Monthly Archives: October 2014

Make your mistakes big and loud

 

For an audio version of this post click on the link below:

My son Andrew plays the cello. He takes lessons once a week from a teacher named Clay. I usually drive Andrew to lessons and sit right outside the room. This puts me in earshot of everything they are playing and discussing. During the lesson, Andrew learns about cello and music, and I learn about a lot of other things. I don’t want Clay to know this, because he might start charging for two students instead of one.

 

This past week I learned a really helpful lesson that I’d like to share with you. Andrew is working on learning to shift. I’m not exactly sure what that means, as I have no musical ability. But I think roughly it allows one to access more sounds on the cello and change keys. Again, don’t quote me on that. However, what this means to the listening mother who writes the check is that Andrew now makes a lot more mistakes on music that he was previously playing more easily. And it is because he now has to move his little hands further around the instrument. This is thought to be progress even when it doesn’t sound like such.

However, not only am I used to Andrew playing a song with fewer errors, so his Andrew. And so as he plays to a part that was previously flawless and now doesn’t quite hit the right note, he played more quietly, as if to minimize the mistaken sound in front of his teacher. After a few tries at that, Clay stopped him and said “Play loud. When you make a mistake go big and loud. As loud as you can.”

Before I allowed my “mama bear” instinct to take over this brut who was attempting to humiliate my child, I settled back to wait and see if there was more to come. And of course, there was. Clay went on to explain that, when you play quietly over the error, you are more likely to ignore it or even not hear it.   By playing loudly through the mistake you notice it and therefore, know what needs to be corrected. Brilliant!

Sometimes we over focus on mistakes that are ridiculously small and no one cares about them. “My makeup isn’t perfect, the house has a dust bunny under the bed, my car has a microscopic scratch, or I gained 2 pounds on vacation. These preoccupations can take over our every thought and prevent us from being present in our lives. Ruminating serves no purpose. But other times we can have glaring non-productive, or even self-destructive patterns in our lives that we ignore, deny or even create a fortress between them and our consciousness. The proverbial elephant can be sitting in the room and we become masterful at throwing a cover over it and call it a table.

When the latter occurs, we miss the opportunity to use the mistake as a way to improve ourselves and our lives. Mistakes can be catastrophic or they can be thought of the way Thomas Edison did:   learning the ways how not to do something in the service of learning how to do it right.

So if you are going to make some mistakes today- make them big and loud and see what you might learn from them.

Red Flags

 

(due to my need to take care of my overly tired self, there is no audio version at this time… but check back in a few days on the website…. no promises, but it might appear later)

He is gorgeous, and he makes me laugh, and we had so much fun. He is super smart, and he is working at McDonalds now, but that is only because….

I have been offered this amazing job. It pays 25.00 an hour, I can work from home, they told me that there is a ton of potential.   The only thing that is kind of weird is ….

I found this great deal on line. I can get X for Y, and the only catch seems to be that I have to set up a new account for them to …

Well, in looking back I did think he drank a lot, but….

I did think it was weird how much she had to talk to her mom every day but…

 

I hear these kinds of statements a lot….

I call them red flags. The problem is most of us hear them, and put them in a little “to be opened later file” in our brains rather than acknowledging them to ourselves when they occur as useful information in the moment.

One of my favorite all time movies is “The Spanish Prisoner”. It stars Steve Martin, but not in a comedic role. It’s a great film about a guy who is ultimately swindled by Martin. “Joe” is blinded by his desire for money and fame, and as a result is unable to see all of the signs that are in front of him indicating Martin is a hustler. What is so great about the film in addition to the story is its method. It takes the audience through the story, and then plays back some of the scenes where all the clues were present, but the audience and Joe have missed them.

I’ve been having some frustration with my new landlord at the office. He keeps telling me he will do some things, but then doesn’t follow through. After repeated attempts, I had to go to his other 2 partners. I recall the first time I met him. Our exchange went something like this:

Landlord: If you need anything, don’t hesitate to call

Me: I’m sure you’ll hear from me.   I’m not shy about that.

Landlord: I want people to call. I don’t want someone to let me think everything is okay and then trip me on the way out the door.

Hmmmm.   There it was. He told me in the first meeting, that he has experience with people tripping him on the way out the door. Why? Most likely because he doesn’t follow through. Unfortunately though, he thinks it’s because they just didn’t tell him.

