot of spins to have yourself so sprawled out that, you collapse on yourself or another.

 

Jenga The goal of Jenga is to lay the blocks one on top of the other to see how high you can build things. Similar to monopoly, the goal is to get higher than the next guy, but you aren’t as protected as you are in Monopoly. With jenga every acquisition puts you closer to a potential crash. Jenga livers are people who take risks without regard for the potential consequences. They push the limits again and again. There is little time to enjoy any single accomplishment because each is only a stepping stone to the next.

 

 

Candyland. Part of me envies the Candyland players. Except I have to remember that as delightful as it looks, the win is really not sweet and yummy; its only an illusion.   Candyland promises that, while there are a few setbacks here and there, for the most part everything is good and delicious, as it should be. And if you just hang in there long enough, you are guaranteed the promise of more at the end. Perhaps the electronic game Candy Crush, (which I’m ashamed to admit I got hooked on for a while and fortunately ultimately escaped) is a better choice. At least with Candy Crush, it becomes apparent at some point, that in fact, there is no end point. Life’s achievements always give way to the opportunity to grow towards something else until the day you die.

 

Pictionary- This game is less about a life strategy metaphor, and more about a communication style. I think of Pictionary players as the people who seem to find it difficult to speak about what they want or need from you in clear language. Instead, they give you hints, sometimes not clear ones, and then it’s your job to guess correctly so everyone can win. And when you don’t, it’s your fault.

 

 

Trivial Pursuit. These are the folks whose lives are consumed with everything trivial at the expense of never getting to where they would like to be. I’d like to change jobs, but I can’t get my resume done because I have to clean the house, change the kitty litter, water the garden, cut down some wood and make paper from the pulp in order to print the resume on before I can think of what I would say. They may be very talented, but few people will ever learn that about them.

 

What game best describes your life? Are you having fun playing it?

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