This isn’t a rant about my landlord. It’s an illustration of the fact that people tell us about themselves right from the start, more often than not. Are you listening?

If you’re going to file the information away, at least make it in a brightly colored file, in the front of the file drawer so you can find it more easily when you’re ready to use it.

Do you have experiences where hindsight has illuminated the flags you “missed” before? If so, I hope you’ll leave me a comment.

 

Click

For an audio version of today’s post click on the link below:

In recent blogs I’ve introduced you to people achieving some amazing results through their perseverance. My hope is that their stories are inspiring. I realize however,  that sometimes people will see a story, such as these, and conclude, “But I can’t do anything that monumental.” They actually become less inspired, rather than more.

That’s incredibly unfortunate, because there is often something amazing in just showing up to a “regular” life every day. It takes work. It takes commitment.  And an uninspired conclusion comes from what I call “snapshot” thinking. It means to look at what you see in a single image and think that image, is the whole story.

When we look at a snapshot of a model it’s easy to conclude that the woman (or man) is beautiful and we can’t possibly compete. But what we fail to consider in snapshot thinking is that the person photographed, doesn’t actually look like the photograph either. The photo has probably been airbrushed to remove any imperfections. It has also been staged, and in our normal everyday lives, most of us don’t have stage hands.

The people I introduced you to in my blogs don’t have airbrushed lives.   It was their effort, and mostly their attitudes that made them so incredible. But what I presented to you was the snapshot version. It is the end result. I didn’t describe to you in detail, how many times they curled up in a ball and cried, got overwhelmed with fear or just plain failed in their quests. Maybe those moments lasted minutes or days at a time. But they kept at it. They got knocked down along the way, but they kept getting up (at least eventually).

Sometimes it’s harder than others to get up. It’s harder to keep going when the finish line appears so far in the distance.  Now I’d like to introduce you to a video that I find very inspiring as a source of motivation to help you get up when it seems too hard. It contains clips from movies, The Pursuit of Happiness and Rocky as well as a number of other historical events. This video is a great investment of six minutes that will hopefully, help you think realistically about the work you stage to get to success. Success defined by you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go ahead.. make your day

 

The stock market dropped 200 points this morning. On top of yesterday’s big drop. There is another identified Ebola patient in Dallas. Isis took another city this week, despite our efforts with air strikes.

Every other commercial on TV and radio is about the wrong doing of one politician versus another. And, I also saw my first Christmas shopping begins ad earlier today. Unless one considers shopping as an appropriate retail therapy for the woes listed above, the idea of starting to think about Christmas shopping now, does not put me in a mood of cheer and good tidings.

The world does at times seem to be tilting a little funny on its axis. What I mean is that, either a lot of news seems to converge at once, or perhaps there are times for reasons I can’t explain that, the intensity and proportion of bad news to good seems tipped in the direction of despair.

Unless.

Unless you decide to do something different.

You can decide to ignore it.

You can decide to pretend it isn’t true.

You can decide to argue about it.

You can decide to act out about it.

And you can also decide to fall back on some solid principles. Change what you can, live with what you can’t and understand how to tell the difference.

Ebola- If you work in a hospital in Dallas you have different decisions to make than if you currently work in a hospital in St. Louis or anywhere else. If you have Ebola, you certainly can’t decide to ignore it or pretend it isn’t true. But you can choose between believing your life is over, or that you are being punished by God. But you can also opt for putting all of your energy into healing your body, which includes a regiment of fostering hope.

If you’ve lost money in the stock market you can jump out of a window, but I wouldn’t advise you to do so. You can pull out all of your money and blame your advisor or spouse. Or, you can calmly review how and if, this change affects you over the long haul. Is it time to try another strategy? Or is this one to wait out?

Have you ever noticed what happens when a little kid loses a tooth? It can be a range of things. There is often fear because they haven’t experienced parts of their body falling off before and growing back. But as adults, we have and we know what to experience. Sometimes the child has some accompanying pain. That’s never fun. Hopefully, the child will mitigate that pain with a little excitement because they believe something magical will come, take their tooth and leave money behind in its place.

And eventually the hole in their mouth is replaced with a bigger, stronger more reliable tooth that they need to live in the world more easily. But if we told them that news prior to the loss, it may seem too difficult for the child to grasp. This is a metaphor of what happens to us as adults. We tend to hold on to our ideas of comfort, most likely out of familiarity and limited experience with the alternatives. But if we were promised something else down the road that seemed magical, maybe we might be more willing to go with the flow.

Unfortunately, I’m not a tooth fairy, 401K fairy, Ebola elimination fairy, or any other kind of fairy. But I would like to give you the reminder, that you have enormous power within you to choose what thought patterns you are willing to limit yourself with, or which you will use to promote yourself.

If you choose the latter strategy, what I can promise you is that you will create the world you live in, rather than allowing it to create, mold and limit you. The possibilities are nothing short of magical if you’re willing to take some risks

 

 

Keep Climbing and Use Your Toes if You Have to.

For an audio version of this post, click on the link below:

 

In my last post I shared the story of an amazing woman in history, Irena Sendler. Today I’d like to tell you about two more people; Jessica Cox and Sean Swarner, both are tremendous, but for very different reasons. Personally, I find stories that champion the human spirit of tenacity, to be incredibly inspirational, and hope you will as well.

Jessica Cox putting in her contact lenses

 

I’m including both a photo and a video of Jessica Cox, because you have to see her in action to appreciate the sense of what she has mastered. Born without arms, Jessica is the first armless person in aviation history to earn a pilot’s license. She lives a normal life, drives a car, plays a piano, puts on her own makeup, texts on her phone among many other day to day tasks. She even types on the keyboard of her computer at a rate of 25 words per minute.

 

Cox believes the way we think has a greater impact on our lives than does our physical constraints. Now 31 years old, Jessica has earned a degree in psychology at the University of Arizona and does public inspirational speaking around the globe, on what she calls, “thinking outside the shoe”. She credits her parents with teaching her from the start not to see herself as a victim, but rather as someone, who when confronted with an obstacle, uses determination to overcome what faces her.

Sean Swarner is my next source of inspiration. Several people have achieved the once thought impossible task of climbing Mt. Everest and Sean Swarner is among them. However, Swarner is not only the first cancer survivor to accomplish the feat, but he did so with only one fully functioning lung. He holds another record as the only known person in the world to have been diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease and Askins Sarcoma, both deadly, yet seemingly unrelated cancers.

At age 13, Swarner was diagnosed with Hodgkin. His diagnosed occurred only because of a knee injury he suffered while playing sports. He underwent successful, yet brutal treatment which included, among other things, throwing up for 36 hours straight, gaining 60 lbs. and losing all of the hair on his body. Twenty months into remission, at a routine checkup, doctors discovered the presence of Askins Sarcoma. An even more aggressive cancer than Hodgkins, Askins presented, in the form of a golf ball size tumor in 16 year old Swarner’s lung.

Treatment for Askins ravished his body through 3 months of radiation, followed by 10 months of chemotherapy that left him emaciated with atrophied muscles. It was so toxic, that his doctors placed into a medically-induced coma during each of the five-day cycles. At one point, he was expected to live only days and was given his last rights. He attributes his remarkable feat of recovery to the love and prayers of his family, humor and modern medicine all working together. With regards to his own attitude he says:

“During both the day and night, I focused on feeling better and not letting any negative thoughts into my head. It’s amazing how mental being physical can be.”
After his recovery, Swarner said he felt an obligation to give other cancer patients hope for survival and uses his story as an example of what is possible. Because he believes nothing is impossible, he prepared for Everest, by first climbing Colorado elevations, filling his backpack with 100 pounds of rocks. His motto is “Keep climbing. Never give up.”

 

I hope you found these inspirational. Your mind is an amazing tool. Is yours working for you or against you to let you know what you can achieve?

 

 

 

Life in a Jar


 

 

For an audio version of this post, click on the link below:

 

Life in a jar

We are in the midst of the Jewish High Holidays. I’m not Jewish, but have worked with many Jewish clients over the years who have taught me so much about their religion and beliefs. And while I don’t pretend to be remotely knowledgeable despite the patience many have exerted while trying to educate me, I have come to have a great appreciation for many of their teachings. And so, part of this post, is intended as an acknowledgment of these special times for those who celebrate.

The other day however, one of my clients sent me a story about an unsung hero during the holocaust. I generally don’t take things that float around the internet at face value, so I decided to do a little more research on this one and was very glad I did. The article was titled “Thank the lady plumber” about a polish female plumber who supposedly saved many children during the holocaust.

It turns out that there were 2 inaccuracies in the article. Irena Sendler was actually not a plumber. She was a catholic social worker. Sendler had to be granted special permission to go into the Warsaw ghettos. As the article stated however, she did in fact find many creative ways to smuggle children out, from duffle bags, to coffins. At times, she even sedated infants to keep them from crying while getting them to safety. She literally had to talk parents out of their children, in hopes that they might be saved.

The other inaccuracy is debatable, which is that, Sendler was denied the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008. This can’t be categorically stated as Nobel Prize nominations, investigations and opinions are sealed for 50 years.

But pretty much everything else is dead on accurate. Sendler remained relatively unknown until a teacher in Kansas assigned his students with a year-long National History Day project. Originally two ninth graders and one 11th grader accepted the challenge. The project evolved into a play, and later a book and a movie called Life in a Jar. The three original students along with another who joined them and their teacher were fortunate enough to travel to Poland where they spent time with Irena Sendler. They also met Elzbieta Ficowska, a woman Irena had rescued at the age of 5 months and survived only because of Sendler’s heroism.

The glass jar refers to Sendler’s practice of putting information about each child she rescued in a jar, in hopes that they might later be reunited with their parents. She buried the jars in a friend’s yard and suffered physical brutalities by the Nazi’s when she refused to divulge their whereabouts. In all, the jars contained information about 2500 children. It is believed she saved an additional 500 children prior to the jars, bringing her estimated total closer to 3000 saved lives.

 

Sendler was just 29 when she began her mission. I personally can’t imagine the presence of mind she must have had, in order to muster the bravery needed, to follow through as she had. Katy Perry, Kiera Knightly, Ashley Tisdale and Scarlett Johannson are all 29. Their accomplishments and focus seem grotesquely un-relatable in comparison. And I’m not picking on these women, because frankly, when I was 29, 39 or even 49, I’m pretty sure I didn’t have a fraction of the courage or tenacity to do what this woman did, nor do I still today.

Sendler died in 2008 at age 98 from pneumonia.   She didn’t seek fame for her work. In fact, she is quoted as saying “Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory.”

Perhaps another of her greatest achievements is her clarity of knowing the justification of her existence, without the need for an external award of proof to her or anyone else. Do you know yours?

 

 

 

 

Nice guys and gals just finish

 

 

 

For an audio version of this post,  click on the link below:

 

f you’ve followed my blog for a while, you may remember that I had a different career prior to becoming a therapist. The job efficiency was largely measured by a matrix of conditions, all of which could be measured by percentages. Each month one of us was awarded darling of the month for coming the closest to our numbers. At the end of the year, the person with the best success was darling of the year.

I think I won one month. It probably had little to do with my effort, and more to do with good fortune that something in my department had become a high demand item that was short lived, and thus not repeated in another month. And this was often the case for most of us in the department. Some were harder workers and received a little more prestige, and others got lucky from time to time as I had. But the interesting part of this for me is the progress of my friend and co-worker, Julie.

Julie, who was smart and a very hard and conscientious worker, never won her 15 minutes of fame at the monthly meeting. She was always a runner-up, but never the queen. And so, all of us were shocked, as Julie, when the coveted Distributor of the year title was bestowed upon her. At first, all of us scratched our heads and then we realized, while she didn’t have peaks… she also didn’t have valleys and therefore, her numbers averaged out to a much higher total than did anyone else’s.   This story isn’t too far off from the tortoise and the hare.

I often think of this memory when I’m at a place in life trying to figure out my own goals and how much I should be achieving at any given moment. In my youth, I was very much the hare- rushing to get as much done as I could. I ran a perpetual race in search of affirmation for my competence and validity. But the older I get, the more I realize the need for a steady pace that is focused not on recognition, but on dependability, consistency and the value of finishing the race in a comfortable position. Comfortable enough, to not be so exhausted, that you can’t enjoy the sense of accomplishment.

Sometimes I have patients who come to therapy expecting that every session will produce an “aha moment” for them. I can appreciate their wish.   Therapy is expensive financially and emotionally. But the aha moments are not actually what therapy is about, any more than vacations are what life is about. Vacations are special because they don’t happen every day. They need everyday life around them in order to stand out. The relationship built in therapy, session to session, is the context needed in order to make an aha moment useful.

But I digress, because this post is more directed at life in general than it is therapy specific. How many people long to be the YouTube discovered star? How many people are playing the lottery? How many people are searching for the latest fashion, the biggest house. How many people stood in line to get one of the first new iphones? The cost of scurrying to be the best is dangerously lethal, yet coveted and promoted in our culture.

When is the last time you saw more than a cursory news story about a little old woman who dies with a million dollars in the bank because she saved and lived a frugal life? Or about the couple who celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary still living happily together, working as best as they can to take care of each other? Or the millions of people in middle America who go to work every day, pay their bills and tend to their responsibility? It’s not exciting news, but its still the standard that many of us could well consider ourselves lucky and fulfilled if we can achieve. It’s also doable and doesn’t require the exhaustive push of trying to be the one who stands out for 15 minutes of fame. Nor is it likely to cause the life of profound disappointment if it doesn’t result in those 15 minutes.

It’s easy though to blame society. What’s harder to remember is that we are society- you and me. We have the choice every day to let mass opinion impact us, or make decisions, one person at a time that impacts society. But be patient, because it takes longer than 15 minutes. And chances are, no one will remember to cite you with the credit.

 

 

 

Smacked up side the head with perfection

 

 

 

For an audio version of this post, click on the link below:

To see the video referenced in the post click below:

 

 

There is a pretty funny video that circulated around the internet a while back. I’ll post the link on my website so you can watch it if you haven’t already seen it.

It’s in another language, but you don’t need to understand what they guys are saying to get it. There are three guys. Guy A shows guy B how to hold a wooden spoon in his mouth, bob his head up and down and use the spoon to smack Guy A on the top of the head as hard as he can while guy C looks on from behind Guy B. Guy A takes the spoon and demonstrates. Except what guy B doesn’t realize, is that Guy C secretly pulls out another spoon and whacks him painfully hard. He thinks that guy A has done it using only his mouth.

Now its time for B to give it a try and of course, he can only make a little tap on Guy A’s head. They repeat this sequence a couple of times. It’s funny and sad to watch, but if my description didn’t make it clear, take a look.

I’m not sharing this due to my secret love of sadistic video. Rather, it made me think about how people try and “win” at something they think others are doing, without ever realizing that the deck is stacked and they never had a fighting chance. Yet, they will pursue their goal over and over again in an attempt to achieve the unachievable, all the while berating themselves for their inadequacy.

Women try to look like supermodels with flawless skin. It’s flawless because the photo has been airbrushed.

Ever try to prepare a recipe that looks like one in a magazine? I once met a photographer who does food shots. She told me that food for photos is prepared differently, and is usually inedible because it is made to appear attractive for the camera and is often cooked improperly for consumption.

Ever compare your relationship to someone else’s and find that that same couple ends up divorced and no one saw it coming?

Real people are not perfect. Their houses, cars, clothes, relationships are not perfect. Heidi Klum is divorced. Steve Jobs died of cancer. Johnny Depp didn’t finish high school. Nor did Robert Downy Jr. or Walt Disney.   Oprah was fired from her job as a news anchor in Baltimore.

I’m going to share with you one of my favorite all time pieces of printed material. This comes from the book Breaking Free from Compulsive Eating by Geneen Roth.

Real people feel some kind of discomfort every day of their lives. Being born hurts. Living hurts. Dying hurts. If we know that, if we don’t expect to be happy all the time, then we don’t have to feel frightened or cursed when, inevitably we are in pain. The expectation that pain is bad, abnormal, or avoidable creates fear and confusion when pain arises. It also creates varied and complex systems within us that are designed to avoid pain at all costs.

Most people never touch the bottom of their pain. They become compulsive instead, and in so doing, they exchange one pain, that of being alive, for another, the pain of compulsion.

Neither road is easy. Compulsion is painful, and living without compulsion is painful. Compulsion has its joys, so does living without it. The biggest advantage I see in living without compulsion is that you stop being afraid of the pain.

 

What would it take for you to be willing to look at your pain without the veil of compulsion? Or without the veil of perfection.